I live inside a filter. The first touch of my baby’s cheek against my lips makes my heart catch. The first taste of birthday cake after five weeks without sweets is like a slice of Heaven. But within seconds, my brain filters it out, in search of the next new stimulus. Is this simply the reality of human neurological processing, or is it a symptom of a hurry-up culture? I don’t know. But in the noise and chaos of daily life, the pressure outside my head is the same as that within it.
This morning, I walk rough, muddy trails punctuated by knobbly tree roots, seeking a place to rest. I used to want company on these treks, but now I find that I prefer the solitude. I choose a place that feeds all my senses. Today it is a creek channeled between a long, straight bank of small rocks and a sculpted retaining wall. On it rests a sycamore tree, topped off and uprooted by the ferocity of a flood, and then jammed into the bank, its root system broken and tangled and taller than I am.
Such a place beckons because it calls me to awe at the power of creation. I imagine the raging torrent, with that fifty-foot monstrosity tearing through the place where I sit.
When I first sit down in the quiet, my brain is a jumble—the pressure of a million thoughts racing each other, trading first and second place and in so doing, creating a tangled knot of trivialities.
I trace the cross on my forehead as if I am cutting a pressure valve into my brain. I try not to pick and choose from thoughts, but simply to ignore them all until they lose energy and go away. And as they do, I grow sleepy. I lie back, cover my eyes, and doze, absorbing the world through my ears.
At first, all I hear is the distant whirr of traffic and the trickle of water in the shallows. But slowly, everything I have been filtering out begins to register again. Peep frogs. Bird calls nearby. Bird calls distant. The breeze whispering in the bare treetops. And as I become aware of the world, the inner fury calms. If I stay along enough, it halts altogether, and instead of an inner wilderness, I exist in a soft, cool darkness where God’s voice can be heard. And I feel awake.
When I begin my trek back to trail and asphalt and combustion engine and parenthood, I place a hand on the stripped trunk of that fallen monolith. It is warm and smooth. I clamber up and walk the length of it, to the first split, and the second split, until I stand looking down at the saplings along the creek, wound with the same hibernating ivy that probably killed the sycamore I’m standing on.
As I leave the woods, a tingling clarity in my head makes the whole world look different—artistic and starkly beautiful. That sensation will fade quickly once I return to the noise and chaos of three children, a messy house, and writing assignments. But the sense of calm will remain for a while, fading as the jungle slowly retakes my brain. And then, I will go out again, because here, I awake to myself. I awake to the best that is in me.