Two weeks ago, I was immersed in a piney forest on the coast of Turkey, sweaty and happy and hiking with a tiny black Fjallraven backpack, an enormous bottle of water, and my old Pentax film camera. Having grown up as a summer camp junkie, there is nothing I enjoy more than immersing myself in the woods for a few hours and taking in fresh, piney air. Especially after having lived in New York City (Manhattan, at that) for three years, it always feels like a miracle to get to just exist in an open, natural space for a few hours. My father, however, who had signed us all up for this week-long excursion, does not feel the same way.
“I keep thinking we’re going to get there and then we turn YET ANOTHER corner!” he would exclaim – at every corner after minute 25 – along with some choice muttered expletives, sweat dripping from his forehead and desperation in his tone. He couldn’t quite grasp the concept of a walk for a walk’s sake rather than one that simply (and quickly) takes a person from point A to point B. He had signed my family up – with enthusiasm and haste – for a tour of the Lycian Way, an ancient footpath along the coast of ancient Lycia, in Turkey. But somehow he hadn’t quite read between the lines that the walks – hikes, in reality – themselves were the highlights of this tour, and not so much the sites along the way.
As a certified yoga teacher and someone who would like to think of herself as even-keeled, kind, and above things like anger and aggression, I always feel majorly apprehensive of family gatherings and trips. A famous quote by Ram Dass says, “Think you’re enlightened? Spend a week with your family.” Being home for a week (or even a few days) never fails to create a slight sense of emotional chaos for me. I love my family, of course, but I also fully recognize that I fail (and perhaps always will fail) to be my absolute best self around them. No matter how strictly I intend to stick to my meditation routine, it somehow slips by the wayside when I am with my mother, father, and twin sister; and they are the people with whom I have the shortest fuse.
The Lycian Way is naturally gorgeous – green, lush, with incredible wildflowers in early June and a constant salty breeze from the ocean – and dotted with incredible archaeology. Along our path, we got to picnic in an ancient graveyard, taking shade from the hot sun in the raided tombs there (with apologies to the spirits); we got to walk along the remains of a Roman aqueduct; we visited the ghost town of Kaya, with hills full of empty stone shells of homes abandoned in the 1930s; and we retraced countless footsteps on some of the most scenic hikes I have been on. For most of our days, we didn’t come across another group of tourists at all; we had trails and ruins to ourselves.
I had come into the trip with the intention of more deeply healing some of my family relationships. What better time than on a long walk with someone from which there is no escape? I did not have a particularly traumatic childhood by any stretch, nor are my relationships with my family overtly “bad,”but my sister and I bicker more than I would care to, and I would like to be better friends with my mother. I have spent time in therapy pondering the why’s of our dynamics; but the truth is that the work has to be done in real time with the people in question. And often it’s uncomfortable.
My father, who comes closest of the three to having my unconditional love, was by far the most ridiculous character on the trip, declaring that he could not possibly miss a hike for fear of missing out and yet spending each and every hike in apparent and unapologetic misery. Ironically, I think his process was an outward version of my own – the one where instead of retreating from family conversation and interaction, which I have done plenty in the past, I chose to participate, to be present, and to be uncomfortable.
This process of discomfort is far from over, and probably never will be. But too often we run from the pain that makes us human, the very pain that meditation is supposed to teach us to move through rather than run away from. Perhaps because of the very discomfort he was in, my father will never forget those walks in Turkey; I know I won’t either. And we will both know that we showed up for them as best we could, together, to heal something we never talked about.