Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Tenacious Tranquility

Well, it only seems appropriate that this blog's inaugural post would stem from my inaugural camping trip of 2013. I'm starting this blog to help document and reinforce my efforts to move towards a more simple and resourceful life. As I mention in other sections of this blog, spending time in nature and wilderness has been a big catalyst for starting my hippie-trippy journey towards a more meaningful life path (or call it my mid-life crisis journey if you prefer accuracy over poetry.)  This past weekend, my girlfriend, Kendra, and I packed up our gear, loaded our dogs, and spent one of the first beautiful weekends of the year at a nice state park less than an hour's drive from our homes in Nashville.  Due to cold winter weather and busy schedules, we hadn't found the time or energy to get out of the city for months. We needed the respite which became all too clear as I found myself working really, really hard to simply relax.

We often laugh about how tense we get prepping for even a small camping trip. It can be very stressful preparing a weekend of relaxation. Once we arrived, however, things slowed down and the everyday worries of work, graduate school (in Kenrdra's case), paying bills, cleaning house, and other mundane stressors gradually begin to fade. Or, in my case, the worries didn't so much subside as they ebbed and flowed intermittently. Over the weekend we did some hiking and played with our dogs. I played banjo while Kendra traded melodic improvisations with some especially social birds. She cooked a delicious, gourmet meal over campfire coals that was comically difficult to maintain but wholly worth the trouble. As evening set, we pitched our tent just beside a pleasantly babbling creek which lulled us to sleep but also provided glorious inspiration to my full bladder as I awoke from quiet nightmares of epic adventures searching for non-existent bathrooms in my confused dream-logic state. By Sunday morning, my stresses and worries had thankfully ebbed more than flowed (unlike my herculean bladder relief the next morning.) However, they hadn't subsided completely.

With the day coming to an end all too quickly, we broke down camp and loaded the car.  We had about an hour to spare before having to leave our site.   In this last hour, I decided to sit by the brook, clear my head, and simply listen to the calming sounds of the steady creek. I found myself feeling more chill than I had in months and didn't want the moment to end.  That's when my formerly quiet mind began to remind me of all the things I needed to do when I got home - clean the house, prepare food for the work week, work on this blog, etc., etc.  I then noticed that my heartbeat had immediately increased as had my breathing.  All this from just a moment's thought.  All that new-agey business about the interdependence of mind, body, and spirit is just as true as the profit margins people make exploiting those principles with "magic crystals" and other slave-labor produced goods. Anyhow,  I began to think what an absurdly luxury problem I was experiencing.  I'm a white, middle class guy in twenty-first century America. Hell, I don't even have kids. Imagine the racing thoughts of an economically strapped single parent with all the pressures that entails. I found myself sitting in a beautifully pastoral place worrying about nothing because I have the luxury of doing so.

Perhaps our neanderthal forebearers had similar problems. Maybe their creekside leisure time was fretted with worries of berry foraging, vicious animals, and cave maintenance. I somehow doubt it, though. I'm guessing a creek respite was a creek respite, and hunting and gathering time was hunting and gathering time. That being said, I understand that my biological impulses, the foolishly racing heart and quickness of breath, stem from the same biology as a caveman running from a saber-tooth tiger. My fight or flight responses don't know that the stress I experience is created only between my ears, like worrying about my never-ending war with disgusting kitchen floors. So, I've come to realize that our rapid-fire, technology-saturated world, or at least mine, is so distant from my own biology that I must actually learn to work at relaxing.

Whether it's making time to actually chill the hell out and think quietly or having the discipline to simply let those neuroses fly and listen to what is actually bothering me, learning to relax is work.   Good, old-fashioned, diligent work. While it does, indeed, take diligence, I've found it doesn't really involve expending extra energy. That same energy is already expended pushing away those anxieties or hiding from them with one's vice(s) of choice.  In my experience, fighting or hiding from them only results in those anxieties returning with more confidence and power, knowing I'll cower at their first pounce. Slowly, slowly, slowly, though, I'm beginning to learn to tame those paper tigers while realizing they can be just as vicious as the real ones who chased my ancestors through the forest. In the meantime, however, I think I'll start a relaxation spread sheet, chart my optimal chill times, buy a personal planner, set my phone for "relax alerts," do some relevant research at the library…

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