I went hiking this weekend, in the hills across the Hudson from Beacon, with three yoga friends. We started late and stayed late but managed to make it back to the car three hours after sunset. Aka in the dark.
In the last hour or two, when we were really struggling to see the trail markers with our flashlights (and iPhone lamps!), and making frequent backtracks to regain the zig zag ridge trail, my friend G commented, “You know, I get so happy each time I see a marker — too bad there’s no markers in real life! Like, good job, you’re going the right way!” We all agreed, and then I realized, “You know, there’s not really markers in nature, either. Some guide figured out a path and put these here for others.”
It made me think about the importance of people on any path. We learn a lot from those just a little bit ahead of us — not always some grand guru. It’s rare to find someone you respect, trust, and want to follow one hundred percent. (Plus, that’s kind of dangerous.) But there are many friends with mini lessons.
I had a pen pal ask me who my teacher was. I haven’t answered yet; I have many that I love, and I’m searching more for a solo practice than an instructor right now, but I do feel weird that I haven’t picked a particular lineage. I’m not really shopping around, like I did in the first months and years, but I’ve always had a critical eye for gurus, like “who is this guy talking at me now, and why would I want to be like him?” No more student-teacher / child-parent patterns. I’m not making myself into the likeness of anyone, I’m finding my inner intuition and self. My current hatha / meditation teacher Steve Prestianni leads hour-long silent meditations with no instruction, because he says the path of meditation is an internal, individual one, and for him to direct that would just be sharing his inner experience, not helping anyone else to find their own. It’s a strong, if frustrating, push in the inward direction.
But just thinking about the markers makes me feel a little more open, and thankful for all my random teachers. A solo practice is still an expression of or against tradition. Like the statement, “You have to know the rules in order to break them.”
On the trail we would get bored, and find a side path, or split up a bit, or rest for a while. It was a fluid, spontaneous day. Our personalities combined well enough to make things easy, but the brisk air kept us moving.
We stopped on the west side of the ridge to build a fire, and watch the sunset, and share food. Earlier, G mentioned how he wanted to do some kind of puja, or ceremony of reverence, in his life, but nothing felt right. When we set out the food — bread, crackers, hummus, arugula, tomatoes, apples, oranges, bananas, almonds, dates, raisins, and an assortment of cooked grains and beans — V suggested a 15-minute meditation on the food, before we ate. The spread, on a bright orange blanket, is still crystal clear in my mind. It took on the significance of ritual, or holiday, to just sit in silence and appreciation. I realized how little appreciation I had for the meals in my life, how much I expected, planned, managed, rushed, restricted my sustenance. How beautiful is even a little grape tomato! Silly V roasted the bananas in the fire, and then it was time to move on. (Chilly Scout is a bit too Vata to sit in the shade at 40º F.)
Halfway back I realized I’d relaxed enough to have faith in these friends through a tricky situation. We were never in serious danger, but we could have ended up miles from the car, or hiking all night, so the sense of relief was high for each little marker and landmark. But comedy reigned; at the most nerve-wracking part (step-stones through a murky swamp that risked soaked shoes for us all), we held tense hands as G lit the dim path with his penlight. It felt like a Grimm Brothers’ escape scene — and then his cell phone rang. He took the call.
As we slipped and slid through leaves or on rocks, G said, “Take care of each other.” I am very grateful this was taken literally, as I was also loaned hat and long gloves for the decreasing temperatures. (I dressed for a day hike! I had no idea they planned fire-building and sunsets. I call that camping.) New York can be so hard, competitive, and demanding, that a break from selfish self-fulfillment is amazing. Less thinking about myself, more joy for us all. We took turns leading, and lighting the path, and I am still amazed people can be such good leaders with so little ego.
And of course the trail took us right back where we started.