“Compulsive thinking and physical tension are two sides of the same coin.”
I’m not a person who does weekends well. I’m generally in a perpetual state of trying-to-get-shit-done. On Sundays when my husband asks me to go to the beach or drive to Malibu for a picnic, my answer is generally, “Sorry babe, too much work, catch you at dinner.”
Last week we went on vacation in Montana. On the first day we decided to take an 11-mile hike to the Grinnell Glacier overlook in Glacier National Park. The hike promised gorgeous views of green mountains filled with firs, wildlife out of a fairytale, and an epic view of a quickly melting glacier.
And it was all that. But my mind was not on board. It was worried about how long it would take, how behind I was on emails, how if we weren’t back by 5:00 pm I’d miss a very important phone call. For seven miles of walking through shimmering wildflowers and craggy cliffs all I did was complain in my head about the freezing cold, the crap quality of my shoes, and the backpack cutting off circulation in my arms. My only reprieve came in the form of two mountain rams with giant curling horns walking on the trail ahead of us. We followed them, at a not-safe distance, for about 20 minutes, and for those 20 minutes I was fully present—mainly to prevent them from potentially ramming our guts out.
By the time we reached a sign that said “Grinnell Glacier Overlook” with an arrow pointing upward, the cloud hang had descended into a ghostly beard around us. Which would have been romantic in circumstances that did not involve us climbing practically on hands and knees another mile straight up a cliff.
“Does this count as part of the 11 miles?” I shouted to Jason, who was behind me.
“I don’t know,” he said, which meant no.
We got to the top. It started snowing.
Jason started laughing.
I pointed to a wall of fog in front of us. “Is that the glacier?”
He wanted to wait for the clouds to part. I knew if I stopped I would not start again. When the voice in my head starts bitching this madly, I try to be like Churchill: “When you find yourself in hell, keep walking.”
On the way down my thighs were contracting concrete slabs. My hands, so cold I could not unzip my pockets. My mind, a torrent of not good enough—legs not good enough, stamina not good enough, attitude not good enough. Wifeliness not good enough, discipline not good enough, the contribution I’m making to the world not fucking good enough.
To try and drown out the negativity, which was running like a cartoon rodeo in my mind, I applied gratitude—“Thank you, feet, for carrying me across slippery sheet rock! Thank you, legs, for braving four hours longer of this nightmare than you’d been promised!”—but the complaint tape only became louder, my body stiffer and more constricted. The contraction of my thighs had now commandeered my kneecaps and were yanking them out of their sockets, particularly the left one, which now lived a few inches east of where it belonged.
I was experiencing the physical manifestations of my mental state. That’s where “not good enough” gets you.
The next day we rested. And the third day we set out again.
This time we drove to a very different area, closer to Idaho. It was not beautiful. In fact, it was all dead. No green anywhere, only rock. Dried up mountains the color of aged skin with charred trees that resembled hair plugs. The only living creatures were snapping albino bugs that ricocheted like rubber bands off your head. Did I mention it was hot enough to melt your face off? And yet—
My mind was at peace.
Because today I’d made a commitment: to be present with my husband. I was not there to brainstorm work solutions. I was not there to get a good workout or catch up on podcasts. I was there because my husband wanted me there and I love him and it hurts us both when I continually resist him.
In other words, I relaxed.
My college roommate used to make this funny observation about me: “When you walk it’s like you’re trying to get ahead of wherever you are.”
How astute. How often am I anticipating, fortune-telling, or catastrophizing rather than being where I am? And what are the consequences? Lack of alignment with my own body. As if my ego were lurching into the future while my body pulled backward, saying, “Where on earth are you going? Don’t you know you need me?”
Now, today, my ego and my body were in alignment. I felt a softness towards myself, and a softness toward the world. The result? The pain from two days before was almost completely absent. And the softness I felt inside I saw everywhere around me—even this Mad Max hell realm appeared magical.
On the trail ahead my husband looked back at me and smiled.
“You’re an angel!” he shouted.
I’m no angel. But ironically, the more present I am in my physical form, the closer I am to being one.
May we all soften inside our own bodies. And gain a softer, kinder relationship with the world.