So I had the opportunity to spend a bunch of time backpacking this summer with three very close friends. Actually, on one big adventure, I was in the Wind Rivers range and Grand Teton’s in Wyoming as well as the Beartooth range in Montana. All of those places were incredibly beautiful. As you would guess there were many days without email, websites, phone calls, CD’s, DVD’s, TV, movies, ipods,radios, billboards,newspapers, magazines…..I think you get the picture. I was without any unwanted or unnecessary stimulation. All I had was good conversation with close friends, natural beauty everywhere I looked and quiet, lots of quiet. Over my time there and especially when I got back I realized how little time I have alone with my thoughts and even more than that how much my mind is filled with the thoughts, ideas and images of others. Some of those thoughts, ideas and images are invited in but most are not, they are just the byproduct of my lifestyle and the world I live in. My head has become a very crowded and busy place. What I found on my trip was that in the absence of all that noise and stimulation my heart, mind and soul had space to make themselves known. I even sensed God in a different, almost casual way because there was space and time (and I think because I was in his backyard). Once my head was emptied it refilled at a leisurely pace and in a less frenzied manner. Half thoughts were allowed to wander around inside my head till they became whole. They were on a nice walk, not a sprint. Emotions that had been buried or neglected were allowed to surface. Unfinished personal business got some needed attention. But all these things happened slowly, casually and sometimes unexpectedly. It was like letting my mind out for recess in grade school. It was allowed to play with no real direction or maybe like nap time in kindergarten, a time for rest even when I didn’t know I needed it.
Let me give you an example. On the fifth day in the Beartooths we were hiking and as we often did we were spread out on the trail. It was not uncommon to walk alone for 30-45 minutes at a time before we got back together to rest or eat or to try and figure out where the heck the trail went. We had been hiking like that for about 45 minutes when we stopped for a photo. When my friend John walked up there were tears streaming down his face. When we asked him what was going on he said “I have been grieving for Isaac”. “I have not grieved for Isaac for over twenty years, he would be 25 now”. Twenty Five years ago John and his wife lost their one year old son in an accident in their home. John’s “empty head” provided space for him to have a holy and tender moment, a needed moment for his soul and most likely a moment that would not have happened in his busy everyday life.
A couple other things happened. I found that I liked my thoughts. I don’t need my mind to be bombarded all the time by others. It was nice to allow my incomplete and haphazard thoughts to work themselves out, to not have to “do anything” with them and just let them live or die on their own. Some thoughts and ideas went away to never never land while others became part of me. I also found that I was well rested. Even though I was carrying a heavy pack and hiking my butt off I felt refreshed and so did my friends. I was physically trashed but emotionally and mentally refreshed. I wonder if that says something about the price we pay with our minds being so over stimulated?….Ya think! Seems like it is more exhausting than we care to admit.
So I wonder why I don’t empty my head more. I know some of it is fear, fear of what might surface. Some of it may that I have lost the ability of how to do it or don’t really see the value any more. I’m not sure that being “empty headed” from time to time is seen as being all that productive. I didn’t come out from the mountains with new marching orders from God or an incredible new vision. My guess is most of the time we don’t come out with answers and amazing new insights but we might come out more spiritually receptive. We might come our with space in our heart for others and we might come out more human.
So I hope I don’t leave what I learned on the trail. I do know I don’t have to go to the mountains to get “empty headed” but I do have to make an effort. I won’t get “empty headed” by chance. I will have to figure out how to do that. I hope I am a little closer to becoming “empty headed” more often. I think I will like myself, others and this crazy world we live in better if I do.