The Inward Path: Finding the well that brings clarity to our journey

Tim Farrand

This article is Part 1 of an exploration into our relationship with the world around us and the impact that relationship has on the path we choose to take. These articles are a part of the larger AU Series "Perspectives," an investigation into how the arts can impact the way we view the world and the implications that can have on our daily lives.

As the spring season brings forth her sweet scents and warmer days beckon us outside, we are often pulled towards the desire to get away, to take a break from our daily routines. Vacation plans are being made and the possibility of rejuvenation fills us with excited anticipation. We schedule trips with the hope that they will provide the necessary reset needed to give us the fuel to carry on.

On a recent trip to Kauai, Hawaii I was given this opportunity but was able to go beyond rejuvenation and into an alteration in my state of mind, my perspectives, and my relationship with what I value most.

The trip was more than an opportunity to check a destination off my bucket list. I had the experience of releasing myself from the current of daily life so I could choose the path I really wanted to take, to consider whether my deepest aspirations were aligned with my regular activity. Above all, this was a period of diving into a deeper well of consciousness, one that was not hindered by the burdens of daily life.

I found a lens from which to take stock of the path I was on and broadened the possibilies for the journey ahead through the expansion of my horizons.

I want to share what led me there. This article—Part 1 of that journey—explores the act of going inward. Part 2 will examine the act of expanding outwards.

We begin, as most of my journeys do, by going out into nature...

Part 1: Going Inward

The Open Air

During our time in Hawaii, we were lucky to have two incredible hosts (family of my fiancée) who opened us up to the wonders of Kauai. They showed us some wonderful shops and restaurants (including the westernmost book store in the US!) and helped us explore breathtaking landscapes:

The Drama of Kauai, 2022

The beauty of Kauai lies in its contrasting geography. One can explore refreshing warm water beaches amidst the backdrop of dramatic cliffs, canyons, and valleys. This allowed for mornings spent hiking some of the most incredible trails I have been on followed by afternoons reading on empty beaches, all within miles of each other. These beautiful days were capped off by stunning sunsets that served as the background for wonderful food amongst even greater conversation.

Hiking in Kauai ranges from beautiful overlooks to trails of endurance that lead to quiet peaks and valleys of pure perfection (with the constant background music of roosters bellowing away). Many of our mornings were spent exploring the trails around Waimea Canyon with one of our gracious hosts and self-named "activities director" who has spent several years developing an intimate knowledge of this beautiful landscape.

Waimea Canyon, Day 1
Waimea Canyon, Day 2
Dense Waimea Foliage

The richness of plant life was intoxicating. On many of our hikes, I would often end up lagging behind to observe and capture trees, plants, streams, trees, views, and many more trees (I am a tree guy).

Verdant Moss-Covered Log
Old Tree with Open Arms
Rocks on the Beach
Hugging Trees in an Embrace
Happy Among the Trees of Kauai

These hikes offered wonderful moments of contemplation and engaging conversation. We would often sit on the side of a hill, under a tree, or at the edge of an amazing view to converse out in the open air. Topics seem to be different out of doors, more expansive to match the drama of the space. Thoreau got at this when he said that a poet can't write inside, one needs outdoor thoughts: [1]

At last, we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think. . .It would be well perhaps if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies, if the poet did not speak so much from under a roof, or the saint dwell there so long. Birds do not sing in caves, nor do doves cherish their innocence in dovecots.

In the essay "Walking," Thoreau acts as an advocate "for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society."[2] He states that one who spends too much time indoors will develop thoughts that contain limits but the more one lives out in the open air the higher their thoughts will be able to soar, the greater number of possibilities they will discover, and "more air and sunshine" will inhabit their thinking. [3]

One Stunning Beach

Our trips and vacations are opportunities to get away from the routine, explore new surroundings, and hopefully release ourselves from the stress of our everyday lives. We travel across the globe or maybe just miles from our own backyard but the intention remains to get away, get out of ourselves, and into a state of repair.

I have found that the best way to explore a place is to spend time within its natural landscape, take in the fresh air, and discover the unique wildlife that it supports. One can truly connect with the essence of a location by venturing out on an open trail, sitting for a while among the trees, or looking out over a beautiful view while allowing one's thoughts to soar in the open air.

Bright Sky through a Beautiful Tree

Finding the Well

We need to take time to let our minds flow unencumbered by the pressures and stresses of to-do lists and obligations. We need space to step back from our routines and look around at the paths we are progressing upon.

Going out upon a mountain, to a park, or watching the waves come in and out can uncover what has been hidden or ignored. Often we don't need long stretches of time as long as we are open to those quick flashes of ideas or questions that have been waiting to appear. David Whyte's poem "Sometimes" encapsulates this act of opening yourself up to the gentle voices that have "patiently waited for you":

By David Whyte

if you move carefully
through the forest,
like the ones
in the old stories,
who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,
you come to a place
whose only task
is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,
conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.
Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,
that can make
or unmake
a life,
that have patiently
waited for you,
that have no right
to go away.

From Everything is Waiting for You

Whyte gives a beautiful reading and elaboration on the poem which illuminates the essence of what lies beneath the words:

brainpicker · David Whyte Reads "Sometimes"

In his reading, Whyte speaks of entering into the "poetic imagination," a place that can only be reached when you let go of the conversation you are currently having, let go of the surface activities, stresses, or todo's—letting go like one does when they take a trip or during a walk through the forest. In the act of releasing oneself from the current of daily existence, one can allow for a surging in of thoughts from that deeper well of poetic consciousness that lives far beneath the surface of ordinary conversation.

The poet must get to that well if they are to find Truth, if they are going to write a poem that expresses something beyond themselves. Thoreau wrote in his journal that the best poetry was never recorded for it was forgotten before it could be put to paper. The best poetry, then, is experienced: [4]

The best poetry has never been written, for when it might have been, the poet forgot it, and when it was too late remembered it; or when it might have been, the poet remembered it, and when it was too late forgot it.

The production of poetry, according to Thoreau, is the most natural act that we as a species partake in, a "natural fruit:" [5]

As naturally as the oak bears an acorn, and the vine a gourd, man bears a poem, either spoken or done. It is the chief and most memorable success, for history is but a prose narrative of poetic deeds.

By coming into the forest, or anywhere within nature, one is able to connect deeply with the world around them and access that well of poetic thought. It is here that one will find the essence of their being—will uncover those questions that have been waiting to be asked—and will find the paths that have been waiting all around them.

From there, you get to choose where you really want to go.

Searching for the Path

Another poem by Whyte illuminates this act of arriving at the door of new possibilities, that we are always arriving somewhere but "sometimes it takes/a great sky/to find" "the one line/already written/inside you":

The Journey
By David Whyte

Above the mountains
the geese turn into
the light again

Painting their
black silhouettes
on an open sky.

Sometimes everything
has to be
inscribed across
the heavens

so you can find
the one line
already written
inside you.

Sometimes it takes
a great sky
to find that

first, bright
and indescribable
wedge of freedom
in your own heart.

Sometimes with
the bones of the black
sticks left when the fire
has gone out

someone has written
something new
in the ashes of your life.

You are not leaving.
Even as the light fades quickly now,
you are arriving.

From House of Belonging

Bright Sky over Beautiful Landscape

Being out in nature and coming back into ourselves allows us to consider the choices we have made over the course of our lives. We come back to the knowledge that there are many different paths to take. We are standing on one but we don't have to stay on it. These moments of pause allow our thoughts to soar to new heights as we consider the possibilities before us.

Hidden Falls: A difficult journey to transcendence

The most vivid portion of our trip to Kauai was on a hike to the "Hidden Falls." My fiancée and I mapped out the 2.5-mile trail to the waterfall and then made plans for what we would do after the morning hike. Round trip, the 5-mile hike shouldn't take more than two or three hours.

We noticed that the trail was marked as "very difficult," with comments stating that most people had never been able to actually find those "Hidden Falls" (a few naming this as the most difficult hike they had experienced) but we didn't think much of that—or at least I didn't because I had not shared any of this information with my fiancée...

To start, the trail was well-traveled and easy to follow. There were a few little crossings over a small stream but plenty of rocks that made it easy with a little balancing.

The Entrance to our Journey

We came to a beautiful bamboo forest and encountered some massive trees (this is the wet side of the island so plant life grows in abundance!):

Me and my Big Tree

As we continued on, the trail became narrower and narrower until we came again to the stream, which was no longer dainty but now rushing past with slippery rocks spaced farther apart than before. We followed the path—now barely wide enough for our boots—along the bank clutching onto roots and branches to help keep our balance as we continued forward. We climbed over large boulders and along the muddy trail at which point we encountered a few hikers who had turned around to head for home, not having made it even half the distance to the falls.

Eventually, we had to cross the river which felt like an extreme game of Twister as we stretched our legs and maneuvered our bodies in an attempt to keep our boots from getting soaked in the water. We were almost successful... We met a couple who were clearly stressed and desperately wanted to get home. The husband, in an effort to power over the stream, fell hard upon the rocks. He was luckily not injured but clearly shaken—our first indication that this was perhaps not going to be as easy of a journey as we thought.

Once on the other bank, we emptied the water from our shoes and continued walking. The path was now barely discernable as most hikers must not venture too far out of the bamboo forest. We forged ahead into thicker and thicker vegetation. Climbering over branches and through bushes, we eventually decided that the vegetation was too thick to be the correct trail.

We backtracked and found another opening in the forest a little farther up the river. Another balancing act upon the rocks brought us to the opening which allowed for a slightly easier trek yet we barely had intervals of a few feet where we could walk fully erect as we constantly had to duck under limbs and climb over branches.

Passing through Tangled Branches

For the rest of the hike (we were not even a mile in at this point) we were constantly searching for a trail, finding something, then needing to turn back because it became impassable. We had to cross the river several times, each time filled with plenty of slippery rocks and the need for a gymnasts approach to stretching from one stone to the next.

As we got further into the forest, the plant life was abundantly beautiful but the sense that we were getting farther and farther from civilization started to have an effect upon us. We questioned whether we were heading in the right direction and whether where we were going was safe. We were pretty sure that we could find our way back if we turned around now—the river forked several times so it wasn't going to be as simple as just going with the flow... But we began to wonder if we would be able to effectively retrace our steps if we continued into denser and denser vegetation.

Moss-Covered Trees
Converging Cliffs

Perhaps we missed the path that led to the destination, perhaps we wandered too far, perhaps we didn't belong here. It felt like we would never arrive and the two cliffs, one on each side of the river, started to converge, enclosing us as we were filled with the sense of our insignificance.

We were wet, tired, dirty, bruised, cut up, and at the end of our endurance. It had been nearly 4 hours (of what we thought would be a two-hour hike) and we still had not reached 2.5 miles. It seemed hopeless and we wanted to turn around. We would be happy that we saw some beautiful plant life and had some adventures along the way. But we decided that we would continue just a little further before quitting.

As we continued on we could hear a gentle hissing ahead. We kept moving and it became louder. Our excitement grew as we knew the sound meant we were close to a waterfall. We were filled with renewed energy as we rushed through the last portion of the hike. The sound became louder and louder but we still couldn't see it. Finally, we turned a corner and there emerged the "Hidden Falls," a beautiful set of waterfalls with three landing points and a lovely waterhole at the base:

We were silent as we sat beneath it, taking in the natural beauty of a place completely cut off from civilization. This incredible space had not been affected in any way by the society that lived several miles from our location. It was pure, unadulterated nature.

I felt the strongest sense of the sublime as I looked up at the towering cliffs around me and focused on the elegant waterfall marking their divide. This transcendent experience shot through me to the core of my being.

The journey to "Hidden Falls" was one of the most extraordinary experiences of my life and tested my ability to endure hardship. So often we get stuck on the path that is well-worn by the rest of society, so often we become afraid to venture off and explore new possibilities. But when we let our thoughts soar out in the open air we gain a sense of courage as we enter into that deep well of poetic consciousness and uncover those dreams that have been dormant for so long.

Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect. - Mark Twain

The path to realization is not easy. There will be many hardships as we trailblaze over new paths unfamiliar to society. As we attempt to go our own way we will falter, we will come to places that feel a little dangerous and encounter challenges that seem impossible to overcome. We might get lost and have to retrace our steps before moving forward again and we will certainly have moments of wanting to return to the easy, well-worn trail.

But if we keep going, if we enter into that space within us that has eyes to see deep into our being, we will have the fuel to move forward, to at least attempt to become the person we truly wish to be. If we can fight through the resistance we will begin to come closer, maybe even hear something new in the distance, and perhaps arrive somewhere that transcends anything we could have imagined.

It is hard, but it is worth it.

We only find those paths by releasing ourselves from what is holding us back. We need to take those opportunities to get away, those times when we are free from the daily obligations, and go into the forest (or on the beach or in the park) to uncover those questions waiting to be asked, those paths waiting to be discovered.

Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease
into the conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

From the poem "Everything is Waiting for You" by David Whyte

April 28, 2022

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1. Henry David Thoreau, Walden, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Walden or Life in the Woods; The Maine Woods; Cape Cod, ed. Robert F. Sayre (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1985),  345. Library of America, series 28.
2. Thoreau, "Walking," in Collected Essays and Poems, ed. Elizabeth Hall Witherell (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2001), 225. Library of America, series 124.
3. Ibid., 229.
4. Thoreau, The Journal: 1837-1861, ed. Damion Searls (New York, New York: New York Review of Books, 2009), 10. Entry from June 26, 1840.
5. Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers; Walden or Life in the Woods; The Maine Woods; Cape Cod, ed. Robert F. Sayre (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1985), 74. Library of America, series 28.