Shadows and Light in The Deserts of Nevada


THE BRIEF: I’m back in SoCal after a memorable roadtrip through the deserts of Utah and the southwest. Definitely more rough than imagined but valuable insights were gleaned 🙂 I’m relocating to the mountains near (but not too near) LA for a month near Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear area where I’ll continue to dive into some travel & fiction writing projects. I’m also looking forward to deepening my nature survival and backpacking skills!

THE EXTENDED: I’m back to southern California, spiraling ever closer to my old home of Los Angeles after one hell of a road trip. I started reading Coelho’s “The Alchemist” right as I set out and the book seemed set the tone and provide a suitable metaphor throughout the duration. Overall I found it difficult to establish a healthy and creative routine. I found my time and energy drained through the large amount of driving, daily logistics and taking care of Tux’s wellbeing and thus I wasn’t as productive with my writing as I’d hoped to be. However I certainly extracted some deep value from the experience of the one month and three thousand miles traveled when my shadow self appeared about 10 days into the trip. Here’s what happened:

A couple of days prior I had woken up to discover that my van had been surrounded my cops while camping outside my friend’s house in a ritzy suburban neighborhood of Silicon Valley. They were nice enough and didn’t give me any trouble but I left town feeling a little bit like an outsider which only increased as I entered the solitude of the desert. I was a couple of days in when one morning I tossed a small object from the rear into the front seat. It hit my windshield perfectly on top of an existing tiny crack which promptly spider-webbed from top to bottom across the entire passenger side. In a dark moment I found myself alone and off the grid in the deserts of Nevada, my van was leaking coolant, and an ithcy and blistery rash covered about 30% of my body. And now I’d just shattered my windshield. It was through this less than ideal situation that I one again came face to face with a dark and creatively destructive side of my character. “What the hell are you doing out here, Dougie?” It asked me with a sneer. I noted that the lure of nature and the open road was not having the calming effect I was hoping it would. More than feeling excitement for this exploration, a feeling of escapism tugged at my consciousness. “Why else would you put your few possessions in storage, load up your van and purposely take yourself out to the edges of society?” It asked me. “You’re becoming an outsider.” It began to make me consider the actions that led me here. Why am I creating this bizarre experience for myself? Is there a lesson here? If I was hoping for a fun distraction then it was certainly not working. It’s not to save money as I could easily afford a place to live. It’s not because I am actually an outcast as I know there are many people who care about me. I admit, I’m a die hard experience junkie. I like to experience intense things just to see how they make me feel. Sometimes they’re fun. Sometimes they’re not. It can be a twisted thrill. Yeah, something about that resonated with me. I am attracted to the intensity of feeling itself and even such a dark feeling as this was fascinating. I was exploring my own edges. “But why? To what end? What if you can’t come back? Or aren’t welcome back?” It asked. As I lay in an itchy pile of tearful frustration I stared out into the vastness of the desert as the shadows continued to swirl in my mind. They whispered in my ear: “You see it’s true, no one wants you around. You’re not from anywhere. Not really welcome anywhere. And here we are, vulnerable and exposed, with nowhere left to hide from ourself.” It was a familiar voice, one that has visited me many times over the years and convinced me of all sorts of untruths. I closed my eyes and fantasized about being swallowed by the desert. I imagined the relentlessness of its slow, desiccated embrace. Dust to dust was never more at hand. It almost felt welcoming. “What is the point of feeling this much suffering?” I asked out loud but the desert was impervious to my words. Instead my own shadows replied through every rock, every jagged cactus spike and every withered up shrub: “Your soul is in pain. Your suffering doesn’t have to continue. Liberation is within your grasp. Just come home. Submit to that from which we all come and to which we all are destined. Return to us.”

Wow, that’s dark I thought. “I’m on my way to a wedding in Utah. Friends are waiting for me.” I said to no one. “Do you really think anyone wants to see you? What do you have to offer them?” My shadows replied. And I almost believed them. But they were right about one thing: liberation from this suffering is within my grasp. I breathed deeply for a few minutes, five seconds in and ten seconds out. After a short while I was able to make some more room within my own head. In this expanded consciousness I transformed into an observer of my shadows, rather than as the shadows themselves. I let the emotions wash over me, feeling them deeply and by doing so recognized an old, deep sense of self-rejection. But why? Where was it coming from? After thinking back to as far as I could remember, I conjured a time when I didn’t remember it being present. I was around 5 years old, feeling free and unhindered, laughing and lying naked on a patio chair next to our pool in Washington DC. I felt supported, loved and free of expectation and judgement. How quickly everything had changed. My parents divorced and the kids were moved to a different country. I went to boarding school where I locked my feelings up tight to avoid the suffering. These unfelt feelings remained unresolved and had been tainting my adult life with a subtle yet persistent anxiety ever since. In the quietness of the past year I have witnessed an aberration in my basic frequency, an unsettled quality that inevitably establishes its roots in all of my actions, projects and relationships where it festers, only to appear unexpectedly when triggered. I know that my soul did not enter the world feeling so weighed down and that in order to reach my highest potential, to create and to inspire, to impact the world in an ever more pure and unburdened way, to truly live a life committed to love for myself and others, I need to feel as free and full of love as I felt back on that patio chair all those years ago. Achieving that is my practice. Committing to that is my work.

Remembering this commitment helped me further establish some footing just outside of the darkness. And from this angle I began to shine some light on it. “Wow! Holy shit I feel lonely.” I said out loud. I managed a crooked grin at the shear intensity of the moment. “I know this feeling isn’t permanent. This is just a emotional weather system, moving through. And don’t be so hard on yourself, buddy! You have the rest of your life to life to practice…” And just like that, my personal practice began to engage. “OK, what do I need to do to help myself here?” I began to speak the words, so as it might help prompt them into existence: “Eat some healthy food, do some yoga or any form of exercise, coerce myself into some meditation or gratitude practice… and the most important thing: get out of solitude and connect with people ASAP.” Yes, those are some of the things that bring me back to my shiniest self. “I love and accept you exactly as you are.” My inner parent said. The shadows began to fade and the suffering began to subside.

So I made it out of that Nevada desert, wounded but stronger for it. I went to the wedding where I instantly felt better, remembering that I am in fact an extrovert, and of course my friends were happy to see me. “Where have you been buddy?”, “welcome back!”, “don’t be such a stranger” accompanied hugs from old friends. So if there’s one thing I learned (besides how hard it is to teach a dog to identify and avoid poison oak when out on a hike) it’s how important it is to incorporate other people into my own evolution. I can go away and discover things, and it seems that doing that is just part of my nature, but ultimately returning to community and putting my discoveries into practice is where the rubber meets the road. And there’s just too many amazing people and too much creative energy for me to be to be too far away from my community in Southern California. That said, I’m also committed to being a little more gentle with myself and I don’t think being right back in the middle of all the craziness is what I need either. Instead I’m feeling drawn to a semi-rural environment an hour or so away where I can continue focus on some creative writing projects and dip into the big city for a day or two when I need a social or cultural boost. Over the last few days I’ve been circling our lovable urban sprawl through Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead in the San Bernardino mountains looking at little cabins for rent. For the first time in a long while I’m feeling excited, creative and ready for what’s coming next 🙂

Yep, there’s nothing like a good road trip to get some new angles on yourself<3


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