The stories we tell and hold about our experiences are a map of our life, a way of tracing comings and goings. They form the grey roads that wind through the topography of all our journeys. Spiritual forays up to the mountain tops, psychological treks into inner wilderness are recorded in these maps that give us a sense of the territory of our heart/mind. Our stories are also evidence of our engagement with our environment and our relational capacity; they are the results of the experiments we run over and over again to assess the effectiveness of our interventions with ourselves. For this, and I’m sure many other reasons, our stories are to be honored and held sacred.
There are people who are natural story tellers. They have the ability to draw together the experience of their journey with that of their audience so that the map is of a larger human journey. There are people whose story telling generates a map that draws us away from the heart of our journey. They spin words and craft detours so that we become disoriented and disconnected from the source of our spirit, our breath.
Sunday night, Frank and I waited for a taxi outside a restaurant in Santa Fe. Rain had been pouring down in torrents and we feared that the road up to Upaya would be impassable. The taxi driver, however, was unconcerned. His descriptions of wild drives in every continent he had visited flowed as rapidly as the run off down the slopes into the arroyos, carrying the boulders and pebbles of his challenges. There was no staunching the rain or his agitated tale that was punctuated with hints of a post-graduate degree in Geology – which I think was supposed to reassure us as he tried to cross an intersection that was now a swift-flowing stream.
Thwarted by the soft ground and rapid water, we opted to go around and try to get to Upaya via the upper portion of the road. It was getting dark and the rain was letting up. I managed to relax my trigger finger poised on the seat belt buckle as we got closer to the Zen center until we hit a sharp curve in the road. My heart clenched and the unrelenting narrative from the front seat diverted my ability to make sense of the landscape. From what I could see, a deluge of water, rocks, and mud was tumbling down the hillside and over a cliff to the left. The road seemed to slope up steeply on the other side of the tumble of geological ball bearings crashing over the edge. My finger found the release on the seat belt again as the taxi driver chattered on about the effect of this combination of soft mud and pebbles and whether we should risk taking a run at through the slide.
My mind locked down as he kept asking if we should go ahead. There wasn’t enough information and I couldn’t formulate an action plan through the unending story-telling that ricocheted through the cab. His words tried to take me away from the reality that this was a scary situation and the man at the controls was disconnected from his own sense of healthy, respectful fear. When my own words finally cut through my own anxiety and confusion, I said no, we weren’t going to do this. As ready as I am to die in any moment, I also am not a slave to the concept.
The truck behind us moved forward as the cab backed up the road to return to town. As I watched it negotiate the mud and rocks, anticipating it would accelerate up the road, it turned left into what I had perceived to be the cliff edge and proceeded slowly downhill.
A trick of the landscape, my faulty memory of a hair-pin bend, and the dull roar of distracting stories had created a visual challenge for me where was none. I retracted my call to return to town and we proceeded down the hill. The cab driver reassured me that he was less risk-averse than most; I assured him I was more risk-averse than most. We both agreed we had won and lost equal numbers of opportunities for it.
There were a hundred thousand stories spun in that ride and on the edge of that hair-pin bend. Stories that drew us in. Stories that took us away.