“The place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really hard to get there, but you can do it.” –Cheryl Strayed
“I need to get lost in the woods,” I told my friend, while waiting at Starbucks for my Americano with a dash of chemical-laden coconut milk. Machines beeped, milk whirred, and people buzzed with that frantic morning crush of caffeine eagerness. It was all I could do not to cut and run. And yet, there I was with everyone else, a girl on her phone pandering to the Barista, all smiles and thank yous.
I had called my friend pointedly to hear her slow, southern accent. It grounds me. It soothes my West Coast weariness. My overly-scheduled social calendar had left me feeling angsty and out of control. Oh woe is the teacher on summer break. Do you hear the violins? But this jamming all the fun and relaxation into two months has got to stop. This model is not sustainable. This filling of time, as crucial as it is to see dear friends, to make good on all those earlier promises of hosting people to your house, competes with my deepest need to be alone. Blessed solitude—that time to think or better yet not think.
It turns out, I’d called my friend at just the right time. Life was certainly having its way with her, and there was little I could do but listen. If I had the money, I’d fly her out here from Tennessee and we’d find every damn paved trail to all the entrances of all the stunning woods of California, and I’d push her through each and every one with big hats on, sunblock, and Nalgenes hanging off her chair. We’d road trip hither and yon, carefree, like the girls we once were, swimming in the doughboy pool on that mountain top in Soddy-Daisy. I needed to get lost, and so did she.
Our conversation was long, tear-filled, tender, and humbling for me. I came away with that smack in the face I needed. I don’t really have problems. And even if I claim Hashimotos as a problem, requiring lifelong attention, medication, and some major lifestyle changes, I still really have only one problem.
The rest of my issues I create, albeit from a place of real responsibility. I have a family that relies on me for love, care, a paycheck, health benefits, etc. This is something I simply cannot and with all my soul do not want to “walk away” from. I don’t want to lose the people I love, but I do need to ditch some baggage in the form of negative energy. For example, at my lowest points, I am plagued with self-doubt, guilt, and fear of change. Here’s what that looks like in my head:
- Will I ever get back into those jeans I looked so hot in just last fall when I killed myself losing weight only to gain half of it back?
- Did I say the wrong thing again? Geez. I should really just stop talking and listen more.
- Maybe I shouldn’t have left.
- How will I ever manage stress to stay well?
- Why are my hands aching like I have arthritis all of a sudden? Oh, it must have been the milk I had in that latte someone bought for me without asking. Just say, “No,” next time someone offers you that, Daina. Don’t worry about being nice.
- I miss my deeply connected, daily friendships of my twenties.
- I wish I could stop thinking.
- Why is my house always cluttered?
- If I have to clean the kitchen one more time, I’m gonna…
- I like my job. I wish I loved my job.
- I need more money.
- My neck is sore.
- I want to laugh more.
- Am I on the right path?
Perhaps some of this sounds familiar to you, Dear Reader. I hope, with all my heart, it does not. But I doubt that too. Real, imagined, or somewhere in between, the physical manifestation of those problems are undeniable—neck and shoulder tension, TMJ, anxiety, and insomnia, for starters. I want to tell those blasted thoughts to scram. But how?
Well, a walk in the woods would do it…for a while. But I can’t do that every day. Move to Tahoe? Unlikely. I need a daily practice. Maybe I don’t need to get lost but those thoughts sure do.
I’m embarking on the ancient journey of the body, mind, and spirit. I’m going to sit crossed-legged and meditate (by the way, wipe that circle-sitting, mantra-saying, hippie shit out of your head right now). I’ve learned that even ten minutes a day of tuning in by tuning out does wonders for mental, emotional and physical health, especially for people with auto-immune diseases, chronic pain, terminal illnesses, sleep deprivation, food cravings, too many kids, not enough chocolate, etc. This is now scientifically proven. Yah for science finally backing up what all the spiritual cultures have known for centuries!
Meditation can be found in so many ways: visualization, “flow” activities, the repetitions of meaningful or even non-meaningful mantras, breathing and breathing some more. The critical thing is to address our chattering monkey minds. I’m not spouting anything new here. It’s ancient quiet time. It’s that blessed solitude I’m seeking so that I may be aware of the negative thoughts and gently let them go. And it’s time I try it. It’s a matter of life and stress.
I’ll admit, I’m not there yet. Not even close. Right now, I have the old, cranky man in my head, yelling, “Get off my lawn!” fist in the air, barking that negative energy all the way down the street. Not exactly a Zen image, I realize. But it’s a start.
Now get outta here. Beat it. Go get lost in something beautiful and remember to breathe.
Strayed, C. (2015). Brave enough. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.
Staff. (2016, August). Serenity How? O: The Oprah Magazine, 17(8), 82-99.
Harvey, S. (Producer), & Harvey, S. (Director). (2015). The connection [Motion picture].United States: Elemental Media.