Hinderland: the landscape of the mind that we need to leave behind in order to move forward with our lives and live lives with greater presence. The back country of our thoughts. The remote subconscious and semi-conscious thoughts that hinder our progress. The lands of our past that like stones can get in our way of the present experience.
On peut aussi bâtir quelque chose de beau avec les pierres qui entravent le chemin. – Goethe.
The quote in French above that was on the hotel room wall where we stayed in Great St Bernard Pass read:
“One can build something beautiful with the stones that hinder the way.”
Translating this quote in English and grasping its meaning it has had a deep and beautiful impact on me.
Walking The Back Country of My Mind
This journey of pilgrimage is one of the soul. It is a journey to walk the back country of my mind, to explore the stones of the past that hinder my progress, to make something beautiful of these stones.
As I left Switzerland crossing over the border into Italy there were no officials waiting to scrutinise my passport and customs for me to declare anything. We simply walked across an imaginary line and a modest sign read ‘Italy’.
Passing Into New Territory
The air wasn’t miraculously different, though the mountain vistas were spectacular. Entering new territory, as we began to traverse the landscape we begin to see differences. Some were noticed slowly and subtlety and others immediate.
Walking over the imaginary line into Italy I did feel that I was leaving Switzerland behind. It also got me thinking what was I leaving behind. Ten days of walking through Switzerland wasn’t a lot of time to grasp the essence of this country. Through a previous challenging hike a few days earlier and walking up to the Great St Bernard Pass through the valley from Martingny I began to feel its natural beauty. Yet what else was did I discover in Switzerland and what was I leaving behind?
As I sit writing, in my first day in Italy, from a mountain top view looking down onto the ancient Roman town of Aosta below and sweeping mountain views and misty peaks all around I feel great excitement. A thunderstorm is coming this way, turning the sky in darkness and bringing rain. I am excited as I feel confident that Italy will show me ‘life’, just like new rains bring new life. Italy will show me a new rich lively sense of beauty that is poles apart from Switzerland. I have crossed an imaginary line but the differences will no doubt soon present themselves more profoundly to me.
Walking down the rocky mountain paths at the top of the Pass, having crossed the imaginary border, this symbolised ‘getting over the hump’. Yesterday was a milestone. We have walked a third of the way from London to Jerusalem.
Leaving Your Mark
Milestones mark our way along paths as do cairns, stacks of stones often found along the path. Along the top of the trail we encountered a few cairns. They were miniature mountains of balancing rocks reflecting the grandeur of the surrounding mountains on a small scale. They also were an attempt to leave one’s mark on the path for others to contemplate and enjoy. As one passed them they became the past. Could these beautiful stacked stones also be a way of humans trying to make sense of the sublime? Maybe a way to fully engage in the beauty of the surroundings in the present?
One way to leave your mark on the past is to gain wisdom from it. Stone markers can mark the path to were you have been – a reminder of where you have come from and what you have learned from the experience. In fact, wisdom can help to make the path forward less rocky and easier to walk.
As we left Aosta on the second day to continue down the valley I discovered that some of the villages were so named to mark the distance they were from Aosta.
There was Die (two Roman miles), Quarte (four Roman miles), Septiminium (seven Roman miles) and Nus (nine Roman miles). Similarly, as we move forward from an event from the past, our combined knowledge and wisdom, can come together like stones that build a village, to show us just how far we have moved on from it.
Stones That Block Our Way
Stones can help show us the way, yet if we don’t face them they can become mountains making it more difficult to climb.
Too may stones on a path can make it difficult to walk and fear sets in as we feel we may trip, break an ankle or on a precipitous slope we may possibly fall to our death.
We often leave stones in our way in our daily lives. Negative thoughts that hinder our happiness. Jealousy, anger, rage, anxiety, worry, low self-esteem – these stones can stop us in our tracks.
Small Man Syndrome
In Italy, especially the Italian Alps, a cairn is known as an ometto, or a “small man”.
These markers can show us the way forward and the lessons we have learned whenever we find ourselves going back into our past. They can if we are not careful also drag us a long with the weight of the past. They can do so if we don’t take responsibility for the past. If we don’t learn from it in a positive way they can lead us astray and off the path to happiness.
Blame keeps us lame.
Blame allows us to forfeit our responsibility. To keep us stuck in the past. It stops us from gaining the wisdom that prevents us from tripping or falling off the edge. Blame keeps us small. It blocks our way, cripples us, confuses us, we get lost in self-pity and negativity, and risk falling down the slippery slope.
Procrastination, or putting off dealing with things can keep us stuck and unable to move forward. We can build cairns that confuse our way forward instead of showing us the way. If we stop and start too many times creating cairns we can create walls of stone. Walls of fear can build up over time that become increasingly difficult to surmount. In fact, the taller they become the smaller we feel.
Walls can hide our building anger, frustration, anxiety and fear and keep us hidden away from the happiness that is ours in the present.
The Living Word
As we crossed over to the Italian side I noticed a statue of St Bernard. Statues, whether made from stone or other materials, can commemorate the past, can remind us and symbolise events, thoughts, ideas, people, things just like the towns that marked their distance from Aosta.
St Bernard is known to have continued the Benedictine tradition of Lectio Devina. Rather than a literal interpretation of words from the scriptures, analysing their historical context, for instance, the practice of Lectio Devina was about experiencing the divine through scriptural reading, meditation and prayer. One could experience the ‘Living Word’.
Creating Beauty Moment To Moment
Each word, is a stone. It can mar our progress or we can chose to create something beautiful, something extraordinary from them.
Daily, in every moment we can create beauty from our thoughts and words, or walls blocking our way to happiness and experiencing the divine.
In each moment we cross the imaginary line that our words create. We can choose to remain in the past with the language we express in the present. We can also decide to enter new territory, clear the past, enter the present, to receive the lessons and comfort, the gift that our wisdom and our words can provide. We can choose to leave the Hinderland behind, and move forward towards happiness.
Behind the glitz and glamour of the sunshine strip in Queensland, Australia known as the Gold Coast is the hinterland. It is a vast area of mountains containing World Heritage listed subtropical rainforests teeming with wildlife, misty valleys and streams and waterfalls. In fact it contains the largest tract of remaining subtropical rainforest to be found anywhere in the world.
It is a place I go to often to reflect amongst the gnarled Antarctic Beeches, many which were saplings at the time of Jesus Christ. Here I am able to slow down, breathe in fresh mountain air and process and let go of the stones in my way.
Walking through such beauty is my walking meditation, my way to clear the past and lose my self in the present and my senses.
What do you do to clear the stones in you way?
Walking through the primeval forests I am given hints on how to live more in the present. Through the process I feel my creativity and energy for life returning.
Get Over It
When we are able to come to terms with events of the past. When we can clear away the stones of anger and blame that block our way, we can create a path less rocky.
We can pave the way with stones. We can forge new paths, just like new neural pathways in our brain, that lead to happiness.
Choose Your Words Carefully
How would those close to you describe you? Would they say that you are a ‘positive person’, maybe ‘optimistic’? Or would they say you are ‘quite negative’, always complaining, maybe a ‘whinger’?
If you are unsure, why not ask those close to you whose opinion you can trust, rather than those that will tell you what you want to hear.
My wife would describe me I would think as being ‘too optimistic to a fault’. Being a writer, I am aware of the power of words and the impact that they can have on our happiness and well being.
Mind Your Words
When we begin to clear our past paths Through retracing your steps through meditation and reflection, we can gain wisdom to help us lay down these stones to create new paths as we move forward in each moment.
As we walked down through the Aosta Valley we traversed a beautiful raised and even stone path surrounded by the majesty of the mountains. It reminded me just how ingenious humans are in creating pathways from simple materials.
Evening Out Life’s Bumps
You too can even out the bumps in your present experiences by learning to shape them through being mindful by the words that you speak moment to moment. If someone asks you how is your day going, do you automatically say, ‘not bad’ or ‘OK’ for instance?
Similarly, on this journey from London to Jerusalem, walking six days a week through rain, biting and wet cold, sweltering heat and days of endless squinting sunshine – it can be a joyous experience or a test of endurance. It is all about attitude.
If the day ends up being cold and rainy, then great. If the day is bakingly hot and in the mid thirties Celsius – then equally great! It all balances out in the end is my philosophy. Days when it is achingly hot one wishes for cold and rain and vice versa.
As Hot As You Say You Are
Today was particularly hot. We were walking up and down the sides of the valley getting a great workout. Along the way as we entered villages I got in the habit of filling my hat with water and allowing the ice cold refreshing liquid to drench my tshirt keeping me cool as I walked to the next village. I may have looked like a drown rat, but at least I was a cool one!
The water I obtained from lavaries. Lavaries are communal washing houses or baths. Often made of stone, they channel spring or mountain water through a tap and into a bath or shallow pool. They were used in olden days to wash clothes and provide refreshing water to quench one’s thirst for villagers, livestock and travellers.
Rather than complaining about the heat I was being proactive and making the most of what the journey provided along the path. The cooling waters also provided an opportunity to lower ones body temperature by drinking from the cooling elixir.
The path forward provides us with markers, with human-made structures, if we are able to carefully channel our thoughts and words.
In fact, by being aware of our thoughts and words that we utter on a moment to moment basis, we can even out a path. We can build something beautiful from the stones that hinder our path.
We can create great beauty, loving experiences, happiness. By evening out the extremes of thoughts and experiences we have the opportunity to reach in each moment the happy medium.
On the way down the Aosta Valley, we passed ancient stone villages lined with cobble stones worn smooth by the elements and the humans who traversed them. We similarly can create smoother daily life experiences by being aware of the thoughts and words we cobble together.
We passed along the paths as we entered the Aosta Valley, ingeniously engineered stone and concrete irrigation channels. They diverted waters from the high mountains to water crops and create great abundance and life. Walking along the limpid and clear mountain waters cooled the air and the sound of bubbling water was soothing.
How can you similarly channel your thoughts and words to fill your present moments with more joy, abundance and peace of mind?
From this moment on, begin to be aware of the stones along your journey. Do they hinder you or do you create something beautiful from them? Are you dragged along by the weight of your past, held back from happiness by blame, anger, anxiety, fear?
Are you wanting to embrace more happiness in your life? Begin by crossing the border into new territory. Build new pathways to happiness from the stones, the words that you utter in your present. You have the opportunity to use the stones to build a house for happiness to live.
Channel your thoughts and words in ways that create new life in your every moment. Your words are living. They create life’s experiences in each moment. Be aware of what you are saying.
We create or world through words.
Looking back at my experience of Switzerland, it reinforced what I already knew. The ‘living word’ existed in what we bring to it. It wasn’t enough to utter words. I needed to ‘live’ them experiencially. To fully engage myself in the world in this moment. To climb mountains, to feel the fear on precipitous tracks, to drink fresh mountain water from village lavaries, to smell the steep mountainside forests after rain, and hear the rushing streams.
Crossing The Borders Our Minds
What I learned was that we can build unscalable mountains in our minds.
That reality can be totally different. I had built up a picture of crossing the Alps up to Great St Bernard’s Pass as being some gruelling suffering challenge. I had questioned if I were able to make it and if I was equipped enough to do so.
In reality, it just took one step in front of the other. I also understood that the stones along the path can hinder our way if we think they can.
I changed my words as we began to climb. I powered ahead. I felt the burn of muscles, the shortness of breath ascending into the misty mountains, and I felt exhilarated, empowered. It spurred me on.
We create limitations in our minds. We can also break barriers, build pathways and cross borders with them too.
I also learned from my time in Switzerland that we create our own idea of beauty. We do this through experiences we create and the words we use to describe them.
In Switzerland I searched for my idea of beauty. I had to work for it. In Italy, it is embedded in the whole fabric of the landscape, the people, the culture. I don’t have to search for it. It is alive. I look forward to living it.