I recently spent time in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Utah, a desert terrain filled with canyons that remind one of 127 hours and rock formations that could appear only in fairy tales. I spent the day exploring the most notable and aptly named canyons, Spooky and Peek-a-Boo, and retired for the evening to sleep among the monoliths in Devil’s Garden.
What follows is an example of our greatest gift, the ability to choose how we respond to circumstance.
In the middle of the night, a strong wind permanently incapacitated my already tattered tent. Being in scorpion and rattlesnake territory, I dared not sleep exposed as I had in the mountains of Colorado; I was forced to hike back to my car.
As I packed up my things, constantly scanning the ground for any desert companions, I did not curse the wind, the tent, or circumstance. I accepted the moment in its entirety and headed back to, what I have begun affectionately referring to as, my trustee steed.
Then, I did what any grown man in this situation would do, I ate some Chef Boyardee by moonlight and went to sleep in the front seat. Unable to recline due to a packed car, and with a back injury that is aggravated by prolonged sitting, one might think I did so resentfully, when in truth, I was overwhelmed with a profound sense of contentment.
I did not compare my place of rest to my tent or my queen-sized bed back home. I could have, sure, and certainly would have at any other point in my life, but my emotional well-being was guided by a major lesson this trip has taught me.
Frustration is when reality does not meet one’s expectations. Reality is never the source of our discomfort, we are.
All inner turmoil results from holding a belief which our immediate experience rejects, and rather than question our mental models we meet the external world with aggression, when simply removing the thought about the experience removes the suffering due to the experience.
There I sat, in a dust filled parking lot some 2,200 miles from home, in my 2006 Chrysler Sebring that looks as though it survived the beaches of Normandy, and closed my eyes and slept like a baby. I accepted the moment fully without judgement, and in so doing found it completely to my liking.
“The demon you can swallow gives you its power.”-Joseph Campbell
This is the underlying framework with which I have navigated every “conflict” on this journey. Every adversity is accompanied by an equivalent opportunity for growth. When one addresses the world in this way, it is no longer you versus the world, it is you and the world. This great big planet ceases to be scary; it is here to serve you, if only you will let it.
(My original campsite for the evening)