Often when you hike in the state and national parks out west, signs are posted at the trailheads cautioning hikers not to “bust the crust.” The crust, called cryptobiotic soil, consists of soil cyanobacteria, lichens and mosses. The microscopic filaments of the cyanobacteria help stabilize the soil’s surface, creating a scaffolding from which other plants can take root and grow. These bacteria are determined little things, yet the life-sustaining crust they form is so fragile. One careless footstep can crush decades, if not centuries, of growth.
This morning we hiked the Little Horse Trail, which leads to the Chicken Point overlook. Over the centuries, the wind has scoured the surface of the formations into undulating waves of red rock. Posted by the crest of the trail was this sign that read “Healing in Progress. Please stay on trail. Thank you.” If you’re a regular reader of this column, you know I’m always looking for metaphors in Nature, delicious bits of guidance that might be found in a heart- shaped cactus or a forest reflected in a river.
When I read the words Healing in Progress, Please stay on Trail my mind immediately went to the realization that we are all specimens of healing in progress, whether physically, spiritually or emotionally. One of us is recovering from surgery, while another is still processing the death of a loved one, and another is struggling to surface from being unemployed. Many someones struggle maintain a connection with G’d and their faith.
It takes so little to “bust the crust” of our existence. A crass comment by a teacher can silence a student for years. We wake up feeling fine until the lab calls with the latest test results, blasting us into realms we never imagined. Our spiritual needs changes. Or we change and are at a loss for the peace and community that might have sustained us our entire lives.
So we have to stay on the trail, mindful that others are healing whether we see their bandages or not. We have to walk gently in one another’s lives, offering help, minding our mouths, bringing fun and joy, giving space when solitude is the only balm. And what of ourselves? How do we keep ourselves on the trail so we do not undermine our own healing in progress? We know what to do, but how many times to we regress, slipping back into unhealthy habits? If it’s addiction we face, keeping ourselves on the trail is a day by day, moment by moment act of recovery. If we are pursuing a goal whether it’s running a marathon, pursuing a degree or career advancement, staying on the trail will get us there sooner and successfully. Staying on the trail means learning the signs of our own self-sabotage and placing our feet ever more consciously.
It takes decades for cryptobiotic soil to grow to a stage where it becomes hospitable for seeds and grasses. Centuries can pass before the grasses give way to small shrubs, cacti and even a tree or two. We humans operate on a different scale of time. We do not have centuries. Some of us no longer have decades. But like the plants that take root in this beautiful soil, we have no idea what tomorrow will bring.
Today is the only day we can grow. This can be a good thing.
Healing in Progress. Please Stay on the Trail. Thank you.