Atmospheric Pressure

Your thoughts are the atmosphere through which you move.” Hugh Prather

So fellow travelers, the quote above was the recent thought for the day from an inspirational calendar which sits in a spot I walk by several times a day.

It syncs nicely with this line from a book I am reading : “What are you saying to yourself ABOUT yourself?”  (Crabby Angels No Bullshit Guide by Jacob Glass*)

As one might surmise from the title, Jacob’s writing style is down to earth, pull no punches, cut through the C*R*A*P with a perfect balance of humor and genuine kindness. The message is, yes indeed, we can put on our grownup boots and get on with living our best life while being kind to others and more essentially to ourselves.

I downloaded his book to my kindle to take along for my recent trip to the Midwest, anticipating extended wait time at airports, as I was traveling through Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. I know, who does that midwinter, right? Still, I had a specific reason to head that way, at that time and I counted on those Crabby Angels, as Jacob calls the Inner Voice, to get me there and home again as needed.

In the book’s introduction Jacob describes how he came to find the inner guidance of these “angels” during a period of spiritual growth in the mountains and deserts of Palm Springs. Uh huh, the same mountains and deserts which gifted me with my own moments of awakening last year (cue temple bell.)

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Purple Mountain Majesty seen from Joshua Tree National Park July 2018

He says “they (the angels) are not really crabby, at all, just blunt and to the point.”  My kind of Inner Guides. Cut through the mystical mumbo jumbo and “JUST STOP… all the bullshit and manipulating and resisting.”

Now I do understand the mere mention of “angels,” “inner guidance,” “spiritual growth” or “spiritual” anything is mystical mumbo jumbo to many. If exploring this path is not comfortable for anyone right now, think of this post as a little walking path which you can easily circle back to your own main trail from. Feel free to by pass it or come explore the alternative views this side trail offers.

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Trail Marker at Buena Vista Audubon Nature Center Carlsbad CA

Some of my friends are continually amazed by my solo travels, as if I am some fearless explorer navigating the Great Unknown. In truth there is frequently a moment before I set out on any trip when I have to ride out a wave of anxiety. It does not matter whether it’s one day of scouting birding spots, a weekend at a familiar campground or a couple of weeks exploring uncharted roads or new vistas. The thoughts of all the things that could go wrong try to stuff themselves into the spare pockets of my backpack and, like the extra pair of shoes I inevitably decide I don’t need to bring, I have learned to unpack those thoughts and leave them behind.

Being fearless is not a state where one is not afraid; it’s a state where fear and doubt exist and you go ahead in spite of those feelings. One proceeds not recklessly, but mindfully, in full awareness of the reasons for those fears and equally aware of the reasons those fears have only the power one gives them. It is a state reached only through consistent practice, a way of being one can live in if we allow ourselves to grow into it. I am by no means a master of anything other than finally becoming more conscious of my thoughts and what they are telling me about myself in that moment. This trip was an extended period of practicing that kind of mindfulness and it turned out, Jacob’s book was the perfect companion for this expedition.


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Wall art at JFK airport

The journey out was amazingly pleasant and delay free, the travels home were more challenging.  The day I was scheduled to fly back East I woke up to a series of weather alerts and text messages. One flight was already cancelled and the rebooked flight was also delayed. This actually worked to my advantage as it gave me enough leeway to wait out a passing weather front so my drive from Decatur to Chicago would not be through freezing rain. By the time I returned the rental car at the airport, my flight itinerary was on its third cancellation. On the phone with a genuinely helpful customer service employee, I opted for any flight which would get me out of Chicago headed east to any airport by day’s end. The open ended approach granted me a seat on a flight which, if it got off the ground within two hours of it’s scheduled time, could get me home late that evening.

During the time we waited for the plane to be de-iced for takeoff, I read halfway through Jacobs’ book then slept for about an hour, a rest made possible by the miracle of sitting in a row by myself. I woke up when the captain announced they were pulling back up to the gate to allow people to disembark, a new procedure now required by federal regulations when passengers have been on board for two hours waiting for take off.  He clarified that once we did so the clock on the flight’s three hour cancellation window would be reset and as long as the de-icing was safely completed we would take off. Knowing the chances of getting on any other flight that night or finding an affordable hotel room within Lyft distance of the airport were slim to none and with a deteriorating weather forecast for tomorrow, I opted to stay on the plane. Heading east, away from the incoming Polar Vortex and snow had to be a better option.

20190128_104550[1]The vast windy plains of the midwest from Route 55

That flight, one of the last to leave O’Hare that evening, left four hours and twenty minutes late.  But the point is, it did take off.   

All of the details in this account relate back to the opening quote. At every point in all of the constantly changing scenarios, I had the option to choose the focal point for my thoughts. All around me I heard distressed conversations about missed business appointments, cruise ship departures, important interviews. Did I just want to get home? Absolutely. Was I frustrated, tired and hungry? Yes. Could anyone connected to the airline do anything about the weather? Absolutely not. So I focused on the things I could manage; I called my husband, emailed my administrator (who replied with characteristic good humor about trying not to reprise Tom Hank’s role in Terminal) and went back to reading Jacob’s “crabby angels” who assured me:

“All is well with you even when the circumstances are not to your liking…If you can relax even in the middle of a seeming crisis, you will find Alignment and therefore find your peace.” (Chapter 5)

Inner peace while navigating the realities of current day air travel- now that’s spiritual progress

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

*Since the first Crabby Angels Chronicles, published in 2010, Jacob Glass has written numerous books, including one for teens. If the ideas interest you, my favorite source for his work is found here.

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

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.