Lost in the Woods?
“You’ve got to figure out who you are and what you want. I can’t do it for you, and I’m tired of waiting.”
It’s the last part of what she said that scares me the most. Actually, the whole thing is scary. Jean’s been mad at me plenty of times before, but this time I think she means it, and it’s why I’m sitting here driving north on 101 going exactly zero miles an hour.
I had to get out. Get away. Do something. It seems everything I do now is wrong. It’s funny if you look at me from the outside; I’ve got it all. I have a big job at a growing company. I live in the right neighborhood. I have the correct number of kids and friends, and a beautiful wife – at least for now. But, I’m miserable and don’t know what to do about it. I feel so all alone and afraid. I’m totally connected – yet isolated from everything and everyone.
While sitting here in traffic, I look around at the other drivers. They look just like me. Everyone is in a hurry, but going nowhere. I rush to the office to wish I was someplace else. I dash back home and obsess about work. What am I doing?
If I watch another motivational video or read another self-help book, I’m going to puke. Everyone is telling me about the 3, 5, or 50 super hacks to simplify, improve, and bust through hurdles in my life. Everyone has a simple trick to unleash my best me. I don’t know who I am anymore. I’m not sure if I want to be me any longer.
To get away, I made reservations at the Wondering Cabins. It’s supposed to be quiet and someplace where I can finally get some sleep away from tech and everything else, at least for a few days. Man, I wish I had the courage to walk the PCT like Reese did in that movie. I can’t take that kind of time off. Taking these couple of days is hard enough.
Just getting out of the Valley is nice. It feels slower and more grounded. Maybe I can get in a quick hike before going to the cabin. Just 20 minutes in, 20 minutes out. What could go wrong? What am I thinking, that’s a stupid thing to say. With my luck these days, plenty can go wrong. But, hey I’m supposed to be winging it this weekend.
I love being around the big trees. My neighbor has a giant redwood that takes up the whole front yard. It’s enormous. It’s just standing there watching over the neighborhood. When I walk under it, I can feel a sense of calm. With all the crap going on in my life lately, I can use all the calm I can get.
As I drive north, the landscape begins to change. I no longer see the oaks and the vast swaths of grass – nothing here but pines, beeches and of course the giant redwoods.
I pull up to a tiny trailhead. No one else is here. I’m going on a short hike anyway. As soon as I start, I feel the difference.
The air is so much thicker. It’s like there’s too much oxygen and I feel like I could hyperventilate if I breathe too deeply. I taste the richness of the forest with every breath.
Exactly 20 minutes in, I find a clearing. The most majestic redwood I’ve ever seen is smack in the middle. Seriously, it looks like it was planted with the other trees a respectful distance away. Everything here seems to smile – the big trees, the little trees, the bushes, even the grass. They impart a sense of peacefulness. I feel I can stay here forever. It’s so warm. The sun seems to have found this place to be as special as it feels to me. Before I head back to the car, maybe I can sit quietly under the big tree and soak up some of the calm. The temperature is perfect, and before I realize it, I doze off under the watchful embrace of the giant sequoia.
“Holy crap,” I shout as I wake up. The sun is setting, the temperature is dropping, and now I wish I brought my jacket.
No problem, I think to myself. Twenty minutes and I’ll be in the car – still enough time to get to the cabin before it’s dark.
Thirty minutes later, and I’m still walking. I should be at my car by now.
Then I see the clearing with the perfectly placed redwood again. “Dang it.” I made a loop. This is not going well. I knew I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. This is what happens when I let my guard down. Stupid me, this whole trip is another example of my bad decisions. Now it’s getting dark. And cold. And I’m pissed at myself. And at Jean. And at work. And at everything else for that matter. I’ve replaced the sense of peacefulness with fear. My fear.
“Come on!” I say loudly to boost my confidence, “Twenty minutes, same way as I came in. Let’s go. Don’t freak out.” Forty-five minutes later and I’m back at the same clearing. I can’t see much of anything now. I’m freezing and afraid. I feel so alone.
I am completely lost. Why does this always happen to me?
I go back under the big tree, break down and just cry. Big, racking sobs shake my whole body. It feels like years of anger, sadness, and guilt are finally coursing through me. Tears finally flow for all the times I couldn’t cry before. When mom died, when Jean had that cancer scare last year. They come from all the ups and serious downs I had over the past several years. I feel like a dam finally burst, and I’m being carried away by my own bottled up emotions that are finally set free. Exhausted, I whisper, “I give up. I don’t know what to do. Someone please help me.”
In a quiet, breezy voice, I hear, “You can help yourself.”
I turn around but see nothing. The place is dead silent. “Who’s there?” I shout defiantly.
“You asked for help. Help is always here,” something whispers.
My heart is racing. Again I frantically look around, but nothing.
“You are always looking for something outside. Look inside. Listen to yourself.”
“What the heck are you talking about?” This is crazy, I think to myself. I suddenly realize the redwood is talking to me, but it’s not talking like a person. I feel the meaning as much as I hear the words. How can this be, I think to myself? Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe I’m just exhausted.
The big tree says, “Can I show you something?”
“Sure, why not?” I mean, what can I say? I’m lost, it’s dark, I’m cold, and I’m talking to a tree.
“Close your eyes and open your ears.”
I close them and sit silently against the safety of the tree. First, it’s nothing – just a quiet night in the woods. Then slowly, what were once indiscriminate sounds start to come alive. I hear trees calling to one another. Little animals I can’t see are chatting back and forth. Even the insects are carrying on.
It’s like I’m walking across a school playground and hearing hundreds of conversations going on at the same time. The whole place is alive. It’s wild.
“What the heck just happened?” I ask. This is amazing.
“Listen closer,” the tree implores.
I get quiet again and listen. I suddenly realize they’re talking about me! Everything in the woods knows who I am. They know my struggles, my fears, my hopes, and they want to help. When I cried earlier, they wanted to reach out and comfort me. Now they’re starting to bristle with excitement as they discover I can hear them.
It’s pure joy.
“How do they know me?” I ask, “Why do they care?”
“Little one, you are never alone.”
“We are all connected, and deep down we all love and care for each other,” the tree whispers. “But when you are afraid, you withdraw and forget. You isolate yourself with fear.”
“And, I know you’ve been afraid.”
Wow, this is a lot to take in. Yes, I have been afraid. That seems to be the underlying theme of life in the Valley. “Is this connectedness always here?” I ask as I take in the joyful sounds of nature.
“Yes, and your reference to walking through a playground is a good one. When you are very young, you are more connected to each other and nature. Tonight, I simply helped you remember.”
Suddenly I realize I’m no longer cold. Or lonely. Or afraid.
“Time to go,” The tree and everything seem to say at the same time – each in their own way.
“What? No!” I say, “Can I come back?”
“We’ll see. Remember, we are always with you, even when you can’t hear us. When you listen to yourself, you can tap into our support for you.”
I slowly walk back to the car. I don’t have to guess which way to go, I just walk a few minutes, and I’m there.
As I lie in my cozy bed in one of the cabins later that evening, I’m buzzing with wonder. I can’t even come close to describing the feeling of knowing I’m connected to everything. As I start to drift off, I hear nature just outside my cabin. They wish me sweet dreams as I fall into the best sleep ever.