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

Christmas Snow

So fellow travelers, we woke this morning in a beautiful Chrismas Card world

Soft angel kisses

Falling gently from the sky

Blesséd Christmas snow

Gratitude always for the simple gift of Light and the presence of Love which surrounds us all. Be you gathered together or in simple solitude, be it for the day or a season, may blessings of peace rest upon your hearts.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maybe Tomorrow

So fellow travelers, after packing in as much adventure as possible in these last few weeks of summer break I thought it was about time I got back to writing. Hunkered down with both the aircon and a fan going to ward off the heat advisory level humidity outside, there are no spectacular views to distract me here in my writing space.

Sorry- what was I saying?

Oh right- off the trails and back to writing. It is after all approaching the 36 hour mark to BTS (BackToSchool for all those without schools aged kids or teacher types in their midst) and I will soon be immersed in the routines of schedules and modified lesson plans.

So I got busy scribing some thoughts for a good quarter hour picking up where I had left off in Joshua Tree National Park , when a message popped up on my laptop screen informing me the “system has encountered a problem and needs to restart” and BEFORE I could click Save , my screen went black.

and when everything rebooted and I opened the WordPress tab ….. that post had evaporated into the ethers.

Not

One

Word

Left

Ah well, it wasn’t coming together so well anyways.

Tomorrow we try again, because everyday is a chance to begin again.

So, as Christopher Robin once said in a note to Pooh

Backson

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

Becoming Stardust

So fellow travelers, next stop on this summer’s big trip : Joshua Tree National Park

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by day it is a fantastical place of mysterious rock formations

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and Seuss-like vistas

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but it was the discovery of  a little observatory   located just down the road from the JTNP Oasis Visitor Center which provided the experience of a lifetime when I drove there after dark to see the stars

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and after weeks of wrestling with futile attempts at capturing the moment I’ve concluded there are experiences so vast and expansive, words fail to contain them.  I have no choice but to surrender just as I did that moment I stepped out of my car, into complete darkness and looked up at a night sky so full of Light and Mystery everything I thought I knew exploded into a new universe which asked nothing but a total willingness to surrender to joy and wonder beyond mortal comprehension.

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This sunset taken at the observatory is the only image I have of that night beyond the one now embedded in my memories.

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

 

 

 

Coasting

So fellow travelers, grab some sunscreen and a towel, we are going to the beach!

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There is something sacred embedded in that moment of catching a first glimpse of the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean.  This time, that first glimpse came while riding the Coaster, a local train which runs between San Diego and Oceanside. The train is a local icon; numerous residents I met spoke of how much their kids/grandkids loved to ride it. Jon Foreman has song in his repertoire called Southbound Train, it ran as a continuous loop in my head while I took in the scenery up to Oceanside.

Those moments of sacred connection would manifest in unexpected ways through my week on the coast.

 

Blessings and grace beyond anything I could have anticipated or dared to expect.

Pack Lighter, Go Farther

So fellow travelers, packing ten days of traveling through multiple climates into one carryon and a backpack was easily the most difficult logistic to solve of this entire trip. My husband would be bringing a larger suitcase for the PNW segment of my travels so I had to coordinate which things to send ahead and which I most needed for the coast.

Which ones to pack or wear.

Space vs comfort.

Decisions, decisons.

 

Planning extended adventures is not new for me; last year’s was a road trip to mark my sixth decade, a pilgrimmage if you will, to Sagamore Hill, Theodore Roosevelt’s home in Oyster Bay Long Island. Friends called me brave for setting out on my own, yet I don’t seem to see my solo expeditions in that way. My determination to experience new vistas stems from the wanderlust embedded in my soul during my family’s travels in my childhood and teenage years. If there is something that peaks my interest, having to go alone rarely prevents me from exploring, whether it is an art class in town or a chance to tour the hometown and studio of my favorite band.

When I decided to get to the Bro-AM event at the end of June, I had the option to sign-up for a series of special events with the band. I’ve done “meet and greets” at previous concerts before. Those events are about much more than the autographs; they are opportunities to thank them all for the inspiration their music contributes to our deeply troubled human existence. The “Switchfoot Getaway” events would be a sequence of more extensive time with the band in a variety of settings, including a give back day where everyone attending would participate in a service project in nearby San Diego.

So I gathered my resources, both factual and financial and set the logistics in motion. After the Switchfoot Getaway* event in Oceanside and a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park, I would fly to Portland and meet my husband for our annual summer visit with our kids. The trip became the guiding Light at the end of the long dark tunnel of the final weeks of the school year; I seriously doubt I would have gotten through without it. I don’t toss that platitude out there lightly. I am at a point in my career where I can retire at anytime, but just because I can does not mean I will. It would take a significant calamity to push me to the point of leaving my team and my students. We drifted perilously closer and closer to that point. This was my chance to stand on the home shores of the music which pulled me back from the under currents over and over again.

 

As the process of preparing unfolded, I realized the lighter I packed, the easier it would be to find the Light I sought on this quest for renewal. You cannot move forward towards hope if you are weighed down by the burdens of anger and despair. Like Jon Foreman* often says “Don’t let the past rob the present of it’s potential for beauty and joy.”

Time to let the chaos of what had been fade into the brilliant rising sun of the present moment.

 

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

*You can watch a 2016 Ted Talk Jon gave about living our inherent purpose here.

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