The Campsite Principle

“Be not a friend of the world.  Look upon the world as a bubble, look upon it as a mirage.”

The Dhammapada, 8:170

"Pacific Horned Owl" by Karl E. Karalus

"Pacific Horned Owl" by Karl E. Karalus

There is a variation on the Hippocratic Oath (First of all, do no harm) that I have been thinking about lately.  I’ve heard it called the campsite rule, or the campsite principle.  The idea is that responsible, compassionate, aware campers always leave a site better than they found it.  This concept is extended to friendships and relationships.  If you must part ways with a friend or lover, leave them in better shape than you found them.  For invariably they will touch others’ lives.

I was talking with someone about this and he told me about one campsite experience he had that gave me pause.  He was out west, with friends who shared his principles about leaving the site they had found in better shape when they left the next morning.  But over the course of the night, there was a scorpion infestation.  They got everywhere, and in everything- the pockets of backpacks, the shadowed corners of tents, nooks and crannies in hats and jackets.  It took hours to prepare to leave, and although no one was stung, the whole experience was nervewracking and traumatic.  They still took care to leave the campsite better than they had found it.  But there is a lesson here.

Sometimes there is no way to follow the campsite principle.  Sometimes the campsites will be toxic regardless of what one does or doesn’t do.  It would’ve been silly for these campers to blame themselves for the local scorpion population.  So why do we, as friends and lovers, do this to ourselves when the campsite rule just isn’t happening?  When we do our best, try our hardest to truly be beneficial, and things still warp and shift into an unhealthy place?

Partially this is due to the love felt for the place, or person- a sense of devotion and care, even when having to pull scorpions from our socks.  But much suffering can be caused when we assume responsibility for things totally beyond our control.

There are some days I honestly admit, I don’t want to rest anywhere, with anyone.  Too many times having the site vanish before my eyes- too many times brushing scorpions off while trying to get some good things done.  Too many times being convinced that I must’ve done or said something to call the scorpions there.

And in my present state, the psychache I feel is a complex tangle of wanting to improve the site no matter what, feeling responsible for the scorpions present, and convincing myself that I was the toxic element, that I am actually worse than the scorpions themselves.  This is not constant, but hits me suddenly in a form almost like a panic attack, psychological pain triggered by goodness knows what, and a delusional, nightmarish feeling like I have not done enough, I am not doing enough.

Then the feeling fades, and I return to walking my path.  Not knowing when I will be weary enough, or ready enough, to try to set up camp again.  In the meantime, my thoughts still sometimes return to that place I could not benefit, the place that would’ve been so lovely without all the scorpions.  But I should not rest at a place just because there are no scorpions, nor should I run from a place with just one or two.  Love, care, benevolence- these are the most gutteral motives, the ones further down within me, down in my belly. 

They lead me to this still morning of silent meditation and hot tea, and a nap grabbed by this nocturnal creature.  No attacks of psychache rattling my bones, no clout given to scorpions.  Given over to a tired body from hours of manual labor, it’s time to drift away from tormented illusions, and dream among these phantom scorpions.

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2 Responses to “The Campsite Principle”

  1. Loyd Dillon Says:

    Back when I was a Boy scout, the campsite rule was absolutely part of what we did. There was a pride in erasing the eveidence that we had been there, that we had pitched tents and trenched them, that we had built rock firepits, that we had lashed branches together to make tables, that we had — in other words — defiled the natural wilderness. But if an angry shebear had mauled one of us, I don’t think we would have worried about leaving the area pristine and I think WE would have believed ourselves to have been the ones defiled. Wev probably would never come back. But we would hope for and expect to find another wonderful campsite in the future.

  2. this was so well written. and such a potent metaphor for relationships- about the toxic relations that we encounter and somehow take on blame or other faulty thinking. and i was just thinking that in some cases, why do some people seem to come across numerous scorpion infested sites whereas others may only encounter one or two bug infested places (and never even see a scorpion in their life). why does one person seem to have been hiking like the rest – but rests at the scorpion places many times? hmmmm… However, pretty soon that person becomes so good at identifying the potential for scorpions – they learn to see certain signs of scorpion life. if noticed, they hike some more – and are able to push on with effort to avoid the toxic campsites -it takes time and extra walking with the gear – even some tired nights of not finding a place – but eventually – the right campsite appears and the seasoned backpacker sets down the gear – sets up – and rests well – and the match is a decent one that refreshes the soul – and the hiker sleeps well. there will always be imperfections at any site from scorpions to bugs to an angry shebear (from a different comment) – but with wisdom and developed discernment – the hiker was allowed to single out a decent site and experience was key!

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