Mark Twain once wrote “It ain’t what you know that gets you into trouble, it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” As human beings we certainly have a narrow grasp upon what it is that comprises the universe. We live in little boxes that we call our homes and travel the same roads day after day in even smaller boxes that are our cars. We travel to our jobs and do the same work day in and day out, often within another box, the building in which your job is housed, and maybe even further boxed in to an office or a cubicle. As we drive in these cars we tend to listen to the same songs, and think the same pattern of thoughts to which we have become accustomed to thinking. After years, these thoughts become ingrained in us. We begin to believe that the extent of our world is that which lays before us upon a daily basis. My grandmother, for example, has lived in the same town for the last sixty-five years or so. As long as I have known her and gone for a visit, she has sat in the same chair. She eats the same food every day, and completes crosswords, and sweepstakes, smokes cigarettes, and gambles. She has had opportunities in the past to move closer to her daughter and to be cared for by her family, but she has declined. She no longer drives and has become increasingly frail in her advanced age, and her periods of sitting in that chair seem to have expanded. She seemingly has had no desire to explore her world beyond the town in which she is living and ‘knows’ there is no better place for her to be. I love my grandmother. She is a wonderful person, and perhaps one of my greatest teachers, but I also believe that when we put ourselves in a place with our thinking as she has, that we are often operating from a place of fear.
Einstein made a stirring revelation when he said “the most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.” This really struck a chord in me when I heard it. I have always considered myself to be a ‘nice’ person overall, who should be able to get along with and relate to other people in social settings, but in certain aspects of my life I have been surrounded by this incredible, unexplainable fear. I used to put it on myself and consider that it was my lack of self-confidence that would hold me back. I believed it was what would make me uncomfortable in social situation and unable to freely engage in conversation or reach out to another human being. I would often ponder “why don’t people like me?” The answer I gravitated to was, because I don’t like myself. Now that I have begun practicing a higher degree of self-love and compassion in many ways, I see this was only part of the problem.
We see stories on the news every day, and they aren’t good ones. We are witness on a daily basis of the evil and hatred that surrounds us in the world…it becomes a scary place, it IS a scary place. This is why I don’t watch the news. I am aware that these things go on, but I choose not to dwell there and rather meditate on peace, and fill myself with love, which I know is at the same time, softer and stronger than hatred could ever hope to be. I have a tattoo on my rig cage, Japanese characters (Ai Wa Katsu); translation: Love Conquers All, and I truly believe it does. However, I was scared of the world for a very long time…afraid of so many things, the big threats of evil-doing that we all hear about, but also constructs of my mind, the “what ifs,” and even worse, the fear projections that I would place on other people about the thoughts that they could possibly be thinking about me. My skin was very thin and any little comment, if the inflection was just so, was an affront to me. This way of thinking certainly could make the world a bit scary. I come from a loving family, so this was not the problem, but although I was raised with a high standard of morals and was taught to love others and treat them as I wished to be treated, I developed the notion that the goodness of people did not extend beyond the fabric of my immediate family. Thus, my view of the world as a hostile place, developed with me completely unaware it was happening.
Unlike my grandmother, I love to travel. I have been around a little…Ecuador, Turkey, England, Costa Rica, Morocco, to name a few, and have a tremendous passion for it. When asked the question of what I would do if there were no limitations, my answer would be, to travel. It can be scary. Airplanes and the airport fiasco certainly throw my nervous system into a sympathetic state, but being in new place I have never seen before, and being around people who speak another language or have another way of looking at the world, to me, is bliss. It is like being in a waking dream and in these instances I have nothing to do than to just be. It is in these moments that all my other fears dissipate and people become good again. It takes me out of my little box, makes me go beyond the edges of my fear, beyond the walls I have constructed for myself, all in one great airplane ride. I travel maybe once a year, if I am lucky. When I arrive home, the splendor soon wears off and I once again become enclosed in the small space I inhabit. Now I ask myself, why is it so much easier to strike up a conversation with another human being 3,000 miles away from my home, than it has been for me to smile and wave at my next door neighbor, or look into the eyes of the grocery cashier? Travel somehow allows me to escape the constructs and confines of my narrow mind and to reach out to others in the realization that we are all one. We are all connected to the same Eternal Source, and when I travel I am free to let go and open to that. Because I am forced to conquer these fears surrounding travel, I have no choice but to let go, be calm, and to trust. When I am home, the safety of my confines hold me back. It is easier to remain within these walls ‘knowing’ I am safe than it is to venture out.
My mind is opening though, and I am ready and willing to expand. Several days ago, I was taught a tremendous lesson on this, something I believed to be one way and proved itself to be very different…something I knew for sure, that just wasn’t so. I live in a nice rural area near the Quabbin Reservoir, the largest body of water in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I have been living in this area for the past five years, and this particular home for well over two years now. Quabbin has many gates that provide access to it and the land surrounding it. I have explored various gates within walking distance from my home in the past and encountered trails of woods, which are beautiful in and of themselves, but I haven’t come near to the water. The only way I knew to get to the water is by driving my car to one of the main gates and accessing it from there. There is one particular gate and trail by my home that I hadn’t yet ventured down. In honesty, I simply believed it was like the others, and that I wasn’t missing anything special by going down. The one time I had thought to do so, my daughter, Layla, was a young baby and the stroller wouldn’t make it beyond the gate. I didn’t realize it was a paved path that a stroller could easily manage either, because most of the other trails were not paved. So, I neglected it for a couple years and continued to go about my business.
This particular day in January was exceptionally warm. It felt like spring and I hadn’t gone for a walk in some time. Layla, is without a doubt, an outdoors girl and had been repeatedly asking to go outside. I thought, why not, and decided to take her for a walk. She has gone for walks with my mother-in-law in the past in which they had encountered chickens in a neighboring yard. She is always asking to see the chickens. I took her by one of the few houses in the neighborhood that I have known to have chickens, but no luck. She was disappointed and I told her, “don’t worry about the chickens, just keep looking and maybe we will see something else, we’re on an adventure.” I didn’t realize I was also telling this to myself.
My original intent was to come to the dead end of the road where the Quabbin gate is located and turn around and walk down to the end of the road in the opposite direction as I often had. As we reached the gate, I thought, maybe we should try getting around the gate, and Layla pointing and saying “I want to go in there!” confirmed the decision. We now had a jogging stroller and I was able to maneuver it over a rock blocking the path to the right side of the gate. It was actually very easy. As we ventured down the trail, I heard Layla say, “this is beautiful.” I laughed and said, “you’re right, it is beautiful,” especially tickled because she is all of two years old and it always amazing to hear her come out with things like that. Profound really. We continued down and before long, I saw something down the trail on the horizon. It looked blue and I squinted my eyes trying to figure out what it was. Sky? A blue water tower? A rock cliff with snow on it? The thought that it could be water came and I quickly dismissed it. No, that would be too upsetting, it couldn’t be. I couldn’t have lived here all this time with access to the water’s edge so near. I kept saying to Layla, “what is that? That’s not water is it? I had told my husband, Jeremy, about this and his response was “what did you think it was, the edge of the world?” That would have been no more surprising. As soon as I saw it moving, gently lapping against the shore, my fears (and hopes) were confirmed. It was in fact water, and a lot of water. It was the reservoir. I became filled with emotion and my eyes filled with tears. All this time, all I had to do was venture beyond that yellow gate.
It stretched before me in all its glory, under the vast sky. The sun’s rays gently hit the water and glistened back at me. There I was, back on the jungle trails in Costa Rica; and in city streets of Fez; and in El Cajas, Ecuador; or I might have well have been. It was the same quality of experience in exploring the unknown, of discovering something new. It is in these moments that you also discover things about yourself that were always with you. You just need to push beyond your fears, extend beyond that boundary of ‘comfort,’ and you will find them. Now I know, the whole world is full of places like this, even your own back yard can contain a miracle, in a reservoir or a dew drop. And somewhere inside yourself there is a deep and endless Reservoir where you can find and access anything you could ever need. Push yourself, go outside, talk to someone you don’t know, smile, laugh, run, try something you have always wanted to, but have been afraid to. And while you’re at it, also venture in the other direction to that place inside where you will find the Infinite. Meditate, pray, love yourself. Reach inside yourself. Reach outside of your box. I promise, you will be pleasantly surprised by what you might discover.