“The things that ignore us save us in the end.” – Andrew Harvey
A twisted ankle had us digging through several inches of snow to uncover a fire pit and bare ground for our tents so we could give one of our crew time to rest and tend her injury. We certainly weren’t going to attempt to hike another few miles through the snow and cross the stream up ahead.
As I chopped wood, I watched our group work together to saw up a dead tree, start a fire in the snow, collect water from the river, pitch tents, and get dinner started. Some were more engaged than others, but everyone had something to do to stay warm as night came on. And I began to understand something of what Belden Lane was saying in his book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, about how the indifference of nature draws out our own potential.
We can stand in the forest, cold and hungry and even wounded, and the forest will simply stand with us in silence. She does not lay herself down, chop herself up, and light herself on fire for us. Instead, her indifference to our needs draws out the purpose in our hearts and beckons us to action. Through her silence, she calls us to fell a tree, chop it up, and light a fire. She draws out our potential by ignoring us, by giving us the space to grow into.
In his book, Lane tells the story of Andrew Harvey, an Oxford Englishman seeking a spiritual experience among the Tibetan monasteries, but it was his very “wanting” that prevented him. Finally, the overwhelming beauty of the mountainous landscape captivates Harvey, and he gives himself over to the silence of his mind. What captivated him was the fact that none of it was there for him. The trees would grow and die, the rivers would tumble down the mountain face, all without any thought for him. And so he perceives,
“The things that ignore us save us in the end. Their presence awakens silence in us; they refresh our courage with the purity of their detachment.”
We call it “plugging into the nature channel.” Your whole world can be crumbling at home, but here in the wild the birds swoop over the treetops floating in the breeze and the waters tumble on, tumble on over the rocks, and it will go on like this long after you’ve come and gone. None of it is for you, and suddenly, you’re part of something much bigger than yourself. You’re part of a story much more profound than the narrow events at home. There is a horizon beyond what you have known, and that is hope.
As I watch nature work, I find myself mimicking her style, her indifference. It’s not that I don’t care about the physical and emotional struggle of our clients, or that I will sit by and let them get hurt, but my indifference – my willingness to not rescue them – gives them room to grow and draws out the deep waters of potential and purpose in their hearts.
If I tell someone that they can accomplish something, say climb that mountain, then there is no reason to attempt it because we already know they can do it. Why get uncomfortable proving something we already believe to be true? But when I remain indifferent to pleas of assurance, then the only way to know that they can indeed climb that mountain is to actually climb that mountain. And it’s the view from the top that makes all the difference.