I’m often asked how to focus thought, how to direct the mind, usually with the message that “I can’t concentrate on just one thing like that . . . I’m not capable of doing it.”
You really are. Here’s a lesson I learned years ago at Marcy Dam one dark night.
Scrunch. Scrrunch. Scarrrunth.
“Just great,” I thought, awakened by the sound of tractor-trailer tires on gravel. “Here I’ve hiked into the mountains to escape into nature, and I STILL can’t get away from the noise of traffic.” Then I realized I was at least 5-6 miles from the nearest highway. I had driven five hours to the High Peaks, then down the long road to the Adirondack Log, then hiked an hour up to a lean-to by Marcy Dam, the first leg of a two week backpacking trip with my shepherd mix, Sasha.
Scrunch. Scrrunth. I sat up.
Sasha was sitting as erect as could be, her back pressed against me, stiff as possible while every part of her body trembled slightly, her attention focused intently ahead.
The night was cloudy, no light at all. Still, through the complete dark of the forest, the sky was lighter above the trees where the land sloped down toward the dam. Against that backdrop, bit by bit, I watched a large, dark shape slowly pull itself up one of the trees suspending my food. [Backpackers bag their food and tie it suspended between two trees, at least 15 feet from the ground and from either tree, to protect it from persistent woodland creatures, like raccoons and—bears.]
Scrunch. With every pull of the bear, my dog’s alert, staring head abruptly inched up another angle. Scrunth—another inch. Scrunth—another head adjustment. Scrunch. Scarrunthh!
The bear had reached the line suspending the food. A moment passed while the bear realized it couldn’t reach the bag, and let out a low grumble.
The bear headed down, my dog’s attention fixed, her head abruptly adjusting to each change in the bear’s position.
Lower and lower—bear and dog’s head.
Having reached the bottom of the tree, the bear placed its back feet on the ground. My dog responded. So softly I could barely hear her, throat just two feet from my ears, Sasha let out a long, low, very soft, almost inaudible “grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrruff.” There. I barked. Now YOU do something.
I did. Looking around for a few pots to bang together to startle bear, I reminded myself that startled bears take off in whatever direction they’re pointed, so be careful before startling. But how was I going to manage that in the dark, when I could see little more than a large, ominous shape?
I needn’t have worried, since knowing it wasn’t going to get our food, the bear simply walked away, down the path toward Marcy Dam. (Other inexperienced hikers there, who had hung their food from the lean-to overhang under the theory “the bear won’t come up to us,” were less fortunate, abruptly unprovisioned courtesy of the Night Visitor.) Once the adrenaline finally settled, I settled down to sleep—my dog still sharply on the watch.
And not once, during the entire episode, did I think about bills, or work, or various personal challenges, etc. The bear had my total, focused, concentrated attention. No stray thoughts. And effortlessly so.
- View from Marcy Dam
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October 2012 is a series of daily posts about “A Wilderness Hike,” taking readers through the healing of wilderness experience and glimpses of my work at Kwan Yin Healing and of my book, “Getting Unstuck.”
You can read the series from the start via the links here:
Oct. 1: A Wilderness Hike
Oct. 2: The Sixth Hour
Oct. 3: Snowy Mountain
Oct. 4: Letting Go of Baggage–the Wilderness Way
Oct. 5: “Bear” the Thought
Oct. 6: Mountain. Buddha. Impermanence.
Oct. 7: The Rewards of Rain
Oct. 8: Finding the Keys
Oct. 9: “I’d love to, but times are bad.”
Oct. 10: Attracting the Law of Attraction
Oct. 11: We are not our thoughts
Oct. 12: Honesty, Forgiveness, Healing
Oct. 13: Getting Unstuck: Feeling Overwhelmed
Oct. 14: Money is remarkably easy to come by, if that’s all you want.
Oct. 15: To be Time Rich, Learn to Be
Oct. 16: Changing Thoughts for Changing Work
Oct. 17: Finding and Sharing your Gifts
Oct. 18: Do you want to be the boss? Be sure you want to run the show.
Oct. 19: Finding jobs within jobs
Oct. 20: Bright Mountain Dream
Oct. 21: Escape the Wilderness of Addictions
Oct. 22: The Importance of Spiritual Direction
Oct. 23: In Search of Enlightenment
Oct. 24: Relationship Thoughts from the Wilderness
Oct. 25: We learn in realtionships
Oct. 26: Chrysalis
Oct. 27: Self-Healing, part 1
Oct. 28: Self-Healing, part 2: Time for a new perspective
Oct. 29: Dix Mountain
Oct. 30: The Mist-Filled Path
Oct. 31: From Wilderness to Wondrousness