I sat in a long line of cars leaving Little Cottonwood Canyon and reality puffed in my face. The stagnant top layer of sludge suffocated the town nestled between mountains. “Hearing about the crappy air from all the weather people is one thing”, I practically shouted to my friend, “but this, this is ridiculous”. While ranting about the toxic sludge in front of us I wondered why I was having such a visceral response. Escaping into the mountains leaves visual cues and monotony behind- it makes the grind dispel if even briefly. The computers, papers, and to do lists cannot ascend with me and I can will my mind to contemplate the trees and sky and my place therein instead of how the heck I’m going to manage certain barren wastelands or heavy pollution below.
Looking at the soul sucker inversion cloud unavoidably in front of us left me feeling anxious. I was headed into the guck at a weak 30 mph. Not too fast, not too slow, seemingly on autopilot. Instinctively, I almost took gasping breaths of canyon air as if driving under water; saving up oxygen for later. Sitting amidst the red break lights and exhaust fumes I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain in words my connection to the sludge. My words have been slow lately- unable to express my experiences and emotions – they’ve turned into inarticulate traitors because they haven’t been there for me when I need to make sense or explanation. But I knew. I knew I let the sludge slow me down. I’d let the false thoughts of circumstance saturate my mind and body until I became a part of it. My reaction to the air was not unlike seeing that person you dodge at the grocery store because of how they made you feel in jr. high. You knew better than to let them get the best of you, but it didn’t stop you from turning down the other aisle. The sludge and smog was both friend and foe, and I knew I needed to clear out.
I felt a bit stuck. Stagnant. Just like the air -too heavy for the life I’m blessed with. Nothing big or decidedly ugly had happened in the last few months, just the particles of sameness I had been choosing to breathe instead of the vista behind me. And let me tell you, my vista is pretty dang good. It’s a choice and takes practice to reset perception and see the facets of our valleys. All I had to do was look over my shoulder to see the blue sky and incredible view. Descending home did not mean the clean air above me disappeared. It still exists. Later that night I remembered a passage I loved by Kristin Armstrong:
“ The Lord knows your inner landscape, no matter the painstaking efforts you make to beautify the outside. He knows …the expected yield of your personal harvest…He knows the scorched places of your unmet desire. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to invite Him into your wasteland. He wants to replant and irrigate, knowing the richness of land hidden under ruins. When He works your field, nothing is wasted…not time, not relationships, not pain, not any experience. He uses everything. The decomposition of one life can fertilize the next.”
While things may seem stagnant, maybe they’re just still – seeds growing underground, waiting for the right time to harvest.
How about you? What is the benefit of stillness? What can we learn from the more suspended times of action in our lives? Is there a line of action and surrender? What do you do to shift out of autopilot and start living more fully?