Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.
– Letter to wife Louie, July 1888, Life and Letters of John Muir (1924), chapter 15.
True silence is extremely rare in this day and age, or maybe it always has been — I wouldn’t know. The endless social media updates, email pings, and entertainment have gotten deep into our souls. It is pretty amazing to be so connected to friends, but perhaps also a bit detrimental.
I have experienced a quiet mind quite a few times in life. I can remember the stillness as I crunched through the leaves on the back of my old-man-of-a-horse Dusty. I found laser-sharp focus on the present moment when I tried my first dynamic move at the bouldering gym. I have had the thoughts squeezed right out of me by the awesomeness (in the actual sense of the word) of an entire valley’s leaves shaking in the wind all at once.
I believe, strongly, in the wilderness. While others speak of Buddah, Moses, and God, my heart swells to the size of the entire universe when I stand in the midst of the chapel of the mountains.
A few months ago it clicked for me. I got on my bike and just as my bum hit the saddle, I realized: “This feels right.” When I was in New York last week, surrounded by the overwhelmingness of the people, sights, lights, and sounds, I took a walk in Central Park. My mind lit up with all the thought problems that had been bouncing around, waiting to be solved. I acknowledged them and, one by one, they dropped away. For a few moments I was left with my feet on the gravel of the horse path, and the trees shifting around me.
If there was one thing I would wish upon everyone in the world, it would be for a single moment of that silence. I know we all find it in different ways, some while giving an eskimo kiss to a loved one, some by dancing on a stage, some by simply sitting wherever they are. But I hope that by following John Muir’s thought, leaving the baggage behind and seeking silence, we can find the heart of whatever it is we may be searching for.
I’ll keep journeying by two wheels and on foot. For me, it’s the fast way to serenity.