Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The King's Highway

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.”

“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.”

– Freya Stark

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

– Bill Bryson

A friend asked me the other day if I ever got sick of writing essays about myself.

That was kind of a humbling question…

Years back when I started this blog, I wanted to explore the relationship between laughter and healing as it relates to psychology. I wasn’t even a psychologist then, but it was a subject I was immensely curious about. Now as a licensed psychologist and the author of 15 books, I know a little more, but not that much.

But I never know where these little essays will take me now. I write when I feel I’m “on” to something. Sometimes that happens a couple of times a month, and sometimes it’s a couple of times a year. I never really know.

But let me tell you about the King’s Highway.

Specifically, it’s a song by Tom Petty. I found myself thinking often about a couple of lines that described my longing for travel and to see new places, it went-

“Oh, I'll await the day
Good fortune comes our way
And we ride down the King's Highway”

I kind of got stuck on it. I wanted good fortune to come my way sometime as I hit the open road without a care in the world. It sounded so cool. Yet every time I traveled I felt like I was kind of out of place. I’d go to the airport and my luggage didn’t quite look right compared to other people. I didn’t have kids to travel with and I was no good at mindless chitchat in those little rooms they serve the continental breakfast.

I was missing something, I was sure of it.

It bugged me so much that I decided to find the real King’s Highway and go there. At the time I was a 20 something dude managing a large nightclub in Chicago, making more money then I deserved. I bought the best luggage I could find, flew down to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, and rented a red convertible.

I found the King’s Highway and I was off. Wind whipping through my hair, cool leather bags, and nothing but open road ahead of me.

I almost had it.

But still, it wasn’t quite right. I watched the groups of men smoking cigars and playing golf, and I still felt, well, not quite right.

What was I missing??

I kind of forgot about this obsession for awhile and decided to just enjoy my time off as much as I could. For a while the exotic vacations took a backseat when I went back to school to become a psychologist. Still, that song remained on my playlist, and the elusiveness of the King’s Highway lingered in my mind.

Years later I found myself as a psychologist in New Zealand. I’ve been all over the world since then, and had plenty of cool experiences.

and yet…

As with many unanswered questions, this one came back to me recently. I drove ALL day to get to this spot.

Beautiful isn’t it? It’s a spot called the “12 Apostles” in Australia and it’s part of the great ocean road. It’s one of the ten great drives in the world, and the third one of those I’ve done this year.

And yet.

What you don’t see in the picture is the dozens of Asian tourists wielding selfie sticks in the air and the overcrowded parking lot and the flies and the car with the air conditioner that stopped working an hour ago.

But it’s always something.

But it was right then I took stock, breathed the ocean air, and saw what was stretched out before me. One of the most beautiful things in the world, and I was being pissy and irritable.

Then it hit me. I knew what the King’s Highway was! Finally, after all these years, I knew what it was. It wasn’t a place, or a fancy bag, or a ride in a convertible.

It was a state of mind. A way of thinking. Of enjoying the moment in its’ entirety without surrendering to the weight of the past or the uncertainty of the future. It was a break from your worries. A moment of pure mindfulness. A kind of gratitude for getting to be here. Whatever here that might be at the time. Maybe it was the open road, or maybe it was the end of a long journey where we truly got a chance to start over again.

I proceeded to have one of the most enjoyable days I can ever remember. I hiked down to the beach and enjoyed every second. Later I found a little pub in the country and learned some insider stuff about the area. It was awesome.

But I looked up at the clock, and realized I hadn’t checked into my hotel yet.

Then came the worry again. My moment and my day was slipping away. They always do. We just can’t bottle that feeling no matter how hard we try. Life creeps in and we forget.

But I feel better now, and until then,

I’ll await the day
Good Fortune comes my way,
And we ride down the King’s Highway