Seldom does life slow down long enough for us to cognitively recognize if we are living it openly – approaching it with our arms, our hearts and our souls open; unafraid to take chances; unafraid of success or of failure, and unafraid of the opinions and perceptions of others.
Seriously, who has time to think about that psycho-babble bullshit, anyway? Our days are so jam packed they tick by faster than a hummingbird’s heart rate.
In my old age, however, I’ve come to realize, the importance of taking the time to do exactly that – to not only think about being open, but to actively work on being open. In doing so we nurture a positive outlook, which helps us find the tenacity to overcome obstacles, and achieve, not only goals, but also, happiness.
The longer we experience the world, the more it can seem like there are a million factors working against our openness. Failed relationships, heartache, trauma, and fear can leave us consistently bracing ourselves emotionally – shrinking away from meeting new people, goals and experiences much like our pupils shrink when we emerge from a dark movie theater into bright sunlight.
As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and even dating violence, my heart was closed down tighter than Fort Knox for a very long time. I built a fortress around it to keep it safe, and to ward off exposing what I felt was ugly, weak or shameful about myself. Like a crouching child hugging her knees into her chest, I provided myself with a false sense of security by staying as small and as closed as possible.
The more I travel the more open I become. The more chances I take the less fearful I am to try. Living wide open is like standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean – with your arms flung open wide, your face tilted to the sky, torso extended. Your body is open to all the elements and nothing is protected. In this position of vulnerability you are exposed to stressful winds, and the raining down of sadness, insecurity or betrayal that can erode your self-esteem and confidence. If you remain open and wholeheartedly authentic in your stance, however, you will begin to feel the sun envelope your skin like a hug. Joy kicks your fear to the curb and welcomes in self-love, love from others, and the positive things that life can bring.
I love this quote by C. Joybell C.
“ The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way that we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.”
The morning after I arrived in Utah, I woke with newly formed calluses on my hands from the death grip I had on the steering wheel of my rental car. June was a big month for 50 States for Sole, since I would be running a full marathon in Idaho on a Friday, and another one in Wyoming on Sunday of that same weekend. Due to some seriously delayed flights in both Cleveland and Denver, I didn’t reach Salt Lake City until much later than I had planned. The rental car agency was somehow backed up at 11 pm, and had me wait for my reserved and pre-paid vehicle for over 40 minutes. The longer I sat there waiting for my car, focusing on the almost 3 hour drive I still had in front of me to get to Montpelier, Idaho – the further away that little city seemed to be.
I sat down next to a teenager fiddling with his phone, while his dad got the bad news about his own rental car delay. When his dad sat down we started to chat, and of course I ended up telling him about Girls With Sole and why I was driving to Idaho on my own in the middle of the night. His name was Sidney – a personal trainer from Texas who was in Salt Lake City with his 16 year old son for a football camp that would expose him to top talent scouts and college coaches. We friended each other on Facebook and wished each other good luck in our endeavors. I have already heard that his son was one of the top contenders at camp, and he knows that I made the drive safely to Idaho.
When they finally called my name letting me know my car was ready, I jumped up and ran to the Hertz counter, steeling my mind in preparation for the long drive ahead. Within the first hour I could feel the darkness of nothingness around me as I drove on twisting and turning mountain roads. It was thrilling and also petrifying to make this trip completely veiled in darkness and unknown territory- adrenaline the only thing keeping me awake.
I was quickly learning that there’s something about Idaho that makes you feel like you’re the only person left on Earth – but in a good way. I didn’t know it in the dark, but it’s so lush, wide open, rugged and raw. I can’t help but think about the movie “My Own Private Idaho” where two friends embark on a journey of personal discovery that leads them to one of the character’s hometown in Idaho.
I continued to drive until my bladder simply wouldn’t allow me to go any further. With absolutely nothing and nobody around but open wilderness, I pulled over onto gravel and dust and got out of the car to pee.
It’s pretty cliche – but I couldn’t believe the expanse of the sky, and how breathtakingly huge and crisp it was. I was frozen under what seemed like millions of white Christmas lights – each one flirtatiously winking at the Milky Way that bobbed and weaved a roller boogie dance through the middle of the sky. I stared up form my squatting position at the tail end of the little Nissan Versa, trying not to spray my own shoes in my astonishment of the beauty and openness. I was awake now, and in full recognition that the adventure had officially begun.
I got back into the car and kept moving forward in the dark – which felt a bit like jumping off the high dive in the darkness of night – and hoping that nobody drained the pool. It felt scary – but I had to trust and take that leap- knowing that I would eventually plunge into warm and pleasant water. When darkness surrounds us, it can intensify our feelings of loneliness, fear and even of being lost – but if we stay open we can move forward in the comfort of knowing that the sun always comes up.
The next day revealed much more than callouses on my hands. In the bright sun I could see what an incredibly beautiful place I was in, and felt humbled by the majestic surroundings no longer hidden from view.
It’s ok to let yourself feel scared – but it’s important to move forward anyway. Believing in yourself and your motivations are portals to both self-discovery and living openly. So much happiness and self-discovery can be had if we allow it in. Dwelling on and in the dark blocks the beautiful view that surrounds us. It isn’t that the beauty has gone away – we just have to hold on long enough for the darkness to pass in order to see it and appreciate it. When I travel, and take chances new challenges and physical goals, I let in the light that can guide and comfort me the next time I find myself in the dark.
A full day of exploration and also picking up my race packet lay before me. I drove through two or three towns in all of 10 minutes. The towns are very small with mountains and sky stretching around them like giants doing yoga. Montpelier, Idaho stirred memories of old Brady Bunch episodes when the Brady’s stayed in a ghost town on their way to the Grand Canyon and when Bobby’s newfound idol was Jesse James.
I drove through the small towns taking in as much as they could offer, and watched the cows and horses do their thing on both sides of the road.
Making my way through the Cache National Forest, windows down as I belted out an Air Supply song to one of the only radio stations I could get, was a far cry from the wide-eyed, yellow and white knuckled drive I did a few hours earlier.
Bear Lake Marathon in Idaho was state 35 and Bear Lake Marathon in Wyoming was state 36 of my 50 state goal. I completed both of them with one day in between. They were both so amazing and fabulous. I couldn’t help running with the perma-grin of a stoner. As I ran I kept flinging my arms out to each side, like I could hug the gorgeousness that surrounded me and gather it towards me, pulling it into my heart. I couldn’t believe how amazingly beautiful it was and I wanted to absorb it all like a sponge.
Bear Lake Marathon Idaho is my new favorite course – but if you like crowd support you won’t agree with me. Who needs spectators when the indescribable beauty of the course is enough to motivate you for days?
The nickname for the area we ran in is the “Caribbean of the Rockies” and Bear Lake upheld its reputation with water as blue as my daughter’s eyes. We ran along dirty and dusty trails, and roads lined with curious cows and horses. I even saw two bald eagles and the nest they created on a power line. I met amazing people and chatted with two women I was destined to meet – both from Utah. One was a pacer in the marathon named Karrie, and the other was a social worker named Kaylee who works for Children and Family Services. I talked to both of them about Girls With Sole and other things as well. We have already friended each other on Facebook, and my plan is to send Kaylee copies of my book to give to any girls she works with whom she thinks might benefit from receiving it.
It’s pretty incredible to know in my heart and soul that I’m literally on the path I’m meant to be on – and that when I’m open to it – that path can be awe inspiring and amazing.
The marathon in Wyoming was equally as incredible, and I found myself saying out loud – “Can you believe this shit?!” as I ran down the long, wide open road – to no one other than myself. I couldn’t believe it, and I ran along smiling the whole way, picturing scenes from Forrest Gump when he “just felt like running.” I was giddy with openness. I wanted to be a cowgirl. I wanted to bottle the way the air smelled and the vastness of the sky and take it home with me. Much like a dog who discovers the gate has been left open, I was running blissfully happy and free. Running can have this effect on a person in any old place – but something about the wild, open beauty of the West creates an added sense of unabashed joy and of living wholeheartedly. Your inner child lets go of her knees, and runs free and happy down the big expanse of road ahead and through her life.