The Hermit, the Fool, and Some Bees Go for a Walk: Finding Insight in What is Difficult
Have you ever felt like you drank too much and tumbled down the side of the mountain except it’s the next day, and you woke up at your camp, but you were the only one there? When you return to civilization, everyone is fine, going about their business as if you never vanished, never tumbled away, as if it were a bad dream. Perhaps this scenario is an exercise in overstatement. Maybe the feeling I am trying to relate is more akin to playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey. You’re blindfolded, and you know the goal is to pin the tail on to the image of the donkey across the room, except you are quite certain that the party goers some how moved you out of the original room into another room. If life didn’t occasionally spin us around and disorient us, something would be off. No matter the routine or the expectation, there’s always the roll of the dice, Chance taking a dance and tipping the balances. What I’m talking about is an existential take on Fortuna’s wheel. Sometimes we are on top and everything makes sense. Other times, we must confront aspects of self that are easier to ignore, and that process can induce a sense of fatigue, anxiety, or even avoidance.
Today, I defied a malaise that has developed this past month. I slept in past the peak coolness::sunlight ratio but headed out to hike anyway. Once I arrived to my favorite hiking spot, it was swamped even though it was morning. I was tempted to turn back, drive home, and tackle the to-do list, but instead, on my way down, I went up a road leading to a waterfall. Now, I know a lot of you won’t relate, but sometimes, when I have a negative experience, I avoid things that remind me of the experience, such as clothing items or locations. I never had a bad experience at the waterfall, but I was covered in an allergic rash for a year after the first time I went. Although I have improved since then and have since had a jaunt through a thistle patch and came through rash free, I’ve been avoiding that waterfall as if it had a case of the jinxes. Today, I decided to go anyway. Somewhere out there I heard the old saw: “You can’t get better unless you leave the place you got sick.” The saying came to mind even though visiting the waterfall had nothing to do with leaving, and I wasn’t feeling sick. I reconfigured the saying in my mind, “You can’t get better unless you confront the thing that ails you.” As I navigated the hair pin turns and ascended the mountain, I contemplated if this visit had anything to do with my allergies, and I decided that it was actually about getting over the strange phobia I had of the location. Now, I wouldn’t say it is a high-volume phobia, but the thought of visiting certainly has sparked anxiety. “I’m tired of it…” I thought to myself, “I’m going anyway. So what? So what if I got a rash there four years ago?”
My arrival was fortuitous in more than one way. Being higher up the mountain, the air was cooler; I rediscovered a mountain campground I had forgotten about; and a shady and convenient parking space was open in an otherwise filled parking area. I got out of the car, put on my strange, new sunhat, made sure I had my walking stick, and headed up the road to the trail, scanning my emotions for signs of panic or worry. The only thing I felt was an edgy annoyance directed at the place and some fretting about overheating, but as I made my way up the road, the blue sky and vast view of a sea of clouds cleared my mind. “Alpha omega” I pondered, “Beginnings and endings, the fool and the hermit, I am both a fool and a hermit adrift in a sea of clouds.” I stopped to take a picture of the view and contemplated how the hike was becoming something else rather than simply confronting the area that sparked the year-long rash.
The path I was walking up led to the real trail. The trail to the waterfall is pretty short, but there are different ways to make one’s way down, similar to a short rocky cliff bordering the beach that has multiple paths down. I found one path that seemed shorter and more stable than the others, which is a good sign when hiking. I followed it a short way and discovered the humming of bees. As far as I know, I am not allergic to bees, but I also exercise respect and caution when around them. A bee landed on my pointer finger briefly and then fluttered away. I looked down, noticing a hole in the ground from which multitudes of bees drifted in and out. I paused calmly, taking note of the speed and flight patterns of the bees, before continuing down the path. Again, the humming of bees caught my ear. I turned a round a short bend only to be confronted with what almost looked like a dead end. The trail continued, but it would be an incredibly tight squeeze through overgrowth, and the path was crossed by another set of bees busily collecting pollen from wild flowers. Stopped at this sight, the first memory this area brought to mind was a hiking excursion in Oregon last summer where a bee followed me from the beginning of the hike to where I met with similar overgrowth on the trail and the bee started flying and bouncing off my face, and so instead of pushing through, I turned back with a much calmer bee as my companion the entire way to my car. Then, I thought about my experience four years ago at the waterfall. I remembered that once I passed the waterfall, further down the trail, I was confronted with similar overgrowth, but I continued to hike as the regular trail with its clear boundaries was too short for my liking. I remember the dry wild plants sticking me through my clothing and rubbing against me, almost like walking through a dry brushing bath. The memory played in my mind as I paused before the great profusion of bees and the continuing, narrow trail. Finally, it clicked: I wasn’t respectful enough of natural boundaries back then. I pushed myself through the overgrowth, knowing that even though there was once a trail, it was so obscured that it wasn’t really a good option. I went anyway and over-stressed my body, resulting in an intense rash. Rousing myself from my reverie, I turned around and headed back up, somehow avoiding the first earthen bee keep even though it made no sense why it shouldn’t be exactly where I had left it. Then I looked up and noticed a clear path to the side, which I hadn’t noticed on my way down. I took that one, and it led more directly to the waterfall without any overgrowth or bee kingdoms.
On my way back to the car, I was met with more simple revelations. I crossed paths with some young men and received a compliment on my new hat as well as my walking stick. I had been walking around worried my hat was silly looking, but the compliments I received were so natural and sincere that I instantly felt better. One man said my hat was beautiful, and as they continued on their way, I felt beautiful in general. It was like a gift from the universe. Continuing on, I noticed that the sun I work so hard to avoid, especially when even a little bit warm, felt nourishing, like vitamins or a soothing balm. It was warm, but the sunshine didn’t feel like it was burning my skin. As I returned to my car, I felt a strong urge to stay, but the to-do list that almost kept me from my morning hike was also what pulled me back down the mountain.
I made an uncomfortable choice this morning and was by chance rewarded in multiple ways but most importantly with insight. I’ve been through a lot in my life. I know everyone goes through a lot. It is part and parcel of living and though I don’t believe that I have experienced as much tragedy as some people, I also know that I’ve experienced a lot of nonsense most people have never had to deal with. Of course, the causes of these experiences are complex, involving conditions out of my control as well as choices that were and are dictated by my will with all of the limitation of vision one has to grapple with in whatever slice of time is operating as the present. The past couple of years have definitely been something else. It seems sometimes like there is one crisis after another, and all of the difficulties that have always been there feel more burdensome because of it. Lately, I have felt so fatigued, on the one hand, from my allergies but also, on the other hand, from the constant stress that I have spent the last few weeks dealing with low motivation even as I went through the motions. Today’s lessons, however, speak volumes about the importance of challenging malaise and one’s lower impulses (simply doing what is easy rather than acting in ways that elevate). It is easy to give up, to lay down, to clutch at the easiest thing in reach, but in doing so we rob ourselves of our potential. We must be like a hermit, taking time alone and confronting the fool within — only to discover the strength within, to see ourselves adrift on the sea of clouds, but to see that voyage as one of new beginnings and satisfying conclusions rather than assume that all of our ideas about ourselves and our realities are true. We shouldn’t lose touch with reality by opening up too much or pushing ourselves too far, but today’s excursion showed me that it is a gift to challenge those lower impulses and examine the other side of any given situation and attitude. I made a choice this morning that bristled against my sense of comfort, and it made a wonderful difference.