After my mountain hike yesterday, I stopped for a latte at a coffee shop in Estes Park. There, I got into an interesting conversation with a friendly barista named Katherine, who had just returned from a month-long trip to Europe.
When I casually asked Katherine what sort of perspective she brought home with her from her trip (a typical Stephen Hatch kind of question), she replied that she actually felt LESS LONELY while traveling.
"So you met a lot of people in Europe"? I asked. "No," she responded, "I just felt closer to God while traveling. I could really sense his presence in the daily adventure and exploration and in the wisdom I received when I got into difficult situations several times during the trip."
"Because of this, I felt so valued and understood while traveling," she continued. "By contrast, when I'm at home - in Estes - people are always asking me questions like "Why aren't you married yet? and then offering me their unasked-for advice or opinions. It seems as though no one really understands me, or realizes that I might actually ENJOY being unattached yet available to help serve others."
I went on to say that this is exactly how I feel when I'm in the wilderness. While I often don't seem to fit in with this crazy society of ours, I feel a real sense of belonging when I'm out in Nature. In fact, I feel less lonely when in the solitude of the outdoors than when I'm at home in town!
It seems to me that often it is actually the warmest, most sensitive people who also feel the loneliest when among others. Katherine is a perfect example. She's a person with a sincere, honest and open heart, one who really cares about others and their happiness.
When any of us naturally love people and seek always to see the best in them, we find ourselves frequently disappointed when they end up misunderstanding or misinterpreting us. Because we idealize others, we tend to blame ourselves when they don't especially seem to like us. It is therefore of utmost importance that we find a place where we can let go of this sort of emotional pain through contact in solitude with our Beloved Source.
For me, that is exactly what occurred while out exploring The Great Sand Dunes this past weekend. In the sand formations, especially late in the afternoon, I could see shapes, curves and shadings of light that made them seem like a vast and beautiful human body. In fact, the joy I felt in the presence of the dunes became a sort of DANCE that effectively spun the two realms - both human and landscape - together into a single, beauty-filled reality. Because of this, I felt myself becoming completely one with the dunes, and therefore more readily capable of absorbing their wonderful gifts into my being.
Chief among these treasures was an enhanced ability to remain grounded when the winds of change sweep through my life, ready to dislodge my mind and heart from the strength that comes from dwelling within my deepest Center. In the noble dignity of the dunes, I was able, I discovered, to perceive my own profound groundedness and belonging in The Beloved.
I pray that all of us might find our own special solitary place from which we can then begin to heal the wounds inflicted on us by our idealization of other people. Indeed, this is, I've discovered one of the most important tasks of life.
Photos: Great Sand Dunes National Park, CO, April 2-3, 2016
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Stephen Hatch, M.A. is a spiritual teacher and photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado. His approach is contemplative, inter-spiritual, and Earth-based.