Saturday, July 20, 2013

Finding Hope

All the best stories begin this way,
not enough light to see hope.
Along their difficult path,

our heroes find themselves

in peril, heartbroken, penniless, 

nearly swallowed by despair,

bloodied and broken 

and just this side of death.
And then
somehow the faintest glimmer,

the tiniest spark, just a pinprick 

in the fabric of darkness,

appears, and it is enough.

Our heroes begin to believe 

that hope creates its own light

and suddenly they see their way clearly.
And now
the choices are mine, trapped though I feel.

Whether to play the hero or some bit part,

whether this story is mine,

and whether, like all the best stories,

it is part of 
the story 
we never tire of hearing or telling, 

because it is true.

Healing Waters

River Guide Dave on the Colorado River

     “They both listened silently to the water, which to them was not just water, but the voice of life, the voice of Being, the voice of perpetual Becoming.” 
Herman Hess, Siddhartha

   It’s the one-year anniversary of my divorce and of my trip to the Grand Canyon that I thought at the time would be a journey of self discovery - of the shedding a skin. What I found was scorching hot temperatures in a surreal terrain where scorpions and wood rats roamed the grounds. I was kicking myself for not doing a spa trip. Here I am a year out, though, and I can still smell the ozone-richness of the rapids of the Colorado and see the shifting  shadows of moonlight on the canyon walls. 
  It’s odd what sticks from a trip.
  Often it’s not the expected. Take River Guide Dave, for example. School teacher by the fall, winter and spring. Wild river guide in the summer. I had the fortune to get a spot in his paddle boat one day, a coveted position. With cowboy hat perched high, quoting from the likes of The Wind in the Willows and Siddhartha, he regaled us with tales.
  I learned valuable river lessons that day, and as it turns out, life lessons as well. One was point to the positive. If you fall out of the boat, people point to the direction to which to go - not the dangerous areas. It makes sense really. Focus on the positive you want in life, not the negative you hope to avoid. Where we focus our attentions is often where we end up arriving.
  The other key piece of advice I got: Paddle from the edge of the raft. Not used to the scale of the rapids in the Colorado and having heard “death” stories of former people who had braved the river, I was cautiously paddling. A fellow rafter took pity on me and started giving me direction. “Move to the edge of the raft, lean out and dig in. It will give you more control.” I did, and she was right. 
  That advice has come back to me in some of my darkest moments this past year  learning how to be a single mom with three precious kids. I so want them to dig into the precious parts of life. I want to teach them to be courageous, to lean into life even when it’s scary. And, yes, we may fall in. But if we’re lucky, we have friends pointing to the positive.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Being Present

Happy Places

   I was laughing at myself on mile 4.9 of the hike to Gregory Bald in the Smokey mountains. I had just written a blog on taking it easy in life and not pushing so hard all the time – to relax into a pose vs. forcing it. And, here I am on a vacation doing an 11-mile hike to the top of a bald, dripping sweat and praying for a plateau on a trail that only knows up. 
   Approaching a level portion and a signpost that says .6 miles left, I sigh with relief until I look to the side. The trail takes a pitch that seems to ascend to heaven. My hiking partner ignores my whining and keeps trekking, but I pause, irritated and tired. I’m done with going up. I get a yell to pick up the pace, and swallow back my first two responses, managing to smile instead and keep walking. It was my brilliant idea after all, my bucket-list item. To do this trail in June when the bald is chocked full of fire-red azaleas had been on my must-do list about a decade. I had just never made it here the right season.

   This was it. My chance. We trudge on, sweating, finally reaching the top to explore a maze of azaleas. We nestle in the tall grass overlooking Cades Cove and keep our eye on a deer trying to steal food. There’s an air of celebration at the top among the surviving hikers. We all watch the sky go from clear blue to thick mists and huddle through a rainstorm that clears with misty sweeps of the wind, the scene changing as only mountain weather can.

    Why am I here and was it worth it? I find myself asking as hikers warn each other about a sleeping rattlesnake near a shrub. A cool mist wraps around me, and I watch for flashes of red azaleas in the fog. I stow the memory into a “happy places” file in my head, a collection of special places, places that make my heart glad that they exist on Earth. When June rolls around, I’ll remember there’s a place like this, abuzz with bees and happy hikers.
   And, I know there’s a day I won’t be able to hike that trial. But it’s not today.


"It is living in the naked now, the "sacrament of the present moment" that will teach us how to actually experience our experiences,whether good, bad, or ugly, and how to let them transform us.  Words by themselves will invariably divide the moment; pure presence lets it be what it is, as it is."
- Richard Rohr in his book The Naked Now

I've been trying to heed Rohr's advice in the last couple of weeks and to just experience my experiences - both good and bad.  Yes, we're in Bali - which most people view as paradise - but the reality is that Bali is also a third world developing country with all the struggles and growing pains that go along with that.  We've had beautiful moments with sunsets, friends and Hindu ceremonies. I've watched the moon rise over the beach and biked along ocean cliffs in the spray of enormous waves.   But we've also battled insane traffic with cars,  buses, motorbikes and bicycles fighting for the same small space. Our house has been broken into and robbed.  Sometimes it truly felt like I was in the very naked now - but it sure didn't feel like a sacrament.  But it is the experience of life - both good, bad and ugly - that Rohr is talking about.  It's being present for your life in all its beauty and its messiness.  Wherever you go, pay attention.