I just wanna feel better

An empty cage

Posted 7/7/22

Five years ago I sat on a mountain, a plateau really, for four days and four nights with four gallons of water. It was a vision quest. It was my intention to clear my mind and body before returning …

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I just wanna feel better

An empty cage


Five years ago I sat on a mountain, a plateau really, for four days and four nights with four gallons of water. It was a vision quest. It was my intention to clear my mind and body before returning to the River Reporter full-time.

It had taken me 11 years to move through the formal credentialing program to become a fellowshiped and ordained Unitarian Universalist minister. I was in and out of the area, always staying connected, working. As many of you know, my newspaper work is grounded in the desire to facilitate dialog between people with differing ideas. I do this so that we can authentically communicate with each other. My goal is to find common ground about what we hold dear. In my ministry, I’m not selling God, I’m selling community.

I had worked at the paper for 27 years when I started this ministerial journey and, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of emotional baggage connected to it. Big things had happened. My house burned down—caught between a barrage of misinformation about what it meant to be a unit of the National Park Service. There was the subsequent loss of a beloved marriage and struggles with business relationships. Underneath, there was always the financial tension of being a single-flag, independently owned newspaper in a rural depressed region. I wanted to acknowledge, forgive and leave that baggage on that plateau.

So complete with journal, Reverie Harp, and colored pencils, I spent my days under a tarp, with a secondary tarp as a floor, a thin air mattress, sleeping bag, pillow and small low chair. I wrote and reflected on the traumas, hoping, praying for resolution and cleansing. In returning with a new passion firmly in mind, I sought a fresh beginning.

The days were warm; the campsite was amazingly comfortable. I was able to pitch my tarp using rope guidelines, tied to trees, both standing and those lying dead all around. I was buffered from the wind, and sitting in the shade. The red plateaus were striated, dappled all day with changing light. My guide and friend was at his own campsite one mile away.

In preparation for our solo journeys, we established a small stone circle between us. Daily, in the afternoon, I would walk to that circle and leave some kind of symbol that I was okay. There, I would find some sort of symbol that had been left for me in the morning. This was the means that we kept track of each other. With the days long and nothing much to do, I fashioned small baskets made of yucca.

At the quest’s conclusion, I debriefed with my guide and set some intentions. I waited for its magic to manifest.

Five years later, I am finally experiencing the truth I found. It lies in my desire to feel better. My yearning to lighten the load, and simply be my best self. (Yikes, our world needs us all to be our best selves.)

The truth that I found is that I could open my own cage and fly. It was the last entry in my journal.

Interestingly, I cannot find that journal, at least not now. I’m sure I will. More importantly, I clearly recall the final picture: a simple, colored line drawing of an empty domed birdcage with the door open. Large colorful letters shout “Yes!” at the bottom.

It resonates so clearly with me today, some five years later.

I can, and indeed I must, open my own cage and fly.

We live in a world that is becoming increasingly unstable, on many different levels. So what can we do to fly?

We can start to open the mind’s door. We can examine our unrecognized assumptions. When a thought comes into our heads about how we should do something, we can ask ourselves “Says who? Where or when did I learn that?”

We can recognize that much of our thinking is fear-based and, when challenged, we can attempt to look for life-affirming choices. We can become aware of how traumatized we are, and find an ounce of kindness and empathy for ourselves and others. And finally, we can recognize when we are raging and, deliberately, take a breath.

I am going to remind myself of the picture of the empty birdcage with its open door when I’m feeling trapped by my circumstances.

And when that journal shows up, I’ll share the image.

“I Just Wanna Feel Better” is a monthly health-reflection column by Rev. Laurie Stuart. The goal of the column is to connect readers who want to explore and create community and change around their own well-being. Visit riverreporter.com/publishers-log for more.

minister, Laurie Stuart, Unitarian Universalist, community, journey


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