Sedona, Arizona was the third stop on our drive-about where we planned our 7-week stay on the west side of town in a house at the base of Thunder Mountain. We arrived on a beautiful Saturday in December making our way from Flagstaff through Oak Creek Canyon where the setting reminded me of something from another world. Red rock formations appeared around each turn, and I was reminded of the Hallelujah Mountains on Pandora from the movie Avatar, which I’ve come to find out were inspired by the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park.
A week after arriving we hosted my daughter and friends for her 21st birthday and I learned during dinner at Dahl & Di Luca that she’s a champagne girl. For Christmas, Tim and I headed to Phoenix to spend the holiday with family, our moms and his siblings. This all sounded good to me in theory, but once the holiday arrived, I felt a wave of sadness and homesickness for not being with my children on Christmas for the first time in 21 years. I was with my mom, but my kids were not with their mom. It was difficult to reconcile feelings associated with entering a new phase of life.
The hustle and bustle of the past six months began to catch up with me and the reality of leaving my hometown, my son, and the unique beauty of the Pacific Northwest began to sink in. I headed into 2023 with a relatively somber outlook, which was amplified by the fact that both Tim and our dog Athena were struggling with health issues.
Tim had been experiencing back and hip pain since we left Seattle three months earlier. This made each location move difficult and also hindered his ability to explore, hike, and fully enjoy the adventure. Being on the road made dealing with access to healthcare more difficult too, we had not been in one location long enough to establish a diagnosis and treatment plan. Being in chronic pain can affect mood and mental health, so Tim and I both were in a funk. Add to this, that we were caring for our special pup Athena who had an aggressive form of cancer, we were both struggling with finding positivity and joy in the day to day.
“Live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.” -Rumi
My saving grace was to be out in nature and the magic of Sedona delivered a form of “truth telling” therapy for me. It began during the first week of 2023 when I hiked 34 miles, much of it with a dear friend who was visiting from Seattle. We have been through a lot together and the timing of her visit was just the medicine I needed: deep conversation and physical exertion. Together we explored the following awe-inspiring sites, all the while having conversations which made me feel like I could solve all the world’s problems, or in the very least my own troubles:
- Cathedral Rock
- The Birthing Cave
- Chimney Rock and The Summit
- Devil’s Bridge
- Mescal Trail
- Courthouse Butte & Bell Rock Loop
- Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park
My friend has had her own challenges during the last several years, recovering from a head injury and the years of therapy that followed. Through this personal work and recovery, she has developed a unique perspective on a life well lived. Our conversations are not light and superficial, we challenge one another’s thinking and share our lived experiences in a real and honest way in an effort to discover something new about ourselves and the world around us.
We joked that Sedona was our version of Disneyland, because each day together was magical – great weather, parking spots waiting for us in crowded parking lots, remarkable hikes, and time with a friend that feeds your soul. I don’t believe in coincidences, and when I realized that my mindset had shifted towards the positive during my friend’s visit, I began to adopt a new mantra, courtesy of Rumi, which is to live life as if everything is rigged in your favor.
“Peace is your home, integrity is the way to it, and everything you long for will meet you there.” – Martha Beck
I began listening to the audiobook version of The Way of Integrity by Martha Beck which uses The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, as a framework for helping people identify which stage they are in on their personal journey of living in integrity. The stages are aligned with inferno, purgatory, and paradise and an underlying practice advised by the author is to stop telling lies, to yourself or anyone else, something she committed to doing in absolution for one year. Now, that may sound easy, but think about the white lies you may tell a friend or a co-worker when they ask, “How are you doing?” If you reply with anything but absolute honesty, then you are telling a lie.
An exercise in the book encourages thinking about something you want and then imagining what it would feel like to have that thing. Maybe it’s an exotic vacation, a new car, or the latest tech gadget. What feelings do you have associated with obtaining this thing?
Next, think about something you yearn for, when you think of this you may feel a visceral sensation in your gut or chest. Notice how you feel when you think of what you yearn for compared to something you want.
Of the hundreds of people that Beck has conducted this exercise with, the most common answers for what people yearn for are freedom, joy, and peace. The trouble is that cultural definitions of what is deemed “successful” typically do not bring these things. Which led me to ask: Who is setting the bar for what success looks like for you?
If you seek success by society then you must be willing to engage and measure it based on terms defined by others. Internal success however is defined by you and a true path to purpose, meaning, and fulfillment. You can’t fail by staying true to your values and the unique gifts you have to offer.
The end of January marked the end of our planned drive-about. We had visions of traveling to Colorado and Wyoming in the spring, and even back to Seattle for the summer, but we had to pause and face the hard facts about Tim and Athena’s health situations. We packed our belongings into the trailer, loaded the dogs into the Land Rover, and headed to Phoenix to stay with my mom.
I celebrated my birthday during the first weekend of February with a beautiful dinner and in the days that followed I had to come to terms with several truths I had been avoiding.
Read the Truth in Sedona, Arizona – Part 2.