There's nothing like getting out of town to shake up habitual thought patterns. Even a walk around the block would have been helpful, but with the freedom of wheels and a home base along the Southern California coastline, we decided to head south last week for an afternoon escape. Thanks to Isaac, my partner in crime, for these images of San Elijo Nature Center.
What I know, but never tire of re-discovering, is how changing our environment can change our inner perception. The opposite, of course, is true as well, but on this sunny day we decided outside-to-inside was the way to go. As we walked through the rock formations and listened to squirrels and rabbits fluttering in the bushes, gratitude for warmth, safety, food and shelter filled my awareness and my body. Muscles relaxed and joints moved freely. That we can take this walk at all is an inconceivable gift. That the sun rises and sets, for that matter, is a daily phenomenon of massive proportions. These words, I know, read like clichés, yet it's also true that my freedom and ability to write them is evidence of a tremendous amount of luck.
But here's what really shocks me about getting outdoors to refresh my perspective. It's not the rush of gratitude, the overwhelming miracle I suddenly grasp in the perfect alchemy of dirt, stone, and shrub. It's the wishes and desires that come into focus soon after I walk down the path, as if someone has turned a manual camera lens, and what was blurry is now crisp.
On this particular day it happens about an hour after the hike, as I'm sipping hibiscus kambucha in a cafe in Encinitas. I give myself, out loud, a very straightforward creative assignment: paint through my remaining paper supply and then purchase several larger format panels. Previously, I had been unsure of how to proceed after a year of dabbling with pastels, but this next step reminded me to focus on process over product, and that's usually what gets me moving on creative projects. That, and a deadline. I also make a decision about professional direction: update images on this website and develop more content around empowerment coaching. This one involves Isaac, so we pull out our calendars and set a date for a photo shoot.
These ideas come with remarkable clarity once I press the pause button on my current life, pass through the gratitude threshold, and both inwardly and outwardly gaze toward the horizon. It's as if the path has simply been waiting there for me the whole time, scented with eucalyptus and edged by yellow flowers.
Ironically, I used to resist the ease of my delicate, creative life. How is it, for example, that I get to dream and imagine the next satisfying project while others struggle, starve, or drown? That isn't fair by any human standard you may care to apply. But this is a question without an answer. None of us, individually, has enough perspective to see the whole picture of why things happen as they do, not all things anyway. At some point, I realized I needed to change the question.
Instead, I started asking whether there might be anything to be gained from me NOT taking walks, NOT making art, NOT writing, based on the premise that so many others don't have the freedom to do these things. Would me giving them up make the world better in any way? Should I replace them with things I enjoy less or not at all? An absurd proposal, perhaps, but I've learned that sometimes asking silly questions is a good way to clarify my thinking. And very quickly, the obvious answer was no. No, there is nothing to be gained from me ignoring my own goals and creative aspirations. There is nothing to be gained from spending my time doing what someone else thinks is best. On the contrary, a downward spiral to confusion, depression and illness waits on that path, and in that state I am surely no help to anyone.
For the same reason we can't answer the first question about life being unfair, we may never know, in an absolute sense, how or if our actions help others, but it's also true that our greatest chance to do so is by keeping ourselves as physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy as possible, and by making choices from that stable perspective.
It's taken me years of small, incremental testing to really feel in my body that when I take care of myself, especially when I go past the point that my mind deems "reasonable" or "necessary," I always, ALWAYS think bigger and more expansive ideas reliably come.
How much time do I dare to give myself to take walks, to paint, to write, trusting that the next unforeseen idea is waiting for me on the other side of the new level of appreciation I am allowing into my nervous system? What new way may I help to bring beauty and justice into the world? I trust that it is there waiting for me a little further along the path.
What do you feel grateful for today? How do you give to yourself? Please leave your responses in the comments.