I have been passionate about hiking since childhood. Even as a teenager, I repeatedly sought out the forest and the wilderness – as places of silence, as places of intimate encounters with stones, trees, wild plants, wild animals, rivers, mountains, caves, stars and weather phenomena.
In the last three years I have done long-distance walks for about four weeks each September. In three sections I hiked alone from Dortmund (West Germany) to Zurich (Switzerland). I almost always spent the night in the forest, in a hammock between two trees, in a warm sleeping bag.
This intense immersion in nature has transformed me. My senses have become awake to the complex interplay of mountain and valley landscapes, of scents and smells, of deciduous, coniferous and mixed forests, of river floodplains, heath and meadow landscapes, of vegetation and animal populations, of village settlement forms and of the many people who meet me face to face on my hikes in a particular region – and this in a very unique dialect, a rather turned towards or rather reserved attitude.
On my walks I have had the very direct experience that all these elements do not stand alone. They are interwoven in the most diverse ways. They form a holistic pattern, a landscape fabric, a landscape soul.
The landscape soul
In the different regions called Sauerland, Siegerland, the Taunus and the Odenwald region, in the Kraichgau, in the Black Forest, in the Swabian Alb – I encounter very different landscape souls. I feel that these landscape mosaics are living entities that want to be perceived. Perceived in a way in which I try to get into the spirit of these landscape souls, to listen, to marvel, not to be a foreign body, but a “creature” that sympathises, that integrates.
That’s why I walk slowly, almost meditatively. It is not important for me to reach a hiking goal, to complete a certain distance. I take many breaks. I want to come into intimate contact with the soul of the landscape.
With every step I take, I can feel my way into the sometimes rocky, sometimes muddy, sometimes sandy ground. Again and again I can stop and listen to a babbling brook, a warning bird call, the rustling of the silver poplars in the wind, feel the wonderfully soft moss cushions on tree stumps, look at the maple leaves shimmering red-gold in the sunlight or watch a fox catching mice for an hour.
After about a week of walking, I have “arrived” in this landscape fabric. I move fluidly-flowingly-organically in the landscape and seem to be perceived less and less as a foreign body. Wild animals like foxes or deer dare to come closer to my hammock in the morning and evening. They often show themselves only a few metres away from where I sleep. I get the feeling that they can smell and see who belongs and who does not. We meet as living beings intimately connected to a common organism, the “landscape soul”.
This arrival in the landscape fabric clearly has to do with mental orientation. The forest is a powerful “thought shredder”. Breathing in the pure forest air, listening to the fine trickle or gurgle of a stream, watching the swaying ears of grain in the wind also makes my fixed thought patterns flow. They come and flow through – and after a while they are “shredded”, they lose their tormenting, intrusive, compelling character. Thoughts are allowed to rise, but in the pure ethereal sphere of the forest they cannot hold on for long, they flow through, they pass away. The forest brings them to dissolution.
It is a becoming empty, a purification, a becoming open and curious for the essence of nature. In this openness and permeability, I no longer see myself as the centre of the universe, but as a small and yet not insignificant holon in the great whole. The open, unintentional, innocent nature of my perception allows me to feel an intimate connection to the stones, plants, animals, people, to the four elements fire, earth, water and air as well as to the fifth element, the world soul that envelops everything, to the stars in the sky, to the cosmos.
The world interior
It lets me feel very directly the world interior that connects all creatures in the universe with each other, from which they breathe and draw strength.
It allows me to experience my own soul roots that have grown out of this world interior. A stream of graceful, creative energy flows through these soul roots. These roots give a fundamental, unshakeable trust in life.
When I meet people in the forest, I am often asked if I am not afraid to spend the night all alone in the middle of the forest. I then try to make them understand that there is no safer place in the universe than the forests in this part of the world. Beneath the tree roots and branches over which I stretch my hammock, the much deeper reaching “roots of life” are palpable, reaching into the world’s interior. From them flows a constantly renewing vitality and creativity. The forest, the mountain world, nature as a whole gives us a great wealth of fresh ideas, of creative solutions, of images and symbols that reach into our dream world. After each of my hiking periods, I dream for weeks at home in the most intense way in these images and symbolic worlds of nature. It is – this is how I feel – a “bathing” in the atmosphere of the world’s interior.
In this rootedness, in this trust in life, I can “hold” something. Soul shows itself in this “holding”. I can learn to endure paradoxical, seemingly contradictory realities and attitudes, to let them stand side by side. There is a fine line between open engagement and a certain distance from things. I step back a little, I marvel and listen, I simply perceive what is, in nature and also in the encounter with other people.
I should not be too strongly “identified”, otherwise I can no longer be a mediator, a facilitator, a soul companion. It needs a balance between physical presence, groundedness and spiritual intuition. It needs a balance between in-breathing and breathing out, between deepening contemplation and silence (also and especially in nature) and self-forgetful devotion and activity in the midst of society. In this ability to hold, in this spiritual middle way of connecting, I can discover spaces, inner spaces of the world. From these spaces I can create without fear and with the highest creativity. Here there are potentials of power that want to be expressed through me: ideas, intuitions, listening qualities, integrating consciousness potentials, awareness potentials, awareness spaces that can be made available to all who are open to it.