Deep Dive

So fellow travelers, as we hit the long slippery slope leading to election day here in the not-so-United States I reached a point of near desperation to comprehend what madness is driving the hatred flying around.

When the demise of my 02RavCamper kept me home bound for several weeks back in September, I found myself needing a diversion to ward off the depression brewing from giving up several weeks of camping plans. Since retiring last June, I’ve looked forward to Fall camping because this year I could finally camp for  long stretches of weekdays when the campgrounds and trails are quieter. While my search for an affordable vehicle did take up much of my focus, I found myself with just enough spare time to become increasingly aware of the high emotions flying around as election campaigns ramped up, inspite of my consciousness choice to limit time on social media or TV news.

“Get Curious,” is a phrase I hear often from a trusted mentor in personal development. As a kid with an insatiable curiosity about everything I was often told I asked “too many questions.” Finding a path of growth where curiosity is not only encouraged but brilliantly supported has been a gift beyond measure.

So, what better way to master the anxiety driven by vitriolic emotions than taking a deep dive into the psychology of hate. It’s like the moment just before I start a particularly challenging hike.

Until I take the first few steps there’s always the option to get back in the car and drive to a diner for a cup of coffee and a slice of pie. But, seriously, I’ve come all this way, going back without exploring what’s ahead just seems pointless. Those first few yards on the trail become my commitment to take on the challenge and meet the source of any fear head on. And that pie and coffee will be waiting when I get back down. (Photo: Blue Mountain Trail hiked in August 2018)

The past six weeks certainly have been vastly different from my original plans for this first Autumn in retirement. To be honest, this research “dive” into the psychology of hate has been exhausting and would have been impossible to manage if I was still working. I regret nothing, not the sleepless nights, not the painful personal insights, not the intense frustration of even needing to be excavating this graveyard of systemic dysfunction. I am exhausted yet profoundly grateful to have reached a point of comprehension.

Earlier today I came across this quote from Neale Donald Walsh which summarizes my conclusions:
The impulse to help each other is built into our genes; it is coded within our species. We have a “soul contract” to help each other. I’m convinced of it. We all, each of us, feel this impulse.”1
I know the immediate reaction is to think it’s impossible to believe this is true for people spreading hatred and engaging in violence.

However, the deeper I dove into the research on hatred the more evident it became that because humans are “wired” for connection, whenever we deny it and try to cut off that connection, it creates a downward spiral of shame, guilt and eventually an overwhelming fear. Left unacknowledged and unhealed those feelings fester until they explode as anger. On some level we have all been in that spiral; part of my exploration has been uncovering and healing those emotions within my own psyche. 

Understanding this has allowed me to step back from engaging directly in the fight around me. It is futile to try reasoning with anyone living with that level of fear and it is not effective to employ guilt in an attempt to change people already steeped in shame. People acting out of hatred are always in a defensive mode and that is not a state of being conducive to change.

Understanding does NOT mean I accept hatred nor does it absolve people who have chosen violence, oppression and fear mongering. Understanding has simply given me an acute awareness of when engaging is a waste of precious energy, energy better directed towards being an active participant in the kind of society I want to live in.

Angel sighting Sunset view from Cadillac Mountain Acadia Natl.Park 9.30.2020

Walk gently on the path my friends and let Love Light the way

 

1 The Storm Before The Calm. Book One: Conversations with Humanity series. Neale Donald Walsh. Random House Publishing

A Line in the Sand

So fellow travelers, RaVan2.o’s maiden voyage was a glorious success and musings on our explorations at Acadia National Park will follow soon.


That’s a promise made as much to myself as to you all, a binding intention to hold a focus of forward momentum, because right now I want nothing more than to hunker down in a blanket fort for the next four weeks.

The outrage is beyond exhausting
the frustration feels unresolvable
the apprehension becomes immobilizing
so you let the gravity of grief pull you down
and you sit in silence 
all tears long since spent
you sit with the emotions
because there is no where to go
where the anguish is not
and in the stillness of staying with
comes acknowledgement of what is
of what perhaps has always been
and finally given permission to exist
resistance relinquishes
you breathe
as if pushed up for air
just before drowning
a breath of commitment like your first
unclenching your fists
you rise, draw a deep long line in the sand
turn your face to the sun and walk away
never once looking back.

I’ll be back with the wonders of the Acadian Expedition just as soon as I get that blanket fort set-up.

Walk gently on the path my friends and let Love Light the way


Of Squirrels and Hope

So fellow travelers, a key turning point in my adult life came when a meditation teacher gave me permission to stop “shoulding” on myself.  Or as Master Yoda might put it “do or do not, that is all.”

The fact is, current reality* leaves me little time and even less energy for writing. The amount of screen time I am obligated to engage in to meet my assigned responsibilities for on-line education leaves me with little to no motivation for spending  additional time on line. The bright side of that is many long neglected sections of my garden are looking quite hopeful for the growing season ( whenever Spring decides to show up for good.)

Still, writing a blog does come with a sense of responsibility and, while I have no financial or commercial pressure to maintain any set number of followers, likes or comments, I often feel a “should be posting” if for no reason than simple gratitude to you, my readers.

So, while I sort out the responsibilities of the last few weeks of on-line school, I am glad my friend and fellow writer Jennifer Bowman gave me permission to share her recent piece. As she so often does, Jen has found words which give cogent elucidation to so much of what I have been feeling these past 60 plus days.

Enjoy:
https://jenniferkbowman.wordpress.com/2020/05/04/anti-depressant-squirrels-of-the-2020-pandemic/

Editorial note: My reference above to the “*new reality ” stems from my refusing to empower the current global situation with the title “new norm;” there is nothing normal about any of it. But that is the substance of another post. ‘Til then

Walk gently on the path my friends. Be kind to yourselves and others

I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Editorial note: Guest Post from a fellow writer and friend who nailed it on the head. Thanks Andy!

A friend of mine sent me a link to a Facebook post that everyone should read. I’ve provided a screenshot of it here so you can read her words of wisdom. Now, I get it. The motivation behind this phrase is painfully obvious: “If you don’t come out of this with a new skill, you […]

I Lack Discipline? You Lack Compassion — My Zen Brain

Now What ?

So fellow travelers, while I have considered this space as a kind of creative “thinking out loud,” there has always been an underlying hope that my writing has served some purpose beyond my own musings.

If an uplifting haiku, an eye catching photo or a bit of humor brings joy or even insight to some of my readers, I feel I have done my part in making a difference by helping others along on their journey. 
Adjusting to the massive changes brought about by the COVID19 pandemic has proven to be more demanding than any of us thought it would be. For me just the switch to online education created an overload of new information to master. There has been little time for myself to relax, let alone write; I had even stopped journaling.

Thankfully, two practices I have maintained are daily meditations and evening gratitudes. That and frequent walks with our dog have kept me sane in a very crazy time, a time which, in the words of therapist Barbara Young, “…is a much longer marathon than we could ever have imagined (becoming) a reality.”  I found her words in an article my friend and fellow writer Kate Rantilla shared. As I read it, I realized why I have felt so pressured: I am, as she describes, trying way too hard to “do isolation well.”

Her insights have helped me make sense of my emotions and allowed me to reorganize my intentions with less self-judgment. So, although I rarely share outside sources here, it felt like the best way, at the moment for me to make a bit of difference for you, my fellow travelers. 

Barbara Young’s article “What do we do now? can be found here: “https://tinyurl.com/sx2ke7n

Walk gently on the path my friends another time-
for now save lives, stay home and be well.

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.  

IMG_7643

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.

2016curious

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.