With each footstep another plume of red dust coated me head to toe in the grimy substance that is the essence of the American southwest desert. It clung to the sweat on my face, coated the backs of my hands, and had turned my shoes from blue into a mottled purple. We were running on an unmaintained jeep road, through sagebrush and juniper, in a broad, open canyon in the afternoon heat. As subsequent layers of dust turned my skin consecutively darker shades of red, the thoughts flashing through my head took on a red tinge of their own, “We just drove all this way to suffer through the heat of the day on a dirt road? I could have done this at home.” I narrowed my focus to the negative thoughts swarming in my head and avoiding the cacti along the winding, elusive road that had become more of an intermittent ATV track. “This whole vacation has been one disaster after another.” I comforted myself as I continued navigating by watching the dust erupt from one foot step to the next. This was not how I had envisioned my trip to the desert.
Head down, shuffling along the dark tunnel of my own thoughts, a flash of red caught my eye. A huge scarlet hedgehog cactus, in full bloom- a sight made even more beautiful by the sheer luck of coming across it- threw me out of my own downward spiral of negativity and into the present. I looked up for the first time in miles and noticed that we were no longer on a trail at all, but picking our way up a dry wash. As we ascended, the walls narrowed, and we were greeted at the rim of the canyon by a bird’s eye view of the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. My thoughts had turned as bright and clear as the sky above me, “W-O-A-H HOW COOL IS THE PLANET?! HOW LUCKY AM I TO BE HERE? HOW AMAZING IS THIS PLACE?” We were suddenly exactly where I had wanted to be: in a new place, surrounded by the beauty of the desert. Which, upon reflection, is exactly where I had been the entire time. At the beginning of the run, I was so caught up in my immediate environment not meeting my expectations, that I had completely disregarded the incredible, awe inspiring landscape all around me.
I often find myself trapped in my own head, letting my preconceived notions interfere with reality. Allowing those thoughts to cloud my vision has the potential to ruin all kinds of experiences, from a typical day at work to a once in a lifetime adventure. I had pictured my trip into the Southwest as the iconic desert experience of narrow slot canyons, sinuous desert towers, and rarely frequented slick rock trails. Upon arrival, though, the desert was hot, dusty, and crowded. It wasn’t what I had pictured, but it was where we had ended up. I chose to be there, and I chose to watch the dust paint my shoes and throw myself a pity party.
This misperception was a missed opportunity. That run turned into exactly what I’d been hoping to experience, and became one of my favorite parts of our trip to the desert- but I almost missed it.
We are afforded the opportunity every moment of every day to choose how we want to direct our attention, and how we perceive our thoughts, emotions, and surroundings.
We have the ability to choose not only where we are physically, but also how we show up mentally. Dwelling on how something could, or should, be makes it impossible to focus on the present moment. It is important to expect a lot of yourself and to strive toward goals that are just beyond your reach. But ultimately, it’s how you react when those expectations, those goals, aren’t met that matters. Failure to successfully achieve your goal, or to meet your own expectations, creates an opportunity for growth. Only you have the power to choose how you will perceive the world around you. The choice is yours. Choose wisely.