A Walk in the Woods

The most fortunate are those who have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy. (Abraham H. Maslow)

What a great quote. I love the assertion that the basic goods of life can be appreciated and experienced with “awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.” I love it, and yet as I think about it, I have two conflicting thoughts. The first is “Wow, wouldn’t that be an amazing way to live life? Constantly in awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy over the basic goods of life!” The other is “Oh come on, how is that even possible?”

Great question!

As I contemplate it in my own life I’m noticing several things that allow me to spend moments in that space of awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy.

I experience it most, I think, when I’m walking in the woods. And, I’m most able to experience it, even there, when I am:
…. mindfully present
… curious
… willing to be child-like, or as Maslow says, naive — which includes a openness to surprise, wonder, and awe.

When I’m truly present, rather than simply walking in the woods with my heart and mind somewhere else, the woods are a never ending source of surprise and amazement. I find myself constantly telling my brother “Oh! Look at that!” or “Wow! That’s so beautiful!”

Sometimes, I catch myself, laugh, and ask “Geez, do you ever want to slap me for saying – Oh, look at this – about the same thing when I see it again later on?” Thankfully he never does — partly because he’s super patient, partly because he, too, knows and lives with wonder and awe.

Here are some of the basic goods of life I encountered on our last walk that I experienced with awe, pleasure, wonder and even, a bit of ecstasy.

These days we traverse tons of leaves as we search out our favorite spots along the river. This day, one of them hitched a ride on my laces. It made me chuckle when I noticed it.

Instead of brushing it off, I let it stay with me at the river. I appreciated its texture and the way it looked against the river. I admired its ingenuity and courage, and imagined it enjoying its moment in the sun by the river.

Silly? Perhaps. Naive? Maybe. A moment of wonder, awe, joy, and even a bit of ecstasy? Absolutely.

Perhaps Maslow believed we are most fortunate in these moments, because he knew these moments open us to gratitude, and gratitude makes happiness possible.

The Woods and the River

The cool air kisses our cheeks
welcoming us back 
to the beauty and joy 
of the woods and the river

We pause 
to capture photographs
of leaves suspended above the ground
by trees that didn’t hold them in life

We stop
to free a witch hazel
trapped beneath a massive birch
felled by a recent storm

We walk
deep into the woods
through pockets of coolness
and dappled areas of sunlight

At the river’s edge
I breathe the air
with every fiber of my being
and remember a Nhat Hanh mantra

Breathing in I calm my body
Breathing out I smile
Living in the present moment
What a wonderful moment.

Smiling
I sit
and slide my unshod feet 
into the cold, rushing water of the river

I exist
in the epitome of mindfulness
body and mind together
in the woods by the river

I relish this time and space
so ordinary 
and yet 
so very extraordinary

The sights and sounds
of woods and river
flow over me
like water over the rocks

My jagged edges are smoothed
and the disquieting din of life
is drowned by the pleasantly deafening 
song of the river

Refreshed
and renewed
We walk again
amidst the trees

The moon greets us as we
emerge from the canopy of green
even now planning our return
to walk in the woods and sit by the river