archives, wisdom

Spontaneity and Spirit in Canyons and in Car Washes.

“I am committed to the view that the whole point and joy of human life is to integrate the spiritual with the material, the mystical with the sensuous…” ~ Alan Watts, 1973

The impulse to go on a day trip or a mini-excursion seizes me on what seems to be a periodic schedule of the instincts. Some intelligence buried in my DNA doesn’t let me get too comfortable or too far removed from contact with novel places that, however depleted, however cut-off, however separated from Source, will revitalize and re-enliven and replenish.

The cycle continues. The ebb and the energic flow. The veering away and the venturing out — the reunion with what energizes, what reawakens and what brings forth. 

Or maybe I’m simply swept up by the sweet, fresh, moist stirrings of spring. A primordial longing sends me out to absorb the field energies that hum and buzz with the enormously generative forces of Mother Earth’s great renewal.

Outside it is green and damp and mottled grey; the first noxious weeds, purple mustard and cranesbill, open up their tiny purple blooms, plant life that, with the luck of their genetic hardiness, creep into every niche and patch of ground attempting to colonize the world.

Philosophy and poetry have bloomed forth from this same grass and resurrection of insects that have all but vanished in the white wintry months. These sensory delights and the vibrations they emit constitute the primary elements from which we create everything.

Directly interacting with them makes me feel alive again. Makes me feel again!

And I mean this in a physical sense, in a visceral, embodied, sensual, and sensory sort of way — to feel the stinging abrasions of the wind, to slide around in pockets of watery mud, to let my exposed skin go slightly numb as the biting cold hovers at about freezing temperature as the last clutches of winter tenuously preserve their last foothold over the shifting season.

These sensations contour the edges of my body usually dimly felt, if at all. In wind, sun, sleet, drizzle, in spaces with no ceiling, I become existence in its bare, simple, brute form. Counter-intuitively, it is where, perhaps because I am reduced to the simple status of an organism composed of tissues sensitive to sensations, I feel closely attuned to spiritual presence and, therefore, feel tremendously free.

I am a nature-lover, a solo-trekker, a seeker of the wild fringelands. They are my secret places. There I recurrently find myself again and again. There I find deeper truths resonating with deeper intuitions and impressions harbored in my subconscious. There I connect with ancestral spirits and the presence of animals, with what is primordial around me and within me.

There, magic happens. If I stay long enough, that is. If I persevere, immerse for long hours, bathe in Nature’s subtle songs, if I persist ‘round the next bend, scramble up to that rock outcropping, if I sit, if I sit still, if I listen, if I open to the unknown. If I wait. These hours are absorbed by, what I call in shorthand, spiritual adventuring.

Doing this requires gear, routes, and equipment, of course, certain pragmatic preparations ensuring safety, comfort, and the material matrix through which something is about to happen, but it also requires adopting a certain attitude, or else it goes by its name only as an empty formalism. Without this certain attitude or mindset, no communion, no insight, no magic, no deep eco-relatedness, is possible.

That is, the preparation is dimensional: beyond what is material, tangible, and practical, this kind of adventure requires one be intentional, as essential and as equally important as the foresight that brings extra wool socks and a pocket knife and a few Lara bars tucked inside an inner backpack pocket.

This intention cultivates a mindset of spacious possibility, it allows and invites letting go of our usual preoccupations and the procedures we cling to because spiritual adventuring requires us to recover spontaneity.   

Which doesn’t necessarily preclude bringing along itemized itineraries with well-researched points of interest to be sought out, structure and syllabi — the active, masculine, yang expression of being human. But this must be secondary, taking a backseat to the receptive yin of trust and serendipity, what goes with the flow of things.

You might venture with a loose plan, some pre-selected intentions, you might have brought particular gear suited to a few pursuits you have predetermined for yourself in the Great Outdoors, but you must submit, surrender, let go, resist no more, in order for Nature to ravish you whole.

I don’t know, it’s not like a vision transpires every time I temporarily leave behind my neighborhood, my network of acquaintances and significant others, my professional identity, my routine tasks, and my frequented haunts.

But the recovery of spontaneity always delivers something fruitful, oftentimes many things; it has no specific agenda, so it’s filled with open curiosity: it submits to terms not strictly self-selected. Relaxing the continuous, low-level strain of striving after outcomes, attainables, and pre-fab goals, spontaneity unleashes the passionate joys.

Today, on one of these kinds of days, I ended up in a car wash. For some obscure reason, I am moved to report and make important the fact that I was in a car wash between hours on the dusty, juniper-lined ridgelines and in the dark, shadow-strewn ravines and in the thick groves of cottonwoods, littered with fat, crackly brown leaves and sheltering the nests of hawks and eagles and falcons high above.

As the sudsy mitts shimmied and the water pounded and the dryer blew, I delighted in the fact of my absolute privacy, the fact that nobody knew exactly where I was or what I was doing, as much as I felt delicious contentment that this experience sprung out of the direct, agenda-free moment, as I, in an unfamiliar part of town, was captivated quite unexpectedly to render the vehicle, the one that so lovingly and faithfully offered its services as a transporter into meditative travels, into a shrine of holy cleanliness.

Sometimes I end up at an altar or in the embrace of instant closeness of makeshift friendships found and forged and dissolved on the road.

Sometimes, when moved by these spontaneous callings, captivated by these stirrings, I take up the expansive whim, without an inkling of a plan the night prior, to cycle to the top of a 14,000-foot peak called Pikes, impossibly paved as precipitously steep grades of black asphalt meeting thin, alpine air, where transcendence is almost palpable as an adventurer-turned-cyclist becomes a continuous movement openly exposed, churning revolutions in the nexus where Earth meets the Heavens.

It all depends. The mood evolves within the environs and usually, after enough hours, a self-sustaining momentum is underway. Today meaning found me in the most pedestrian of places.

Symbols spring to life unannounced and autonomously. Entered into energized as a wild, free soul, a car wash symbolized values, epitomized trends, represented a heartfelt calling: it was a holy washing, a vital baptism, a ritual purification, and as such, it activated sacred roots of deeper feeling.

Take care of the vehicle.

Treat it with reverence.

Wash away its dirt and grime.

Repair its past injuries.

Do not leave it soiled and unattended.

Make things clean again.


Sarah McKelvey is a free spirit who enjoys introspecting, speculating, and writing about life, love, synchronistic experiences, identity, psyche, self-cultivation, and her various misadventures. She typically writes in the context of traveling, and is informed by Eastern wisdom traditions, depth psychology, and the iconoclastic teachings of Alan Watts. Words are her favorite medium. In her pursuits, she pursues truth, beauty, and goodness, and hopes to, through her endeavors and writing, promote a life-affirming attitude that belongs on the spectrum of love. She lives along the Front Range outside of Denver, and practices psychotherapy professionally.


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