Will and I spent a winter in Croatia. (Side note: if you haven’t been, go! It’s a spectacular country.) We’d spent a few days in Split and we were heading down to Dubrovnik for the rest of winter. We were all set with a map, there were road signs, and I’d printed the directions. For no rhyme or reason, neither our Hungarian or USA phone would work; no worries, we would sort that out when we got to Dubrovnik. But about three minutes into the trip, we were already lost!
There were very few street signs and they were all in Greek (Croatian really, but it was all Greek to us) and unfortunately the signs and our map didn’t seem to agree with each other. Completely frustrated, it was clear we needed to pick a path.
This predicament reminded me of a pivotal moment of my life; a day when I was on my way to a Tibetan stupa. (Curious? Find out why in my book.) I was on a path in my brand new Volkswagen Beetle following a small truck carrying a bearded, hippy astrologer and his girlfriend whom I’d just met. (Well, we’d actually been naked together already… another good reason to read my book.) After driving on various different main roads, we eventually hit a dirt road. I watched my guides in their truck and fishtailed a little bit on the dirt. I didn’t know how my new Volkswagen would handle off-road, but I took the risk and went for it anyway – in retrospect, not the best idea.
A bit too confident in my car’s abilities, I got myself stuck in the sand.
I revved the engine repeatedly. The more I tried to get unstuck, the deeper my car got stuck in the sand. And I realized that this wasn’t new for me, literally or metaphorically. It was actually a very familiar feeling. I’d spent a lot of my life stuck in the slippery sandpit of my mind, feverishly trying to get unstuck and trying to think my way out of my annoyingly repetitive thoughts. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned the name for my kind of mental stuckness: OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). Back then, I certainly didn’t consider my OCD a gift.
But today, I see the insight that OCD has given me, insight into how we as human beings get ourselves stuck.
But there I was in my Volkswagen, in that same repetitive cycle: throw it in reverse, throw it in first, throw it in reverse, throw it in first – then repeat. Finally, Mr. Astrologer ran from his truck, yelling and waving his arms for me to stop. At this point, I felt hopelessly defeated by the situation and had no idea how I was going to get out of it.
While I sat there in frustration, my hippy friend’s girlfriend started talking about the philosophy of Buddhism. You’d think this would further annoy me, considering my car was stuck up to its bumpers in sand. But weirdly enough, it calmed me down. I started to feel more… I guess you would call it, present in the moment. It was right then, that very moment, when my focus wasn’t on my frustration or my car or the sand, that my eyes were able to see what was right in front of me: one of the most beautiful vistas I had ever seen.
Suddenly, my attention turned when a monk, riding a bicycle with a basket, came pedaling down the dirt road. Later on I learned about the Buddhist monastery further down the road. But at that very moment, it was all so bizarre – and oddly inspiring. In that moment, I was able to take in everything. I just began to breathe and get in the flow of life. A few peaceful moments later, a four-wheel drive truck came whizzing down the dirt road. And lo and behold, this four-wheel drive just happened to have a winch that could get my Volkswagen out of the sand!
That was one of my defining moments. It was then I learned that, when we become aware and present, signs appear before us to let us know that we’re fishtailing or stuck. It wasn’t just my car that was stuck in the sand. I was stuck, mentally stuck, in all my frustration. In that precious moment, I realized the secret to getting unstuck in life is to quit resisting and to just get into the flow of things. Once you open your eyes to the problem, the solutions will reveal themselves.
So many times life has presented me with these opportunities, to just let go. And there I was again, lost somewhere in Croatia. Here’s what happened that winter day: we simply let go of our frustration and we allowed the universe to drive. And guess what? Letting go and trusting ourselves led us to the most spectacular road along the Adriatic Sea… an amazing path we most likely would not have discovered without getting lost.
Where are you holding on too tight? Stay tuned for my next post, an exercise in Letting Go.