“Excuse Me, I Am Going Out To Find Myself. I Shall Return Shortly’

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The journey

It seems a tired and cliched path, the one you take to find yourself. And when you go ‘travelling’ there is something embarrassing and revealing about the priority of ‘you’ in the face of new cultures, people and geographies. And so, I have avoided writing about my ‘journey’ or else I have side stepped it, unable to write in a way that does not evoke an uneasy toe curling.

When we travel we are making our way through ‘the strange’ (people, places, circumstances) and respond for better or worse. But in daily life we don’t do that, we adapt to the situations we find ourselves in every day, we act and over time we make a mask. The mask is fashioned and painted in such a way that we believe is acceptable to those around us, it keeps us safe and eventually it is so familiar we believe it is who we are. In my current half-life, my mask is not fully formed. This is good.

One thing I currently am is a newspaper scavenger. Guests buy them at the airport on the way here, they lay crumpled in rooms and on transfer day they are abandoned. When I find them at 08:00 on a Sunday morning, already tired from 3 hours of work. It is hard not to plop down on a bed and spread them. One morning I did (banishing guilt) and began reading an article Suzy Greaves had published in the Sunday Times ‘Style’ supplement. She introduced the concept of ‘wilderness therapy’, the physical and emotional journey where you can reconnect with ‘your own true self’ (the one without the masks) using nature as the mediator.

Interesting, especially in relation to ‘the journey’. And in the challenges that she and her interviewees suggested the wilderness presented, I saw the mountain.

“The only obstacle to the mountain is your mind,” a wise man (nee Motor Engineer, Dave) recently wrote. I wondered at his intuition (motor engineers are not widely known for intuition) because then the mountain was one huge obstacle to me. It was excruciating; my legs burned, my neck and head ached from impact after impact, and it was frustrating; inside, the mountain made me rage, I was desperate to let go (give up). And even worse, as I rattled down the piste an awful thought took shape; ‘this is what I am’. Damn the mountain.

This is what I am:

Distrustful of myself: I judder along a lumpy piste or grate down a hard packed slope. The first thought comes: “can I do this?” And then the second, “no”. My legs buckle, I catch an edge or I slip backwards. Whatever, I meet solid ground with an unsuitable part if my body (incidentally, other than feet are any parts suitable?)

…And others. We might go out two of us or five of us in a pack. And we’re all different, what we want to do on a board or skis, what we can do, nobody is more important than another; I believe this when I’m in an objective frame of mind. But when I’m on a slope trying to keep the coloured outfits of my colleagues (friends? on Facebook yes, for good, I’m not sure) in sight. I am terrified I will lose them, they will abandon me. So I bump down the piste, my legs juddering like an Elvis, broken from acceleration and emergency breaking, the rest of me wet or bruised from the last crash. My physical and emotional journey is not taking me anywhere near a true self I am keen to know. Which brings me on…

My boundaries are drawn by fear. Ben Howard tells me this fairly regularly during the imaginatively titled ‘Snowboarding 1’ playlist. But in general I think it is quite natural to be wary of the hard packed snow meeting my padded (in some places) body at speed or the suffocating stuffing and dragging of the deep off-piste drifts that I become planted in. But if I could take away the fear and sprinkle on a little belief I could be bouncing over lumps and untouched snow with a huge smile on my face. I know my mind is the only difference. Thanks Dave.

And, since I began writing this, I have done it. It is typically un-British to celebrate in this way but what the f***…I I love snowboarding. I came here to be a child again, to climb onto my metaphorical skateboard everyday, ask my mates if they’re coming out to play and stay out late. The board has become part of me, for the very impermanent ‘now’, it is what I do. I look down at it smile because it is mine. And somehow I have found that belief in the speed I can go and the small jumps I can land – where belief in everything else remains as fragile as ever – and I have that smile. So with a little pain (currently a stiff knee and bruised coccyx) and some slightly disturbing realisations my wilderness therapy seems to be working.

So ‘huh hmmmm’ (uncomfortable British throat clearing) long may ‘the journey’ continue!

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