By far the most horrific experience of my life arrived the day I woke up with the realization that I had been betrayed by my own mind. The world I had constructed to insulate myself from past trauma had come crumbling down around me. But what I wasn’t aware of was how surprisingly easy it is to live a lie, to convince yourself that your past is not connected to your present, and that you can build a sarcophagus around your hurt with no threat of the radioactive ooze leaching into your life.
What we often forget to acknowledge is that falling apart may in fact not be as catastrophic as we think because in actual fact, what is more than likely happening is that we are falling together. It all comes down to perspective, and believing that nothing falls apart that wasn’t in some way fractured or unstable to begin with. It takes us a while to see things as they really are because we humans are hardwired to either run away from discomfort, or numb ourselves to avoid acknowledging its presence. In either case, there comes a time when we must confront that which doesn’t sit right in us.
After the initial dissidence of coming to terms with our inner demons, we arrive at a calmer place that I like to refer to as an “emotional oasis”. An oasis is an isolated area of abundance and fecundity that starkly contrasts the barren lifelessness around it. We see these in nature, precariously located amidst the most unforgiving terrain, and we can also see these as people, thriving in the most toxic social, political, and even familial environments. For me, running served as my oasis—my reprieve, my haven that permitted me the time and space to thrive until I became strong enough to delve into the work that needed to be done to acknowledge the trauma I experienced as a child, and the fractured and convoluted behaviors I adopted to keep this trauma at bay.
Don’t get me wrong—an oasis can be a beautiful place to be, but there is no denying that it is but a temporary reprieve. Sooner or later, you’ll need to step foot into the inhospitable terrain that surrounds it. In the immortal words of the poet John Donne, “No man is an island.” We long to be connected to one another, to love and to be loved. But how do we go about reconciling with our “brokenness”, and more importantly, how do we give ourselves over to the vulnerability to allow others to witness our brokenness.
For years I was baffled by what it would take to get to a place where in forgiving myself, I permitted others the space to forgive me. True, by inhabiting my own little oasis, I had distanced myself from much of the discord, the haunting of my past, but there is a marked difference between “distancing” and “addressing”. I knew that within the discomfort and the discord, lay the solution. It wasn’t until very recently when I stumbled across something that John Steinbeck wrote, that I discovered what I already intuitively knew. Think of it like the Big Bang Theory, but related to knowledge in general. In the words of Steinbeck, “The flame of conception seems to flare and go out, leaving man shaken, and at once happy and afraid. There’s plenty of precedent of course. Everyone knows about Newton’s apple. Charles Darwin said his Origin of Species flashed complete in one second, and he spent the rest of his life backing it up; and the Theory of Relativity occurred to Einstein in the time it takes to clap your hands. This is the greatest mystery of the human mind — the inductive leap. Everything falls into place, irrelevancies relate, dissonance becomes harmony, and nonsense wears a crown of meaning. But the clarifying leap springs from the rich soil of confusion, and the leaper is not unfamiliar with pain.”
I can’t even begin to tell you how jarred I was by those simple words, “the leaper is not unfamiliar with pain.” It all comes down to learning to inhabit your own world but from a different perspective. You can’t really expect to slip out of your skin, but you can turn it inside out and wear it backwards, or as one of my favorite writers, Henry Miller says, “One's destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”
So if you’ve turned a chapter on a challenging part of your life, and you see yourself standing firmly in your oasis, perhaps you’ve reached the point in which you have fortified yourself so that you are now strong enough to step back into the dissonance and launch yourself towards new growth. It’s a never-ending process of healing and stretching and healing. Every solution we come to opens the door to yet another question.
When it comes to such esoteric subject matter, I am often at a loss for words, so I can think of no better way to end this than to leave you with the words of the great English art critic, John Berger. “The arrival to an answer, to an insight, is nothing more than the demarcation point of yet another question. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”