I love how that one curved branch is gathering the others in- a protective gesture of sorts.
Part I of III
There are times throughout a person's life where everything gets to be too much; the confluence of work, family, partners, friends, and the Rest of Our Lives all seem to vie for the bulk of our attention, and we scramble to keep up and maintain. I'm sure that we've all experienced this in some form at least once, no?
Well, what happens to me when these stresses hammer down is that I take what's bothering me, what's going wrong, the words spoken and then winced at later, and hide them. And maybe these Secrets stay hidden forever, or maybe they get purged, but often they are just there and start to act like crabs in a bucket: crawling up on each other's backs to escape, but then pulling each other right back in at the last second: Oh, no. If I'M not getting out, neither are YOU. You stay right here and help make her miserable.
This summer has been less than stellar for me in terms of emptying my bucket. I've felt a constant low-level stress for quite some time, even having a mini breakdown not too long ago. That episode really made me step back and ask some hard questions of myself: What is true about you, Self? What makes you whole? What makes you happy? What do you need to Be Rachel everyday?
Heavy stuff. What's a girl to do?
Get away from it all? YES. A retreat of sorts? YES. A re-connection to the creative Self I once loved and nurtured? YES.
And so I planned a solo camping trip for three days and nights. Me, a tent, a kayak, some art supplies, some running gear, a journal. My destination was Pete's Lake, a campground along Federal Forest Highway 13 in the Hiawatha National Forest; a favorite local trail- Bruno's Run- is adjacent, and there are lovely walk-in sites that are secluded enough to feel like you're really nowhere near anyone else.
Secret #1: I didn't really tell anyone about this plan. Most people were...stunned to hear I was going camping. Alone. In a tent. And not the Public Chicago kind of tent, either. Ain't no Barney's or Nordstrom's where I was heading.
Secret #2: I love the outdoors much more than I've ever let on. In my former life, the types of outdoor activities I enjoyed were not enjoyed by my wasband, and so my pursuits were few and far between.
Part of what I wanted to explore over those days was the things that made me feel complete, the things I enjoy. Many of these things I resisted for sooooo long, mostly because the identity prescribed to me was based on how I had been introduced to people for the past 15, 20, 40 years: Ed & Susan's daughter, Eric & Lisa's sister, Doug & Ann's daughter-in-law, D's wife, Emily & Sadie's mom. Never only "Rachel." That socially constructed identity was one that I clung to as a defense mechanism, it was a wall I had built up as a silent protest in reaction to my own unhappiness. But what made me happy? What made me ME?
And that's another Secret, isn't it? There's a good chance the person you present might not be who you really are. Those people you socialize with, those activities you participate in, those topics of conversation are really only niceties; you are being Polite. The juxtaposition and/or dichotomy of those things with your Self make day-to-day so much more difficult than need be. If only we could listen to Self without the static! If only the static could turn into our own voice of clarity, if it could turn into the broadcast of our Core! My retreat was my attempt to tune in, to return to Self, whatever- or whomever- that was.
I did so much thinking. I thought a lot about secrets and how some things you want to remain secret: good news you're not ready to share, bad news you'd rather forget, sad news you don't want to revisit. No matter how happy or angry or sad you are, and no matter how much your friends promise to keep their mouths shut, some things are better kept to yourself. And sometimes you'll be questioned. And sometimes you'll cave. And other times- too many times, in my case- you'll be the Bigger Person, recognizing the subtle differences between privacy and deception when it comes to secrets.
I thought about how we link secrets to memory. Things like the smell of a lover on your skin, not washed off so you can continue to smile; the sadness of witnessing the life leave someone's body, the helplessness of seeing their vibrancy extinguished like that; the anguish of your own heart breaking for what you thought you had, or hoped could become with enough effort and time; and of course, the secret lives led by people you think you know- bruised egos and hurt feelings and "Well, I never thought"-s over and over again, surprising you even after so many years. All of these secrets we have and hold and use to create an identity for ourselves and others. And the shared secrets others use to create an identity for us!
And so I had to examine my own Secrets and decide which would get dumped out and exposed, and which would be burned in the camp fire. The little wavelets while kayaking rocked a few out of me. My drawings were inspired as much by the natural surroundings as by the frustration and resistance in letting some go. The pine needles underfoot on Bruno's Run cushioned the honest blows to my ego. The camp fire did, indeed, burn a fair share. The rain and my shaken tears washed away many more. And yet some remain.
And so my retreat was underway, my reaffirmation or Return to Self was in motion. Step One was the honest evaluation of what I was holding on to, what secrets were keeping me stuck in limbo despite my best attempts at living in happiness. Do I feel better, closer to knowing and acknowledging my Self, my Core on a daily basis? YES. Do I defer to the need for the walls I've built up to come down? To the truth that keeping certain Secrets will hinder my ability to create intimacy with those I love? YES.
What was next? Well friends, if Step One was surveying, then Step Two can best be described as demolition. Until that story is ready to share, I'll leave you with this:
I left a bit of my heart on the shores of Pete's Lake, that's no secret.