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’.

The Grace of Fall

Events can conspire to restrict you, or so it may seem. Having your arm in a cast is hardly conducive to breaking new horizons, one might think. Yet nature shows us its beauty in all its seasons, so perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s autumn when I start writing. When the trees, a beautiful haze of gold, orange, yellow, red, green and copper, are yet to release their beautiful leaves to the ground.

Theo and Tana facing

Photo by Simon Groves

A suspected broken wrist and a new puppy have drawn me to embrace and appreciate this season like never before. Every day Ember and I head out to play. We start in the garden where I have to lift her over the paving stones onto the lawn because she doesn’t like the cold feel of stone on her feet. She makes dens in the passionflower, in blossom now and bearing fruit. She buries her nose in the sedum’s purple florets, and shakes up our bamboo. We rest a lot in the den too, her tiny body warming my tummy as she sleeps whilst I chill out, watching films, listening to music and allowing a more contemplative, reflective vibe to seep into me. My right arm is in a cast, three fingers stuck in a claw so I’m unable to do much of my usual household chores or train for my new role as a Pilates teacher.

I’m still high on the love from my spiritual teacher’s latest seminar a few weeks back, and I feel so full to the brim that I know I need to release. So I write. It’s slow going at first, my clawed fingers sensitive to the pressure of a keyboard. But a particular story has been brewing in my mind for some time: Last winter, I learned to use imagery to ski a black diamond run more gracefully, and this helped me meet the challenges in my life. The tale pours out of me, a natural feeling, like it was always meant to be. A while back a friend of mine, Lesley, who shares the same spiritual teacher and whose writing I admire, had offered free advice on writing. This feels like the perfect moment to take her up on this opportunity.

My adventures with Ember progress to walks on the street. At first she is tentative, just sitting on the front doorstop, gazing at her surroundings and sniffing in the new scents. So we sit together enjoying the warmth of late summer. The next day she makes it to the end of the street, inspecting all the plants along the front gardens of our terraced street as she goes. As the days unfold her confidence grows and we become more adventurous together. True to the spirit of her name, Ember seems to ignite a warm glow in most people we see. She greets everyone and everything with her tail wagging and a gentle curiosity, and I find my world expanding too. Before long we’re making connections with dogs and their owners, parents and children. Well, to be honest, anyone and everyone around the neighbourhood, so indiscriminate is Ember in giving out her love.

“I think you may have found your calling,” Lesley writes over Facebook having read my second essay. Buoyed by her encouragement, I find myself waking earlier and earlier so I can write after my spiritual exercises. I reach deep inside myself and write the story of how tuning in to the loving vibe of my spiritual teachings has helped me through challenges in the past. Not just small challenges but huge, undignified challenges where, without the hand of grace at my side, I may well have crumpled in a ball of shame or fear. It’s like I’m being emptied, the words pouring from my fingers as I type.

Theo, my six-year-old son, is entranced by this new preoccupation of mine and so enthused that he wants to join me. Soon he’s tapping away on the iPad beside me as I write. This is fun, but not so conducive to my own writing.

“Mummy, how do you spell treasure?” he asks, eager anticipation in his expectant face, his tiny fingers poised for action. I dutifully spell out each letter for him.

“Mumma, how do you spell surprisingly?” he pipes, a mere one second later

I gently suggest he may be able to store up his questions and ask me every five minutes, but he’s simply unable to restrain himself.

“How about every minute?” I relent, smiling, impressed by his enthusiasm.

But still his questions, whilst writing his Indiana Jones-inspired tale, come thick and fast. We’re so absorbed, the two of us, that it’s all of a sudden a rush to help Theo to breakfast and prepare him for his school day, Ember chewing at my heels all the while.

A month later, during half-term, we take Ember into Richmond Park for the first time, Theo and I. Theo makes a tree into a hotel, and Ember and I check in as guests, burrowing ourselves into the rabbit holes and indentations in the ground, our designated rooms. We order room service, and Ember enjoys inspecting the leaves and stones we’re given as our evening meal. It’s enormous fun, and it’s hard to tear us all away. The weather glorious, warm sunshine on our backs, all three of us revel in the play. The Park is magnificent; acres of long meadow grass sway in the breeze, while majestic trees drip with the richness of autumn leaves in all their glory.

I send my husband, Tim, one of my essays, a story about a health challenge we faced together the year before. “It made me cry” he texts, on his commute back from work. “I’ve got a few comments to add.” And so we frolic in the field of creation, all of us. Playing make-believe with Ember and Theo, and juggling words with Lesley, my husband and my son, I wonder if this is what it feels like to jam in a band. A wonderful co-creation of love flowing through my veins.

Like autumn leaves fluttering to the ground, I see our pieces of writing as love notes released into the wind. Still feeling lit from the love of the seminar and the ensuing weeks, I wonder what it would feel like to have released all these revelations that have been building up inside of me. Would I feel like a tree in winter, bare branches exposed to the elements? A feeling of lightness pervades my body as I imagine myself as a tree, having shed my beautiful leaves of the year. Light and free, roots digging further into the ground for winter, I reach inside for a deeper connection to the great aquifer of love I feel rising within me.

And where do these love notes go? Who are they for? Should I send them out into the world, hoping for attention and reward? No, that doesn’t resonate. It is not me that is the protagonist here. Love is the hero of this tale, rising up against all odds and triumphing over other passions as they raise their ugly heads. I wonder where LOVE would like these love notes to land? Would Love encourage a gentle breeze to flutter them onto fertile ground? Perhaps, but Love wouldn’t have any expectation as to the result of this, and I see then that nor can I.

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. Thank you!