As kids, our parents are always telling us not to scratch itches. Like Chicken Pox or mosquito bites. But here’s the thing, I don’t have the best self control in the world. I do have restraint, and I’m pretty good at damage control. Evidence: there are scars where I chose a few specific pox which I scratched like mad.
And now summer is here, and I already have enough bug bites to keep me busy, but I’m squirming under the discomfort of a different kind of itch. It starts between the sinews in my feet and makes the muscles in my legs seize. It makes my arms twitch when I drive past a highway with the potential to lead me away. Anywhere. Somewhere. It’s a relentless restlessness which leaves me tossing in bed, or awake at 2:15 am writing blog posts about it.
I keep trying on different narratives to convince myself to stay present. Reminding myself daily (hourly even) that I am lucky to be investing time feeding the relationships of family and friends, performing social obligations, crapping in toilets and sleeping in a bed. I get to run in the evening after work; let that be enough. Bike beautiful trails in my own town with some of the greatest folk around; be satiated. Life and My People are good to me, so I’m frustrated/ashamed that the itch is so persistent. I have it all, yet I need more… and less.
I am a tempestuous creature of absolutes. If I’m doing something, it had better be all the way, otherwise I’m wasting time and nothing is being fulfilled. In here this is a lot of potential for less than ideal manifestations. I spend daylight hours at work, accomplishing “I’m not sure what” and then squeeze in an adventure in the afternoon. Halfsies investments at best.
The things I do pour myself into all the way are, well, rather embarrassing. Watching entire seasons of TV shows in a go, eating the whole wheel of cheese, obsessing and investing long hours at work; because I can’t not. In a different light, I’m an addict.
I suppose what most makes me love and appreciate the itch is that it both checks and feeds that piece of me. It is placated by orienting my whole being toward walking, challenging life and nature and gorging on the lessons they feed. The unrefined flavor of nature better suites my palate than that of social process. Out there lessons are straight forward. If it is too much, I curl up and cry and can trust that when I get up I’ll still have to get through it; and I like that. I like being physically spent at the end of the day and to begin the next with straight-forward, quantifiable objectives.
The more I write the more I see that most of the things I pursue out there are just as real in here, only, they assume different forms. Instead of a mountain, it’s a pile of paperwork. An annoying coworker is a mosquito (although you aren’t allowed to swat them). Learning to navigate relationships is like reading a map at a trail crossing without signs. Sometimes you hit smooth straight-aways and can stride. Other times you go the wrong way and have to back-track or recalibrate. The most dangerous threat is stagnation.
The main difference I see between “out there” and “in here” is in the degree of simplicity in quantifying progress. Out there it is counted in miles and days and seasons; all relentlessly absolute. In here it is relationship dynamics and pay checks. While paychecks are relentlessly absolute (just ask your employer or the Fed), I do not find relationships to be so clear.
To be quite frank, the lessons that I’m up against right now are a lot like bushwhacking. No I’m not sure if I’m always going in the right direction. No I can’t judge my pace. Yes progress is hard to discern. Yes I’m in the thick of it and Yes I’m learning loads. But I trust that as long as I keep my internal compass oriented to true north then I can hope to eventually hit a good overlook from which I can scan the terrain I have just navigated and smile.