Lately I’ve been thinking about what, really, it is I look at, or look for, when on the planet. On the planet. Man, to think some folks live somewhere else. Most of the time. To the point that probably billions of humans in our urbanizing world bestow on this mythic-though-ubiquitous planet place the breathless adventure magazine moniker “In The Wilderness”. Sometimes, as in the previous Dispatch, I call this place, this state of mind, this guiding principle, a simple “hike” or a “float.” As in times like now, when I ask myself, “Why is it I’m cultivating a life wherein my primary away-from-home hobby is long hikes or float trips along dessert river canyons?” Or, “Why is it that when considering a political candidate, one of the first things I ask is if he or she has ever slept a night outside following a day of hiking or floating?”
Part of the answer is that outside of walls is where I feel I best understand how, and, on a really spectacular day where maybe a darting fox has uncluttered my mind superlatively, why the Cosmos works as it does. Perspective granted, if only until the next bout of non-hike life clouds it. But exotic wildlife doesn’t have to appear. A lot of this power of place might come from the simple absence of engine noise. Tracing that line of inquiry, which is following me into every part of my life these recent weeks (I hope it sticks in case this is what the wise mean by “learning from experience”), I had a conversation with my sweetheart the other day about the Poetry of Math, in particular the many trippy symmetries of the eleven times table (is this how the Universe is numerically structured, I ask the Applied Physicists currently bogged down in String Theory?).
We brought out a calculator and conjured forth a series of .27272727 patterns and their ilk (divide any single digit other than zero by eleven and you get a repeating series where every two digits add up to nine, and it goes on from there). To me, this page in the overlapping, multidimensional universe map is useful, important, beautiful and, ultimately, forgettable. No, not forgettable, but underlying. Digits for me are black and white. What lasts in my heart, what causes me to keep secreting dopamine, is closer to a Monet palate. When every color is at my disposal. And when I can use every known sense (and then some) to describe my real or perceived inspirations.
The mysteries of eleven might be the building blocks for my day, but they are the unvarying core; the skeleton supporting a fully integrated conscious system of joy and love which is pleasant for me to describe. That system reveals itself to me most consistently when I’m outside. (So, to answer what I’m looking for, or at, on a hike: anything from a cloud pattern I associate with dendrites to a tadpole in an ephemeral stream to a red-tailed hawk that should be more scared of me that it is. It drugs me, this sense of being a member of the animal kingdom, of being a resident of a physical place. I never set off on a trip with any expectations of what sighting will get me off, and I almost never come home disappointed.) And I’m so grateful to live in a time where it is widely thought colorful and unusual to describe the very concept, the very luster of outside. To even need to delineate the idea of “outside of a building” would be laughable to most organisms on the planet, as well as to most humans for most of our species’ history. In other words, I’m grateful to most of the world for moving indoors recently: it’s providing an enjoyable thread of my career. And I’d be doing it even if I didn’t get to write about it.
That’s because I almost always come home from a hike, float or jog around these mountains and canyons with an unrestricted picture of how I feel, what’s important to me, what makes me laugh. Meditation does this for some, Dead Shows (and their jam band successors) for others. In my case, it’s being outside that gives my heart space to reveal what’s in its heart. (Plus at this time of year I get to come back to a warm stove fire.)
An example of an Inspiration-of-the-Day that leapt forth fromâ€¦somewhere in a canyon not far from the Funky Butte Ranch this week: after years of hard work and climbing, do the laws of emotional physics allow me to live atop the mountain once I get there, and to keep enjoying being there? Scorcese’s Raging Bull is a cautionary tale on this topic. What mountain peak am I talking about ascending and setting up camp in? The one called Mt. Balance-of-happiness-dream-pursuing-stability-home-base-adventure-inspiration-health-continuous-learning.
Some days the click of real or perceived insight, of opening, is nearly audible, at least to me. And, hey, Monet had black, white and the eleven times table at his disposal. Sometimes my own description of the day’s revelation includes digits, or black-and-white imagery. Black and white, the tones, are important features (as is the Cosmos’ numerical structure). Just look at how distinctly illuminating blackâ€“and-white photo images can be. Color photography, was, after all, looked down on in the Official Art World for decades after its quality became comparable. And, man, I love what a guy like Dave Brubeck does with strange time signature constructs, in the form of mathematical jazz that has groove but is also somehow cosmic and trippy. So let me not seem ungrateful for the unwavering numerical poetry that builds this universe that I so love exploring.
And maybe, at the core, it is the math that reaches me so deeply. Only I come to it from emotion, rather than from calculation. On a hike, having at once the full universal spectrum of invisible ideas, quite visible geologic history, and natural physical sensation at my thoughts’ disposal, my mind often simultaneously opens a) to the patterns of all creation, celestial and terrestrial, and b) to my spirit’s unfiltered musings. Somewhere between the two is my religion.
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