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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fading West*

So fellow travelers, a friend who reads my blog posts commented on the line I used at the end of a recent entry. Their point was well taken.

“Nothing in (my) life would ever be the same” is indeed a rather sweeping claim. Being aware of the hyperbolic aura it casts, I did not use it lightly. In fact I rewrote, deleted and retyped it several times, eventually coming to the conclusion it accurately reflected the impact of the week I spent in California.

Since writing is how I process my experiences, I am sometimes bound by self-inflicted parameters. An example of this is the prolonged stretch (five weeks, the longest gap since I began the blog in August of 2013) in my posts between the Verdi Requiem weekend and my current series of posts. When I returned home from that regenerative time with friends, I walked back into a malestorm of situations at work which rapidly escalated and deteriorated. It took every ounce of energy to stay focused, professional and compassionate. At day’s end I literally had enough left in me to walk our dog, eat a decent meal and tend to a handful of chores around the house, pond or garden before collapsing into bed.

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On weekends, my work at the dog rescue where I volunteer became my therapy; making a difference in one arena compensated somewhat for the frustration of not being able to get responses at work.  The affection and acceptance of these dogs who had been through so much in their quest to simply find a home where they would be loved became a beacon of Light and hope in a time of tremendous frustration. The sincere gratitude of the rescue staff for every hour I could contribute was a reminder that what I was able to do mattered, whether it was answering phones, cleaning crates, folding laundry or taking a challenged dog on a long respite walk.

Every Sunday morning I would rise early and write for a few hours but due to the confidential nature of my position (I work as a special education assistant in our local high school) what I wrote could not be posted. That I wrote at all came from the advice of several of my creative tribemates.  “Write,” they said “whether you can publish it or not, write for your own sake. Eventually you will find a way to share what you need to say.” I stopped worrying about the extended gap in the published blog posts.

 

So I wrote and walked dogs and got through the weeks, day by day and I focused on what became an even bigger adventure than going to Switchfoot’s 14th Bro-AM concert at Moonlight Beach. I signed up to spend four days with the guys who created the music which had kept me going for so long so I could thank them in person.

 

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

*The title FADING WEST is a reference both to the direction I traveled for my great adventure and a movie/music project the band undertook during their 2012 world tour. You can watch the trailer for the film, released in 2013  at this link .

 

Listen

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow! You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout. Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks*!” King Lear Act 3 Scene 2 

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So fellow travelers, like many of my creative tribemates I write to process my experiences.  Yet, sometimes our experiences overwhelm our capacity to express what we feel.  Raging storms of emotions inundate the landmarks which guide us on our journey; chaos threatens to consume the weathervane* compass points we rely on to help us find our way.  If we cannot find ways to express what we feel, we will drown in our emotions or, worse yet, become so numb we move through life like the walking dead.

In those times, music and art can become the life lines which guide us back. This is the backstory of how I found the music which kept me afloat when swells of chaos and confusion threatened to engulf me and pull me under.

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When Favorite Oldest Daughter was a teenager, she used to make me playlists of music. This being back in the times before kids were perpetually hooked into their earbuds I could actually hear what she was listening to when she worked on the desktop computer in the family room. When there was a song she listened to often I would ask her to put it on one of the CDs she made for me. This is how I first heard the song 24 written by Jon Foreman**.

To this day the song moves me to tears; they maybe tears of loss, regret, confusion, relief, or happiness, yet most often they are tears of deep abiding gratitude.

When I listen to Jon’s music, whether it is from one of Switchfoot’s ten albums or a solo project like Wonderlands which created the 25in24 project no matter what state I am in, the emotion which inevitably rises to the surface is gratitude. Gratitude for glimmers of hope in times of doubt, for grace in times of failing, for healing in times of suffering even for humor to wake me from the hell of taking everything including myself far too seriously.

For over a decade now this music has been a Presence on my journey. At first a background harmony, then after my first Switchfoot concert experience (NYState Fair Chevy Court, August 23, 2009) a balance point during unsettled times and finally, in the past four years, a life raft carrying me through the tsunami of changes happening in and around me.

Since my first live experience in 2009 I have felt these musicans are more than a band and I have gone to as many shows as possible which came within a days driving distance. I have done meet and greet sessions with the band and Jon (who does tours of his solo projects) not because I am star struck but to have an opportunity to thank them for the gift of their songs, for being the ones who put words and rhythm and harmonies to the emotions I felt so deeply yet did not understand or could not find ways to express.

But there was one live experience I knew of, which I had not found a way to get to,

yet

so, when the chaos at work began to escalate and I needed set a Light to reach for I put a plan in place find my way to Bro-Am 2018

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(to be continued)

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

**listen to 24 by Jon Foreman on Switchfoot’s 4th album The Beautiful Letdown here

Poem: Even Madness Has Its Story

So fellow travelers, while the last few months ran with a kind of Alice down the Rabbit Hole feeling, the chaos often left me too perplexed and exhausted to find the words to process my experience. I was often blessed to find meaning through the writing of other members of my creative tribe. I am sharing this recent post from Tom Atkins with gratitude he found words to express what I cannot.

Quarry House

3_resizeEven Madness Has its Story.

There is fiberglass in the corner.
Battens balanced on an old beam.
A wooden woman pirouettes.
dust settles over it all,

a strange sort of museum,
no pattern, no themes, items on display
in odd corners and contrasts,
too like your own life,

and yet, in time you begin to see
that even madness has its story to tell
and a logic that becomes comfortable:
not quite true,

but beautiful none the less.

About this poem

Somehow this poem went from a poem about settling into a schedule, to whatever this is. Mondays do weird things to us sometimes.

The picture was taken at Salem Art Works.

Tom

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Push to the Finish Line

So fellow travelers, returning home from the Verdi road trip I received an enthusiastic greeting from my devoted trail companion Ms Delilah

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Granted I am blessed to be greeted in a similar manner when I come in from a trip to the grocery store. A greeting shorter in duration with less yapping perhaps, but just as effective at refueling my heart with the glow of unconditional love dogs radiate into our lives.

Delilah has been a placeholder for love and acceptance through the recent challenges of my journey. Whether I  arrived home and immediately grabbed a leash to head for a mind clearing walk or collapsed on the couch under the weight of incomprehensible stress, Delilah followed the cues. She even learned to gently nudge me awake so those naps did not stretch out to interfere with deeper sleep I would need later.

Because of the confidential nature of my work with special ed. students at our local high school it is not possible for me (at least not at this time) to detail the specifics of what our team was dealing with.  Suffice to say, there were connected situations which had been evolving for two years which had reached a point of tremendous concern for the team I was on.  What was most disconcerting was the struggle we faced trying to have those concerns heard by people in a position to address the issues. In my nineteen years working with students of diverse needs and abilities from elementary through high school I had never experienced anything like what we were being asked to tolerate as acceptable for our students as well as our teaching team and support staff.

20180626_131101Mural in Artists Alley Oceanside CA

I found myself asking  how long does one remain in a setting where it no longer seems possible to make a difference?

When you follow every protocol and send clear, well documented reports that help is needed and the response is dismissive, when you hear the policy statements about the importance of mental health but see nothing done when a crisis point is reached repeatedly, when you hear and are told to teach the message “if you see something, say something,” and you do say something, day after day, but it results in no actions, how long beyond these tipping points do you stay?

Reaching the end of the year, feeling discouraged and depleted I knew leaving my position now (which I could easily do by retiring a year ahead of schedule with minimal financial impact) would feel more like quitting than “retiring early.” I am many things, but I am not a quitter. I was mindful too of the impact leaving would have on my co-workers, many of whom I am grateful to also call my friends.

Through all of these challenges, there has been a soundtrack playing which kept me going even when I was sure I could not face another day of chaos. It is a soundtrack filled with songs of the restless quest for meaning, of reaching for hope in the face of doubt and a search for light when plunged into darkness. So two days after dragging myself across the finish line of unresolved dilemmas, I headed West to spend some time with the band who writes those songs.

Nothing in my life would ever be the same.

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

Distant Light

So fellow travelers, much of what has come when writing has been a litany of complaints.

Cold, wet weather. Heavy grey skies. A dismal monotony of ongoing stress. Nothing to post because doing so would validate the dreadful waste of precious time my days at work have become.

Being required to attend yet do nothing while madness takes hold is proving to be almost beyond my capacity to maintain balance. We thought we had seen the pinnacle of senselessness last year; little did we know the demands yet to come.

 

There is light in the distance

So you just keep pushing towards it

One step at a time

I found this photo I took on New Years Day. It feels as if we have endured years rather than months since that moment.

Then, today for the first time in months, I ate dinner sitting by my pond as the setting sun tinted the sky with warm shades of rose gold.

A few fat bumblebees danced between clusters of just bloomed dandelions and violets.

Returning migrants sang from budding trees.

Joy, like Spring, too long delayed rose with their chatter.

An early evening star appeared, offering a promise to hold a born of sincere gratitude.

Grace to see this journey through to the end.

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

Razor’s Edge

So fellow travelers, the ability to maintain an objective space for others on their journey requires unyeilding concentration.

How therapy dogs accomplish this is nothing short of miraculous.

Me? It’s a daily challenge, but this old “dog” is doing her best to learn the tricks.

Sitting in a quiet space watching madness ebb and flow
dancing on the razor’s edge between sacrifice and salvation
a million lifetimes evolve within each moment
none are your stories to tell
yet to listen
to simply be present
is enough
for now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This dotted line of hope appeared in the early morning sky.  Spring is coming.

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

Enough

So fellow travelers, this post references issues of current concern in the United States. It is my perspective, based on my personal experiences. The topic is difficult yet it has become impossible for me to move forward in my daily creative routine until I address it. Even after extensive editing, it is long. It may be difficult to read; I know this is by far the hardest post I have had to write.

On the morning of March 13, 1996, I put my not quite seven year old daughter on the school bus, waved goodbye from the porch and went about my morning routine of finishing chores and then walking our dog. At lunchtime, I turned on the TV to catch the midday news and weather. Instead of our local news team, I found network reporters covering a horrific incident which had occured a few hours before. It was my first encounter with a school shooting. My plans for the afternoon fled my mind, as I sat counting the hours until our daughter returned home, bounding off the bus full of the chatter and news about all the goings on in first grade that day.

“Mommy are you ok?” she asked when I hugged her a little tighter and longer than usual. Maybe she caught the tears in my eyes. “I am fine, I just missed you a lot today. How about a snack while you tell me what you did in school today.”

It did not matter on iota that the Dunblane School Massacre happened over 3,000 miles away, far across the ocean, in another country. I did not sleep much that night and it took every ounce of willpower to put my child on the bus and send her to school the next morning. I could not keep a morsel of food down all day, in fact I ate very little for several days until the weekend thankfully arrived. It had never occured to me that my child or any child would be shot in cold blood by by a total stranger while attending school. I felt completely and totally helpless, there was nothing I could do short of keeping my child home to protect her. I seriously considered it, even researched the process of applying to home school her. But she liked school and home schooling would deprive her of the socialization of being with her school friends.

At the time, my husband was working in another town, commuting home a few weekends a month. He had taken on the job as a short term contract, but the project had stretched far beyond the intial six weeks he said it would run with no defined end date. The long periods of separation were putting a strain on our marriage; I still have the note my young daughter wrote in crayon on a scrap of paper “Plese dont get a devors.”

I knew pulling my daughter out of school would take away much needed normalcy her school day provided her with and as the days passed and I watched the quick response of the British people as their Snowdrop Campaign successfully pushed for changes in Britain’s gun laws, my own fears began to ease.

Fast forward to 1999. Our marriage has weathered the storm (the note from my daughter had a lot to do with that) we now have a second daughter and I am considering making a move from active PTA volunteer to a full time staff position at our local elementary school. Then, late on the morning of April 20th, two boys open fire on their fellow students at Columbine High School. At the time it was the one of the worst mass killings and the worst school shooting in our history. Yet it was not until after the tragedy at Sandy Hook that lockdown drills became a routine practice in our own school district. By then I had been working as a special education teaching assistant for just over twelve years. Having started at our local elementary school right up the road from our home, the heartbreaking stories of the terror and loss of life at Sandy Hook was beyond my comprehension.

But not as incomprehensible as the complete lack of action by our legislators to take any steps to address the issues of escalating gun violence, particularly the issues surrounding civilian access to assault weapons, the arsenal which had become the firearms of choice for shooters intent on mass killing. Year after year we would go through our mandatory lockdown drills, feeling like sitting ducks, fully aware if an intruder managed to enter our building, there would be casualities. And nothing, no amount of carnage seemed enough to jolt our elected “representatives” into action, not even the terrible events in Las Vegas which left over 500 people injured and a devastating loss of 58 lives.

Nothing that is until the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, stood up, called “BS,” took to the media and the streets and said “Enough!” If our elected so called “representatives” think these kids are going away, they have seriously underestimated the tsunami about to hit them square in the ass. Because its not just the Columbine generation standing up and calling their inaction out. It’s the survivors of decades of mass shootings, the friends and families who have lost loved ones to any form of gun violence, it’s the educators like myself who have now become the front line of prevention who are standing up with them to say

E N O U G H

We speak, finally, because these courageous young people have helped us find our voice.

And anyone who knows me well, knows I’m not about to shut up anytime soon.

Walk gently on the path my friends, and remember kindness matters, it may even save a life. ( more on that in the next post)