What if you could walk into a bare room that would be full of the next 20 most important people to enter your life and they would all be naked, without adornment, without any visual or contextual clues whatsoever as to who the hell these people are and where they have come from in life. You would be forced to meet them without any subconscious pre-judgments, any file to slot them into in the people organization parts of your brain. You’d have to let them talk. Or you’d have no idea who they are.
This is how meeting people on a long trail is. No, they’re not naked. But they are all more or less in the same appropriate costume. They are all dirty and stinky, regardless of socio-economic status. They’re all eating junk food. They’re all cursing without reserve. And it takes awhile for a newly met person to ask, “What do you do?”. It seems like a silly question out there. Clearly, you walk. More likely, newly met people are asked when they started, or about their experiences over the high passes, or what the story is behind their trail name. Nothing else is relevant except the shared experience of the trail. And that’s how you get to know them.
As I get further and further away from my experiences on long trails and assimilate myself back into the normal world, I am noticing some residual habits developed during that time, and this is one. This is how I have grooved my perceptual habits to meet and interact with people. It doesn’t occur to me still to try to figure out their place in society, where they work, what religion they adhere to, or even if they are married and have kids. It’s just a “hello” and “hey what are we doing” kind of thing. And I am surprised when an attempt to comprehend my place is made. I am learning crazy amounts about my past habits of culture that I’ve always thought I was way too enlightened to perpetuate. If approaching people without judgment, without even a desire to judge or decide anything about them at all based on anything other than the present moment, is something I can be trained out of in just a few short years from a lifetime of habit, I daresay it’s our naturally preferable way to be, the “factory settings” we’re born with. Yes, common cause unites, and the trail provided us with that. But “nakedness” also unites and provides the anonymity required to suspend judgment and face new people openly.