When I was growing up we used to snicker about my dad and his hankering for road trips. He would plan for days or weeks, map alternate routes, fill the tires, top the tank, load the car, and wake us in the dark to start the drive so we could get there – wherever that was – ahead of schedule. And then he would be perfectly miserable in the place and with the people we had come to see. These trips always ended the way they began: uncomfortably early.
Near the end of his life, he made one last road trip across country to visit me. He never made it. He stopped at a hotel an hour from my home and called, asking me to come up and meet him for lunch. After a hamburger and a side of fries, he hugged me in the parking lot, turned around, and drove back the twelve hundred miles he’d come. His affliction was no longer a quirk. His sickness had prevailed and overtaken him, and he was utterly without a single square inch of home.
I ache to think of his lonely exile, but I don’t think he was so different than anyone else. His curse is mine and yours, too. The road is pitiless when the company you can neither keep nor avoid is your own. And yet, by degrees of habit, this is how we all live. We are all lost in the dark until we see the light up ahead and aim for it. There is always a light ahead.
At some point, you have to realize that the voice in your head is the source of your distress and the agent of your exhaustion. This may happen on a dark and deserted road or in the middle of a sleepless night. It may be after many sleepless nights, when you have forgotten how to fall asleep; how to relax; how to smile; how to survive another day; how to eat; or how to go without a drink, a fight, or the undermining influence of your own sinister second thoughts.
And thus we arrive at the first step on the path of faith, a step that Buddha called “right view.” It is the slender flicker of wisdom, the illuminating certainty that you are lost. As verification of your own insight, it is followed immediately by the second step, the realization that you have to turn yourself around.
Where and how:
The Art of Mindfulness, Sept. 10, Houston
The Practice of Everyday Life, Sept. 16-18, Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado
The Plunge, Oct. 1, Pittsburgh
Beginner’s Mind Retreat, Oct. 9, Los Angeles
Love Beyond Limits, Oct. 22, Athens, Georgia
I’ll leave the lights on for you.