Monday, February 18, 2013

Alone in the Wilderness

My apologies for my absence from blogging since before Christmas!  Life as a YAV in Tucson is going well, and I am continuing to love the work I am involved in at Habitat for Humanity.  We have been putting a lot of time and energy into meeting neighborhood residents and fulfilling desires of the community.  Our latest neighborhood happening was a "Neighborhood Dumping Day" in which we helped community residents clean garbage and junk from their yards to avoid debris citations from the city.  If you want more information about the work I am doing, you can read about our Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative services here and can read about the latest A Brush with Kindness service day here

Vocational discernment has been a huge aspect of this YAV year for me, as I have been able to gain experience in a work environment which allows me to tackle problem solving daily but also allows me to relate to individuals on a personal level.  I have been spending a lot of time thinking and praying about how I can best use my abilities while feeling fed, challenged and impassioned by my work.  From the time I graduated high school, I thought I would become an architectural engineer and design amazing buildings, but in the past 18 months my aspirations have shifted.  Technical work and problem solving are two things I enjoy doing, but I have a deep desire to connect with individuals over issues beyond design solutions.  We'll see what comes of this year's work and where my vocational path will take me next, but for now I am enjoying the road I am on right now.

The YAV program focuses a lot on vocational discernment, but it also has an emphasis on spirituality and personal growth.   To stretch ourselves and intentionally focus on our spirituality, we went on a Lenten Spirituality Retreat for five days in which we experienced the wilderness as a community and in solitude.  The idea behind the retreat was to disconnect ourselves from the distractions of every day life and to spend time in contemplation, reflection and prayer.  So often we get caught up with the actions of living and do not balance our action with contemplation. 

We started the retreat by joining together in morning prayer with the sunrise.  From there, we loaded into the YAV Suburban and set off for Hot Springs Canyon where we spent the next 4.5 days.  We spent the first two days at a base camp, enjoying the company of our YAV community, discussing Lenten practices, relaxing, cooking together over the campfire and sleeping under the stars.  The morning of our 3rd day, we got up early and packed our belongings to head out for a 40 hour (two nights and two days) desert sojourn.  We individually packed food and water for the journey and each were equipped with a sleeping bag, two tarps (one for the ground and one to go above our heads), layers of clothes, a head lamp and any other objects we desired to have with us in our time of solitude.  I chose to bring a novel (as a security blanket, in case my mind really started going crazy in my time alone), my journal and a bible as my extra belongings for the sojourn. 

As soon as we all packed our belongings, we set out hiking up the canyon.  Each half mile or so one of us would split off and set up a camp site to spend the next 40 hours alone in the wilderness.  Some of us were terrified by the thought of the experience, while others were anxiously anticipating it.  Surprisingly, I was feeling quite indifferent as I journeyed up the canyon  to my place of solitude.  When we came to my spot, I was given assistance in setting up my tarps and then the rest of the group carried on.  So there I was, alone.  I spent the first hour or so (I didn't bring a time telling device, so was not sure on the time) settling into my camp - breaking branches away from my walkways, setting up my sleeping bag and unpacking my items.  Once things were settled, I had nothing left to do for the next 39 hours.  What a liberating and terrifying experience all at the same time!  What was I going to do with myself?

Well the 39 hours passed, some slowly others quite fast, and I had a generally positive experience.  I spent time in focused prayer for my family, Karl, our YAV community, my blessings and my tempations.  I spent time thinking about what I really want to do and am passionate about in comparison to what I feel societal and familial pressures to be doing with my life.  I spent time reading the bible, both silently and out loud.  I spent time journaling.  I spent time taking walks.  I spent time sleeping.  I spent time alone with God.  I spent time sitting.  As the sun rose on the final morning, I said my morning prayers and reflected on the past 40 hours.  A poem formed in my mind and I wrote it down:

Alone in the Wilderness

Heart is pumping,
flashing dreams.
Mind is wandering,
internal screams.
Mysterious surroundings,
it's yourself and just you.
Your mind will go crazy
with nothing to do.
The environment familiars,
you move around and explore.
Perhaps your soul might find 
what it's looking for.
Every blow of the wind,
every breath of fresh air.
You're thankful for 
this time that is quite rare.
Your soul comes alive -
the spirit is all around.
You can sense it with every sight,
smell and sound.
Alone in the wilderness.
A frightening time for me?
At time yes,
but mostly just free!

My desert experience was one to remember, and I am happy to have done something like that.  It is probably not an experience I will repeat all too often in life, but I will definitely strive to return to that state of mind and intentionality more often. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice post!

    If someone is as talented as you, they can have vocational discernment. For the rest of us, it's vocational disconcertment: "Who's foolish or desperate enough to actually give us money to do something?"

    When Shelby and I started dating, her plan was med school. But she also had a "deep desire to connect with individuals." This meant working with poor people, which is not nearly as lucrative as medicine, but I think she's happier for it. And maybe the world is a little bit better.

    What novel did you bring?