“Poet Robert Frost was awaiting admittance…into a student fraternity and was told confidentially that only one factor was delaying his entry: the fact that he took long walks in the woods by himself…He was caught being an individual, with an inner life of his own, instead of the dead and public machine life of joining a crowd…When they asked him what he did while walking alone in the woods, he was not so foolish as to admit the truth that he was guilty of writing poetry there. Instead, he saved the day and won his fraternity acceptance by replying: ‘Gnawing the bark off trees.’”
Robert Frost was born in the latter part of the 19th century, but it appears to be the case that even in what may seem to us a simpler era than our own, a person who felt the need to spend time alone was considered odd. For Frost, and for many others, alone time is essential for creativity, emotional and physical renewal, and for connecting with soul. I’m not aware of their being such a thing as a “spiritual Fit Bit,” but if there were, it might measure the fact that taking long, slow, solitary walks to nowhere in particular is a good way to nurture our spiritual health.
Frost was “caught being an individual.” Though he wanted to gain entry into a fraternity, and thus was aware of his need for community, he valued spending long hours in nature by himself. There is a gravitational pull, a conventional wisdom, a societal ethos that calls us to join in, to think like, and to shape our lives by the culture’s standards. Although there can be good in this, without soul time we are apt to lose touch with the sacred depth that is the place of the divine within.
It’s been said that the superior person understands what is right, while the inferior one understands what will sell! It is important to be practical and reasonable, but it is essential to be spiritual, for without a sense for this dimension of our self, we run the risk of being strangers to ourselves and estranged from meaningful relationships with others. Being spiritual is not about rising above and beyond the practical, but going deep within it. When we are down-to-earth, when we are sensually present to life, when we give ourselves room to reflect and not just analyze, we are close to that which makes us the unique individuals we are.
In what is arguably his most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” Frost writes: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” We don’t have to walk in the woods to connect with our soul, but if we are to be our best self, we may at times have to take a road less traveled – one characterized by quiet, solitude, and reflection – lest we fall prey to the “dead public machine life.”