I embrace my desire to
feel the rhythm, to feel connected
enough to step aside and weep like a widow
to feel inspired, to fathom the power,
to witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain,
to swing on the spiral, to swing on the spiral,
to swing on the spiral of our divinity and still be a human
When I awoke the next morning, I had a breakfast of canned pears and a Clif bar before loading up my small backpack and setting out towards the canyon rim. Instead of going directly north like I had the day before, I took an unfamiliar forested trail- a longer and circuitous route going northwest towards Bright Angel Lodge. I walked slowly, mind quiet, breathing in pine with every breath, a calm smile on my face. Echoing through the trees was a steady rhythm of tick tack tick from dozens of tiny, chubby birds cracking their breakfast seeds against the trees.
I looked up, the forest around me reaching ever upwards towards the bright blue sky and the freshly-risen sun. Grinning, I raised my arms in kind as I walked, feeling the quiet energies of life spiral around me in warm, ethereal ribbons.
Eventually I reached the lodge on the canyon rim near the Bright Angel trailhead- the most popular route down into the Grand Canyon. Here, crowds of tourists milled about, though I hardly noticed them. When the Canyon herself came into my view, I felt tears welling up as they always do when I gaze upon her. I walked to a ledge a few hundred yards east of the rimside ice cream shop, and gazed out at the incomprehensible beauty laid before me. I knew this particular perspective very well- for it was here, standing on this exact spot a month earlier, where the Grand Canyon inspired me to start my journey. As I traced the familiar contours and colors of the Shiva temple rising from the Canyon’s depths, I thought back to the family vacation I had taken the previous month, where everything had finally begun.
I had left my job back at the end of June, having finally achieved a savings goal I’d been striving for relentlessly. At the time I had no idea what I was going to do after quitting- all I knew for sure was that it was time to do something big. I was rife with anxiety about what that meant, but held a deep hope that I would find an answer on my family’s upcoming summer vacation. This year, we were going to Sedona, Arizona- a spiritual place if there ever was one. There, among the red-rock cathedrals, I planned to seek out my life’s next direction. In the meantime, I waited impatiently.
The day of the trip finally arrived, and after a long and boisterous family car ride, we arrived in Sedona- a city of roundabouts, pink jeeps, new-age shops, and supposed energy vortexes. It’s an incredibly beautiful place, a paradise of red and green in the Coconino National Forest of north-central Arizona. And regardless of how you feel about the proliferation of psychic parlors and crystal shops, there is a distinct energy to the area.
Shortly after arrival, I was immediately on the lookout for a good place to ask the Universe my question. I left the lodge and started exploring, and was drawn to a yurt-shaped structure back from the main road. As I got closer I noticed two large assemblages of stones arranged deliberately on the ground nearby. I ignored the yurt and examined the stones. The first design was a Native American medicine wheel, a large circle of rocks bisected by two lines at 90 degree angles, with a smaller ring of stones near the center.
The second design at first appeared to be a maze, but closer examination revealed it was a single winding path lazily bending towards the center and a small shrine. I read a nearby information board and learned that I was looking at a “walking labyrinth”, an ancient spiritual symbol and tool.
This looks promising, I thought. A walking labyrinth represents the journey into our own center and out again into the world. You enter it with the intention to move within yourself, to seek peace or guidance, going deeper towards the core of your being as the path slowly guides you to the center of the labyrinth. There, you express your intention through a prayer or meditation or a question, sitting quietly with yourself. Once your meditation is done, you walk the same path outward, releasing your intention to the Universe as you weave your way back to the labyrinth’s exit and the physical world.
I had to try it.
I stepped up to a break in the stone ring encompassing the labyrinth and closed my eyes, focusing on the question I would ask. It was a question I’ve had entrenched deep within me for as long as I can remember, a question I’ve spent many long years agonizing over, a question I was even embarrassed to have.
Holding the question in my awareness, I sighed, relaxed my shoulders, and began walking the labyrinth. I moved slowly, paying no mind to the path ahead or the path behind, simply taking each step and focusing ever more deeply on the question. The world outside the labyrinth began to fade away. I turned with the gentles weaves of the path. The voices of a family looking at the medicine wheel became meaningless sounds- then, silence. The lodge nearby dissolved into simple shapes before disappearing completely. As I reached the center, I felt only my question and a fuzzy vibration just beyond the hairs on my arm. I sat cross-legged before the shrine, closing my eyes.
Silently, fervently, I released my secret question to the Universe:
“What the hell am I supposed to do with my life?”
I imagined the words leaving my heart and spreading out in all directions, watching them dissolve into the underlying tapestry of existence. For the next several moments I endured a stream of doubts bubbling up from a corner of my mind:
What are you expecting to happen? What if this doesn’t work? What if all of this is in your head? These kinds of thoughts have always arisen when I try something like this, but I’d gotten results so many times that, thankfully, they were only a minor distraction.
Soon, I felt a concept coalescing around me, like a fine mist rapidly condensing into an idea, like grains of sand coming together to create a discernible structure.
Then, a voice, which seemed to speak from outside me and within me simultaneously:
“Do what you want, Adam,” the voice said.
I opened my eyes in surprise before quickly squeezing them shut again. What? Is that it?
“Yes,” the voice immediately replied in its coalescing-concept-cloud way.
Well, fine then! I thought back in an amused annoyance. I did feel the Truth in the answer and greatly appreciated it, even though it wasn’t as specific as I would have liked. I sighed.
I’d have to plumb out the meaning on my own.
I reflected on the unexpected nature of the answer as it echoed in my head: “Do what you want, Adam.”
Okay, so if I haven’t been doing what I want, I thought, then what have I been doing? Have I been doing what others want for themselves, searching for happiness through mimicry of seemingly happy people? Perhaps on the surface, but I’d been quite aware of myself playing society’s roles for the sake of income and survival, and I didn’t personally identify with it. I shook my head. The Truth was deeper still.
No, I thought, maybe I’ve been doing what others want me to do for myself, the things they think I need to do to find personal happiness. Trying to align myself with what my loved ones believe is ‘best’ for me. No- closer, but not quite it, not just yet. This is just a justification- another layer obscuring my inner reality.
Peel it back. Be brave. Peer a little deeper. Another unfolding.
No- I’ve been doing what I think others want me to do… so that they won’t leave me. I’ve been guessing at what the people I love and respect might require of me to ensure their continued love for me. My spine became an iron rod, an electric tingle coursed through my body. All the while I’ve been pining over the fact that I don’t live up to my own imaginings of their imaginings of me, and… and that it’s only a matter of time before they see right through me to the unlovable thing that I am.
My eyes snapped open. That was it- the core Truth of the experience, buried beneath layers of thought and interpretation, suddenly unearthed and painfully obvious.
When I got right down to it, I really wasn’t doing what I wanted with my life. I’d been performing roles to earn and sustain the affection and approval of my family and friends, but not for them. It was for myself– to give myself ammunition to use against my inner voice when it told me I was a creature beyond love.
My lifelong effort to please people, this whole time, had been nothing but gathering weapons to use in my own internal war against myself.
I searched my pockets for some trinket to add to the shrine in thanks, but all I had on me was a pack of cigarettes. Smiling, I removed one and broke it apart, rolling it between my fingers to coax out a small mound of tobacco, leaving that as my offering. I solemnly thanked the Universe for bringing me to that place at that time, for answering my question and guiding me to its meaning. I stood, and began making my way out of the labyrinth by the same twisting path I had taken in. As I walked, weaving outward, the voices of the nearby chattering family became audible once again. The lodge slowly shimmered back into existence. The outside world returned, and seemed to welcome me as I stepped out of the labyrinth. I turned, smiling at the stone spirals, and nodded appreciatively before resuming my rambling walk.
Well, that was great advice and all, Universe, I thought. Mad props for the sick epiphany, I deeply appreciate it- but now that I’ve seen and understood my old, erroneous motivations, now that that old way is dissolving in the light of awareness, now that I understand what you meant by “Do what you want,” I’m left with an even more difficult question:
What the hell do I want?
I’d asked myself that question a hundred times over the years, and whenever I did, I experienced the sensation of a vast white space within, like an infinitely massive blank sheet of paper. An empty soul-canvas, the blank book of my life, promising unlimited potential- and yet I couldn’t bring myself to paint it. In fact, I didn’t dare touch it. Instinctively, a part of me knew that the things I would paint wouldn’t be me. I wanted so much to create my masterpiece, yet I dared not paint something untrue onto my character, and I never understood where the disconnect was.
Now, the untouchable soul-canvas made perfect sense. I couldn’t paint it because the things I would have painted back then would have been crudely-drawn attempts at creating a person who would be loved by others for the face he presented instead of who he truly was. I couldn’t paint it because my deeper self knew that I was still holding the belief that I was an unlovable pariah. My deeper self knew I was still under the ego’s control. Such a self-doubting hand- enslaved to the desire for admiration from others, enslaved to a neurotic fear of being unloved, enslaved to a dark ego- could never paint the masterpiece I knew was inside me.
To start painting my soul-canvas, to write the story of my life, all I needed to do was what I wanted to do- that is, I needed to love and accept myself for the person I am and all of my strange experiences and ideas and feelings, so that I could follow my heart without concern of external or internal judgement.
So that my masterpiece could shine with the same eternal inner light I’ve always felt burning within me.
So, I asked myself, what should I paint?
The question hung in my mind over the next several days amid some great hikes at Bell Rock and Bear Mountain in Sedona. Then, one evening, the family decided to head up to the Grand Canyon for a day-trip. I was ecstatic, and could hardly sleep that night. I had a strong feeling that I would find my next answer at the Grand Canyon.
The next day, we drove to the Canyon and wandered along the rim together. I was constantly getting lost in the view, but every time I stopped I heard my family calling me to hurry and catch up.
Man, I thought, we watched TV for three hours last night! What’s the hurry now that we’re at the GRAND CANYON? Let’s sit still and watch this for three hours!
Feeling a desperate need to have at least fifteen minutes to sit still, I reached a bargain with the group. They would stop and have ice cream, I would wander off, and we’d meet back there in twenty minutes. Score!
I meandered off to a slightly secluded outcropping on the rim not far from the ice cream shop and sat down, raising my eyes to the Canyon. I drank her in with my eyes, my body humming with electricity. I felt her beauty coursing into me and through me, my mind became quiet, and I was soon glowing with feelings of peace, feelings of divine love, feelings of pure Being. My ever-present soul-thirst was quenched, and I was in heaven. It was a feeling I’d had many times in National Parks- and though I knew this bliss from previous trips, the feeling is so profound that its potency is always a surprise.
Resting in these places is like the shock of that first breath of fresh air after being underwater for far, far too long.
I closed my eyes, reveling in the blissful experience. I never wanted it to end, and lamented the fact that soon I would leave- and this feeling would stay here at the Canyon.
Wait, I thought.
I arched an eyebrow at a sudden idea.
What if I didn’t have to leave this feeling behind?
I felt my heart rise in my chest, fluttering madly. What if I could just keep finding this feeling over and over again?
A passing raven called out just then, as if encouraging me to follow that mental thread. My head buzzed as I ran through visions of a long-held dream I’ve had: a dream of simply traveling the National Parks and sharing their beauty with my friends. Taking them camping, guiding them through the wilderness, creating space for the power of life and nature to heal them and inspire them to a deeper awareness of the songs of their hearts and the shapes of their spirits.
Was it possible? That dream had seemed years, even decades away…
“Do what you want, Adam,” the labyrinth had told me.
What do I want?
I want this feeling, this connectedness, this oneness with nature, I thought. I don’t know about anything else- but this feeling, I do know- I need it. I need it more than anything. I need to experience it as much as I fucking can, I need to learn it inside and out, and I need to share it with all of my soul-brothers and soul-sisters-to-be. This is the only dream I have ever had that I know I need to realize, someday.
I stood up.
I opened my eyes and stretched my arms wide, a grin the size of the Grand Canyon creeping across my face.
Why not today?
At that moment, I knew exactly what I was going to do.
I was going on a National Park road trip.
I dreamily drifted back into the present. When I had stood on this very spot the previous month, the Grand Canyon had helped me make the best decision of my life. I bowed my head, offering a deep prayer of thanks to the Sedona labyrinth for helping me to see into myself and kick-starting me into a new dimension of self-awareness. I then thanked the yawning abyss of the Grand Canyon below me for rounding out the lesson and helping me to see, and to realize, my hidden long-held dream.
A soft breeze was the Canyon’s loving, knowing answer to my prayers. I breathed it in, and tasted life.
I spent the rest of the day walking eastward along the rim. Once I was a quarter-mile from the shuttle stop, the rim trail was basically deserted, so most of the time it was just me and the Canyon. I stopped often to dangle my legs over the edge or to lean against a tree, quietly drinking in the staggering ever-changing vistas.
At one point I met a middle-aged British couple on the trail- Jacob and Sandy- and they recommended I visit Petrified Forest National Park during my travels. I’d barely even heard of the place before they extolled its surprising beauty to me. I decided to look into it later, and we went our peaceful ways. Thanks to their suggestion, months later I did spend some time exploring Petrified Forest- which is an incredible place- but that’s another story for another time. 😉
After several wonderful hours of slow rambling along five miles of the rim, I reached the Yavapai Geology Museum, poking curiously at the exhibits and getting my park passport stamped. I looked fondly out at my Canyon, and though I was already full to the brim with light, I supped one more sweet breath of Her before boarding a shuttle back to camp. From there I walked to camper services and took an absolutely glorious $2 shower, washing off four days of sweat, sunscreen, and bug repellent. I emerged clean, shaven, and refreshed.
That evening I had a simple-yet-heavenly dinner of stew and hard cider while I stared into my cozy campfire- the first fire I’d made on my road trip, the first of many. As I ate, I decided that tomorrow I’d try to add one more extra night to my stay, if possible. I wanted enough time to explore the entirety of the 13 mile rim trail, hitting different segments each day.
After a final aimless evening stroll around the campground, I crawled into the tent and tucked into my sleeping bag. The only thing troubling my mind was that there was even more beauty waiting for me to witness tomorrow- and the next day. And every day of the next week. And every day of every week of the next month. And so on.
How could my heart possibly handle such a constant onslaught of beauty?
Fortunately- and perhaps paradoxically- the more that Nature filled my heart, the more my heart could contain.
As you absorb the infinite, the space within you becomes ever more infinite.
I slept, dreaming of rivers and stones and the watercourse way.
Read next: Ch. 3: Life on the Rim, Part Three