I wanted to do something outside my comfort zone for this column. I really did. But in the past few weeks, the Kavanaugh hearings put me in a state of such discomfort that taking that even further seemed almost cruel. I’ve wanted to crawl out of my skin, out of my body (which is apparently of the wrong gender to be believed), and most definitely out of my country.
On the day of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I made the mistake of watching the hearing from the very beginning. During Senator Grassley’s opening remarks, I watched her sit there, soaking in a pool of discomfort and terror, waiting to offer the testimony she never wanted to give. My housemate walked in and asked how the hearing was going and I burst into tears. I think I knew from the beginning how it was all going to end, which is why I spent a couple of days wildly distracted at work. When it ended in exactly the way my anxious brain had predicted, I couldn’t decide between anger and despair. I left my office building to get lunch and as I walked past the parked cars on the street, I pictured myself taking a sledgehammer to them. I guess I landed on anger.
I think jail would’ve made for interesting column fodder, but I look awful in orange (I’m a winter), so I passed on the vandalism. In any case, this wasn’t the time to do something that would make me more uncomfortable.
Some friends and I decided it was time to find a place to calm the fuck down, and someone mentioned the Vedanta Retreat in Scappoose. It’s a nature retreat a few miles down Highway 30 that was purchased in 1936 by the Vedanta Society of Portland as a place where people of all beliefs and religions could come for prayer or quiet meditation—like an international food court for your soul. I’ve lived in Portland for 20 years and had never heard of it. Then again, I’ve never heard of lots of things that are good for me.
The retreat consists of a series of beautiful, calming trails that lead to 10 shrines devoted to various spiritual traditions like Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The trails are very similar to what you might find on the Upper Macleay in Forest Park—sometimes a little steep, but not to the point where you find yourself wishing you were dead and that there was no such thing as nature (as I’ve done on the hike up to Pittock Mansion.)
We took flowers and offered them to as many of the shrines as we could visit: the Buddhist shrine, the Holy Mother, the Christian shrine, the Native American shrine, and the Jewish shrine. At each spot, people had left notes to people and parts of themselves they had lost, and reading them felt like praying.
With all due respect to taking a sledgehammer to parked cars, this was the perfect response to the increased stress and grief we were all feeling on that day.
Being in nature is inherently calming. According to a 2015 Stanford study, people who live in cities are 20 percent more likely to have anxiety disorders and 40 percent more likely to have mood disorders than those who live in the country.
Additionally, the study noted that people who walked in nature for 90 minutes showed marked changes in the brain, most notably a decrease in activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where rumination lives. This is where those of us who suffer from anxiety spend a lot of time. I spend so much time there, in fact, that I’ve furnished it tastefully with some mid-century knockoffs from Dania.
So just the act of disconnecting, walking through tall and mossy tree stands, breathing the air and getting outside our normal milieu, where chaos currently reigns, helped immeasurably. But often, it’s hard to do things like this when you need to. When you’re feeling major stress or anxiety, you don’t want to do anything at all aside from nap, drink, or try to beat your Sudoku score while hate-watching the Full House reboot to drown out the ruminations. So dragging yourself to Vedanta may be like dragging a pouty child away from the modern armory she’s building out of Legos to eat a healthy lunch. It’s painful getting her there, but once she’s done, she has the fuel to continue the day without wanting to take a sledgehammer to anything or anyone. At least for that one day.
It’s free, by the way. So save Portland’s parked cars—grab your girlfriends and go.