This Houston trauma counselor is doing his part in the wake of natural disaster.
I never believed the idea that good times are fleeting. As a kid, whenever I met failure, adversity, or even stagnancy, I was always indignant and sought immediate correction of my circumstances. My father would say, “Amy, better days are coming.” But I didn’t want to wait. I was sure I could make those better days happen immediately.
So during one particularly troubling time in my life, I got in the car with my dog Shakti and headed for the desert. I wanted freedom from my circumstance. I wanted enlightenment, and I knew one of the most likely places to find it was Joshua Tree. That’s where people find themselves, right? Aloft and abound all alone in the prickly wilderness… right?
Once we arrived, I unpacked our food, cracked open a drink and started pitching the tent. With the uncanny ease of a 30-second assembly pop-up tent, Shakti and I were settled in no time. We wandered the campground and hiked through the desert brush. We explored and shared friendly exchanges with our new neighbors. I started a fire, watched the sunset, and waited for my epiphany.
But where was it? Where was that presence that would calm my soul in the cool desert night and provide clarity, helping me see all the answers I was looking for? I came all the way here; where was my peace of mind?
My own self-aggravation was further exacerbated by children yelling at the next campsite over and the noise of drunken debauchery a few campsites up. Suddenly, I found everything agitating: the harsh coolness of the night, the hills obstructing the sunset, the noise, and chaos of my surroundings. This was not what I endured Los Angeles traffic for—maybe I had made a mistake. I was as frustrated as when I’d left the city, only colder.
As the chilly air crept in, Shakti curled up in our tent, and I extinguished the fire and readied for bed. Pouring the rest of our water jug out onto the remaining embers, I turned toward the tent feeling disappointed and empty. But I was distracted by a bright light—it was a full moon, and it lit up the campsite as it rose behind the hills opposite the sunset, in complete unison. When I looked at that moon, there was nothing else—no noisy kids, no drunks, no cold night, no crappy tent. I recognized its magnitude and beauty, and found I was no longer waiting, no longer searching; I was just there looking at the moon looking back at me.
I settled in next to Shakti, and she began to breathe heavily, dozing into the now seemingly silent night. I noticed her body rise and fall beside me, brushed up closely against mine. I closed my eyes and began to breathe in and out slowly, matching my breath with hers until my awareness of breath dropped away. I was still thinking about the moon: always there, but rarely acknowledged. As I sunk into an appreciation of the natural world, and the purity of that moment separated from the noise and bustle of the inner city, I felt my frustrations melt away. Focusing on my breath naturally quieted my mind. The campground didn’t bother me anymore—I now heard children laughing and friends reunited beside a campfire, and I was warmed just by hearing the happiness of strangers. Just being mindful of my breath instigated a process of gratitude and awareness that finally allowed me to slow down and enjoy myself.
Turns out, there are epiphanies to be had in the desert. Here’s mine: the more we are able to stay in the present moment through regular check in’s with ourselves, whether that’s taking time for silence or guided meditation, we may find that the “better days” never really left. It’s all right there, like the moon and the blue sky, and we just have to slow down long enough to notice.