Into the Forest, Sort Of

Close your eyes (after reading this of course), and imagine yourself standing before a large forest that extends to either side of you as far as you can see. This forest must be “old-world” growth because the trees are huge—as tall as skyscrapers, and you feel so tiny in comparison to them. Here you are, in the presence of giants still existing from another time. These giants may not roam the earth, but they sure knew how to congregate in this area.

As you approach an entrance to the forest, which seems to be a worn path that someone or something has been traveling, you feel a certain apprehension, and you aren’t sure what that is. But the path awaits and there is still much to see, because if you just keep standing on the outside, you’ll never know what is in there.

The prospect of walking among these massive trees that have withstood centuries of weather, winds, forest lightand other calamities—both natural and man-created, is simply too enticing to ignore. You now enter the forest with both the eager expectation of what you might find as you venture in, but yet, there is a small touch of hesitancy at the prospect, because “the FOREST” represents the “great UNKNOWN” –ripe with new discoveries and unexpected dangers.

So, before we go too far venturing into this “unknown,” perhaps we need certain gear to take with us. What might that gear be?  What would you take as you venture into the unknown of your life?

How do you anticipate your needs for exploring “the forest?”  Do you know how long you’ll be in there? Do you plan for a short time exploration, or a long one?

A short time might be an hour or two of hiking around, and then you are back out into the full sun skipping merrily back to civilization and the latest mindless TV viewing.

A long time might be days or weeks of venturing forth into the depths of the unknown, under all kinds of weather for both day and night habitation. So to prep for that, what might you need? Depends on the person, I suppose.

Courage would be first on my list, with determination and perseverance, a close second and third.

Then I’d think about the material-item necessities like matches, water, food, sleeping gear, knife, hatchet, good hiking shoes, mosquito netting, multi-layered clothing, etc. Yeah, …something along those lines.  Now you’re thinking “survival” type gear because you just never know what you might run in to or have to deal with while in there.

But overall, if I didn’t have the first three intangible items on the list—courage, determination and perseverance—I’d probably not even consider going in, because “the forest” is often a symbol for primal life at its untamed extreme. It represents base desires, base needs, and base instincts for survival at all costs. Sometimes it is considered to represent the shadow side of our own nature.

And yet, there is another symbol that the forest represents—it is nature in its most pristine and pure act of creation. It is the earth’s natural bounty filled with life of all kinds, most of which have nothing to do with humans. It is an interconnected eco-system independent of us completely, and that’s probably why the civilized “we” feel so uncomfortable in it. It didn’t used to be an unknown to us. But now it is.

Native Americans have a practice called Vision Quest, where the participant, often a young person, is sent to live off the land by him or herself for 3 days and nights—taking little, if anything along for the duration. It is considered an initiation into adulthood, in its purest sense, and sometimes an invitation to nature spirits to provide help and spirit information to the respectful quester.

The most basic aspect of this time spent alone in the woods, or the desert, or the mountains, or wherever the isolated quest might be, is for facing the unknown. It is to face down our fears.

For the actual Vision Quest participant, it is more than that. It is redeveloping the spiritual connection to the land itself and to the spirits of the land. So, for some, going into the forest may be less like facing the unknown full of dangers and unseen eyes staring back at you; and more like re-establishing that lost link of being just another part of the earth’s creation, interacting with itself in so many different ways.

Going into the forest or facing down our own fears and shadow side, is simply an initiatory aspect of wherever we are on our own spiritual path. And for that, I would always take courage, determination, and perseverance with me before anything else.

But reconnecting to the earth, and feeling a true part of nature itself, requires us only to enter the forest without fear, more so feeling like we are coming home again.

Into the forest, in this sense, is the realization that we never really left it.

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