life lessons from muir woods

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In July, our girls were off to Europe for two weeks to visit their best friends so, Neal and I, decided to visit California. It’s been a long time dream to visit San Fransisco and Muir Woods. After three days in San Fransisco, we headed out to Muir Woods and Napa Valley.

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I knew Muir Woods was going to be a magical and sacred place to be in. What I didn’t expect was the deep silence and stillness that descended upon us as we entered the forest. I don’t think I can find the words to communicate what it feels like to walk among 1000 year old trees that can be as tall as 350ft. Humbled doesn’t begin to describe it.

As we began our hike, we stumbled upon a small group of people listening to a park ranger explaining about the redwoods. We stopped to listen and that’s when I learned about the life secrets that have allowed redwoods to live up to 2000 years.

  • A large redwood tree needs 500 gallons of water each day. Sounds like a lot? Well, it is and the trees get their water from the rain and fog which is prevalent in the area.
  • The root system of the redwood tree is surprisingly shallow – no deeper than 6-12 feet – but the major roots can typically spread 50 to 80 feet. One of the ways the trees are able to remain upright is by growing close together with other redwood trees and interlocking root systems.
  • Their bark which can be 6-12 inches thick contains tannin which provides protection against fire, insects, fungus, and diseases. There is no insect that can kill a redwood.
  • One of the keys to the survival of the redwood is its regenerative abilities. When a redwood is damaged or injured, it develops a lumpy outgrowth at its base. Saplings may sprout from these burls.
  • Fallen redwood logs serve as nurseries for the growth of new trees.
  • Most of the height of a redwood tree is gained during the first 100 years. The mature redwoods tend to lose their lower limbs. This creates a canopy which is characteristic of the redwood forest. These canopies provide support for a variety of creatures and prevent loss of moisture.

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the way through

It was the summer of 1991 and I had just obtained my teaching certification. The previous years had been quite busy and stressful; going to school, working two part-time jobs and going to Greece to be with my mother who underwent bypass operation.

There wasn’t much downtime and, by that summer, I was burnt out.

Neal and I were were actively involved with a retreat center in upstate New York. We decided to celebrate my transition by spending the summer there; volunteering as we had done many times before. Our goal was to unplug, focus on our spiritual practice and gain a new perspective on life.

It was a bustling summer. There were thousands of people coming through and my job was to welcome people and help them navigate the center and its workings.

During one of the weekend meditation retreats, I was one of the people responsible for facilitating the flow in and out of the meditation hall. There were more than two thousand people in the center that weekend and, by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed. Read more

same lesson . . . time and again

About twelve years ago, when I was trying to decide which direction to take my coaching practice, the message that kept coming to me was . . . “Keep it simple!”

Over the years and through many trials, when I’d find myself plagued with doubt, I would remember and set myself straight. When in doubt, keep it simple!

About two weeks ago, I facilitated a retreat for nine women at my home. It was lovely and profound for all of us. As I was preparing for the retreat, I decided to create small card bookmarks with words and phrases printed on them. The retreat participants picked randomly and used the messages they received for contemplation. It was great! Everyone seemed to receive the perfect message.

At the end of the day and as I was cleaning up, I noticed there were two bookmarks left on a table. Since I hadn’t picked a message for me, I took them and placed them on my altar in the kitchen.

They were . . . “Keep it simple!” and “There are no wrong turns!” I took a deep breath as I was confronted with the synchronicity and the realization that even though I facilitated the retreat, I was a participant too and there was a lesson for me to contemplate. Read more

along came a stranger

This time my “teacher” happened to be a middle aged woman in a dark suit and the loudest gum chewing style I’ve ever encountered.

You’re probably already thinking: “What is she talking about?”

Have you noticed how we come across certain people, in the course of a day or a lifetime, who seem to enter the stage for the mere reason of pointing out something we need to pay attention to? It’s not meant to be a pleasant interaction and often, neither we nor that person may be aware of what exactly happened, at that precise moment. It’s not until later, if and when we’ve had the chance to contemplate and reflect upon what happened, that we may have an aha moment.

Well, that’s the kind of experience I’ve had the other day, when I decided to go shopping for tea and honey.

She and I entered the store together and soon after that we met at the tea and coffee aisle. I was looking at the various teas, trying to decide, when the crackling sound gum makes when somebody chews with their mouth open, made me turn. It was like nails on the blackboard. My whole body contracted at the sound. Did I mention that chewing gum this way, in public, is a pet peeve of mine? I guess gum chewing etiquette was drilled into me early on and it’s here to stay.

Here I was, standing there with this total stranger next to me chewing gum and my “back went up.” How is it possible to have this strong  a reaction about something so trivial? My mood had changed within seconds.

I picked up a couple of teas and left as quickly as I could. I walked around the store picking a few other things. And then, the whole thing got really interesting. Everywhere I went, this woman followed me – chewing away! I just couldn’t escape her!

I headed to the register, paid for the few things I had, and left the store. As I drove back home, I reflected upon this random experience that caused such intense reaction on my part.

  • What had just happened?
  • Where did this strong reaction come from?
  • Do I really think I’m above annoyance over the little things?
  • How often does my mood get affected by trivial stuff? Is it worth it?
  • How often do I run away from that which annoys me? What would happen if I stuck with it?
  • How often do I run away from an unpleasant experience and why?
  • Who decides whether I stay or go? Is it reason, emotion or both?

Some of the questions are easier to answer and others will evolve over time. The truth is . . . I’m not above annoyance over trivial stuff. Yes, I try to be mindful and I’ve been practicing for a long time. This allows me to be present to what happened but it doesn’t mean I got it all figured out. On the contrary! I’m becoming more and more aware of the fact that my work never ends. It just becomes more interesting!

What is your experience and what are you learning about yourself?

Blessings!

the yellow raincoat

The girls were sitting on the bench, waiting for their turn to join their team on the field. It was a rainy, chilly afternoon. “There is my mom,” one of them said. “Where?” the other asked. “Do you see this woman in the yellow raincoat? My mom is right next to her!” the first one answered. The girl looked to that direction and put her face in her hands “Oh, no,” she whispered. “What’s up?” the first one asked. “That’s my mom in the yellow raincoat. I don’t know what’s gotten into her with this neon yellow raincoat.”

During breakfast, my daughter shared this conversation with me. The woman in the yellow raincoat was, as many of you may have guessed . . . me! My daughter doesn’t approve of my yellow raincoat. This is not the first time she’s made a comment about it either.

I turned to her, smiling, and said “I love this raincoat! Anyway, you can always see me when I’m there, watching you playing. You can’t miss me!” She made a vague gesture and dismissed me.  Got to go!

I was left wondering. How did I transition from the adored mother this kid couldn’t get enough of, to this crazy old woman in a yellow raincoat who should mind her place? When I ask her this question, she pretty much gives me this answer: “Mom, you know how much I love you but I’m fifteen, can’t you see? I can’t help it!”

I know she can’t, but I’m not giving my yellow raincoat up. You see, I can’t help it either. I think it’s important that we both give each other space to be who we are. At this point of my life, I know who I am and I understand that she’s still exploring who she wants to be.

Being fifteen is all about fitting in and conforming to some kind of social maze. On the other hand, being fifty is about taking the journey back to the origin of self. It’s about shedding the layers of identity piled on over the years, and setting our wild selves free.

Exchanges like this one, make me reflect back and contemplate how easy it is to loose ourselves in our effort to please others and feel accepted and endorsed by them. I want to be loved, respected and admired by my daughter but I don’t want to be someone other than who I am. It’s been a long journey to claiming self-hood. There’s no going back.

I learned early in life, that friendship and love, are often used by people to extract a heavy price. How many times, especially women, morph to fit who they are with, be it family, friend or lover? Is this what love and friendship are supposed to be? Certainly not.

I was born to parents who expected perfection, albeit their version of it, and demanded obedience. They were strict and unyielding. I worked hard to satisfy and please people who weren’t meant to be satisfied.

I became really good at reading people’s moods and adapting accordingly. I became self-reliant at an early age. What I couldn’t get at home, I looked for in books, nature, and the wise mentors that seemed to always be there for me. I was blessed in that way. Life kept ushering me forward and I learned, at times the hard way, the importance of self-awareness and self-acceptance.

It’s true, when people say that our children become our teachers. We, as parents, are here to love, protect, and guide and they’re here to help us take the journey back and untie the knots that keep us bound. And, that’s what love is, isn’t it?

What are your learning about yourself these days?