This is an essay I wrote after returning from trip to Lewes, England
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture on the lonely shore, there is society, where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar: I love not man the less, but Nature more – Lord Byron. ”
The history of many religious and philosophical movements are built around stories of their founders and prophets achieving spiritual transcendence while embarking upon grueling physical journeys: Jesus wandered through the desert for forty days and nights without food or water, during-which he found the strength to resist the temptations of the devil, the Buddha spent his whole life roaming across India, collecting all the wisdom he could from the country’s holy men, depriving himself of even the most basic physical pleasures, eventually realizing true enlightenment comes from equal engagement with both the internal, and the external realms. Even in Norse mythology, Odin, the Allfather, was known as a wanderer, protecting any brave souls who sought adventure wherever the seas would take them. Though these different systems of belief are constructed of differing values, one common feature among them is that their most spiritually powerful figures are those who detach themselves from stability and comfort, so as to experience the full breadth of life on Earth. Though nowhere near as arduous as the aforementioned journeys, my trip to Lewes had a profound effect on me that transcended the program’s academic nature, and imbued me with new perspectives on life.
England is a small country, but coming here gave me a sense of how small I am in relation to the rest of the world. Where I was born and raised, everything is developed, and paved over; everything is right next to everything else, and the only way to go anywhere is by enclosing yourself in a tiny metal box and driving there. I’ve spent my whole life stepping aside to make room for machines ten times my size or squeezing myself into spaces that weren’t designed to fit a human being. Walking through miles of open country has given me a new perspective of how profound an effect space can have on my state of mind, something I realized on our walk to Charleston, when we climbed the steep hills which surround Lewes, reaching the top, I gazed out upon a seemingly endless field of green: miles of grass, dotted with flowers of every color, fields of wheat waving in the gentle breeze, creating ripples of light as the sun shone on them, trees which had stood strong for hundreds of years, old before before my parents or grandparents had even been born.
The simple act of being present in such a large amount of unspoiled space, with no barrier between myself and the natural world felt cleansing, as though all the gunk had been removed from my spirit. Out in the fields, I felt no sadness, no frustration, no anxiety about the future or past; and I believe that the physicality of our outings contributed significantly to the introspective change I underwent, as I was forced to put all my energy into strenuous exercise, and not into chasing whichever thoughts happen to conjure themselves up in my head. During and after our hikes, I endured a hefty amount of pain, in all parts of my body: my muscles, my bones, my heart and lungs; I was sunburnt, dehydrated, and often so exhausted I could barely speak. And yet, none of it felt like suffering to me, instead, I took the discomfort as a sign that I was becoming stronger, that a weaker, less self-actualized version of myself was melting away to make room for a better one. Profuse sweating removed toxins from my system, heavy breathing and an increased heart rate sent enlivening blood and oxygen to all parts of my body; my body was growing in power, and as a result, so was my mind.
I found myself able to contemplate great ideas, chief among them, those concerning impermanence. While exploring the hills and valleys of southern England, I thought of all the history the land had seen, the countless souls who had walked these paths before, now all dead, just like I would be one day. I can achieve great things as a writer, and as a person in general: write great works of literature which sell millions of copies and touch countless lives, amass great sums of money, and become exquisitely educated, but none of those things will negate the reality that one day my body will slowly deteriorate and die.
It’s easy for us to get so wrapped up in ourselves that we become out of tune with the Earth’s natural rhythms, failing to recognize the forces at work in the universe which are larger than ourselves. Given that we enjoy a relatively short period of time on Earth, I believe the most productive use of our energy is the augmentation of the spiritual aspects of life. This is best done through giving one’s self ample amounts of open space to explore, so as to become more tuned in with the universe’s natural rhythms. Americans don’t realize how lucky we are, to live in a large country, with such a splendid plethora of environments to experience, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the Redwood Forests, places which constitute a sizable portion of our national heritage, and which I, lamentably, have never seen in person. After my adventures in the Southdowns, I have a new found hunger to explore the world on foot and feel the transcendent power that comes from being present in the raw wilderness, removed from the trappings of civilization. This is something I realized on our excursion to London, when I was struck by the disparity between the two settings; the noise and activity of London proved somewhat jarring after I had gotten used to the calm and consistency of Lewes, and while the city still retains a glamorous allure to me, extended stays there are not conducive to achievement of ephemeral transcendence. As I move forward in life, I plan to make the most of my home country’s magnificent landscapes, to break the gaudy bonds of comfort and familiarity, and venture beyond the borders of what I have come to know as my home. I choose to embark upon further pilgrimages of the mind, for to allow one’s body to remain sedentary is to cause the stagnation of the spirit.