As we started walking, in silence, gentle rain falling, soft ice crunching underneath our feet, my eyes rested on the lake across the path. The surface was like glass, fog hovering and mixing with everything, adding a sense of mystery to the landscape, the bare trees reflecting on the surface of the water, their reflection still and silent mixed with mist and grey.
We continued walking along the lake shore and slowly we ascended towards a meadow where birds houses stood on poles. The ground was muddy and icy at places. Grateful for my new winter boots, I did not try to avoid the muddy puddles or the icy patches. I felt like a child, sloshing through the mud, care free and adventurous.
Today is this rare occasion when I find myself home alone. It’s a scorcher of a day! Still, I decide to sit outside, a stack of books next to me on the table, phone put away, a glass of iced coffee. I pick up the first book, Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh. I haven’t read this in a while and given how I’ve been feeling lately, I need the reminder. First chapter … Breathe! You Are Alive and within the first few pages the reminder for Conscious Breathing.
Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out, Breathe In, Breathe Out!
“Recognize your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath. This technique can help you keep your mind on your breath. As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle. This is not a difficult exercise. In just a few minutes you can realize the fruit of meditation.”
Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hahn
I begin to practice and soon I become very still. My senses open up to the world around me. I can hear the light breeze, the leaves flattering and a myriad birds chatting away. A motorcycle revving up far away, the sound of a passing car, the indistinct voices of people next door. The sound of my breath and the dog panting next to me. I offer her some water.
There are bees humming, ants hurrying along, a hummingbird visits the salvia.
I would love to live Like a river flows, Carried by the surprise Of its own unfolding.
John O’Donohue from Conamara Blues
That’s my life right there, in seventeen glorious words, strung together the John O’Donohue way.
The image of the river, flowing, contained by its banks that may or may not hold, carrying on, receiving, reflecting, flooding, and even drying up at times, being an integral part of an ever changing landscape, isn’t that how we live our lives?
When it comes to it, this lifetime has been flowing from one surprise to the next with barely enough time to catch my breath in between.
Today is a special day, a milestone anniversary kind of day. I find myself looking back and reflecting on how I arrived to this very moment.
I don’t remember every single detail and happening. Memories are playful things. Some are stubborn and refuse to give up the space they occupy. Others are gliding through and occasionally stop by to say hello. And, there are memories that, like chameleons, adjust and evolve as time passes. They show me that, how I view a past event, depends on who I am in this moment and how far I’ve come in my personal evolution. What looked real and even painful thirty years ago is softened by life experience and an altered point of view thirty years later.
Today’s anniversary is a solid life event, the kind that changes one’s trajectory yet, for as solid as this event is, there’s nothing predictable about the way it has unfolded. It’s no wonder that when I came across John O’Donohue’s poem, it took my breath away.
What’s next, I wonder. What kind of surprise awaits around the bend?
It’s been four years, ten months, and six days since my last entry. I could ask, ‘Where did time go?” but there’s no need to. I know exactly where time went and what happened. I can still feel the effects of the events that transpired during this time.
There were profound losses; first my father, mother and twin sister, then my mentor and, most recently, my childhood friend.
There were milestones; the girls leaving for college and Neal deciding when to retire. I found myself unable to do anything other than chop wood, carry water … good old Van the man has nothing on me. I suspended my coaching practice and got a part-time job. I needed a break. Badly.
The girls have officially entered their senior year in college. They’re pretty much in control of their lives. Neal is two years away from retirement and I catch myself thinking and dreaming about all sorts of things.
I’m reflecting on the ways these last five years have altered me. There are days when I’m not sure of who I am. Often, I have this certainty that I’m on my way to becoming the person I couldn’t even dream of being ten, twenty, thirty years ago.
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.
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.
Early morning and I heard rain was coming. The peonies are in full bloom and already weighed down. They’re going to get damaged by the rain so I’d better cut some and bring them in the house. Off I go, clippers in hands when I see a ladybug sitting on one of the young, unopened peony blooms.
Change of plans. Running to get camera. What a treat!
I begin to notice the magical activity taking place in the garden early in the morning. The bees are working hard already. Nepeta and the roses seem to be their destination of choice.
It’s been raining today on the island. I went for my morning walk a little later than usual. The girls had asked us to wake them up so they could go for a run while Neal and I took our walk. Not the best idea, in retrospect. I found myself getting pulled into a long conversation about the day. As expected, the girls are less than excited about the prospect of a rainy day.
I find myself going down a familiar path; trying to make them happy and help them discover the gift of a rainy day; not the easiest task with two sixteen year olds.
I feel my mood changing and I stop on my tracks. It doesn’t have to be this way today. The girls are old enough to be alone and find their way through this morning. This is their big chance to practice that independence they’ve been talking about lately.
Today, I’m making a different choice and decide to go my way.
When I’m on this island, every moment is precious. I put my raincoat on and head for the beach. Not many people here today. The water is rough and soon my shoes and pants are wet. Fine by me. One less thing to worry about. Off with the shoes. I usually walk barefoot anyway.
Waking up on the first morning of our vacation, I was greeted by the view of the sunrise over the harbor. Mary Oliver’s words came to mind:
“Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who made the morning and
spread it over the fields . . .Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.”
I sat for meditation as the sun traveled up the horizon, its warmth increasing, coming through the open window. After meditation, Neal and I head to the bakery; a ritual we repeat every time we visit. We wake up early, go to the Old Post Office Bagel Shop, grab a cup of coffee and head to the beach for a long walk.
There are very few people on the beach this early in the morning. Some faces are familiar – having crossed paths with them before – most are friendly; we smile and wish each other a good morning as we walk by. Older people appear to be more inclined to making eye contact and smiling. Sometimes, we cross paths with someone who’s lost in thought, lips tight, looking away, removed. We all bring our stories with us.
Today, we meet a young man from Chicago. His dog decides to adopt us and walks with us, so he too joins us for a while. He shares that he visits every summer with his family. His wife’s mother has been coming here since 1948. Read more
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 an Ashram 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 Ashram that weekend and by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed.
Twelve years ago, when I was trying to decide which direction to take my coaching practice in, 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’d 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. 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. 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.