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Most of us are staying home or limiting where and when we go out.
This is an important part of caring about each other and joining together to limit spread of Covid-19 and its harrowing toll of sickness and death. Life as we knew it is suspended for a while. There is much uncertainty about when things will return to any semblance of normal. We’re not able to see our family and friends face-to-face. We keep in touch by social media and phones. Many of us are expanding our comfort with virtual interactions and learning new tricks.
As an author, this “stay at home, stop the spread” reality is both familiar and oddly unsettling. It’s familiar since I already stay home a lot, especially since I’m retired (from a day job) and don’t need to go anywhere regularly. Many of my days were already spent facing my computer screen, doing research and writing. Days could pass without going out anywhere. But when I felt the need to take a break, get some physical activity, go shopping, or socialize with friends, these options were available.
Now they are not. For physical activity, I can take a walk being careful not to approach any other walker closer than six feet. I can do yoga or calisthenics at home—you know just how much appeal that has. For socializing, I can call people or engage in online messaging. That’s OK but not nearly the same as in person discussions. I can do some shopping, but need to put in an online order, hoping what I want is in stock, and set a time for pickup where the clerk puts the groceries inside the trunk. Or else, have things I’ve ordered online dropped off on the porch.
Brave New World indeed!
Now you’d think that an author forced to stay at home would become wildly productive. You envision authors glued to their computers, keying out thousands of words. That new project should be a breeze with so much time. Take on new challenges and spiff up all your social media platforms. Finish those stories. Write amazing blogposts. Submit to awards and contests. Write book reviews by the dozens.
The funny thing is how hard I find it to get motivated. The national crisis has a way of sapping my energy and concentration. I try to avoid watching too much news, but there’s a dreadful fascination with how this pandemic is wreaking havoc across the world. My heart is heavy over such suffering and loss. Silently I urge on the leaders and health workers who contend with the worse of it. Serious concern wells up about workers and families upended as the economy takes a nose dive. We are all affected. We are all—as a planet—in this together. May we find our way through to a more cohesive and caring tomorrow.
It’s my pleasure to host a guest blogpost by J. Mitchel Baker as part of his blog tour. He is featuring his book A Journey Within, a lyrical mix of memoir, adventure, and philosophy as he follows his soul’s call to search for the higher design in his life. He embarks on a personal journey into the wilderness, encountering raw nature with its survival challenges and potential for spiritual revelation. This is the true story of a man whose career involves nature and animals, yet whose inner voice called him into the wilderness. After years of postponement, he embarked on his personal quest into the unknown. In raw nature, he encounters unexpected challenges and finds courage through his animals to forge onward. The book highlights “the duality between both the physical and the spiritual. It carries a message of courage and inspiration to connect with life and the inner self, taking the road less traveled, and living authentically.”
Below are Baker’s reflections on the mystical powers inherent in nature. My review of his book follows. — Leonide Martin
The mystique of the wild
I rage over the discourtesies shown by other drivers on an overfilled urban stretch of road. I stress over the relentless looming of debt. I obsess with the needs of my children. My hypertension rises with the vagaries of office politics and oppressive timelines. This is an ordinary day, played over yet again and again. But is this the life we were truly meant to live? Oh how I wish I were back in the wilds. The wild is often in my dreams; memories acute with wisdom learned.
Find a place in nature: the ocean, the forest, a river, or a mountain top. Sit and simply listen.
It begins with absolute silence. An ear accustomed to too much input will resist the auditory vacuum. A body learned in the ways of constant motion and a full agenda will fight for purpose. But be utterly still. Do not speak. Breathe deeply. Allow the ego to quiet itself. And be mindful of all things internal and external. There you can find your true self. There you can hear your true inner voice. There, in that setting devoid of space and time, is where you find awareness.
The listless flapping of leaves and the slow sway of the trees in the breeze naturally aligns our rhythms to the earth. The colorful grandeur of a mountain range as the sun settles demands we feel small and insignificant, yet happy to be alive. The vastness and brilliance of the stars on a cloudless night remind us we are part of something greater than ourselves. Sacred moments such as these give us pause to reflect on what is truly important in our lives.
The mysticism of these singular moments is the self-realization that the separation between each of us and nature is an illusion. Everything in nature is connected. Her millions of component parts contribute to create a perfect whole. We are part of that whole. She guides us toward something larger than ourselves, forces us to exist in the moment. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. Now.
“There came to me a delicate, but at the same time a deep, strong and sensuous enjoyment of the beautiful green earth, the beautiful sky and sun; I felt them, they gave me inexpressible delight, as if they embraced and poured out their love upon me. It was I who loved them, for my heart was broader than the earth; it is broader now than even then, more thirsty and desirous. After the sensuous enjoyment always come the thought, the desire: That I might be like this; that I might have the inner meaning of the sun, the light, the earth, the trees and grass, translated into some growth of excellence in myself, both of the body and of mind; greater perfection of physique, greater perfection of mind and soul; that I might be higher in myself.”
– Richard Jefferies, The Story of My Heart
The mystique of nature is neither measurable nor empirical but rather a deep experience that heals and inspires; an understanding all indigenous people across the globe have acknowledged for thousands of years; each embracing the earth as their mother. The emotional connection is there if you sit and simply listen. But perhaps we have travelled too far into our urban sprawls.
A Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker
Review by Leonide Martin
This first person account of the author’s quest for his destiny and personal truth is both lyrical and intensely vivid. Driven by an inner vision to seek the fullness of who he is, Baker plans an adventure on horseback into the wild country of New Mexico. With his dog and three companions, he braves uncharted mountain terrain along the Continental Divide, taking few supplies and depending on nature to provide most needs. The congenial group of men, horses and dog faces unforeseen obstacles and must use wits and instinct to surmount flooded rivers, steep craggy paths, and disappearing trails.
Weaving through scary accounts of close calls with disaster are Baker’s inner reflections, revealing a profound philosophy and dedication to following his spiritual path. These deeply felt considerations are infused with an appreciation and honoring of nature that borders on the mystical. His love for animals and the natural world shines through. He is a man capable of enduring heart rending loss and yet remaining open to the richness of life’s experiences. Quotes at the beginning of each chapter frame the issues he grapples with, or provide inspirations drawn from a surprising range of teachers, from Jung and Freud to Mark Twain and Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Yogi Bera and modern mystic Caroline Myss.
Baker must make choices toward the journey’s end about following his own goals or keeping solidarity with his companions and ensuring safety. His selfless decision truncates the quest and he ponders what more might have been forthcoming had he continued. Feeling that the journey is incomplete and spiritual revelations remain, Baker ends the story setting off on another nature encounter with his horse, dog and one friend. The journey continues as he seeks to discover a greater design for his life.
Preconceptions commonly held about “cowboys” and outdoorsmen in the southwest are dismantled by this sensitive, eloquent memoir.