Higher Calling

Have you ever noticed how religions and belief systems are often divisive and promote dualistic thinking? Somehow, we think we’ve got the answer, or we’re on the right team and the ‘other’ is on the wrong team. We think we’re God’s favorite and God is on our side. Or perhaps we think God is passé and embrace a more humanistic philosophy. But underlying all of this we may find some common ground allowing the walls that divide us to come down, finding an expansive, more inclusive way to be, and watching our tribe grow to embrace Life itself.

Underlying so many religious and spiritual traditions is a desire to live a more authentic life that operates from a more authentic place within us. This thing, this place is hard to describe and cannot be captured with our finite vocabulary. It’s that part of ourselves that is beyond our primitive mind where fear resides. It’s beyond our thinking mind where we can reason and analyze. It’s in the back of beyond, a place of knowing, where love and compassion reside. It’s hard to find often hidden by the walls we’ve constructed and the traumas we’ve endured. We have to look for it and really listen, and that often means quieting the fear of our primitive brains, quieting the incessant thoughts of our own understanding, letting it all go so we can hear the still small voice within us. Often times it’s silent, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, we get a glimpse, and we know it when we hear it. We may sense the deep abiding joy, or the peace that passes understanding, or we get clarity and have an aha moment.

This inner wisdom and compassion is within all of us, maybe lying dormant, just hoping we knock on the door of our hearts to wake it up, but everyone has it. Everyone. It does not matter whether we believe it or not. It’s there, within us. We don’t have to belong to a certain group, or believe in a certain way, and it doesn’t matter what we call it. Here are some ways this thing is described: Inner wisdom. The Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ. The Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of Heaven. That place of knowing. The awakened mind. Intuition. The heart space. The spirit. Higher consciousness. The place beyond reason. Wise mind. The heart of compassion. Where love resides. Our essence. The enlightened mind. The Buddha. Where the divine resides. The Holy Ghost. The super ego. Higher consciousness. Whatever we call it, we sense it’s beyond our understanding and our words often fail to do it justice. We know we’ve tapped in when our heart expands with compassion leading to right action.

May we all grow in awareness of this deep and abiding love and may we allow it to transform us to be a light to the world. We shall be known by our love for one another, for life itself.

Denial to Acceptance and Everything In Between

I notice my anxiety rise as I watch the results of our presidential election numbers come in. I sip on my  wine. PA shows Hillary far ahead at 10:30 last evening, I breathe easier. Chris not so much.  I’m troubled by how close the numbers are in so many other states. But they’re always red states. No worries.  This can’t be. I’m in denial. I say something stupid to Chris in an effort to comfort, something to the effect “Don’t worry, there’s no way he can win” and I notice Chris give me the “get real” hairy eyeball. Chris and I made a concerted effort to be back in PA by this date for the sole purpose to cast our vote in this historic election. We’ve had countless conversations trying to overcome our befuddlement of how Trump had so much support. How can we in America support a man that has over and over again demonstrated his lack of moral character, his immature tempermaent, his divisive and hate filled language? We don’t get it. We cannot wrap our heads around it. And though we knew that even those that saw Trump as unfit still planned to vote for him for POTUS, I denied it would actually happen. There’s no way. I have more faith in the American people. I want to believe in our integrity. I want to believe in America. I could not and would not accept another result. I went to bed, like an ostrich with it’s head in the sand.

I awoke this morning anxious to see the results and celebrate a Clinton victory with my Mornin’ Joe. I prepare to savor the moment. I brew my coffee. I go to set the timer on my phone when I notice a text from a friend from last night. I’m reluctant to read it. I don’t want to learn the results this way. But I open it. She says she’s on the “edge of her seat”. She reveals nothing. Yes. I’m so tempted to find out. I resist. I do some gentle yoga for about 15 minutes, working out the kink in my troublesome right hip. I feel better, more serene, more relaxed. I circle and sway my loosened hips as I prepare my coffee. I sit down with my steaming cup. I open my IPad and look at the news. This is what Isee. Donald Trump wins the presidency in stunning upset over Clinton. I’m sure it’s a joke. I look at the author to see what sitiracle journalist wrote this. I’m wondering why this satire would be the first thing to pop up on my news feed. I’m in total denial. But I feel my heart sink and a knowing in my gut. This can’t be. I turn on the tv to the CBS morning news. And there it is. Trump won. I’m in shock. I cry. I text my friend back. I say over and over “oh my God, oh my God, OH MY GOD!”. I’m speechless. I cry some more. I get on social media and see everyone’s stunned response. How did this happen? I learn that Trump won PA. OMG! It sinks in. Trump is president. I learn that the Canadian immigration website crashed. OMG! I see so many people already moving to problem solving, what’s next? What do we do? I see how people are moving to acceptance and to “higher ground”, tapping into their wisdom and goodness innate within all of us. I know I have to sit with this for awhile. I have to write about it. I have to get to the place of acceptance. It’s my daughter’s birthday today. I remove myself from my shock and begin perusing pictures of my precious daughter that I can embarass her with. I find myself smiling as I look through so many beautiful pictures of my family and friends. I’m okay. This moment is now better. It’ll be okay. We will become stronger. Our eyes will be opened. We will see a spiritual revival as we’ve never seen before. We will come to realize the narrow and restrictive interpretation that we have of Christ is not Christian. We will embrace the Cosmic Christ  and envelope the world and all of life with love and acceptance.

My husband awakes and walks into the living room and sees the headlines on the tv that Trump has won the presidency. And my heart hurts for him as I watch him come to grips.

Namaste!

Mornin’ Joe

My morning cup of joe is what compels me to get out of bed. Sipping on my first cup of coffee is admittedly one of my favorite moments of the day, and I savor it. I’ve turned it into a whole ritual and while it’s brewing, I typically do some minor chores like make the bed, or empty the dishwasher, while anticipating my first cup. This morning, I change my routine up just a bit, and I like the change. So instead of doing my chores while the coffee is brewing, I practice yoga for 15 minutes doing a series of asanas in Sun Salutation.  And then, instead of getting on the Internet with that first cup, I grab my blanket, my steaming cup of coffee, and I head outside to enjoy this beautiful fall morning.

The air is crisp and cold. I settle in and take my time to be present with what is. I take a moment to focus on my breath as it enters and exits my nose. So cool going in, so warm, almost imperceptible as it leaves. Breathing, just breathing, in and out. I notice the warmth of my coffee mug as I cup it in my hands, and it’s steam rising in the air and mingling with my breath. I feel grateful for its warmth and the warmth of the handmade blanket I’m wrapped in, smiling at the memory that it was a gift from my grandsons. I notice my sense of gratitude for this perfect moment and a sense of longing for Chris, wishing he could be here with me. I’m reminded of this quote by Rick Hanson:

“By taking just a few extra seconds to stay with a positive experience—even the comfort in a single breath—you’ll help turn a passing mental state into lasting neural structure.”-from Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence.

I notice the trees and the rooftops glowing in the morning sunlight. I notice the powerful singing of the birds chorus with the noise of the distant highway traffic serving as a kind of harmony. It sounds like thousands of birds and sometimes more like a cacophony than a choir. I notice how it suddenly becomes quiet for just a few seconds, and then the singing starts again, first with just one solo voice, and then the entire chorus. I notice my curious thoughts. Why so many birds? Do they sing at this time of day every morning? What time is it? I glance at the time, 8am. I know this singing happens in the spring, yet here it is, late October in Western PA. Is this typical for this time of year? I notice the squirrels scampering in the trees. I watch them climb and stop as if navigating their next step and evaluating exactly how to make the leap to the next branch. Do they have fear of falling? I wonder if all of this Life is preparing for the coming winter months. I settle and practice half-smile. I sit up straighter, I reach the crown of my head for the sky. I relax my face. I turn my lips up gently into a half smile. I take a minute to smile with my eyes and observe the feeling of serenity that fills my being. A feeling of contentment and acceptance washes over me. Sitting. Breathing. Worry thoughts arise. Almost a dread of being robbed of these leisurely moments of contemplation when I get a job. I notice the thought and how this worry thought of the future is itself robbing me of this precious moment of the here and now. I focus again on my breath. In and out. In and out. I notice my breath. I notice this moment. I notice a sense of oneness and belonging, of simply being.

As I sit here and mindfully write of my morning practice, it seems to deepen my experience. It is a good feeling. It furthers my resolve to keep journaling, to keep blogging, to keep practicing mindfulness.

Ten Mindful Movements with Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is well known in the circle of those that study mindfulness. I first became familiar with his work after reading his book Living Buddha, Living Christ and I enjoyed his simple yet profound insights into the similarities of Buddha and Christ. It’s been many years since I’ve read this book and I think it’s time for me to revisit. So, yes, I’m a fan of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work. Imagine my delight of having at my disposal a video of  him demonstrating how to do Ten Mindful Movements. I discovered this wonderful YouTube  video during my online MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course modeled after the founder of MBSR, Jon Kabat-Zinn. This video just happens to be one of the many, many, resources available to those that do the course. I’m proud to say I finished the course and received my certificate several months ago when I began my gap year. Pride is a strong word, but I do feel a sense of accomplishment, and was introduced to so many ways to practice mindfulness. These Ten Mindful Movements are one of my favorites. It only takes 15 minutes and the movements are so gentle and you use your breath to guide your movements. In breath… Out breath…. And don’t forget to smile. The other thing I like about it is that it’s a moving meditation, obviously, and it’s perfect for limbering up the body in the morning and working out all of the kinks. I had to use the video a few times before I memorized all 10 movements, but this is now my go to mindfulness practice when I want to do a moving meditation and the area is not conducive to yoga poses on the ground. And it’s super easy to adapt and use for all kinds of mindful movements. Chris and I love participating in moving meditations. I hope you also enjoy.

A Walk in the Park Brings Joyful Awareness

I’m resistant. I don’t want to move. I’m spiraling down. I just want to stay put. I notice my lethargy and a dipping of my mood, for no apparent reason. A caving in sort of feeling. I know I ‘should’ move, but I don’t want to. I notice the ‘should’ and I notice it is justified. The tiny feeling of guilt I have of just sitting here and looking at social media is not healthy. I know to get rid of my guilt I can do one of 2 things. Ignore it, and it will eventually go away, or I can do what the guilt is telling me to do, in this case take a walk. I should walk, I want to sit. A balance of shoulds and wants. Past experience tells me I’ll get a boost if I walk and it also tells me I’ll regret this at days end if I don’t walk on this beautiful fall day in my favorite park. Wisdom speaks. Short term gratification vs long-term satisfaction. Yes, staying put will feel so good in the short term, and sometimes, that’s exactly what I need to do. But taking a walk will serve me well in the long-run, and being a couch potato won’t. Wisdom typically takes the long view.

I glance out the window. I notice the shining sun and some autumn leaves dancing in the wind. I say yes. I move. I step outside on this sunny, unusually warm and humid fall day. I begin my steep ascent to the top of the hill. It’s about a 3 minute climb. Heart rate speeds up, my breathing is more labored. In another 5 minutes I’m at the park. Another short but steep climb and I reach my favorite trail. I notice that I’m smiling and walking fast. Feeling joyful. I always do. I feel it in my heart space, this joy. It feels like a welling inside of me, like a flower blooming, and if I pay attention, it fills my being and I notice I am smiling.

I’m  an introvert. I can so easily get lost in thought and not even notice the surrounding beauty. If I’m not mindful, I’d never experience this joyous moment. I can get so caught up in my own story, in my own ruminating thoughts of past events or future scenarios or whatever drama is going on in my world at the time. So in my attempt to cultivate mindfulness on my walks, I’ve gotten into the habit of stopping now and then to savor what is before me. To notice what is – the smells, the feel of the air, the sounds, the scenery-and my internal response. This habit was further ingrained in me almost out of necessity when I hiked the John Muir Trail and had to stop just so I could catch my breath. Sometimes I take a picture, and later I move it to my folder labeled “walks”. Always there for me to look at again and ‘mindfully’ savor the memory. All we have is the moment we live in right now and it takes practice to cultivate living more mindfully. One of my favorite definitions of mindfulness is from Jon Kabit-Zinn. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” Now is as good as time as any to practice being present.

Coming out of the Shadows

I fell asleep last night with views through my window of the star filled night and a bright crescent moon on the Western Horizon. I wake to the orange glow of the mountains as they are set on fire by the rising sun. It’s cool, almost cold. I hurry to make my coffee and wrap myself in a blanket and make my way outside of our cabin here in the ‘Back of Beyond’. I’m mesmerized by the quiet that envelopes this town as the sun begins to warm the earth. The silence is broken by the cooing doves, cawing ravens, and clucking quails. I savor these moments to be alone in this stillness. I mindfully observe the dove on the wire. She does not move, and at first I cannot tell she’s a dove, for she’s in shadow. She is still. She begins to glow golden as the morning sun finds her. She seems to soak it up. She’s watching me. I wonder what she’s thinking. I watch the jack rabbits make their entrance to my domain, their long twitching ears glowing in the sun, looking for some greenery they can devour. The quail family scurries down the road. The wildlife owns this sleepy little ghost town in the ‘Back of Beyond’. Life is indeed precious and I notice my deep sense of contentment as I watch the morning sun bring light to all that is in shadow.

I take time to reflect on the fight that Chris and I had yesterday and I realize I am in the wrong, for I uncovered him. I revealed something about him that I had no business revealing. Furthermore, I painted a picture of him that was far from accurate. I violated his trust. Yes, it was unintentional, but still it hurt him. We talked about it, and made our peace, but it makes me think of this ‘uncovering’ that people do to each other.

I think we know innately to ‘cover’ the nakedness of our spouse, literally and figuratively. And even for those we are not in intimate relationship with, common decency prevents us from revealing things about others we think may embarrass them. My grandsons of course think nothing is embarrassing and are quick to point out things like my soft upper arms that can serve as wings so I can fly when we play make believe. Oh, out of the mouth of babes. Good thing I can laugh about my wings. Ha!

But seriously, when someone does reveal their nakedness to us, are we inclined to keep it to ourselves, recognizing the gift that has been entrusted to us, or do we yell it from the rooftops perhaps to get a good laugh? Or maybe we just ‘share’ another person’s story to make ourselves look better or sound interesting not realizing we may be uncovering the other person? I hope it’s not the latter. Have we lost the sense of common decency in this age of reality tv and doing all that we can to catch someone with their pants down? I sometimes wonder. I often feel embarrassed for the individuals who reveal their most outrageous and embarrassing behaviors for millions of viewers to see. Do we encourage this by our voyeurism? As a psychiatric nurse I worked with individuals who often lacked insight into how much or how little they should reveal about themselves and to whom. I saw both ends of the spectrum. Some were so guarded they wouldn’t even tell you their name. Others were so open, they told anybody and everybody every intimate detail of their lives. I believe both extremes are desperate attempts of broken people trying to affirm themselves when no one else will. Are we exploiting people like this for our own amusement with some of the reality tv? Are we complicit in a further unraveling of their already fragile sense of self? “Until we learn to love others as ourselves, it’s difficult to blame broken people who desperately try to affirm themselves when no one else will.” ― Richard Rohr,  Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

But am I not doing the same thing? As I write my blog, I’m revealing parts of my most intimate self. But here’s the big difference. I am doing it with compassionate awareness. This inner journey of self exploration provides me an avenue to discover and let go of my false self, my shadow self, so that I can live a more authentic life.  It’s scary to put myself out there. I’m by nature more of a closed book. Fear of criticism, judgment, and ultimately rejection are legitimate fears, and my ego, my shadow self as described by Richard Rohr, simply wants to protect me, but it keeps me down. It keeps me from growing. It keeps me from experienceing the joy that can only be found by going deep. So it’s a fear I’m willing to confront because I believe by revealing my shadow self to the light the chains of bondage to my ego are broken. My ego does not like it. I can feel it kicking and screaming. I reassure it and say “it’ll be okay”. My ego is not evil, but it likes the status quo and resists diving deeper. I am learning to treat this ego self with compassion, for it is part of me. I am learning that the most important gift I can give myself is to be my own best friend which was one of the profound lessons I learned with this free online MBSR course. So when I look deeply into the mirror and see things I do not like, I am learning to be compassionate and nonjudgmental with myself. Blogging for me is very much part of the process of my growth and maturation, it is part of my intentional uncovering. I may only have one follower, me, but I’m putting it out there. This uncovering is humbling and hard to do but it is part of my journey to “know thyself”. I know how important it is for me to practice gentleness and compassion. Each of us has our own life’s journey. Some may choose to live an examined life, some may not. But life itself has a way of teaching us humility and sometimes when we see the truth of ourselves, it hurts.

I found it hard to acknowledge that I hurt Chris, and I initially denied it, and instead blamed him. I did not want to see myself as a hurtful person. I felt vulnerable and fearful of abandonment and my ego defenses were simply trying to protect me from further pain. Things like denial and anger and blaming feel so much better than vulnerability and abandonment. But when I owned it and humbly acknowledged my hurtful behavior, it allowed for healing and growth for both of us.

So yes, it is true that when my nakedness is revealed, I feel vulnerable and alone, and my ego defenses go up, but when enveloped with love and compassion and acceptance, my defenses dissolve and I feel free and authentic and relieved. And if I really pay attention, I notice an expansion of my heart space. Until next time – Diane

 

Sweet Reunion

I let out a small shriek when someone grabs me from behind at the Las Vegas baggage claim. Imagine my delight at seeing my sweetie after a whole month. He goes the extra mile for me by coming in to see me when it would have been so much easier for him to wait in his car at the curb. We hug, it’s hot, but bearable. I’m really happy to see him. We see a rainbow from the Santa Fe Station hotel window. A sign of good times ahead. I feel joy, genuine joy. I’m glad. I missed him more than I knew. Being back in PIttsburgh with my family, especially my kids and grandkids was better than I expected. I feel blessed. I already miss Pittsburgh and it’s green lush beauty, and parks, and eateries. But I especially miss my family. I am glad I got to spend good quality time with all of them and to have them all together in Pittsburgh was such a joy. I have polar opposite home sites, that have both grabbed my heart. The land, the people, the beauty! So yes, there will be turmoil as I leave one to join the other. I fall in love with both places even more as I see it through the eyes of others….Darwin through the townspeople that have made it home, and this last visit to Pittsburgh even more so as I viewed it through the newcomers, my daughter and her husband.

Now I’m back in Darwin, the place that is the ‘Back of Beyond’. Flew from Pittsburgh on Wed via SW, with a brief layover in Chicago. We are greeted by burro’s as we arrive in Darwin and make our way to Patti and Michael’s to let them know we are home. They invite us in for a glass of wine or 2, and even offer us dinner, which we accept. We’re tired after a long drive through the sweltering heat of Death Valley. It’s cooler here in Darwin, and Chris says it’s cooler than it had been. Chris has done some work and cleaned the place. The windowsills are stained. The washer is hooked up. The petunias are still alive. The windows and floors have been washed….better than I ever did. I am happy to be home. We wake early this morning, I reorganize a few cupboards to make room for our groceries. We enjoy our coffee in the cool shade outside in front of the house. We watch the jackrabbits. We talk. We sit in quiet comfort. We take a hike out to meditation hill and the burro’s watch us carefully, pawing at the earth, and braying on occasion. They quiet and stand like sentry watching us as we do our mindful moving meditations.

I face them as I stand in mountain pose and allow myself to take them in and all that surrounds me. I notice the dry air as it fills my nostrils and sinks into my lungs. We are happy and content. We’ve already easily fallen back into our routine.

John Muir Trail – Devil’s Postpile to Shadow Lake

6.19.16 (Sun) JMT
Cold this morning. Slept pretty good, up with the morning sun. Weather clear. Breakfast today and for the next several days consists of Muesli, premixed with protein powder, and a cup of instant black coffee. We mix each with water before consuming. I also add some raisins and nuts to the cereal mix. It hits the spot, and I must say keeps me regular if you know what I mean. I was concerned about how I would adjust to going to the bathroom in the woods, but amazingly, I never felt so good. I think it has something to do with the Muesli and squatting position that just makes everything work perfectly. Start hiking at 7:23 am and hike for about 11 miles today, and most of it is up, up, up, with over a 2000 ft gain in elevation from about 7500 ft to about 9500 ft, and then a steep descent back down to Shadow lake at about 8700 ft. It turns out, we add more distance to our hike by starting at Red’s Meadow. But we head off in the right direction and find the not so well marked junction where the PCT and JMT splits near Devil’s Postpile, where we could have camped and saved ourselves about a mile.

Grueling. Hardest hike I ever did. My foot is killing me in the first 200 steps, but thankfully, I’m distracted by the pain in my hips. Each step feels like my femur is jamming into my hip socket. Ow! But I soon forget about it because I’m sure my shoulder is a bloody pulp from my pack strap. Is this supposed to be fun? And each breath is labored. I mean, my heart is pounding, and I to stop every 50-100 steps just to take some extra deep breaths and give my heart a chance to slow down. Soon I use this system as a way to pace myself as we climb, which is slow, slower, and probably slowest hiker on the trail. But it gives me the intervals I want and need to take a mindful moment and look around me. The beauty surrounding me with every step, is in itself breathtaking. Views of mountains, lakes, pristine forests, wildflowers, and streams are our constant companions. We drink in the cool refreshing air, while savoring the warmth of the sun. Chris, ahead of me, plods on, often putting distance between us, but he never begrudges me the time I need.

Our goal is to get somewhere near Shadow Lake. We hike past Devils Postpile (7430 feet) but do not linger at this amazing geological site and national monument where the rocks are formed as giant vertical posts as if built by some ancient civilization. I’m so grateful it wasn’t blasted into oblivion for mining. We’re anxious to get on the trail, as we ‘only’ have until Saturday to get to our destination and catch the YART back to dear Ruby. Silly us. We do not take the detour to view Minaret Falls, but hike through Johnston Meadow and pass Johnston Lake (8120 feet) about 1.3 mile from the PCT/JMT split. We navigate our way through some water crossings in this neck of the woods, one of which requires me to balance myself across a couple of uneven logs over a raging stream. I hope Chris gets some comic relief as he watches my awkward mobility across these logs, almost frigid with fear of losing my balance, of course all of which increases my risk for doing exactly that. Whatever his judgments of me at these times, he pretty much keeps in check. I in turn watch him in awe as he gracefully and effortlessly dances his way across. He’s 69 years old! Amazing.

We have our first views of the Minarets, obviously named by their lofty, slender shape looking like the turrets of a mosque. This area used to be known as the Minaret Wilderness, but was later renamed Ansel Adams Wilderness. We continue on and up, taking a short break about every hour, and drinking plenty of water. I’m glad I’m wearing my $2.50 button down cotton shirt purchased at the thrift store and thrown in my pack at the last minute. As my shirt dampens with my sweat, the breeze gives me a welcome cooling relief. The bra was ditched almost immediately, and got buried at the bottom of my pack never to be seen again. Freedom, can we say it again ladies….freedom!!! From here, we have 7.4 miles to go to reach our goal of Shadow Lake. To get there, we plod up and up past some small mountain lakes and take a short break on the shore of the small, shallow lake called Gladys at 9,580ft. We see it’s a popular camping spot, though no one is here but us as we enjoy our break. We trudge on and have a small respite from climbing as we make our way to the beautiful Rosalie Lake on our left at 9,350 ft. where we enjoy a much longer break. We debate if we should stop now or keep going. A through hiker comes by and we ask her about campsites ahead and how far to Shadow Lake. She assures us it is not far, just a little more climbing, and then the downhill to Shadow, and shortly beyond there is a great camping spot at the junction to Ediza Lake. Because Chris said he wanted to get close to Shadow Lake, I feel compelled for us to continue, and so we do.

The break was refreshing, though I’m still totally exhausted. We start a very steep 700 ft. descent down beautifully maintained switchbacks with soft earth under our tired feet, and friendly to our knees. Down, down, down to Shadow Lake. The views of the lake, and granite cliffs are spectacular, and Chris is exuberant as he is flooded with childhood memories of this place on earth. He shows me exactly where he took his first dip into a mountain lake at the age of 11, remembering vividly the feeling of being hit by a sledgehammer as he plunged into the icy cold water, jumping out as fast as he went in. I can visualize him as a little boy doing just that as he shares this precious memory. He hasn’t changed much. He shows me the cliff where he and his brother got stuck and had to be rescued. He remembers with fondness, the YMCA leaders, Bob and Dave, that exposed him to this backcountry and for whom he is forever grateful for giving him such love for the High Sierras. He remembers seeing a hiker way back then with a real backpack and his determination to someday have the right gear. And now here he is sharing this paradise with me.

We continue our hike down, which took us about 45 minutes and meet a family sitting on a huge rock overlooking Shadow Lake (8,737 feet). There’s a 12 yr. old boy, his mom and dad, and his grandfather, wearing a pink bandana under his hat to keep the sun off of his neck. They had come the other way, which means this old man, looking kind of out of shape, has summited the highly anticipated Donahue Pass. They give us an update on the trail conditions, and I ask her about exposure and she says, oh yes, lots of exposure, and then I clarify my question and ask, “so if I start slipping, am I going to keep going and fall off a cliff?” She assures me this is not the case, and I feel much better, though she quickly adds there are some scary spots but that I’d be fine. How does she know I’ll be fine. What kind of spots? How scary? I don’t ask or want her to elaborate, and instead just allow myself to feel the peace with knowing that I wasn’t going to die sliding off a cliff at Donahue. We continue on, I feeling sorry for the family, especially the old man, as they were determined to hike up those beautiful switchbacks that we had just descended. The lady in this group has a very good map of the JMT from National Geographic, and tells us that we have about 0.7 mile to go before we reach our destination. We climb up, and by this time of day, feels like the hardest mile yet. We reach a huge tree blocking the trail. Chris goes over, I’m too exhausted, so I crawl under. My pack barely fits and gets scraped and pummeled as I make my way through. Should have climbed over and I notice lots of judgment thoughts about my poor judgment and clumsy efforts to overcome this barrier, but manage to get through and try to shrug off my self contempt. We finally make it to our camping spot at the junction to Ediza Lake and it could not have been more beautiful. The mosquitos think so too, and it becomes a mad race to beat back these little buggers and not let them into our tent. So thankful for Deet and mosquito netting. We are close to a waterfall, and have gorgeous views of Shadow Lake to our east and Banner and Ritter peaks to the west. Chris, my hero, and like the ever ready bunny rabbit, keeps going. He sets up the tent, fills and filters the water, sets up the stove and boils the water so we can rehydrate and cook our dehydrated meal. I can barely move, and he tells me to relax, but it’s with much guilt and shame, so I too try to keep going and be as helpful as possible. Our skies are perfectly clear and the mountains and waterfalls to our east are lit up by the setting sun, and the evening air quickly cools, causing us to dawn our jackets and fleece.

We go to bed early, but not before Chris secures the bear canister and the garbage we’re packing out away from our campsite. The chores seem to never end and I’m so thankful for Chris. Unlike the first night of restful sleep, I find I’m too exhausted and have a fitful sleep. But during the night, I’m rewarded with a gorgeous sky and a bright full moon, and find myself gulping in the cool night air. We wake again to another perfect weather day, and watch Banner and Ritter light up with the morning sun.

Star Counting in Palo Duro

I lay on my back with my head resting on the tailgate of Ruby, our 2000 Mazda truck and I’m mesmerized by the darkening sky. I count the stars as they pop out one by one until there are too many and I am too sleepy. I sleep fitfully in the back of our truck and wake a few times throughout the star filled night to take in the views of this gorgeous red rock canyon, and surprisingly, I wake up refreshed.

Sleeping in the back of our pick up truck while camping in Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas turns out to be the perfect way to do some awesome star gazing. Texas has some big sky, along with everything else. While camping in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Chris and I met a couple on a journey with a new found commitment to live life to the fullest after he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. His attitude was we all have to live with the hand we’re dealt. He told us about  Palo Duro and said it was worth the trip.

On our way to Palo Duro we drive through what appears to be lots of nothing, we debate back and forth of whether we want to take the 40 minute detour to see Palo Duro. Let me tell you, we had our doubts. The land is flat and barren without a tree in site, and lots of cows with no where to escape the brutal sun. I feel really sorry for the cows and notice my face scrunching up in a look of pity. Don’t get the wrong impression, I’m not against eating meat, but I’m a firm believer that we need to treat all life as humanely as possible. So if we’re going to eat cows, let’s at least give them a good life before we slaughter them, and when we do kill them, let’s do it as humanely as possible. It’s not always the quantity of life that matters, but the quality. But I digress. Actually, these Texas cows probably had it better than other cows living in cramped quarters, and then slaughtered for fuel.They at least had plenty of room to roam and they probably did not care one bit about the sun.

So driving through this vast barren land in the north western panhandle of Texas, we are delighted to “discover” the beautiful red rock canyon known as Palo Duro. We enjoy lots of awesome hikes and camp here for 3 nights, and pretty much have the campground to ourselves. Sunny warm days and cold clear nights. Because the wind is so fierce, fires are prohibited, and we decide to sleep in the back of our truck rather than pitch a tent. Using the tailgate as our head rest, I find no greater way to fall asleep than to be warm and snug in my sleeping bag, having cool night air caress my face, gazing at the night sky as it fills with stars, and listening to the quiet of the canyon. Now this is how to say goodnight.

Smoky Mountain River Music

I go to the river’s edge to meditate….ahhh, anticipation. I sit. I take a few cleansing breaths. I listen. I hear some idiot playing his base. How dare he disturb the tranquility of this place, of my space. Can’t ever get away from inconsiderate fools. My annoyance is palpable. I automatically turn to face the culprit. I see no one. How do you even get a boom box to this neck of the woods? I turn back to the river. I start again. I restate my intent to sit in quiet contemplation and just notice what ever comes up. I notice the tension in my face. My squinted eyes and my lips pressed together. I notice my judgmental thoughts of the culprit and I find myself judging myself for being so judgmental. I notice my assumption that it’s a he. I gently scold myself. I notice a small shake of my head. I sit up straighter. I reach the crown of my head to the sky above and notice the ground under my behind. I adopt a posture of acceptance of what is. I close my eyes. Relax my face. Practice half smile. I turn my palms up as they rest on my knees. I breathe. I open my heart and listen. Just listen. And I hear the steady beat of the base. It reaches deep within me. I realize it’s the river itself playing her music. I laugh out loud. I laugh at myself. At my foolishness. I feel sheepish and delighted at the same time. I bring my attention to the river music. I notice her rhythm and beat. I notice her melody and harmony. I notice her high and low notes singing in concert. I notice joy well up in my heart. I feel expansive. I feel enormously grateful.

“For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” Isaiah 55:12