What if going into the wild is the way home? What if a wilderness journey awaits each one of us? The wilderness is the unknown, rarely appreciated and while sometimes faced, the wilderness is flush with fear. Yet, where “the wild things are” is where the infinite possibilities are for in the wilderness we bear what we believe we cannot bear.
When Cheryl Strayed hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 1995, she was “on a spiritual quest but what [she] got was a physical test.”* Before her 1100 mile trek, Strayed was not even a novice backpacker–she had never carried a backpack—thus, she seriously compromised herself in her selection of equipment and gear, especially her boots. She was not physically prepared or emotionally fit, and beyond her food supplies, she had almost no money. What she did have was unfailing support from her fear of failing. In other words, the wilderness provided—perhaps only as it can—for “the physical realm kept delivering the spirit to [her].”
Strayed’s writing is raw in the revealing of herself at twenty-two years old. Through Strayed, we see what masters we are at masking our fears, and how the wilderness will break us open if we are willing to replay the stories that are our lives. For 1100 miles, Cheryl Strayed revisits her life, comforted only by the constant pain of surviving each day, sometimes only step by step. She says, she “went wild into [her] life.”
Wild is a call to our own wilderness, a call to exploration of all that we are. For Strayed, it was an arduous trek through the high country of California and Oregon but Wild is more than that. If we go “wild” into our lives, we discover the rawness in our past not to relive but to observe the stories that are no more. What was then is not now, and it is a crucial distinction for once we discover it, we have found our own Pacific Crest Trail, a walk that will not be painless.
In the wilderness, we are not what we have been; what we are is in the moment. Physical existence in the wilderness depends on being completely present every moment. Each wilderness has its own miles, its own beasts, and no two journeys are the same, although paths do cross.
We come to recognize that we do want to know what is around the bend and over the mountain. Climbing rocks, stomping through snow, and trying to find water–literally or figuratively– may bring us to the edge of our existence but if we lean into each experience, we see through the fear and accept the pain. We may find places within the wilderness to stay forever but until we’ve walked our wilderness, we can only stop for a while.
We nudge ourselves along until we hit our stride—we just notice it one day–we recognize how our physical being strives to meet our spirit. In facing fear, we clear a path through our wilderness because “being fearless is not being unafraid.”
Unknown is the nature of the wild–we are not tomorrow what we are today–such are the fields of possibilities in the wilderness. If we immerse ourselves in those fields—in as many possibilities as we can—we will travel less in what used to be and live more in what is.
That is what Cheryl Strayed’s book has given me, my own wild. For the last two years, I have been on a voyage in but until I read Wild, I did not lean into the pain as acceptance. Like Strayed, I am ill-equipped and utterly naïve in my quest; like Strayed, I am the cause of my own physical and emotional pain; like Strayed, I insist on learning the hard way.
Unlike Strayed, I was 58 years old when I began and have not yet walked all the miles of my wilderness but I have hit my stride. For the rest of my journey, the pages of Wild burn in my memory.
*All Cheryl Strayed quotes are from the Super Soul Sunday Interview with Oprah Winfrey, July 22, 2012.