I’ve been in the desert west for 3 weeks, literally. Two weeks in Santa Fe followed by a week in Taos. I’ve been in Santa Fe before; this time I came with an open mind and a desire for adventure. This decision to get a little uncomfortable and to step out of my routine opened me up to amazing new discoveries and a few scary moments.
I drove out to Abiquiu, a town about 45 minutes from Santa Fe, known, in part, as the site of Georgia O’Keeffe’s last home. During this visit I drove farther west, curious about the spiritual and creative energy that draws people to this area. I’d read about a place, the Monastery of Christ in the Desert, mentioned in a “things to do in the area” that called to me.
Some 15 miles past Bodes, the local general store, the highway began winding upwards. That was where I spotted the sign for the monastery, at the end of a thirteen-mile dirt road. No other roads, no houses, just a few Forest Service access roads to the river.
A note on the website cautioned visitors that the road could be slippery. In case of rain, drivers were advised to pull over and wait 30 minutes for the surface to drive. So, on some level I understood that this wasn’t just a meandering country road.
I turned onto the road, noticing the dead-end sign, which felt more like a warning than a statement of fact. I kept going. About 2 miles up the gravel road, still fairly wide and straight, cell service disappeared. Only then did it dawn on me that no one knew where I was—no one was expecting me that night or waiting for a check in. My little compact rental car could break down, I could get stuck, or accidentally drive over the edge of a cliff and it might be days before anyone realized I was gone. Hands gripped tighter on the wheels, I kept going. The road climbed up and around the sides of rocky mountains; to my left was a rock-lined embankment, dropping gently down to the fast-moving Chama River. The river was wide and running fast, with several hairpin turns that mimicked the road I was traveling. One didn’t slide off the road here. Even when there was solid ground on both sides of the road it was rutted and deep. If I went off the road my car couldn’t have gotten out under her own power.
Never had I felt quite so alone—or vulnerable. Maybe a little foolish.
There was a moment where I contemplated turning around—knowing that the narrowing road was no longer large or safe enough for a 3-point turn. There was a moment when my anxieties and fears almost got the best of me.
It was late afternoon. I watched storm clouds roll in. The clouds here are amazing; some 7000 feet above sea level rain and storms arose quickly and violently, often disappearing as rapidly as they came on. They’re fascinating when watched safely from some vantage point. Not in a car, not on this road. I had intentionally chosen to arrive in Abiquiu late in the day in order to stay through sunset. It was 5:20; the monastery closed at 6pm (yes, poor planning on my part). And driving more than 20 miles (though I did hit 27 mph at one point) an hour caused the car to rattle and on the uphill sections it bucked, surged, and faltered causing me to imagine some dire engine or drivetrain problem. The thirteen miles took over 40 minutes to drive. It was the most fearful drive I’ve ever experienced, in part intensified by being alone. And feeling alone. Vulnerable, exposed, scared, powerless.
Here’s the thing. I chose to go down this road—I took the risk without being able to fully judge its impact. I came to a point where it felt like turning back was not an option.
I did make it safely to the monastery. The car didn’t blow up, the tires didn’t rupture and I didn’t slide off the side of the cliff. It was quiet and serene and I sat there in the silent meditation garden staring back towards those large rock formations watching it rain, knowing that I was being forced to sit and experience this part of the journey.
* * *
Sometimes we find ourselves in a desert. Some unknown place where around each sharp bend in the road we are forced to accept we will encounter the unknown. It is exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures.
My return trip was less harrowing. Facing an uphill curve, around the side of a rock formation, with nothing but air and a rocky descent to my right, I experienced a rush of adrenaline, followed by a surprising outburst of tears. I’d made it. I would make it. It was relief and release.
I had a choice. There is always a choice, if we’re willing to risk it. If we’re willing to take a close look and ask ourselves what we want or need. I could have turned back or trusted that there was some unrevealed purpose for that journey, on that day. If I had turned back, would I have felt cheated? Doubts, recriminations—the road untraveled. What if can be a thought that leads us off in a less productive, but safer direction.
What will you do if you’re facing a tough road? What happens if one piece of your life—sex, marriage, job, relationship, etc.—isn’t what you want it to be? What will you choose to do?
I’ll leave you with these two questions:
- What do you need? Start asking yourself that question. Think about what might shift if you took a few minutes to ask yourself that question, “What do I want right now?” It’s a habit I’m practicing—a way of being present to myself more frequently. What do I want? Do I want coffee or do I really want a glass of water? Do I want to want to do this…or that? Embrace a sense of newness. What makes you feel good? What do you want to change, to let go of? Will you need support? What might change?
- What are you willing to risk? Any journey involves risk. Sometimes we stay in a position, frame of mind, or situation that really isn’t want we long for. Our need for safety—from personal or physical safety to the safety of the known and familiar—the comfort ‘food’ of our daily lives. Sometimes we get so used to our discomfort that change feels too scary. Do you find yourself yearning for something different, for more? What would be a first step for you? It can be small. Silent. Or big and audacious. A declaration. A release. Embracing something new.
You get to make that choice.
Also published on Medium.