Journey

So fellow travelers, I find myself navigating airports, car rentals and unfamiliar highways this weekend on an unplanned journey

This is a trip prompted by a calling of the heart, a response to a feeling, an inner directive this is a time when hugs need to be given in person.

After two consecutive major winter storms which disrupted air travel and shutdown major roads in the Midwest and East Coast, Mother Nature blessed my flights here with clear weather.

Even with a snowy drive to reach my destination last night, the morning brought a cold but beautiful sunrise, complete with a halfmoon cookie in the sky.

The memorial I am here to attend is a tribute to a friend’s husband, a man I never met in person yet feel as if I now know well through the wonderful stories his colleagues and friends gave at the celebration.

And what a beautiful celebration this has been. A room full of so many people, of all ages, ethnicities, backgrounds, callings and professions all touched by one extraordinary human whose life has been dedicated to kindness, family and joy.

Oh yes, and pie

~ lots and lots of pie because he loves pie just as he loves others, all kinds are equally awesome.

“Loves”, in the present tense because as a family friend said in her tribute, the essence of who he was as a person, his energy, still is. She referenced the Law of Conservation of Energy, a basic principle of physics and her words proved true.

Love, kindness and joy filled that room, embraced my friend and her two young daughters, already working to mend their broken hearts. Their lives, forever changed, will go on supported and surrounded by the “bigger circle” he created for them.

Ducks at a park nearby.

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

Walking Towards the Light

So fellow travelers, even after hitting “publish,” the last entry felt incomplete, yet I had resolved to start writing again, so I pushed an ending onto it and posted the first entry for the year. It felt more like the final entry for last year and on thinking so, this quote came to mind:

So the last shall be first, and the first, last: for many are called, but few chosen.” (Matthew 20:16 ) King James Bible

It is no less mystifying to me now than when I first heard it in Sunday school over five decades ago, so rest assured I am not going to veer towards biblical pontification here.

All I know is when the phone call came this morning saying due to weather (ice this time instead of snow) school was closed, I grabbed a cup of coffee and the opportunity to sit down and review. After the final edit, I rarely re-read entries once they are posted because like an art teacher once taught us, there comes a time to put down the paint brush and walk away. Yet as I said there was something which felt incomplete, so I began re-reading and as I did, two things became clear
~ I am tired of being upset and angry about the past “situation” at work.
~ I am processing grief on several levels, past and present, and this process is weighed down by the unresolved anger so I need to attend to that first.

Traditional Japanese New Year’s decorations

Early in my exploration of spiritual paths, a group of friends and I learned a technique for working with challenging emotions. After going through the basic breathing for focus and relaxation, we visualized ourselves in a safe and sacred space. Once settled there, we would invite the emotion to enter the space, where it would be present but unable to hurt us in anyway. This allowed us to have a dialogue with the emotion to discover what it “needed” from us. The session had fascinating and for some, profoundly moving results. This morning I decided to sit with this unresolved anger and see what it had to say.

Often when I practice this technique, my anger appears as a restless, pacing tiger. Today it showed up as a snarling badger. My first thought was “I miss my tiger,” probably because while I respect the potential danger of a tiger’s power, they are after all simply big cats and I have almost as much affinity for cats as I do for dogs. We would have several if our current resident Diva was more accepting of cats. My tiger has become familiar, this badger was a mean, unpredictable intruder and it let me know in no uncertain terms it was RAVENOUS. When I asked what would satiate it’s hunger, it told me it wanted to eat my heart. No, I said, my heart holds all my hope and joy and you cannot have that. The badger screamed so loud it startled me,  but I also felt myself propelling all my frustration into that scream until there was nothing left. The badger** looked at me calmly, turned and walked away. I came out of this meditation with my heart racing and sense of release so powerful, I started sobbing.

It is time to relinquish my efforts to get any response from the district adminstration about the systemic failures which allowed a volatile situation to continue for so long. I will walk away from my career next year knowing I did what I could and hope the changes needed will come before any one is seriously physically harmed.

My time and energy are better given to other needs calling for my attention. Last year ended with a heartbreaking loss for a colleague, a young teacher whose first child was stillborn at seven months, something very close to my own experience 31 years ago. We began this year saying goodbye to an elder family member who had made the passage beyond life just before New Year’s Day. The carnations at her burial brought sudden memories of her sister ( my mother-in-law) who left this life two and a half years earlier.  A few weeks later our younger daughter returned to Portland, to continue her search for a way forward, her future more uncertain than this mother’s heart can abide. So those tears ran wild until there were none left give, running with my hope their salt can heal the fractures into a stronger spirit. Strength I will need for the journey come, because life goes on and it is time to set out on the path again.

Winter Light on a favorite path

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

**Postscript: In fairness to the many taxidea taxus who inhabit our region it should be noted that although they are omnivores who consumer small rodents and birds when they can catch them, their diet consists mainly of earthworms. I think my heart is safe.

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

As the Crow Flies

So fellow travelers,  the other morning, while refilling the bird feeders in my yard, I heard crows calling back and forth from the tall pine trees in a neighbor’s yard. The raucous uproar was probably an alert that breakfast was being served. The sound immediately brought me back to the residential neighborhood where my family resided during the years they lived in Tokyo.

 

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I spent several months there after I graduated from college and the crows which lived through out the city were an iconic pervasive presence. I could not set foot outside the house without setting off a cacophony of ominous calls. Annoying as that was back then, this is now one of my favorite sounds.  It creates a cascade of memories, all of them rich with emotions.

Crows call suddenly

I ‘m transported back in time

Tokyo dreaming

 

 

I dream often of returning to the land where I was born, a place which has always felt like home but never actually been my home, at least not yet.

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

 

 

Being Mom

So fellow travelers, a few weeks ago this photo showed up in my messages.

It took a little while for all my feelings to sort themselves into haiku rhythms.

Little house on wheels
Home is where the heart finds peace
Under stately pines

Favorite Youngest Daughter and her partner have set out on their quest to explore “Whats next?” in life.

True to the one promise I asked of her, she’s been keeping in touch and sending me photos of their journey.

The vistas are glorious.

Favorite Older Daughter and her husband also took a trip this month coming East to visit family and friends. Having them home has been wonderful and provided a chance to spend time with our fellow inlaws and their family. Inclement weather cancelled my plans for most day trip hikes but we did fit in a girls afternoon, chatting about our outlooks on things current and future.

These glimpses of the lives my daughters are crafting for themselves are just enough to put a mother’s heart at ease. Reminders of the blessing it is to be called Mom.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing the Sun

So fellow travelers, proof sunrises are beautiful even from inside a plane.

Just above the clouds
The sun is always rising
Hope’s within our reach

I even got to hold first light for a very brief moment

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.

 

 

 

The Mom on the Southbound Train

So fellow travelers, reflecting on the many memorable moments which graced my week with this new found community, I could write posts for days to come.

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Who could ask for S’more than roasting marshmallows after the beach dinner concert?

There is the story of  the dog who came  to the movies, the fan who would have surfed from China, the girl with the grammy, the follower who took a leap of faith, the team who would not be beaten and then there is the  Mom on the Southbound train~

 

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This last title references a unique friendship which blossomed during my time in Oceanside. While waiting for my photo op with the band, I started talking to some of the people in the lobby and discovered one of them was staying at the same hotel.

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This moment of serendipity set in motion several chances to travel to and from various activties together throughout the week. Since I had a rental car and we were staying at the same hotel it just made sense to me to have Linda ride along to any of the events we would both be at.  She was a really good sport about my not-so-good driving; the rental car, which I nicknamed the Velociraptor* for the jolting surprise of it’s aggressively responsive brakes, had the distinction of the worst visibility of any car I have ever driven.  Those are two combinations not condusive to smooth cruising along narrow, winding Highway 101. Perhaps the scenic views made up for the carnival ride effect of me vs Velociraptor.

Linda and I got along so well, by the end of the week we had a routine down. We met in the hotel breakfast room (where the staff and many guests were captivated by the World Cup Soccer Games~ “Ve ve Mexico!”) and made plans on when to meet up for that day’s band activity and whatever else we might want to do together or on our own.  During our adventures I found out this trip was filled with many firsts for my new friend Linda, including her first plane trip but not her first Switchfoot show.  Linda had taken her kids to many concerts and this getaway week was a thank you gift from her son and daughter for all she had done for them as a hard working single mom when they were growing up.

Often we would look at each other and ask ourselves- “Wow, is this all really happening?” because we both found the whole experience truly uplifting and more than a little mind blowing. Neither of us knew what to expect from the getaway weekend events and we certainly never expected to connect so easily and personally with not only with the guys in the band and their phenomenal support staff but also with so many different people. From the young woman who traveled all the way from China, the fun loving parents of little sweet Millie Grace the chihuahua (who now has many fans of her own) to the bright young independent film maker pursuing dreams of her own, every day Linda and I would share stories after each activity of the people we met and the connections we made. Always we would come back to the miracle moment of our own meeting.

It was,I think, as Mom’s that Linda and I initially related to each other. Our kids are in the same age range, all in their twenties and as siblings go, very different from each other. Our desire to be supportive, while allowing them to be true to their selves and also shared emotions of how hard and sometimes scary it is to let go. I deeply admire her strength and dedication; raising two kids on your own is a great challenge in our society which lacks consistent committment to assist single parents.  Here too, in sharing our life challenges, we resonated deeply on the inspiration we drew from Switchfoot’s music through the years.

The morning we were both heading our separate ways- she back home and I on my next adventure in Joshua Tree National Park, I offered to drive her to the station so she could catch the train to San Diego.  I told Linda I had no specific timeframe for heading out of town and was more than happy to be able to help her with one last ride. In fact, I wanted to see her off safely on her way, as I would have for any good friend, because after all we were now solidly quite good friends.

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After her train left, I drove into town to have breakfast at a diner Linda recommended.  The song which came up on the Spotify playlist I had created for the Bro-AM weekend was Jon Foreman’s SouthBound Train.  I had to pull over and let the tears of pure gratitude flow because I knew of the many blessings I had been granted during this week, the gift of a new friend was the unexpected treasure, a form of grace I never expected to receive.

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

Postscript: Jon’s peformance of Southbound Train during his phenomenal 25in24 event is one of my favorite versions. Do take a few minutes to fill your soul and watch.

*The rental was actually a Hyundai Veloster. Suffice to say it’s unlikely I will ever own or voluntarily drive one again.