Last week, I attended a women’s wellness retreat in Palm Springs to celebrate the release of the movie Wild on DVD and Blu-Ray. I was hired as the guest speaker and asked to “tie my inspirational message in with the film.” In preparation for the job, I watched the movie with my husband and a girlfriend.
Five minutes in, Jared started laughing. “Oh yeah, I can totally see you doing this.”
Reese Witherspoon – as Cheryl Strayed – was struggling to lift a monstrous hiking pack onto her back moments before she would set off to spend three months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail; it was the first time she’d ever attempted the feat.
My husband went on to clarify the resemblance. “I mean, I have never once thought of you when I saw that actress, but this character?” he laughed some more, “so you.”
To summarize: Hollywood’s sweetheart: no way. But a strung-out blonde who was comically ill prepared for an epic journey she was about to undertake? Dead ringer.
Of course, I couldn’t be mad. When I read Cheryl Strayed’s Wild a few years ago I also saw myself in her and her journey. In fact, I remember reading that very scene and laughing out loud thinking, “yep, I can totally see myself doing that.” I have a tendency to make big plans and assume the details will work themselves out. I like to joke that, “It’ll probably be fine,” is my life motto. And I can definitely appreciate an epic journey.
As the movie played on, the similarities between myself and Cheryl became more numerous. But no one commented on those; the most obvious likenesses were too painful to point out.
It wasn’t funny to remember how fast and hard I had once run from my feelings. We still can’t laugh about my self sabotage that hurt us both so badly.
We were both, I think, relieved to watch Reese-as-Cheryl find herself again through her long walk. It was comforting to watch her heal, as if knowing redemption was possible for someone else meant my own was more real and likely to stick. It’s easier to have faith in something that doesn’t only happen to you.
But anyway, we’re watching the movie and I’m trying to take notes and pull out talking points. I’m listening for quotes I can use when I stand up in front of a bunch of journalists and try to be inspirational on demand.
And there were none. Not really.
Nothing happened to Cheryl, in the same way that nothing ever happened to me.
Yes, she walked alone in the wilderness for three months. And yes she lost her toenails and her hiking boots. And yes, there were several moments when it looked like something bad would happen because strange men came upon a woman alone in the woods.
But mostly nothing happened. Not on the outside.
Mostly she just walked, and walked, and walked. And because she had nothing else to do while she walked, she felt.
And that, I remembered, was the lesson in her story – in our stories.
Feelings demand to be felt.
And if you don’t feel them- if you run from them because they are too big, or too painful, or too scary, or too proof that you are a horrible person- they will destroy your life from the inside out. They will pop up again and again in stupid and irrational places, completely unrecognizable as feelings and looking instead like very bad decisions.
Until the day you can no longer run.
Either you hit rock bottom or you put yourself out into the woods too far from anything to run towards, and you have no choice but to feel.
And so you do.
And suddenly, everything is going to be OK.
That’s it. It’s as simple as that, and you think “how can that be it?” But it is, because that’s how crucial it is to feel the feelings and how insane the lengths we’ll go to in order to not feel them.
It’s big enough to fill a book and make a movie, movie that is, despite nothing really happening, really powerful to watch. (And I’m not just saying that because I’m me; my husband and my girlfriend liked it a lot.)
Wild. That’s what the book and the movie are called. At first glance you’d assume she was talking about the hike, or maybe even the trail. She was immersed in nature that was mostly untouched. But by the end I realized that wild wasn’t about her surroundings.
Wild is about the way we’re supposed to be. Wild is who we are when we stop fighting against ourselves. Wild is what it is to feel, to let the feelings be.
How wild it was, to let it be.
It’s amazing to me how much being ourselves is simply about surrender. And yet, it is that not fighting that is so difficult for us. We want steps and bullet points and instructions that we can follow. We want control over the process.
But the most natural thing is to just let it be.
Let the feelings come. Let the past go. Let who we are simply exist because it does.
Let it be.
And I promise, that is the most powerful thing.
Be wild, my friends. Be wild.