How often have we felt that we’ve missed out, or been misunderstood or lost our way? How often have we felt inferior? Shamed? Alone? If you’re like me, you’ve had these moments. Maybe many of them. So what is there to understand from these experiences?
One thing I have learned about these moments, is to stop and stand still. It’s hard to do this, as in many ways, it’s counter intuitive. Everything else tells you to do something about those moments. To avoid feeling the way you feel, angry, isolated, grief stricken. To try to push away those self-critical and judgmental thoughts. Those moments when we would wish the ground would open and swallow us up! And then those very real moments when we feel there is no one to turn to.
Let me tell you a brief story about a hike I took with my daughter in the Grand Canyon. We woke up at 4:00 AM. If you’re going to hike in the desert, you need to get up early, before it gets too hot. So we got dressed, in the darkness. Packed our backpacks, made sure we had enough water and snacks, and met our guide. We had a guide because we were going to hike on a trail not commonly used.
As we trekked along the trail following our guide, it was easy to settle into the landscape. The air was still and cool and there was very little ambient noise. Just the sound of our feet hitting the trail, our breath, and any occasional words we offered to each other as we moved along in single file, as the path was very narrow and steep. Mostly we were quiet.
On the return journey, climbing out of the canyon, our guide suddenly told us to stop. She looked around, and then quietly said, “I’ve lost the trail. Stay where you are.” With that she moved above us, climbing up the slope. She stopped several times as she clambered up the steep and rocky terrain. I watched her, wondering. There was something deliberate about what she was doing and the way she was pausing from time to time to look around her and take in the landscape. After about 10 minutes or so, she came back down, and said, “I found it, the trail. Let’s take a break.”
We sat down on the rocky, sandy ground, ate some snacks, and drank water. I was curious and asked, “Why did you go above us?” She replied, “I learned a long time ago, when I am lost, I stop. Then if it is possible, I try to get a different vantage point. Here in the canyon, by climbing up to look down from where I came, gives me the bigger picture. I can see possibilities, options, choices, I can pick out the trail. And I find it calms me down. Buys time.”
I have not forgotten those words. And I try to remember when I feel lost, uncertain, to stop and look around me. To rest awhile. To not push away the feelings of anxiety, of fear, but rather to acknowledge this place for what it is, reflect on where I am, steady myself and then when I am ready, to take the next steps.
Missing the Trail, David Wagoner “Only a moment ago you were thinking of something Different, the Sky or yesterday or the wind, But suddenly it's yourself Alone, strictly alone, having missed the trail, Bewildered, now uncertain Whether to turn back, bear left or right, or flounder ahead Stubbornly, breaking new ground out of pride or panic, Or to raise your voice Out of fear that screaming is the only universal language. If you come to your senses , all six, taking your time, The spot where you're standing Is your best hope.”
Meditation practice can help us to stand still, locates us in the here and now. Grounds us in our being. Helps us to see the bigger picture. Then the next breath is a new moment, which is the next step.