Tuesday, October 24, 2017
A Cabin in the Woods: Running from Solitude
I met John at a bar near Dartmouth College. I was the lone Yankees fan there watching their playoff game against the Houston Astros. He struck up conversation with me asking how I came to be a Yankees fan in New Hampshire. I told him that I am from New Jersey and that I had come to New Hampshire for a solo weekend getaway – that my plans were to do some writing and hiking and reflecting. He jokingly asked me if this was like a “Stella Got Her Groove Back” kind of trip. I laughed and responded that I enjoy spending time alone. He looked at me with a serious expression and said “I could never do that.” John is a vascular surgeon. He goes into all different parts people’s bodies, their stomachs, legs, arms to repair blood vessels. Yet spending a weekend alone in a cabin in the woods in New Hampshire was something that he was afraid to do. That really struck me - a man who saves lives for a living afraid to spend time alone with his thoughts. Solitude can be an extremely frightening notion to people. Even some friends told me on the morning that I was leaving that they don’t think that they could do what I was doing. So many people’s perception of this trip was that this was risky. I saw it as long overdue and something that more people should do. We spend so much time in our lives filling up our days with busy-ness. We consider alone time curling up on the couch binge watching Real Housewives or scrolling through social media. However, we never take the time to fully unplug. To fully disconnect. Honestly, when I arrived at the cabin an overwhelming sense of vulnerability overcame me. I was alone in a cabin in the woods (on Friday the 13th, mind you. Terrible planning on my part!), there was no cellular service, no neighbors, nothing. Just me at the end of a very long gravel driveway and a ravine running along the side and back of the house. And so you know what I did? I left. I got back in my car and drove around. Tried to get my bearings. I drove up to Mount Cardigan but didn’t feel prepared to hike it yet. It was 2:30PM and I hadn’t eaten lunch. I drove down to Lake Mascoma and sat for a few minutes thinking about what I should do next. I decided to drive to Dartmouth. I walked around the campus. It was an absolutely stunning autumn afternoon. The trees were changing. The sky was blue with not even the hint of a cloud. The sun was warm and the air was crisp and cool. Even though I was walking by myself I didn’t feel alone. I was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of students heading to and from class, of alumni who were visiting for the weekend for a squash tournament giving their families tours of campus, of people shopping in the downtown area. I felt connected. Back at the cabin I felt isolated. I realized that I actually was feeling a little bit scared and extremely vulnerable. Alone at the cabin felt very different than alone in my car or alone at the mall or alone at the beach. I felt out of my element and that was very uncomfortable. So I decided to have dinner at the pub where I watched the Yankees game and met John. After John left I started to think about the notion of feeling alone and vulnerable. When the game ended I headed back to cabin. I hurried from my car to the door – you know, just in case any bears or moose or movie serial killers were hanging out nearby – and I went into the cabin and got ready for bed. It was dark and the noises were unfamiliar – the occasional sound of the propane fireplace, the creak of the wooden walls settling, the sound of the creek outside. I drifted off to a sound sleep. I awoke the following morning around 8AM. I was no longer feeling scared and vulnerable. The feelings of excitement and determination that had prompted me to plan this trip had returned. I had some breakfast, drank my coffee, read the first chapter of Pema Chodron’s book Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living and then sat at my computer and wrote. It came easily. The experience of the day before was important and I felt compelled to sit down and write about it so I could share it. To share about how I felt vulnerable and needed to leave the cabin to seek the comfort of community, the familiarity of a city. How I wasn’t really running from the cabin, I was running from myself – my own fears and insecurities. There is a passage in her book where Chodron writes, “Although it is embarrassing and painful, it is very healing to stop hiding from yourself.” It was so timely. So perfect. Exactly what I needed to be reminded of as I started this new day. No more hiding.
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