Zen Moment : Secret Smile

So fellow travelers, it’s that time of year when darkness begins to encroach on both ends of my day.

Now sunrise kisses the sky just as I am headed in to work. A few days ago, I caught sight of the last faint sliver of the waning 4th quarter moon. Just a wisp of light, a smile fading quickly in the glare of daylight, a symbol of hidden joy. Hidden perhaps by the harsh glare of day’s demanding realities but known now to me, a secret tucked into my awareness to reach for when my own smile fades.

Night gives way to day

Crescent moon’s ghost of a smile

Joy’s hidden secret


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

Postscript: The moment also reminded me of another smile I found on my #Spiritof60 Road Trip. You can read about that in the post at this link .

Old Friends

So fellow travelers, once in a while I get text alerts from NASA letting me know the International Space Station will be visible as it passes over my location.

ISS in skyPhoto credit:  Society for Popular Astronomy

Ever since my first sighting a few years ago, I get a thrill from spotting this brilliant white speck as it zooms across the sky. Part of this is the challenge of navigating the directions to pinpoint the ISS location, part of it is sheer amazement at the accomplishment of sending and keeping something so substantial in orbit and a good measure of it is realizing as I look up there are fellow humans zooming along in that white beacon so far away.  How lucky they are gazing down at our home planet below as they do all sorts of fascinating scientific stuff. For a few minutes, I feel like I am part of the grand adventure.

This sense of wonder is so uplifting I have been known to rise hours earlier than my usual wake-up time for the chance to see the ISS. Of course, living near Syracuse, NY, which ranks in the top three on the list of cloudiest cities, there is never a guarantee of clear skies, so any sighting truly is a gift.

Earlier this week, luck graced my choice to rise early. A star studded crystal clear sky greeted me when I stepped out on to our deck. Steam rose from my coffee mug as I scanned the familiar icons.

The vshaped “head” of  Taurus, seven glittering sister stars of the Pleides cluster riding on his back, Sirius and Procyon the dog stars resting at the feet of their Master Orion. The atmosphere was so clear, I caught a rare (at least for me) sight of  Orion’s sword, a string of tiny stars dangling from the line of brighter more easily sighted stars in his belt.

These are constellations which reign the night skies in Winter. The reminder sent a chill through me but I smiled warmed by the thought that Orion connects me to some good people I once described* as  “old friends who’ve just met.”

I’ll be seeing some of those friends soon. True friendships unaltered by a futile battle of words intended to create division by doubt, forged like steel by trust which shines as constant as the stars.

Then zooming over the tree line to the west, the bright white dot of the ISS shot into view. I tracked it’s long graceful arc through the stars already beginning to fade in the predawn light.  It left me these words

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Orion rises

I’ll catch his stars with my heart

Friendship’s beacon calls

 

 

 

Photo Credit:  gatewaytotheuniverse.org

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

*Postscript:  “Old friends who’ve just met” are words from a post written just three years ago; that it feels more like three decades speaks to the level of upheaval wrought as a friends struggled to separate from toxic leadership within a creative collective. A significant number of the original members split off into a separate community. It has been nearly two years since the first fractures formed, yet periodically the shock waves of those events still reverberate through both communities, fueled largely by anyone still harboring anger and resentment. Fear and doubt can be powerful challenges to communal ties if left unaddressed. The admins of the newer community are reasonably adept at fostering an open dialogue to address issues when they come up. Not everyone can tolerate the intensity of emotional discussion; some friendships have disintegrated. I am grateful the ones that matter most to me have weathered the storms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Voices in the Myst

So fellow travelers, now that the school year is in full swing my sweet summer morning ritual of sitting with a good cup of coffee and writing for an hour or so has been pushed back again.

I miss it.

 

(Photo : a bit of humor a friend sent me on social media. I might have to add this mug to my collection)

Writing not only helps me process life, it actually compells me to seek out experiences. Other times something happens and I’m thrown off balance.  I hit the trails, letting the my emotions swirl and boil at will in the relative safety of solitude. Then, when I am ready I sit at my laptop and let the words come.  Often those words need a sleep or two to become cohesive.

This summer more than ever I drank deeply of the spirit to follow the call in my heart. Relinquishing the freedom to rise and write was harder than ever this September.  My wake up call for work is too early to allow for time to write before leaving and so far I have been too exhausted at day’s end to put coherent thoughts together.  So, for now I accept I am back to weekend writing sessions and yet even as I do it’s only possible because I know I will have that freedom once again.

Creative exploration and expression are an essential element of my ability cope with the increasing challenges of my job. The beginning of this school year has brought some positive changes but also a growing awareness our administration’s expectations far exceed their ability to support the special education teams I am part of. (“Make it work,” for example, is not a productive response to staffing shortages.)  Coming into this year I made a committment to strengthen my own support system. I am determined to prevent a repeat of the detrimental impact stress had on my mental, emotional and physical being last year. In combination with other routines my creative time is part of my self preservation.

Why we have to fight so hard to stay on track with making positive choices is a puzzle. Getting caught up in negativity rarely feels good, yet we all find ourselves stuck from time to time. Self-awareness is a gift which calls us back from the pits of distress but we have to be listening to hear that call.

First light this morning revealed a thick mist settled eerily just above the ground. As the sun rose, it cast strange colors into the fog. I slept poorly last night, unsettled emotions from powerful conversations echoed through out the darkness. So I sat by my pond watching the “myst”erious interplay of light and fog.

A shot from another equally misty morning

Feelings shifted

Words came

and just like the rising sun dispersed the heavy fog,  clarity lightened my thoughts

Mystified

Suddenly lost in the fog

you stop

unable to see the path

standing still

breathing deeply to calm the fear

and over your breath you hear them

the voices in the mist

angry, monstrous sounds

you dare not proceed

yet you cannot go back

so you wait

and now you hear cries of pain

the need to help compels you to move

even as the fog thickens growing darker

so you hesitate

and stepping back a bit you see it

a ray of rose gold light

piercing the mist

watching as it grows stronger

dispersing darkness

as the path emerges from the fog

you realize those voices came not from out there

and the monsters you feared are yours

to leave behind or carry forward

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

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the Page on an Endless Summer

So fellow travelers, today is the final day of the 2017 Great New York State Fair .

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This photo is from 2011 because I won’t have photos from The Fair this year.  You see, for the first time in forty two years I am not going. This is a decision without precident and far out of character for me. I love the Fair! I’ve attended every year since I arrived as a college freshman, when free buses ran us from Syracuse University up to and back from the Fairgrounds during the week before classes began. I’ve been so many times I know about the Sheep to Shawl contest where teams sheer, card, spin and knit wool to compete for ribbons. I’ve enjoyed the Rooster Crowing Contest in the Poultry Barn an event which landed us a pet bunny (the girls got bored and wanted to see the guinea pigs and bunnies, you know the rest.) I’m a regular “People’s Vote”r for the table setting and wood carving competitions. I’ve seen more amazing things sculpted in butter and sand, wondered at intricate quilt designs and applauded teams of rescue dogs performing high jinx while raising awareness that shelter animals make great pets.

Then there is the food, around which I plan my intinerary.  Arrive early enough for a breakfast of Belgian waffles with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, conveniently located in the dairy building right by the afore mentioned butter sculpture’s rotating glass refrigerated display case. Snack on maple snow cones or maple cotton candy before checking out the astounding enteries in the photography and quilt competitions in the Home and Art Center. Peruse the ribbon winners of the flower of the day in the Horticulture Building, then grab a baked potato with the works (butter, sour cream, and cheese) while my feet can endure the long line at the booth, after all at a dollar it’s always been and still is the best bargain of the day. Walking the midway offers fresh squeezed lemon or limeade and fried dough at one end and at the other end, if I time it right, I get to watch young dancers and drummers from different tribes performing while I enjoy my favorite Green Corn soup at the Six Nations Cook House.  Eventually I meander back to the cool shade under the trees by the NYState Parks mini lake for dinner from either the International Building or Dinosaur Barbeque where the picnic tables are within view of Chevy Court where free concerts are staged.

So why am I missing it this year?  While our annual trip to Portland and a day of jet lag fatigue kept me out for nine of the thirteen days of this year’s run, I still had both time and advance tickets available. And I do love the Fair, it’s my annual end of summer tradition.

And there, when I woke up this morning on the very last day this year’s Fair,  I realized there was the key : End of summer.  It’s a reality I am in complete denial of, an inevitable shift in time I cannot stop even if I choose not to turn the page on the daily calendar sitting in my kitchen. If I don’t pass through those gates then this summer cannot end, right?

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You see, this summer has been extraordinary.  After the inordinate impact of last year’s challenges at work, I dedicated this entire summer to getting my physical and emotional health back. From the Spirit of 60 Road Trip to favorite trails rediscovered  and the adventures of our trip to Portland, I’ve focused on understanding why I veered so far off course, what I need to do to stay balanced, establish clear boundaries, reset priorities and how to thrive rather than survive the challenges of the coming school year. Every day possible, I woke up and asked “What would I most like to do today?” then followed that call as best I could.  I might find simple joy in a treat at a favorite cafe, wonder at a rare bird sighting, strength in hiking a difficult trail, healing in the hug from a loved one. It’s a routine I will continue as best I can going forward with the new school year.

So this morning when I asked myself what I most wanted to do the answer brought me here instead

Potters Marsh and Three Rivers, a favorite birding spot

It was a quiet, peaceful hike. Ducks, geese and sandpipers that nest along the banks of the marshes in the spring have raised their young and moved on the for season. Only a steady stream of dragonflies and bumblebees stirred over the still waters. Crickets shrilled their late summer chorus from under towering goldenrod.  A constant wind brushed the tree tops, the rustle of drying leaves sounded like waves coming ashore. Following the trail into cooler woods I was rewarded with the distant call of blackbilled cuckoos. On the way past the eagles nest also now empty, we came across a small snapping turtle struggling in a patch of sand in the middle of the path. After letting Delilah sniff to satisfy her curiosity, I gently set it on the edge of the big pond. One small act of kindness somehow settled the restlessness in my heart.

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Hey where did he go?

So, after I came home, when I finally did flip the page on that daily calendar in my kitchen one quote reminded me I have the power of asking the “right” questions. It read :

“We are either throwing our emotional weight into the balance of fear and anger or we are adding to the world’s measure of hope and kindness.  This is cannot always be seen, but it can certainly be felt.  Today, I will ask myself two questions: ‘How do I feel in this situation?’ and “How do I want to feel?’ ” (Hugh Prather)

What I want to feel is the warmth of an endless summer shining in a heart free to answer “What do I most want to do today?” and I know I have the choice to honor that no matter what the coming seasons bring. Besides, those Great New York State Fair advance admission tickets will still be good next year.

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

 

There and Back Again: Redefining Home

So fellow travelers, it’s been a quiet few days since we’ve returned from our marvelous trip to the Pacific Northwest. There’s more than a hint of Autumn in the air, one local weather watcher reported a record early frost in her area a bit north of here. Delilah and I found signs of way too early color on our first walk.

 

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HRH Princess Delilah met us at the airport with squeals and cries of sheer delight. She arrived courtesy of her escort Mark B. who along with my good friend and camping buddy Lisa provide our spoiled rescue Diva with the best of care when we are out of town.  They also happen to be the adopted family of our former foster Sammy aka Sammers Wiggle Butt. He stays with us when they go out of town.  I’m deeply grateful for this reciprocal arrangement, without it our extended annual visit with our kids would not be possible.

Parting goodbyes grow harder for me each time as every trip deepens my connection to the wild wonders of the PNW.  The irony if this is not lost on me, since I had said for years that region of the country was one I had no interest in moving to. Never say never.

Functional graffiti on a side street in PDX

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Each year we explore more areas, seeking out potential towns to purchase a retirement home. My husband tracks property values on Zillow and I seek out natural vistas and new trails to explore. We learn more about the issues each area is facing  and I am planning at least one future trip to experience the colder rainy season. I expect I’ll remain a willing convert, after all you don’t have to shovel rain to get to your bird feeders or brush it off your car to load your groceries.

Rain 2014 the only year its rained during our trip

 

Since returning, I noticed I had a hard time saying I was “home.” Yet I also felt content to be back, walking the neighborhood with Delilah, cleaning my little fish pond and weeding the small forest attempting to take over various areas of my yard. I gathered flowers from the wildflower patch I seeded last spring and discovered a dozen or more tiny fry had appeared in the pond during our absence. Seeing them wiggle in the waterfall current and darting around the lily pads sent a wave of joy through my heart which ached to have coffee at the bagel shop* where Favorite Younger Daughter works and hike just one more mountain trail with either one of my girls.

Then insight dawned.

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Just as I can equally love two daughters with their unique talents and temperaments I can have and love more than one “home.”  It simply means I am twice blessed and for this I am truly grateful.

 

Massive sunflowers greeted me when I got home. They are the first ever to bloom after many unsuccessful attempts to grow them. I laughed right out loud when I saw them. Maybe it was good to be back at this home after all.

 

 

 

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

*If you happen to find yourself  in Portland  do stop by Spielmans.  Their custom roasted coffee is excellent and they make the best bagels I’ve ever had- and I grew up in New York City so that assessment bears some weight.

 

 

It’s a Dogs Life

So fellow travelers, I am finally back in Portland Oregon, resting comfortably at the residence of Favorite Older Daughter and Favored Son-in-law. 

It feels like we never left. And it feels like an eon has passed. Time is strange like that. 

Caught this moment with the kids two rescue dogs, Zeus and Coffee. 

They go and they come

Mysterious human ways

We wait patiently

Simple moments are sometimes the best respite from the worrisome moments in life.

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

Spirit of 60 Road Trip: Conclusions

So fellow travelers, I can think of no better way to end a road trip than a day of visits with friends. My trip concluded with two days of such joys and I headed homeward filled with gratitude and a haiku in my heart

20170716_221645croppedHugs lunch and laughter

Tales of music grandkids dogs

Blessings of friendship

I arrived home in time to take my dog for a sunset walk.  It was good to be home, carrying a journal of notes and a portfolio of photos to sort through. Fodder waiting to form what became this series.

 

Writing and discovering the feelings embedded in the images I take helps me process my experiences. It is extremely difficult for me to weave together the narrative which creates the essence of the experience without sounding pretentious or full of hollow platitudes and trite banalities.

Take for example my experience with the Buddha at Chuang Yen Monastery.  When the experience began to crystalize into thoughts I could communicate I struggled with finding the words to do so.  I write often about seeking peace, finding joy, embracing hope and the Zen moments when I feel Light within me responding when I find them.  Honestly those moments are as fleeting and transient as the Light which inspires my photography.

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Most of the time I stumble through the commonplace pitfalls of getting through a day. Often I get stuck simply trying to get out of my own way.  Oh there have been periods of serenity and balance, times of joy and deep contentment;  I am blessed that they are becoming more frequent and inspiration is less elusive. Still a profound moment of near transcendence as I lived in the hall of the Great Buddha at Chuang Yen Temple is an exceedingly rare gift, something genuinely beyond description. I hope I did it justice.

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On the last morning of my road trip, which was a Sunday, I attended morning worship at Rupert United Methodist Church where my friend Tom Atkins is minister. It is a beautiful church with a small congregation of kind hearted people who are even more beautiful. Tom’s sermons are more spiritual encouragement and thoughtful discourse than exhortations for repentance.  If you have read any of his blog posts* which I have shared here, you have a sense of his honesty,  deep reasoning and lively sense of humor. He brings all that and more to his services at Rupert UMC.

By grace and good fortune, his talk that Sunday focused on the parable of seeds, a fitting reflection on the many kernels of insights I had gathered on my road trip.  The biblical narrative tells of seeds, scattered on different ground,  some landing on rocks, others on dry soil, others sprout but are choked by weeds and some land in just the right conditions to sprout, grow and bear fruit. Tom spoke about applying these analogies to our own spiritual environment. I saw rocks as hard and unrelenting anger, weeds as the habits which crowd out our potential and dry ground as fear which kills before inspiration can take root.  Tend to the condition of your spiritual dirt, Tom said, and you will find the seeds scattered your way will bring a plentiful harvest.  He had a flat of bright red salvia plants, end of the season “discards” from a local garden shop which he encouraged us to take home to plant as symbols of our committment to attending to our inner gardens.

Now I have several plants tucked in special spots around my pond and in my little herb garden, reminders of the gifts of friendship and the simple wisdom in the parable of the seeds. I sense there are many seeds gathered into my inner garden which will bear harvest throughout the coming year. There will I hope be much to share. Thanks for reading.

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

*Editors note: You can follow Tom’s blog on wordpress here.

 

 

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Ten: Drawing the Hat of Buddha

So fellow travelers, after gathering my koans* from the sages along the walkway, I approached the main temple and saw a path which lead through a small garden of wild flowers.

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Perched on a large rock at one end sat a fat round statue I recognized as the Buddha of  prosperity, health and happiness. (He’s sitting on the far left in the photo above) A wide flat rock offered the perfect place to sit among the flowers and meditate with this jolly Guardian of Joy.

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As I sat in contemplation, I became aware of the unaddressed burdens I still carried from the months of difficult experiences at work. Now in this graceful spot, quiet but for the gentle buzzing of bees I could let those emotions speak freely, seek to understand the fears that fueled them and ask for ways to heal, be more resilient and move forward. After some time, I felt something shift within me; exactly what the messages were I could not say right then but I felt settled enough to leave an offering in Happy Buddha’s open hands and continue on my way.

 

 

Off to one side of the temple was another red tiled building which was the meditation hall of Kwan Yin, Goddess of Peace and Compassion. As Buddhism spread through out Asia, its priests incorporated elements of indigenous belief systems to encourage local populations to convert. Often, as with many ancient spiritual practices, these were matriarchal Goddess centric belief systems.  The evolution of Kwan Yin as a key figure in Buddhism is an example of this. I would have liked to see the meditation hall, but a hand painted sign in both traditional calligraphy and English informed me it was closed for “Redoing to prepare for coming soon celebration of Ancestors Anniversary,” so I walked over to the main temple.

As I climbed the temple steps, a gentle breeze stirred sending a wave of chimes from the small bells hanging off the corners. I stopped and closed my eyes, momentarily transported back to Japan by this welcoming, comforting sound memory.

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I left my shoes on the numbered rack outside the temple door and entered the great hall.

Immediately a stillness deeper than any worldly silence enveloped me. Circling around the offeratory stations dedicated to different Bodhisattvas, I gradually made my way to the center of the temple and sat on the floor. The vast luminous white Buddha rises 37 feet, sitting stoically in a giant lotus blossom, eyes closed, hands clasped in prayer surrounded by ten thousand tiny buddhas. Gazing at the Buddha’s calm expression for a moment I thought I saw a smile. Blinking I looked again and now I feel more than see this smile. Subtle, immutable, born of uncorruptable truth and radiating a wisdom beyond time and human effect. I closed my eyes, committing this Smile to memory, waiting for it to permeate deep into my consciousness.

A young nun seated by the doorway indicated I was permitted to take pictures, but I chose not to.  Somewhere within this meditation I received reassurance this Presence I had felt did not require a photo to be recalled.  I headed on my way, carrying a profound feeling of completeness I could not put into words.

Some hours later, seated at the table in the cottage where I stayed the next two nights, I discovered this reassurance was as real as the chair I sat in as I began a drawing of the Buddha’s face. Working on the round nodules of the Buddha’s head became a form of meditation. The harder I tried to get them just right, the wonkier they came out. So I closed my eyes, recalling the Smile with it’s serene wisdom. The feeling I had carried from the Buddha’s Great Hall was there. Writing about it now find I have the words to describe what I felt.

It was as if every moment of suffering I or any being had ever experienced had not only been acknowledged, but shared and transformed into pure energy, energy which now could be used to create change for the better. Hope and Light from darkness.

then I moved the pencil on the paper again letting the circles flow~

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

*Koans are riddles, used in Zen Buddhism to push seekers beyond logical reasoning to find enlightenment in the mystery of being.  One of the most famous is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”  May vipassana bless you.

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part Nine: The Walk of Sages

So fellow travelers, the lush green winding drive north on the Taconic was the perfect counterpoint to two days of city traffic. It had been raining all morning and cloud dragons of mist sat mysteriously suspended above creeks and rivers in the narrow valleys.

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a photo taken in Vermont a few mornings later, with the same dragons

With a full tank of gas, a decent diner meal in my belly and plenty of time to get to my final destination I was in no hurry.  Driving mindfully through hills might not be considered genuine “forest bathing,” still I truly felt refreshed as my eyes drank in the peace and serenity of the view.

It also gave me time to process the many connections I felt during my time at Sagamore Hill. Parallel threads: my dad raised by an aunt when his mother died after giving birth; my drive to write, a deep reverence for nature, a love for gardens gifted to me when working alongside my Grandfather, an imposing man who, although more reminiscent of Archie Bunker than Theodore Roosevelt, would later in life challenge me to love others are they are with full knowledge of their prejudices. Ponderous thoughts.

No wonder I nearly missed the sign marking the turn for my destination, even with my GPS which indicated the turn was still ahead on the road. Spirit or sheer luck, however you choose to believe, sent a red tailed hawk swooping across the road to land in a tree by the sign to catch my attention.

The path from the parking lot led to a wide gravel walkway which sloped gently upwards towards the temple, flanked on either side by two towers.  One held a large ceremonial drum, the other a huge metal bell, signature elements of Buddhist sacred sites. Lining both sides of the pathway were statues of various Buddhist masters and teachers.

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While it is not uncommon to find statutes of masters at temples, these were by far the most unique and intriguing collection of sages I have ever encountered in one location. I could not help but chuckle and smile at some of their expressions and life stories, which were presented in both traditional Kanji and somewhat awkward English translations on signs placed before each one.  A few of their tales had me laughing right out loud, a welcome reminder that laughter can help us recover from suffering.

 

I thanked them with an offering of shiny new pennies tucked under their stone feet and continued on the path to the temple where Buddha sat waiting. (to be continued)

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

 

Spirit of 60 Road Trip Part One: an Inauspicious Beginning

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago I embarked on a road trip, a pilgrimage of sorts to an historic site I’ve wanted to visit for many years. As an added bonus I happened to obtain advance sale tickets to a special event at the New York Botanical Garden, so the timing of the trip was built around that fortuitous find.

20170713_191811editSneak preview of adventures to come

As the time for departure approached I found myself feeling a kind of heaviness about the trip which I am unaccustomed to.  It took a few long quiet meditations by our little fish pond to realize I had started to imbue the trip with monumental expectations. Like those heavy ornate frames one sees around famous paintings in museums, gilded mantles which almost overpower the masterpieces they contain, I was framing the trip with the aura of my 60th solar return which would arrive at the end of the journey. As I noted on the eve of my birthday, I rarely made much of my advancing age before, yet approaching this milestone felt different. I questioned every aspect of this trip as if it had to provide some kind of deep insights worthy of this life marker.

“What if you just head out and let the adventure happen?  Be open to the experience as it unfolds, like you do when you’re hiking or birding.”  In other words, I told myself, stop over thinking everything.

So I packed, charged my camera battery, stocked up on water and snacks, filled the gas tank and headed out early enough to, hopefully, beat New York City’s rush hour traffic at the other end of the first leg.

Then as I drove up the ramp onto the highway which runs through Syracuse, a tiny little bird flew across the road directly in front of my car.

I slowed down and swerved a bit to the right but with traffic so close behind me there was nothing more I could do. I felt a dull thud and, even worse, in my side view mirror saw a tiny feathered ball tumbling towards the edge of the road.

It was heartbreaking.

I gasped, tears blurred my vision. I pounded my steering wheel.

NO! NO! NO!

As I merged into the traffic traveling at highway speed, my mind spun in a thousand directions.

Did the bird suffer?  I hoped it had died instantly but I thought I saw it trying to hop around after it landed. Oh God. This was a very bad start. How could I possibly drive over 700 miles after this? I need to turn around.

Turn around and do what? Go look for the bird?

Even if I found it how would I get to it?

If I managed to get to it, what would I do? Hold it while it died as traffic raced by?

Then what? I can’t take it with me; I would drive home to bury it.

After that do I stay home or leave again on this obviously doomed expedition?

Because I have caused an innocent creature suffering.

NO! NO! NO!

Why hadn’t I left five minutes earlier or later so this didn’t happen.

Or would it have happened no matter what?

Ok the exit to loop back is coming up. Got to make a decision.

Except this tractor trailer is making the decision for me since it won’t let me off in time.

Dammit.

I kept driving, tears rolling down my cheeks. I knew this was an unavoidable incident but that did not make my heart feel any better. If this was a harbinger of the experiences this trip had to offer I was not sure I was willing to continue. I could not get the thought of the little bird’s suffering out of my head. Slowly as I drove on, letting thoughts flow with the tears, a ripple of responses began to echo in my consciousness.

Suffering is inevitable, it is part of life.

But suffering, like all aspects of life, is not permanent.

Suffering, ours or that of another, is a call for compassion.

Compassion recognizes there is no line between the suffering of others and ourselves.

The bird’s suffering is mine too.

The pattern follows a line of thinking based in Buddhist teachings intended to shift the habitual focus our minds have developed over centuries of negative thinking. Even after many years of practice I still have to remind myself to apply what I have learned but what matters is the moment of awareness, the call to become mindful of what I am experiencing so I can work through the process.

All this mental drama may seem melodramatic in relation to a not uncommon death of a small bird. That is certainly the kind of judgment such thinking would have evoked if I voiced such thoughts as a child. I am the master of my own perceptions now; the lives of even the tiniest of creatures have value. It is a belief of great importance to me, one I have tried to pass on to my own daughters, a tenant I am soul-bound to respect.

Gradually my perspective shifted from remorse and self-directed anger to acceptance and sadness. I could not change the death of this little bird by being angry with myself for my part in its final moments of suffering. I could continue to berate myself and let the pall of death infuse the remainder of my journey or I could choose to find reflections of suffering calling for my attention, look mindfully at the sources of this suffering, and then seek ways to offer kindness and compassion to others and myself as a way to honor the bird’s spirit.

lost bird

I pictured the bird in the moments before it dove down from the shrubs, imagining it’s spirit soaring high even as the tiny body tumbled across the road from the impact of my car.  I ran this image over and over until my tears stopped. As I drove on, a red tailed hawk swooped up from a roadside tree, circled a few times over my car soaring higher into brightening skies. A moment of zen I gladly accepted as a sign I was on course and headed where I needed to be. to be continued

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

Photo note:  the bird pictured is a very distant  cell phone shot taken last spring, obviously not from the recent roadside encounter described.