Monday, August 19, 2013

Long Trail Field Notes #7

On Stories

There are these stories we tell ourselves, over and over, until we believe they're real. Stories that become grooves and ruts in our hearts and minds until we think we know who we are. Sometimes these stories, these narratives, are positive. Sometimes not. We'll turn certain experiences into full-blown catastrophes, over and over in our heads, until we think we're unlucky, troubled, downtrodden, etc. Or we'll look in the mirror and see affirmations of the messages we've been telling ourselves for so long that it all feels like Truth. But, walking all day, one day after the other, 17 miles per day, and coming to the end of The Long Trail of Vermont, I've had a little chance to watch my mind grab certain tales, hang onto them for a while, and then (often when I get to the top of a mountain, refreshed by a blowing breeze) let go and relax into a less grasping calm. A calm in which I'm not sweatily trying to tell myself who or what I am. A simple, quiet being. 

I'm sure this is not new wisdom I'm doling out here. I'm sure we all have this experience, from time to time, of thinking we know who we are and then allowing that knowledge to gently slip away.

I had this narrative in my head that I simply had to wear heavy boots that covered my ankles, or else I would injure myself and be unable to finish my trek. And then I met Dilan and Kelly, two sisters walking The Long Trail. Dilan, a first-year college student, found that her hiking shoes were not very comfortable to her and decided to switch to trail-trudging in her Crocs. Yes, her Crocs! Those light, minimally supportive lounging shoes that are made of foam that's only slightly denser than a marshmallow.

(Hiking sisters, Kelly and Dilan, near the end of The Long Trail.)

(Dilan's Crocs, which took her through the toughest section of the trail.)

Dilan walked 171 miles of the toughest and most rugged part of The Long Trail in those little Crocs, just taking it easy and enjoying the walk in the most comfortable footwear she had.

So, when my Achilles' tendon started giving me trouble, I thought of Dilan and I let go of the narrative that lacing my boots all the way above my ankles was "the only way." I put duct tape and an Ace bandage over my irritated spots and walked on. For over 50 more miles. 

(First the duct tape.)

(Then the Ace bandage.)

(Then the sock and loosely tied, more comfortable boot.)

I was inspired by Dilan to let go of my narrative that my shoe must be a certain way. And I relaxed into what became a much more comfortable experience. Maybe on my next hike I'll even try low-top shoes...or Crocs!

This is just a wee example, but there were other times when I'd stew my own brain to its boiling point over various issues and troubles from my paved life, even while surrounded by grand mountain vistas. Often such psychodramas would make trekking over easy terrain feel like I was trapped in a bog. What would it take to get back to the moment, to the immediacy of lived experience? Breathing helped. Cool drinks of water and snacks helped. But even more helpful was simply being attentive to the styles and textures of my thinking patterns until I could see that I often held onto certain negativities for no reason other than sheer force of habit. Sheesh. How ridiculous I am when I am convinced, with white-knuckled conviction, that I know what I am. How foolish to let the shifting web of narratives and my inevitable embellishments define my world. There's a certain clarity, and even a strange security, in letting the stream of thoughts just be a stream...instead of trying to weave them into something permanent.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And now we know why Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness --- and why the Native Americans do their “spirit journey” – it flushes out all the preconceptions and leaves space in your head for reality....... Adi