Yoga Realizations: Abundance & Scarcity

Yoga. I never bothered to try it, because I assumed that a large, inflexible, uncoordinated woman with poor balance would not be able to do yoga.

About a month ago, I finally gave it a shot. All my girlfriends were doing it, and I just wanted to be cool. Peer pressure caused me to experiment with yoga.

I was correct. I can’t do it. And I love it so much, I wish I had tried it years ago.

I didn’t realize that yoga is magic. When you require your body to attempt what it really cannot do for a good solid hour, until you’re sweaty and exhausted, your brain apparently winds up in some kind of crazy super-freedom state that allows you to think beautiful new thoughts.

(Aside: I suppose this must be what certain drugs do for you, too….except if you do a whole bunch of drugs you wind up looking like shit, but if you do a whole bunch of yoga, you wind up looking awesome.)

I can tell you that I must look ridiculous in my yoga practice, which is okay because I can’t see myself. I’m sure I never look like a warrior or a tree or a crow, but at the end of class, I’ll be damned if I don’t think like a yogi.

This is good news, because my thoughts are kind of shaky these days. I’m still off-kilter from my recent breakup, and I spend a lot of time either sad, angry, or in a state of rigid avoidance. But for some reason, when I’m physically exhausted and instructed to clear my mind and focus on my breath, amazing thoughts radiate through my consciousness.

I know I sound dramatic, but here’s what happened in my brain at the end of a recent yoga class.

We’re sitting cross-legged (sukhasana! I’m learning!) and the instructor quietly suggests, “Extend your spine, take a deep breath and thank your body for all the hard work you put in today.”

Thanks, body. You did great!

“On your next exhale, round down over your feet and extend your fingers towards the front of your mat. It’s important to recognize how hard your body works and to appreciate all that it’s capable of. Hold that pose for five breaths.”

Hey, feet. Thanks for the hard work.

My feet are okay. They’re not weird-looking or anything and they never give me any trouble. I love my feet.

You know, I actually love my whole body. Hear that? I love you, Body. I have an abundance of love!

….I have an abundance of love.

….I’m not afraid of being alone because I have an abundance of love.

I really thought those things, all in a row, like popcorn popping in my brain. I was probably a little oxygen-deprived in that moment, because sitting cross-legged and bending forward like that causes the bulk of my belly to be crushed up into my lung-space, but whatever. It was worth it for that brilliant realization: I HAVE AN ABUNDANCE OF LOVE.

The class progressed into the meditative portion, where you’re supposed to lie flat, clear your mind, and concentrate on your breath. So of course, that’s when my brain goes nuts.

This “abundance of love” notion rolled right into a burst of clarity regarding my recently-ended relationship. While our relationship was good in many ways, it was always marred by possessiveness and jealousy. I’ve never had that particular problem before, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand why those problems kept surfacing, when I didn’t feel like I was doing anything to trigger them. I didn’t understand why we were constantly fighting over nothing.

And right there in yoga class, it came to me. Abundance versus Scarcity.

I have learned about abundance before, but I have always heard it applied to material things. An abundance mentality says that there is plenty for everyone. We can afford to be generous because there is enough to go around.

Scarcity is the opposite of abundance. People who live in scarcity feel that there is never enough, and so they are constantly fighting for their share.

I never applied the notion of Scarcity and Abundance to human relationships before, but BAM!—yoga clarity!—I suddenly saw how it works.

I come from a big, loving family. I was raised with the certainty that I am loved. I have a great circle of friends. I have kids who love me. I recognize that I am extraordinarily fortunate to feel an abundance of love.

I’ve never been one to feel jealous or suspicious; I’m very trusting. I’ve also never cheated on anyone; I don’t see the point—just love who you’re going to love. I have this crazy theory that almost all hurt feelings between friends are the result of misunderstandings, because I truly believe that people who love me would not intentionally hurt me. That’s what my life experience has taught me.

Not everyone has had that life experience. I suppose if you were raised in an environment that was abusive or unstable, or if you suffered through abandonment or infidelity, you might feel emotional scarcity. You might feel like you need to fight for affection, guard it and keep it to yourself. Once you have someone’s affection, you might feel like you could lose it at any moment, and easily become suspicious or jealous.

Suddenly all those fights, all that jealousy and possessiveness made sense. Why I felt so smothered, and why I felt like I could never do, or be, enough. We’re talking about opposite worldviews here. No wonder we couldn’t get along.

That just took me 900 words to explain, but during yoga, it flashed into my brain on one big exhale, like I breathed all the clarity in and all the confusion out.

Peace in… fear out.

Abundance in…scarcity out.

I’m telling you– you gotta try yoga.

Goodbye, Swoony McLovestruck

Seventeen months ago I posted about the absurdities of internet dating. Ironically, that very same night, I went on an internet date with a guy who knocked my socks off, triggered a series of lovestruck posts, and started me thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could step off the dating merry-go-round for good.

Alas, dear readers; that is not how the story ends. Oh, it ended. Just not like that.

My big romance is well and truly over. So, I’ve taken the usual steps: crying, ranting to my girlfriends, buying shoes, drinking, eating, buying more shoes…and all of that helped.   I’ve taken healthier steps, too, like painting and taking long walks. I even tried yoga for the first time. (Wow, yoga! More on that later.)

Mostly, I’ve done a lot of thinking. It was hard for me to let this relationship end, because I wanted so badly for it to work. This is the first time in my adult life that I really threw my whole heart into a romantic relationship, because this is the first time that I felt like I’d found someone who was worth that kind of risk. I fell hard, and I think in the process, I forgot something very important.

I went through a lot of crappy internet dates to learn this important lesson, and one sweet romance almost blew it right out of my head.  A year later, when things were starting to unwind with my beloved, the lesson came back to me.

Here’s the short version: I can’t control what another person wants, and I can’t become what another person wants. Instead, I need to decide what I want. I need to be who I want to be, and find someone I want to be with.

When I was younger, and I first started dating, I worried all the time about whether guys would like me. Was I pretty enough? Thin enough? Sexy enough? Wholesome enough? Should I be more open? Or more mysterious? I’d be out on a date, gripped with insecurity, always worried about whether I was what my date wanted.

Then I got a little older. The beauty of getting older is beginning to accept yourself.  I’m not perfect, but I’m perfectly acceptable. I started to see what a waste of time it was to try to be what someone else wanted. When I look at myself now, there are things I want to improve and things I struggle to accept, but the bottom line is this: it is what it is, and really, it’s just fine.

Instead of trying to be what someone else wants, I need to decide what I want for myself.

That outlook greatly improved my dating life. I began to go out more, because I stopped ruling myself out.  In my early days of dating online, I’d look at someone and think, “I’m not his type”—even, sometimes, when he approached me first! I started enjoying my dates more, because instead of trying to prove myself, I focused on each person I met. I’m sure that made me a lot more fun to be around, too.

Eventually, this strategy led me to my boyfriend ex-boyfriend. (Ouch.)  For the first year, it seemed pretty close to perfect. When problems cropped up, I thought, well, all relationships have problems; this is worth working for.

So I tried hard to not cause the problems. I tried to be more tactful; I tried to be more communicative; I tried to be more available; I tried to be more feminine; I tried to be less independent; I tried to be less stubborn; I tried to be more open; I tried to guard my words; I tried not to upset him. I found myself apologizing for things I never knew were wrong. I found myself trying to change things about myself that I’d always been proud of.  I tried and tried and then I remembered:

I can’t become what another person wants. I can’t change what he wants.  I can only decide what I want.

The fights continued, but instead of trying to prove that I was a good girlfriend, I began to try to evaluate our relationship. Am I being reasonable? Is he being reasonable? Are we really compatible? Are we really loving each other?

Is this what I want?

It sounds selfish; I know. “Meg, really? It’s all about what YOU want?”

Well, yes. Because I can’t control what he wants. And I can’t be what I’m not.

Sure, I can work to improve myself, and I can work at being better in a relationship. “What I Want” includes standards for me, too: I want to be reasonable, gracious, forgiving, open and kind. I know that I fall short of those attributes sometimes, and I know when I’m not at my best. But I trust my own judgment. I know when I’m trying my hardest to be the person that I should be. I want to be in a relationship that allows me to be that person.

And I wasn’t.

So it’s over.

It hurts; I wish I could breeze through this on the confidence that I’m doing the right thing, but it’s not that easy. The right thing hurts too, sometimes.

And the question now is… what do I want next?

Wide-Open Writing

riverI love writing this blog. I haven’t posted anything in several months, but it’s never far from my mind.

I feel that my responsibility as a blogger is to give my reader some kind of takeaway: a laugh, a different point of view, a helpful insight…something of value. So, as I consider topics to write about, I’m always looking for that takeaway—what is the punchline? What is the lesson? What is different or interesting about this post that makes it worth reading?

Unfortunately, these last few months have been so overwhelming that I haven’t been able to boil the chaos in my head down to anything useful. I’ve been swept along in the current of my life– new job, new home, new relationship status/living arrangement, newly empty nest—and it’s been tough to stay afloat.

When I used the expression, “swept along in the current,” what I actually envisioned was more like falling off my raft on a whitewater rafting excursion: me, totally unfit for whitewater rafting in the first place, bobbing and flailing in a churning, twisting river with rocks all around. Periodically my head breaks the surface and I suck in a big gasping breath and then bam, back under I go. I’m not trying to swim in any particular direction; I’m not even trying to avoid the rocks. I’m just trying to remember which way is up and when I have the opportunity, breathe.

Over these last few months, my creativity feels dead. No writing, no painting…any creative effort I begin seems forced and frustrating.

Today I am feeling particularly overwhelmed. I googled for a lifesaver and found this gem from Pema Chodron:

Take the whole teatime just to drink your tea. I started doing this in airports. Instead of reading, I sit there and look at everything, and appreciate it. Even if you don’t feel appreciation, just look. Feel what you feel; take an interest and be curious. Write less; don’t try to capture it all on paper. Sometimes writing, instead of being a fresh take, is like trying to catch something and nail it down. This capturing blinds us, and there’s no fresh outlook, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been struggling to find something blog-worthy to write—I’m trying so hard to capture something and boil it down that I have no fresh take, no wide-open eyes, no curiosity. No wonder I can’t find anything new to say.

A long time ago I learned a lesson about creating for the sake of creating, without fear of failure or pressure to achieve an expected result.  It was one of the most memorable days of my life. (You can read that post here.) Even so, the lesson seems to have gotten buried and writing this post has reminded me of it.

For writing, for painting, for whatever your creative process– and that includes the life you are creating for yourself–you don’t need to know how it will turn out. You don’t need to fear that it won’t be right.

The nature of creating is venturing into the unknown. True creativity is making something NEW, bringing something into existence that didn’t exist before.  If you’re in a true creative state, you’re not traveling an established path. So how can you possibly know you’re right?  More importantly, how can you be wrong?

See, I spend a LOT of time worrying about screwing things up. Can’t write this blog post; it might turn out stupid. Can’t paint a painting because I don’t have any ideas, or for that matter, painting skills. On a bigger scale, I have life decisions staring me in the face and I’m paralyzed that I will choose the wrong path.

So I started writing today not to achieve a tidy result, but just to feel what I feel, to look around me with wide-open eyes, and to practice creativity for its own sake.  As often happens when I start writing, a shape starts to form and I figure out what I’m writing about after I start writing it. In other words, I found my takeaway. It’s mostly for me, but I know there are others in my shoes who might find this helpful, too.

We create our lives. You are the first to walk your path, and I am the first to walk mine. Therefore, there is no established way: no right way and no wrong way. So we have nothing to be afraid of.  We can’t know how it will turn out, but we don’t need to fear that it will turn out wrong. It’s ours to create, and the process of creating is where the joy lives.

Thanks again to every one of you who encourages me to keep writing. You can’t possibly know how much that means to me.

Philadelphia Flourishing

So, it’s been two weeks since I left my daughter in Philadelphia.  I’m doing alright. She’s doing alright. I miss her. It was harder than I thought, letting her go.

I listened to Pema Chodron talk once about getting through emotional difficulty. She advised that if you feel like you’re going to get swallowed up in grief, or loneliness, or fear—try to step back and imagine you’re watching a movie of your life. There are sad parts and happy parts, funny parts, romantic parts…all in the course of the movie.  You feel sad in the sad parts of a movie, but you don’t lose yourself; you don’t come undone with sadness.

This is a helpful tool for me. In the movie of my life, this is the part where Maddy and I are separate for a while. It’s the part where I resume my own life, now that the hands-on, daily parenting part is over.  I know there are more happy parts coming. I feel sad, but I won’t come undone.

The part in Philadelphia was really hard. I watched it like a movie. The harder it got, the more movie-like it became.

It was a movie starring me, Maddy and Benjamin Franklin. Really.

Before the movie, I imagined the part where I had to say goodbye to Maddy. I imagined all the wise, inspiring, helpful things I would say. When it came time, standing in her dorm room, I couldn’t say anything at all. I just stood there, crying in her hair, and finally managed to choke out, “Please be careful.”

Then I sat on a curb outside the building, waiting for the crying to stop long enough for me to call a cab. Only I didn’t have to call one, because this is a movie, remember? And in movies the cab just drives up and you wave at it and it stops. So that’s what happened.   “7th and Pine,” I mumbled to the cab driver, because my tourist map labeled that corner “Antique Row.” I had four hours to kill between leaving Maddy and catching my flight back to Orange County.

You may know me as a dramatic sort of person, and I admit that I’m all for exaggeration if it gets me a laugh or makes my point. But I say this with no trace of hyperbole: if you had asked me, that day as I wandered through the city, what it feels like to choke on your own heart, I could not have replied because of the lump in my throat. But I would have known the answer.

The antique shops weren’t open yet but the buildings were beautiful, and the windows were full of antiques so old they blew my West Coast mind.

I found a community garden, a cheerful pocket of green between the buildings, and snapped a picture of this plant because of its stunning purple pods.

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There is a character in an Ann Tyler book who wonders, as she prepares for the funeral of a loved one, whether it is possible to experience grief so severe that you stop observing yourself in it.  I reminded myself of that character, hurting but watching myself in my movie, walking alone with tears running down my face in such a picturesque place. I felt ridiculous and cliché. I laughed at myself, then realized that laughing must make me look even crazier.

I walked another block or two, taking in the lovely old architecture all around me, thinking how fortunate I was to have such an amazing setting to walk off my heartache.  I turned a corner and saw this building:

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It’s the Pennsylvania Hospital, the oldest hospital in America, founded by Ben Franklin in 1755.  It’s still a functioning hospital, though this original structure contains offices now. I wandered through the park-like grounds til I got close enough to the building to read this sign. Read the words; I love them:

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“Well Mr. Franklin,” I thought to myself, “I am certainly miserable. I could use some relief.”

There’s no way he could have known, when he wrote that inscription 258 years ago, that the city was going to crowd up around his amazing building, and a heartbroken mother was going to stumble through it and find herself in this restful place.

As I sat there, thinking about that inscription, thinking about the brilliance of Ben Franklin and his reach through the centuries, I found myself comforted by the phrase, “Philadelphia Flourishing.” It’s a beautiful phrase, just the sound of it. I’m a hoarder of words and phrases. All day long I’d been drowning  in weepy words like “bereft” and “alone” and “empty nest” but then here was this lifesaver: a definitive, triumphant, bold-stroke of a word–flourishing.

The phrase hung around all morning as I continued to explore. The city surrounded me with fascinating historic distractions: Independence Hall, The Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross’ house. History is like wilderness, the way it can make you feel small and your problems seem insignificant.

The people reached out to me, too. I ducked into a used book store where the clerk took one look at my face and said, “Can I help you? I mean really…you look like you need…something?”   Touched by her kindness, I burst into tears again, and choked out, “I’m just having a hard day.”

Then I stopped at Lore’s Chocolates where I met two sweet, senior ladies working there. “Oh, you’re from California? Did you enjoy your time in Philly?” they asked.

More tears. Yes, I said, but I left my youngest child this morning at Drexel…

”Oh honey,” one of them sympathized. “That’s going to hurt a while. I remember when I sent my son to school, and he wasn’t nearly so far away. I cried for a week.”   They gave me extra samples. Chocolate and sympathy is a good combination.

I visited Ben Franklin’s grave on my way back to the hotel. It was definitely underwhelming, which may be appropriate given Franklin’s earthy, democratic nature, or inappropriate, given his monumental genius and contribution to society.  (And his supernatural ability to speak to sad, modern-day moms.) Then I hoofed it back to my hotel at Penn’s Landing, where I had just enough time for a beer before catching the shuttle to the airport.

*       *        *

Woman waits alone in an airport terminal, holding a magazine but not reading it, looking back towards the city with tears in her eyes. Then she closes her eyes, shakes her head, and laughs at herself.

Roll closing credits.

So. Much. Change. AllAtOnce.

I haven’t blogged in over two months. So much has been happening, I don’t even know what to blog about. If you could screw off the top of my skull and release the contents of my brain, the thoughts would come leaping and scrambling out like clowns from a tiny car.

Remember the post about job hunting? Well, I have a new job. That job includes a new schedule and longer hours. Still haven’t figured out how there’s time to cook dinner and get some exercise and write and pay attention to my family and my boyfriend all before bedtime. (Plus there’s Netflix; damn all those TV shows.) I know that working moms all over the country do it—heck, I did it for years—but it’s kicking my hiney right now because I’ve had this cakewalk schedule for the last two years. Welcome back to the world of grownups, Meg.

Also, I moved. I read once that moving is the third most stressful event for humans, after death of a loved one and divorce. (Pretty sure “job change” was high up on that list, too.) So, I guess it could be worse, but yeah—it’s pretty stressful. Also included in moving stress: I shacked up with my sweetheart and we’re ADJUSTING.  “Adjusting” involves trying to fit two households into one home and trying to remember how to share space with someone after you’ve been single for 15 years. I’ve only freaked out once so far.

And the big, downhill-rolling boulder that is my daughter’s departure for college continues its rapid descent onto my poor mom-heart. Maddy leaves in less than a month. She needs plane tickets and dorm furnishings and a laptop and luggage and a warm winter coat. Hopefully I can come up with the money to pay for all of those things and still have enough left for a case of Two-Buck Chuck to drown my sorrows. It’s pretty bad. I’ll be driving down the freeway or doing the laundry—just minding my own business– and out of nowhere, BAM! Emotional ambush!  Fine one minute, a weepy mess the next.

So, all in all, this is a good time for me—new job, taking the relationship to the next level, kids are growing up and doing what they’re supposed to do—but it’s also a boatload of transition all at once. I’ve got no cause to whine because all my transitions are good transitions, but most days I feel like my life is racing ahead of me and I’m being dragged along behind it with a death-grip on the bumper.

Oh! Suddenly I thought of a metaphor! (I really thought of this right now, spontaneous-like.)  My life feels a little bit like parasailing right now.

Victor & I went parasailing a couple weeks ago. (Because, you know, things weren’t crazy enough—let’s get suspended 600 feet over the Pacific Ocean while hauling ass in a speedboat!)

I was totally game for the parasailing, when Victor asked me to go– I didn’t feel afraid at all. That was stupid, because as it turns out, parasailing is actually pretty terrifying. I was fine until it was time to go up.

We were on a boat with two other couples.  The staff harnessed us up in strangely loose-fitting harnesses, and offered no safety instructions whatsoever, except to say, “If you want to hold on, hold the rope; don’t touch the metal hooks. “

IF! IF you want to hold on! Holding on is optional! So my rational mind knew that it had to be pretty safe—they let any schmuck do it; you don’t have to be fit or strong or know what you’re doing, and obviously you can’t screw it up or they’d give you more directions. Must be safe, right?

We climbed up on the back of the boat in our big, loose harnesses and they hooked us up and ZOOOM! Up we went! 600 feet! It felt just like an elevator. My harness felt just like a swing. My boyfriend was with me, taking pictures all around with his iPhone, dangling next to me without a care in the world.

And I was CLUTCHING the ropes for dear life. White-knuckled, rigid arms—clutching. I understood that I was safe, that I could not fall, that holding on was optional—shoot, Vic was right next to me, happily using all his limbs—but NOTHING could have pried my fingers off those ropes. Nothing.

We were up there for about 12 minutes, I think. I managed to take in the amazing view; I marveled at the coastline and all the tiny people on the beach—probably pointing up at us lunatics dangling over the ocean—and I even enjoyed it when the captain reeled us in and dipped us low so our feet could trail in the water. But all the while, I held onto those ropes like my children’s lives depended on it. I squeezed so tight that my arms started to fatigue, and I was terrified that my strength would give out and I’d have to let go.

Vic took this...how's that for perspective?

Vic took this…how’s that for perspective?

There’s the metaphor: clutching. My life feels like it’s flying out ahead of me and all I can do is hold on. All this frantic feeling…all this desperate clutching for nothing…questioning my own strength when my strength is irrelevant, because this ride won’t stop no matter what I do.

Just like I knew I was safe in that harness, I know am safe now.  Everything is going to be fine. The clutching is instinctive, self-protective, but it’s not necessary, and I’d enjoy things so much more if I could just let go.

One way or another, I will let go. I’ll either wise up or wear out. And either way, I’ll be fine.

Thoughts on Graduation: At Least They Don’t Eat Bugs Anymore

A momentous occasion is happening today: my youngest child is graduating from high school.

As usual, the clichés are all true. It really does seem like just a short time ago, she was following me down the sidewalk with a lunchbox bigger than her five-year-old head.  This post isn’t really about that, although I’ve been shaking off those thoughts all morning.

The thing that’s freaking me out is this: although my daughter is almost 18, and my son is 20, suddenly I feel like a brand-new parent all over again.

When each of them was born, I felt excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—like every other new parent.  The stakes were high: life and death. If I slept too hard, they might suffocate in their crib. If I chose the wrong foods, they might have an allergic reaction. If I failed to pay attention or made the wrong decision, I could ruin them or even lose them for good.

To make matters worse, it seemed like for the first few years of their lives, they were actively trying to kill themselves. You know how it is with babies and toddlers: turn your back for a second and they’re sticking their fingers into light sockets, wandering out into traffic, trying to eat toxic substances….remember?

You probably see where I’m going with this.

Parenting an almost-adult feels exactly the same. The stakes aren’t life or death anymore, but they’re still high. Decisions my kids make at this stage will absolutely impact the quality of their lives for years.  In some ways, early adulthood is a trajectory, and a degree of difference now can have a big impact on where they wind up in a decade or so.

There are the big life decisions, like where to go to college, and what field to study. Whether they’ll follow their passions or follow a paycheck. Then there are those insidious, spur-of-the-moment choices that could change their lives forever: driving drunk, just once. Skipping the condom, just once. All the time, every day, whether they realize it or not, my newly adult children will be making choices that determine the courses of their futures.

So yeah, I’m not sleeping very well these days, just like when they were babies. I’m constantly second-guessing myself, just like when they were babies. And some days, they seem like they’re actively trying to ruin themselves, just like when they were babies.

They don’t stick their fingers in light sockets any more, but some of the choices they make are just as stupid. And just like “Don’t eat that bug” didn’t make sense to them when they were toddlers, my pearls of wisdom are lost on them at this age, too. They speak English now but they don’t speak Perspective. I probably sound like an adult from a Peanuts cartoon: “Wah wah wah, wah wah, wah.” I want so badly to help them through these tough years, but I can’t. They have to grow up on their own.

I don’t mean to sound negative—this time is very exciting! It’s like when they were learning to walk: they fell down a lot. I wasn’t any less proud of them for it. (Can you imagine? “Get up, you little hobo, learn to walk right!”). It’s worrisome and frustrating, but that’s what kids do when they’re learning to walk. At this age, they’re kids one minute and adults the next, and I love them either way. They make me angry, sure, but they also surprise and delight me with the people they’re becoming.

Last night I went to my son’s apartment—his first—and there he was, living like a starving twenty-something, nothing in the fridge.  He’s working, going to school and barely scraping by. I’m so proud of him I could bust. I’m so worried about him I can’t sleep. He’s right where he’s supposed to be, and I guess is this is probably just how I’m supposed to feel.

And today my daughter will graduate. My heart’s all swelled up with tenderness for her. Like when your baby starts to smile and coo—you knew it was coming, and every kid does it, but there’s something so magical and heartwarming when it’s YOUR kid. I know I’m going to lose it when I see her in the cap and gown. I’m excited, terrified, proud, overwhelmed—just like 17 years ago.

Congratulations and good luck to all the graduates in the blogosphere today, and to their parents, too.

The Call of the Wild

I can’t quite put my finger on when it started.  I can’t even tell you exactly what it is. Midlife crisis? Wanderlust? A nagging dissatisfaction, the inability to muster normal enthusiasm for my normal life, the feeling that none of this matters.  And the urge to walk away from it all.

Today on my way to work, I stopped for breakfast at a neighborhood bagel shop. I walked from the overcast morning into the crowded, noisy interior.  Trying to discern where the line formed, I looked at the selection of bagels in the case—a dozen flavors or more—and I walked right back outside. Too many people, too many bagels, too much light and noise and UGH.

I stood on the sidewalk in front of my car and thought, “What would happen if I just got in my car and drove away?”

Well, the dogs would starve, for one. That’s not right. Also I’m not a jerk, so I wouldn’t leave my family or my job with no warning like that.

Of course I can’t just drive away, but I can’t remember another time in my life when the urge was this strong. I don’t like it.

Part of the problem is Yosemite. Victor took me there in April.

Have you seen Yosemite? Have you SMELLED it?

When I walked through Yosemite Valley, I was so overwhelmed by the beauty of it that I would close my eyes because they felt too full. Everything, everywhere, in every direction: beautiful. At night I was grateful for the sparseness of the tent cabin, for the visual reprieve, time to close my eyes and catalog the memories of the day so I would not forget the cliffs or the trees or the waterfalls or the stars.

Nevada Fall in Yosemite. Crazy beautiful.

Vernal Fall in Yosemite. Crazy beautiful.

We hiked to the base of Vernal Fall and sat on a huge boulder with the river crashing around us. We ate wasabi almonds. This is what wilderness affords you: moments so grand that you MUST live them singularly. Sensory input so vivid and demanding that it drives away all but the immediate, so the only thing that matters is right now: how the granite feels, how the river sounds, how the trees smell and how the almonds taste.

You know what doesn’t matter when you’re sitting on a boulder in Yosemite Valley?  Rent. Your boss’s mood.  Whether your kid will graduate high school. Whether you’ll find a better job or be successful or figure out what to do with your life when you’re already 41 and it’s halfway over anyway, for chrissakes. None of that matters in Yosemite. It’s like the inverse of Vegas: what happens outside of Yosemite STAYS outside of Yosemite.

So now I’m home and all of those things are weighing on me.  My kids are doing their best to screw up their lives and my job got cut in half and the ghetto cottage is on the block so I don’t know how long I can live there. I’m so overwhelmed that I can’t order a freaking bagel. I don’t even want a bagel. I just want pine trees and dirt. And a river.

Also, I just finished reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and that’s not helping either. Her life tanked, so she packed it in and decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She spent several months hiking alone through California and Oregon. She hardly ever got to take a shower.  She had to dig holes to poop in, and her toenails fell off. It’s not a glamorous tale.

Wild should make me NOT want to run away to the forest. It should make me grateful for indoor plumbing and restaurants and such. But I understand why she chose to forgo those things for the wilderness, and I see the appeal more than I even want to.

While she was hiking, Strayed had nothing but the moment she was living. She had few choices. She had no bills. No one was expecting anything from her. She was not expecting anything from anyone else. She walked until she was exhausted, then she read, then she slept. She confronted physical threats as they materialized: thirst, exhaustion, injuries, bears. Only the immediate mattered.

I might be romanticizing the wilderness lifestyle a wee bit. Obviously, I don’t want to poop in a hole.  I know that my sweet weekend getaway to Yosemite is not akin to wandering the Sierras with all my possessions on my back.  Perhaps if I lived in a tent for a while, I would gladly write my rent check in exchange for the comforts it buys me. Perhaps if I were really faced with bears and rattlesnakes, I would complain less about my teenager.

And that’s kind of the point…I don’t want to run away so much as I want a break in perspective.  Being in the wilderness helps me see my problems on a different scale. It makes me feel small in a good way; it helps me boil things down to the essentials. That’s what I want: to be concerned only with the immediate. To stop worrying about the kids, the job, the bills—all of it—if not forever, then for a summer or even a week.  Fewer choices, more freedom—just for a while.