Inner Compass

Inner Compass

inner_compass_mandalaOne of the great things about going on road trips is that they can be so refreshing and inspiring – so much so that they can give us a renewed sense of direction in our lives. The stirrings can be so great that we may even feel compelled to stay in this new place we’ve explored. But this may not be necessary, as long as we can take the feeling and memory with us.

That’s the bird’s eye view, or the more philosophical side of road travel. Then there is, of course, the more practical matter of actually getting to the proposed destination. Which can also tell us a lot about ourselves.

For those of us who lack inate, inner directional instincts, the GPS is nothing short of a Godsend. It has become a staple in almost all smart phones now, and even comes with voice instructions. Sweet. This amazing invention has done a lot for our marriage, I can tell you. Brad is thrilled that he no longer has to field panicked phone calls from me. But when we get into the car together,  it’s very clear that we are using the technology differently.

Co-navigating this Thanksgiving roadtrip with my husband (he would laugh at this characterization, by the way) reminded me that Brad is definitely in the visual map camp. Perhaps this skill has been hard-coded into the male DNA from years of reading maps at the wheel while women were tending to other matters. They also say men are more visual when it comes to finding a mate. Although I’m not completely convinced this is a gender thing, though, because there is also the issue of visual, audio and other learning styles.

I’m more of a written instructions kind of girl. Which makes sense, given that I’m a technical writer. East and West means nothing to me, but left and right is something I can understand. Brad says I’m a migratory bird. So you can imagine this made for some interesting moments in the car as we drove from Charlotte to Nashville together.

I would hold his cell and he’d ask, aggressively, “what do I do next?” And I’d say something like, “I don’t know? You like to live on the edge, and I can’t see the next couple of steps.” This is my issue with the map GPS view. It always seems to give the next signal when you are already in the middle of an intersection.

This was so distressing to both of us. The feeling of being lost, even if only for a moment, and not sure where we were going.

Road trips are tough. It’s like you are locked in an airtight capsule together and have to find a way to get out. It’s the stuff team building sessions are made of.  And I hate that kind of thing.

I also envisioned we’d be listening to an endless mix of specially selected tunes from my iPod. That was going to be my contribution to the trip. But Brad preferred to enjoy the quiet while driving. So I created my own little soundtrack to accent the beautiful scenery. We settled in and agreed this worked for us. That’s marriage – the friction, the resolution and the comfortable settling in. But always settling as little as possible in the compromise.

There’s no such thing as absolute quiet in nature anyway. Just as we rarely ever see pure white in the natural world. We just need to look and listen more closely.

Brad reminded me not to forget to look up. When driving in the mountains, this means tree gazing. It’s this constant struggle for balance – how much do we let in, and let out. I’m wired to get my energy from within. And I wanted to get some writing and drawing in on this trip. Even though I packed at the absolute last minute, I remembered to stash my compass in the bag so I could create some mandalas, but forgot my hairbrush. What can I say? I have priorities. Score one for the inner experience –  who cares what it looks like, as long as it feels good inside?

When I was flagged at the security gate in the Fort Lauderdale airport, I could feel Brad rolling his eyes at me. All at once it hit me – the security guard spotted my compass! I explained that I had a compass with a sharp edge in my bag, adding that it was an “expensive one.” He seemed relieved, because he said he thought it was a knife, and let me keep it. Just like a woman to arm herself with an instrument that creates a perfect circle. We are crazy like that.

But getting back to the trees – they are so much more gentle, and a lot less intrusive than people. They are kind to introverts. I didn’t realize how much I had missed them, and the way they make the air cleaner and crisper. Breathing the air in the mountains is like drinking a glass of ice cold water. Really exceptional. Now if you can drink a cold glass of spring water while you are in the mountains, then you really have something.

I had been walking around in a fog since the election, having trouble concentrating and sleeping. And was counting on this trip to pull me out of my funk. But wasn’t sure which technique to employ. Was it possible to smoke out a brain fog by pumping music into the space? Or was it best to just air my head out completely? Inhale or exhale?

The mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee had just undergone their own smokeout. By the time we arrived, the forest fires that threatened to interfere with our travels had mostly subsided. The smoke was subdued, and no more potent than the smell of burning leaves or a campfire. A woodsy smell I have always found comforting.

In an effort to capture the feeling of the road stretched out in front of us, I took a few unsuccessful photos through the dashboard. It occurred to me that I was shooting through at least two windows, if you counted my phone camera. So essentially taking a picture of a picture. This reminded me of the movie The Graduate, which was shot through mostly windows or glass for effect.

Not surprisingly, there were tons of lookout points along the way, conspicuously marked by signs resembling the Instagram logo. And we stopped, often, to enjoy the air, the view and take some photos. I was breathing better than I had in weeks. We couldn’t stop marveling at the cool air. Brad and I compared our pix, and he noted that we were looking at the same exact thing, but framing it differently. Fascinating.

If our different approaches and views are gender-based, it’s worth noting that women have an inner compass, knowing or wisdom we can call upon, for direction, known as our intuition. It may not come in the form of coordinates on a map, but it guides us just the same. And it’s very real. I have taken a lot of flak over the years for “getting lost,” but it has led me to many happy accidents. For every person who inexplicably knows they must go west, there is an intuitive who frequently arrives in the right place at the right time.

We have this gift, but we have to stay connected to it. Sometimes life events can distract us from what we know to be true. But getting back on track can be as simple as asking ourselves how we feel, and why? I don’t feel good – am I hungry, tired or is it something else?

I was all of these things when we set off on our vacation. I was exhausted, dragging myself to the airport after pulling an all-nighter with Brad, who had a release that went until 4 a.m., leaving us with just two hours to sleep. I was hungry for inspiration. And I needed something beautiful to shake the mournful feeling I had been carrying around like an albatross since November 8.

One of the most comforting things I got out of this trip is the knowing that there will always be trees. No matter how many uninformed climate change deniers are among us, trees are stubborn. They have deep roots, and will prevail. In a world where humans are lucky to reach 100 years, and trees can exist for several thousand, I’m banking on trees. Think about it – even the wooden byproducts of trees, like antique furniture, for example, live longer than humans. If we want to lean a little closer to the eternal, we need to spend more time with trees. With all of this said, this intuitive woman needed a tangible reminder to serve as a guidepost to stay on course.

When my directionally-correct husband was ambivalent about visiting the Pretentious Beer & Glass Company, I proceeded with him in tow. How often do you happen upon someone blowing glass? It wasn’t on our guide map or route, but it sounded interesting. And I not only scored a really cool glass paperweight, but also got a tip about visiting the Appalachian Center for  Craft, where they sell local art students’ creations. I knew we needed to go to exit 273, although I couldn’t tell you how to get there.

A fortuitous regional time change occurred somewhere between Knoxville and Smithville, TN, which landed us at the Appalachian Center for Craft with an hour to spare. As expected, it contained the pottery and woodworking the area is known for, along with jewelry, homemade quilts, fabrics and prints. I was immediately drawn to a circle torquoise pendant. But held it in the back of my mind while I perused the rest of the art in the store. When I came back around, it still felt right. It carries enough weight to get my attention, but not enough to bring me down. All of the gifts in the store were one of a kind. But this piece, I felt, was definitely created for me. Some things you just know.

Because we are living in such a raw period of change and uncertainty, it may be even more important to stay focused and continuously reaffirm on who we are, and where we are going. I plan to keep this circular object close to my chest, to remind me of how my breathe felt when I was surrounded by the trees. To echo back that all of life is cyclical, and will always return to its center. And to recall that our clearest directions come from within. jt

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