There would be a few times that I’d sit and try to gather the insight to write some kind of reflection on my travels this summer. But, after traveling, in almost reverse culture-shock, I often retreat into this introverted, very still and very quiet place. Perhaps, allowing time for my soul to catch up, but who really knows. Anxieties accrue like spider webs in certain corners of my life and uncertainty briefly hangs heavily about the air until I’m eventually re-inspired and manage to begin again. I’d ruminate; chewing on my words like sunflower seeds and only spit them out when necessary. Those times that I would write, if on paper, were probably crumpled up and thrown away. Outside the cicadas would quiet and the woods were filled with gentle sounds of falling leaves, an occasional woodpecker or a coughing buck. Hummingbirds would have flown south and the tattered butterflies that my cats leave on the doorstep would have ceased. The sunflowers in my garden would no longer be exploding. At fall’s end, I’d hesitantly pull the accomplished plants from my garden, consequently destroy the many spider webs strewn about them and be sad to see their rain soaked sparkling gossamer go. I’d delight in how quickly garlic grows, sending its green spears through the straw and bring in the rest of the basil to make boatloads of pesto. I’d auspiciously place armfuls of marigolds everywhere. Hopeful, with season’s change, while admiring the Indian summer sun, I’d wait for my reflection arise.
(Two months later…)
I contemplate the paradox of my wants often: the desire to be both home and away; torn between the comforts of one and the freedom of the other. For a long time I’ve dreamt of taking a quintessential American road trip; my journey an intense meditation of heightened awareness. Last summer, with the love of home in my rearview mirror I embarked on such a grand adventure. I set out on the open road with deep feelings of nervousness and excitement in the pit of my stomach.
With my route mapped out on my atlas of North America, I’d begin. Initially heading south through Appalachia, taking a very southern route westward. I’d take the northern trek through Arizona and an interior California route eventually reaching the coast in Oregon. While I hoped to explore Washington, a pinnacle point along the Pacific coast of Cape Disappointment would have to suffice. With Foxgloves flowering, experiencing the cape was nothing of the disappointment in its namesake. I was incredibly proud to share the Pacific coast as the “object of my mission” with Lewis and Clark in their exploration of America. Turning the bitter-sweet northeast corner of my travels I’d take a very northern route bound for home.
I am still in awe of the landscapes I experienced. Geographically, my adventures began with the progression of the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and understandably Smoky Mountains. I’d encounter the extraordinary bayou, sand dunes, Redwoods, glaciers, geysers and waterfalls with vast expanses of desert, prairie and flat land in between. At some point the cosmos intervened, urging me universally to chase the rising and setting of the sun, clouds, rainbows, rainstorms and starry skies. At times I’d swear I was traversing pristine land, pure and untouched by human hand, but our affects are inescapable. I’d embrace this and tap into the spiritually guiding forces of lighthouses, the Union Pacific railroad, scenic highways and totem poles. I’m incredibly thankful for the preservation of natural wonders in National Parks. A lover of animals; I was elated to cross paths with wildlife including roaming bison herds, elk, prairie dogs, mountain goats, a mama Black bear guarding her three adorable cubs perched high up in a Pine tree and the dragonflies flitting about the Grand Canyon. Circumstances of my life and the use of a wheelchair require my consciousness of accessibility. I’d delight in my discovery that if I stayed on wet sand, I’d be able to explore the rocky tide pools of Yaquina head.
Balancing my experiences with my time spent driving, sparing time to write in cafés in between, while in the mean time managing to eat healthy, sleep enough and remain active and mindful was very trying. Not that I’m complaining, but the myriads of catalysts and stimulus were constant and each deserving of my thought. For not a moment could I allow the, at times, exhausting endurance of my travels to compromise my enjoyment. The delicious food I ate and the gasoline pumped into the engine of my station wagon fueled my travels, but it was the inertia of my travels that propelled me.
Spending our nation’s holiday in Yosemite, I was honored to truly feel how freedom felt that 4th of July. Once threatened in result of a spinal cord injury, the determination for independence holds a very high priority in my life. This was always an adventure I hoped to experience independently.
While on my travels I’ve come to view “disabilities” differently. I do not believe that disabilities are something to overcome. Rather than to add any more rupture to the injury, I aspire for grace instead. While I view my disabilities realistically, I find it more motivating to focus on my abilities and both add to the adventure of things. A spinal cord injury is an injury primarily of disconnect between the body and mind; healing ensues in therapy, which in essence means becoming more self aware.
I’d gain insights on disabilities from Matthew Sanford, the adaptive yoga instructor in Minneapolis whom I’d have the opportunity to share experiences of yoga with and learn from. Adaptive yoga aims “to transform trauma, loss and disability into hope and potential by awakening the connection between mind and body.” It does so effectively by awakening tangible sensations in retracing the energetic core of physical actions and then directing the energy outwards during yoga. While practicing I became aware of the points of reference grounding my body to the earth; my skull, my shoulder blades, my hips and sits bones, my heels and the hardware in my back. Feeling the weight resting against my bones I’d marvel at how the space within my body is filled with life. I witnessed and perpetuate the belief in the human body’s immense power to heal itself.
While along with introvertedness and all of the sitting and observing that I do, meditation is something of my nature. It is with a quiet mind, increased awareness of the present moment and an open heart that I hope to transcend suffering.The integration of mindfulness meditation was a wonderful way to continue to expand my mind and consciousness while traveling. I find the unconscious to speak in language of symbols, imagination, sensation and dreams, with which the ability of its interpretation can intrinsically add to the experience of your journey. I found that when directed through a meditative prism, my energy and intentions enlightened and manifested themselves beautifully within my travels.
I’d openly allow the experience of all emotions to surface while traveling, however unpleasant. I’d metaphorically wash away any irritations and along with the dirt of the day’s adventures I’d see the negativity spiral down the drains of showers in Motel 6. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to leave the feeling of hurt at home. I found that I couldn’t so easily escape the trials of relationships or ignore the troubles within my family. Alongside a highway in Montana after running out of gas, I’d be thankful for any breeze and the gusts of wind from passing trucks that helped to dry my tears shed at an instance of overwhelming miscommunication. It was crucial that any momentary sadness was fleeting. On this day I’d find comfort at the Soul Consoling Tower monument at Manzanar, a place of Japanese internment during World War II. Set against the Sierra Nevada Mountains I’d offer an origami crane taken by the whirling wind. Here in my heart I experienced a light that could only be described as love. It was after this that I stopped believing in coincidences, but instead of synchronicity and meaningful happenings attracted to my energy. In traveling I’d throw my love in the wind to the world and found consolation in this abandon and feeling free.
While shyness is a vulnerability of mine, I welcomed interaction with nearly everyone I’d pass. Compassionately in tune to the suffering around me, I’d wonder at buildings left to the wild, the Indian reservations I’d encounter and homelessness; Empathy would arise. Just to be clear, empathy is the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feeling, thoughts or attitudes of another. I experienced transformative empathy, boundless of place and time. I imagined those traveling across the country in a covered wagon manifesting their destiny, those feeling free and the first to cruise the country in their Ford Model T’s and the Native American standing atop a bluff watching this all unfold while considering their uncertain future. I’d peel back the heavy residual layers of living and revealed to me was the bare and unbridled human spirit within us all.
Do not mistake my mood as melancholy. Intuitive to energies and kindness, I’d be guided and meet lovely folk. Along with collecting cacti and succulents, postcards, giant pine cones, rocks, sand dollars, driftwood, pressed flowers and photographs… I’d collect smiles and stories. I’d admire my little sister’s surprise when a bison ambled about our campsite in Yellowstone, the incendiary spark caused by a stellar street performer and the glow of the Super Moon shared with the sweetest souls in an eerie New Orleans cemetery. At my realization of the interconnectedness of individuals, I experienced the purest sense of joy.