Nature Meditation – CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN

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“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.” Rene Daumal

The backpack sits heavy on my shoulders. In front of me the mountain stands tall. Beyond its peak, a cloudless sky foretells the added struggle the sun will bring to the ascent. It is amazing how something so desirable can become so detrimental. On any other day I would welcome this bright star shining down on me, but right now, my mind is filled with fantasies of giant clouds rolling in from beyond the horizon, spreading themselves over my head and taking away this sunny encumbrance. I close my eyes and dream of shade. Its cool and refreshing embrace which would boost my endurance and somehow magically make the load on my back much lighter.

I take a deep breath and murmur: “It is what it is! Tonight, I will be closer to the stars, sleeping at the summit, with a breathtaking view of the valley and a front row seat for sunrise tomorrow.”

The beginning is always treacherously easy. My body is full of energy and my mind swimming in optimism. The trail is wide and the inclination barely steeper than a regular hike. From down below, the climb appears as an imaginary line traced over a terrain that makes no difference between a solid slab of granite or a loose patch of igneous rocks.

Another deep breathe, another murmur: “It doesn’t look too difficult. It should take me about 3 hours”

In reality, as much as I want to believe I am in possession of all the information I need, as much as I want to predict the outcome, my knowledge and understanding of the endeavor is simply speculative. The truth is that I can only prepare myself for the expected and be ready for the unexpected.

Over the next 4 hours, I will trip twice. I will stop to rest more times than my pride wants to admit. I will wonder on several occasions why I thought it would be a good idea to go sleep at the top of the mountain. Five times I will look at my watch and ask myself how much longer is it going to take. In the last hour, my mind will repeat over and over: “Just one more step, I am almost there.” During the entire ascent, I will analyze mentally the content of my backpack, inside out, and wonder what gear I could have left behind to shed some weight, or what I could have done differently to alleviate the challenge.

But as I reach the summit, my sight is suddenly free to fly across the valley and my feeling of struggle disappears. Exhaustion and pain become something of the past, and all this released tension slingshots back, filling me with pure exhilaration and a deep sense of accomplishment. “I made it!” – a whisper escapes my lips.

Barely rested and refreshed, I look in all directions and rejoice at the view with all the new possibilities laid before my eyes. Today’s goal might have been about completing this ascent, but for my desire in seeking new experiences, it is only an episode. For my relentless curiosity and unwavering need to learn, today’s challenge was a simple lesson about myself and life.

This week, let us reflect on the places we want to go, the things we want to achieve, the goals we want to fulfill. Are we focused only on reaching these destinations or are we fully aware and connected with the process of moving forward. Are we open to the lessons and discoveries that will present themselves to us, in sometimes the most unexpected ways? Do we truly understand that these goals, these objectives, these places we want to go are only the gateway to other new adventures?

“For life–which is in any way worthy, is like ascending a mountain. When you have climbed to the first shoulder of the hill, you find another rise above you, and yet another peak, and the height to be achieved seems infinity: but you find as you ascend that the air becomes purer and more bracing, that the clouds gather more frequently below than above, that the sun is warmer than before and that you not only get a clearer view of Heaven, but that you gain a wider view of earth, and that your horizon is perpetually growing larger.” Endicott Peabody

The Power of Nature to Nurture, Awaken, Transcend, Uplift, Restore, Elevate, the Human Spirit

Minute of Nature

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I have been working on finding a concept of short videos that would support my narrative – THE POWER OF NATURE TO RESTORE THE HUMAN SPIRIT.

It was during my trip to the Bedwell River that the clarity of what I needed to do came to me.

Let me explain to you … watch the video below.

This idea of sharing with you these moments and inspirational quotes or thoughts is exactly what I have been looking for. The notion of helping you disconnect and leave the modern world behind just for one minute so that your mind can wander away and connect with that part of nature where I was able to “Stop, Breathe, Listen and Relax.” This is exactly what I strive to bring to you.

Here is the first MINUTE, from Ucluelet.

These “Minutes of Nature” will be posted throughout all my social media sites but you are welcome to subscribe to the Vimeo Channel

 

Patience

Breath, Relax, Listen

Breath, Relax, Listen

It has been 15 hours since the heavy rain started. Tucked into my sleeping bag, the sound of the water droplets falling on the tent like an endless drum roll, the clarity of what has been happening these last two months just dawned on me and I just can’t help myself but start laughing. The fact that I had planned to be in Hawaii at this time, diving and kayaking with the humpback whales makes this spiritual awakening even more ludicrous. As much as I would have wanted the reality to be different, the message was clear and all around me – patience needed to be embraced. In our culture of instant gratification, the meaning of this word has almost become taboo. Still, from time to time, we are forced to confront its undeniable necessity. And once again, my time in nature was responsible for brining me perspicuity.

 In our Western society, the word patience denotes a more negative etymology, finding its root in the latin patientia, from patient– ‘suffering’.  But in Asia, the meaning takes a completely different approach and tries to bring forward the ability to wait and find peace, acceptance and dignity in the unexpected and uncontrollable. In China, the pictograph for patience is composed of two symbols – REN which illustrates the Blade of the Knife and XIN for Heart. The meaning being: “The sword blade is poised, ready to slice. Backed into this corner, we cannot move. When we don’t know which way to turn, or where to go, any movement at all can not only further muddy the water but can also bring disaster: the sword blade severs the heart and all is lost. Thus, the value of patience.” (Nonin Showiness) In Japan, the word is NINTAI which can be translated as an “obligation to take another direction”. GAMAN, “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity” is one of the teachings of Zen Buddhist. 

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A day in the tent

The plan was to leave in the morning – paddling back to Tofino. A combination of misjudgment on my behalf and the missing of an adapter to charge my batteries had left me with no more power for the camera. Being on Vargas island to photograph the wolves, my presence here now was simply leading to nothing – I would rather leave than facing the possibility of being presented with a perfect photo opportunity and having no camera to photograph with.

A wolf had appeared to me on the very first day of my arrival – his prints were on the beach, fresh from the morning. After setting up camp, the lone wolf had ventured around my tent. I am always perplexed on the timing of things. How and why we get to be at a precise place at a precise time, precisely when someone or something else happens to be there. Coincidence? Meant to be? A bit of both? In this case, I had been hiking the beach, collecting mussels for dinner when I decided to get something from the tent. Grabbing what I needed, I stood up zipping the tent flap when I noticed right in front of me the wolf coming out through the trees. He was brown and black, tall, the size of a huge dog. But his pose was not aggressive – more like an intruder trying to sneak his way in – this was not an dangerous predator imposing his rule on a newcomer. Maybe it was because he was alone without his pack – we know how humans act differently when by themselves, alone, as opposed to when they feel protected from being in a group. My guess is that the law of collective courage is no different independently if you are wolf or a human. Anyhow, when he saw me, he retreated and I knew in the back of my mind his next destination – the food cache. I silently followed the ruffles of leaves and hid behind a tree. As predicted I saw him coming around to investigate the metal box where my food was stored. Slightly moving to get a better view, I stepped on a branch and the unfortunate breaking noise scared the wolf away. I was not to see any of him for the next five days.

Now that I wanted the leave the island, the weather was not allowing me. And this is how these last two months came to be summarized into this precise moment – in a tent battered by the rain, realizing that all of this was beyond my control. Like the fog lifting and suddenly revealing the unexpected landscape, I was forced to accept the moment. There was nothing I could do but find peace in the unforeseen. Not just about the fact that I was being held captive on Vargas island, but that I had to accept that all my plans for the beginning of 2014 were totally at the opposite of what had actually happened – sheltered from what I had taken from granted, I was being reminded of the fragility of what I had and the price that I had to pay to keep it.

The rain and wind came to pass and the next day, a heavy fog took over and assumed the role of deciding on my captivity. I was not be allowed departure. Only the next day did a window present itself. With a strong northerly wind, my original idea to circumnavigate the island had to be put aside. Pushing with all my might I departed from the beach, turned the point, beating the wind and finding myself in a favorable position, riding the tide and wind, only having to deal with the exposed Pacific.

I don’t know what the future has in store for me. What I do know, is that from sitting into my kayak riding a wave, a river, or the ocean swell, I have control on how to react to the unexpected. I can not predict or even anticipate the unforeseen but  I can be ready to adapt to whatever is thrown my way and have trust in my capacity to handle the flow. The key is to patiently wait, breath, relax and know when to move.

“Adopt the pace of nature:  her secret is patience.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Stripped

It happens every time, and independently if I want it or not, I find myself pulled into it. Parked at the Big Sur Station, I am getting my equipment ready. The plan is to hike to Syke Camp, spend a couple of nights there then one night on the beach and finally hike a 3,000 feet peak nearby. I should be excited, thrilled and relaxed, but instead I am anxious and worried. I try to focus on making sure that I don’t forget anything – I would really hate finding out that I have forgotten a lens or battery for the camera after a 5-hour hike and having to return. Despite all my previous stories written, despite all the photos that I have taken, despite the fact that deep down I know that it always works out, I can’t stop but stress about the uncertainty on if I will be able to find something to write about or find a nice landscape to photograph. Will I be inspired? If so, about what? Will the light be good? Will I see animals? Will the weather cooperate? And what if I don’t have anything to show by the end of the week? My last story, TIME, was written many months ago in Hawaii. I have since been twice in Alaska, kayaking and hiking a glacier, and even though both were incredible expeditions, I failed to come back with new words. Knowing the reasons why the page has remained blank doesn’t help either.

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Pine Ridge Trail

The creative process is one of the hardest things to find. And even more challenging is to protect that process as the world around you changes. Inspiration is complicated and some are more famous for their bizarre rituals then for their own art.

I love being on expedition – having a set target, a destination to reach, a goal, but it is not what I live and work for. The content that I produce during these adventures is more descriptive – narrating the days, the progression, the ups and downs, the struggles encountered and the magical moments witnessed. It is premeditated. Inspiration is not really the most important aspect, but rather your ability to deliver the story, to capture the local flavors.

What I long for as an artist is much different. It is when I have the feeling, the sensation that the inspiration has come to me rather than me seeking it. It is that sense of being connected to something else, something bigger. As alone as one can be when creating, knowing that you are only a channel through which your environment expresses itself brings a total different perspective – the loneliness disappears and a deep fulfilling connectedness lives – bringing along a sense of purpose.

I am 2 hours into the hike and my mind is still stuck in that parking lot. I am walking the trail much like I would walk the sidewalks of New York – focused on the destination and shutting myself to everything else in between – a self defense mechanism we have had to developed to protect ourselves from the constant and relentless assault on our senses from our modern lifestyle. Instead of enjoying the moment, I feel heavy and distracted. Layers of anxiety rooting from our civilized, moral and intellectual culture weighing on me. My ears are open but don’t hear anything. My eyes are open but can’t see anything. My body is tensed, preoccupied with every uphill steps I have to make. The Ventana Wilderness is full of wonders with majestic Redwoods and beautiful Pacific Madrones, yet, my head looks down – I am a man walking his purgatory! After 5 hours, I arrive at the destination tired but wired. Where are the hot springs, where to camp? Quick lets get to work – what can I photograph? I can’t rest. This is work and I must produce!

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Syke Camp

It is 6pm – the tent is up, the backpack emptied, the hot springs have been located and already “enjoyed”. The kettle is on the stove. I am camping on this tiny “island” in the middle of the Big Sur River, a magical set up, yet I am totally oblivious to my surroundings. I am pacing frantically. The steam shoots out from the kettle and I am slow to realize the water is ready. So much for someone who is supposed to be “one” with nature – pathetic!

I take my cup of mate tea and sit on a log that rests slightly above the river, bridging my campsite to the north shore. My feet hang with my toes dipping in the frigid running water. I take a sip. Then I take a deep breath. Another sip – another breath. Finally, the moment I have been unconsciously waiting for is starting to manifest itself.

Like the afternoon wind pushing away the morning fog, with every new sip and every new breath, my comatose state starts fading. Free of their societal constraints, my senses awaken from their lethargy. My back arches up. My chest opens up. My ears start tingling to the sound of water swirling around the rocks. My eyes start seeing for the first time an American Dipper just a few feet away, diving for a few second then reappearing with a nymph in its beak. My lungs are beginning to feel lighter. My mind is clear. My heartbeat has slowed down, yet I remain extremely sharp. By the time my tea is finished, everything feels new and fresh – alive. In reality though, it is me who has changed, it is me who is alive now. I was closed and sequestered, now I am freed and attuned. I have finally found the state of mind I came here for. And with it came my inspiration. Thought by thought, sentence by sentence, words have come back. Stripped from the confinement of technology and cultural expectations, I was finally at peace with simply one thing – being.

“Nature is pleased with simplicity.” — Isaac Newton

“Life is not complex. We are complex. Life is simple, and the simple thing is the right thing.” — Oscar Wilde

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Sunset from 3,000ft

As much as we want to categorize, compartmentalize, judge, humanize, and beautify nature, for me the “wild” is only one thing – real. Everything is what it is. There are no right or wrong, no bad or good, no judgement. Nothing is pretty, nothing is ugly. A dead tree has as much value as a living one. A fire will benefit some while it will kill others. The prey does everything it can to survive, as does the predator. There are no winners, no losers. No one is more important, yet everyone is connected and interdependent. Nothing is perfect – evolution is this endless chaotic yet harmonious dance where each adjust to the other, over long long long periods of time. Species adapt or disappear. Continents break while others sink. Still, every morning, the sun rises and brings with it life. And even if this sun stops to shine, another one, somewhere else in this huge universe will illuminate another world.

Independently if we believe and speak about it as a separate entity, in reality we are no different than nature. Quite the opposite, we are nature, and we are intricately part of it. We are nothing more than a footnote in the grand scheme of evolution. Yet we have come to believe that everything revolves around us – that everything is about US. Our view of the world is no different then when we thought that the earth was the center of the galaxy. Instead now we see ourselves as the center of Life, of the Universe.

In our quest to conquer – not only territorially, but intellectually and morally, we have lost our connection to the world around us, to the planet and to life. We also have lost our ability to look at our environment (the surroundings or conditions in which a person, animal, or plant lives or operates) and learn from it. We no longer look at nature and use it to understand life – instead we see nature and life as flawed systems that need to be corrected and reengineered under our own perception of what it should be. We see ourselves as great saviors with god powers!

Our myopia and shortsightedness have made us inefficient and incapable of looking at the bigger picture. We focus on details, obsessing about single events, while loosing perspective of everything else around. Our expertise at extracting data from pretty much anything – important or not, trivial or useless, has transformed our world into an intellectual dump. Buried under so much information and incapable of managing it, we look at technology as our only hope. Completely lost and feeling powerless, we blindly put our salvation into machines and their ability to “process” – because the only way we can make sense of anything is through numbers, equations, statistics and graphs. Common sense is no longer valued unless it can be measured and quantified.

Sitting on that log, with my empty cup of tea, nothing feels out of place. I don’t feel out of place. The humility brought by the simplicity I find myself surrounded by is relaxing, refreshing and gives me hope. Real and honest is what nature is to me. It is a constant reminder of the true essence of what life is about. It is my source of inspiration, my elixir for meditation and my most profound teacher.

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust

Sunset from the beach

Sunset from the beach

Dreams

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”For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream.” Vincent Van Gogh

It is dark. Absence of colors. Black and white tones. Various shades of grey.  Daylight illuminates the world around us, but the night transforms everything into a monotone landscape. For a moment, I wonder, if actually this seemingly boring reality has a purpose. My eyes pan from left to right trying to find a destination. With no where to go, they are left with one choice – go up. And right there, I understand. We spend our days looking in front of us. Always trying to see what is coming. But the night belongs to dreams and there is only place you can find them – in the Stars. I am curious if this is why in Asia they write from top to bottom, as if to insinuate that everything in life starts with a Dream. My eyes are fixed on this black tapestry made of an incalculable amount of white pinholes. My pupils dilate trying to capture the gargantuesque size of the Universe.  Millions of specks of light, so distant from our planet than their location is measured by the number of years light takes to travel from them to us. Their sight reminds me of the infinite amount of possibilities our world holds. That we still know so little about Life. My thoughts of boredom are long gone now as I lay down on the sand, gazing at a world that is only reachable through my imagination, through my dreams.

Man has been looking at the stars for thousands of years. It has been a source of inspiration, a source of mystery, a source of faith, and a tool for orientation. It also has been a way for us to understand our relationship with Nature, and with Life. Ever since the dawn of humanity, the night sky and Nature have walked hand in hand. Through the ages, from all cultures, every time we raised our eyes to the night sky, we saw animals and mythical creatures. The Zodiac, invented more than 10 000 years ago, depicts our symbiosis with the Universe through images of animals. For centuries, constellations were named after Nature.  It is only in the 1700’s, at the early age of the Industrial Revolution, that we changed our relationship with the Stars. Frenchman Nicolas Louis de Lacaille, famous astronomer, broke all the rules and named all of his discoveries with man-made objects.

In a world where more than half of the population lives in cities, we tend to forget there is even a night sky. Our eyes barely rise above the horizon. Our sense of vertical is developed mainly around tall buildings. And if we do one day find our way to look passed the top of those skyscrapers, we find an almost white canvas with a few sparse bright dots. 

A night sky is a limitless source of creativity and fascination. Like painting by numbers, you trace imaginary lines from star to star, giving life to worlds that know no boundaries. Shooting stars and northern lights, props for magical stories. As much as we learn about the Universe in museum or on television, there is nothing like experiencing the sight of a night sky saturated with stars, the Milky Way casting shadows on the ground – it is overwhelming, it is humbly.

We need never to forget to look up. We need never to forget to dream.