A Small Good Thing
Sign in with Facebook, Twitter or email.

My name is Pamela Tanner Boll and I’m a Detourist

So, take a detour.  Get lost.  Go off the main road.  You may get to your destination more quickly than you would have ever dreamed.

By Pamela Tanner Boll, #LoveMyDetour

A few years back, I was beginning to do some research for my next documentary film.  I wanted to make a film that took a new look at happiness.  Was our happiness dependent on our circumstances?  Could we experience a sense of wellbeing even though we weren’t making as much money as we wanted?  Could we be happy despite a shrinking standard of living?  A planet that continued to grow warmer every year?  How was the American Dream of doing “better” than one’s parents faring and how was that affecting us as a society?

In the course of reading books and articles on this subject, my producer found that Middlebury College, my Alma Mater in Vermont was holding a Symposium on the very subject.  So, we eagerly planned a drive from Boston up to the mountains to attend.

The drive north typically was under four hours.  However, Vermont had experienced flooding earlier that year.  Some roads were affected.  Bridges were out.  So, we counted on a longer drive; we left mid morning with the car filled with gas, the GPS set and snacks at the ready.

The first half of the drive was on highways that were smooth and easy with gorgeous views of the mountains and valleys.  We talked about our families, our elderly parents, upcoming vacations and a little about the research we had both been doing. As always, there was a lot of laughter.  Paula and I have worked together for nearly twenty years. The day had begun with full sunlight, although I did notice clouds gathering the farther north we travelled.

Once off the highway, things changed.  The road to Middlebury followed a small river and wound through looming mountains.  I was prepared for this drive. 

Then we came to a Detour.  We were routed further north.  It wasn’t clear exactly how we would go but we followed the signs.  The new route was over a narrow road that followed a raging river that had spilled over its banks.  Trees were down. And yes, we were routed past bridges that had collapsed.  The road was washed out in parts.  We were no longer able to talk to each other.  Paula tried resetting the GPS but it would not tell us where we were or how we would get to our destination. 

I had to slow the car down—way down.  We began to climb and the curves sharpened.  All my focus was now on this road.  Mountains rose straight up on either side of us.  I had a vague notion we were going to be routed through Mad River Glenn—but had not driven over that pass in more than thirty years.  I didn’t know what to expect. 

We were traveling no more than thirty miles an hour.  The day had darkened.  Thick grey clouds roiled overhead.  There were mailboxes lining the road at the beginning of rutted drives straight up the mountainsides, but we saw few houses.    We did not meet up with any cars or trucks; initially I was relieved not to have to deal with traffic but maybe the locals knew something we did not.

As we wound higher up a mountain, we saw hawks circling.  We rounded another curve, and a family of deer appeared on the berm.  We looked at each other.  I was not at all sure where we were or even if we had taken the right road.

But, we kept going.  There was no place to pull over and check our directions.  And besides, we had relied on GPS and cell phones and neither were really working at the moment.  I was tense.  Alert.  The evidence of flood damage was all around us even as we continued to climb.

I noticed my shoulders had climbed up to my ears and that I was holding my breath.  Above us the sky was purple gray.  We heard thunder.  I purposely began taking deep breaths.  Let go of my shoulders.  We reached the summit of this mountain as lightning struck three beats to our left.  But, we were on our way down.  Back down to the dark hollow and the swollen river.  I did recognize this gap and knew we were on our way to Middlebury for sure.

Breathe deeply, shoulders down.  Pay attention.  Focus on this moment.  Watch the raindrops splattering the tarmac. Slick road tumbling down to a creek.  Winding through the close mountains to the valley.  Okay, we are good.  Breathe. Again, breathe.

And yes, we did make it to the small town of Middlebury and to our hotel.  It was a relief to be out of the mountains.  We did attend the happiness symposium the next day. 

But, I did not end up using the Symposium’s research in the film that I went on to make.  The Symposium was on topic and yet, it did not stick with me.  There were statistics, other studies cited.  The presenters seemed grim.  Tight lipped.  Serious.  My attention wandered.

It was the Detour through the mountains in a storm that informed A Small Good Thing.  The Detour did not allow my mind to wander.  Paula and I could not continue to talk about upcoming holidays or what our children had done the year before.  The detour forced our attention to the present moment.  The fact that I did not trust that we were on the right road, also forced my attention—to the road and to figuring out which way was north.  We were not passengers enjoying the mountain scenery—we were participants in that scene.  And as such, every sense was heightened.  Elevated.  We noticed the hawks.  Spied deer hidden in brambles.  Watched out for washouts.  We slowed down.  Saw more. 

This focus on the present moment—including noting one’s response to that moment—is at the heart of wellbeing.  Yes, it was a little scary not knowing if we were on the right road—but, how much better to be alert to possible roadblocks, downed trees or deer leaping out from the bushes than to be lost in one’s stories, or daydreams.  The need to pay ATTENTION made me slow down, breathe more deeply. 

This trip across the mountains led me to research the connection between mindfulness and wellbeing, which became one of our film’s main themes.

We are a society in love with speed, with getting things done, with multitasking and being ever available for a phone call or text.  We think these ways of being will make us more productive.  We think that we get more done by interrupting our focus to begin a second or third task or line of thought.  We think that being MORE productive is the key to happiness and to success.  Maybe not.  All the great contemplative traditions tell us we live more fully, more deeply, by attending to the present moment. 

So, take a detour.  Get lost.  Go off the main road.  You may get to your destination more quickly than you would have ever dreamed.


This article originally appearedhttps://amyoes.com/2017/02/01/pam-detour/


Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.