“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R Tolkein, The Fellowship of the Ring
My late teens and twenties were marked with some difficult struggles. I have always had strong drive, determination and will power, so even in those days, I could press on and press through almost anything, even what almost anyone else would notice as depression and anxiety. There would come those days, however, when they would win and I would be overcome with an emotional turmoil like nothing I could otherwise have imagined. In each of those moments I was sure that I was losing my mind. Sleep often helped get me through, and then the episode would pass. I was able to go back to pressing on and pressing through. That became my personal roller coaster.
It was not a time or a place in my life where one openly talked about or even sought help for anxiety and depression. Those words were not in my vocabulary. It would take me more than a decade to find insight, guidance and healing practices that would turn my roller coaster into more of my own human, personal path. I could write chapters about what I learned and continue to learn about the stuff that makes me up, how deep human experiences of fear, loss, anger, hope, joy and acceptance make up this path. None of those insights, though, helped me along in the short term or the long term like learning to be present in this moment–keeping my feet–if you will.
I was 20, and I had had little sleep due to studying and volunteer work all the stuff I was involved in during my junior year of college. It was a late afternoon, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the most awful feeling of doom and hopelessness. Not again, I remember thinking. I just can’t do this. And, without thinking I ran out of my dorm and into a nearby field. I collapsed on the ground there in sight of a large oak tree. I sat on ground and began to look at what was beneath me: grass, now turning brown, various insects crawling along oblivious to me. The sky was cloudy but with discernible shapes. There was a light breeze on my face. Time dropped away. It took me a while to realize how much time had passed and how much more calm and settled I was.
There was so much loss built into those experiences,I came to see. Those very experiences and the turmoil they produced in me, however, brought me to that moment in the field. It would lead me later to learn the practice of “present moment” from Thich Nhat Hanh. Discovery and healing came slowly for me, but they were always built around what I experienced in the field that day.
Finding my own feet, my own way, a little spot on the earth, a breath that is now, a moment that is here became my true hope, my true salvation. Here, now, the next breath, miraculously, are always with me, and they always will be until I come to my path’s end.