Archive for November 1st, 2009

Finding Arches

Fear has gripped me at different times during this trip, usually for seemingly random or different reasons.  I felt an eerie fear in Oklahoma, for example, at the Cherokee Trading Post of all places, where I bought a dreamcatcher for my car, and also when I arrived at the Best Western in Shamrock, Texas.  I felt extreme fear later again while driving in Arizona, as I recounted in my last post.  There was a lot of inner  turmoil along the first part of this odyssey as well, which I have also discussed.  And I’ve discovered that I have grown extremely sensitive to the weather, which was not always the case in the past.  Driving out from under the oppressive gloom of the weather front that followed me from Arkansas through Texas to Oklahoma, did seem to peel away a layer of  malaise, but that vortex of internal turbulence certainly remained.

I’ve written plenty about fear in this blog already, and while I don’t wish to retrace those steps, I have noticed a few things.  One, this trip has in many ways simplified my daily life to such a degree, that gradations of emotion that are easily buried in the busy-ness of ordinary life, have stood out clearly as the shades of black, white, and grey that they are.  Two, because of this, it has become much more obvious when a fear is irrational, or far out of proportion to current circumstances.  And because it has been largely me, alone, with just my selected tunes (or silence) for thousands of miles and days at a time, I have not had the distraction of conversation with another person to shield me from the variegated shades of my own psyche.  While I often spend long periods of time alone at home, it is different because there are always chores to be done, errands to run and the like, which can conveniently shelter us humans from our own ruminations.  By limiting the number of responsibilities and distractions in my daily life, I had unknowingly (or at least unconsciously) stripped away some of the cover I have hid under, and it has afforded me a clearer look at my reactive self.

Somewhere during the journey from the Grand Canyon to Arches National Park, I believe I had my final showdown with fear.  (Cue wild west music…)  While I am not yet home as I write this, I am nearing the end of this sojourn, and I can tell you that fear and I parted company somewhere in Utah, and I have not felt it since.  I think it got left behind at a gas station in some mountain town on US-163, and I confess I haven’t missed it yet.  Ironically, my cellphone signal, which I used as a sort of security blanket along the way, was least reliable in this leg of my travels, as I ascended mountainsides and descended back into desert valleys under ever-darkening skies.

When I awoke in the bright light of another glorious morning, this time in Moab, Utah, I faced the day with a vaguely modified awareness.  I knew I was heading straight to Arches National Park, and by this time was starting to feel tuned in to the natural environment, also a less familiar state.  In truth, that had been my fundamental state of being as a very young person, but moving to the suburbs, followed by years of city dwelling combined with a belief that I was not an “outdoorsy” type, separated me from this part of myself for decades.  But this feeling, which I could not remotely identify at the time, was creeping back, and I drove into Arches feeling actively present with the land and the rocks, which still wowed me speechless, but no longer took me by such throttling surprise.  Instead of staring in amazement, I was smiling broadly, feeling pure joy at the privilege of partaking of this exceptional landscape.

Of course, smiling at Arches was like getting my teeth sandblasted, and I soon wondered why I bothered showering at the hotel that morning, as I quickly had sandstone in my clean hair, clothes, and teeth.  And what did surprise me, when I got out of my car, was the wind.  Again, I don’t know why I should have been surprised, but that ferocious wind hit me and oddly I was surprised.  Although I had figured out that these rocks were sandstone, and that their formation came from wind erosion, I was somehow not expecting to feel that powerful blast coming across the plain.  At one point I was standing inside one of the arches, and the wind was strong enough to nearly knock me over a ledge.  And so I retreated, not in fear, but in good, common sense.  And what a difference that distinction made – so little drama!

The truth is, I wouldn’t have been capable of taking this trip and facing this stuff – whatever it is, exactly – at any previous moment in my life.  I know they say there’s no bravery without fear, but I have not felt particularly brave.  I’m not even sure what that feels like.  I have certainly had moments when I felt headstrong and resolute, perhaps channeling the adventurous spirit of my Grandma Yetta, who crossed the Atlantic for a new life in a new world because, well, she felt like it.  But in terms of facing down all the existential stuff, although I am perhaps more aware of and confounded by it than ever before, in many ways I am also now more equipped to deal with it than ever before.  And I do see this.  It is a strange and foreign feeling to know that upon regarding looming despair and the walls closing in, which in the past would have seen me curled up under the covers (possibly for long stretches), this time I responded with an emphatic “No! You gotta take to the road!

There is something soothing about the motion of going, and seeing things beautiful and broad, wider and more spacious than I.  It doesn’t directly answer anything, but it does soothe, and the question becomes what to do with that.  In the immediate-term, there is an emerging awareness that I’m taking on the existential mire, as opposed to being submerged by it, which I suppose indicates some degree of progress.  I have been told by a psychologist that people with traumatic pasts often lack a sense of agency in their own lives, and can find it hard to want something, stick with it, and keep wanting it even after obstacles arise.  This has certainly been my story, as uncomfortable as it is to admit.  But I think this walkabout’s genesis was in the intersection of that story and my exasperation with the fetters of that story.  I suspect that my insistence on going, no matter what, was the first step to unshackling myself from those bonds.  And perhaps permeating my senses with the wonders of my home planet is helping to remind me who I once and always was, and that I never had to cease being a part of unobstructed, unbroken nature.

Smiling with sand in my teeth at Arches
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