Today was a grace filled day at the dentist’s office. My mother helped me to visit the dentist to check the integrity of my teeth before I start my hike of the Appalachian trail on Saturday. Our hope was to find any dental issues before they might become large problems on the trail. After the exam, the good news is that my teeth are in fairly good shape. As shown by the digital X-ray photographs of my teeth today things are looking pretty good. I have significant wear on the lower teeth from a typical Western diet and lifestyle, a number of fillings, and one root canal from a time when the tooth behind a filling became infected and the infection reached the nerve. One thing that really strikes me from looking at these data is that a persons mind can influence their body. It is remarkably telling what a body part as simple as a mouth can tell you about a person’s history. I am fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to receive good dental care for most of my life. Growing up in a upper middle-class family I had access to a good education that enabled me to receive quality medical and dental care. However, I did take for granted my teeth for many years and simply a body part that is ” just there.” This has slowly begun to change as I have encountered a four year period of “soul searching” to find meaning in life after finishing my Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. I studied both science and religion and encountered many important people in this search for meaning. Eventually, I started to find what I was looking for in the simple things. Walking, breathing, going to the dentist, etc. are all things that seem routine and ordinary to most people but to someone that has started to learn the value of the simple things in life finding serenity in the daily activities that we all go through is immensely fulfilling spiritually. While I have studied at famous schools for both theology and chemistry I have yet to find a better teacher at spiritual things than simplicity. Simplicity is what separates truth from falsehood. Simplicity teaches us that no matter the obstacle there is a solution. Simplicity distills the essence of life away from the suffering that permeates our day to day existence. It is only with simplicity that we can encounter each moment with new awe and wonder. It is for this reason that I am starting on Saturday to embark upon an great new adventure, hiking the Appalachian trail as far north I can in the fall and early winter of 2013 and applying for teaching positions in chemistry at colleges around the country at the same time. In this endeavor, I hope to strike a balance between restoring my spiritual homeostasis after fourteen intense years of higher education in university, graduate school, postdoctoral fellowships, and divinity school and opening up the book of the next chapter of my life settling down, finding a steady teaching career, remarrying, having children, and living life in happiness and serenity. I see the Appalachian trail as a useful interlude to explore the inner world of my Spirit. I intend to treat the hike as less of a hike and more as a pilgrimage, a wilderness pilgrimage of discovery and growth. Withdrawing from Western civilization for a time, finding joy in others along the way and living out a dream that I have had for as long as I can remember. My mother and I will hike the first mile together, and eventually when I am finished with the pilgrimage will reunite. Along the way, we will communicate and share experiences that I discover regarding the workings of the inner human world. The higher spiritual dimensions of life can be found in all moments of our day to day lives if one is attuned to listening, but sometimes extended pilgrimages are required to reset the spirit’s capacities and to “weed the inner garden of the mind.” I consider the walk to be a time to weed through my interior garden of thoughts to discover what is absolutely essential to happiness and to simplify the complexity of being a highly trained chemist with philosophical and religious interests in the twenty-first century. One common point that my church friends had made to me is that I tend to over indulge in my eating from the Tree of Knowledge and starve by failing to eat of the Tree of Life. This advice, while cryptic and intentionally ambiguous, is extremely insightful and helpful. It is the truth. One of the problems with being innately curious is that one becomes interested in everything. This may not be seen as a problem by some and rather seen as a gift, but try keeping lifetimes worth of thoughts in a mind that only is designed and evolved to persist for one lifetime and one will quickly find that simplicity is central to running the long marathon of life. One weed here, another weed there and quickly the mind can become an overgrown patch of brush not capable of cultivating inner happiness and serenity. The interior world is gardened by simplicity, growing and cultivating memories and thoughts that are conducive to life and inner peace and stillness. In the Zen tradition this is called having a strong center, in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism this is called being close to God. Whatever words you choose to use to describe the interior experience, the phenomena is the same. The mind is a garden and from time to time must be tended to grow happiness. I have been many places during my twenties and early thirties searching for this simple truth and have found that in each encounter with humanity and my environment that one truth is universal. Time distills all experiences. As I conclude this entry, imaging for a second the difference between the two mental images described by the subtitle of this entry “a hiker hikes to alimentary rhythms” and “a pilgrim walks by the beat of the heart.” What mental image conjures up a greater sense or spiritual enlightenment? To me at least on the Appalachian trail, I seek to become the later transcending the simpler needs of my body that manifest in feelings such as hunger and suffering with higher needs such as a search for inner stillness and peace in a world that is growing year by year more chaotic. On the trail, I will read no books or newspapers, write only resumes, cover letters, and research and teaching statements and walk as far north as I can to Maine within good winter reason for a man from dixie. Each bite of food will travel with me, be cooked by my own hands, and be chewed by my healthy set of teeth thanks to today’s dentist’s appointment. I am thankful for the simple things in life, desiring only to life in peace.
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