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We’re surrounded by red rocks, dusty roads, crumbling cliffs, and sage bush as far as the eye can see, all under the watchful eye of the setting sun. The fading sunlight is splashing the desert below, painting the landscape in rich caramels. The clouds turn from white, to orange, to rose, and then finally, a deep lavender – that is when the first stars come out. Overtime, the milky way spreads its wings above us; as the night deepens, so too does its brilliance.
We are taking our time in Southeast Utah. From the domes of Capitol Reef, to the famed Arches, to quintessential images of the iconic American west: spires, buttes and towering red walls snaked by the Colorado River in Canyonlands. We’ve hiked among rocks as old as time, watched sunrise greet the Earth below with her glow, stood beneath drawings from ancestors who called these places sacred, and felt small underneath some of the darkest skies in the country as we looked up to the heavens, watching for a shooting star. The arid landscape with its rich textures and simple beauty is mesmerizing. Yet it is the silence that speaks to me the loudest.
It is the kind of silence, so absolute, you can hear your own vibration. Your breath is the only other audible presence. Not even birds break the spell, there are none to be found here. We have camped on a ridge in the high desert, the only souls in any direction as far as the eye can see. And we can see incredibly far, a panorama of the dry and dusty landscape stretching into the blue horizon. Here, in this vast and deep silence – I am confronted with something uncomfortable.
The kind of stillness that is an invitation to go deeper. To explore and unearth that which has been patiently waiting beneath the surface. Kept at bay by the noise and clamor of structure, routine, obligation and responsibility. Because the stillness is intimidating, at first I keep myself busy. I clean the van, I read, I write, I do yoga. Eventually, I “run out” of things to do. It is unavoidable now, the stillness that this unnerving silence is calling me into. It is uncomfortable because over time I came to believe that doing (i.e productivity) equals value (i.e worth). And if I am doing “nothing” then I am offering no worth. The thing is, the invitation into stillness is not doing “nothing”. It is actually an invitation to be brave.To be still and see what lies in that space, waiting to be acknowledged, wanting to be seen. What is it that desires to come into the light when we spend so much time filling our life with noise, even unintentionally, keeping ourselves busy, looking anywhere but within?
I am becoming more and more convinced that looking within (true self-reflection) is a rather terrifying and courageous process. If we ask ourselves the hard questions, sometimes we get hard answers. Perhaps that is what this stillness is asking of me. So, what better time than this? To be in a beautiful place with nothing but the occasional breeze to keep me company, to have the rich colors marked by layers of time all be witness to my process…and to my pain.
I am unearthing the past. Digging up truly painful memories from years ago. Not only reliving them through writing them but also re-processing them. I am not done healing. I wonder, are we ever truly from the things that brought us to our knees? My Shaman recently said: “Sometimes we will think we have healed something, we are finished with it, only to have it come up again – sometimes much later. This is not a bad thing. It means that as you have grown, so too has your capacity to heal on a deeper level. It is a gift.” I have been in darkness deep enough to know that on the other side of pain lies a gift, a choice, a precious offering. Only from the darkness did I receive light. Power. Truth. From the darkness, I have reclaimed. I have remembered. I have come home. Now she beckons to me again, finding me in stillness, inviting me to go deeper, to be brave, to ask the hard questions.
So here, surrounded by a scene beautiful enough to remind me how wonderful my life is and just how much I have to be grateful for – I grab my shovel and begin to dig inward. Unearthing.
It would be an easier dig to remain shallow and say; “I didn’t deserve what happened: he cheated, he lied, he broke our marriage.” It was the much more difficult excavation to ask: What role did I play in my marriage? Why did I choose who I chose? What did my choice say about me? Why was I so comfortable with the dysfunction? Why did I allow so much harm to my heart, my mind, and my body? Why did I abandon myself? The most important question of all. As I dig deeper, at first it is hard not to deride myself for the decisions I made, to not blame myself for choosing, staying, allowing. When everything came undone it did so in such a big way: dramatic, traumatic, disturbing. Maybe it had to, so I would finally be forced to leave, to let go, to be done once and for all. It would just take years to sort out the wreckage. We must sort to ever truly be free.
As I dig, I see that who and what I chose spoke infinitely more about me than what had happened to me. I see that I made decisions out of a space of brokenness. I see that I was looking for the validation of being enough, of being lovable from out there. I see a history of feeling inadequate, of choosing based from a foundation of needing. I see a shovel full of what I thought was love and it was really just an empty promise from a wounded child.
I dig and dig. I see that I am actually just a little girl in a sandbox. A little boy comes along and takes my hand. I abandon part of myself there, leaving her for another, before I’ve done the work I needed to do to build the foundation from which to choose. I see that we play adults, we play pretend that we are whole and can fix each other. We make one of the biggest decisions of our lives on a shifting framework made of sand. I see it all and I have so much compassion for this little girl and this little boy. Just children, looking to each other to not feel broken. How could I not forgive him? How could I not forgive myself?
I find that as I dig I have begun to cry. I grieve for myself, a little girl who abandoned herself for another. I grieve for my marriage, based on brokenness, never built to last. I grieve for those who also know that very specific and terrible kind of pain. I cry for something beautiful too. That the little girl was always waiting for a homecoming, knowing someday I would dig. I’ve been digging for years now, sorting through wreckage, creating greater capacity to heal, to find peace, to be free. I’ll keep digging until I find gold. Perhaps I already have – the gift from pain within.
I look up at the scene before me, a panorama of red rocks stretching to the horizon. A clear, blue sky. Sage gently dancing in the wind. Silence out there and stillness within. Something truly beautiful can happen when we dig. Even when it is terrifying. Even when it requires hard questions. Even when it would be easier to stay shallow. Even when it is painful. Even when it implicates the one holding the shovel. Even when, maybe especially when, we’ve dug there before.
Find the silence. Create stillness. Be brave. Ask the hard questions. Grab a shovel. Dig. Be gentle. Forgive. Be free. Find peace. Strike gold.