Right up my valley, I wrote one day, and now, that's what I've got to work with. Thanks, me of yesteryear! I can tell you are trying to make your writing legible, insofar is that's really ever possible. I can tell you're a good sport, a warden of possibilities, one who commits to finding the red thread running through this life.
Right up my valley. I am remembering a morning on Skye, with Timothy, and our friends from Vermont. I was feeling raw, having slept poorly with the tremendous rattling force of our friend’s snoring through the thin Airbnb wall. The couch had been moderately better, but not great. We were, groggily, talking about where to go walking that day. Somewhere in the landscape of this island lurks the Bad Step or the Dreadful Leap, or whatever. I was adamant: Fuck that shit. I did not come here for some jackass challenge. Show me a walk that is not about scrambling victorious over the abyss. Show me being nestled deep inside the peaty Hills.
I got desperate. Why does it always have to be like this? These passive-aggressive negotiations, this sense that I’d one hundred times rather be alone, than this. I stepped outside onto the small, rain-jeweled lawn, breathed in deep, and looked up. There – right there, precisely – were the mountains I had been drawing into my lithograph of the Dhammacakka Mudra – the wheel of the Way It Is. I stepped out of sorrow and into the landscape of primordial wisdom. There: these two tall rounded hills, with between them a walk that was right up my valley.
So I came back inside, said I knew where we should go, and no one much minded letting go of anxious possibility. We left the house, traversed narrow uncrowded lanes, parked our wrong-side-of-the-road dinkymobile, and headed out.
I got my alone-wish, walking faster than our friends, and slower than Timothy. I was alone under two rows of hills, walking in a narrow peat-groove that never once let me down. In Scotland, that far north, that late into November, the light is very short. It rakes the world from a beautiful oblique angle, within which darkness is always somehow palpable. Golden light, shining sideways, night within it.
That afternoon was a turning point for me, a letting go into the world. I signed a pact wherein I gave up old ideas of despair and accomplishment, agreeing instead to let myself be guided and enfolded. The hills held me. I did not need to mess around with the Bad Step. I could go out with my husband and friends, and nevertheless find the time in my own company (and the world’s) that I needed. A great quiet settled into my bones as I walked, a landing into being, and into trust.
As the afternoon showed signs of ending, all three parties – Timothy, characteristically up a steep scree field; our friends, walking companionably with one another; and myself, singing through my bones – found ways back to the beginning point. We loaded ourselves into the car, scattering apple-cores, and holding on to soggy sandwich wrappers.
That night was another face of the fertile darkness: a pub where it felt perfectly fine to lay down in front of the fire, a glass of dark beer, an atmosphere of quiet conversation that had lasted for hundreds of years, while the great wheeling stars roared over the hills, since far before anyone had ever thought of “inside” and “outside.”
I’ve kept this orientation towards Yin walks alive in myself since then – not as an exclusive pursuit, but as a real possibility, a balance to Yang walks that do go up, seeking high points and steepnesses. One of the places where I most often walk the dogs has both: a Yin passage along an eighteenth-century road furrowed deep into the forest; a Yang scramble up to a high, porcupine-harboring ridge. Both are good. Knowing I can choose is good.
“You’re working incredibly hard right now” is a phrase I’ve heard many times, and it’s worth looking into. Is working really hard right up my valley? Is it just a perception to address something that’s actually just the way it is? Or, is it residue from an education, from a society, that can’t value the way things reveal themselves effortlessly, if we will only listen? Of course. Yes. All of these.
Seeing clients in my therapy internship makes me feel absolutely ravenous, right now. I report this to my advising group, and someone says that she, too, was nervous and afraid when she started her internship, but now the whole thing feels much more normal. But I didn’t say nervous and afraid. I said ravenous. Can ravenous be right up my alley? Yes, I think so. Is ravenous also a way of saying that I am extending myself too much in these sessions? Probably. Some part of me feels duty-bound to fill the forty-five minutes, when probably a more sane, balanced approach would be to do about 35 minutes of intense work, with tapering-in and tapering-out periods as buffers. Everyone gets to come in softly, and leave softly, and there’s no sense of cramming and striving.
Right up my valley. It’s hard to trust, sometimes, that there is a groove carrying us somewhere – that the direction of our steps carries us in patterns that add up. We look up, and there are the very same mountains that we thought we dreamed from nowhere. We look down, and our feet are pointed not anywhere, but somewhere. We are drawn. We know without knowing. The world’s handwriting isn’t always easy to read, but it is there.
Right now, any time, great forces are moving through the world, and we are part of them, whether we know it or not. Who knows where the events of the day will incline? In a way, destination doesn’t matter. All that matters is how we meet what is in our direct field of experience.
There are hundreds of pages of text in Assessment and Evaluation waiting for me, and yet I can’t in good conscience attend to any of that, until I dig new valleys for each of the many young plants my friend gave me over the weekend. In the world’s language, and the timeframe of the wheeling stars, those young lives matter more than all the Mystical Experience Inventories and Reports of Altered States of Consciousness ever devised by clever humans. I will dig into the May-damp soil and serve life. I will find room for what is showing up on my doorstep, right up my valley.
I can feel, on waking, the clenched-up state of a being trying to figure it all out, make it into the right shape, balance this and that, so no one gets hurt, and nothing gets lost. How strange, dreaming, to forget what I know in waking life. What is right up my valley will speak to me directly. All I have to do is listen and respond.
Julie Püttgen is an artist, expressive arts therapist, and meditation teacher.
108 Names of Now