Saturday, October 6, 2007

Out of My Element

What a funny group we must have looked like to the rough and tumble rangers patrolling our camp site! My husband and his dog are the quintessential outdoors men. In fact, they camped together in the middle of the desert for six months with minimal supplies. Then, on the other hand, you have me and my dog--she's wearing a fuzzy coat and I just keep asking "what do we do now?" Us city girls were a bit lost!

My husband was smart enough to bring us to a camp site that had running well water, bathrooms and hot showers. Granted, we had to walk down the road a bit to get there, but that was the extent of the difficulty there. I really don't know if I would want to go camping without those things...the bathroom was quite comforting to me! So, at the end of it all, I imagine by some people's standards, I haven't really camped at all. Well, we made a campfire and slept on the ground so...that qualifies it as camping in my book. I've learned that I don't like sleeping on the ground very much but I do like being outside all day--that is, if it isn't raining!

I was surprised by how hard it was, even with the luxury of a bathroom and shower. When people talk about camping, I don't usually give much thought to it, but now I will. For people who do it for any length of time, like my hubby has, I tip my hat.

Appropriately, I was reading "Into the Wild" during our stay in the foothills of NC. I had heard rave reviews about the book and was anxious to read it. I had so much difficulty relating to the main character, however. Even though I now was able to have a broader appreciation for his wilderness feat, I just, at my core, can't understand why anyone would want to drop out of the world like that. I understand intellectually that many people feel the same way Chris McCandless did, but I haven't yet found a thread to relate it to my own life in a way that will allow me to feel compassion for his journey and his death. It seems like such a tragic death, a selfish way to treat one's family and a cowardly way to deal with life's difficulties. I know many disagree with me on these points...

As for my own inner journey during my gentle attempt at going into the wild, I discovered something a bit disappointing about myself. On the ride to the mountains and for the first day or so, I was plagued by underlying anxiety. I was only going to be gone for a few days but the lack of "civilization" and methods of communication were quite disconcerting. What if something happened and I got sick? It's so silly and illogical--we were merely 20-30 minutes from a major medical center! Nonetheless,
it took me over a day to shake my fears. This irrational anxiety took me by surprise.

I have transplant buddies who have gone to exotic places--my friend who recently passed away was a great explorer and, among other things, hiked in Butan! Another transplant buddy went to Puerto Rico and another went on a long cruise. When they told me of their journeys, I never doubted that, given the opportunity, I wouldn't give a second thought to doing the same thing. Now, I know, that may not be the case.

Don't get me wrong, I have traveled--mostly to New York and San Fran. But I feel comfortable in those places that if anything goes wrong, there will be people to help me. Would I feel that way if I went to Butan? No way. Would I feel that way in Puerto Rico? Doubtful. Would I feel safe on a cruise? Nope.

I am adventurous with my thoughts and my willingness to take career/personal risks. What I know now is that my adventurous spirit may not extend out to geographical locations! I find that disappointing.

I felt out of my element being out of my element! Perhaps that is what I don't understand about Chris McCandless and others like him that go "Into the Wild." Perhaps there are people who feel most in their element being out of their element. If that is true, I suppose I can relate only in that I enjoy being out of my emotional element and taking personal risks. I have certainly made some impressive errors in my emotional adventures, just as he made some in his physical adventure.

Are there times when you feel out of your element and it invigorates you? What are the ways in which being out of your element fills you with anxiety? Is Chris McCandless unique or is there a part of him in all of us?


JC said...

Most times, I feel out of my element LOL. But I push myself to become comfortable anyway. I can't only feel in my element in front of my laptop tapping away at plot ideas, now can I?

Great pictures by the way - what an adorable coat for the dog LOL :)

Femail doc said...

I sometimes feel out of my element in a yoga class of all places. Some exotic pose or other challenges me in physical ways that feel oddly threatening.

Part of what brings an unpleasant thrill of fear in what is supposed to be a tranquil experience is the worry that I will do something awful to my aging knees. Scientists using some kind of new age functional brain imaging found that pain from degenerative joints was associated with increased activity in the cingulate cortex, the thalamus, and the amygdala. These areas are involved in the processing of fear, emotions, and in aversive conditioning.

I don't know what might activate those areas in you as you (and your darling besweatered doggie) rough it, but maybe your heightened physical awareness around your breathing activates some of the same pathways.