The Wilderness Within, Reflection
Listen to the story
She is Art
I sit on a hillside overlooking an expansive estuary. My trusty old tent and I are hidden in a campsite that borders a bird sanctuary. My mattress is laid out and I am sleepy, but I have words to write. I am alone. On my headphones I listen to the lecture of a respected spiritual teacher and savour the eloquence of his words. There’s a tension in the air as I battle with stilling my mind from the 1 000 distractions of the day. I try to wrestle my thoughts into submission so that I can be present in this moment. There’s that knowledge that, unless I settle into my heart, I won’t be able to write. My heart is sore from the loss of a great love and I am raw inside. That is sometimes the only place to write from.
“Life goal: Reach the furthest shores of Love.”
I decide to make a cup of tea. The kettle comes out from the neatly packed camping box. I give the Steve from a few weeks back a little nod of appreciation for packing up so neatly on my last trip. The camping stove comes out. I have plenty of gas, now for matches. Yes! They are neatly packed in an airtight jar for protection from the rain. Another nod to that Steve. I have become more organised as I age.
“I am sorry for your loss. It’s painful, but you’ll be okay.”
The tea brewed, milk and honey blended; I get comfortable at my camping table. It’s a red fold-out table that I can carry like a briefcase in the back of my car. Over the years it has been an art table for the kids, a desk in the outdoors, a picnic place during lockdown road trips. It carries the signature of my life over the last decade: Raising kids, road trips, drawings, journaling, impromptu painting sessions in the garden, lockdown relationship. The threads of my past and present woven together and presented to me in this moment through the red table. I have made the transition to where I am.
I melt into the land for a minute, settle my breathing, attune to the voices of the birds. The birdsong in particular is so beautiful here. It starts early in the morning with the Cape Robin Chat performing her song to the pre-dawn stillness. Then in the evening she returns to her perch and sings, sometimes into the dark night. The first and last song of the day. I find the birdsong nourishing. It’s the main reason I chose this campsite, because I love to be present when they sing. The birdsong reminds me of my old home on the edge of a forest, where I would wake up before dawn to pray with the birds. It is a conversation thread with nature that has woven a tapestry of inner peace and connection over the years. I learnt recently that the birdsong awakens the flowers every morning to open to the sun. These songs are prayers of love, the birds remember God with every call. For what more is a prayer than a call to the beloved? Through these shared prayers with the birds I have spoken to the forest and planted roots in her soil. I hope that one day, when this body falls away, my spirit will live on in this birdsong.
In this beautiful place it is so easy to feel aligned with the harmonic symphony of prayer that spills like a spring from the centre of the natural world. Sinking into this moment, I let go and surrender to the love that is present in the light of nature.
I feel it in my bones: Our beloved earth still sees us and she welcomes our calling out to her. I let myself fall… in love… deeper and deeper. My call to the earth is her “I am here”.
Going deeper, breathing into my heart, my attention moves from the outer to the inner. There is a softening in this space inside, a vulnerability, a place where I am alone with my deepest feelings. The language I use to describe this world changes, my perception scans this inner landscape and I see my heart on the inner planes. There is a space inside my heart that is sacred and I remind myself to keep it clean. I used to clear this inner chamber out so that, in the absolute depth of my being, there was an emptiness reserved only for the longing for God. This sacred place where no person or thing may come inside, a sacred space reserved for my beloved alone. I recall the prayer, a sweeping of the dust, clearing the inner chambers so that the light can be present in this primal emptiness. There are wounds here that are fresh. My carelessness with boundaries. In this space of love the boundaries fade and merge and I make space for the love to be present again.
Then, arriving in this space with my rawness, the longing for connection and a heart that is receptive to both the pain and the pleasure of her love, I spontaneously, pray to connect with the divinity in nature – less of a prayer than a deep and compulsive urge to feel that profound connection and oneness with the beloved who is present in the form of the earth. The goddess reveals her face and we dance.
A warm wind pours over me. I recognise that the wind is alive and remember its ancient language. It carries the scent of the essence of creation. A note of love. The wind is like the birdsong prayers of the dawn chorus. The abundant generosity of nature’s love is palpable. It takes my breath away. It cleanses and nourishes the spaces inside me, soothes and holds, leaves an even deeper rawness and emptiness inside me which I don’t want to rush to fill.
“Fall in love, Steve. Just let go.”
It’s like an intoxicating plant medicine. It takes me away, to some other place. I am now at the edge of the world, where the earth comes into being. I see the light of nature as a wholeness that is the ebb and flow of life, evident in the estuary before me, which breathes the rising and falling tidal flow. This ocean that I am so familiar with flows onto the shallow banks and recedes again, like the blood of the world moving endlessly in currents and tides. For a moment I wonder whether the cremated ashes of my old surfing friends have found their way from the bay and onto these shores, back into the great cycle of life and death, absorbed into their beloved ocean.
As the sun sets and it gets dark the frogs start to sing and the traffic from the highway quietens. A nighttime breeze carries the sound of the sea, which was drowned out by the daytime sounds. Crickets sing, dogs bark, nightjars greet the evening sky. A cricket beneath my feet sings loudly and passionately and it reminds me of a dream a sangoma friend told me about these little creatures that mean good things are coming. The stars sparkle and float and drift about in the vast night sky, taking turns to shine brightly. They fill the sky and some even drift about in their own strange journeys in the vast darkness of the heavens. The night sky is soaked in mystery. A vast oneness floating in the utter emptiness of space. Filled with the warm breeze, the sky appears to be both full and empty.
“Through suffering and longing our hearts are liberated.”
I experience an image of the people’s prayers floating up into the night sky asking God for mercy, grace, rescue, protection and sweet respite from all the other insecurities that we share. I imagine that there are also prayers for God’s sake, without requests, simply prayers of alignment and submission. These prayers hang in the misty sea air above the houses where the dogs bark. Do they really go up to heaven or do they soak back into the earth and travel to God through nature’s heart? I see my own prayers and wonder whether they arrived with God and whether they were received with grace, whether they will be answered or if they will lie at His door piling up in the night. I close my eyes and just remember God for His sake, bow in reverence. It feels good to surrender and to want nothing in return.
I feel small in this scene where the evening stars dance in the darkness above me. My heart feels the wholeness and the emptiness of nature. I dry the tears from my face. Raw and alive, the emptiness within me surrenders.
Spiritual Ecologist, passionate about African botanicals & the Earth
Steve Hurt’s writing falls within the paradigm of spiritual ecology which approaches ecology from a spiritual perspective. His writing is influenced by shamanism, sufism and a deep love for the earth. Steve currently lives in South Africa and runs a business that trades in African medicinal plants, a trade that is driven by his wish to preserve the rich heritage of African medicinal knowledge for future generations.