Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When Nothing Goes Right...Go Left.

At the beginning of February I attended a women’s wellness retreat in a tiny town in Southern Ontario. By the time the retreat ended I was buzzing. Feeling strong, balanced, and powerful, I was heading back to my room at the Piano Inn to conquer the world…right after I ate something and got a good night’s sleep.

When I stepped out of the center it was dark and the snow was falling in a way that made it pretty safe to say it wasn’t planning on slowing down or lightening up any time soon. I was suddenly pulled into this state of nervousness. I didn’t want to drive. NopeNopeNope. 

When I initially booked the retreat, I knew I was going to have to drive in the dark. I can't be sure how the darkness affects others- all I know is that my vision is hugely affected by it. Very little street lighting or way too many bright lights creates the same adverse effect. I’m just not built for the dark. Driving at night definitely wasn’t going to be a deal breaker when it came to my decision to attend the retreat- I did however prepare myself as well as I could beforehand. I made sure to print up the right directions that would get me to and from the center. I even took it a step further and visited the area using Street View on Google maps so it wouldn’t seem all that foreign once I got there. I didn’t give it anymore thought, that was until right then…when I realized a little detail like a snowstorm would be thrown into the equation. Given that this has been the first winter that I’ve ever pushed myself to drive no matter what the weather conditions… this was going to be the worst weather I’d driven in up until this point.


I brushed off my nervousness along with the rest of the snow on my car and reminded myself that it was only a short 10 minute straight forward drive back to the Inn.

Enter logic.

“The sooner I get out of here, the better the chances of getting back before the weather gets worse”

I pulled out of the parking lot and I was off. Very shortly afterwards I was driving down an unlit country road. I knew that it was only about 5 minutes before I’d be making a turn off, so I was okayish.

The road in its condition was very different than the roads back home. There weren’t any good tire tracks to drive in and I had no one in front of me whose lights I could follow. I suppose because I live in a heavily populated area, there’s always a lot of movement on the roads no matter what. With everything being snow-covered, I couldn’t tell the width of the road, let alone identify lanes. I had no idea where the roadside ended and the ditch began. Everything was white.My best thinking had me believing that my safest bet was to drive in what would normally be the unsafest bet… the middle of the road.  

The very few (and by few, I mean 3) drivers who were on the road could be compiled into two categories: 1st  category being, myself …and the 2nd category being the Kamikaze-type-Crazy people who drive above speed limit in a snow storm.
Man this is a dark road. Where’s my turn off? Did I miss it?

I looked at my clock and realized I had been driving for at least 10 minutes and I hadn’t turned off yet. Between my nervousness, poor visibility, disorientation, and feeling pressured by the cars that were now up my butt, I was beginning to freak out a little.  I pulled over. Three cars blow past me and I’m alone again-In complete darkness- In a snow storm- In a town I thought to be Port Perry but couldn’t be sure because the road signs were all covered in snow.

What I remember the most from just sitting there by myself for that moment was how eerily quiet it was- the kind where you can hear your own energy humming in your ears.

I look at the map I printed up and decided that I must have passed the street I was supposed to turn onto.

I drove all the way back up to where I came from, and started again.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat…let’s call it 3 times to pacify my pride.

Eventually I was just trying to convince myself that any possible turn off had to be the one. 

This has to be it!

I fishtailed onto it, drove a few feet in and then stopped. There wasn’t a single indication that the road had been driven on recently… which was weird… the road I came from that morning was quite busy. The snow on the road showed no sign of disturbance whatsoever. I slowly moved forward and then stopped again.

 In broad daylight this would probably be the closest depiction of what I was facing.

Absolutely Beautiful, Right?!

But In that moment, this is what I was seeing. 

I convinced myself that I was a woman of sound mind... I was pretty sure that I was still convincible because I was only half-serious in my rumination over the possibility of the Blair Witch being real. 

There was a lot of inner conflict going on. I had my exasperation telling me that it just had to be the right way.I had an inkling of a gut feeling telling me this was the wrong road. I had my fear telling me that I’d be better off driving around all night rather than take it. And then my brain piped up and told me that I was just an unreasonable person, The End. 

And so my decision ended up sounding a lot like I don’t give a shit if that IS the way to get to the heavenly Piano Inn… I’d rather go to the Get the hell out!

I once again backtracked all the way to the retreat center, pulled into the convenience store parking lot across the street, turned my car off and just sat there for a few minutes to gather composure.

Did I think of going into the store and asking for directions? 

What? No. Why?

I had perfectly good directions sitting on my passenger seat…and anyway, I wasn’t technically lost…I was simply driving past the street I was supposed to turn onto. Repeatedly.
Even if I asked for directions, I knew exactly what they would say to me- they’d say “You’re going to stay on this road here for about 5 minutes and you’re going to make a left hand turn onto such and such a street. To which I would reply: “I know”. So unless someone was willing to physically point out the road once I got to it, asking for directions was useless.  

This time I drove so far down that I was starting to think the street I needed didn’t exist anymore. I put on my four ways and slowly pulled over to the side of the road. The weather was really bad by that point, maybe not as bad as my demeanor, but still bad.  

The car that had been following behind me at a short distance drove by.

...and then I got ripping mad.

It was a police car.

I don’t know what I was expecting to happen. I think I was hoping the police would have noticed that I looked like a lost driver. Possibly notice the Quebec license plate. Maybe pull over to see if the car on the side of the dark middle-of-nowhere road with the 4 ways on was in need of assistance.

Yup. That’s pretty much what I was hoping for.

Instead of yelling and screaming all by my lonesome, I opted to bang my head against the steering wheel. And when that hurt more than it helped, I revisited the yelling and screaming option because…well… how dare the Universe fuck with my perfect day of blissful empowerment!

“You know!!! I could really use some help right about now!!!!!!”

And then, just like that, I remembered my almost out of battery GPS.

Yeah, you read that right. Driving in loops for almost an hour with a GPS in the glove box ‘cause that’s just how I roll. So while I pleaded with myself under the guises of pleading with my technology to please not die, I plunked in the address. Fed up, tired and annoyed… I gladly followed it back to where I had come from. The drive was much easier. The falling snow seemed to have slowed down a little and there were finally some substantial tire tracks to follow in (probably all my own). Twenty minutes later I found myself back in front of the retreat center…and I…. “What in the fresh hell?” ...drove right on past it.

Why are we going this way? Stupid GPS is taking me the wrong way!

But as Garmin would have it, a few minutes later I find myself at what is undeniably the left hand turn that I’ve just spent the past hour or so looking for.

Yeah, I’ll give you one guess where I went wrong… *eyeroll*

Roger that-- that’s a left hand turn out of the parking lot, Captain.

And as Hubby is constantly reminding me after giving me directions…

“No-no, your OTHER left, Jen!”

And so Ladies and Gentleman, the Girl was lost before even leaving the parking lot.

(I know I know….my level of genius is going to be the envy of all. HA!)

Now, this is all very funny in retrospect and it remains a relatively inconsequential experience in the grand scheme of things, but it is a prime example of how fear affects us in any given situation.

There are many degrees of fear on the spectrum and I started out feeling a high degree of nervousness over driving visibility. My nervousness reached a higher degree at a rapid rate when I began fearing the outcome of my nervousness. I wanted so badly to stop feeling it that I quickly regarded it as something I could only run from. My focus was not on getting back to my room, but rather to get back to wherever I wouldn't feel such a discomfort. My fear based solution was to boot out of that parking lot without so much as a deep breath or moment to get clear on which way I had come from. I wanted to get it done and over with. Here’s the thing-- you can’t move through fear if you’re unwilling to be in it.
We’re so fearful of fear itself that we often refuse to sit with it even if for a few moments to breathe and gather a little composure.

And yeah, perhaps by taking those few minutes I wouldn’t have stopped feeling entirely uncomfortable, but I most certainly would have turned out of the parking lot in the right direction. In which case, I would have gotten what I wanted in the first place; to feel fearful for the least amount of time possible.  

People very organically rely on their feelings every single day. It happens so naturally that most of us are unaware of the extent to which we are guided and affected by them. Often when we are successful in any area of our lives, we give undue credit to logic, knowledge, tools and education while underplaying the influence of our feelings. Likewise, we tend to blame the same things when we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve, while completely overlooking the detrimental role that our emotions may have just played. The truth is, you can have the entire world at your fingertips but if you’re inner GPS is thrown off in any way, sadly, not even clearly written directions that have been hand fed to you on a silver spoon could get you to where it is you’re trying to go.      

We rely on our feelings in the same way a woodsman relies on a compass; and so we should, that’s why they exist.  

The compass was designed to align itself with true north at all times. Its accuracy relies on remaining in alignment with the earth’s magnetic field. As a navigational instrument that has been used for thousands of years…it’s pretty safe to say its reliability has stood the test of time…unless of course it’s exposed to a magnet. In close proximity a magnet will overpower the earth’s magnetic field causing the compass’ natural alignment to be thrown off.  Let’s just say you’d have a better chance of hitching a ride with me during a snowstorm in the dark, rather than navigating through the woods with  a compass in your hand and a magnet up your sleeve.

A magnet is to a compass’ ability, as fear is to ours. It affects our reasoning, our memory, our basic common sense and our instincts- it affects our ability to recognize the recognizable, as well as our ability to trust that something is unrecognizable with good reason. Fear has the capacity to convince you you’re going the right way when you aren’t and it can have you questioning the very direction you should be going in. Fear’s goal is that you rely solely on its guidance, so it distracts you from all other resources. Even if you tap into the other resources, fear would have you question their reliability. Fear will tell you that a hero is needed, because it believes that while on your own, you are unqualified for the task at hand. And just in case you get bored, worry not...because when your hero doesn’t show up, Fear brings along its good friend Anger to keep you engaged.   

People who live with fear often lose precious time. What takes most people a small fraction of time, will take someone on the fear spectrum, a great deal more. Not because they’re time isn’t just as valuable to them as yours is to you, not because they want to take that much longer, but because navigating from a fear based place is like intending on catching a duck, while running after a chicken that you may or may not have seen and ending up on a wild goose chase that leaves you wondering where the duck went. 

Yeah. Exactly.  

I think we have to learn to sit with it all few minutes, even if it’s uncomfortable, especially if it’s uncomfortable. Acknowledging what we’re feeling allows us to take an honest assessment of what’s going on inside. The outcome of telling ourselves we’re not feeling something, or shouldn’t feel something, or should ignore the something, comes at a very high price. And although those few moments may not alleviate the discomfort, the clarity you gain may very well be the difference between finding your way while painfully travelling in time-consuming circles, and finding your way while uncomfortably traveling a road in a time efficient manner called “once”.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that life is a journey, not a destination; with that in mind I will add that I think more so than the condition of the road, it’s the condition of the traveler that sets the tone for the journey.      

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