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.

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-Red’s Meadow Campground

6.18.16 (Sat) JMT
Chris and I leave early this morning from Darwin for the 100 + miles to Mammoth Lakes where we park Ruby, our 2000 Mazda truck. Finding a parking place in this adventure town is no easy task, as the place is teaming with bikers, hikers, skiers, snow boarders, kayakers, and all kinds of adventure seekers in this gorgeous but touristy town of Mammoth Lakes. We walk away from Ruby knowing we will be living only from the contents of our packs for the next 7 days. After getting our permit at the busy visitor center, and attempting to get an update on trail conditions from the desk clerk without much success, except to say the stream crossing will require people to hold hands when crossing, we stand in a long line to catch the shuttle to the nearest campground for the John Muir Trail head. We think we’re to camp at Devils Postpile, but are instructed to camp at the Red’s Meadow campground. While waiting in line, feeling already weighed down by our backpacks, we talk with a lovely mother/daughter team from San Diego that are vacationing here in Mammoth Lakes enjoying some adventure, having already kayaked this morning. Chris’s pack weighs about 35 lbs, and mine is about 25. The weather is bright and sunny, but rather cool prompting me to wear my light down jacket, and there is still enough snow for some of the slopes to be open. We are lucky to have escaped the high heat of the desert projected to hit in the 100s.

After finally boarding the shuttle, which cost $7/person, and shirking off our packs…relief… we take our seats in the front row. During the ride, folks continue to embark, and Chris gives up his seat, he himself being a senior citizen, for an elderly WW II vet, only to have it grabbed by a woman that looks younger than me. Humph! On this small part of the journey, Chris talks with Pacific Crest Trail hikers, other wise known as PCTers, a Czech, a Danish guy, and a Spaniard. Just a sampling of the kinds of folks doing these epic journeys. The shuttle drops us at Red’s Meadow Campground where we meet the host Susan. Susan is from Lancaster, but has been camping here for many years. Interesting lady. Very heavy and drives around in a golf cart greeting campers and collecting fees. We get the spot for half price, $11, because Chris has a senior pass. As he always says, it’s one thing great about growing old. Susan immediately spots our required bear canister stuffed with our food for the week, and informs us of how a bear put it’s claw right through one of these things. She goes on to say there’s a big 400 pound beautiful golden bear hanging around camp leaving huge scat. In hind site, I’m not sure this is the most welcoming thing to tell new campers, many who say their number one fear of this area is the Bears. We’re not nervous, but we are sure to use the bear canister at the campsite per her instruction. Campsite is beautiful surrounded by beautiful pine and cackling bluejays, and has bathrooms and water. We also meet our first through JMT hiker heading south. A pretty young woman from Aspen, hiking with 2 college girlfriends before starting law school. She gives us a pretty good description of trail conditions. Muddy, and lots of snow, especially around Donahue Pass. Her advice? Do Donahue early in the morning and stay to the left. Water crossings ok, though there is one she had a hard time with due to only having a log to walk across. Oh, oh! We set up camp for the night and eat our first dehydrated meal, lasagna. It’s actually very good. Chris fires up his little Soto propane stove, boils water within a couple of minutes, adds it to the dehydrated food, and voila, after letting it sit for a bit, we have ourselves a meal.

So far, so good. Let’s hope my foot and Chris’s back and knee hold up for the duration of this journey. Me starting out with a severe plantar fasciitis and Chris with a suspected torn meniscus along with a history of major spinal surgeries causes a bit of trepidation regarding our capabilities to embark on this 40 mile climb, I mean hike. Besides my foot, some of my greatest worries as we do this journey include: becoming paralyzed with fear due to exposure and height; fear of stream crossings; fear of altitude sickness. Chris also worries of whether or not I can do this hike. Hmmm. Once we’re out there in the backcountry, we’ve got to do it. I can so easily talk myself out of doing this hike. Sweet dreams.

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

 

What About Our Stuff

Chris and I give ourselves two weeks to get our house organized and prepared to be vacated for about 4 months prior to our tenants moving in. What were we thinking! As previously mentioned in  Quittin’ Day  I allowed my job to leave me little time for anything else in my life, and what little time is left is devoted to my ailing mother and my precious grandsons. Chris gets some meager leftovers. Not a great way to start a marriage. My mother’s story will be featured in another post, but let me tell you, it’s what lifetime movies are made of. I’m convinced that the stress of my mother’s situation further escalates my keen awareness of the need for better work/life balance and I feel a sense of shame for not managing this better.

But I digress. Chris and I have several discussions about what to do with our house as we travel and finally land on renting it out as a furnished house. As luck would have it, we find the perfect tenants, my daughter and her husband. They make the decision to relocate to Pittsburgh. Their only condition is that they want us to clear out our stuff. Yikes!

We have 2 weeks from  Quittin’ Day to when we hit the road for our first leg of the journey. We booked a place in Massanutten resort near  Shenandoah National Park. We figure we’d need some cushy relaxation after our whirlwind of getting the hell out of dodge. So, what do we do with all of our stuff that’s packed into our 1200 sq foot house. I’ve already learned that it’s much easier accumulating stuff, than getting rid of it. After my divorce several years ago I had to sell my house and downsize. I had garage sales, I donated stuff, and still I had too much stuff. Getting rid of the ‘poisons’ in my house was the most difficult. You know, things like bug sprays, and weed killers, and paint. TVs were a big nuisance too, as well as old computers and printers. I’ve since changed my buying practices and no longer buy harmful and difficult to dispose of products in large quantities, buying only what I need for the project at hand. So, prior to me moving into Chris’s house I had significantly rid myself of stuff, but Chris had not. He’s been in this house for a quarter of a century, and has lots of stuff, and is rather attached to it. And it’s not all his. Some belongs to his daughter, and some to his ex-wife. Oh my. Our wonderful old Pittsburgh house has few closets that are small, made for back in the day when folks did not have so much stuff. What will we do with the stuff packed in our closets and cupboards? We have 2 weeks! Nothing like a deadline to get movin’ and we do.

We designate certain areas of the house to store stuff we want to keep: A small bedroom, a large cabinet in the dining room and most of the basement, and our single car garage. We manage to completely empty out all of our closets, cabinets, dressers, and cupboards. Our tenants will now be able to enjoy our furnished house and all of its amenities, including the infamous Pittsburgh toilet in the basement with built in privacy because it’s surrounded with stuff.

The rest of our stuff gets sorted into things we’re taking with us, things we sell on Craig’s list, recyclables, donations, and garbage. Chris really gets into it. We’re amazed at how much stuff we’re able to get rid of. It’s freeing to let go. Sometimes detaching from stuff is hard, but we learn later the grief of losing stuff is nothing compared to the joy of the freedom it brings. Probably the hardest thing is the concern of throwing away things of value. But we quickly realize that a thing has no monetary value unless someone wants to buy it, otherwise, it’s just taking up valuable space. This purging of our stuff feels magnificent and is highly recommended.

Just a few more things we feel we have to do before we hit the road. We partially prep our cars for long term storage. We top off our tank and insert stabilizer. We place my 2004 Subaru Outback into the single detached garage, and pack in the canoe and kayaks (not going on the trip with us). We purchase a cover for Chris’s 2004 Toyota Matrix, a standard shift, and park it in front of garage. We clean the yard. I realize I’ll miss the bloom of the daffodils that I planted in the fall. We don’t get any kind of lawn service…thank goodness for good neighbors. We forward our mail to our PO Box in California, where we have a tiny house in a tiny town out in the middle of nowhere, that we affectionately call the ‘Back of Beyond’.  Since I no longer have employer sponsored health insurance, I purchase obama care insurance. We give our neighbor and kids a key to our house, along with our contact information. We clean, clean, and clean again. The house never looked so good. Very little time for repairs, but most of the clutter is gone, and the house is as ready as it can get for our tenants to move in July. But the biggest take away for me is the excitement I feel at learning to live more simply and with more moment to moment awareness. It reminds me of the quote by Mahatma Ghandi to “live simply so others may simply live”.

We are so excited to finally feel ready to hit the road. ‘Til next time – Diane