Once upon a time, just the other day, our ancestors lived life nomadically. They carried all they needed on their backs. They followed sources of nourishment with the changing season. They ate enough food to sustain them until the next meal, drank enough water to last until the next water crossing. They lived in simple homes – tents, tipis, caves – enough to shelter them from weather or wild animals; homes that were easily packed up and ready to move whenever necessary. They were reminded every day of the inevitability of death as they were very much a part of the food chain. They understood the importance of a tribe; that safety comes in numbers, and that life is much easier to live with the help of a community.
They didn’t possess much in a material sense. Simple clothing to keep them warm, basic tools and weapons, shelter, animals for food or packing. They possessed some luxuries too, of course, like instruments, jewelry, special garments, things to trade.
What they did possess in abundance was a life lived simply enough to truly live. One spent with family and friends. One with new vistas every day. One with plenty of time to enjoy silence, to listen to nature, to wonder about this great world they lived in. Their senses were sensitive because they were always prepared to face danger at any given point. Thriving in between surviving enabled them to live fully.
Now maybe I am romanticising it all. But this is how I just lived for the last month. Granted, I had my food supplied from outside the trail, and was never too far away from so-called civilization. But I was very much in a mode of ambulatory survival. I only carried what I thought I truly needed, though to be honest I definitely could have gone with less. I made my home in a different location every single night. I slept among wild animals. I climbed sketchy mountains. I crossed multiple thigh-high rivers. I drank water at whatever sources I came across. And anything I needed and didn’t have, I had to come up with a way of making it or else letting the trail provide it for me. And it was always provided if I waited patiently enough.
In living this simple way, I was brought face to face with how wasteful and unintentional and greedy I had become. By no longer needing to live nomadically, we are able to accumulate too many things, we can easily obtain food and water whenever we want it, and we work our lives away at jobs we may not like so that we can “afford” to maintain this lifestyle. And this lifestyle perpetuates business, stress, and absolute disconnect from the source of all of life.
So this past week, as I have merged back into society, I admit I have struggled a bit. I have tasted a wildness that is sweeter than any amount of sugar. I have gained energy from breath and the sun and from trees more uplifting than that from caffeine or drugs or any substance. I have learned to become silent enough to hear the ancient wisdom of Life that is quickly drowned out by the sounds of sirens and weak thoughts and idle talk. And now I am figuring out how best to merge both worlds to suit my ideal style of living.
I crossed paths on the trail with a woman named Honey. I was seated on a big rock by a stream, drinking water and enjoying the coolness of shade in midday heat. She asked about the trail cutoff to the nearest town, and said she was rushing to get there because she needed food and a shower desperately. I told her a bit about my trip, and that it had been about ten days since I had last been in a town. She was shocked, and said she never goes more than a week without stopping in town; any more than that and she said she starts to go crazy. She kept walking as this brief conversation took place. And as she rushed off in the opposite direction, she advised me to take my sweet time. I told her that’s exactly what I was doing. What I didn’t say was that maybe after seven days on trail, it’s not a going crazy you experience but a coming to sanity instead. I wanted to tell her to follow her own advice and take her time, to stop rushing to the next destination, to experience a presence to life sweeter than honey. To amble. To alter. To allow.
“To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts nor even to found a school but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust. It is to solve some of the problems of life, not only theoretically but practically.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden