"I was, in fact, homesick for wildness, and when I found it I knew how intimately - how resonantly - I belonged there. We are charged with this - all of us. For the human spirit has a primal allegiance to wildness, to really live, to snatch the fruit and suck it, to spill the juice." - Jay Griffiths, Wild: an Elemental Journey

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wild Exhaustion

I am busy.  Very busy.

Since I have returned from my road trip, I have been attempting to keep up an active life of adventure and physical activity.  I haven't wanted to lose the fit body and healthy endorphins I had going on through the summer.  This has meant rock-climbing one to three evenings per week, and taking weekend backpacking/camping/kayaking/otherwise adventuring trips at least two weekends out of the month.  Every now and then, I sprinkle in some yoga so I don't go completely insane.

In addition, I have moved into my third and final year of graduate school.  This means I am beginning my independent study phase; no more organized classes.  I am excited about the projects I am undertaking, but they require quite a bit of discipline, self-direction, and, well. . . time.

Planning my move west next summer takes a surprising amount of time as well, even though I am still many months away.  I am downsizing my belongings, dusting off my resume, working on a professional webpage, and researching possible locales, jobs, and cars.

Those three undertakings alone, along with seeing friends and family every now and then, are plenty to fill a girl's schedule.  But I haven't added work into the equation yet.  I have been working 50-60 hour work weeks and still not coming close to finishing what needs to be done each week.  I spend all day every day hearing "I need you I need you I need you" from all kinds of people at school - big and small.  I enjoy helping them, and of course learn so much from them in the process.  So I am not resentful about my time being in demand, it can just be exhausting.

I was not feeling wild.  I was not feeling free.  I was not feeling successful in any way - just worn out, sick, and cranky.

Finally, after a solid month of going to bed every night feeling like I spent my day doing 20 things poorly rather than a few things well, after spending my days with headaches and tense shoulders, after breaking down every few days in tears and pounding my pillows in misdirected rage, a good friend asked me, "When is the last time you had acupuncture?"  Holy cow.  Acupuncture.  I had forgotten.

I immediately made an appointment with my acupuncturist for a few days later.  I am so glad I did.  Thank God for acupuncture!

My brilliant acupuncturist listened to my rants and was patient with my tears.  She just listened and nodded and didn't say much, yet I felt somehow "held" by her presence.  Then she needled me with a powerful treatment meant to help release aggressive energy in the body.  As I lay on the table for over 20 minutes, alone in the room, with needles up and down my back, I drifted in and out of sleep.  I could feel my muscles relaxing, my mind slowing down, and my breathing deepening.

When she returned to the room to remove the needles, she spoke at last.  She said, "I hear how much you are trying to remain in control right now.  I have an image of two different ways to be in control.  One way is to hold on to parts of your life like this," and she made a claw gesture with her hands like this -->

"Another way to remain in control," she continued, "is to hold parts of your life like this," and she opened both, upturned palms, her fingers slightly spread, like this -->

"In this way, you are still in control because you are holding your life in your own hands.  However, it is a more accepting, receptive sort of control.  You allow some things to rest safely in your palms, and some things to fall through.  The control comes with knowing which things are which."

I immediately saw a climbing metaphor.  The worst thing a climber can do is try to hang on too long with claw hands, like in the first image.  The muscles of the fingers and forearms are some of the weakest in the body.  They are necessary to get quickly from one hold to another, but they are not meant to be used to sustain a long, difficult climb.  Good climbers know how to use other, stronger muscles like biceps, upper back, core, and of course legs.

I realized that I have been living my life like an amateur climber; forcing my way from one domain in my life to another, relying only on my ability to push and grunt and force my way through.  I have not been taking my time to plan how to best use my strengths and save my energy.

As if the universe wasn't quite sure I was getting the message, I heard it in yet another way today.  I was climbing with a friend at the gym.  He taught me how to boulder.  Using this new skill, I became sore quickly and intensely.  After just 15 minutes of bouldering, my inner knuckles were calloused and my forearms throbbing.

He said, "I think it would be a good idea for you to take at least two days off from climbing after today.  You don't build strength by climbing; you build strength by resting."

Ok, I get it, universe.  Time to rest.  Time to practice open-handed control, as oxymoronic as it might sound.  Bring on the turkey, family, and board games.  Just in time.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wild Fear

Recently, I was talking with a friend about fear.  We have both recently taken transformative road trips out west.  We both have intentions to leave our current, urban/suburban lives and live in the wild as soon as possible.  We both have hesitations and fears about making this happen.  We spent about five hours discussing what in our lives has led us up to this point, what is currently holding us back from living as our wild, free selves, and what role fear plays in all of it.

What is fear, exactly?  Where does it come from?  Where does it live?  What does it look like?  How does it gain and lose its power?

In an effort to unpack these questions, we compared stories of times we have overcome fears in the past.  I told about overcoming my lifelong fear of sharks by swimming far out into the French Riviera, lying on my back, ears underwater, feet far above the ocean floor, melded with the surroundings and reminded of my interconnectedness to sharks and all of life.
He told of overcoming his social phobias and leaving the state of Maryland for the first time in his life to travel to the desert and live out of his car and tent.  We both told of overcoming self-consciousness and self-doubt by starting to rock climb.

As our stories unravelled over bottomless cups of hot tea at Silver Diner at 3am, I began to see a thread to connect them all. Fear is a completely created construct.  It does not exist as an observable phenomena in the real world.  If, as Emily Dickinson says, "Hope is a thing with feathers," then fear is a thing with teeth.  Cartoon ghosty teeth, to be precise.

An image of, "Boo," the ghost villain from Super Mario Brothers from old school Nintendo, came to my mind.  He was the one who would follow Mario in the dungeon levels, chasing ominously behind, sharp teeth bared, ready to bite Mario's little Italian head off.  But everyone knew that all you have to do to make him stop chasing you is turn around and look at him.  The second you look directly at him, he closes his mouth and hovers humbly and non-threateningly in the air.

In some ways, I always thought Boo was one of the scariest bad guys.  He looked so menacing.  I remember flinging the controller frantically around as I ranranranran as fast as I could with my little Mario, away from those teeth, away from those eyes.  Every now and then I would make Mario turn and appease Boo with a brief stare, at which point I would realize that I had stopped breathing and was way too into the game.

But in other ways, Boo was the easiest bad guy to deal with.  You needed no weapons, no mushrooms, no stars, no special powers.  You needed only to look him in the face.  Furthermore, he caused you to run faster and further toward your goal; the small amount of pressure his presence contributed from behind was a positive catalyst for forward motion.

Do you see where I'm going with this metaphor?  I bet you do.

With each of the stories that my friend and I told, I saw how the instant we made the decision to stop running from our fear and look it directly in the eyes, it's toothy jaws disappeared and it lost all power.  So with Boo and my friend as my teachers and my inspiration, I will remember to carry on in this wild journey, keeping my goal in front and my fear behind.  I need only to turn and look that ghosty fear in the face every now and then, pay it the attention and respect it deserves, and it will remain a friend, not a foe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Wild Ocean

The stormy morning sea
I experienced the ocean in a new way this weekend.

It is November, and I hadn't been to the beach at all yet this year.  That has never happened before.  I grew up going to Virginia Beach each summer to visit the Italian side of my family.  As I got older and didn't always go on the family trip, I still made it to the water somehow, at least for a day, often with friends.  This year, I spent most of the summer tramping around the mountains out west, and just never made it to either coast.

I didn't think that this would be a problem.  I'm not really a beach person, per se.  I've always hated sand (ugh, the invasive, interminable, everywhere-sand) and truth be told, I'm not that crazy about swimming where snappy, bite-y creatures live.  I get cranky when I get too hot, and I really just don't jive with boardwalk culture.  So as the summer was coming to a close and I realized that I may live through my first year ever without seeing the ocean, I thought, meh. Oh well.

Then I got invited to a friend's beach house with a few other friends.  And one doesn't just turn down an invitation to a free beach house, even if one doesn't like sand.

So I spent the weekend in Sandbridge, a private beach in Virginia Beach, VA.  We braved the wild wind and stormy skies the first morning to attempt to watch a sunrise.  It was too cloudy to see the sun, but still a worthwhile experience.

Yes, those are cowboy boots and pajamas.  What of it?

There was an amazing phenomena happening that none of us had ever seen before, including the woman at whose house we were staying.  As the crazy waves came violently in to shore, the foam lifted off the top of each wave and blew across the sand, staying on dry land as the water receded back underneath it.  This left miles of shore covered in other-wordly looking, quivering foam.

Shores of foam
As I ran onto shore when we first arrived, I stopped in my tracks as I approached it.  The foam gets quickly covered in sand, which means that the ground basically looks to be a trembling, gelatinous mass, and I wasn't quite sure whether I could walk on it or not.  Turned out I could.

Even more fun than our morning field trip to the shore was our night walk.  Four of us left the house after a lazy day inside playing games, drinking tea, and stuffing our faces, for a walk on the beach in the dark.

Footprints in the sand
Beach-walking ghosts
As we walked and talked and listened to the roar of the waves, I felt a pull towards the water.  It felt silly and wasteful to be walking on the beach without being in the water.  I was wearing my five-finger shoes, but was fully clothed in cotton leggings and a skirt.  I stepped tentatively to the edge where the incoming waves are so thin they are barely noticeable on the sand.  The water felt so alive against my ankles.  I wanted more.  I ran straight into the water, skirt and all, and let the waves pummel me while I laughed out loud and yelled into the expansive darkness before me.

Building up the courage to go further. . . 
The water just kissing the bottom of my skirt. . . 
Even further. . .
Running into the cold water like a mad woman

The long walk back was a bit cold, it being November and I being soaking wet and all.  But I liked the way that my heavy, wet skirt slapped and clung to my legs, and the way my toe-shoes slurped in the cool sand.  

Something felt very strange and wild about being at the beach in the late fall.  I've only ever been here in the summer.  I guess, in a way, I was surprised to see that the ocean was still here.  In fact, not only was the ocean still here, but the crowds and scalding sun were noticeably absent.  It was the perfect, wild beach weekend for this non-beach-going girl.