“You know, Seth,” my dad hesitated. “Maybe you should go to ANASAZI as a SinaguaWalker.”
“What?” I said, frantically trying to read my dad’s mind.
“It’s a program where people go to find themselves.”
Find themselves, I sarcastically repeated to myself. I know that what that means. He’s not fooling me. I don’t need to go to any program to “find myself.”
I was twenty years old at the time and although I wouldn’t admit it to myself, I was lost. My life was littered with mistakes and I was losing a lot of personal battles. I slipped into depression and life lost all color and meaning. I no longer saw my way ahead.
My dad’s suggestion that I participate as a Walker in the ANASAZI program seemed (at the time) like a weak solution. The ANASAZI Foundation is an Arizona-based wilderness therapy program for struggling youth and young adults. Essentially, you go out into the woods (away from all of the bad influences in your life) and hike your struggles out. I also heard that the program was also based on a philosophy of love and having something called “a heart at peace.” Great, I thought to myself, hiking in the desert and singing Kumbaya while holding hands. That’s exactly what a chubby, depressed, anti-social nerd wants to do!
So I politely/flatly rejected my dad’s offer to send me to ANASAZI.
However, almost one year later, I found myself sitting in the ANASAZI office training to be a “TrailWalker,” a person that works with the youth on the trail.
How I made that leap, I don’t remember. I honestly don’t. To this day, I can’t remember filling out the paperwork (although I know that I did because it’s all in my hand writing). But no matter what I knew back then, I’ve since learned that when I came to ANASAZI I had indeed started on a journey to find myself.
Find myself. Even now that phrase makes me want to laugh, but not for the same reason that I scorned it when I was twenty. Because—and this is important—in order to find yourself you must lose yourself. I don’t mean “lose yourself” in the same way that it means to be lost, but to lose yourself in love and service of others. That is how you truly find yourself.
Since 2007 I have learned many things as an ANASAZI TrailWalker. I’ve learned how to make fires with just a few sticks, how to stay hydrated, proper nutrition, and how to carve spoons. I’ve learned how to tell time without a watch, how to build an effective shelter, and how to tie fancy (and not so fancy) knots. I’ve learned how to read maps, how to orient myself with the stars, and how to hike safely through treacherous canyons and barren desert landscapes.
But the the lesson that I’ve come to treasure most is learning how to love others or, in ANASAZI language, learning to “walk as WE.” As it says in The Seven Paths of the ANASAZI Way:
“You live in the age of ‘I.’ Man looks out for himself, and only secondarily for others. In the philosophy of your day, happiness is a product of the fulfillment of personal ‘needs’…Man’s obsession with his own needs is taking him further from those without whom happiness cannot be found. It is taking him from his people.
Would is surprise you to hear that man’s unhappiness is due in large measure to the way he is seeking after happiness? You know this already from your own life. For when you are have been unhappy, you have been unhappy with others–with your father or mother, your sister or brother, your spouse, your son, your daughter. if unhappiness is with others, wouldn’t it stand to reason that happiness must be with others as well?”
My greatest personal problems (then and now) have always stemmed from the same root cause: selfishness. I wallowed for a year of my life in the darkest depression because I was focused on my own needs, my own wants, and my own problems. The more I focused on myself: the more I felt lost, and unhappy.
But ANASAZI taught me to open up my heart to other people…and to the Creator.
The greatest happiness and joy I have ever felt has always come from serving and loving other people. As soon as I began to focus on the needs of others, my own problems began to shrink and evaporate. The darkness of a selfish depression was replaced with the light of loving others.
…In the wilderness, I was reclaimed from darkness. And I have met many along my way who have been reclaimed as well. Walk among the hills, the trees, the valleys and the streams, and you will know in your heart that independence is a myth. To be alive is to be with others. To be right with others is to be WE.
Yes, my walking on the ANASAZI paths taught me much. It taught me how to love and serve other people. It taught me a lot about second chances (thanks to an inspired Field Director), about redemption and about moving forward. It taught me to hope and not merely cope. It taught me that “within every child is a seed of greatness,” and that there was strength in me as well. It taught me that “to be right with others is to be WE.”
I walked the ANASAZI trail for the last time this week. I’m sad to leave it, but it is time for me to begin a new kind of walking. Part of the ANASAZI mission statement is to “move hearts homeward” and my homeward walking is leading me to marry my best friend, Kim. Together, we will walk forward as WE.
So, as it turns out, my dad was right. ANASAZI is a place where people go to find themselves. And I found myself by losing myself in the love and service of others.
I am grateful for all that ANASAZI has taught me and I will deeply miss the trail. However, what I experienced there is but a type and a shadow of what I can experience in the world around me. ANASAZI itself didn’t heal me…the principles it taught me did. The principle of loving others and being alive to their needs is as accessible in our homes and communities as it is in the Arizona wilderness. I can “walk as WE” wherever I am.
All walkers sometimes stumble. I never reached perfection with my people. Sometimes, despite all I have seen, heard, and felt, I have nevertheless withehled myself from their embrace.
But every time I have seen the dawn, or felt a breeze, or drunk from a stream, or walked on a stone, or eaten of a plant, or looked upon a lamb, I have been reminded again of the truth: My feet were placed on Mother Earth in the midst of others’ so that I might learn to walk together with them in my heart.
You and I, my young friend, walk only as far and as well as our hearts walk among our people.