I didn’t make morning coffee because it was Yoga Day, and coffee stimulates my digestive system in the same way Yoga does; taken together they can be quite an insistent force. So, I ate a small apple with a bit of peanut butter for energy and joined a quiet procession of others crossing the desert to find peace in a stretch and a breath.
(Wow, I just began today’s journal with a cloaked reference to pooping. In an effort to remain true to this experience, I will let it stand as testament to what becomes important when boondocking in the desert)
Class was divine. And by divine, I mean my spirit was touched.
The instructor’s intention for the class was serenity, and with each asana (pose) I felt the space inside me, where serenity lives, expand. Imagine the Grinch, when his heart “grew three sizes that day”. That’s how I felt at yoga. Breath. Breath. Breath. Expand. Expand. Expand.
And it’s a good thing I can find inner peace when I need it, because there are days on the road when there is no outer peace to be found anywhere. You know why? (Oh no, here it comes)
Because once you leave the comfortable bubble of your everyday life at “Home” – the familiar routines, habits, pathways, food, friends, common language, neighbours, landmarks and norms – you will spend time – a great deal of time in fact – feeling disoriented. And peace is not easy to find when disoriented.
And even though you may have “invited” this confusion, there will be days you will scream to the heavens for one just one day of the predictable and familiar. Like oatmeal. You will just want a big bowl of plain-old, simple-old, oatmeal! With maple syrup for god’s sake.Why doesn’t anyone carry maple syrup here?!
But instead of oatmeal, you are going to receive bowl after bowl of squiggly, unidentifable noodle-like-things that smell like foot. And you won’t have the right cutlery to eat it with, even if you were inclined.
This disorientation will start early in your journey and be ceaseless. My disorientation started with signs, in my very own province! Signs that were supposed to help me get to my destination. The further I travelled, the less sense the signs made. I would get lost (as you will) and scan my environment, expecting to receive helpful information, and received only encrypted messages back. Sometimes in another language, sometimes clearly left behind by aliens, and sometimes an obvious cosmic joke sent to confuse me in particular (and delight the universe). Remember these signs from an early post?
Looking back I see these signs were simply an indication I had, without fanfare or realization, crossed out of the invisible but universally acknowledged “comfort zone” and into the equally universal and somewhat unpleasant “discomfort zone.”
Once in the discomfort zone, I found myself in campground “loops”.
Endless loops with indentical trees. Loops dotted with rigs and campers that might be recognizable as landmarks to someone familiar with rigs and campers (“I live just around the corner from the cute Teardrop and the yellow Mini-Winnie”) but were only a blur of colour- blobs to me at that time. The unfamiliar does not imprint as well on the memory as do “namable” things, much in the same way an unfamiliar language is babble, and campsite numbers are not linear or logical when in circles rather than straight lines. Also, rigs move, so you can’t depend on them to get you home.
I would wander these loops, sometimes for hours, trying (without appearing panicked or indigent) to find my van. What started out as a pleasant morning stroll was always at risk of becoming an afternoon crisis. Even Pippa didn’t know what to do when I’d get “turned around.” (That’s what my Gram called getting lost) Pippa probably thought I was trying to get back home to Ottawa and supported me in my mission. I coped by pretending I was in a labyrinth, and would turn my panicked circling into a walking meditation. I have always trusted circles more than squares in times of need, so it mostly worked for me.
The loss of familiar food and drink came next. I couldn’t find a drive-through coffee at first, even though I’m sure they were on every corner. They were be disguised, sometimes wearing full cloaks of invisibility.
If no one told you “The Flying Dutchman” was code for “life-giving caffeine” how would you even guess that?! But here is a caution.
When you do find coffee, you will enter the desired coffee shop in “Small Town, Where Am I?” and know immediately you have breached some unspoken or posted cultural norm without even opening your mouth. You will then open your mouth cautiously, asking politely (and quietly) for a latte, and suddenly know exactly what that rule was, but still wonder how they knew you were going to say something so ridiculous.
Just when you have coffee figured out, landscapes will change and present previously unknown dangers. You will need to be alert to these changes. Mountain snow is different from flatland snow. Seasons are different at different altitudes. Expectations will not be met for temperature, weather and wind. You will wear the wrong clothing on a hike. You will put your canopy up facing the wrong way into the wind. Oh, how you will learn to tolerate being the one who doesn’t yet “get it”.
At first, it’s not obvious where one gets vital information about such things either. None of your saved websites are going to save you when you travel. You are going to need new ones, frequently.
If you stay long enough in a place, you will learn a second language in order to reduce discomfort and disorientation. Here in Arizona, “Wash” was my first essential word: a wash being a natural “ditch” which fills with raging torrents of water during a significant rain. Which one doesn’t expect in the desert. Washes look like they have NEVER seen a drop of water; it’s impossible to imagine this until you have seen it. You will be tempted to park in one, to have just a tiny bit of privacy. I was. Don’t.
Also, when navigating in the desert, one learns quickly to remember to “count washes” which are frequently used in directions: “Drive through three washes and keep right”.
Cacti will be referred to by their proper name, Saguaro (Saw-War-Oh) and will also be used for navigational purposes. “Go as far as the Peace-Sign Saguaro and I’m on the south side”. This will sound like gibberish. Later, it will make perfect sense, and you will provide the same directions to another newbie without explanation, knowing you are participating in a secret initiation of a new traveller. You will laugh inside while doing it.
Do not expect to hear “left” or “right” outside of cities. Polish up on your compass directions. It’s helpful to know some basic constellations too, for night navigation. Seriously…. its perfectly legitimate to expect to find my van at night “just under Orion” as long as I have corrected for some movement of his location through the night sky.
Which all brings me to time zones, and why I’m writing about all this now. (Bet you thought I would never get here)
Today it was time zones wreaking havoc in my life. I am currently living in a Bermuda Triangle of Time Zones. A bit of googling tells me that Arizona is in one time zone and California in another. Parker is in Arizona, but across the river from California and cell phone signals don’t appear to care about that river. So a simple plan to meet an online friend in person in Parker at a particular time was thrown into uncertainty by the fact that we were operating on different time zones.
This didn’t happen once, but twice today, which led to being an hour late getting back to Quartzsite for a meeting, forgetting to account for the shift once again! Is nothing sacred? Couldn’t time just stay the same for one day?
That’s what got me thinking about comfort, and discomfort and change and disorientation when travelling. And somewhere in the messiness of my thinking it occurred to me that although many things change while travelling, causing occasional chaos and discomfort, there are some things that remain constant and true.
And I learned it through meeting this new friend: A woman I had brief conversations with online over the past year, sharing in little bits of travel and life journey one or two lines at a time over the ether. It was a meeting we both knew had to happen, despite a time zone messing with us.
We met at the beach in Parker, and quickly moved from the pleasantries of a first meeting to the very important business of sharing about our journeys in life. We talked about the work of the spirit and about our respective paths of healing from trauma, injury, addiction and illness. We shared stories of heartaches and triumphs, our experiences as women and mothers and our respective deep desires to be of some service in this world before we eventually have to travel on.
It was as if our souls had a shorthand and two conversations happened at the same time. Some language of connection only available when we venture bravely out of our individual lives to risk truly sharing with another human being.
It occurred to me today, that it is these kinds of connections that truly give us a mirror into ourselves, where that still quiet place of truth lives. That place inside I had felt expand this morning in Yoga. The place that remains still, quiet and serene. That doesn’t change, no matter what changes around me.
And that brings comfort.
Like a big old bowl of oatmeal. With maple syrup.
Don’t underestimate the growth that you will experience if you relax into this chaos.