Choosing your reactions just takes a little mindfulness.
I am afraid of the dark. I run up stairs with absolute certainty that the darkness behind is chasing me. I frantically search walls for light switches when entering the next room. I, in short, hate being alone in the dark. And so, when I had some vacation days to spare at the end of last year, I decided, for a reason beyond me, to spend those seven days camping by myself in the middle of the desert in Sedona, Arizona. It just seemed right. And completely, utterly wrong. But I went along, rented a car, gathered my camping gear and drove to the desert.
Two years prior I cried and cried and came to Arizona for the first time, under very different circumstances. I was on my way to rehab.
The tears I cried that day shattered a sort of numbness I’d been hiding behind my whole life, and therein lied the connection back to my self. The following three months felt like a long overdue introduction from my mind to my body, body to mind, internal to external, and I found that going in, saying hello to all the feelings I was apt to ignore, was the only way I would ever feel better. The amount of gratitude I have for that lesson, for the people, the places, the small and large coincidences, all the dreary days that preceded, is immeasurable. I was finally alive.
So there I was, two years later, headed to Arizona once again to say hello to my fears.
The first night was cold. Very cold. Something like sleeping outside in a New York winter: 20 degrees F. All I wanted to do was run away, back to my warm bed, off to a hotel, anywhere but a paper thin tent in the middle of nowhere. I just, so very desperately, wanted to be comfortable. And yet I knew that that’s not what this was about. That’s not what any of this was about. Camping alone is not comfortable, and reconnecting to the self is not exactly comfortable either. So I stayed and spent my first night shivering, clutching my knife, hyper-aware of every rustle in the woods, every wind-blown leaf. It was entirely terrifying.
And still, the sun rose the next morning. Having gotten through that night, I saw the world in a different way, grateful for the simplicity of warmth and ten hours of sunlight.
I spent the next six days hiking through true magnificence – orange jagged rocks reaching into the bluest skies I’ve ever seen, green growing from the reddish desert floor, freestanding stone formations exemplifying all the power of nature, the power that I knew I had within myself.
Thoughts came and went – at times I clung to them, hiking maybe a half-mile before realizing that I was mentally in another place, having a non-existent conversation with myself and the images inside my head. But all it took was coming back to the vibrance around me, back to the moment, back to the place that saved my life two years prior – back to myself.
Each day, the sun went down and some fears came back. And each day I found that discomfort led to comfort, stars led to sunlight, breath led to presence, and that going in, saying hello to myself, had made me feel better once again.