Hiking 1100 miles alone through woods, desert, and mountains Cheryl Strayed loses six of her toenails to ill-fitting hiking boots yet manages to find her inner resources for life. A young woman adrift after the untimely death of her mother she embarks on the trek in the hope of leaving behind heroin and destructive relationships and finding a way to hold her grief. Strayed chronicles the journey in Wild: From Lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail (follow the link to watch her uplifting trailer.)
Part of the pleasure of reading Wild comes from the rich description of the natural environment and its perils (bears, rattlesnakes, ice-covered trails.) Yet much of the memoir is about the inner journey, something each of us experience; whether or not we push ourselves to this kind of extreme.
I love how Strayed ends one chapter half way through her journey: “I felt fierce and humble and gathered up inside, like I was safe in this world too (234).”
Even as we taste suffering we each carry deep inner capacities for learning, growing, and healing. And as Strayed articulates so well… how we manage to “gather ourselves up” along the way matters a great deal.
We might not be hiking solo across three states, but I believe each one of us is navigating a Homeric-like quest to move through our particular life’s challenges and to connect with our courage.
And finding and living out of our center is work which we do alongside the other work of our lives. It is the work we do which allows our ideas to gain traction so that we might act on them in the world—whether that be launching an urban farm or tending well to our families. Whether it is directing a community preschool or navigating a big (and maybe unexpected) transition, such as losing a job, having a baby, or simply acknowledging a lingering sense that we have lost contact with our passion.
But how do we gather ourselves up?
I wonder if it is not the simplest things which have most impact, things like conversations with friends or other supportive people, yoga, reading, gardening, music, meditation, creative projects, quality food and enough rest. The particular practices depend on our temperaments and phase of life but our need to maintain open channels for self care and deep listening do not.
Gathering our resources is not a one time thing or even a linear process. Strayed describes the experience of walking the trail as akin to knitting and unknitting a sweater– it feels like you are going up and down the same mountain, and yet somehow in increments which are invisible to you in the daily process– you are moving forward along your path.
Each of us has the expertise to knit together our fragmented experiences into a coherent story which we can both live into and out of. And in the process to identify and draw strength from the parts of us which are whole, healthy, and expansive.
What gathers you up inside?