Through utilizing my ever growing collection of nature based metaphors, I will briefly reflect on my most recent camping road trip adventure.
Nature Based Metaphors and My Life
Nature based metaphors are a powerful tool to use when trying to understand the dynamics and behavior of something potentially intangible. Recently I turned off my cell phone for the weekend and escaped on a camping road trip around NE Washington. My ultimate goal focused on disconnection from the every day hustle. However, now reflecting back on my experience, I realize that I actually longed for a re-connection to nature. And, to highlight the complexity of my internal adventure, I will use nature based metaphors to explore my intense weekend journey. The nature based metaphor themes include: earth, water, wind, heart, and fire.
Nature Based Metaphors: Earth
A few years ago during a therapy training, I learned about the properties of a tree. Specifically, how a tree heals from a scar on the bark. A tree grows with a base, where the growth keeps adding to the top. So, if someone etched their name on a tree, that spot will always be at that height; the etching will not transport to the top of the tree. Comparing this process to emotional healing, like trees, we will also never fully get rid of our own emotional scars. Instead, we aim to heal over the initial wound as a way to foster realistically ideal conditions for growth.
Ultimately, like the tree, our biggest hope is to continue to grow. The scar will never go away from our core base, nor can it be fully protected from further damage. The scar will always be apart of who we are and who we will become. However, with growth, that scar can become a less prominent feature on our overall self. By learning to accept the scar, we can grow, eventually making the scar proportionally that much smaller. And with growth, comes more opportunity to branch out and nourish new aspects of our life, and potentially other life as well.
Prior to my weekend getaway, I believed I mastered the art of moving forward with my growth and already actively welcomed new opportunities to branch out. But, even active and mindful growth can create potentially counterproductive scenarios. The Psychological field refers to this as high functioning dysfunction.
And, for me, my high functioning dysfunction can best be described using a water based metaphor.
Nature Based Metaphors: Water
For so many years I have been moving ever so fluidly like water. If I identify a place to go, I go. And while I have faced various barriers and boundaries, I somehow can find a way to trickle onward. In special circumstances, I may even focus all of my energy and flood an area to push through. I persistently ebb and flow within my environment to continue my ever changing journey. And in moments when the environment feels too cold, I will become increasingly stoic and freeze. Alternatively, if I move too much, I willingly lose my concentration and transition to occupy any available space.
Like water, I resist stillness. Prior to this trip, I knew that being still could allow me to more fully examine everything within the water. This includes finally exposing what may be buried within potential murky waters.
Calming to Stillness
In past attempts of calming to stillness, I welcomed any distraction. I heavily relied on productive procrastination to ripple my energy away from allowing pure reflection. I have had moments where the water slowed, but I struggled allowing the water to fully stop. And without this reflection, I evaded any mirroring back to the world with how I felt. I preferred to be slippery and evasive with expressing feelings.
Though I have tried, I have never allowed myself the space to completely stop as a way comprehended my long and winding journey thus far. However, during my recent camping road trip, I allowed my inner self to be still. And, for the first time in my adult life that I can recall, I experienced inner peace.
Nature Based Metaphors: Wind
Achieving inner peace and stillness has been an ongoing challenge for me. And though I went into my camping road trip with mindfulness, I did have to face some unplanned, though predictable elements.
With regards to water, one factor that can easily disrupt stillness is wind. Wind can range to a pleasant and welcoming cool breeze on a hot summer day, to a destructive hurricane, tornado and/or tsunami. Wind is created when there are two opposing hot and cold pressure systems as a way to fight through and achieve an equilibrium.
Similar to being sheltered from the wind, humans have developed a handy coping mechanism to avoid navigating a potentially endless internal storm. When the human brain is faced with two or more powerful opposing thoughts, ideas, and/or feelings, survival may be dependent on simply avoiding the pending storm. And we do this through a process called cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance can be a beneficial and useful process. Sometimes we need some time and/or a safe space to examine, understand, and resolve cognitive dissonance. However, all coping mechanisms have the potential to be used to the point of dysfunction. When a human brain has to consistently hold onto, yet avoid acknowledging so many opposing views, the potential internal storm only increases. And like a big imposing storm on the horizon, avoidance can create noticeable symptoms as the storm approaches.
During my camping road trip, I faced both literal and metaphorical wind that terrified me.
Finding a Campsite
We planned the camping road trip with only general directions in mind. Our campsites each night were determined simply by following back roads and setting up camp on whatever area seemed viable. Neither I nor my adventuring companion had much familiarity with NE Washington. So, on our fast approaching first camp night, we found a spot and began to set up our first ever campsite that we would share.
And right as we finished setting up our tent in the mountains, with night soon upon us, a strong wind storm started.
Now, I identify as a mindful adventurer up for braving the elements. But, given that my brain was already starting to sift through it’s own wind storm, I quickly reached a point of panic. As I sat in the tent, with the rain flap loudly flapping in the wind, I filled with noticeable fear. The impending storm on the horizon looked intimidating with a definite rain storm and potential thunderstorm. And being that this was our first point of stillness on the trip, the wind storm quickly became too much for me to face all at once.
My adventuring companion, noticing my barely maintained composure, agreed to quickly take down our campsite and re-evaluate back at the car. We worked together taking down our campsite seamlessly well, as if we had rehearsed the routine many times over.
As we finished packing the car, we noticed the unexpected calmness and stillness around the car. Instead of quickly making our next move, we allowed time and space to relax. And drink a beer.
Reflecting back on our original campsite we were mostly focused on the amazing view, which also meant that we were in a very exposed area. At the time of setting up the campsite, we did not notice any wind. My fear of staying in that spot was the potential for more wind throughout the night.
Sometimes it’s better to acknowledge limits and not push for a seemingly idealistic scenario. And sometimes the idealistic scenario may be too much to handle, may expose too many vulnerabilities, or may be out of sync with current and realistic needs. The important thing to do is acknowledge and accept, learn from the situation, reassess the original motivations, and update the overall plan. Additionally, remember to foster hope for alternative options, and not simply give up.
Finding Another Campsite, Sheltered from the Wind
The storm eventually passed. Now, with the almost full moon out in a clearing night sky, and with our beer bottles empty, we re-evaluated our camping situation. We couldn’t drive to an actual campsite because of the snow blocking our way, the nearest hotel was over 45 minutes away, and alternative camping sites in our current terrain were hard to find.
We re-examined the less desirable potential camping site we found closer to the car. Initially we dismissed this site for the lack of view and high levels of brush. But, upon further assessment, we found that this new site also came with a fire pit and some firewood. Sometimes by taking the time to observe a seemingly less than desirable situation a little more clearly, more comforting resources may be available to get through a challenging time.
Not wanting to give up on our overall camping adventure, we set up our campsite again. This time with less wind, a clear night sky, and a warm fire.
Facing My Internal Wind Storm
Though the external wind ceased for the night, I still faced a night filled with my own internal storm. I purposefully waited for my adventuring companion to sleep before I experienced the wholeness of the storm. During this time I realized how much colder the air became as my sleeping bag, rated for temperatures no lower than 35°F, did not keep me warm at all.
The powerful opposing forces for my internal storm quickly became inter-meshed and indiscernible. Quite awake, I faced a long and cold uncomfortable night. As I shivered in my sleeping bag, I allowed my inner emotional storm to play out once again. And, for once, I no longer focused on the content contained within the storm clouds, but rather maintaining my inner stillness and peace.
The feelings I experienced were comparable to almost having a full panic attack, or almost needing to hysterically cry, but not quite fully reaching either. And, unlike any other previous attempts, I didn’t verbally push the intensity of feelings with ever consuming racing thoughts. I also did not focus on how I thought I should feel.
I allowed my internal storm to be non-verbal and not self-directed. With my thoughts silenced, I peacefully drifted in a storm of complex feelings. And soon after, embracing my inner stillness, I slept.
Nature Based Metaphors: Heart
The next morning I woke from a dream where I had to choose to either go swimming or run a race. Once awake, I realized my body needed to move as I was still cold. My adventuring companion seemed to be soundly asleep, so I decided to go hike to the top of the mountain alone.
As I made my way up the mountain with my body warming up, I realized I had to go to the bathroom. To more than just pee. While I’ve never been opposed to pooping outdoors, the opportunity had yet to present itself. The day before I had talked with my adventuring companion about this lack of experience. I soon thereafter learned about the 7 D’s of Outdoor Defecating. The 7 D’s of include: desire, distance, dig, do it, deal with it, disguise it, and disinfect.
Well, I went to the top of the isolated mountain, found a lovely view next to a waterfall, and did the deed. The actual act of pooping outdoors did not feel incredibly life changing. But, as I walked down the hill, something shifted within me. Emotionally.
Reuniting with Joy
Only in the past few years have I reconnected with my ability to experience joy, usually in tiny glimpses. After my tumultuous wind storm of a night, I had reached a new equilibrium. Quite unexpectedly, as I walked back down to the campsite, my whole being filled with joy. I still cannot recall the last time I experienced such an overwhelming level of internal joy.
While I have done my best to emotionally nourish myself in my adult life, I had yet to find the right way to process the nutrition and release the waste products. For a long time I heavily relied on comfort ‘junk food’ to satiate my emotional needs. Somehow by letting go and releasing the built up excrement within me, I allowed for more space to be filled with joy.
As the morning continued on, my level of joy only increased. I reminisced that the last time I had been so joyous and present was as a kid swinging on my swing set.
Looking out at the world as an adult with the same child eyes, I continued to drift away from a verbal brain and mindfully experienced the present moment. I nourished myself on my favorite delicious childhood meal of wonderment and curiosity. My emotional self, which had been protected for so many years, finally felt present, full, and healthy.
Nature Based Metaphors: Fire
While setting up our second camp site for the night, now motivated by my flourishing inner wonderment and curiosity, I requested to oversee the fire duties. I helped collect the wood, arranged the wood, and started the fire.
Starting the fire felt incredibly powerful. While I have been around many camp fires, I have never seized the opportunity to actually start a camp fire.
As the fire burned brightly that night, I kept the camp fire going for many, many hours. I regularly searched for more wood, broke it down, and placed it on the fire. My inner child danced with glee and soon my soul caught on fire. My inner fire goddess burned brightly that night.
Passion and Inspiration
Wanting to capture this powerful fire metaphor, which culminated my entire camping road trip experience, I spent some time on our last morning of the trip in a deep meditation. I internalized the significance of how powerful a small spark can be. With the right resources, the right motivation, and the right fuel I could maintain the light and heat on my own. If I looked hard enough, even in the dark, I could find the tools necessary to continue and potentially grow that small spark for as long as I wanted.
Like fire, passion and inspiration naturally want to consume whatever it can. Even though a fire has the potential get out of control and become dangerous, a well maintained fire can be powerful and beneficial. Sometimes the fire may burn brightly, and sometimes the fire may be incredibly smoky that could result in tears. Either way, I have many choices with how to start the fire, where I start a fire, who I allow to help with the fire, and with what I use to sustain the fire.
But, most importantly, I alone can start a fire.
Just Simply Alice’s Re-connection
I felt comfortable and safe with my knowledgeable adventuring companion. I appropriately distanced myself from my usual role of actively planning everything so I could challenge myself to be fully present. And while my adventuring companion may have been unaware as to the depths of my process, I greatly appreciate the healing space provided. Our camping road trip was quite a unique opportunity unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Exposed to the natural elements I challenged my mind, body, and spirit beyond levels artificially achieved in a modern day world. I embraced the chance to thrive in a simplified surrounding to re-calibrate a new equilibrium.
Since this trip, my life has shifted already in a few significant ways, one of which is being able to once again deeply meditate. My hope, and daily struggle, is to continue to maintain and foster this growth.
Overall, I learned many important lessons during my short weekend camping road trip adventure in NW Washington. Initially I assumed that my motivation for this trip would be to disconnect from the hustle of every day life. However, now I recognize I needed to make a pilgrimage back to my primitive roots and visit my ancestral home. Through this trek I re-integrated the long since separated sides of my mind, body and spirit.
And, ultimately, by re-connecting with nature, I re-connected with myself.
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