by Kim Ivy
Lately I have been dreaming about Montana. I have only been there once, driving through on my way to the Pacific Northwest. I remember Chico Hotsprings, the silhouetted mountains and the big sky. The books and poetry were not lying about the big sky, and like Wyoming, that sky melts into the horizon behind small postal-stop towns with populations of five. Montana had first become real for me via an NPR commentator, Kim Williams, who told stories from Missoula about real life. I loved the way she said “Missoula” as it rolled around in her mouth. She died a few years back, but I always thought I'd like to take a drive through that boundless space with her.
As a child I grew up south and east of Montana in a small Nebraska town. The population was 7,000, everyone knew each other, and there were cows, and pigs, and trains. My grandma and I played put-par golf and met my grandpa for DQ ice cream afterwards. Sometimes eating ice cream, we would watch sunsets floating in on wispy clouds the golden color of wheat fields. At times they were purple and black and rode in on empire-state-sized thunderheads, dropping funnel clouds to the earth. Juxtaposed by the full moon, we children would betray our mother's trust and sneak out to stand in that eerie mystery. What my bones remember, though, are the mountain-less expanses. As a teenager with my first car, I think driving though those plains was my first encounter with the Eternal.
North of Nebraska and west of Montana is Seattle, where most of us reading this live. And behind the chaos of driving down I-5, this fantasy of Montana is clearly not of
the present moment. I know there are cows and pigs and mountains and trains and even fields and sunsets here, but their vistas are obscured by negotiating for my life amidst thousands of other cars or contemplating a very long to-do list. Montana elbows its way into my thoughts, creating timeless space in my mind. It is not always Montana. Sometimes it is Bali. Sometimes it is simply a dumpster moving in to unload my thoughts.
From my recent conversations, it appears most of us are traveling within the 21st Century not into areas of great physical expanse, but into the tightly woven corners of holding our lives together. I find people forgo even a short holiday, fearing the mountain of catch-up work. It is not unusual to hear, “I had 146 emails waiting for me.” While our social affluence may be rising, our health and life circumstances are bringing us to our knees. Cancer, divorce, fatigue and pain are becoming as common as email. This is not something we should get used to.
Recently, I heard a story about a person who gave away her computer and cell phone. I found myself envying her and reflecting about my own life. I had been feeling really lousy for several weeks with nausea, migraines and general nervousness. During the next two days, I canceled appointments, retained substitute teachers for my classes, and indulged myself in an illusive ideal: uninterrupted time. During this interim I unplugged from many things: checking my emails, required reading, voice mails, and long commutes. At the end of this time, I really did feel better, and to my surprise, many applauded the effort.
The biggest challenge I find ahead of us today is not if our computer network will break down in the year 2000, but how we are going to create the mental expanses we need to survive within the growing chaos of everyday life. Every time I see a car wreck or someone relates a significant story of stress, I am afraid we are missing our call to peace. Each time we create unnecessary business for ourselves or support it within our communities we are short circuiting the opportunity to come to terms with our own true nature: simply being. The consequences are all around us.
Short of moving to Montana, perhaps we can begin to support ourselves and our loved ones in creating quiet landscapes of time within our lives. I know, it seems impossible, but I really think this disbelief may be because of fear. Because it is within this space we begin to learn about ourselves. There may be things we have to come to terms with. I believe, however, the benefits are better health, happier relationships and more fulfilling work.
I invite you to let go. Create Montana or Nebraska or Bali in your everyday life. And, if your life tugs you back to the message-waiting beep, then may I suggest a game of put-par and a DQ swirl?