Wednesday’s Words/Nonfiction: Mind and Soul as Compass

Mt. Hood

As I was walking the trails around our area, I practiced locating where they all interconnected–as far as I have explored–and how each one has taken me back. It is useful for strengthening recall since we haven’t lived here very long. And it’s a pleasing exercise; I like to use different perspectives in my mental imaging, as though traversing from one direction, then another, then another. I can see in mind’s eye each route the unfolding scenery, pauses taken along the way, different housing clusters that peek through woods or circumnavigate greenways, how main and side streets curl and crisscross. I happily meander.

Mountain Park is a neighborhood of 700 acres on a volcanic hillside; there are 8 miles of trails. They seem complex as they snake this way and that, lead through trees, tunnels, up hillsides, by creeks. Likely we’ve trod only about 75% so far–time being an issue and partly due to their often climbing steeply, requiring endurance harder to maintain in summer’s blasting heat. It can be challenging even in cool weather rains. But I–or both of us– go out every day a good hour. I don’t worry about getting lost. I have a small map inside my head, and if I end up somewhere surprising, I can retrace steps. I also trust a new trail link will lead back to one I recognize better. There are, of course, landmarks even in wooded areas.

The only time I felt a bit nervous was when there was news of a cougar outside the state park boundaries, prowling by homes on the east side of the city. But that was a fair distance. And I want to walk so off I went. I don’t know where the cougar is. He/she possesses supreme stealth, but is more likely to hunt in a state park forest. However, I do see rabbits and lots of birds, bees and other insects, a snake now and then, and people like us who love being under the treetops and working up a sweat. Once I thought I thought I saw a coyote and likely did; it melted into the dusk.

I do have a well attuned sense of direction so rarely get lost. Oh, occasionally misaligned, but briefly. I’m grateful; I got it from my mother, perhaps. My father made sure there was a good working compass mounted on the car dashboard when we took trips. And then he proceeded to go off route, intentionally, unconcerned thanks to his sense of adventure and trusty compass. My mother tut-tutted–it took longer his way to reach destinations but if he did get lose his bearings she enlightened him. A great map reader/navigator (back when there were colorful fold out maps), mostly she gazed at landscape and pointed. Off we went. If we did get lost it was treated as part of the trip, not cause for distress other than wondering when we’d find the next restroom or cafe. (I realize my spouse and I are the same; he agrees he has a poor sense of direction, a poor visual memory when on the move. (GPS was made for those like him; he travels quite a bit for work and relies on it.)

As I was revisiting the trail system mentally–huffing and puffing in 85 degree heat, water bottle in hand–I saw it as a metaphor for how I try to live life: trust my sense of direction, rely on instinct/intuition. And God’s guidance and care. I say “try” because my one weak point is worry about my loved ones. I can get bound up in a tangle of possible disastrous scenarios in a blink of an eye, at times. Especially when I awaken for no good reason at 2:50 a.m. from a deep sleep. Oh, right–a perfect time to worry right into full exhaustion.

Case in point: my son and his new wife went off camping and rock hounding all the way to Montana on Monday. They started off in Washington; no word since they were on their way. This makes me a little anxious. Not that I would often hear from him; they’ve had to travel through mountain ranges and forests where cell reception is sparse. Josh travels fairly often and they’re veteran campers. He is very independent, following his own path. When six, he took off early on bike into our new neighborhood. I didn’t see him until dinnertime when he brought new friends to the table. Did I worry then? Some… not really. He always paid attention to surroundings, found his way back–and it was 1980 when kids freely roamed about. Besides, he inherited his grandmother’s uncanny sense of direction, too.

So today after considering these facts, I chose to turn the annoyance of worry over to God in prayer. After all, they’re also on their honeymoon, not thinking of me! He will communicate as he can/wants.

Also, my oldest daughter is driving from Colorado to South Carolina by herself–from visiting her boyfriend to a return to her home and teaching position. This is an old story for her, too–she goes solo out of the country, as well. It’s not uncommon for her to drive great distances. She also figures direction well, knows her way around busy highways and lonely roads, and she travels smart, takes care. She stays briefly in touch.

But there is that blasted impulse to worry a thought thin. And worry is a kind of disease: truly, a state of dis-ease, imbalance, a tension that undermines helpful insight. And there have been a few serious matters to worry over this year, so far, and worry did not aid me in a pursuit of solutions or succor. The real glitch about perseveration–and that powerful director of such thinking, trenchant negativity– is that it not only takes up time and energy, it obscures the picture rather than clarifying it. Issues multiply and become fuzzier. One becomes worn out, not refreshed and refocused.

I am fond of the idea of mind-linked-to-soul as a good compass. I find it can correct missteps, redirect, reiterate or discover essential ways and means to “home”– and thus enable me to better proceed. It well informs me. How can I be certain? I am questioned by friends, family and my own doubting self at times. It isn’t that I am always one hundred percent certain every time I need good, orderly direction. But I have a proclivity for that loaded word–trust. That’s the thing. Despite making significant mistakes over decades and experiencing deep losses and being uncertain of the future like everyone else–I trust I’ll get through difficulties. Even being lost.

And I have been badly lost at certain life junctures, the sort of lost that is hard to note. Like childhood sexual abuse, three rapes during youth and adulthood, domestic violence that finally resulted in my being nearly run over–someone walking up the road screamed “Move out of the way!” just in time– by my then-partner. Or when I experienced a toxic psychosis at age 19, resultant of a lot of amphetamine mixed with other drugs, and then being carted off to “the dungeon”, a poorly staffed, badly managed Gothic structure that was officially called a hospital that was actually, I still think, hell–and that took a court order for me to be released to my parents. And there were other brushes with death that left me thinking that it was really too strange that I stayed alive.

Let me not get started on the lives of my family and friends, my own children. They, too, have had hardships and nightmares to live through and, well, I love them so. The hurdles needing to be overcome have been many. Tests of endurance. It seems the fate of being human that we collect calamities of one sort of another…

So, some experience wandering lost in the dark. Confounded, feeling alone. Yet I do not truly fear being lost. For one thing, been there, gotten through stuff. But more so, a certainty that I can investigate and glean more information that will be advantageous. Other people can be more helpful than imagined. And I grasp onto what makes sense- by this age, it is clear common sense underlies so much, if we just pay heed. Add some intuition- more is revealed.

One thing that has not changed is that I have faith in a Divine Love that does not quit. (Perhaps it has become more fierce a belief.) This is my “true north” spiritually, how I live my daily life. When I am fearful of an outcome or just worn by it all, that faith does not weaken or leave me. It is an intrinsic part of me, that numinous Light a tremendous hope for the better. It has sustained me through all difficulties. I call on God and as I do so I call on God within me and all others I come across. By doing so, I can seek what helps, not harms. It is not hard to pray for clarification of intelligent–that is, loving and solution-focused– directions. It can be still a trial to quiet my selfish worry arising from fear of more loss. and a sudden lack of certainty in ongoing strength and the beauty of this human life.

But when things do get tied up in cat’s cradles, I go to the source of peace, of fortitude–my faith in God. And pieces will begin to fall in place once more. I disengage from anxious energy, become renewed in soul and mind. It is superfluous, this worrying snag. So I use my rescue procedure from nagging thoughts that are distorted and magnified.

What really matters most to me? I ask myself again. Get back to basics. God: God’s creative genius, God-ness alive in others, and living God’s way of compassion with courage. The power of that is what brings me back to fresh possibilities. To my good sense. It is a sweet medicine of hope, clarification of calmed mind and heart. I am not alone as I go on.

It seems easy to doubt; I am not immune. The world appears to be shattering about us in pieces that fall and fly, strike randomly and stymie the desire for well being, much less happiness. There is simply more horror than we can take in, begin to understand. Threats of worse and the specter of helplessness test our resolve to stand firm, try to do what is good and true. To speak up, help one another, to just keep on and seek better answers. For perseverance is a big part of finding the way. We cannot afford to give up; so much is at stake. But to trust that innermost compass (or share one that works well), have some faith that what is better and best about being human will yet illuminate a way ahead. Why not stand up, trek forward? Move as if you know where you are going–you likely do. Or will learn the lay of the land as you proceed. And, too, there are moments of sheer synchronicity that come into force and aid us.

Not surprisingly, my son texted me as I finished this: “In Montana! Great time! Heading toward Yellowstone!” My daughter, too: “Doing fine, in Alabama, heading to Atlanta.”

For now, all is well. This is what I hold close. Whatever comes will arrive moment by moment, hour by hour, day by night by day, as before. And if I have the good fortune of being here, I will meet it. If not, then with God, in any case. I am not ever utterly lost. I know where home is and it is here, within, where it always was.

Cascade Mountains

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