The Road Trip of a Lifetime

Recently I’ve been feeling ‘stuck’. Right now, it’s like I’m parked in a Walmart carpark procrastinating about where to go next. Perhaps there are some great Walmart carparks out there, but you probably wouldn’t choose to hang out there for long. I’ve foolishly let myself run out of gas and this body of mine, my vehicle, keeps breaking down. This frustrating state of inertia urges me to reflect back on an awesome family road trip we did last summer and use it to contemplate my own inner journey.

We finally did it, the family road trip we’d been dreaming of, and it was magic. The Pacific Coast Highway opened up in front of us, jagged cliffs and wild sea interspaced by stretches of golden sand. The salty smell of the ocean air and broadness of the horizon in every direction gave us all a sense of openness and adventure. My husband and I shared the driving, our eight-year-old son, Theo, in the back.  We took turns to pick the soundtrack, choices ranging from classic road trip tunes to sing-alongs, audiobooks, or just the sound of the journey‑—the smooth engine humming and the rush of the ocean breeze past the open window.

Our vehicle, Midnight, was a black Chevy Express V8 with ‘ramblin’ vans’ written in neon-yellow writing down her side. She was pleasingly chunky, with perfect dimensions, subtly striking and just so thoughtfully kitted out. She oozed adventure and fun! As our travelling companion and home for 10 days, she exceeded our expectations. Her back seat folded down into a double mattress and she had a pop-up tent that sat on her roof. Neatly stacked in her boot was everything we could have possibly needed: bedding, deck chairs, a table, stove and propane with matches and lighters, pots and pans, cooler, washing up equipment, bin bags, a five-gallon water container fully loaded—you name it, she had it. There was even a Tupperware full of herbs and condiments.

Our first stop was Port Orford where Theo and I jumped breakers on the shore of the Pacific Ocean, and I swam. The bracing cold water, summer sun and gentle ocean breeze soothed and revitalised us all. Just ten miles down the highway, we leaned our bodies against the howling wind at Cape Blanco, the western most point of the USA, wrapped up warm in our coats and woolly hats — a world apart from the nearby cove.

A few days later we camped under the magnificent canopy of the Redwoods in Northern California. Trees, some over two thousand years old, towered over us, reaching up to over 300 feet, their trunks so big we could all fit inside a hollowed out one, with space for a handful more. Their serene majesty filled us with a sense of wonder and awe and made our existence seem insignificant.

My mind returns to the present…

As I walk under the autumnal deciduous canopy of our local woodland in southwest London, I contemplate my inner road trip and how to resolve this feeling of ‘being stuck’. It comes to me that Ned, the name I’ve given to my mind by the way, is in the front seat and he’s behaving like an adolescent teenager. At times he can be smart, fun and reasonable but recently he’s been so demanding, sulking and giving me ultimatums. Right now, he’s riled that I won’t let him drive.

To be fair I used to let him drive a lot, so I can see why he’s feeling ousted.  But I’ve come to understand that he kept taking me to dead-end places. Often, he’d take us on scenic routes and we had a lot of fun along the way, but the destinations were always underwhelming and left me feeling that I was on the wrong track. I’m at a place now where I sense I need to centre and navigate my true direction, and Ned’s not happy about that.

And then there’s Kendra in the back, who’s usually pretty chilled but she’s been impatient and irritated recently. She’s my emotional body and when she takes the driving seat it can be a bit of a rollercoaster. She can be wildly fun, but we might just end up in a ditch. She tends to sit in the back seat now and is normally pretty quiet but when our Midnight breaks down, this fragile body of mine, she finds it challenging. We’ve been breaking down an awful lot recently and Kendra’s not happy. Like a busted tap spluttering water, something’s blocking her flow.

And me, that little spark of soul that’s doing its best to shine, I’m in the driving seat. Now I know it’s where I’m meant to be; for too long I’ve been letting Ned drive. But I still feel like we’re going nowhere. I’m doing my best to appease Ned, whilst knowing the direction he suggests is unlikely to serve me. I’m simultaneously trying to calm Kendra, whose frustrations, often linked to Midnight’s constant breaking down, I’m unable to resolve. I’m up to my eyeballs with this situation. I’m no mechanic and I’ve taken it to so many experts with little avail. Try as I might I know that on my own I still haven’t mastered looking after this body of mine. I’m sore and achy—ragged with exhaustion and pain.

Oh, and I almost forgot, my Beloved spiritual guide, he’s sleeping in the back. I mean I know he’s there and I do check in on him fairly often. But I guess my attention has been so focused on Ned and Kendra and trying to work out a solution through appeasing them, that He’s taken a back seat and is having a snooze.

Again I reflect back on our family road trip…

We had a multitude of challenges, large and small along the way. When we arrived in the US, we were so tired from the ten-hour flight, we left a bag at the Portland airport. With Midnight to pick up and a tired but over-excited eight-year-old to cajole into sleeping, the thought of retrieving it weighed heavy. But we did, and the airport staff were lovely, so that picking up the bag couldn’t have been easier. Later, in Port Orford, I became unwell, so we had to change our plans and navigate the US medical system. But there was a thrill in the spontaneity, and we were rewarded by seeing two Grey Whales, spouting joyously in the Ocean just off Coos Bay. We nearly lost Theo when he went for a wild pee on a wooded clifftop overlooking the sea and slipped (we won’t dwell on that). But it reminded us of our mortality and sparked a gratitude in being alive.

On our longest journey, through Grant’s Pass, from the west coast Redwoods to Klamath Falls, smoke from the raging forest fires to the south tickled our nostrils and dried our throats. The scale of the devastation and destruction in stark contrast to the splendour of the forest we had savoured brought an appreciation of the fragile balance of nature and the inevitability of change. Somehow the challenges seemed to melt into insignificance in the bigger picture of an awesome adventure holiday. On that journey with a destination and a goal to chill, we lived in the moment and had fun along the way.

My mind returns again to my present walk in London…

I breathe deeply and soften, centering myself despite the noise, despite the pain. From deep within, a spark of inspiration rises to the surface and the solution comes to me. I need to take control of the places we have in the van. From now on, Ned and Kendra are in the back. They’re a part of me, so it’s not like I can turf them out. They’re in for the long haul.  But hell, I don’t want them in the driving seat any more, and not even riding up front. I’ll listen and engage with what they have to say. I know they can serve me well and I love them dearly.  I soften my gaze inwards and tap into the love that will turn my Beloved towards me. From now on, I need to keep his attention, because I want him awake and up front by my side.

This notion takes me back in time again…

Towards the end of our family road trip, we were awed by the depth and clarity of Crater Lake as we headed to our final camping place alongside the volcanic obsidian flow of East Lake. We bathed in the lake under the pink and golden hues of sunset. Theo invented a game of football for the three of us which we played in our plot amongst the trees. We savoured our last camp-side dinner together, sharing stories by the campfire. In the morning, hummingbirds frolicked joyfully by our side as we delighted in our breakfast in the sunshine. Our next stop was Bend where we returned Midnight and stayed with friends. A new phase of our adventure had begun.

Back in the London park…

At long last this ‘stuck’ feeling begins to shift. It’s like I’m finally driving out of the Walmart parking lot. My inner road seems unfamiliar and I falter, but my Beloved, sitting beside me now, smiles encouragingly. As we lock gazes inside, I’m reminded that if I keep Him close, He will flawlessly guide me through all terrains: When I take the wrong turn, He sets me back on track; when I’m breaking down, He gives respite to my pain; when I’m running on empty, He tops me up with gas, and when I let him be chief navigator, His direction is always true. He shows me that I have all the tools I need inside of me. He is the Master Mechanic and is slowly, patiently, teaching me the magic of His ways.

This inner adventure is truly the road trip of a lifetime, and it is not always easy. Whilst I recognise I haven’t mastered the art of driving this inner trail yet, I am blessed with a Master co-driver, and He assures me that ‘I’m on my Way’.

Be The Ocean

I am a stagnant pond

Entrapped by binding reeds.

Boulders bar my flow,

Whilst thick green algae

Blocks the sunlight and suffocates my essence.

Glistening ocean

                                                                                                                                                 istock

My water is murky, my vision impaired.

Stuck in the putrid stench, I flounder.

Drowning in illusory impressions

Of what and how life should be.

 

You gracefully dip your swan wing on my surface.

A beam of clarity ripples through my being.

I sense in the spaces between the muck and mire,

A burning desire to be something other, to be free.

 

You lift me up and show me your vista.

Verdant pastures and tinkling brooks,

Flowing merrily into rumbling rivers

that tumble effortlessly downstream.

 

You fly on and show me the ocean,

A great sea of love, pure and clear.

Glistening, sparkling, its reflection dazzling,

Its divine radiance igniting a spark in me.

 

Tenderly you whisper ‘You are the ocean’

And I feel a surge of power and love glow inside.

Gently you place me back in my pond

But graced by your vision, now I see.

 

That when I turn my face from the reeds they no longer ensnare me.

When I dwell on You, your rays of love burn the algae away.

When I behold the boulders through your gaze

They soften and erode into nothingness.

 

In truth, I am no pond, no river

But a shining spark of the great ocean Divine.

Your wisdom, power and love become me

For I am the radiant ocean of love within.

 

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this poem. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. Thank you!

Jack the Puppet

I’m on my knees delving through the contents of our childhood toy cupboard when his cheeky face catches my eye. I lift him up gently, admiring his stripy leather shoes, cute denim dungarees and blue and white gingham shirt. Huge eyes glint naughtily at me underneath a baseball cap, while a mop of curly brown hair frames his grinning freckled face. I smile, remembering the hours of joy he brought me as a child.

Then I see his tangled strings.

“Oh it’s Jack” my sister pipes, glancing in my direction. We’re clearing out our old play room in preparation for our parents’ house move.

I had even forgotten his name.

Jack the puppet pic

I remember the elation I felt when my Godfather Charles gave me Jack the puppet. I must have been about nine years old. The prospect of my Godfather coming to stay always gave me a tingle of excitement, not least due to the wonderful presents he gave. A red diabolo juggling toy which I spent ages trying to master; an alluring set of nature books with stunning drawings I would pore over; a pair of huge white china cats whose bright blue eyes stared at me from their preeminent position on the mantelpiece in my bedroom.

I’d be hovering impatiently around the front door awaiting his sparkling clean, leather seated BMW to purr around the corner and draw to a halt. An altogether different beast to our mud splattered 1970’s style farm Land Rover, the once padded back seats long since removed to accommodate sheep and dogs as well as us children. Godfather Charles, an old family friend of my father, was a bachelor and lawyer who lived in London. His city life seemed as exotic  to me, growing up on a Northumbrian farm, as his car in our drive.

I had only visited London once. A whirlwind trip of bright lights and excitement. The long-awaited highlight of the visit, a theatre trip to see Annie, the musical. The words of the songs still alive in my head today. And the much anticipated first trip to McDonalds. An encounter we vowed as a family never to repeat. The processed burgers and soggy, tepid chips a marked disappointment after a diet of home-grown meat and vegetables.

When Jack the puppet was unveiled from the beautifully wrapped parcel Charles handed me, my heart could have burst with joy. Of all the wonderful gifts he’d given me, Jack was surely my favourite. I whiled away hours pulling his strings to help him walk, or wave, or dance. Best of all he was mine. A fabulous new toy just for me. A toy that my sisters yearned to play with, but they had to ask me first.

For years Jack had pride of place in the middle shelf of the toy cupboard, his hanger placed neatly beside him. His presence there would always lift my spirits. However, with time his strings got tangled. At first it was one or two and I would try and untangle them myself. Sometimes it would work, but they always seemed to get snarled up again. As my frustration mounted, Jack would no longer be laid gently back on his shelf in pride position as favourite toy. I’d put him away in the cupboard rather more carelessly, which of course caused the strings to cross and tangle all the more. With time Jack was relegated to the far back of the cupboard; smothered by other toys; abandoned.

I set him in my lap and try and loosen the knots, but the strings appear irrecoverably enjoined. I know my son would enjoy Jack, but I’m not sure I can untangle the strings. I try for a while. Perhaps I have made it worse? Yet surely if the strings became tangled, they can become untangled?

I wonder if this is a metaphor for life. Is it that, as children, we have clearer channels to our inner selves to move through our days more gracefully, to live our own truth more playfully, hearts bursting with joy? As we get older does this ability becomes less spontaneous, less clear? Perhaps as our karmas unfold, the strings that hold us true to ourselves gradually tangle. Maybe the expectations of family and society, even of our own minds, can twist our perspective.

We may try and untangle these strings of undue expectation, of misplaced greed, attachment or anger, these complex threads of relationships ourselves. But more often than not, do we not tangle ourselves up more? Is it not usual to bind ourselves to people, to houses, to jobs, to beliefs, societal expectations and perspectives that solidify and shackle us? Until if we’re not careful our true self is shoved further away into the depths of ourselves, as our minds take over running the show. And like Jack the puppet, our true selves, the beautiful souls that we all are, are shoved to the back of the cupboard, smothered by layers of illusion, crushed by our passions and desires. Perhaps, much like I had forgotten Jack’s name, we could even forget that they are there?

I look down at Jack with remorse. I was the girl who had tossed him aside.

I breathe in a breath of gratitude for my inner Beloved. I too have felt my life to be a tangled mess, been frustrated with each new attempt to untangle my karmic threads. How blessed I feel to recognise that I am not the puppeteer of my life. What a relief to know that my only role is to love and play with my inner Beloved as best I can, trusting that His grace will untangle my karmic knots and set me free.

It’s not as easy as I make it sound. It can be pretty uncomfortable, this untangling process. There’s a reason I’ve ignored these knots of pain, or shame or anger for so long. And hey, I’m pretty fond of some of these shackles I’ve created. There’s a security, an ease, of doing or being in the groove one is accustomed to. I feel my resistance continually. My mind wants to fight to take control. To be the one that sorts out my problems, no matter how large or trite. To take credit for being the organiser, the helper, the achiever, the good mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter, teacher. To reign supreme over my being and be the creator of my life. All this fight, this undignified bluster, despite the tangled mess it’s left me in time and again!

Yet when I do surrender to my inner Beloved, when I do let go of the strings of control, and sink deeper into his vast orbit of love, I’m infused with grace. And this is when miracles occur. Through letting go, I’m gifted a stronger connection to my inner self. A clearer perspective; a deeper insight; a simpler resolution; a glimpse into an easier, more joyful, more loving, more truthful way of being.

Much like Jack’s tangled strings, my karmic strings remain far from untwined. But, despite the fight in which my mind persists, I do realise that the only way to be untangled, to become truly free, is to reach deep inside, hand over the control and leave it be. And to do this, to fully let go, one must deeply trust in the inner Beloved and allow his Grace to be the divine orchestrator, the great untangler, the Master Puppeteer.

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The Thrill of a Mogul Field

The biting wind burns my cheeks, butterflies dance in my tummy and adrenaline courses through my veins as I dig in my edges to stop and catch my breath. I’ve just made my way down the beginning of Le Grand Couloir, one of the most notorious black runs in the heart of The Three Valleys in France; the largest ski area in the world. I’ve attempted to snow plough down the initial stretch, a narrow ridge flanked by two equally hair raising drops on either side. My legs ache from maintaining the huge pizza slice shape of a wide snow plough. My upper body is twisted upwards to face the mountain in an effort to waylay the descent, and ensure that the ensuing fall is more likely to be up than down.

grand-couloir

Le Grand Couloir is a piste that strikes fear into the heart of many skiers and boarders, and I am no exception. The clue is in the name as to the nature of this slope: Having completed the approach, a narrow, steep and ungroomed corridor of moguls stretches out before me. The only way is down. I take a deep breath and, clutching my poles, horizontally traverse the slope as far as I can. Being ungroomed, the moguls are the size of small minivans and I end up clumsily side slipping over them to avoid turning. When I finally steel myself for the inevitable turn I find myself lurching clumsily from one mogul to the next, my legs aching from trying desperately to regain control before beginning the whole fiasco again.

I used to prefer the smoother blue, green and red runs, where I could cruise along the crisp white snow, taking in the stunning alpine vistas and enjoying the clean mountain air. Or I’d glide down pretty alpine paths, surrounded by snow-clad pine trees and the hush of deep winter – or simply enjoy the adrenaline rush of speed. Black runs are hard work, a challenge to overcome the fear and an affront to my technique.

I take a break where I join the red run Combe Saulire and look back to admire the steep, seemingly indominatable narrow couloir of moguls I have finally descended.  My legs shake like jelly from the exertion. I know I will feel the aches in my body later. But I am elated that I’ve actually made it. This elation ignites in me a passion for skiing Le Grand Couloir and its like, but also a desire to descend these challenging runs with more elegance and grace. I recognise I need a teacher to help me improve my technique and ski moguls with more aplomb.

The next time this fiendishly difficult black run stretches out before me I’m apprehensive but full of hope that my instructor will impart some insights to help my descent become slightly more elegant. He suggests that I look at the mogul field and follow the way that water would go. I survey the piste in front of me and see the first few turns in my mind’s eye that the water would take. I proceed to take my turns as I imagined, my skis now pointing downhill, my turns closer together. I only do a couple of turns before coming to a halt but soon realise that it’s easier to keep the flow going, no matter how slow. I find myself enjoying the challenge of following the flow of water and begin to approach my turns with joyful anticipation rather than apprehension.

The imagery of this technique is enormously useful to me; not only for skiing, but also in life. Instead of water, I think of love. What way would love choose? Of course I recognise that ‘I’ don’t know what way love would choose. That is a ridiculous suggestion, for ‘I’ am not love.  I acknowledge that I am a jumble of emotional, mental, physical and soul bodies, all vying for attention.

But I do aspire to be love.

I am so graced to feel this divine presence inside me which is love, and when I ask my inner Beloved the way, well, the way often becomes clear. Or at least less hazy. I make it sound easy, but I don’t find it so. I have a terrible tendency to forget to ask, and then my mind attempts to choose the ‘right’ way and I find myself in a pickle of indecision. But I so love it when I do remember and the ‘true’ way becomes more apparent. Much like taking a smoother turn on a black run, it’s an easier ride.

Often when I ask, an obvious way doesn’t appear. This can be frustrating. I’m coming to learn that, much like snow melt blocked by a rock may have to wait for a greater volume of water to join it before bursting over the top or having the force to go round; I need to reach in to my Beloved and connect with more love for the way to appear.

A tingle of excitement shivers through my body as I survey the corridor of moguls that is Le Grand Couloir. I breathe deeply and ask my inner Beloved to help me see and feel the flow as I descend. Seeing the first turn ahead of me in my mind’s eye I glide slowly towards my chosen mogul and complete my turn as smoothly as possible. I have an idea of where my second turn will be but I recognise that this may change as I try to keep the flow. I’m loving the sense of fluidity, the feeling of being fully present to the needs of the current movement, yet primed for the next. My heart bursts with gratitude for being gifted the opportunity to feel this awesome sensation.

Now, I’m not deluded. My technique has vast room for improvement and I’m still far from being a pro. I aspire to ski with so much more grace and flow. However I do feel my style is becoming more fluid, my movements a touch more graceful and that using this imagery, I continue to improve.

As the pull of gravity lures water down that black mogul field, into rivulets, streams and rivers towards the sea, my Beloved is also luring me. I am beginning to find that when I partake in this game of catching the love and following the flow, this black mogul field called life, becomes so much more fun.

P.S. If you enjoyed reading this post, I’d so love it if you left a comment to share what resonated with you (or didn’t) and/ or any experience of your own inspired by this essay. My intention is that this blog becomes an interactive experience. I look forward to hearing your feedback. Thank you!