Relentless

So fellow travelers, the rain this Spring has been relentless.

I tell myself I can’t complain if I truly intend to move to the PNW, so, I take it as a kind of meteorological training program and I say things like, “At least we don’t have to shovel the driveway or brush off the car.”

Persistent optimism. It annoys people as I am frequently reminded by the eye rolling, snarkiness going around .  It rolls off my consciousness like the rain sliding down my driveway, washing the abundant maple and elm seeds into the roadside ditch. Away they sail in the rushing water to who knows where, perhaps some will take root and grow into their own little forest.

To dwell on the negativity thrown about too easily thanks to the sparsity of verbal moderation (perpetuated, I believe, by the anonymity of social media) is to allow oneself to become mired in the other peoples muck. 

No thank you! 

My own spiritual guidance pushes me to see this negativity as coming from the storms within these people. Their feelings become so uncomfortable, they project them outwards to rid themselves of the pain and anger.  I can see this compassionately without sinking into the same quagmire.

Restless storm clouds race

Dumping rain then dashing off

Leaving muck behind

Proceed mindfully

The Buddha may teach “No Mud No Lotus” but I prefer to choose what seeds bloom in my consciousness. Making mine an attitude of gratitude has over the past few years truly changed my perspective, which in turn has created changes in my life I would never have predicted.  So let rain, I’ll splash in the puddles to wash the mud off my boots.

 

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

 

Eggs-istential Hunt

So fellow travelers, it seems this morning’s little haiku has opened a gateway to a lot more words and an awareness of what was missing.

As more experiences in my daily life connect to my inner journey, it has become impossible to filter Spirit out of my writing. Close friends and fellow creatives tell me my writing has always been infused with spiritual perspectives yet I have often been hesitant to write about my direct relationship with Spirit, lest it be mistaken for religious sermonizing. Reflecting on my recent drought of creativity I’m aware this essential aspect of my experience has to be expressed if I am to write from my heart. Going forward I will tread carefully as if navigating a path through newly sprouted wildflowers. Light and Love are gentle, patient energies found in quiet spaces and I wish to be respectful of the beliefs others hold close.

~~~~~

I have a muddled relationship with religious observations.


Sacred altar in Luzerne Vally CA

Bear in mind I am that little girl in Sunday School who wanted to know why; for example, if Jesus had risen from death, why was he still dead on the cross in church. Fortunately Lutherans do not ex-communicate, but I did obey the directive to stop asking questions. One can say the most important lesson I learned in Sunday school was to keep my spiritual inquisitiveness in check at least until I was old enough to seek answers in my own. Meanwhile the Lutheran church has graciously adopted the Cross of Resurrection as its focal point in their churches.

Even as a very young child, the Christianity I was taught made no sense to me. How on earth could one put faith in a Father who would sacrifice his “only son” to save people who seemed bound and determined to keep acting in ways which required such an extreme measure in the first place. There was also quite a bit of conflict between what I was taught and what the Voice I heard in church told me. Yes, you read that right- in moments when focused on the beautiful music, mesmerized by the colors of the stained glass windows** there would sometimes be a Voice which spoke in my head.

Before we call for a psych eval know that this Voice did not “speak” in words so much as impressions or thoughts and always spoke of the importance of love and kindness. It was a Voice which, even at a very young age, I knew did not originate from my own mind. It is the Voice which, when I choose to listen, guides me to live from my heart, to choose compassion over judgment and continues to lead me to profound, if fleeting, experiences of the Presence of Light and permanence of Spirit.

Yeah, I know

Pretty wHeird.

And trust me, as an adult, for many years, I did everything I could to disprove the existence of this Voice. Except the more I did, the more the things this Voice told me proved to be true. Things like~

~ forgiveness releases you from the prison of holding others guilty

~ hatred is toxic and accomplishes nothing; it can and will kill you

~ most anger is self directed; letting it go brings healing

~ gratitude increases joy

~ peace is possible, see all of the above

So, in this season where tradition would have us reflect on the meaning of sacrifice and the concept of resurrection, I came back to those unanswered questions from my Sunday school days. The celebration of Easter itself has a complicated history, interlaced with pagan traditions of decorated eggs and an 18th century mystical egg laying “Osterhaus.” Much like the secular garb of Christmas, these are glittering distractions which we must go beyond to find deeper meaning.

In the spring season we grapple with resurrection and rebirth, two significantly different concepts. Rebirth is a new form of life, generated from something other than itself. Resurrection on the other hand is raising what was once dead to live again as itself. Easter, which always occurs after the Spring Equinox, is a time to be mindful of what we might resurrect in the annual cycle of rebirth. Awakening lost memories, buried wounds or guilt entombed long ago can create shock waves which unnerve our resolution to move forward. Yet, much like the contemporary “Easter eggs” of digital media and video games, these hidden elements can reveal new levels of awareness which help us live more fully in the present. To live our dreams, we must emerge from the shadows of the past and embrace the person we have become. In essence, while the past has shaped us it need not continue to define us. We can resurrect lost dreams infused with the energy of who we have become.

So fellow travelers, whatever beliefs you hold as truth, I wish blessings of this holy day to you . May the Easter eggs you find on the path bring gifts of joy as sweet as jelly beans .


Favorite Younger Daughter circa 2005

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

**Photo Note: WordPress new block format randomly refuses to place some of my photo captions where I want them, so here is the caption for the window photo: The beautiful stained glass windows at Rupert United Methodist church. Several times a year I have the blessing of visiting this wonderful faith community where my friend Tom is minister. You can find his blog Two Tiny Churches at this link.

Easter Blossoms

So fellow travelers, today is Easter Sunday and it dawned appropriately shrouded in mist.

Being in a bit of a fog myself lately, this mood of ponderous mystery felt somewhat comforting, as if the gods and goddesses of earth and air had gently acknowledged my dispassionate sentiments. Unable to voice the emotions eddying within and around me, my writing has trickled into silence. So, Delilah and I have spent as much time on the trails as seasonal rains permitted. We’ve been blessed with relatively warm weather which has cleared most of the snow from our favorite trails. Although spring migration is in its earliest stage, we’ve had some excellent waterbird sightings and yesterday evening a small gathering of white throated sparrows singing close by our yard spoke of the promise of more warbling visitors soon to come.

Those dots are various water birds like mergansers and scaups visiting Onondaga Lake

When I cannot write, I seek solace in the wild. Often my experiences on the trails open up the block and words begin to resonate, but even my usually reliable haiku companions seem to have gone on hiatus. I have a dozen or so incongruous attempts and several narrative blog pieces which read flat and worse still, miss the mark of my intended reflection.

This morning I sat in deep meditation by my pond; finally, overnight temps are consistently above freezing so we can safely run the waterfall filter. As far back as I can remember, that sound of gently flowing water has always created joy in my heart. A handful of juncos and chickadees trilled their thank you’s for the fresh seed  just placed in the feeders. One perched on the branches of a quince bush full of newly emerged pinkish buds. Among them, at last, were words which sang true.

Peace waits silently

Seeking but an open heart

Joy ready to bloom

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

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.