Saturday, June 2, 2007

Lost in the woods

In January I spent a week by myself in one of my very favourite places, Tofino, B.C. Tofino is one of those beautiful places where sea and air and land meet and nature infuses every cell with its glorious song of freedom. Against a backdrop of towering pines bending in the wind, black rock and miles of sandy beach, Tofino invites you to kick back, relax, flow into island time and fill your senses with nature's beauty. Standing on the edge of the land where Tofino sits, there is nothing between you and China except miles and miles of ocean. I love Tofino!

My week there was spent walking the beaches and forest, strolling through the town, sitting in front of a roaring fire sipping wine and writing and reading. It was a glorious time with just myself as company.

One night I walked down from the hotel to the beach. It was dark. A sliver of a moon hung suspended in the sky. The blanket of night was scattered with glittering stars. I walked along the beach, the white foamy waves crashing beside me, the lacy tendrils of their fingers sliding along the sand, racing towards me then pulling back into the waters before slipping beneath ths surface. My thoughts floated through my mind, soaring up into the night. I felt so alive! Every sense awakened. Every fibre of my body soothed by the sensuous velvety night that enveloped me.

The beach I walked on was about a mile long. I walked and walked, the salt kissed air cool against my cheeks, the sounds and silvery sights of the night a sibilant whisper in my ears. Eventually, I decided I had to get back to the hotel. I turned around and started making my way towards the trail I'd taken through the woods to get to the beach. Unfortunately, the flashlight I had had the good sense to bring along, chose that point in time to extinguish itself. I was in the dark.

Tucked into a little cove strewn with waterlogged logs and rocks, the trail down to the beach was not visible in the dark. Rather than risk clambering over the slippery logs and rocks, I decided to retrace my steps back to a staircase that led up from the beach to the high tide trail. It was easy to find the staircase, but finding the trail amidst the low hanging branches of the trees that cast eerie shadows in the night was not so easy. I became lost.

Behind me, I could hear the waves crashing, but couldn't see the path back towards them through the dense forest. Fortunately, the staircase I'd taken up from the beach led me into a camping area with a wide trail and roadway -- challenge was, the smaller spaces of the camp sites looped off the road in bigger and bigger concentric loops, each one leading back into itself. Finding the right road to take me to the main road leading back to my hotel was a challenge!

At one point as I searched for egress from the woods, every shadow I saw became a lurking predator -- man or beast I wasn't sure! Bears and cougars roam these woods, and I was pretty sure men did too! Inside my body my heart began to pound, my thinking started triggering, faster and faster. Short sharp staccato thoughts beating themselves into my head of what might happen if I came upon an assailant lurking in the woods. In fact, my mind immediately jumped to Conrad, the man who had once jumped out of the bushes in the dark in an attempt to accost me (he's the conman I was involved with who, while on parole jumped me one night-- my book The Dandelion Spirit tells the story). In the dark, lost in the woods, my mind was running rampant as I frantically searched for an escape from the trees that seemed to be leaning down, their towering tops dipping closer and closer to my running figure.

The panic inside began to rise. I tripped on an exposed root of a tree and stopped. I had to find my sense of balance once again. Surrounded by towering trees, the night black and silky, I cried in the middle of the woods, took a breath and reminded myself to Calm Down. Breathe. In. Out. In. Out. I consciously moved my mind into calming thoughts. I reminded myself I was finding my way back to the hotel, not deeper into the woods. I reminded myself I could do this as long as I stayed calm. Slowly, my pulse quit racing, my mind quit sparking terror through every vein and I began to consciously find my way back to my hotel.

When I eventually made it back (it took about half an hour) I felt, for the first time during my week of blissful solitude, lonely. I had no one to tell about my almost mis-adventure. I had no one to share my lost in the woods story with. No one to help me laugh at myself as the reality of 'wow, it could have been worse but look what it wasn't' sank in.

My almost mis-adventure in the woods was a great opportunity for me to stop, feel, listen to all my senses. As panic began to ride in, I had to stop myself from rising to its call so that I could calmly, rationally find my way back.

Sometimes in life, we lose our way. When we panic, close off from our thinking, shut down our feelings, we risk becoming lost in the belief that 'out there' is a scary world so, we tell ourselves, it's best to stay locked inside our heads.

For me, in here, inside my mind is where the terror often lurks. In my head that night in the woods, every bush, every log was a predator lying in wait. Every whisper of a tree, hoot of an owl, snap of a twig beneath my feet was one breath away from a figure leaping out of the night. Because I had already had one experience of a dark clothed figure jumping out of the dark towards me, my mind had a concrete visual image to attach itself to. Real or imagined, that night in the woods, the past came alive as I stumbled to find my way.

In the end, I was safe. Not because of the panic, but because I decided to let the panic subside, to not give into its intoxicating pull and sink into feelings of helplessness, fear and alarm. I made my way calmly back to the hotel because I knew that I was lost -- it was up to me to find my way home again.

So often in life, I haven't faced the reality of where I was and ended up losing myself in my belief that what I imagined was real. Without the truth to guide me, I became lost in the lie that I was okay.

I wasn't.

I was lost that night in the woods. I was scared. I was fearful. Regardless of my emotions, however, it was essential that I remain calm in order to find my way. In fear, I was doing nothing but looping back, around and around, on the darkened trails continuously finding myself back at the beginning, not thinking about the trails I was taking and where they would lead me but focussing instead on the fear rising in my head.

Ain't that just like life! There are a thousand paths we can take, but the one we most prefer is the one we've already walked -- even if it takes us back to where we began, we still prefer it to venturing onto new paths to take us to where we want to be.

If I had kept taking the same old path in the woods, I'd still be stuck trying to find my way! Okay, eventually someone would have noticed I was missing, but in my panic I wouldn't be thinking about finding my way out of the woods, I'd be thinking about my fear of what was in the woods waiting to get me.

A friend once said to me, Louise, the most dangerous place for you to be is lost in your head, alone in the dark! Ouch! While I didn't think that was very nice of him -- he's right! Lost in my head is dangerous. Thoughtful, conscious living is important.

That night I was lost in the woods I got out of my own way so that I didn't stay lost in my head continuously looping back on myself. I got conscious and found my way through the dark back to where I belonged.

Have a great day taking new paths leading you to where you want to be as you consciously create the paths that will take you to where you're going.


Maine Artist said...

Lovely writings, M.L.! Thank you so much for sharing them. I painted my way out of my dark places, learning not to fear those spaces separating the light from the dark, right from wrong, the known from the unknown. Now I find great comfort in the natural beauty that surrounds me here on the coast of Maine, and share this experience of the world with others through my paintings. L.

M.L. Gallagher said...

What a beautiful note -- thanks Maine artist! I love the analogy of painting your way out of dark places -- very beautiful. Have an awesome day. Paint it bright! ML