Every Inch

I arrive at the forest on my bike out-of-breath and apprehensive because I didn’t come here just to walk. I came here to look for wisdom. 

Several months ago I sat in these woods on a log by the creek grieving a break-up. On our second date he told me about a platonic friendship with an ex-girlfriend. A few dates later we walked through the neighborhood while I pointed out that they seemed to still be involved. He stopped in the middle of the street, grabbed my hands, looked into me with his fiery eyes and insisted that he was not with her and that he wanted things to work out with us.

I trusted his passion over my own intelligence, but five weeks later he decided to work things out with his ex instead. I blocked his number and came to these woods to be quiet. I felt that if I followed my hurt feelings down to their deepest roots I could free up my attraction to these sorts.

I was the sort of young person you worry about—hunched over in drab clothes two sizes too big, blushing any time words came out of my mouth which they rarely did. I left home with no idea how to make a life for myself and fell into the company of a “natural health” practitioner who believed he was enlightened.

Slight and spry with a head of wavy white hair, he looked the part. He was confident that transcending my emotional issues by eschewing all forms of worldliness was going to be much better for me and my health than actually addressing them.

How does one approach the grief of giving up on oneself for an entire decade just because one has an unsightly ego? Of living for someone else’s truth?

Grief makes no sense, it’s something to wade into with nothing but Kleenex, a journal maybe, and faith. It touches the raw corners of an empty space that feels like it can’t be filled. It shows us the ways we failed to love someone enough and sometimes how we failed to love ourselves at all.

It’s been years since I parted ways with that guru and his path to transcendence but as I wade into this broken-heartedness I see that under everything I do there remains a lingering need to own an infallible truth, to trust in an intelligence more pure than my own.

That’s no fun.

Who I would be if I could oust this compulsion? How would I live? These are the questions I came to the woods to answer today and as I amble through the gold of old maple leaves stuck in brambles along the creek I feel optimistic that this grief, belated as it is, will help me get on with my own adventure, guided by my own imperfect intelligence.

I stop and sketch an odd growth of mossy branches on the forest floor. My sketchbook has been neglected for months because the better my art gets the better I expect it to be. Today I want to draw all the trees and ferns just to be close to the things I love.  

I sketch several tangled and brushy scenes. Then it starts sprinkling rain so I walk south and notice how much more of the neighborhood is visible from the trail now that the leaves are down. I take a new route that brings me onto the road to loop around to the trail on the other side of the creek. Ideas come to me about new bodies of art-work. I try to flush out all the details and notice I’m getting really uptight. I let it go and listen for wisdom as I came here to do.

It’s ok to have goals, but you are always in such a hurry to meet them you often neglect your other needs. Think of goals as paddles instead of a compass. 

It’s good advice. It occurs to me death is the one place we will end up for sure regardless of what beliefs or goals we live with; it’s our most reliable compass point. It’s feels eerie to align to death as a North Star but strangely comforting. She is like a mythic empress who gives me permission to arrive at her dark question mark having worn out every nook and cranny of life guided by nothing but the intelligence of wanting to love every inch of the way there.

I head back to my bike with sketches and painting ideas, less weight on my shoulders and a sense of how to begin.

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