In The Heart Of Reciprocity Is Not An Exchange

July 21, 2023

by Hagar Harpak

A little visit to the Walker Pass Campground

Being out in the embrace of trees and soil, under a moonless vast night sky with infinite stars spangled across the darkness, watching old mother pines reaching tall, pinecones scattered across forest floor, and young firs sprouting, reaching for sunlight, reminds me that in the heart of reciprocity is not an exchange, but rather an unfolding expression of interconnectedness. 

Last weekend we went camping at our favorite spot in the Sierras. We usually take the scenic route, and drive through breath-giving landscapes, filled with inspiration, hit by the power of biodiversity and intricate connections. The proximity of this road (the 178) to the 395 thrills me. We drive by a campground called Walker Pass, where desert and mountains converge. There’s a little trail that leads from the campground into the Pacific Crest Trail. We usually stop there on the way back, and do a little Darshan with the sacred gateway into the wilderness. 

Darshan means “Seeing” in Sanskrit, and refers to having a visual, sacred perception of a deity. But this gorgeous word includes in it the ritual aspect of being with others in the process, seeing and being seen not only by the deity in a Hindu temple, but by everyone else around you, who has come on pilgrimage to see the form of a goddess or a god. By the walls and the monkeys and the cowshit too. 

I look at the landscape and perceive her as holding a secular container of sacredness. I see the form of the rocks, the plants, the mountains as they promise a transition from desert to forest. I catch a vision of the wind moving through the holy harshness of the terrain. I feel it in my fascia. Movement. Breath. Aliveness. The connective tissue of the body that I am, connects to the dust, the shrubs, the stones, the peaks, the valleys, the sky. 

We always carry with us the hope that we would run into a PCT hiker, and offer them some fresh food. While it’s still many years away, Andrew and I have a dream/plan to hike the PCT when the kids are both out of the nest. We will need a deep, wild journey to help us deal with the emptiness and the grief. Having something to look forward to and link it to a time that we dread feels helpful. 

There he was; skin burned, putting his tent up. I ran up to him asking if he was hiking the PCT. Yep. He was beyond excited to get some fresh fruit, freshly cut veggies, and some roasted garbanzos. “It’s not even from a can! I soaked them and cooked them and roasted them with really good olive oil and pink himalayan salt!” was my ridiculous presentation, with a strange high pitch voice that moves through my throat when I’m excited and embarrassed. He was so happy! 

He’s been hiking through the desert. In July. “I don’t recommend this!” he said in his charming British accent. All the way from the UK to do the PCT. And the high Sierras are still full of snow, so he’s gonna have to hitch a ride and skip that part, and hopefully return to these magical mountains in the Fall. Life’s unpredictability, wild currents, terrifying in how little control we have, disappointing, surprising, awe-inspiring, intoxicating in its power, seems to be amplified on a trail that traverses states, countries, ecologies, and landscapes – inner and outer.

As we drove away, I reflected on how doing something for others is really doing something for yourself. He said we made his week! But you know, I think he made ours.There are no selfless acts. Recognizing that feels humbling to me. I’m no saint. It feels amazing to connect to a person, or an animal, or a plant, and know that you’ve done something that enhances their lives. It enhances yours! You need nothing in return. You’ve received by offering. Reciprocity is not an exchange. It is a stunning symbiotic relationship that holds together a universe that is simultaneously falling apart.

We will celebrate and grieve the coming together and falling apart of nature, culture, and the cycles of life, in the next Seasons Somatic Ceremony – an embodied ritual and mythopoetic exploration. Stories and practices and prompts will weave together a deep connection to the season, the person, the collective, and the planet. All the details are here.

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