Mountain Wilderness

There is a beautiful story in Howard Thurman’s “Meditations of the Heart” that describes his unique climbing experience with a different kind of mountain wilderness. The following is his story in my words.

Howard climbed until he was above the timber line and noticed how the forest had abruptly stopped, as though there was an invisible barrier. Above the tree line was a rocky bareness punctuated with patches of snow, strong winds, and what looked like small clusters of evergreen bushes. He wondered how anything could survive and grow in this hostile environment. The greens were not lush, but they were alive and strong.

Howard looked more closely and noticed that the plant needles were a perfect match to the trees further down the mountain. As he continued to study them he thought they resembled branches from the trees. In amazement he realized they were tree branches hugging the ground like vines as they followed the shape of their terrain. Because of the harsh landscape they could not grow upright, but that did not keep them from growing. What looked like stunted shrubs were actually rows of growing tree branches.

Howard marveled at the determined struggle that had produced this unusual phenomenon. It felt as though he could hear the trees saying that, although they could not reach for the heavens as they normally would, they did not want to die. They carefully surveyed what they had to work with and put together a way to experience growth and development, despite the harsh living conditions. They survived where nothing else could, knowing the only way to thrive was to change. In the end the branches did not look like those of other trees, but instead of giving up, these trees fully used every resource available to answer life with life. They embraced what they had and affirmed a universe that sustains and celebrates life in all its forms. This is where Howard’s acute observations and story end.

Courageous women with any major illness or crisis — this is exactly what we do. When we’re in that desolate place of drastic change, diagnosis, and treatment, we may no longer be able to do and be what we once were. How we look and what we do may change. We lose parts of our bodies and adapt to a new way of seeing ourselves. We use all our resources to keep ourselves encouraged as we navigate new ways to fully live within our environment. Challenged to our core, we still find a way to continue our personal growth and development as we put together our treatment plan, observe social distancing, stay home as much as possible, and stay in touch with loved ones.

We are determined and strong because we are linked together as branches from the same tree. We know how to change what needs changing to survive. Together we support each other through every harsh wind and trying moment of our mountain wilderness. We know already what Howard Thurman discovered: Together we can face life’s toughest challenges and transform them into inner growth and wisdom.

No matter where you are in your wilderness experience, know you are in a sacred place. Susan Vreeland writes it beautifully in this quote: “No matter where life takes you, the place you stand at any moment is holy ground. Love hard, and love wide and love long and you will find the goodness in it.”

Until Next Time – Sylvia

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