I do not wish to betray myself by moving when sitting still is the answer, nor lose a single minute sitting still when movement is what is needed. I don’t want to mistake caution for fear, nor to miss the best thing because I have not healed from the last. I am so careful not to step on the snails after the rain that sometimes I miss the rainbow. At least life scoots on beneath me, a hint of beauty that most people miss, hidden in plain sight.
This is the mindful life, with a heart two sizes two big worn all the way out on the sleeve. With a brain that thinks of everything, then thinks of everything again just to be sure. It is the life of so many of us, who band together in the corners of the room and paint the scene from the best vantage point while everyone else is lost in the moment. It is the humans whose compassion has caused them to disappear, the friends in my inbox who wonder why they cannot take up space or have their voices heard or feel like the protagonists of their own lives. It is me, who will take the blame for everything, until I am serving the love of my life and her new suitor a luxurious meal in a servant’s uniform with a smile on my face, because it is so much easier to hurt myself than it is to hurt anyone else. And then I wake up.
Of all the ways to be tired, there are two I know most well.
The moment, sometime in the sixth week of the cross-country bike ride, the fourth month of living out of an old truck, the tenth day of tiptoeing around as a visitor in someone else’s town, when weariness sets in. It is figuring out where to do laundry this time, how to heat up your leftovers, how to keep the yogurt cold, wondering why there is only one pot that can’t accommodate a full serving of pasta. It is when the shine wears off of the golden-hued world of our photos and we are left bleary-eyed, strung out on diner food and too much coffee, another cold night in a tent or crunchy night in a cheap motel listening to other people have lots more and lots less fun than you.
Or it is the moment when you realize that you received that email, not four days ago but eleven, that time is lapping itself while you are going through the motions. When routine begins to suffocate the soul and rob us of our ability to make each day count. When you aren’t really sure why you didn’t sleep very well, because you’re just coddled enough that your demons can taunt you as you toss and turn. It is the comfortably numb prison of life without the pain of healing. We avoid digging deeper for fear of what’s hiding in the shadows, so instead we let it keep us awake at night. Let it slowly erode our relationships. Let it wear us down, until it takes a second before our eyes glimmer the way they used to in an instant.
There is a method to what most see as madness. The way I’ve zig-zagged across the sea of life like a drunken sailor, following the winds as I sought a distant North Star, turning back each time I knew something important had been left behind. What good is reaching the destination if all your treasures fall off the wagon along the way?
For the perceptive caretaker, we must see the world from every angle in order to trust our own senses. We yearn to feel the unfathomable salt spray of the Arctic Ocean on our faces, want to spend time at a campground in Arizona trading notes with people five decades our senior. It is not an Instagram bucket list, but a desire for the truth which can only be found in these places, a yearning to be so humbled and to listen so much that we could perhaps gather the entire world into a cup of tea we pour to sit with one kindred soul in our own home. It is a profound understanding that we are seeking, something like a precious metal which must be refined through chemical baths and scalding fires, and unless the process is completed in all of its alchemical agony, the beauty will not be revealed.
Sometimes the truth is found in the way a bald eagle feasts on an exhausted salmon, a reminder of the nature of life in a setting so extreme that it forces us to notice. Sometimes it is sprinkled subtly into an afternoon that will live in our minds rent free for all of our days. A yellow sweater, eye contact that seems to stare into the depths of our hidden soul, a long and indulgent walk that will forever alter the course of life, even if we are only vaguely aware of it at the time. Life has a way of making the small things the big things, of killing us off on ordinary Saturdays with blue skies and pleasant weather, of sneaking our forever loves into innocuous lunch dates, of forgetting to play the dramatic soundtrack when disaster strikes.
Perhaps what draws us out into the world and back into ourselves is the natural expansion and contraction of the soul, at times as ethereal as a wispy fog on the prairie, only to become as dense as a dying star, entropy folding onto itself as the past yanks on the table cloth and demands a reckoning. It is no different than the way rocks or logs expand and contract as the air around them changes. The most unnatural thing we can do is ignore the calling to draw near and reflect, to suppress the urge to go out and seek, to demand a sameness from our souls that robs them of the very quality which makes them soulful.
It is why the miner in Pennsylvania told me to keep going as long as I can and the man from Vancouver Island would write “the girl” in certain disbelief in an email to me years later, and both spoke to a part of me that needed to hear it. At times, we grow tired of moving. And at times we grow tired from the echoing stillness. But until we do both, we will always feel a gnawing desire, for more and for less. To chase and be chased. To put all of our feelings on the canvas and hang it on the wall and to go to the honky tonk and give everyone a fake name. In it all, there is a certain truth which cannot be succinctly put into words, but must be hunted and gathered at great cost.