Life’s been too busy the past few days. I had to cram a week’s work into three days, and then did some serious road tripping – sixteen hundred miles into a couple of days. I left in snow, hit top-down weather with the windows down, and then reversed the process. By the time I hit my bed in my own house last night, falling asleep was simply a matter of shutting my eyes.
Nine hours of shut-eye later, I am back to my routine. (sort of). I am sitting at my favorite diner polishing my sermon for tomorrow. Country rock from the seventies and eighties is playing on the stereo. A country fried chicken steak is frying up for my gobbling.
I love road trips. If it is possible, I’d rather drive than fly most any day. So if it’s within 12 hours, I’m generally driving instead of flying.
I like the disconnect. No (or few) phone calls from clients or parishioners. No email. No people reaching out by the half a dozen different ways we connect in today’s internet connected world.
Often I play music, but more often than not, I don’t. I just drive. I enjoy the “just beingness” of interstate travel, or long stretches of country roads. Me. The car. The road. Ahhhh.
Not everyone likes that disconnectedness. A lot of us are uncomfortable with too much silence. We check our phones constantly. We squirm when conversation dries up. We fill the silence with radio or TV or surfing the net. We haven’t learned to turn our minds off and let our emotions settle in for a stay. I am just the opposite.
My feelings get lost. I grew up in a family (or at least had a father) that did not talk about feelings. I am not sure why. My parents were not heartless people. Far from it. But the expression of feelings did not come easily. I caught some flack along the way for being too expressive, too emotional. It was weakness, my father told me again and again as I grew up.
It was not until the last few years of his life that he told me where that came from. Evidently, he had been bullied in his rural school for wearing his feelings on his sleeve. In self-protection, he shut them off. And what I saw as bullying me for my own expressiveness turned out to be his attempt to protect me from a world that beat up on sensitive young men.
Good intentions. Bad methods. I realize now that I was somewhat stunted emotionally for a long time. I felt, but because I grew up thinking it was a bad thing to feel and share those feelings it became harder and harder for me to express, and eventually, to even identify my own heart.
We never know what good, or what damage we are doing.
In places, that has served me well. In times of family stress, like funerals, I could be calm, collected, fully functional. The fullness of grief would not hit me until later. When I had to speak in front of groups, something I now do easily, I was always fine. The nerves did not hit me until afterward. I am a good man in a crisis. I am a mess afterward.
There’s a price to pay for stuffing though, even if it is not intentional. Internal pressure builds. At times, anger builds like water rising over a dam. You don’t tell the people who are important to you how important they are. I even had trouble telling someone how nice they looked the day they looked nice. I would tell them the day after.
Kinda sucked. And, I realized, it kinda sucked for the people who cared about me.
Poetry became my first real foray into letting things out in a safe way. It still serves that purpose. I generally sit down each morning and ask myself “What am I feeling?”
You probably never have to ask that question, but it is not one that I automatically know. I have to stop, disconnect, and open myself to my own feelings. When life gets busy, and I don’t have that disconnect time, my feelings back up like a bad toilet and twice as toxic. (how’s that for a metaphor? Ugly, but more apt than I would like it to be.)
I learned this not because I am the least bit smart or wise, but because I’ve had a couple of good therapists who picked me apart and helped me see and understand myself better and what to do about it.
Part of my solution is disconnecting. Stopping. Being. Consciously (or mindfully in today’s jargon) listening to my heart. Shutting my mind off because my mind lies to me more than my heart does. Every day is a day of discovery. And a day away from the world is like an emotional purge. All the backed up stuff falls into place, and the unimportant stuff flies away like so much chaff. I get re-centered.
And so, I got to the beach and sit. I walk the quarry or train trails near my house. I sit on my porch in silence. Or I drive 1600 miles in two days. The trash of life falls away. The good stuff remains. Life becomes clearer, not as a collection of things to do, but things to savor.
I came home. I spent time with my wife. She was more beautiful than normal. Curling up to her was warmer than normal. I pet my cat with a fresh appreciation of her affection. I sipped a glass of wine, savoring it. And I slept like a child, hard, deep and long.
For some, that drive would be torture. For me, it’s good medicine.
Be well. Travel wisely,