The first time I set eyes on Wild, it was a hardcover on the New York Times Best-seller shelf. The cover had a hiking boot with red laces exactly like a pair I wore out years ago. I opened the inside jacket and read “Pacific Crest Trail.” I didn’t need any further convincing. I bought that book.
Ten years earlier, I had hiked up to Blue Lake in the mountains near Boulder, Colorado with my aunt. I had moved to Boulder the week before. I was nineteen and I had all of the time in the world. My Aunt Claire stared at a fourteener that rose far above us.
“Mountains are so zen, aren’t they?”
I didn’t entirely grasp her statement. I understood what she meant, but I was not wise enough to know what this sacred, still, grandiose land truly meant, that remains unchanged for thousands of years. Still, her statement stayed with me all of these years, especially the seven years that followed as I adoringly gazed at the Coloradan peaks.
Pregnant with my second child, I began reading Wild in my Massachusetts home. My mom had just been diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. I was devastated, angry, and floundering in faith. I was overcome with asking why; angry that my mom was sick, while other people were healthy. That other people’s moms were healthy. I couldn’t imagine life without my mom. She is my best friend, confidant, and my sweet, nurturing mother.
As I turned the pages, I learned that Cheryl Strayed trekked the PCT in order to process losing her mom to cancer. The months between losing her mother and the Mohave Desert, she resisted mourning through drugs and promiscuous sex, destroying her marriage and her self-respect. She set upon a journey to become the woman her mother wanted her to be.
All alone with her past, and very present to the obstacles that presented her on a daily basis, she began to surrender to her journey. Under an overfilled pack, she braved rattlesnakes, snow fields, mud, and rocks, bearing the heavy weight of things and grief. She finds metaphors all along the way, that answered to and restored her soul.
I took away two lessons from Wild about going through trauma. First step to processing difficult experiences is physical exertion. “Take a walk” is Cheryl’s advice for someone with a heavy heart. In yoga, this is opening up spaces and releasing energy bottled inside known as amma. Our biology is our biography, and moving the body is fundamental in processing experience. Whether it is a short walk, a long one, a run, a bike, or a yoga session, you are moving the amma, and processing by moving.
Being in nature is also essential. It was when Cheryl reached Crater Lake that she realized that the big hole in her heart would not go away, but it would manifest into something beautiful along her journey. Crater Lake is an extinct volcano filled with sapphire blue water. The unthinkable happened; a mountain exploded and lost its high point, and now it is an extraordinary lake that has created an entirely new ecosystem. Perhaps it’s a metaphor that seems too simple and convenient–bad things happened so that you can transform into something you otherwise could not have been. Can we really draw exact parallels from nature to human experience? A complicated question to a simple answer. But for me, it is the answer that makes sense.
Wild is the story that extended a hand to me, to find acceptance and surrender in my journey, and in my family’s journey. It is a story of surrender, how one woman stopped resisting her path, on a long, long path. I will never know answers to the questions that plague my mind, but my heart can be content should I settle into its all-knowing wisdom. One step ahead of the other, taking on each challenge as they approach, on life’s terms.
My Mom is amazing. I am learning more and more from her as we experience life on the most sacred terms. She endures obstacles with a smile, and does so with grace. I am taking her cues just like Cheryl’s mantra, “I am not afraid.” Though I believe in miracles, I don’t know what is going to happen, and I don’t need to know. It’s enough to be present today with my mom.
Photo: Heather via Flickr