Inner Emotional Landscapes and the Sublimity of the West
“Emotional landscapes / They puzzle me / Confuse …” Bjork sings in “Joga.” This has long been one of my favorite songs.
I am in love with the western United States, the pacific northwest in particular. If you followed my column on Eden Fantasys about my love affair with New York City, Mr. Sexsmith’s Other Girlfriend, you may remember that I also wrote often about visiting Seattle or San Francisco or other cities and my ongoing draw to being out west.
There are amazing things about living in New York City, like the Public Square and the community and the lack of bullshit and the lack of people offering you sliding scale energy work when you’re crying on the subway, and in a hundred ways, New York has been the diamond I’ve cut and formed my adult self against. Not a lot of things have been hard enough for me to form against—Seattle certainly wasn’t. I wanted something more.
But the actual geographic land over here … has never quite been enough for me. I drive outside of New York City and into the Adirondacks or the Catskills—places people call mountains over here but that I tend to call “mountains” or, more accurately, hills—and into the rolling baby green hills of pastoral New England, and I can’t really separate the cliche picket fences and porches and quaint mailboxes with this puritanical moral ideal of the nuclear family, sexual shame, and policed gender roles.
The west, though … the Rockies … I have such a different relationship with the earth when I’m over there, when I’m looking at towering peaks on my morning commute, when I see the canyons and the deep green forests, the earth cut by water and carved out by glaciers. I feel so much more at home, so much more connected.
It’s in part because that is closer to my landscape of origin, that is closer to the drama of Southeast Alaska where I was literally created, birthed, and grew up.
But it’s partly something else, too. I think it’s partly because the grandeur, the sublimity of the west looks a lot more like my inner emotional landscape than the pastoral, serene east.
I talk about my “inner emotional world” or “emotional landscape” frequently. Lately, I’ve been talking about how many earthquakes it has endured, how much instability is in there now. Sometimes it helps to visualize the earth cracking apart, splitting, the magma of the earth spewing forth to destroy whatever structures I’ve put into place, like in that Joga video.
I like to talk about my emotional world in geographic metaphors. I’ve been deeply shaken this year. I’m still trying to clear the rubble and rebuild. A friend of mine recently said that she thinks the apocalypse—the impending end of the Mayan calendar, uh, tomorrow—actually is “all the hard stuff all at once” for everybody. It’s certainly true for me: the power dynamics in my life have dramatically shifted, my relationships have shifted, I woke up after a couple of months of being unconscious to find myself buried under a mountain of shit out of which I’m still trying to dig myself.
The sublime nature of the western United States matches my inner emotional landscape so much more than the east.
And if you’ll forgive the comparison, being out in the east feels incongruous almost in a transgender type of way—that my inner self does not match the outer surroundings, and I feel a serious disconnect. When the outer landscape matches my inner landscape, I feel integrated and whole in a much more comforting way.
Perhaps I should be aiming for more inner peace, inner calmness, such that the pastoral landscape surrounding me could be a goal, rather than a reflection. I don’t know about that. I’m a student of buddhism and tantra, and those lineages say that it’s not so much that I think our inner selves are peaceful, but that we separate our divine nature Self from the monkey mind self that is often chatter chatter chattering.
I don’t think a dramatic, sublime inner emotional landscape is bad. I think it’s real. I love being deeply in touch with emotions, experiences, divinity, the universe, energy, god, myself—whatever you want to label that. Lately, I have been incredibly reactive, moreso than I usually am, since my inner world has been such a disaster, but I usually have much more space between my reaction and my response, I usually have more control over my ability to respond, my response-aiblity if you will, and I am using all of my tools to lengthen the space between my reactions and my responses. (Meditation helps with that practice immensely.)
I’m getting better. Slowly waking up. Bringing myself back into alignment with these paths, my callings, my desires, following my goals, containing my time and energy and emotional landscapes. But I miss the west. I miss the mountains and valleys and deep lakes and rainforest. Sometimes I wish I was a better visual artist, that I could actually draw out an inner emotional landscape map, full of trails and paths and adventures, with maybe even a big X right over my heart to mark the treasure.