Roughing it in the Woods and This Year's Theme

I sat down. I felt the moss squish under my butt and watched my heels sink into the damp soil. The dappled sunlight was creating dancing patterns on the cool grass. I looked up. The trees were tall. So tall. Their branches seemed to reach to the heavens. I stood up from my comfortable seat and walked around. I was situated on a grassy knoll on the top of a rock outcropping. There were some trees on the knoll, but the ground was mostly coated with luscious green moss and soft, dewy green grass. The shadows of the tall, wise trees were reflected on the soft and gentle ground by the morning sun, which was making its graceful daily arc across the sky.

Now that I had introduced myself to the place where I would be staying for 24 hours, it was time to meet the inhabitants of this little piece of the earth. Yes, I was spending a whole day alone in the woods with only a sleeping bag, food, water, a journal, and the world to keep me company. This was going to be interesting. I walked over to the closest tree and put my arms around her. I felt her energy; her very essence, and tapped into it. I felt us connect. Connect as living beings. Living beings who breathe the same air and walk the same earth. I was to be a guest at her home for the next day, so we had to become acquainted early on. It was just the polite thing to do.

I spent the rest of the day sitting down and meditating, writing and drawing in my journal, walking around my new home, doing some yoga on the top of the rock outcropping, but mainly doing nothing. Nothing is a wonderful thing to do. I think it's my favorite past time. A dear friend of mine once told me, “we are human beings not human doings.” I so often forget this and it was amazing to have nothing to do. So liberating. No errands to run, no emails to send, no meals to cook, and no people to talk to. As I was sitting there on my favorite rock (yes, I quickly found my favorite place to sit - a smooth rock that overlooked a valley filled with trees) I realized how still the world really is. The trees sway gently in the breeze, and the clouds pass overhead, and the sun makes its way across the heavens, but that is all as it should be. The world moves gently and with love. As I watched the sun make its way across the sky, I realized how small and insignificant I really was. No matter what I did, the trees would still sway, the grass would still collect dew in the mornings, and the clouds would still trace their paths across the blue sky. You might think it's scary to realize how small you are, but actually it's quite comforting. I found my place in the world. Everything seemed to fit together perfectly - the world was there to protect, nurture, and love me, and I was there to protect and love the world in turn. All of the world was connected and we all were here to take care of each other.

After many hours, the sun started to go down and the air turned more chilly. The shadows of my friends the trees were longer and the ground felt cold. As I munched on my bag of carrot sticks and put on my wool hat (in August), the sky turned brilliant shades of orange, yellow, and pink. I watched this brilliant show that nature put on for me with a heart filled with gratitude. Sadly, the spectacle ended, and the air was suddenly much colder. I snuggled up in my sleeping bag on the ground and sprayed bug repellent all over it. As the world darkened, I started feeling scared (what if a bear gets me? An axe murderer? An escaped convict?) and pulled my sleeping bag over my head so that I was in my own little world. After I took some deep breaths and calmed down, I slowly lifted my head out of my little den I had created and looked at the stars. As I watched them blink and glow in the night sky, I felt a sense of calm, as if everything was going to be all right. As I drifted off to sleep, I felt held in the womb of the wilderness. Everything was as it should be.

Later, when the sky was a deep bluish black, and even the mosquitoes were asleep, I woke up. I checked my watch - 3:30 AM. Only an hour and a half until sunrise, and the end of my darkness-induced fears. My mood matched my surroundings, and I felt my heart filled with sadness, anger, and fear. So, I did what any rational person would do - I turned my headlamp on its highest setting and tried to pretend that it wasn't dark out and I wasn't alone in the woods. I pulled out my journal, and, in my little pool of light, tried to sift through my complicated emotions. Over the past few weeks, I had been plagued with some deep and troubling questions. I thought about them in the shower, eating dinner, and in conversations with friends. Why do some people not crave deep connections? Why are some people content with living shallow lives bereft of all feeling? Why do we hate those who are different from us? Why, oh why, can’t we just get along - why does there have to be racism, sexism, homophobia, terrorism, and war?

Lying in my little sanctuary of light, thoughts raced through my head as waves of anger and fear flooded my being. I had so many questions, yet so few answers. And, as much as I didn't want to admit it, there were some nagging thoughts in the back of my brain that I really didn't want to acknowledge. But, I made myself do it. I made myself write down what I was really thinking. And it was hard. I wanted to think that I only thought kind thoughts and didn't judge people, but that wasn't true at all. I'm just human - I make mistakes. Here's what I wrote in my journal “I don't understand why so many people are stupid and uncaring and mean. It makes me mad and sad...I always have these thoughts and emotions like ‘I am better’ and ‘these people are dumb’ but those thoughts are buried deep inside because I don't want to acknowledge the fact that I have ‘evil’ or ‘unkind’ thoughts, which is what I would label them. But Evan [my friend and therapist] said to truly be a wise and calm person I have to really sit with the emotion and acknowledge it.”

So, I sat with my uncomfortable emotions. I told myself “it's ok to feel what you're feeling.” I lay in the darkness and let go - now wasn't the time to try to control my thoughts. Now wasn't the time to try to be kind. It wasn't the time to be optimistic. It was the time to let go.

The more I sat there thinking, the more I realized that everyone really is pure, unique, loving, and important, even if they don't act that way all the time. We all are loving and beautiful people inside. No one is born a racist. No one is born a homophobe. No one is born a terrorist. Yet, these types of people exist in the world. You always hear these stories of little kids who don't see anything weird or unusual about two men or two women getting married. To them it's just as normal as a marriage between a man and a woman. But these beautiful, caring, and wonderful children are taught to fear those who are different. They are taught to stereotype. They are taught to be indifferent.They are taught to hate. They are taught to kill.

We need a revolution. We need children to be exposed to those who are different from them. We need to teach them how to embrace what makes them unique and special. We need to teach them cooperation. We need to teach them love. We need to educate our young in the art of kindness, not in the art of war. And that's why the theme of this year’s Peace Walk is so special - Emerging Leaders’ Voices for Peace and Justice. This year we focus on the children. We focus on teaching love to the leaders of tomorrow. We focus on children speaking up for what they believe in - for a better world, for equality, for interfaith peace and cooperation, for education, for climate change, for love, and for so much more. We as a society often forget to listen to the children. Children have some really important things to say. They have hopes and dreams, fears and ideas, and can think of ways to make the world a better place. So, this year, this Peace Walk, let them teach us. Let them show us the fundamental truths that only children can see. And, let us teach them as well. Teach them about love and cooperation. Teach them about embracing our differences. This year, let's teach each other. Let us come together and talk about peace. Let us talk about love. Let us come together as one.

And so, as the sun started to rise above the mountains, and the birds began to chirp in the trees, my heart filled with gratitude. Gratitude that I was alive another day and able to experience the beauty of this precious sunrise. Gratitude that I was given a new beginning.

And, just as I was given a new beginning that day in the woods, this Peace Walk is a new beginning. A new beginning for us as individuals, for us as a community, and for us as a world. Let it be a new day. Let it be a glorious sunrise that fills the world with light and beauty. Let us all come together, all people of different races, religions, ages, and beliefs. Together we can overcome any obstacles. Together we can learn to love and let go. And together, we can change the world.