Back to the Beginning

So fellow travelers, back home from the last road trip of the summer, which brought me to the summit of several mountain trails.


Red Hill Fire Tower, one of two fire tower hikes accomplished this week.

Today, a turn of a calendar page, September arrives and just like that, summer adventures give way to another school year.  Back to the Beginning* we go.

Reflecting back on summer, it has packed so many good memories and peak experiences it somehow feels more than just ten weeks have passed. A measure perhaps of coming to the end of 73 days feeling satisfied not only with what I’ve done, but more essentially with how I lived those days. 

New friends

Time with family

Precious memories from a memorable event

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Even a few wishes granted

Side Stage at the Fillmore, in Philadelphia PA. Watching Switchfoot on stage from the stage was incredible. Best view of Chad’s drumming in 13 concerts! Yes, my favorite humans even staged a snowball fight as a nod to the snowed out concert last February. And finally getting to see one of Jon’s legendary after shows, singing along with so many other people- community, FAMILY at its best.

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Remarkably, this summer did not feel as if it flew by too quickly, making it unique to every previous summer I can remember.  The pace of life felt just right- a benefit perhaps to a conscious choice I made to live these months as if I am retired.

 Not that every day was perfect; mid-August brought an unexpected challenge in a long standing friendship which caught me off guard. Although the dynamics were not within my direct family, the fallout rippled through close relationships with people as dear to me as family. Navigating the emotional war zone felt like walking through a minefield, one wrong step and the collateral damage could be brutal.  

Or not.

The abandoned Overlook Hotel near the summit of Overlook Mountain

I could instead choose to not engage in the conflict, to honor my boundaries and create space for me to stay true to myself. 

Angry confrontations never resolve conflicts but choosing not to engage in confrontation is often seen as a sign of weakness. “Man-up” people say as if this stereotypical frame for confrontation as being “manly” aka “powerful and strong,” makes it more acceptable. It’s an expression which, if used in ernest, all but eliminates any respect I might have for someone.

Words spoken from anger rise from fear and people given to confrontation are always driven by their fears. Everyone is afraid and if we refuse to face those fears they become our Achilles heel.  Like an untreated wound, unknown fears will fester and eventually poison our choices with toxic dysfunction. Fear also blinds us to the goodness in our lives. It can harden our hearts and prevent us from giving and receiving love.

View from Overlook Mountain Fire Tower, a 1450 ft ascent, 3hrs 5min of hiking, 5.1 miles roundtrip and worth every step.

Sometimes the hardest crossroads are the ones where we must part ways from someone we care for deeply, yet we can continue to love them even as we move forward on our own journey, knowing they too can make a choice to change and healing will come. Standing in the shadow between then and now, I am grateful for the peace and strength gathered on this summer’s journeys. 

New season, new beginnings, let the adventures begin again.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

*Back to the Beginning is one of my favorite songs by ( of course ) Switchfoot. I may not surf but it has carried me through waves of many changes.

After the Storm

So fellow travelers, it has been a week of intense storms.

This afternoon a dark, violent outburst flung powerful cracks of lightning with thunder claps close enough to rattle windows throughout the house. Thankfully a quick survey of the yard revealed no damage other than a few large branches down here and there.

As sunlight breached a gap in the dispersing clouds, raindrops glistened everywhere in my garden while chirping goldfinches descended on a patch of diamond studded sunflowers.

Rain storms cease and now

Only soothing bird songs fall

From newly washed trees

There have been storms of a human nature around me as well, fall out from long standing issues with which I am not directly involved, but find myself deeply concerned for the emotional well being of people I care for as much as my own family.

Just like physical injuries, neglected emotional wounds fester and mar our ability to engage in healthy relationships. Unresolved trauma and grief give rise to fear which often explodes as anger. Anger blinds us to the consequences of words spoken in fury; trust shatters, hearts fracture, bonds break. Only the power of love can call us back from the brink and only if we stop raging long enough to hear and heed that call.

Someone has to dare raise a voice, perhaps more forcefully than expected, to be heard above the raging storm. Stop! Listen! Anger, like thunder, is a warning to disengage, seek refuge, find safe haven. Let the storm pass, let tears bring relief, so the wounds of the past can finally begin healing and love shine like diamonds of cleansing rain.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.


Home

So fellow travelers, last night, at a small music club, Switchfoot gave a special performance for the fans who have gathered for their 2019 Getaway week leading up to the Bro-Am beach festival later this week.

It was a once in a lifetime concert experience.

Honestly, every concert I have seen them play since the first time I saw them live (Sept 4, 2009 at the NY State Fair) is a profound experience; that’s why I go to as many shows within my reach as possible ( nine so far and many more to come.)

This is music with a message of hope, words which speak honestly of the healing and joy possible if we reach out to one another and choose love in the midst of the struggle, the doubts, fears and losses life brings. Make no mistake, these are not quiet church hymns. Switchfoot is a faith based group but they are a rock band through and through. The driving rhythms of the drums and bass and the electrifying guitar riffs make it impossible to stand still. These songs transcend inspiration; at times they have quite literally saved my life and every show is a baptismal healing which renews my soul.

Last nights’s performance of a set list picked by us (that’s right, they had people attending submit requests before the show) featured many songs they have not played live in a while, one of which was a song written for the Disney movie Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. Jon Foreman spoke of his love for C.S. Lewis’ writing which resonates with the longing for a true home beyond the bittersweet experience of this world. Every one of us feels that longing, whether we are fully conscious of it or not, this is what drives every choice we make. Jon’s music has that same thread running through it, a thread which has become deeply woven into the fabric of my own experience.

This is Home is the one song which always guides me back when I am so lost I don’t know how to find that Light and Love which I know calls me forward. Hearing it live for the first time last night was a blessing beyond words, an experience I am infinitely grateful has become a part of me.

And the week has just begun.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

A Different Choice

So fellow travelers, a series of winter weather fronts has laid down layers of thick ice concealed beneath pristine, powder soft coatings of fresh snow.

Walking even a few steps has become a treacherous undertaking; I fell hard in my driveway getting out of the car a few days ago. Fortunately the fall resulted in nothing more than a bruised knee, sore wrist and a stiff back which was easily tweaked into place by our most excellent chiropractor. So now I use my Kahtoola NANOspikes even to walk the short path to refill my back yard bird feeders.  

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Frequent visitors to the backyard feeders

My recent newsletter from the Cornell Ornithology Lab informed me that chickadees can lose up to 10-15% of their body weight overnight trying to stay warm. Since their bright chirruping keeps my spirits up through our long cold winter season, I feel it’s the least I can do to keep these winter residents supplied with the fuel they need. The marauding squirrels are welcome too, as they provide our dog’s primary entertainment on days when it’s too blustery to walk.

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Now where did that squirrel go?

There have been too many of those this winter, at least that is how it feels but then I usually feel as if winter has dragged on long enough by the time Mid-February brings us the gift of a week off from school. “Winter Break”  is when I begin to wish Winter would give us a break. It rarely does. A quick search my blog history reveals post after post of February Blues entries.

Winter Break week does offer the blessing of getting to sleep in a bit, which has resulted in some truly bizarre pre-waking REM states.  This morning’s “ visions of surviving after a meteor strike” epic brought up this Haiku

Deep in winter sleep

Phantom demons rise and fall

Awake in the Dream

Lucid dreaming has not happened for me in quite awhile and this episode brought out some deep fears which I have been contemplating after morning meditation.The dream kept producing moments where I had to make split second decisions in the midst of absolute chaos. When I woke up I was struck by the parallel feelings I gathered from a recent blog post by my friend and accomplished writer, Jennifer Bowman in which she called for more tolerance of our darker emotions, particularly depression. The idea of allowing space for those times when depression is a natural result of the stuff life throws at us.

Jennifer also pushed back a bit at the concept that we can choose how we feel and called out the social media trend of memes which invoke “Choose Joy” as an admonishment, particularly of women, to take responsibility for their emotional states. Someone faced with the struggles of coping with a potentially fatal diagnosis,  the sudden loss of a loved one, a major career change or dramatic financial shift, these are not likely helped by such admonitions. Another friend, Tom Atkins, who writes often about the daily challenges of clinical depression speaks honestly of the void of positive thinking this state creates.

Perhaps it is less about choosing the emotion and more about choosing how we think about that emotion- a point made by both my friends. Whatever the feeling is, depression, rage, sorrow, bliss, wonder, it is not good or bad- it is at that given point in time quite simply what we are feeling. To layer judgement on top of the feeling obscures the potential within that emotion- if it is “good” we may begin to fear any change which might bring it to an end, if it is “bad” we may try to gloss over it or bury it deeper to avoid facing it.

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So then, instead of the pressure to choose “joy” or any other feeling we judge as “better,” what if we allow ourselves to “choose comfort,” to find what would ease our struggle enough to sit with the sadness, pain, anger or depression long enough to hear what it is trying to tell us. In truth, no matter what they are, our emotions are always telling us something about what it is we need. If we choose to listen, we have a chance to meet those needs and that chance can give us just enough hope to take the next step forward.

Walk gently on the path my frends and may adventure find you ready.

Digging Out

So fellow travelers, Winter Storm Harper has me spending this extended weekend digging out in more ways than shoveling snow.


“Pixie Dust ?” Really, Mike Seidel? Because S*N*O*W by any other name is still a four letter word which needs to be repeatedly shoveled.

When I sat down to write my end of the year letter to send with my holiday cards, I re-read what I had written the year before:

“Reflecting back on this year of tremendous change I wonder at the grace which carried us through the challenges.”  

I could have cut and pasted those words right onto the page for this year’s letter, but that letter remains unwritten because the transition from last year to this has felt unsettled, as if both everything and nothing had changed. I simply could not or maybe would not muster my usual namaste vibe to pen an end of the year review with good wishes for the coming year. Worse yet, whenever I sat down to write anything it was like trying to surface from the bottom of a pool of sludge.

“No mud, no lotus” Thich Nhat Hanh*

A fellow writer and creative tribe friend posted a New Year’s blog which spoke about “unpacking the boxes” which held the emotions she had neatly packed away during the previous year of change and loss (you can read Kathy’s post here) and being snowed in over this extended weekend, I retrieved her brilliant idea from the “to do” file I had tucked it into.

As I started working through the blocks, pushing myself to write, I realized I had been ignoring the depth of fear and grief embedded in the some of last year’s experiences. When I returned to work in September, thankfully I was given assignments where I can truly support the students I am working with. I was simply grateful to enjoy my job again.

A few days in, I started having powerful dreams, terrifying and disturbing re-enactments of things we had endured the previous two years. I became increasingly aware there were emotional contusions in need of healing. Fortunately I had given myself the gift of signing up for an extended weekend at a spiritual retreat so within a week of these dreams arising I found myself in the California desert, not far from Joshua Tree National Park where my star gazing “moment” had occured.

The Sky’s the Limit Observatory located near Joshua Tree National Park

Reflecting on it now, I accept that as a truly mystical experience, a moment when the magnitude of what I was seeing literally generated a physical experience in my brain that awakened every cell and layer of my being. For that one moment I was no longer a body, I was Light traveling along the stars and I felt absolutely connected to everything and bound by nothing all at once. It was a moment of pure joy from simply being alive.

The Dance of Life, garden sculpture at sunrise RW Retreat Center

Healing has come, yet it’s slower than expected and I sense there is more to be done before I am ready to move on to the next stage of life. Digging out from under the doldrums, I see the disappointment at postponing my retirement another year was more pervasive than I wanted to admit. Now I am aware there is work yet to be done and I finally feel commited to completing it.

I am increasingly aware of the daily blessings of grace and healing which carried me through some truly terrifying moments and brought immeasurable joy. Highs and lows navigated by finding crucial balance points reinforced with faith. Every day I feel a deep gratitude for the sacred network of friends and family, near or far, who bring Light and Love into my life. They are the reason faith and hope are alive within me.


View from Blue Mountain Fire Tower, Adirondacks

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

*Thich Nhat Hanh has been an essential influence on my spiritual journey. The book, Peace is Every Step is a wonderful introduction to his teaching.

Reflections

So fellow travelers, 2018 draws to a close and time spent sorting through photos has me reflecting on the vast expanse of experiences this year brought.

Sunrise in the High Desert

For all the darkness of the low points which framed the first half of the year, I am beginning to glean the significance of the growth and insights gained. There is still healing and integration in progress, but this year definitely concludes on more hopeful, uplifting notes.

Seventh (or was it Eighth Lake?) in the Adirondacks

The last few weeks have brought some losses for people around me, and I have felt their grief more intensly than expected. Perhaps this is a measure of the extent to which challenging experiences have deepened my capacity for compassion. Yet at the same time, this intensity has not thrown my equilibrium off as it might have; I take this to be a measure of personal growth, not that I am resting on any laurels. Six decades plus a few more revolutions around the sun have taught me to avoid complacency.

Idyllic summer morning

Spending time with extended family over this holiday week points to some indicators of changes to come. A change in options at work has pushed my retirement plans out by one more year; it’s ok, I accept it as more time to bank resources for a future cross country road trip I’ve been plotting out.

Meanwhile there are plenty of adventures on the itinerary for 2019. Fortified an attitude of gratitude, a desire to continue seeking joy, and a deeper committment to practicing kindness for myself as well as others I will turn the calendar page with a heart wide open.


METEOR sculpture at the Oasis Visitor Center Joshua Tree National Park

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready

Winter in Whiskey Hollow

So fellow travelers, the transition from Autumn to Winter has been grey, damp and chilly here in Central New York.

Slight differences in temperatures determine whether it’s raining or snowing . Thick mats of wet leaves create slick patches almost as treacherous as ice. The sun is obscured by dense clouds for days at a time; even the briefest of appearances is cause for celebration.

Quick look ! Do you see what we see?

Delilah and I spy the distant glow of sunshine far down the road we walk almost everyday in our neighborhood.

In the midst of gloom I received some heartening news; I’ve had to reset some hoped for plans lately, so I am going to hold this one close to my heart until it is more certain to unfold.

Meanwhile I opted for a mental health day, which initially included plans to finish Christmas shopping. This era of online purchases with direct recipient shipping is easier but lacks the personal touch which I try to bring to the gifts I give. There’s a simple joy in scouting craft shows and small shops to find the right something for each person on my list.

When the day dawned bright and clear I shifted gears to allow for a visit to a favorite birding spot.

Upon arriving , I remembered why it’s a not a frequent stop on my winter walking destinations. Early snow already covers the minimally maintained roadway; eventually it will become impassable until spring.

For now I was granted passage through and I drovecarefully along the winding road marveling at the transformation winter has made.

The little brook still babbles free and blissful it has not frozen over yet

Everything has become something new unto itself, familiar and yet not, a reflection of the path I am trying to navigate right now. I think I can see the way forward and yet, a sudden change leaves me on less certain footing.

Tracks in the snow leading to the little pond

Wrapped in the deep silence of these favorite woods blanketed in snow, lost in thought the bright chirping of a chickadee called me back.

High on a pine branch
One bird sits and sings alone
Joy cascades like snow

A simple, familiar reminder. Stop, look, listen.

What we seek is closer than we think.

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Saved by Gratitude

So fellow travelers, today in the United States it is Thanksgiving Day. It is my favorite holiday because it’s primary focus is on two of my favorite human experiences: family and food, wrapped in an atmosphere of my favorite spiritual practice: gratitude.

Even though this is another year without our daughters joining us at the table, we are blessed with extended family whom we gather with to celebrate. I am grateful for our family, as I am for many things in my life: a comfortable home, good friends, gainful employment, reliable transportation, freedom of expression, places of solitude where the raw  beauty of nature restores my spirit; the list can be infinitely expanded on.

Yet most of all I am grateful for gratitude because gratitude honestly saved my life.

In the darkest of hours, when I questioned the purpose of the path I found myself  required to navigate, it was the conscious practice of gratitude which kept the embers of hope and faith alive within my struggling soul. True, there were many times when all I could find to be grateful for was the end of another day of troubling experiences, yet even then, the act of sitting in silence for a few moments and focusing on the simplest of things I was thankful for,

a favorite meal,

a moment of laughter shared with a friend,

pajamas,

the sound of frogs by my pond,

my dog curled up beside me,

these thoughts cast drops of goodness into the dark pool of despair, creating ripples of comfort and hope. There is no doubt in my mind that those few moments of simple gratitude are the life line which kept faith and love alive in my heart. So I am indeed most thankful for gratitude. Even as time has brought healing, this practice of gratitude is now part of my day, something I hope will become as natural as breathing, it is that essential to my existence.

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A favorite dinner on a trip to Portland Oregon

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn Glow

So fellow travelers, a few days ago a vision of wind driven golden light caught my eye from an upstairs window.


I had taken a mental health day to reset my perspective and that day had brought sunshine and milder temperatures, rare gifts for November in upstate NY.

I’ve been working on tying up some loose ends left unattended while my energies were hijacked by situations my team at work had to deal with for so long. While that concern has been “resolved,” allowing work to become once again a fulfilling part of my day, I am still addressing the residual impact two years of continuous, escalating stress had on my health and marriage. My husband, good man and devoted father that he is, struggles with knowing how to support me when I am in a crisis. Wounds from his own past have left scars which bind his heart and emotions, something I do my best to be mindful of but easily lose sight of when I am in turmoil.

Blessed with several solid groups of friends both at and beyond work, I managed to get through the worst moments. Now I can see while we tried desperately to get help for someone slipping into darkness just how hard I had to fight to keep from being pulled over that edge too. Love for my family guarded my heart and friends became my lifeline. So when a misunderstanding threatened to fracture some of those friendships, it sent a shock wave through my current peace of mind. It’s disheartening when genuine apologies generate more hurt than healing.

Taking a day for reflection and self care meant I could chase that glorious vision outside my window. I grabbed a daypack and headed for a favorite trail to track the elusive light of changing seasons.


Bright leaves, so late to put in an apperance this year flew everywhere, urged on by an unseasonably warmish wind. County Parks workers were hard at work getting the annual Holiday Lights on the Lake displays in place for the season.

Santa’s flying sleigh is a favorite, sure to elicit “oh’s” and “ah’s” when driving through .


Park residents  reserving their spot for the kick off event early next week

 

As Delilah stalked fat squirrels who were too focused on foraging to mind the many dogs passing by, I caught tantilizing glimpses of Light everywhere.

 

 

Perched on a picnic table, watching sunlight dance on the water, I remembered an important lesson: Reactions of others are more about them than us. When we ask ourselves “What is this person’s response telling me about their inner landscape?” it often clarifies and helps us separate our personal issues from others. Taking responsibility for our part of a misunderstanding and acknowleding another person’s feelings does not obligate us to take on someone’s hurt, anger or sadness. If we offer peace it will return to us all in good time.

 

Feelings come and go

like leaves blown about by wind

only love remains

Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.

Finding the Shore Again

So fellow travelers, oh hey yes, I am still here, wandering about the trails of life’s journey.

20180821_132019Summit Trail, Mt. Arab  New York

Someone asked me recently if things had “become so terrible,” because I have not posted in quite a while.

“Oh No,” I replied, “quite the contrary- my life is truly wonderful these days,” which is ironically the reason I have NOT been writing much lately.  I’ve had less of a need to process life by writing, because I am deeply immersed in fully living each day.

A lot of amazing experiences happened during my summer travels, some of which I shared here.  More recently I journeyed back to the West Coast to attend a spiritual gathering where everything came together on many levels reaching beyond anything I could have imagined.

 

I know- another hyperbolic statement- like my awakening while star gazing in Joshua Tree National Park.

Yet the depth with which I am now living these transformations in my daily life from the simplest of moments to more complex challenges is astoundingly authentic.  Listen, I am no stranger to the “afterglow” effect of spiritual conferences and meditation retreats. Over time, this ethereal high fades as the din of life’s more mundane demands takes over.  Something this time is clearly different; it feels less like a major shift and more akin to a clicking in place of several altered areas of consciousness.

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This retreat I attended a few weeks ago was one I signed up for late last spring, in a moment of true desperation, when the very volatile situation our team was dealing with at work ratchetted up several notches and started spiraling beyond any semblance of reason. I needed to set a beacon in the distance to shine glimmers of hope I could reach for. Even as I did this,  a conversation ran in my head of how crazy it was to plan a trip all the way across the country for just one weekend, right after a new school year started, after having already spent a good chunk of travels funds throughout the summer. Crazy maybe yes, but no more so than the insanity I was trying to cope wth daily at that time.

It was a committtment I made as an affirmation of my intention of survival, a committment I kept even after word came soon after sumer began that the situation at work had been, to use the adminstrative terminology, “resolved.” Returning to work in September has actually been agreeable yet I knew there were residual impacts I needed to address to move forward. Even in this climate of “mental health awareness” when we have a multitude of programs and training to help us support students, impacts on staff are rarely addressed. After issues are “resolved,” we seem to be expected to move along as if nothing has happened.  So I knew it was up to me to clarify my feelings of what we had been through and as it happened this retreat I intended as a life preserver cast into the dark waves of a future storm, turned out to be an actual life boat which brought me to the shore.

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Hiking trail at Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve, Newport Beach, CA

It is a truly a blessing to stand on that shore every morning to greet each day and the words to describe that “boat” and our journey together are beginning to find me, asking to be heard.  Thanks for waiting around to hear them.

Walk gently on the path my friends  and may adventure find you ready.