Seek Out to Find What is Within
John Muir said, “The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” In the past couple years, this quote has slowly come to fruition in my life. Initially, spending time in nature served as an escape – a time to focus on the world around me and forget myself. I allowed myself to fade into the background and focused simply on the nature. The mountains and trees looked down at me in all their greatness. These moments of awe never lasted, though. Soon I would be back in my apartment with the stresses of life taking their place looming over me at heights rising high above the mountains. Backpacking trips became my best outlet, spending long days walking the trail and sleeping under the stars. My worries and stresses were pushed further away, but they only intensified upon my return.
Change always begins with a single question, with others branching off the initial. Why do I feel this way? How can I change my mindset? What can I do to invite the harmonic beauty and calmness of nature into my own being? How can I approach everyday life with the same positivity and excitement as a trip to the woods? I began my journey. I picked up a few books by Alan Watts in the Boulder Bookstore one afternoon. I had searched popular Eastern philosophy writers on my phone, which led me to his discovery. Supposedly, Watts was known as one of the great translators of Eastern ideas to the Western mind. He explains the concepts in a way that the preconditioned Western mindset can understand. I packed a few of his books and hit the road to the next trailhead.
I parked my truck, packed my gear for the next morning, brewed some late-afternoon coffee, and opened his books. Hours raced by unbeknownst to me and I read late into the night. I lay awake in the small bubble of light inside my camper shell. The ideas captivated me. Alan Watts told me exactly what I needed to hear in four short words, “You are the Universe.” I am the universe? I thought the universe was the place I lived in? I thought I was Alex, separate from what is around me? Alan Watts said, “If there was a big bang at the beginning of time, you are not something that is the result of that explosion at the end of the process. You are the process. You are the big bang. You are the original force of the universe manifesting as whoever you are in the moment. You define yourself as Mr. or Mrs. Or Ms. So-and-So, but you’re actually the primordial energy of the universe that’s still in process. It’s just that you learned to define yourself as something separate.”
I awoke the next morning to a new world. The light of realization encapsulated in my camper shell the night before illuminated the forest around me. Upon opening the back window, the sun hit my eyes and everything was beautiful. I am connected to everything. I marveled at the trees as they released oxygen and breathed life into me. I walked down to the rushing stream and drank the fresh water. An indescribable feeling of happiness rushed over me. Alan Watts asked in one book “Did you know that universe means ‘one turn’? It’s your turn now. You turn to look at yourself. But you can’t make two turns to see what’s looking! As they say in Zen, you can’t grasp it and you can’t get rid of it, and in not being able to grab it, you get it.”
I walked through the forest and mountains deep in the Colorado woods for the next few days. I admired and also envied the harmony in which nature exists. Everything is interconnected. I found my way into the universe through a forest wilderness. I finally understood: I am not separate from the universe. My backpacking trips always result in a deep contemplation of this realization. I often sit in my hammock for hours, either reading or thinking. I watch sunset and sunrise, and sleep underneath the stars in between. This allows a full connection to nature as I hang between the trees.
This realization found in the outdoors has, and is still slowly extending to all other aspects of my life. I see myself in everyone around me. I am another you and you are another me. I want to connect. I want to share my passions – through photography and writing. I know the potential of positive impacts nature has that could change lives. It changed mine. I encourage you, the reader, to journey into nature. Walk deep into the woods or out of your front door, relax, and think. Look at the world around you. It is beautiful, and you are a part of it all. Alan Watts said, “The highest to which man can attain is wonder; and if the prime phenomenon makes him wonder, let him be content; nothing higher can it give him, and nothing further should he seek for behind it; here is the limit.” Wonder with me! Contemplate this connection with me. How can we extend this to others? We can through love and compassion.
Alex Deems is a junior at Naropa University. He expresses a passion for nature and to understand the human mind. He shares his experiences through photography and writing.