Thursday, July 30, 2015

Return to Escalante, Moments of Solitude

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. Henry David Thoreau

It has been almost thirty-seven years since I sat alone on the banks of the Escalante River in southern Utah. I was on my 31 day survival course called BYU Youth Leadership 480, still on-going yet privately run by Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS). I need to describe the solo portion of our trip that we had the last week of the course.

The last seven days of the class I was completely alone, not seeing another person the entire time. I had no books to read or journal to write in. I had in my possession a bow and drill tool I made for starting fires, a woolen blanket, pocket knife, a coffee can I found in the desert for carrying water and cooking, a pound of wheat (seed), and a few honey packs I traded for with my pals earlier on the trip. My days consisted of keeping my #10 coffee can scrubbed clean by the sand in the river and filled with water by my small fire which never went out. For food I'd grind the wheat to make ash cakes and drink tea made from the native Brigham tea plants. What could have been boredom to some people, the seemingly endless hours of solitude, caused me to become acutely aware of my soul and the southern Utah sky.

Images: (above) I call my solo location Solace Overlook, which is located at N 37.774437 W 111.423868 (DD). On the state map, the red star roughly shows about where I was located on a larger scale.(right)

You can see the rocky overhang I slept under and sought shade with. At night cliff served as a heat reflector for my fire and faced in the perfect direction so I could watch Polaris throughout the night.

Returning to moments of contemplation of ourselves in this universe can center our inner beings and bring peace. It can ground us in the fact that our role in the world is much larger and more significant than we sometimes realize. Solitude can provide us with that opportunity, if we let it.

I’m reminded of a movie I saw that made a deep impression on me. My Dinner With André, 1981, is a conversation between Andre Gregory and Wally Shawn, both of whom were active in New York theater. One of the primary themes that got my attention was that sometimes we get lulled into daily routines and take for granted mundane things that bring us comfort and joy. This quote from Andre’ to Wally:

What does it do to us living in an environment where something as massive as the seasons or winter or cold, don't in any way affect us? I mean, we’re animals after all. What does that mean? I think it means that instead of living under the sun and the moon and the sky and the stars, we're living in a fantasy world of our own making… [And] comfort can lull us into a dangerous tranquility.

Solitude can cause one to look inward to realize not only their smallness, but the potential of their greatness and the greatness of our God in the universe. I like the way philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich addresses this by saying, Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth… Psalm 46:9 (NIV)

For more insight on this, see the story Stillness and Silent Prayer by Debbi Geller, from Krista Tippett's OnBeing.org,  OnBeing is one of my favorite websites ever, and I'm glad I found Debbi's work. Thank you Krista and Debbi.

I hope you get to enjoy your own version of stillness and solitude. Feel free to leave a comment and tell me of your experiences in solitude or follow me on Twitter @guskoerner.

- gus

Post Script. What I didn't mention in this story but wanted to...1. How I got my fire started. 2. The rattlesnake that kept me from getting my tea leaves. 3. The fellow student that went home early because he cheated. 4. How beautiful the Big Dipper is when it rotates around the North Star. 5. The 13 mile run-in from the Escalante River to Boulder, UT. Perhaps another time.

Monday, July 27, 2015

If I Were a Goat

I like to leave Sandy a note in the morning.  This is what I wrote today, some of my more thoughtful, contemplative work.

Dear Sandy,  If I were a boat, I'd float you a note.
Regarding this acquaintance of mine,
named Gus the goat, who has a crush on you.
He's baaa-shful :)

I love you Sweetheart.  Have a good Monday.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Thank you for Tomorrow

It's been a while since I posted last, and I try to remind myself of the primary purpose of this blog. This is my journal that I share with others.  Although sometimes my ego gets the best of me and revels in the fact that a particular article may get a few hundred "reads", this journal is to record my thoughts and feelings.  If others can relate to what I write, or find some comfort in my words that is all the better.

The following poem is on the dark side, but don't get confused with my words - I'm filled with joy.   Sometimes I just have days of contemplation where I wonder of could or could have done something different to reach my full potential.  I put my faith in God and my best to do the next right thing.  I look back on my past as a text book to learn from, not making the same mistakes again, and repeating behaviors that bring joy to me, my family and others.

The Man I Could Have Been (Thank you for tomorrow)

Father, help me to be true to myself, to others.
Help me to follow in Your ways and not look back,
Help me to see and tend to the needs of my brother.
Help me to love another as You loved me.

The man I could have been,
The man I should have been.
If I only could have met my potential
For the things that were essential.

Been the son that was always there,
The brother to my flesh,
The friend of those who befriended me,
A loyal man to prove the test.

The man I could have been,
The man I should have been.
If I only could have met my potential
For the things that were essential.

If I could have worked harder on being a good father.
Studied more for the degrees that keep the score.
If only I could have been the man who loved my wife,
Like Christ loved the Church more than His life.

The man I could have been,
The man I should have been.
If I only could have met my potential
For the things that were essential.

Thank you for tomorrow.

Gus Koerner, July 7, 2015.