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Wild and Dangerous

1 Sep

I’ve been to Alaska twice but each time was for work so I didn’t get to see much of the terrain. However, even a glimpse of the locale is enough to witness its majesty. The natural beauty is breathtaking.

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Alaska is dark for much of the year though. At some points there are only four hours of light. Then in the summer there is endless light.

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I almost prefer it when it is colder and the tourists have gone home.

I have always met incredible people when working here – people I will remember for the rest of my life.

Despite not having seen much of the geography, every time I’ve been in Alaska some Higher force has spoken to me. Whether it’s the spirit of the people or the animals, something whispers that it’s okay to be wild. It’s okay to be free. Some of us are not domesticated.

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We are a world that thrives on convention and when you don’t fit into those conventions, it’s easy to feel lost and not good enough.

Alaska doesn’t care about those conventions. Alaska is true to itself. It has its problems for sure but it doesn’t apologize for itself.

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What’s On The Other Side?

27 May

My father was a huge Steinbeck fan. When I was as young as five years old I was subjected to listening to entire passages read from the author’s novels. Wanting to watch cartoons or to read myself on a Saturday morning, I’d instead be interrupted by Dad as he puffed on a cigarette, sipped Coca-Cola and played James Taylor on the turn table.

One passage from the “Red Pony” perplexed me because my dad said it was beautiful and I didn’t understand why. Beauty to me had to do with pretty dresses I saw in fashion magazines. In it a boy asks his father what is on the other side of the mountains. “More mountains, I guess. Why?” “And on the other side of them?” “More mountains, why?” “More mountains on and on?” The dialogue goes back and forth with the young boy asking if anyone knows what is in-between the mountains. “Oh, a few people do, I guess. But there’s nothing there to get. And not much water. Just rocks and cliffs and greasewood. Why?” “It would be good to go.” “What for? There’s nothing there.”

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I always think of this passage when I hike. I find myself asking, “What’s on the other side?” as I move up and down the trails.

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It is good to go even when there is nothing to “get.” In fact, it is best to go with no intention of getting at all.

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I love the little boy’s inquisitiveness and insistence. I also love the strength and majesty of the mountains.

I look up and they are always there. They have not moved. They shape the confines of my life the same way a good parent’s presence stands gently in the backdrop or the way Spirit gently graces one’s experiences.

We humans are always looking outward curious about our surroundings – where we came from, where we are, and where we’re headed. I take to the hills to guide me through my journey the same way I grab a board to propel me through water’s motion, time, and space. What’s on the other side and in-between is the Mystery – so much grander and bigger than us and so much more miraculous.

 

On Sacred Ground

22 Apr

My father loved the topgraphy of the United States and wanted to make certain I had the same appreciation of it. When I was little, he pulled me out of school for a few weeks so we could travel across the United States in a motor home. That trip left an imprint. I remember seeing Old Faithful and Morning Glory, the Grand Tetons, and hot air balloons dotting the sky in New Mexico. I also recall Mt. Rushmore and the Bandlands of South Dakota. I have a picture of my dad with his back to the camera staring out over that dramatic landscape. My dad knew he was on sacred ground.

In South Dakota we also went to a place called Wall Drug. Founded in 1931, the store is both historic and a wonderful place to shop. I was allowed to buy a souvenir and wanted an Indian Princess doll and a pair of moccasins. I loved my Indian doll. I had her for many years.

Scroll forward forty years later. You know you travel a lot when you look at the flight departure/arrival board and think, “Okay. Which Rapid am I going to? Rapid City, Cedar Rapids, or Grand Rapids?” Clear the head. Rapid City. I’m going to Rapid City, South Dakota.

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Recently I interfaced with a number of individuals working in the Native American community. I loved hearing about the rituals and customs of the people here and was saddneded to hear accounts about the on-going impact of historical trauma, although I am aware of how deep it runs. Suicide is an epidemic in certain parts of South Dakota and racism and discrimination continues. It astonishes me what we humans do to one another and how we just don’t seem to learn how to stop mistreating one another. Personally, I have very mixed feelings about Mt. Rushmore… This land was beautiful prior to the monument, as impressive as it is. It was once someone else’s sacred ground.

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I wish we would just stopping messing with nature. We passed a dead deer on the road making me think once again, “What has our so called progress done? At what cost and at whose expense?”

Without a doubt the land here is sacred ground. Would that every step we took in life be one on sacred ground. If we could bring a sense of Spirit into the every day and realize that each step on the path can connect us to the Grandfather, I think we’d all live with more reverence, respect, and awe.

Running Water Over Stones

25 Mar

As I watched a group of neighbors dressed in black walk to Maudy Thursday services at a nearby church, I looked down and realized that I too was dressed in black. My yoga pants were black and so was my sweater. Only the neigbhors entered the church and I walked into the funky and traditional yoga studio near my house. “I’m worshipping at a different altar tonight,” I thought. However, for me, it’s all the same altar. Prayer, meditation, yoga, nature, church fellowship, and worship are all fundamental resources that help me feel connected to God.

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Although I have taken yoga classes for twenty years, it has only been in the last few that I have started to understand yoga and to realize why having a practice is vital for my emotional, physical and mental well being. Yoga teaches me not just about my body but about how I hold stress and negative thought patterns and how I can stop the constant gripping.

I went to class last night because it was a restorative one. Restorative yoga is different than active yoga. It is specifically designed to calm the nervous system. By using props (a bolster, blocks, blankets, and a strap), you put your body in resting, open postures and hold them for a good ten minutes, if not longer. As you relax into the poses, you can actually feel when the body begins to melt into the floor or the props; you start to notice when the body begins to surrender its never ending push for control and hyper-vigilance. You notice when it starts to release the defensive and protective armor that no longer serves.

“As humans, we are always pushed into stressful states yet the body cannot hold stress and relaxation simultaneously. If we train our bodies to relax, it is physiologically impossible to hold stress at the same time,” said the teacher.

“In growth and transformation, there is always a degree of discomfort. So when you hold new poses, you might initially feel uncomfortable.” I burst out laughing. Yeah, growth and transformation can make one a wee bit uncomfortable.

The first pose we did was called something like “running water over stones.” At least this is the imagery the teacher talked about. Lying on our backs with bolsters and blankets propped to put our spines in their natural curvatures, our bodies were akin to stones that stay  solid and stationary as water runs over them. That water, that ever pulsating movement of life can wear down the stones, yet if we are solid and stationary, the water doesn’t have to push us around. We can be in harmony with the flow of life.

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There are some restorative yoga poses where the props are meant to be intrusive, pushing the body to open and stretch more actively; others that are designed for the body to simply melt and surrender.

There is also the inhalation, the exhalation, and the space between the next breath. That space is vital; it’s where the next beat of life and creativity spring from. That is the space I am most interested in harnessing, yet it is the whole flow of breath that keeps one moving through transformation and growth.

“Relax, relax!” the Saturday teacher always says to me when taking the hatha yoga class. “You’re making it too hard.” If he only knew. If he only knew how often I can make things too hard or how hard I can be on myself. It’s good to take a look in the mirror sometimes. Yet he also says like a kind grandfather (and with a twinkle in his eye), “That’s beautiful. You’re holding the pose beautifully.” It’s also good to note our progress.

Momentum: When The Tide Quickly Changes

23 Jun

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The other morning I went surfing. As is typical of summer, the waves weren’t doing much. The sets were coming slow and when a wave did break, it had little gusto. I had to paddle hard to catch it and when I did, the wave’s momentum often just petered out, leaving me standing on my board like a gymnast on a balance-beam poised for dismount.

Summer surfing can be frustrating when you have too many mornings like this. After all, the whole point of surfing is to catch a wave and feel the rush as you ride it all the way to shore. There is nothing on the planet like it.

Sometimes, I don’t mind the slowness. It’s nice to be out in the water and have days where I can simply sit on my board and think (or not think) while the gentle lull of the sea rocks me back and forth. It’s nice to feel like a baby in the cradle with God looking down from above. However, sometimes this lack of action irritates. I don’t want to sit around waiting, or to feel the initial thrill of catching a wave, only to have it take me absolutely nowhere. Then I think, “Why didn’t I go to Pilates this morning? It would have been better for my back.”

Yet yesterday morning took me by surprise. As I positioned myself for a wave I felt certain wouldn’t break well, I found myself shocked into awareness that the tide had changed. This wave had speed. Its momentum took me by surprise and ended up knocking me off my board after I caught a bit of its buzz. As I tumbled in the surf, I could feel its foam rage above me. This wave was going forward whether I was prepared or not.

Surfing is a crapshoot. So is life. You never know what you’re going to get. You can get a mushy, little wimpy wave that does nothing for you or one that almost drowns you. Sometimes you get one that is perfect and takes you all the way in. The best are the ones that excite you without throwing off your balance and that have no one else riding it. Then there is just the right degree of safety, comfort, delight, and edge. Those are the cowabunga days where you thank your lucky stars you got off your lazy ass and put on that damn seal suit.

Surfing reminds me that there is nothing more important than suiting up and getting in the water. If you stay on the shore, you will never catch a wave. Yes, surfing can kill you, but I’d rather die playing than never playing at all.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

14 Jun

I’m not a fan of cacti but I find them a phenomenal metaphor for life. As with roses, where there are thorns, there can also be great beauty. How we preserve and protect ourselves can be a part of God’s design. It’s funny that even in the most prickly places of our being, we can blossom. We must learn to love the good, bad, and the ugly because it’s all a part of the same DNA.

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I’m also intrigued at how things that are beautiful can wither, die, and then bloom again. If we are but patient with the cycles of life and our own growth.

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Lessons On The Path

8 Jun

In Hebrew the word “derek” stands for the path or the way.

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Sometimes it’s hard to stay on the path, but if we stay the course, the better the journey.

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When we feel lost and alone on the path, we can remember that the universe opens its arms to meet us. Why not sojourn with God when He invites us in? The path we want for ourselves often isn’t nearly as Divine as the one He would have us take.

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Surprising New Life

30 May

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Walking through the streets of D.C. last night with friends, I stopped in front of a church to examine a cluster of paper butterflies strung along the side exterior. I found this extraordinary. There was something so beautiful and fitting about this image. Moving in the direction of the church spire, the butterflies were on a mission to heaven.

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The irony of the moment did not escape me. Butterflies are notorious symbols of transformation. They start as eggs, transition to caterpillars, and then morph into cocoons. From that chrysalis  state, they eventually emerge as butterflies. It is not an easy metamorphosis. To the outside eye, the cocoons look ugly. They look like nothing. They look dead. All color and life force drains temporarily from them.

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The butterfly’s transition is one of nature’s miracles. It is a glaring reminder that profound change requires a stage of withdrawal and contraction, yet nothing in our society supports this truth. We’re supposed to get over pain quickly, immerse ourselves in external activities, and fake it ’til we make it. This completely contradicts the natural evolution process.

As I went through a painful period in my life this year, I became that chrysalis. Other than somehow finding the energy to work, I contracted. I rarely went out socially, I cried day after day for months, and spent considerable time alone except in the company of a few select friends who didn’t judge my process. Meanwhile the world screamed its bad advice, as I withdrew.

I spun my web blocking out the noise as best I could because the caterpillar undergoes transformation alone. She does not take a lover into the cocoon or host a dinner party in it.

It’s an arduous process breaking out of that lonely shell, but when you do burst out of the cocoon, you are no longer the same. You become a whole new being and yes, you fly in the direction of heaven, flying on the wings of faith. You dazzle the world with your bright colors because you are now beautiful, transformed, and free.

Lessons on Loyalty

24 May

I had the opportunity to watch some geese the other day. I was intrigued to see that a mom and dad watched over their offspring with a fierce sense of protection. The mom walked in the front, the babies behind her, and dad followed in the back. Then they slid into the water, gliding along in this formation.

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Later I noticed a whole flock of geese with their young. They appeared like a bunch of families all out on an outing.

Geese mate for life. If a partner dies, the remaining bird mourns alone. The bird often chooses not to mate ever again.

Geese also take care of each other as a collective group.  If one is shot, the others will lag behind to ensure its care. They fly in a V formation, which reduces the air resistance for those behind. This allows them to fly 70 percent farther as a group than if they were to fly alone. I find this remarkable.

We humans could take a lesson in these principles. It means so much when we care and look after one another. When one of us is weak and vulnerable, we should slow down and wait until health returns. This is loyalty. We can fly so much farther together than if we go it alone.

 

 

Weep, Pray, Swim

20 Mar

It’s an interesting time when one feels her life, as she knows it, has disintegrated. When we lose love or experience a sense of betrayal, we can be rattled at our core. And even when love simply changes or runs its course, and there is no discord, the aftermath can be more trying than any other experience. So what then do we do to rebuild our sense of self and direction?

Author Elizabeth Gilbert, coined the phrase, “Eat, Pray, Love,” in her spiritual memoir. What better thing to do when suffering than to nourish oneself physically, spiritually, and relationally? Yet surrounded by water recently, I thought, why not “weep, pray, swim,” as a prescription for healing? Tears bear witness to our pain, washing the heart clean of its fears, anger, and disillusionment. Tears usher in peace, compassion, and love, moving in like the tides upon the shore. Living Water is God Herself, reaching out to touch us on the earthly plane, reminding us that She is near. And swimming moves the feelings and energetic debris, lodged in from the day, week, months, and years. The salt water purifies us of toxins and transforms us. As we emerge from the sea, bathed in the Spirit, we experience new life. We also begin to experience forgiveness of ourselves and others.

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The other day, I looked around me and saw that life was more than good. Life is rainbows and people and beauty. Life is blessings and new opportunities, as much as it is also pain and chaos. Life is surprises and joy and the unexpected. And we ourselves are more than beautiful. We are glorious even in our terrible humanity.

When Phoenix rises from her ashes, she wears a fire red bikini and laughs when the waves nip at her feet. The sand reminds us that like the sea glass lying on the beach, time and hardship do not wear us down. They shape and beautify us.

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Sometimes, we have to just get into the water and paddle out, into our lives. Only then, do we see from the proper vantage point.

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