I often visit national parks and monuments. One thing I have observed over the years is that most able-bodied folks have a general hiking limit of one quarter mile. It seems getting a brief taste (and a selfie), perhaps with the purchase of a tee shirt or commemorative mug, suffices to prove one’s experience. One study concluded that many people scour the internet for the best place to visit for snapping the perfect selfie, to grab the experience for uploading on social media. So, much of our national park land remains left to rugged wanderers in search of a more intimate and challenging experience.
I am not complaining. I love having a trail to myself because my introverted nature savors the spaciousness and isolation. But I am still saddened that so many people have not experienced the real park—the wildlife, wildflowers, and wilderness that called us to preserve the area in the first place. This is an apt metaphor for the way many of us live. The desire to experience nature does not extend to venturing beyond the beaten path. It is too far away from the comforts of habit.
The spiritual life requires us to hike into unfamiliar territory. Krishnamurti often said the real journey to awakening moves us toward “freedom from the known.” He observed the mental habits that keep us from experiencing our true nature. Everything we ‘know’ prevents us from understanding things outside the prison of our knowing. If we are satisfied with grabbing an experience and storing it in our memory and cell phone, we miss quite a lot. Some things cannot be grabbed. Sometimes, as T.S. Eliot put it, “… what you do not know is the only thing you know.”
On an absolute level, there is no unknown territory and no person to explore it. But, relatively speaking, we fear the unfamiliar like a dark forbidding forest. If we have the capacity to be free from fear, we experience the unknown as the doorway to freedom. We hearken to a sweet voice emanating from the heart, calling us to enter the dark woods. Hopefully, we have developed some spiritual tools to light our way into the shadows—and the skills to help others who may follow.