In his lovely book, a New Earth, Eckhart Tolle writes, “There are two ways of being unhappy. Not getting what you want is one. Getting what you want is the other.”
This past Memorial Day weekend I had an opportunity to see a related truth. There are, in fact, also two ways of being happy. Getting what you want is one. Not getting what you want is the other.
My husband and I were fortunate enough to find a last minute booking for the holiday weekend and decided to take off on a trip to the mountains. I did some research, set out some intentions, and chose a place for us to hike that I felt sure resonated deep in our hearts, with what we both needed: pristine, quiet, stunning nature.
The trailhead that Google directed us to turned out to be inaccessible with our small car. Sharp rocks looked very capable of popping our regular street tires. Overgrown thickets scratched the sides of our little Toyota Yaris. Neither of us had cell service.
After forwarding and reversing, circling around, getting lost and nearly stuck a few times, we finally decided to park and walk along the road to the trailhead, not knowing how long it would take us to get there.
There was good reason to believe this plan would work out. Surely we weren’t too far to the trailhead. The day was young and fresh. The sun was shy of noon. We had backpacks full of water and snacks and we both brimmed with an optimism that blunted realism.
Snow capped mountains poked up from the horizon in all directions. The air was fresh and piney. Conifers creaked amiably in the wind, and the soil was a deep, nourishing red.
“Look at this view,” I said to my husband. “Look how nice it is that that this road is dirt and not paved. Listen to the wind in the trees! And not a soul in sight! I like this walk, I’m glad to be out of the car and walking. And pretty soon we’ll get to the trailhead.” We looked up at the white mountains in the distance and overrode our doubts with desire.
I was cheerful, optimistic and grateful for about an hour. At that point, the lovely dirt road, with its blanket of dry, resinous and aromatic needles and charming stony peaks and valleys, emptied out onto a normal, blacktop road. The beauty of the scenery dropped away. The view became muddied, eclipsed by thick, wildfire-maimed trees that didn’t seem comely or friendly anymore to me. The sun hid behind a thick cloud.
Cars started driving past us. Big ones – the kind that leave you in a wake of fumes. The kind that don’t slow down for pedestrians. The kind that seem rude just because they have so much better tires that you do. Cars with four-wheel drive. Cars driven by fitter, luckier people. A Honda Fit drove by, to add insult to injury, proving that we must have just had the wrong directions – if a small car like that could make it, ours could have too. These people must have just done something better, been in the know, had the right instructions. Google had not led these people astray.
My mood curdled. The certainty overcame us that we were quite a bit further from the trailhead than we had hoped. As the hours paled and the warmth of the day drained away, we came to understand that by the time we would get to the start of the trail, we would probably only have just enough time to turn around and go back.
As I sourly trundled along, I fell into a lower and lower vibration. I ignored the trees, the birds, the glimpses of white mountains, the musical creaking of the pines, small waterfalls and cute ferns, to focus on feeling sad that I wasn’t at the trailhead. My mind helpfully offered negative thoughts to amplify my downward spiral. Scarcity thoughts, like “There’s never enough nature in my life”. Personalizing thoughts, like “This is exactly the type of thing that would happen to me.” Blaming thoughts, like “I hate stupid Google and its stupid bad directions! Stupid data collecting privacy invading internet tyrant overlords!” In the back of the mind, I registered that some of the cars coming back down the mountain were the same ones that had passed us just moments before. But this wasn’t quite conscious.
It took us a little over three hours to arrive at the trailhead. During that time, my mood evened out, and as the pleasure of walking dominated, the rhythm and pulse of quiet movement overrode my negativity, and I mellowed. I accepted. I allowed. I got over it. I slipped into pleasant reveries, into the gentle dreamlike meandering mind that I associate with hiking.
When we got to the trailhead, the one I had chosen because I was sure it was aligned to what our hearts longed for, the last of my resentments melted away. The trail was a treasure of nature – unspeakably gorgeous. A small, clear, crystalline lake rested at the bottom of a glacier. Light and shadow play cast shifting patterns around the woods. Scented firs rustled their arms, shaking up aromas to radiate on the wind. Tiny, brightly colored birds sang in their special code.
My heart felt sore with longing to commune with nature. But all was forgiven as I felt the presence of pristine nature collapse my resistance. I could not hold a resentment in the strong force of this beautiful place. With aching feet, we gently walked the first part of the trail, that wound around the crystalline aqua lake. Surrounded by young ponderosas, we found a spot in the sun that was sheltered from the snow-cold wind. We were hungry and tired, and we deeply enjoyed the food we had packed. We rested quietly, enjoying the lush silence, closing our eyes in the sun, leaning back in the grass.
Just then, several knots of people came back down the trail. The same people who had been in the cars that passed us on the road. The same people who had been better prepared, who had better tires and better navigation. People with big packs of professional gear.
I looked at them curiously. One man caught my eye and said, “Did you hear? Mountain lions up there. Fresh tracks everywhere. The ranger said a hiker ran into them and one of them is real mean, snarling and growling. You better not go up there”.
I was stunned. “How far up?” I asked. “About a quarter mile”, he answered, and grumbled on down to his car. I recalled the cars I had noticed, which must have been returning down the mountain because of this.
Had the Google navigation worked, my husband would have gotten to the trailhead like the others. But we also might have encountered mountain lions. Had things worked out the way we thought they should, we might have been those early hikers meeting the snarling growling dangerous one. At best, we would have had to turn around like the others, with no hike at all.
Instead, my husband and I got to have a three hour hike. We were there, coasting the wave of endorphins, resting in nature, feeling full and soaking the beauty in. Our bodies were refreshed, tired, full of cold mountain air, energized by the dry sun, and scented with forest resins.
I laughed out loud as I took this little wink from the universe. I remained buoyant as we descended the mountain, knowing that the best possible thing happened, in those circumstances, that mysterious forces had both kept my husband and I safe, and kept the mountain lions safe. I was happy that the mountain lions were allowed to protect their pristine mountain lake terrain, that we humans were not allowed to blunder into their territory too much.
As I rode a wave of appreciative thoughts and feelings, everything seemed different. With my head up and my gaze loosed from the inner monologue of woe, I was able to notice the beauties. The forest, once burned, was being repopulated with soft, fuzzy saplings, radiant green, that moved me with their earnest rise to the light. The old fallen trees seemed like guardians, protectors and nourishers as they gave their old bodies up as mulch to the new forest. The sun moved intermittently across the many snowy peaks around, creating many different qualities of light. I saw the waterfalls and the ferns this time. I saw a small herd of small, elegant deer, including two speckled fawns.
As we drove away, happy our car had intact tires, I remembered Eckhart Tolle’s quote: that there are two ways of being unhappy. There are also two ways to be happy, I thought, and today, not getting what I wanted was my way of being happy
I also thought of the words of a less esoteric spiritual teacher:
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find
you get what you need
Thanks for reading!