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Backpacking with the SaintsWilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice$
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Belden C. Lane

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199927814

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199927814.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 21 June 2021

The Allure of the Wild: Backpacking as Spiritual Practice

The Allure of the Wild: Backpacking as Spiritual Practice

1 (p.2) (p.3) The Allure of the Wild: Backpacking as Spiritual Practice
Backpacking with the Saints

Belden C. Lane

Oxford University Press

For years i’ve been making solo backpacking trips into the wilderness of the Missouri Ozarks. Leaving on a Friday afternoon, I’ll invariably stuff a copy of one of the spiritual classics into my well-worn Kelty pack. I hike at times with John Ruysbroeck or Hildegard of Bingen, now and then with Rumi or Lao-tzu. Old mountains seem to invite the company of old teachers. Some of the oldest rock on the continent lies in the St. Francois Mountains of southeast Missouri. The creek beds are lined with Precambrian granite and pink rhyolite, rocks over a billion and a half years old. In terrain like this, the earth itself is an ancient teacher, illuminating in unexpected ways the text I bring with me. These trips into backcountry are my way of occasionally retreating like a hermit into an isolated place, receiving spiritual direction from an old master. Without this regular discipline every few months, my life would move off center. Experience in backcountry feeds me like nothing else in my life. I’m fascinated by how the chosen site, the embrace of solitude, and the spiritual guide I happen to take along often have a way of coming together for me. I discover the holy in the smell of pine needles, the dread of gathering storm clouds, and the ache of shoulder muscles at the end of the day. The purpose of this book is to show how wilderness backpacking can be a form of spiritual practice, what Bill Plotkin calls a “soulcraft” exercise. Exposure to the harsh realities and fierce beauties of a world not aimed at my comfort has a way of cutting through the self-absorption of my life. The uncontrolled mystery of nature puts the ego in check and invites the soul back (in more than one way) to the ground of its being. It elicits the soul’s deepest desire, enforces a rigorous discipline, and demands a life marked by activism and resistance. It reminds me, in short, that spiritual practice—far from being anything ethereal—is a highly tactile, embodied, and visceral affair.

Keywords:   Aravaipa Canyon, Buddhism, Mountains, Novalis, Ozarks, deer, mysticism, pantheism, shamanism

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