I was in Canada this past week. I went for business, but we took some time to visit the lake where both the president of our Canadian distributor and their Kimray Product Specialist have cabins. We fished and broke bread together and were able to deepen our friendships. I went for my usual walk both mornings we were there. Usual in that I have taken to walking early in the morning in an attempt to slow the march of time and its impact on my physical being. However, it was unusual in that I was in a remote and beautiful place that I was unfamiliar with.
Great beauty is often close to great danger. In the case of the Canadian wilds, with the stunning beauty of the forest and the lake comes the danger of being eaten by a bear. Upon hearing that I intended to walk in the early hours of the morning, my host promptly stopped on the way out of town and bought me bear spray. I am unsure of the effectiveness of such things, but it made everyone feel better, I think.
I had been reading some essays by Gretel Ehrlich. Her passion for language and etymology, and her honesty, lead to an abundance of free association, dense with metaphor and simile, rich in observed detail and recorded emotion. What emerges is a kind of impressionist portrait made up of a wealth of disconnected and contradictory meditations and observations.
As I walked through the Canadian forest one morning, I was reflecting on an essay she wrote called, “Looking For A Lost Dog.” She starts out looking for the dog but soon finds that she herself is lost and begins to search for the much deeper wilderness of her self. The more attentive she becomes to the things around her, the more she is able to realize that everything is “here.” She closes with the line, “Today it is enough to make a shadow.”
Alone in the forest with the possibility of encountering a large and potentially carnivorous mammal, I was overtaken with the reality that my location did not change who I was. The newness of my location changed the level of attention I was paying to my surroundings, but my thoughts and feelings, both good ones and dark ones, had followed me to this place. In recovery we are taught that if I am disturbed, the disturbance is in me.
Ehrlich writes, ‘We can lose sight of what is too close, and the struggle between impulse and reason, passion and logic, occurs as we saunter from the distant to the close-up views.” Traveling to another location and having the potential to be eaten by a bear in my mind caused me to focus more keenly on the close-up, the present. I felt more alive, not because I had changed, but because my view point had changed.
We are so often trapped in the self-built cage of seeing the world from a narrow and long-term (distant) view. We lose sight of the moments we are in (close-up view) and fail to appreciate the beauty (and danger) that is all around us. I have found this to be true for me both in the physical world around me, and in the emotional and mental realm where relationship and creativity live. I am often so distracted by where I am trying to go that I fail to see where I am and who is there with me.
For something to cast a shadow it must be present and solid. In other words, it must exist in time and space in a location. Metaphorically this applies to my life. In order to “cast a shadow” my life must be present and real, not always in the future or to distracted to be witness to the depth of beauty and danger all around me.
I must always be cultivating ways to re-center myself. Taking a walk through the sounds of the morning. Photographing a flower in a parking lot. Hearing a voice that makes my day worth getting up for. It is not so much the practice that matters, as it is the intentionality of refocusing. I hope that you have your own ways to take your eyes off the distant and focus for a time on the present. I hope you can enjoy what is right around you and be still long enough to “make a shadow.”