Take what you find and create something meaningful, write a message on the sandy shore,
leave part of your heart there, and yet take back a heart full of joy.
Part II of III
I am a list maker. I love making a To Do list, or a Top 10 list, or a goals list. I love the orderly way the items sit there on the page, each one waiting patiently to be completed and crossed off or read aloud and contemplated in conversation. I love the way that the single items merge to create one new, singular item. As the Queen of Procrastination Nation, it is indeed an achievement when I am finished with a list.
So as I was getting ready for my retreat (go here and here), of course I made a list. Actually, I made four lists: vacation plans, campgrounds, camping supplies, and people. Solo camping trip, though, right? The names on that last list were for meditations and prayers: twelve names, including my own. And so-
Once I got to the campsite, I really tried to let go of my regular routines. After all, that's partly what this retreat was about, wasn't it? Letting go of long-held habits and beliefs and identities? YES. I soon found out that my proclivity for list making was something I would not be able to abandon.
I made mental lists of where things should go (the tent there, the firewood there, kayak there, backpack there). I made lists of all the ways I wanted to enjoy nature (kayak daily, swim, run Bruno's Run trail, explore the far shore of the lake). I made lists of what I wanted to accomplish creatively (read one book, meditate daily, complete at least three drawings, free write in my journal). I made lists of what to eat and drink (oatmeal and coffee for breakfast, eggs for lunch, trail mix whenever, potatoes and beer for dinner).
And then, like all best-laid plans, my lists got pushed aside by the internal work I ended up doing, the challenging of myself to tear down my Self to the bare studs and get rid of the Secrets that were weakening my foundation. Damn. Damndamndamndamndamn.
All of a sudden, nothing was going as planned. It was the first full day and I was deeper into my demolition much sooner than I expected. The early morning rain dampened me, figuratively and literally. By late morning, though, the rain had stopped, but my center was lost. A run on the trail helped clear my mind some. A paddle around the lake helped me focus a bit more. Food. A fire.
And then the stars came out.
It was one of those nights where you first look up in the sky and see only a few stars, only the major constellations, perhaps: Ursa Major and Minor, Sagittarius. And then you stoke the fire and look up again, and there are more stars than before. Take a drink of your beer, and there are more stars. Each time you look, the spaces between stars are filled in with more stars, and the sky is filled with bright star clouds.
And then you see a shooting star. And then another. And another. You will see five in all, and after each one you'll say out loud: "Oh! Did you see that?!" or "Oh God, _______. I hope you saw that one." And you'll catch yourself smiling and crying at the same time.
Once I was certain the shooting stars were done with their show and the fire was only embers, I made my way to my tent for the night. And then the rains came again. And I quickly made another list of what was still outside and where: my beach towel, my life jacket, my coffee cup, my kayak and paddle. And then I held up the lantern inside my tent and inventoried more: my quilt made from race t-shirts, my Escanaba Eskymos sweatshirt, my Starbucks Via coffee packets for the morning, my bird wing necklace.
And then I stopped. And I thought: these things, they are what helps define me, they forge my Core Identity, not the socially constructed one. The individual elements of what I brought with me are tangible symbols of my journey, of my Life So Far. They've helped shape me and helped define who I am and what I need and what I can offer.
The tent and its somber colors, used once previously on an ill-fated camping trip with the wasband. The coffee cup, a gift from one of the girls I mentored. The coffee packets, a last-minute add-in from my training partner. The towel, bought on an excursion with a trusted confidant. The life jacket, borrowed from another lifetime. The sweatshirt, an advertisement for my newly embraced home. My necklace, a gift- an urging, really- from a friend wanting me to fly. My quilt, stitched from race t-shirts, all journeys taken before now, all a search for a challenge, all a reminder of my daily struggles on that date. The campsite itself, even. The place, the trail, the solitude, gifted to me by Fate in more ways than one.
What to call these things? What is the heading on this list? Mementos? Touchstones? Souvenirs? Talismans?
totem (noun)- an object or representation of such an object serving as a distinctive mark or symbol.
These items made up my totem, representative of the people and related experiences that helped me define Self, helped sharpen the focus on my True Identity- not the socially constructed one that up until this point, I'd simultaneously fed into and fended off. These items were a Visual List.
I was content with this revelation, laying in the tent, listening to the rain hush through the trees. My mind began to wander again and I began to dream in images of these items, stacked one on top of the other, bringing a message to the viewer. Did they serve as a warning or a welcome? Which did I want it to be? What was the approach?
That demolition, that nakedness, that discovery could only lead me to a place where I could rebuild. My foundation was stronger now, and my next list would consist of what I had left, what I was willing to pick up and embrace, and what I wanted to incorporate. What kind of story did I want to tell?
I fell asleep with my thoughts wandering further, asking what our stories reveal about Self. I had already learned about telling stories to myself, betraying my own confidences. Was it keeping secrets, or omitting the truth? How much do semantics matter? What is the lesson? We listen to reason and don't repeat mistakes and sometimes still fail to grow. It comes back to Balance and figuring out what works best for all of the Loves of Your Life, Self first.
Until next time, friends.