Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Losing Focus, Finding Rest

I had planned a two week road trip to the canyon lands of southern Utah and northern Arizona in order to get away from work.  Then assaults on our time began to pick away at both ends of the vacation.  I knew I had to stand really firmly in order to maintain what time we had left, or the time was just going to disappear.

In the mean time, I worked hard to squeeze in clients before I left, also committing to two major health fairs and teaching a class in July as well.  To say that I was overloaded is certainly an understatement.  I wasn't sleeping well.  My neck and shoulder were in a nearly constant state of bothersome pain despite seeing the chiropractor and getting bodywork regularly.  The mindful part of myself was yelling at me to pay attention, but the dutiful/"responsible" part of me was overriding my good sense, worried about the bills and the family issues. 

Finally, we managed to get on the road.  It took three entire days for my nervous system to really ramp down.  We were taking our time and beginning to remember that we were not in any hurry.  We delighted in the freedom that we had to notice our surroundings, to go slowly, and to let go of any sense of having to "do" anything.  We hiked barefoot, rested in shady streams, drew and wrote and painted.

from Zion National Park (NPS site)

On the morning of the 5th day, I had taken a few photos of the campsite where we slept the night before, and absent-mindedly left the camera on top of the car.  I don't know how we both missed it during the entire time we were breaking down the campsite and re-packing the car, but we did.  I didn't notice until the next day that the camera was missing, and by then it was way too late.  On the day I lost it, the skies opened up in terrific thunderstorms too, so even if the camera wasn't destroyed by the fall, the rain certainly would have ruined it.

Of course I was pretty sad.  I thought of all the pretty photographs I had taken that I wanted to show off to my family. But -- why exactly was I so upset? 

Did it mean that the trip hadn't happened if I didn't have pictures to "prove" I was there? 
Did it mean that I hadn't seen all the wonderful scenery or done all the sketching?
Have I gotten so reliant on the camera that my memory is lazy?

Later that morning, we were sitting and sketching along a canyon rim, and I was still sort of sniffly about my camera.  My partner remarked that the landforms attract us to them, and part of the attraction lies in the knowing that we cannot possess what they offer us.  We recognized in that moment that the camera gives us the illusion of capture, of possession, of ownership.  A photograph is the modern (and less destructive) equivalent of the mounted trophy -- "proof" of capture and conquest.

We listened to the hikers who passed us, nearly all of whom were looking for that perfect shot; the "hike-and-snap" people were not really seeing the scenery.  They were looking for the grand overviews, which in truth were fairly repetitive.  My partner and I were sitting for extended times with the landscape, and therein came the next epiphany; that it was only in sharing that time that the landscape really begins to come to life.  We saw how the rocks and their shadows evoked images of human figures, animals, kachinas, and fantastic hybrid creatures.  We could listen to the rocks, the trees, the birds, the water, and hear something more ancient and more permanent than our puny selves.  I lost my camera, but I found grace, and profound rest.

I believe that it was truly a blessing for me to have forgotten my camera.  Only by losing it could I allow that part of myself that was always looking for that "perfect moment" to die away, and in doing so, allow myself to recognize that every moment is new, and perfect, and graceful.  I will carry many sweet memories of our trip in my heart, in my sketches and paintings, but most of all I will carry the energy of this trip forward in the way I go about life: relaxed in the knowledge that things are simple:  just pay attention, be present, be a witness.