Why did I do it? Why did I leave everything and everyone so close and dear to me (the majority of whom were gathered together in the Evacuation Center at the Calistoga Fairgrounds)? I left because, for me, being alone is what feels safest, and how I choose to deal with pain and trauma.
Ever since I was a toddler, I’ve felt safest alone. When things would get crazy and abusive in my family, I would retreat into myself, and go be by myself. Behind a closed door, in a quiet, empty room (ideally a chilly one... I preferred the basement), I felt -- and still feel -- more in control. More capable of handling whatever stress, pain, or trauma has been thrown at me. Getting in my car alone and driving, I imagined I would feel that same safety. Safety to be however I was. Safety to feel whatever I felt. Safety to do whatever and go wherever I needed to. It was my learned, practiced, knee-jerk reaction to the trauma of the fire: flee alone to safety.
What I didn’t expect was how profound a meditation the weeks and weeks of driving would be.
I’ve been a meditator for about 20 years. I started meditating during my previous big life-change. I had been living alone in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont, working from home quite successfully as a freelance copywriter. I had chosen that life after spending my 20s in Manhattan, because (again) I needed to be alone and quiet: to face and work on healing the traumas of my childhood. Eventually, through many years of a multitude of therapies (psychological, physical, spiritual), I felt ready to be in the world again, and drawn to develop and use what I had discovered, through my healing, to be my own gifts for healing others. And so I closed my business, sold my house, bought an old RV and went on the road (to Harbin, eventually) to nurture the healer in me: to study bodywork, somatic psychology, and spiritual practice. What I didn’t know at the time, but soon learned, is how important to my life meditation would become.
Initially, I was drawn to meditation for its promise of the ultimate relief from suffering. I had heard about the whole “enlightenment” thing, and imagined that if I could only become enlightened, all my pain and suffering would cease forever, and I would live an unending experience of joy and bliss. And so I meditated, meditated, meditated, trying to wrestle my mind into submission, while impatiently waiting for the big-bang of enlightenment to come and take me to Nirvana-land.
That didn’t happen. What did happen, was a change in my expectations of and approach to meditation, and my experience of what it could do for me. Eventually, I stopped trying to quiet my mind; that only seemed to work in random, fleeting moments. Instead, I began allowing my mind be however it is. Rather than identifying and engaging with the mind (looking for the “good” or “interesting” thoughts, and getting involved with them) or rejecting the mind (wishing it were thinking different thoughts, or not thinking at all), I simply began allowing the mind to do its thing, whatever that happened to be. In this way, I learned to recognize that my mind is but a tiny part of a much broader consciousness, and that I can identify with that.
What do I mean by “broader consciousness”? For me (an extensively trained bodyworker and highly kinesthetic being), it’s a feeling in and around the body. It’s the feeling of being: the sensation of aliveness, spaciousness, and openness that I experience in my tissues and cells; it’s a peaceful feeling, quiet, kind, calm; and there’s a luminous, radiant quality to it, like light. It’s beautiful and comforting. It may not have the mystic fireworks of “bliss” or “nirvana”, and it may not be “enlightenment”. But abiding in and as this feeling, this broader consciousness, is, in my experience, a far more pleasant, functional, and loving way to experience and participate in the world than being dragged through hell and back by the dysfunctionally programmed vagaries of the mind. And this experience -- this feeling, this way of being -- is probably familiar and certainly accessible to everyone, because it’s inherent to all of us and, at a quantum level, what everyone and everything is made of (more on unity and unified physics in future posts). It’s how you feel when you’re sitting peacefully at a beach, mesmerized by the waves; or watching a beautiful sunset; or being with a peacefully sleeping baby. There are many different names for it, of course, but all of them refer to this same feeling experience: being, consciousness, awareness, hookup, life, spirit, the universe, Christ consciousness, Buddha nature, the Tao, God, etc. So when I say “I’m meditating”, what I mean is that I’m consciously noticing and identifying with and as the experience of that feeling, in and around my body and everywhere else. And you don’t have to be sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion in a quiet room to do it. It’s just as accessible when you’re giving a massage, or hanging out with your friends, or shopping for cookies at Costco... or driving.
So, driving alone in my car away from the fire, the way I spent my time, mostly, was meditating. I didn’t play music, or listen to the radio, or talk on the phone. I drove in quiet, mile after mile, day after day, feeling into the space in and around my body and the car, noticing... nothing.
For the first week of driving -- from eastern California to Reno, and all through Nevada and Utah into Colorado -- I didn’t feel a thing. I was numb. In shock, I guess. It wasn’t until I arrived at my friend Hannah’s house, in Colorado Springs, that I began to feel at all. Outside of Harbin, Hannah is my dearest friend; when I fled, I went intentionally to her for succor and support. For a week, I slept safely on her floor, ate her food, and bathed in her company, her care, and her love. And when it came time for me to move on (I wanted to get to NY to see my 93-year-old mother, who had recently had a stroke), I left knowing that I would always have a place in her home if I needed and wanted it, and knowing how loved and supported I was. Driving out of town, feeling Hannah’s presence so strongly with me, I began, finally, to be able to feel my own body, and the space around it.
And what I felt was pain. Pain in my body, yes; but more remarkably and intensely, pain in the energetic field around my body. I had never experienced this so vividly before. Yes, I’m a bodyworker; and yes I throw around the term “energy” as if I know exactly what I’m talking about. But this was new for me. Specifically, I was able to feel into the area behind my heart -- an area I’ve never consciously been able to contact before -- and feeling Hannah’s presence with me there so strongly, I was able notice and stay present with the pain. And it was phenomenal. Excruciating. Searing. I howled and wept like a wounded animal, hour after hour, day after day. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a story with it: no despair, or grief, or longing. It was just pain. And it felt OLD. It felt like pain I had been holding onto for my whole life -- and, if one believes in such things (and I do), pain from many generations before. There in the car, alone on the open roads of Colorado and Kansas -- but with the tangible support of my friend -- I was able to feel and be with pain I had never contacted before; and in my conscious presence with that pain, it gradually began to soften, lessen, and heal.
Over the course of the next few weeks of driving, I spent many hours sensing into and consciously being with (or “meditating on”) all the various pains in my energetic field. And as I focused on each new area, I noticed that -- as with Hannah and my heart -- I felt the presence of other dear friends and healers with me. Alaya at my root; Diane at my belly; Grace at my solar plexus; Claire at my throat; my Dad at my brow; Bella at my crown. In this solo meditation of driving, this solo meditation on pain, I wasn’t alone at all! There were powerful energetic entities traveling with me, supporting me, loving me, helping me stay present with the sensations, and helping me to heal.
I’m crying again now, just remembering the profundity of it all, and feeling so very grateful. Grateful that my car didn’t burn. Grateful that I listened to my inner voice and chose to go on the road, and be in the open quiet of the American landscape. Grateful for the years of meditating that prepared me for the time alone. Grateful for the friends who helped with phone calls and money and housing along the way. And most especially for this writing, grateful for the angels who came to be with me in my meditation, and helped me get through and beyond the worst of my pain. Hmmm, maybe I am a bit mystic after all.