Howard Zahniser, profound advocate for the idea of wilderness and activist for preservation of wilderness, wrote: “We deeply need the humility to know ourselves as the dependent members of a great community of life, and this can indeed be one of the spiritual benefits of a wilderness experience… to know the wilderness is to know profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness, to sense dependence and interdependence, indebtedness, and responsibility.”
And it’s important, I think, to recognize that the experience of profound humility and a recognition of one’s littleness is not the same as being belittled or being humiliated. In a culture where some of the most prominent figures in contemporary media thrive on belittling and humiliating others, this is an important distinction.
The frightening beauty of the wilderness is the radical egalitarian context that emerges.
This is not to suggest that the wilderness is inherently safe, or that the experience of profound humility is easy or an understanding of interdependence is simple. It is all quite challenging and risky, requiring courage and curiosity to learn how to navigate and maneuver with grace. But there is a promise in all of this, the promise of life. A deep flow of wisdom and vitality that takes the power-grabs motivated by greed, scarcity, insecurity and renders them impotent; smothers them with the weight of the earth’s wisdom and takes their composite parts - which are, when decomposed, every bit as human and humble as the hummus of the earth - and reconstitutes the particles for an experience of life, of growth, of renewal.
Profound humility is a beautiful experience. To encounter a place - in the world, on the earth, in your spirit - where you find relief in being part of a collective reality, where you have influence and agency but need not be burdened with the sense that you are the sole participant in the well-being of the world. You are a member of this community, you get to take up space and draw breath, and the way you move through the world can create safe space for others, space for them to find room to breath and be.