The Rules of Trail Magic or How to Ride Synchronicity Halfway across the Country

As integration ever-so slowly and painfully and achingly beautifully sets in along with autumn, I grant you all a bit of reflection on the operation of trail magic. This is how I road a terrifying wave of synchronicity halfway across the country and through the entirety of my childhood. This is why I’m more human now.


Trail magic operates as one of the most universally recognized forms of magic. Everyone who has done a long distance hike has performed it and its prevalent in their vocabularies. Hikers are constantly pouring out energy into the universe, becoming one with the act of giving and smiling as they do so. People receiving this in their wake recognize it, even in a nebulous fashion and desire to just simply connect with it. That connection comes most often in the form of generosity. Magic. Synchronicity. A unification. This is neither good nor bad. It just is. It can hurt sometimes, too.

But the giving just feels right. It’s the only possible path at the time and always completely spontaneous. This recognition of connection produces pure energy and tears down borders that have made us think we’re separate from its flow: I’m a woman, I won’t be safe. I’m weak, I can’t run that far. I’m ugly, they won’t love me. I’m afraid, I can’t go there. By recognizing yourself in each person that you see overcoming these pejoratives, these borders, there is a part of your spirit that has overcome them already and sees it happening in real time. This is the purest essence of magic. You’re one step closer to becoming exactly who you want to be, exactly who you already are. 

Magic stems from the recognition that giving and receiving are in fact the same action. Once you recognize that “I” and “other” are false concepts. Once you act against suffering, with no need for bringing the golden rule to mind, others will treat you in the same way. The reality you manifest about you is reciprocal, beyond binaries. If you give someone a meal, receiving a meal becomes more likely. The neural pathways in your mind are honed for it, you universe is open to it.

Chogyum Trungpa writes that generosity is one of six transcendent actions, or paramitas, in Buddhism. It translates as “Par” meaning “the other shore” and “Mita” being the one who got there–to the other shore. 

Out of his simplicity and awareness, the bodhisattva develops warmth. He does not act on religious or charitable grounds at all. He just acts according to the true, present moment, through which he develops a kind of warmth. And there is a great warmth is this awareness and also great creativity. His actions are not limited by anything, and all sorts of creative impulses just arise in him and are somehow exactly right for that particular moment. Things just happen and he simply sails through them, so there is a continual, tremendous creativity in him. That is the real act of karuna–a Sanskrit word which means “noble heart” or “compassionate heart.” 

Rinpoche Trungpa then continues on to explain how the absence of a radiation vessel in the midst of radiation is how that energy is able to develop and expand into a network of connections. The energy instead of being “used” simply flows on and on. 

We don’t often associate “magic” with traditional spiritual paths such as Christianity and Buddhism, but weren’t they founded after our greatest known magicians. The concept of magic has been tainted for us by Disney and Hollywood. They make us think it’s for kids, just a glimmer, a fantasy.  Their plastic doesn’t resonate with our inner world, leading us away from the truth that magic could in fact be the most important thing a person can believe in. That it can guide our entire lives. In fact, most of us erase our most magical moments out of our lives almost instantly–chalking them up instead to random coincidence. Or worse yet, we end up forgetting them entirely, making them non-existent without a conscientious witness around to remind us.

When I got to Cincinnati, I went with two stranger/brothers to a peyote ceremony with the Native American Church. The most important thing that I took from the vision I received there was not forget–To cherish the unexpected things in life that we are given. To be ever grateful. Otherwise, it never happened. It will remain tucked away the deepest recesses of you mind to be dealt with in some other fashion, to become some tweaks of a muscle during sleep, an unusual symbol in a dream. It will never work its way into your reality. Never emerge from possibility, from its cocoon. It will never spread its wings about your body with iridescent rainbow wings, will never become magic.

This is why it’s so vital that we tell the story. It’s all we get from our pasts–the story. It must be told and retold from as many perspectives as possible. It must mutate with the ages. The story must come from far and wide and diverge and intersect until they create every shape and color and continent possible for them to create. That is how we are building bridges, slapping mortar on the concrete blocks for our new cities, where we will be unified with one another fully. This will be what peace looks like. This is how we manifest heaven, re-enter Eden. We’ve messed up the stories of our greatest magicians–forgotten the gratitude of Christ, Mohammad, Buddha, Moses, because we stopped really believing in them. Meaning, we’ve stopped knowing that we are them.

There’s a cardinal rule of trail magic: it never happens when you’re looking for it. This rule is tied into the observer effect which happens on the quantum level. When the wave function of a particle is observed is when it collapses into its mass function. Which means that all of the possibilities of the places where the particle could exist collapse into one space. On a very real scientific level, before the particle could have existed and did exist, everywhere in the universe (to a non-zero degree “wave function). It bonded eternally with each other particle with which it has ever interacted (known as “spooky interaction at a distance”). You’re wondering what this has to do with magic. This has everything to do with magic. 

Did you ever wonder why it often happens that when you cease to want something it appears: the boy you’ve been lusting after begins to take an interest in you after you stop caring whether he returns your text messages or not; You finally get that job interview after you’ve settled into another career. We call it cruel irony, but its a law of attraction. When you’re desperate for something, you push it away. The force of your need for the thing, of watching the space where it is not, of bearing witness so intently to its absence makes it less likely to appear in that space. Its absence is too busy being confirmed by you. In the Buddhist tradition, this is seen to be caused by a lesson that the universe teaches us about attachments, that we must break them before we’re able to truly enjoy a thing for its essence, for its eternal nature.

We’re constantly giving things up, letting loose our attachments, but often not paying attention. It takes focus to see our smaller deaths. It takes ritual. When you’re walking for the majority of your day everything becomes a ritual. Waking in the morning. Brushing your teeth. Splashing your face with water from a freezing cold stream. Taking a piss in the woods. Setting up your tent alongside the road. It becomes instantly more meaningful. You pay attention more. Your mind follows your eyes, follows your hands, follows your body, follows your spirit. You actively interpret the codes of it. You develop intention. You see how there is no space around it. The air is filled with tiny living organisms, colliding entangled spinning particles, and they’re all apart of your world, and they all will sustain you, if you recognize it as a possibility. They’ll invite you in for a cup of coffee when you think you can’t stand the cold anymore. They’ll give you a place to sleep when you’re legs are aching. They’ll make you a sandwich when you’re not sure how you’re going to get groceries for the next fifteen miles. They’ll hand you twenty dollars that you’ll discover you really needed two days later. They’ll give you a ride up the hill that you didn’t realize went on for the next half a mile. They’ll show you appreciation when you felt all alone in the world. They’ll hold you when you couldn’t love yourself enough. They’ll forgive you when you say that you put those wounds there yourself. They’ll stand with you as you open and heal them. They’ll guide you when can’t see for tears when you are walking through the pain. They’ll say, “I believe in you” when you begin losing faith. They’ll tell you “I always believed in you” and you will realize, that none of this, absolutely none of this, would have possible if they didn’t. 

Trail magic exists to remove fear. Ticks were perhaps the most real manifestation of the fear I am attempting to abolish on this solo journey. When I left Cincinnati, I thought I had abolished of my fear. I had been bouncing along the road, maybe overly confident, maybe foolishly thinking that any of the magic I was experiencing stemmed from myself. The universe reminded me otherwise. I went to sleep early one evening in the gorgeous old growth pine studded ravine of Versailles State Park, thinking that I would wake at sunrise and start writing. However, there were people camping near me, blaring bad pop music and drunkenly shouting over one another. I tried to remind myself that the noise was produced in my mind, but couldn’t calm down. Just as I began falling asleep three hours later, I reached my hand to my neck and pulled out a tick, then two more. I feared that each mole on my body (which are many) was a tick. Clearly, I could not sleep for this. I found two more ticks on my coat. It began pouring down rain. It was cold. I was stuck in my tent for hours surrounded by ticks. I tried to read. I couldn’t. I tried to write. I couldn’t. I called friends who didn’t answer. My phone died. Hadn’t I already purged enough on this trip? I’d been stranded in the middle of the night without a place to camp. Eight nights of below freezing weather. Knees that ached for three days straight. Four days of intermittent vomiting. Accidentally camping in a hydraulic fracturing gas drilling pad. 

But there is always another lesson to lean. Your good intentions alone are yours. What comes into being, what appears before you is only going to be what you need to stay on the path. Sometimes that is loss, death, danger, suffering, ticks. Magic is not performed for your benefit. It is what you need to do the work that universe needs done. Only when you align your intentions with that will the world be magical. The sky open on an overcast day just above your head, so that the layers of smooth cotton glisten like prisms, revealing the red, green, indigo of each particle of light as it streams to earth. Only then will each item laying alongside the road speak to you as a relic or lesson from your past or future self: a church sign that reminds you of the heaven you left Tend your heart well, it is God’s garden; a video cassette of the Jane Austen novel that got you through middle school; a syringe next to a pen that reads like a note from the friend who you lost to opiates six years ago; a bag of blue gills, which are the only fish you ever caught as a little girl; a stuffed lamb, which is the dear friend you left behind Lebanon. Only then will you see your own name everywhere, will everyone be a prophet, will everything be a lesson.

Last night I dreamt of trilobites and ticks. They were falling from a screen and onto my lap. The ticks did not connect to my flesh, they fell off in patterns and became the trilobite fossils that an old man I met on my walk collects. He reminds me “these are not merely dead things. They still vibrate. They speak to me.” It is never our last chance. We will continually be learning, giving off vibrations that connect. Yet also each lesson is complete when we see it for its beauty. I kept a tick in the pages of my book on meditation by Rinpoche Trungpa. It really is beautiful. Its front legs curled in a spiral. It’s shell a deep brownish red with a half crescent of gray just below its head. I will keep it.


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