Dear Carrie, Exploring Internal & External Worlds

Dearest Carrie,

I write to you from the plane from Johannesburg, South Africa, to Mahe, Seychelles. Unlike the past half-dozen flights I’ve been on, this one is a “normal sized” plane (Boeing 737), replete with the standard luxuries (and more!) I’m accustomed to while flying. Today, Air Seychelles served us a full meal immediately after boarding (with fish and vegetarian options, no less); supplied everyone with headphones and pillows and personal entertainment units. My mom and I have an empty seat between us, so we’re spread out comfortably; dad’s in the exit row right behind. I’m struck by the fact that I’m more than half-way through my journeys, and have only three more plane flights (of wildly varying lengths–4ish hours to Sri Lanka and Hong Kong, then 13 back to the PNW) left between now and my return to the states.

Speaking of flights: it’s been interesting to observe the differences in airline’s approaches to service. Safair reminded me of traveling across the US in years long past: the flight attendants passed through with hot meals and that familiar resounding question “chicken or beef?” despite our flight being barely two hours long. As a contrast, we flew one budget flight (Cape Town to Botswana) where everything cost a couple bucks–and yes, that even included water. And on all these tiny charter planes that have been whisking us from one safari camp to another, the fact that the plane lands and we’re able to literally board minutes afterward–no showing tickets or passports, the briefest of security briefings shouted by the lone captain over the whirring propellers–makes up for all those intense bumps and as we’re buffered by the winds. (And I can’t help but mention differences in seat size: the tiny propeller planes have generous width but virtually zero legroom; Safair seats were comfy, almost plush, but didn’t recline at all. On this Air Seychelles flight, the seats recline further than any others I’ve witnessed–good news if you’re trying to sleep, terrible news if your friendly neighbor in the seat in front has the same idea.)

I was thinking of you a few days back, when Japan came up in our dialogue, while we were riding in an open-air Jeep, in the scorching heat, somewhere in the middle of the Kalahari Desert. I’m struck by how wild our brains are; how we can exist in one location and, also, traverse beyond all time and location constraints. Perhaps because my pace of life is slower, I’ve been noticing my “dual-duty” mind (which hangs out in the past, present, and future, all at once) regularly while on this trip; marveling at its ability to be right here, right now, and also so far away. I’m in Africa–I’m with you, recounting my stories–I’m in Japan. Where imagination ends and reality begins is sometimes surprisingly blurry, particularly during safari days and nights–when my sleeping and eating schedule was so unusual, and thus my nervous system and body drifted between states with more fluidity than usual.

The place my mind has been going most commonly is back to Portland, to the studio, to the upcoming changes and the huge amount of work that awaits me. I’m delighted to say that I haven’t been finding myself immersed in obsessive thought patterns, but I have at least a handful of moments each day when I begin to think about returning to town and the transition that’s ahead. What ensues is generally some combination of overwhelm (fear), worry (fear), anxiety (fear), and impatience (yes, this too has its origins in fear). Then there’s an added level of frustration that arises: with myself, for being distracted, for having feelings, despite full awareness that aforementioned thoughts and feelings ain’t gonna change or improve the situation at hand, one little bit. Irritation that I can’t simply trust that the work will get done, despite the fact that I currently feel so far from the finish line.

Though there hasn’t been a whole lot of spaciousness on this trip to process (we’ve been traveling to different locations a lot, and immersed in activities, conversations, etc), being away from my normal rhythm has allowed me to be present to myself in a way I’m not usually. One of the things that’s unfolded naturally is an experience of identifying my least favorite feelings; all those things I spent years avoiding through addiction, workaholism, or any other tools I could think of to numb me out. During this process of identification, I’ve been intrigued to find that there are three that seem to show up most frequently:

  1. A sense of too much: too much stimulation (noise, activity, food, etc), too much to do or see.
  2. A trigger surrounding being trapped. Accompanying this is generally an intense experience of being out of control.
  3. The experience of being at the beginning of a big task, and having so much still ahead to accomplish. This rears its head with particular force when I’m not actively engaged in working toward said task (particularly, when this is circumstantial–like, for example, when I’m out of town and therefore have no way to be involved in the physical act of moving out of the studio).

All three of these sensations have been present on a semi-regular basis during the past few weeks of travels. I anticipated this would be the case, though specific triggering situations were obviously impossible to predict. I have such a striking aversion to all of the above, and the resultant feelings and actions (or inactions) that show up as a result. Overwhelm, helplessness, lack of control; future-tripping, anxiety, fear of what’s ahead. And when any of these kick in, my sympathetic nervous system turns on; I fight, flee, freeze, almost automatically.

So there I was: in the heart of Botswana, surrounded by wailing elephants and moaning hippos and lions with deep, guttural roars. And most every experience I had of my nervous system shifting from rest to intense fear has been from situations that exist only in my head. Yes, my heart pounded a bit when that elephant walked so close to us, as we were eating our lunch, that a few more steps would’ve brought its giant feet crashing onto our table spread with food. Yes, I felt a big pitter-patter when we turned a corner, and came upon a gorgeous female lion sunning itself under a tree–no less than 15 feet away. Yes, I felt a moment of fear when I found a gigantic spider inside our mosquito netting, and then another staring at me in the face when I opened the door to our outdoor shower. Yes, I felt my tummy leap and twist on a few particularly rough tiny plane rides. These were all momentary disruptions, from which I was able to calm and soothe with relative ease and speed. But those times when I’ve felt trapped, when I’ve felt like there’s too much to handle, when I’ve felt like I’m standing at the precipice of an exhausting, daunting task, and I can’t do anything about it–that’s when the winning combination of thoughts and feelings lead me to a state of internal disruption that’s hard to shake.

And, the trip goes on. And, amazingly, I seem to be getting through even the things that feel most difficult and most painful; the things I want so badly to avoid. That’s one of the reasons it’s been really powerful for me to be away from my rhythms: to witness that I can get through even the wildest and most turbulent of my inner terrains. The food poisoning was a testament to that, too. I felt like hell. I wanted to do everything in my power to escape from my skin, from my aching joints and my screaming digestive system. And, I made it through. These are all experiences I can’t necessarily reconcile with; such internal anguish, either physically or mentally or emotionally. And yet, despite a lack of reconciliation, I’ve made it through.

When I’m at home, I count on people like you to help me move beyond my pain. And I’m so deeply indebted to you, even while I’m here, because the resources you’ve provided over the years are resources I’ve been able to continue to draw upon. Yes, I’ve done a lot of personal work, and yes, I’m armed with a great set of inner resources. But your support, Carrie, is what has given me such deep trust that it’s worth getting through everything, to begin with. Conversations like you delight me, inspire me, fill me with such deep love and nourishment. Make my life undeniably joyful and worth it, despite all inevitable discomforts. You encourage me to choose LIFE, rather than numbing and disassociation, without having to say or do anything besides be your remarkable, curious, gorgeous, ever-questioning and caring self. Thank you.

All this winding through words, and I didn’t even touch on the topic I meant to share about: music! Please remind me to tell you about reconnecting with the amazing Eugene, and stories we recounted of our Rice years and beyond. So much to share. Thank goodness we’re both rockstars at epic multi-hour phone conversations 🙂

I love you!

PS The cover photo today was taken on the Khwai River in Northern Botswana; a beautiful representation of the fluidity of real vs reflection; reality vs imagination.

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