How many of us follow the road with little concern for where it takes us, either metaphorically or literally? How often have you jumped in your car and just driven, with no particular destination in mind? Or is your life so planned that such spontaneity would be inconvenient, even terrifying? As a therapist, I ask people often to take the Myers-Briggs personality test. I know there are people with a J in their personality profile that requires them to plan, because through planning they feel safe. And that’s an important feeling. I’m not suggesting those people throw all caution to the wind and set out willy-nilly. I am suggesting that they can learn to enjoy freedom within their necessary structure. By contrast, people with a P in their profile have already read the first two questions and answered, possibly out loud, “Hell yes.”
My friend, Michelle, in Cody Wyoming gave me the title for this article. She says she often gets in her truck or car and just drives until she sees the first Buffalo. Sometimes this happens in 30 minutes, sometimes much longer, and sometimes pretty quickly. Wyoming is wide open spaces, sparsely populated towns like Cody, and plenty of wildlife. So its a “logical” course of action for a stir crazy artist and jeweler like Michelle.
But we all need our own “Buffalo.” When I moved to Austin, Texas, five years ago, I was constantly getting lost. Austin is a confusing town that began small, and has grown exponentially. The highways, which all loop North to South, keeping the same names, are sometimes as crowded as L.A. freeways. Earlier in my life this would have been intensely stressful, and I would have had lots of emotions about it. Since deciding to live an aware life, I am able to actually enjoy the “lost.” I have found pockets of Austin I had never seen. While stopped in traffic I took pictures from my car of wildflowers. I looked at the fir trees on the hill sides of Capitol of Texas Highway decorated for Christmas by a variety of people, so the trees are each different and funky.
Was I late sometimes? Yes. Fortunately in Austin, all you have to say when arriving is “traffic,” and everybody nods in sympathy.
In order to drive until you reach the first buffalo, you have to be paying attention to the sides of the road. You have to be completely in the moment, or you will miss it. If you start thinking of something else, or talking to yourself about other things, you will miss it. Often, the destination becomes the only thought. While concentrating on our destination, we miss the wildflowers, and the funky decorated trees, and the quaint coffee shop we didn’t know existed. Or the buffalo, or elk, or pronghorns, or eagles, or all the other wildlife in Wyoming.
When we are preoccupied by destination or purpose, we miss new connections, new people, new opportunities. Control of our lives is largely an illusion. The unexpected is around every corner, and we are often so afraid of that we constantly plan, and we don’t enjoy the journey.
In my martial art of Aikido, we say, “Expect Nothing. Be Ready for Anything.” This doesn’t mean to live in fear. It doesn’t mean to constantly look over our shoulders. I means to develop an ongoing state of calm, and a quiet mind, so that when something does come along or happen, we can embrace it or deal with it with fresh eyes and open arms. The majority of the time, these will be beautiful opportunities we might have missed otherwise while anticipating other things. Although, while anticipating the first buffalo, we also DO see other wildlife, and mountains, and plains, and rushing water. As long as we are in the moment and paying attention. Not to our inner mental turmoil, but to the beauty around us, to the energy of connections with people and animals, to the quiet, to the unexpected.