I walk down the road, turn to the right, and keep going until I wander into the decaying cemetery. Passing by the worn stone markers, the past calls me. I imagine the once living, feel their lives pull on my sweater, read their names, see dead flowers in pots and remembrances left to weather.
Time’s emptiness fills the area, interrupted by the impertinent truth that we never believe our days will end etched in smooth obsidian or worn granite: life marked by a name, two dates, sometimes a word or two.
I walk beside the motionless bones, still tongues, silent histories, interred stories once colored by memory’s palette, to enter a path hidden by tall grasses, leading to the lake.
I follow the path a mile or so. Wet autumn leaves stick to my sneakers. Maroon and yellow, remnants of spring’s green cling to my soles during my walk to the water’s edge.
I sit. Quiet everywhere. Clouds hang dense and low, they imperceptibly merge into the hills’ afternoon mists, a soft blanket insulating the day’s sounds,
except for a crows’ caw, and an unfamiliar melodic, staccato song.
A lone hawk flies overhead.
From beyond the hills, a small flock of wild geese fly in toward the lake, they yell in noisy abandon, skim the water’s surface, and then fly away, following their ancient route, a journey as old as the mountains, older than the trees. A ritual older than worn gravestones, written in avian blood.
I sit. Quiet, again.
I look over the lake, and the circle of surrounding hills. Trees vibrant with death’s nearness take on magenta, gold, amber, red, orange, colors paint-like dappled over the rolling hills, as though a sleeping giant emerged during twilight, and with an over-sized brush, colored his canvas in flaming magnificence, in a glowing display of grandiosity and vainglory, knowing the show days are few. I close my eyes. My breath and body now fully live, oozing out of me into water, earth, air, crow caw.
In death I live.
Death surrounds me in splendor.
I sit and breathe.
I am lake, mountains, clouds, trees,
and a flock of geese, whose ancient blood
carries me beyond stone memorials
and into glory.
(Please note: I wrote this entry in two hours. It may show that investment. I hope it offers something useful.)
Your beliefs become your thoughts, your thoughts become your words, your words become your actions, your actions become your habits, your habits become your destiny. — Gandhi
Since moving to the outskirts of civilization, I’ve done a lot of “spiritual work.” I don’t know what else to call it. I’ve experienced a shift in consciousness, how I see myself, and how I see the world. Stuff that I thought that I knew, I now understand better as a way of (B)eing. I previously posted a piece on loving myself, “A Love Story,” but there’s a bigger picture that’s unfolded: understanding myself as part of life’s beautiful play is finally sinking in.
The myth of separation dissolves. For today, I’m simply throwing that out there, do as you will with it, for brevity’s sake. Perhaps by the entry’s end, it will be clearer.
The past year, I’ve worked through many conscious and unconscious stories that governed my beliefs, and I’ve left the worst of them behind. And, yes, I do believe that these things can happen that quickly, when one is ready. Therapy wasn’t my answer, but committing to my creativity and spiritual path has unleashed insight after insight, in remarkable and demonstrable ways. Friends tell me of the changes they see. I smile. Nature is instrumental. I’ve come into myself by realizing how simple and magical life is without trying. Spring arrives, flowers bloom, tress grow. All this will pass, there will be a deep sleep, and the spring will come again.
I am one with the forces I see in the seasons, and I’ve merged with life and (B)eing, because life exists everywhere, here.
Education, for its many gifts, really fucks up life’s simplicity, on a fundamental level. We’re taught wonderful ideas, learn to ask better questions, and learn to answer with more sophistication, but self-love, awareness, and (B)eing are conspicuously missing from the curriculum funded by the incredulous student loan debt that I incurred and have since given to the Powers That Be to worry about. I am unlearning not only my stories, and my family’s stories, but the intellect’s hubris for its works and artifacts.
Last week, during an early morning walk, the world grabbed my shoulder, and got my attention. The sun hung low, a glowing ball shining through a perfectly clear blue sky, surreal in its clarity and depth. The valley and hills exploded with life, innumerable greens, birds, butterflies, insects, all the critters that remained invisible to my eyes. “I am the sky,” I heard myself think, “when light passes through me, life grows as it should, it happens without question or worry, and it will happen with or without my attention.”
God is a label. Gratitude another label, a way that language limits lived beauty and power and grace, the ineffable experience of being alive, and being part of life’s magnificence. “Gratitude” is how the mind places its attention, a practice that we can submerge ourselves in. It then becomes a loop, the more we do it, the better life gets. Beauty, joy, nature, poetry, the body’s strength, a good meal, a glass of clean water, a bird, whatever meaningfully grabs the mind and heart, no matter the circumstances, whatever feeds the soul and makes it feel alive, that’s where life presents itself.
I admit, it’s easier here and now. But during my psychotic break while living in Manhattan, I remember focusing on a pigeon nest across from my window, as I lost my mind, my family, faced eviction, had no food, and feared that I had entered mental nether regions from which I would never return. The wall between myself and the forgotten homeless living on the streets was a rent controlled building that I hadn’t paid rent on in months. For hours, I simply watched pigeons cooing and caring for each other, because I could do little else. They gave me serenity and a connection to living. Those hours in which I watched cooing gray birds, their nest tucked in between concrete slabs, affirmed life. And, therefore, myself.
I’m blessed with good friends, many who have had charmed lives. Truly charmed lives. Money, travel, life experience, prestige. Prestige with a capital P. While I was cleaning houses, they were traveling the world, making medical breakthroughs, starting NASDAQ companies, the list goes on. Yet, their lives are full of problems. Whenever we talk, I hear of some new crisis, some new problem, some melodrama occupying the most precious real estate on the planet, their mind. Relationships and circumstances always resolve, but you wouldn’t believe it from the way they talk.
Materially, they have more than 99 percent of the world’s population, but they believe they have nothing, believe themselves broken, believe something is wrong with them, see problems that don’t exist everywhere, and therefore create problems that do. They scream this reality with every-other-sentence out of their mouth, in their judgements of themselves, and of others. Instead of allowing a sunset to sink into their skin, or water’s music to slowly connect them to themselves, they fully inhabit their perceptions of the world’s failures. To look at, touch, and smell a flower, and radically experience it for a moment, eludes them, or leaves them far too quickly. Instead, they allow somebody’s annoying behavior or some situation rental space in their sacred mind, where we make and create the world we wish to live in. Nothing happens in the world, without it happening in the mind, first. I see them give away their life sentence by sentence, unconscious of where and what their attention is doing, at that moment.
This is the voice of experience writing, not the voice of judgement.
In the middle of nowhere, without a car, with a bazillion dollars owed in back taxes, student loan debt, and living, by some folks standards, a terribly uncertain future, I find myself the wealthy one, grounded and flourishing.
If I could give them gratitude, I would. But we have to find it inside ourselves, for ourselves, if that’s what we want. We’re free to do so, it’s all in front of us, with or without our attention. When my friends get tired of slamming their heads against that wall, when they realize that the pain they’re living isn’t worth the prices they are paying, they will come around. For those of us who know the talk, but struggle with the walk, it looks something like, “yes, I am grateful for x, y, z . . . but, [insert problem or complaint or whatever horrible thing that is happening far away, over which have very limited or no control over],” followed by more emotional engagement.
Most of this is fear. Fear that life will abandon them, fear that they can’t do it themselves, fear that they’re not worth what they say they want, which is presumably peace and happiness, which costs nothing.
It’s impossible to talk about accomplishing and doing wonderful things, then dive into melodrama. Most of us say we want all of life’s great things because we want peace and happiness, but the peace and happiness are already there. I finally get the platitude, “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” I also believe it’s the quickest way to stop violence and hate, because when you’re really connected to radical love and happiness, you do less dumb shit. I didn’t write, “no dumb shit,” just a lot less. At some point, some of the dear souls in my life will realize that love does it’s job, and surrender to it, because they know they deserve to. That’s it. That’s why we’re here.
That’s when gratitude, no matter life’s heart breaks, disappointments, and setbacks, becomes a way of life, for those who want to live as fully as possible, and not practice gratitude as a period at the end of sentence filled with anxiety and doubt.
You don’t do it all at once, but you can get better at it.
This is how it looks to me, today.
Video: Children’s Orchestra Plays Mozart On Instruments Made From Trash
“Impoverished” children whose homes are built on a garbage dump see the world different, and create a better one.
This morning I awoke about 4 am or so. Stayed in bed until 4:45, doing my lazy woman’s I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed meditation (“thanks for my life, thanks for this breathe, thanks for these moments, thanks for another day . . . [ a drift into silence] . . . thanks for this silence”), giving myself another 45 minutes under the covers.
Pulled myself out of bed, remembering Rumi: “The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you, don’t go back to sleep.” Okay, I’m up. Barely.
Open the front door. Smell the lilac. Listen to the birds and bugs. Watch the trees play in the morning light. Put the herb garden on the patio. Water and talk to them.
Chug a pot of yerba maté, made the night before so that I don’t have to think.
Check email. The Universe, that is ‘Notes From The Universe,’ tells me in today’s note that “There was a time in the life of every hero, champion, master, and tycoon, when they said to themselves,’I will not wait any longer.'” Yes, that’s it. Just do it. The note’s better than the yerba maté, I’m feeling awake now. Believe.
Write in my journal. Ask about having my self-imposed limitations dissolve, quickly and permanently. “Maya Angelou inspired confidence, in my way and my time,” I write.
Make another pot of yerba maté, for when I come home.
Wash my face. Brush my teeth. Throw on my sweats and sneakers for today’s excursion. New route the past two weeks. The hills are more arduous than the ones I conquered in April, and I am loving this route more. The first 15 minutes are a fierce, unforgiving incline. I’ve nicknamed it “Everest.” The views at the top are breathtaking, and my reward: a vista overlooking a valley of flourishing woodlands, and a panoramic view of The White Mountains’ outer edges. Only 4.2 miles today, 2.1 to the main road and back. The 5.4 loop tomorrow. Listen to Gould on the iPod. Listen to affirmations. Listen to the trees and the birds and the brooks and nature. Listen.
Back into the village. See my little friend, who waves and says my name with a sparkling smile.
Home. Check phone messages. Check email.
Make a large salad: one fresh avocado processed with fresh lemon juice and salt, a package of baby arugula, a few raisins, a couple of chopped dates, a chopped gala apple. Slowly devour in gratitude, while the stream and birds supply the meal’s background music.
Log into Facebook. Stumble on an NPR article about 91-year-young Harriette Thompson who is a cancer survivor and just set a world record for a woman’s marathon time in her age group. Remember this morning’s journal entry on dissolving limitations. Synchronicity abounds. Keep showing up.
Sit down. Listen to the birds. Smell the lilac. Watch the light dance off the tree tops. Write a brief blog post. Think of the things on today’s list, some of which I see as challenging and unpleasant.
Not so much. Attitude is everything. Just ask Harriette Thompson.
Live life vividly. V-I-V-I-D-L-Y, the word keeps making its way into my journal pages, highlighted, decoratively boxed, boldly scripted in greens, purples, pinks, reds. Live vividly, or it’s just existing. “Let everything else go,” I remind myself. Harriette Thompson would no doubt smile if I told her about my problems, and I do so with her when I see them from a 91-year-old’s record-breaking finish line. Vividly. She seems to know about that topic.
This morning was like many mornings, but I wanted to chronicle today’s unique and beautiful rhythm, and I wanted to remind myself that “when I get over that finish line, that’s the best part.”
[This entry was originally sent to subscribers with Ms. Thompson’s first name misspelled. The above reflects the correct spelling.]
The spirit is larger than the body. The body is pathetic compared to what we have inside us. — Diana Nyad
I still have a handful of posts that I’ve pieced together, but not finished — as usual, I’m trying to do too much in a single post, instead of just hammering out something somewhat entertaining and enjoyable.
But they are good posts, and will be completed. Although there is a tension between writing them and working on the book, which is gaining momentum, to the exclusion of most everything. But training. And art. Because the writing and the training and the art are all connected, informing each other in an inexplicable and mystical and creative dialogue that constantly amazes me. It’s not me who does a lot of this. I just show up. The rest comes with time and practice. I show up. Stuff starts happening.
I just returned home from my best 5 mile time in too long, and I thought to post a quick entry on the joys of training.
This post on training is actually part of one of the other posts I am working on, but posting this sequel entry first seems to make sense, for reasons that may be clear, should you read both entries.
I didn’t realize until a month or so ago that I had accidently landed into a paradise for training. My front steps lead to four different routes for biking, walking, or running. As a local friend said to me, “I didn’t realize it until you brought it up, you really are in the best spot in this area for taking off on the roads, aren’t you.” Four routes converge on my doorstep — the only place in this area that can boast such a wonderful fluke of circumstance.
It’s really extraordinary, yet another confluence that’s taken place in my life. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect portal to place myself for training, with the hills, the pines, the rivers, the lakes, the fresh air. And there’s no fighting with cyclists or cars for the right of way — a bane of existence during my life in Cambridge. The few drivers that pass me here are excessively courteous, slowing way down for the strange, foot bound humanoid that is less common in these parts than deer.
The joys of training. One mile becomes two. Two miles become three. Three miles become five. Every day, a little more. Soon the challenging five miles is not only effortless, but invigorating. Not just invigorating, but thrilling and nurturing.
Today, I not only did my best time, but I came home energized. Some of the hills around here are steep and unforgiving, and today for the first time, every incline was skillfully managed by slowing down, breathing deeply, and letting the endorphins kick in. No stops. No feeling like I was going to puke. No making the hill and then stopping for the breath, while telling myself I had just made the hill while stopped at the top and checking the monitor as an excuse to catch my breath. Just concentrated effort. And breathing.
Before today, some of these inclines have inspired not much more than an “oh shit, here we go” with an immediate heart rate spike, well past the safety zone.
Today, there was simply the joy of pushing through, maxing out my heart rate while pushing through and filling my lungs with fresh air.
That’s another joy. The air here. Having my lungs fill with this clean, pristine air.
I considered everything I have pushed through in the past few years, some of which I mentioned before, some of which comprises the entry that will follow this one, and I’ve often had the feeling like all the strength had been sapped from me. But today’s easy 5 miles — soon to be 10 — reminded me how incredibly strong I am, how resilient and fortunate I am to be given everything I have been given. Here’s a truth: just when we think we can’t make it, if we push through just a little more, practice patience with ourselves and with life, there we stand, edging closer to the person that we want to be.
This invigorating 5 miles, by the way, happened after a mild back injury last week, which I quickly recovered from thanks the miracles of the modern heating pad.
Injury is usually temporary. Giving up is always fatal.
Today, by just showing up, there was inscrutable joy — the sound of the birds, the trees, my heart beating, the sound of my feet on the open roads, my lungs filling and feeling like they never have. Thanks to the mountain air, deep breathing takes on a whole new meaning. I was completely present and in the moment, and it was beautiful. Everything sang in unison, and I was part of the choir — contralto, no doubt.
So I eased on home strong — cutting a full 15 minutes off of the times I previously clocked on this one route.
My heart rate’s been dropping fast during a cool down, indicating that I am building great cardio strength again.
Better. Stronger. Faster.
Never give up. Humans are capable of so much more than we allow ourselves to believe.
“Better. Stronger. Faster.” Although I’d qualify that its the human spirit is the actual bionic powerhouse, for we simply follow our spirit’s lead:
I’m currently painstakingly piecing together 3 essays for posting, have ideas for about a dozen more in the works, am jotting down story ideas, art journaling, making mandalas, getting the book proposal together, eeking out a marginal income, and I’ve started training, again. Finally. It took me almost a year to see that I was living in near perfect circumstances for training, but that’s another essay.
I took a few photos yesterday morning, because it’s really easy to quiet any arguments with one’s doubting, lazy self when the skies are perfectly blue, the hills sing, and the trees dance in quiet unison, and I thought to share that beauty, here. No one around, rarely even a car. Quite extraordinary. Also, I wanted to provide proof that I really do live “in the middle of nowhere,” most of these views less than a half-a-mile from my doorstep.
I set out yesterday morning about seven-thirty or so in the morning. The temperature was about 2 degrees, but it felt colder. My eyes watered, the tears freezing by the time they hit my lower cheeks, the mucous in my nose started running like a river down my throat, and when I tried to spit it out, it congealed in the cold, hit my sweater and hair, and froze. By the time I got home, the cotton handkerchief in my pocket subsequently used for spitting was a mangled, frozen, rock hard trophy of besting myself.
I felt like I had what it takes to be a hard core runner. Moments like that, in solitude with frozen snotty spit on an old sweater, steamy breath, tight thighs that are resisting any stride, hills that challenge then release then challenge again, the early morning sun, and an open road, make believing easy and natural.
This is my backyard, a gift I’ve been given for I don’t know how long. I hope you enjoy the views.
“They have seen Death and ultimate defeat,
and yet they would not in despair retreat,
but oft to victory have tuned the lyre
and kindled hearts with legendary fire,
illuminating Now and dark Hath-been
with light of suns as yet by no man seen.”