A hike on my trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway taught me to open to the feels, no matter how small.
In the passenger seat, as in life, I tend to overreact. There’s an imaginary brake in my footwell in case of an encroaching semi or taillights too close for comfort. Over the years, I’ve learned to curb my inner alarm with coping mechanisms such as clapping, jumping in my seat, and gasping for air instead of fueling my vocal chords.
But sometimes something has to be said. When my partner slowed the Prius on the Blue Ridge Parkway, turned his head left to look for shoulder parking, and showed no signs of seeing the oncoming car rounding the corner, I figured it was one of those times.
“Babe, watch out! There’s a car!” I said.
I won’t pretend to remember what my partner said, but his tone stuck. His everyday patient and gentle demeanor shifted to one of forced restraint as he acknowledged, yes, he had seen the oncoming car. He course-corrected swiftly, resting his hand on my thigh as he parked the car in a safe space.
Usually, in such circumstances, I cry. Sensitivity is my nemesis. But that day on the Blue Ridge Parkway, I didn’t cry. Ever aware of my tender feelings, my partner apologized for not accepting my warning more gracefully. We hugged, and then we headed for the trail we came to hike.
Mind Over Mood
I was proud of myself for not crying. I trudged my way through the knee-high grass and descended a wooden staircase to a path lined with oleanders. My partner began snapping photos, and the trail turned to patches of mud through wild blueberry bushes. As I dodged puddles in the tennis-shoes I intended to keep clean, I silently acknowledged the truth: I was in a bad mood.
Thanks to the pictures I didn’t feel like posing for, my partner has photo evidence of my sour mood. I knew my funk was connected to our parking incident, but I couldn’t understand why I was still bothered by such a small thing. So, I tried to focus on the physical sensations in my body in hopes of anchoring into the pleasure of hiking. But I couldn’t feel my habitual joy. No matter how patient I became or how hard I worked, I couldn’t shake my mood.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach the high falls. While my partner took pictures for a family at the base of the falls, I climbed a rock and sat facing the water. Sitting alone, watching the flow of the current, it occurred to me that I probably should have cried back at the car. Because I didn’t let my emotions move through me at the time I could most feel them, the feelings lodged into my body. My mind had moved past our parking incident, but my emotions had not.
At the car, I had done what so many people have advised me to do over the years. I ignored my emotions in an attempt to conquer my sensitivity. As a result, the subtle hum of unfelt feelings prevented me from feeling the peace of being in nature with my partner. It was a small thing, but a noticeable thing, which means I’ve tuned into my feelings enough to notice when they’re offline. This is a big thing.
I ignored my emotions in an attempt to conquer my sensitivity. As a result, the subtle hum of unfelt feelings prevented me from feeling the peace of being in nature with my partner.
Feeling my feelings is my largest task at hand. Despite my sensitivity, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to keep a lid on the feelings that accompany daily life, not to mention the feelings that come with dysfunction and abuse I’ve been conditioned to accept as normal. My mind has moved on from my past, but many of my emotions remain dormant. They burst into my awareness only when a person or event unwittingly triggers their release.
Until my moment alone on the rock, I didn’t realize how imperative it is for me to continue work on my memoir. My writing is a tool for revisiting my past from the protective container of my present, where it’s safe to feel. Now that I have a first draft, I’m feeling deeper into my story. I’m recovering and releasing new levels of feeling each time someone encourages me to revise a flat scene. At the end of most sessions, I’m able to put my work down and return to the gift of life as I know it today.
It wasn’t long til my partner climbed up behind me on the rock. Wrapped in the container of his arms, I went on to verbalize my insights and ended with, “I think I’m going to go ahead and cry now.”
A therapist once told me that in healthy, close relationships, partners hold safe space for each other to process and feel their way through life. My partner’s love paired with my work as a writer is more safe space than I ever could have imagined. Using that space to feel what I need to feel is clearing the way to love my partner more fully and live my life more freely.
Once my tears dried, we rose and headed back toward the trail. This time, thunder rumbled in my chest from overhead, and I felt the pleasant buzz of endorphins as we picked up the pace. My expressions are genuine in the photos from the second half of our hike. You can see it on my face. I’m no longer blocked.
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Last Updated July 16, 2019