The night before, I’d blown a tire heading south on I-5 just outside of Portland, Oregon. Having hobbled to a tire shop just before closing, and escaping a potentially dangerous blow-out on the freeway, I managed to get safely on my way without being taken for all I was worth — which at that point, was not much more than the cost of my new tire.
It happens this way sometimes when traveling — have you noticed? — stepping outside the parameters of a routine open up possibilities, and the freedom to follow seeming mishaps into experiences that, while they may shatter the safety of our bubbles, often end up being portals to a new way of being with the world — and ourselves.
Plans to make it further south that night derailed by my tire fiasco, I pulled out my map and charted a course due west — straight to the coast.
When I trace my fingers over the spine of my life, these are some of my favorite moments: when, by either choice or none at all, I make the decision to trust. I take the padlock off of my heart and my gut, and I wire them together and turn the volume way up. “Okay,” I say. “You’re in charge now.”
I’ve become deeply and reverently grateful to the tragedies of my life. It’s best not to compare our personal grief to that of anyone else — we have to be careful we don’t shortchange ourselves and the experiences that have been crafted by us in spirit, and for us in healing — because what we can start to notice is that some of those most horrific scenes have been the fertile soil of our expansion. When I look back, I see how it was training me to know myself; stripped of everything safe in the outside world, I had to turn inward and ask what was true, and where to go next.
Charting my course down the Oregon coast was like this: I couldn’t choose the well-worn lines of my routines or plans, I had to choose with my body, and the spirit that speaks in a small voice turned loud. What do you know, I asked her, that I can’t see yet?
I followed her call to a campsite tucked discreetly away from the highway, where everything breathed green. Cradled by a massive Sitka spruce and ferns the size of a Rolls Royce, I found that if I turned and faced the sound of crashing waves, it led me to a footpath and a small wooden bridge to traverse the creek. I was fifteen paces from the ocean; my campsite was at the convergence of river and shore — an estuary that, in the sparkling light of the next morning, held every shade of turquoise the earth has to offer.
I often think back on those days tucked away by the sea, and the irony of the slight discomfort of it: a little tinge of something I first noticed sipping my coffee while my boots gurgled in wet sand and Bodhi galloped wildly through seaweed and waves with another pup nearby. What was it?
It was this: with nowhere to be, and no one to answer to, nothing dictating my next move for me — Who was I, if I wasn’t following the instructions my life had set up for me?
Was I uncomfortable if my worth, and my value in the world, couldn’t be gauged by my “performance” at a job where someone told me what to do?
Could I stand still with only a handful of dollars to my name, and feel deserving of the beauty around me, and within me?
Did I trust this peace, this effervescent presence rising to the surface in a moment when everything I’d been taught to want, or that gave me value, was hundreds of miles away, in cities where I no longer lived or worked or fought to know myself as the result of effort…?
Was I enough — because I felt like I was enough — even without something to do, or fix, or strive for?
Such was the nature of my discomfort that morning, and on the mornings that followed, but hour by hour, it faded. I wasn’t held by it, not really, and the sureness that swelled up and crashed over me in the surprise of solitude, the spaciousness of time, and in communion with nature, I found, was a more accurate marker of my Being than I’d been able to find before.
Of course, you could argue that I hadn’t found anything — that a blown-out tire on an old Honda CR-V, had brought it to me.
But I realize, of course, that at the center of it all… was choice.
I wonder what buoys us to choose trust when no one would blame us for limping back into the arms of comfort. Our souls evolve, lifetime after lifetime, inching us toward a window where suddenly, the view gets clearer and we learn we can choose forgiveness — of ourselves for everything we’ve been told we’re not, and the ways we flail and cause pain in our attempts to remember what, and who, we really are?
And if life has yet to bring us a blown-out tire we can recognize as the window our souls are looking for, can we stop, turn within, and find one inside?