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Scotland Day Two - Untangling


It is funny how we humans continue trying to learn the same lessons over and over again. Or maybe it is just me and I'm too hard headed to learn them the first time.


As I sit this morning alone on a beach in Southern California, my last day on the trip I'm currently on, I'm trying to take in all I possibly can of the sand beneath my toes, the rocks with all of their crevices, the sound of the waves as they crash against the rock and the gentle murmur of the water as it retreats back to the ocean. I watch two crabs scuttle under a rock as I step too close for their comfort. Will I remember them? Will I remember this entire morning? I want to burn every bit of it into my memory, every granular detail. And it saddens me to know that it will slip away.


I'm driven by the fear of loosing the detail of memories. Of places and their sounds and smells and how I was feeling while I was there. I think that is partly why I take pictures and write. To preserve the moments for myself. And I think a lot of us experience this fear of time passing us by and this need to memorialize the moment.


On Day Two in Scotland, I spent the day in Edinburgh. I wanted to start my trip with the old city before venturing north into the Highlands and islands. I jam packed my day with Edinburgh castle, the old town and the Royal Mile. I think I walked about 16 miles that day. And at the end of the day, I climbed part way up Arthur's Seat, overlooking the city. I sat in the grass there and wrote, taking in as much as I could.


I was frustrated that day with the frantic pace I'd kept the whole day. Here I had spent months and months planning this trip and the first full day had passed in the blink of an eye and I had barely taken it in. My mind was already onto the next. Next day, next item on the itinerary, next meal. Never able to just sit and see and take it all in. Not able to find a contentedness in the present moment and sit with this place I'd been dreaming about. I worried all I would retain of the day was blurred busyness. I worried how this trip would go as a whole. All those expectations I was holding, what would the trip even be for if I couldn't keep hold of the memories from it. I knew the answer, slow down slow down. But how do I slow down? The constant question.




I wrote: "How do I find contentedness? How do I learn to rest and open my eyes and see the beauty around me? How do I learn to find appreciation?"





Like I said, it's funny how we humans continue trying to learn the same lessons over and over again. As I sit here today on this beach, at the end of another trip, I'm still contemplating the same questions.


I had a hunch already on Day Two of that tip, a hunch that I would explore throughout the trip and continue to explore still. I think it takes an untangling. I see this all now in a kinder lens, because now I know it takes a lot of work to untangle and unravel all of this urgency culture that we're immersed in daily: the oversaturation of noise and images and marketing and opinions and junk that we are bombarded with daily. I think so many of us feel overwhelmed and isolated by it all and it makes sense. Our minds weren't built for this, they weren't made for this. We feel this unrest and disconnection because none of this is natural for us as human beings.


As I sat and watched others in

Edinburgh that day, I was frustrated by all

of the people just consuming everything around us. I'd watch countless people walk up to a place or a view and hold up their phone for a picture, look at the picture, and then move on without seeing the thing itself. I get frustrated by this nearly everywhere I go. I get frustrated with myself because I do it too.


We come to a new city, we busy ourselves, we take in as much as we can as fast as we can because we feel that scarcity of time creeping up on us. We hold it all at arms length too because we don't feel we have the time to take it in, to process, to feel what it means to be here. It becomes habit and we repeat and repeat it, on to the next.


When I take this all in, in a place like Scotland, where people go for the rich history, old buildings and ruins and gorgeous landscape, I get confused even more by all of our intentions, both conscious and unconscious. What are we actually seeking, why do we want to travel? In Scotland (and Europe in general) I think we seek this nostalgic feeling, both of the old cities and the natural landscapes. We want to recreate these scenes that speak to a time an older time, a more stable time of simpler wonders and less distractions. We create hashtags of this feeling, we fill our feeds with it, buy more to try to style our homes around it, take vacations to find it. And yet, that feeling we're seeking, that nostalgia we're searching for still feels just out of reach. There is a sorrow as we travel, as the time and effort of the journey continues to march on, and we are still unable to feel the depth of whatever this is we're seeking.


These are places of the natural past. They were not made to be instagramable or consumed this quickly.


I wonder if that is what we are actually longing for: a time where there was simplicity and freedom of time, not defined by the images you take or share, the places you go, the memories you create. There is a longing for the connection to people and places that is truer, purer, and deeper because of that simplicity and freedom.


Those, I think, are the ways of being that we are made for.


This busyness that we've created, the urgency culture, the over-sharing culture, the capture-it-all culture, it doesn't allow us to just be.


And so today, as I sit here on this beach in Southern California, I'm thinking and learning more about that urgency mindset as I still hastily snap away at landscapes that already feel like they are fading. I snap away in hopes of holding onto this place and this feeling. But how can I possibly retain this place if I don't allow myself to sit here and be held by the landscape.



Okay, let's take a breath and recenter. I hope my meandering thoughts are not too much.


That untangling. Right, right. I have to remind myself to breathe constantly. Sit in this place. Take in this moment. Allow yourself the space to feel what you're feeling, deeply. And breathe again.


The ocean is a place I'll explore a lot as I write in the days to come. But as I sit here this morning next to it, I'm reminded of the wonderful teacher that it is. When you sit with it, you start to notice its patterns. Every wave is different, but within a few minutes of sitting and watching, you notice they build in size and power, larger and larger, crashing against the shore. And then there is a quieter time that follows. A gentler presence of the water. Everything seems to settle. Your body even relaxes with the sea. Eventually they will start to build again, and on and on that cycle goes as the tides come in and go out on an even grander cycle, as the earth pulls the moon and the moon pulls the water in an even grander cycle still.


We know that chaos. We know those times of the waves crashing powerfully onto the coast, the tension, the hesitation mixed with anticipation as you try to prepare for the unpredictable. We know that mix of emotion and tension, all jumbling and churning and crashing to shore. We know it all too well.


It is the other times though, that I seek. The quiet, gentler moments where you can hear the birds again, the gurgle of water over rocks, where you have the time to explore what has washed ashore. Where you can breathe and let your shoulders relax and walk slowly along the patterned sand.


Those moments of stillness are the natural and necessary balance to the noise and intensity. I think we have to find our way back to that state of being to truly experience and hold both moments. That is the untangling. Exploring what peace can look like, exploring how we can hold our lives and our memories and ourselves and our loved ones more gently and more fully.



That night in Scotland as I sat and wrote, a man next to me at the bar asked what I was writing about. And why not tell him, I thought, I'll never see him again, let's see what could come of this conversation. We had a good conversation and he brought an interesting perspective to some of these ramblings. I only wrote one thing down after the conversation, it was what he said to me as he was leaving:


"We change our story when we travel. The people we meet and the places we see, they make us"


Now, English wasn't his first language, so I'm not sure if it translated exactly how he intended, but I think about his strange and wonderful phrasing often.

We change our stories

and

These places make us

This too, is a balance. A dance. The waves coming in and out. An invitation and an initiation both by us and for us.


I can breathe. No matter how many pictures I take, how well I try to retain these memories, the fabric of my being has shifted. Wherever and however I choose to be, the landscape will hold me and my story will be forever altered.


What a beautiful send off for me as I left the city and started my travels north into the landscape of the Highlands.





3 comments

3 Comments


Samantha Sheppard
Samantha Sheppard
Sep 07, 2023

Thank you both! I appreciate your kind words and I’m so glad you’re enjoying these!

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Carol Blankenship
Carol Blankenship
Sep 07, 2023

Beautifully said. I'm enjoying your meanderings, wanderings and wondering. Thank you for sharing your journey, both then and now. Interesting how we come back to some of the same questions, reminders to self to slow down.

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Spectacular, Sam! Insights, questions, and impressions. A joy to read.

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