“We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature.”
From Emma Kathryn
Last night I went to the woods.
It always feels like a dream when I go into the woods at night. The first time I ventured beneath the boughs after nightfall it felt more like a nightmare.
The woods where I go to are close to my home, I’ve written about them before, the ones tucked away, across a field, hidden between the industrial estate and a housing estate. To get there from where I live you must go across the field and through the industrial estate. Even at this hour the factories are still lit up, still churning, still producing. Then you take a gravel track between a used tyre factory that makes playground surfaces and their storage facility. On either side are plastic covered piles, too high to see over. On nights when the clouds cover the moon and the stars it feels like you’re walking through a tunnel.
It feels like you’re the only person. It’s liberating and scary all at the same time, and all the while there’s the noise of production, the ceaseless hum and whine of machinery and the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my feet.
On one side, the fence ends and the trees begin. There’s a tall bank and if you look as you walk, your eyes play tricks on you. Sometimes you think you see something that isn’t there. I don’t look, lest I should lose my nerve. The dog stays close, as though she can sense the battle that wages inside of me. Just go home Emma, that traitorous part of my mind whispers, go home. Why are you even here? What’s the point? But I know that voice, I’ve heard it many times in my life. It’s that voice that tells you to close your eyes when things get tough, to turn the other cheek when you see something terrible, that makes you want to say stop. It’s the voice of fear.
But I ignore it. I must. I know that if I give in, if I turn and leave now, that I will regret it even before I reach my own front door. I know from experience that when we confront our fears, we reduce them and then get over them. For instance, I used to be afraid to walk across the playing field in the dark. And so I push on, feeling the burn in my calf muscles as the path ascends. When I reach the top, it opens out into a huge meadow. The grass is long and after the heat of the summer, it’s yellow, like straw. Here the path forks. One path takes you around the meadow, the other leads into the darkness. This is the path I take.
The path heads straight through the woods so that it looks like it disappears into darkness. The woods on either side are pitch black, a dark shadow against the backdrop of the night sky. Even now I get that feeling as I approach. I don’t know if it ever really goes away.
Have you ever been in the woods after nightfall? It’s so dark beneath the canopy of the trees that you can’t see anything and even when your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you still can only make out what is right in front of you. Your other senses take over, especially your hearing. You can hear everything. Twigs snapping and the rustle of undergrowth as the night critters go about their business. If there’s a wind, the trees creak as they sway. It’s easy to imagine all of monsters from all of the horror films you’ve ever watched are lurking within the woods, hiding in the dark. Even when you go with others, you still feel that.
Perhaps what is really so frightening though is that loss of control. We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature. Why are we afraid to be in the woods? Why are we afraid to be out alone in nature? We are a part of it, not separate from it.
So what’s that got to do with going to the woods at night, you may well ask?
For me, it is about confronting my fears. It is about facing them head on, knowing that really it is the confronting of my own mind. It is the first act of rebellion against a system that destroys the very thing from which we all come all for the sake of profit. It is about taking back our minds. As Hermeticism tells us, everything is mental, the all is mind, and so it is the first step in reclaiming ourselves.
But it is also more than that too. For when you conquer that fear, it gives you the opportunity to relearn, to form a relationship with that which you used to fear.
Last night I went to the woods and found myself in the darkness.