It took a few days of catching up on sleep, unpacking, and tending to what needed immediate attention, but I finally landed back home after my first trip to the Outer Banks, North Carolina.
Every morning while walking on the beach, I nearly leapt out of my skin because I was so delighted to be there. And yet, I came very close to cancelling the trip—which, in hindsight, seems ludicrous.
In the days preceding the trip, I went kayaking, hoping “river therapy” would help me to discern and follow what really felt like yes instead of the loudest voices clamoring for attention. Lots of fear and heavy, emotional stuff was being dredged up, and it felt like I was inside a pressure cooker. I attributed much of it to eclipse energy and had to use nearly every tool in my toolbox to deal with it. To borrow a term from Eckhart Tolle, my emotional pain body had become activated and was having a feast!
I took mindful breathing breaks every 20 minutes throughout the day and practiced mindfulness meditation both on and off the cushion. Listened to sleep stories on the Calm app and did guided yoga nidra meditations to get to sleep and return to sleep every night. I did RAIN meditation, self-Reiki, and listened to lots of sound baths. Got outside and exercised.
Part of the problem was the energy at home. I wasn’t sure everyone would be okay if I went. If a volcano erupted while I was away, getting back home wouldn’t be easy. The nearest airport was two hours away, and there were no non-stop flights. And what if I got Covid during my travels? Then what? I didn’t want to be on a plane exposing others.
If you put everything together, the predominant emotional flavors were fear and powerlessness: energies I did not want in the driver’s seat. I longed to vacation with Kim and Jodi, two of my very dearest friends. We live in different states, and it would be the first time the three of us would be together since Jodi’s wedding at least 30 years ago. I wanted to say yes to that.
A Sign on the River
Less than 24 hours before my flight was scheduled to take off, I went on the river and asked for some kind of sign. I hoped the more-than-human world would reveal something relevant and insightful.
I watched two ducks fly away from a spot up ahead where a group of ducks were gathered. Keeping a respectful distance, I paddled by. Once I had passed the ducks, I felt compelled to turn around and take a picture. There was something peculiar about those ducks.
Again, I kept a respectful distance and snapped a picture. After I got past them, I looked at the image on my phone screen. The sun was very bright, and the image was small, but I enlarged it enough to notice one of the ducks was caught in netting. The others were gathered around, silent.
I felt tremendous empathy and started crying. Wondering if I or anyone else could do something to help, I posted the picture in a community group on social media. Someone expressed caring. Another person gave me a phone number for wildlife conservation.
Then someone pointed out that the ducks were plastic. Decoys. Which I couldn’t tell from the distance I kept from them or from the tiny picture on my phone screen. They must have floated down the river still partially in their original packaging and gotten caught on the branches of a fallen tree.
I was so caught up in the intense, raw emotions moving through me regarding family dynamics and my upcoming trip that I couldn’t see clearly. I was crying over something that wasn’t even real. A decoy.
Then I realized that was the answer I sought. The picture I took of the decoy ducks was my image of the day, which was like pulling an oracle card from the deck of the universe. A duck decoy is used to lure ducks into danger, to trick or confuse. So perhaps the guidance was not to put so much faith in my emotions for now. Don’t let them guide me.
I got sucked in emotionally by a lure! My suffering came from not being able to see clearly and believing in an illusion that wasn’t real. Being so emotionally raw made me more vulnerable and impressionable.
Change of Heart
Ten hours before my 6 AM flight would depart, I still was almost certain I wouldn’t go. I had talked with both of my friends, and they said they hoped to see me but would support whatever I decided. Kim already had stopped at the grocery store to stock up on frozen vegetarian meals for me.
When my son found me in the living room not getting ready for my trip, he gave me an eleventh hour pep talk. He assured me everything would be fine at home and painted a picture of me enjoying the company of dear friends. Watching the moon rise on the beach. Walking on the beach. And on and on. As he spoke, I imagined myself there and resumed the packing effort I had abandoned the previous day. I had to wake up at 2:30 AM to leave for the airport by 3:00, and he would drive me.
Before going to bed (a few hours before I had to get up), I felt confident everyone would be okay at home. I longed to be with my friends, at the ocean, when the moon was full. To say yes to the beautiful, generous invitation from Kim and her husband. Mary Oliver’s poem “The Journey” had come to mind more than once that day.
I dreaded the whole airport scene, the disruption of my sleep schedule, and all of the driving involved. I hoped people wouldn’t be rude to one another based on whether or not they were wearing a mask. The brain’s negativity bias kept my expectations for civility low.
However, everyone was really chill. And kind and friendly. There were zero issues at the airports or on any of my flights. Nobody displayed an attitude. Some people wore masks, and some didn’t. And it was okay. On one of my flights, someone noticed a tiny earbud on the floor next to the aisle, and people were determined to find the person who had dropped it. Once that person was found, she was so grateful and said she’d been looking everywhere for it. There were smiles and sighs of relief when the earbud was returned to its owner. My airport and flight experiences raised my faith in humanity a notch. I sat across the aisle from people who wanted to help and set in motion a wave of caring.
Neuropsychologist, Rick Hanson, explains our brain’s negativity bias is like velcro for the “bad” and threatening and like teflon for the “good”. It’s a brain mechanism that helped to keep our ancient ancestors safe from the very real threat of being eaten by predators. However, it doesn’t serve so well now. World news can leave us feeling the world is a very dangerous place, and we must always be on-guard. Sometimes dangerous situations and people do make their way into our orbit. However, it’s useful to remember and experience that there are many kind and helpful people in the world, despite the newsworthy anomalies. The vast majority of flights won’t be marred by argumentative people and outbursts, although the outbursts draw media attention.
Experiencing positive energy en route corrected some of my exaggerated narratives about “people these days”. But of course there was much, much more that made the trip worthwhile.
Waking up at 2:30 AM was worth it. (You just do it.) Spending time with Kim and her family and Jodi and her husband was worth it a hundred times over. Being at the ocean is always worth it. So was getting a change of scenery and a little distance from the drama back home. Great weather every day was the icing on the cake.
When Kim and her husband met me at the airport, she told me she knew all along I’d end up coming.
I stood on the beach that first evening and photographed the eclipse moon rising over the ocean at high tide. Then I walked about 30 steps back to the beach house and sat on the top floor with Kim, looking out at the moon rising and shining a path of light on the water. It was exactly as my son had described, and I felt so grateful to be there.
Every morning, my alarm was set for 5:40 so I could witness and photograph the sunrise. Then I took a long walk on the endless beach. (One morning, I walked more than 18,000 steps to a wild horse beach!) My favorite time to be on any beach is at sunrise. I’m much more of an early morning air beach-walker than a hot sun, mid-day beach-sitter. However, I did walk and sit on the beach with Kim and Jodi in the afternoon with a very happy heart.
The timing was perfect. A week prior, a huge storm blew through the Outer Banks and wreaked havoc (similar to the storm that kicked up at home, it now occurs to me). The storm passed, and it was safe to travel. We were there just before the official beginning of summer tourist season, when it was still relatively quiet and uncrowded.
My daily gratitudes included:
- Listening to the rhythm of the waves
- Breathing in the ocean air
- Spending time with Jodi and Kim
- Being able to work remotely
- Ocean sunrises and the cooler, morning air
- Being fascinated by the various forms of sea life that washed up on the beach
- Only having to walk about 20 steps from the door of my bedroom suite to the beach
- Ideal weather.
It was a deeply nourishing experience, on many levels. Stretching out of my comfort zone and traveling for the first time since Covid began felt liberating. Vacationing with girlfriends was a wonderful experience I hope to repeat. Beach therapy was greatly appreciated and restorative.
On Calm, there is a sleep story, The Beauty of the Outer Banks, written by Candace Rardon. I’ve listened to it—or rather, tried to listen to it—at least a few dozen times but always fall asleep at some point. Out of curiosity one morning after returning home, I skipped ahead to see how it ends.
“In such a place as this, where the natural world quietly undergoes such perpetual change, you can find the peace to weather the seasons of your own life. To surrender to the winds, to be shaped by the tides, and to let every invisible current carry you to new and undiscovered lands.”
This (plus being with friends) sums up what I experienced at the Outer Banks. I returned home feeling different than before I left. More adventurous and liberated from fear. Refreshed. Renewed. The decision to go on the trip fed my strong self. I’m grateful for the friends I spent time with there and for the friends who encouraged me to go and experience a place they knew I would love once the storms subsided.
I’m so glad I said yes to my heart’s expansive, innermost desire instead of the constricting, convincing fears that would keep me small. The travel was fine. People were pleasant. Our house is still standing, and the energy has improved. Once again, I learned not to put blind faith in worry, anxiety, and fear or to expect the worst from people. In this moment, all is well. I am fine.
And in this moment, too.
It’s okay if you lose the present moment—if you get caught up in the real or perceived fear and drama of the human world. Simply find it again. When you find it, you’ll be able to see more clearly and respond with greater wisdom to whatever storms arise.
If I ever try to convince myself that the process of traveling is too much of a hassle to justify going somewhere spectacular to be with people who mean a lot to my heart, please remind me not to believe those self-limiting thoughts. Sure, take some time to acknowledge and process whatever emotions are coming up. But don’t be derailed by the pain-body and its flying-monkey thoughts! Spending time with people and in places that resource our lives helps us to put better energy into the world. Anything we can do to channel more light and goodness into the world is absolutely worthwhile.
To see some of the nature videos I made while vacationing in the Outer Banks, check out my Vimeo channel.
Here are some of my photos from the trip:
Seaside, running from June 28-July 28, 2022 at the Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library upstairs gallery.
© 2022 Susan Meyer. All rights reserved. You are welcome to share this post or excerpts of it as long as you give proper credit to Susan Meyer and SusanTaraMeyer.com. Susan Meyer is a photographer, writer, and spiritual teacher who lives on the Hudson River in Upstate New York.