While on vacation and camping in Cape Breton National Park this summer, our family had the opportunity to take a unique and special hike: a night walk in the forest. The guided tour of about twenty of us was around a beautiful, small lake on a calm, cloudless evening that started at twilight. Our park guide was an enthusiastic, endearing woman who exuded calm and a maternal aura that enabled the group to follow her trustingly, like a troupe of little ducklings, through what would eventually be a nearly pitch black forest frequented by black bear, moose, and coyotes.
A brilliant half-moon lit the water’s surface like a beacon but along thicker patches of the path, the trees obliterated all light. How then did we manage to walk nearly 6 km without flashlights along a rocky path interrupted by serpentine tree roots? It was a matter of pure trust! Our fearless and experienced leader explained the route and marched ahead of us, stopping occasionally to check that no one was missing or to explain some interesting detail of nature.
The most fascinating aspect of our venture was learning about and experiencing “night vision”. Our retinas are supplied with a healthy dose of rods and cones that receive light, perceive colour, and shape our visual experience. The reason dusk appears in muted colours of blue (referred to as “l’heure bleue” in French) is because these are the tones of colour we are able to perceive in diminishing light. It takes nearly an hour to accommodate to fading light and to develop night vision, which improves our vision nearly a million times! Our pupils dilate and the retina adjusts so that eventually, even in the dark, we continue to perceive shapes, shades of light, and keen peripheral vision. Our other senses are also awakened. Sight, balance, hearing, and especially smell, are all keenly fine-tuned.
Bears have the same visual acuity in the dark as humans, so I felt some degree of reassurance that I was on the same footing as the forest creatures. When we stopped on occasion to just listen in silence, the sounds of the forest rose up in a muted but perceivable chorus: insects, small rodents, distant cars, a distant fog horn, and once even the collective howls of a pack of coyotes (fortunately far enough away not to cause any anxiety!). It was a magical and mystical experience that soon evolved into something greater. As the sensory information flowed in and the solitude of the forest settled around us, our quiet parade became a spiritual trek that inspired me to see it as a metaphor for trust in the Divine.
We march through life, feeling enlightened and empowered, enabled by the vast information afforded us by modern technology. By the “light” of day, we see what we want to see and make decisions accordingly. We are confident of our steps (real and metaphorical) as we watch where we are going, aided by ambitions and goals. The divine element is often lacking because we feel it is not necessary and thus we go from day to day under the false impression that we are in control and “on track” when we may, in fact, be quite off course, in a spiritual context. When night falls, we turn on lights, full of trepidation of that which lurks in the dark. We don’t consider the possibility that darkness can be safe or revealing. A walk on the dark side forces us to leave our ego by the wayside, abandoning our everyday mask of assurance. We are forced to adopt an attitude of trust.
As I marched along that dark path, uncertain of where exactly to place my feet next, I had to let my natural senses take over and become someone more humble, more pliant. It required complete focus. As in life, we can be guided along the right path when we give up our arrogance and adopt an attitude of trust in a Divine source. Without regular vision, without our modern trappings, our Divine self guides us along our proper path in safety. Even as I walked carefully that beautiful night, I could hear the steps of those behind me and see, in vague outline, the person in front of me. Each of us had to make his or her own way, without fanfare and without handholding. Had we encountered danger, our guide would have guided us safely through. In Judaism, Torah is the path and God is our guide. In each religion or belief, there are similar metaphors. Our innate senses and spiritual selves are capable, without gadgetry or intervention, to make the grade on our own, although we can help one another if we stumble or fall. If we study the ways of the path and respect its laws, we will naturally be guided in safety. We must only trust and keep walking.