Reflections on Meditation

I have some long overdue van updates to come, but I wanted to break from the vanlife news and share something a little deeper and more personal. I used to do a lot of introspective writing, and I have always found great joy in making connections on a deeper level … but it’s also important not to forget about all the fun in things in life! So, while I work on more posts about the Great Winter Vancation, other recent adventures, and updates on the van construction (we installed a roof vent!!!!), I will share a snippet of other things in my life:

I began leaning on a steady meditation practice at the beginning of 2015. I was going through a stressful divorce, creating a new life for myself and seeking out change in any way I could find. The results were life-saving. Yet as time went on, as I felt stronger, my practice had slowly gone by the wayside. As 2016 came to a close, I thought about the things I wanted to change this year, the person I had become, the person I want to be and my journey, past, present and future. I needed to be more steady, more focused, and less chaotic.

These past few months I have been giving myself more inward focused care, and more time to grow my meditation practice. Last week I reached a profound milestone. I have made a promise to my own heart to be a more loving being, to always share compassion with all beings. This is my new everyday — my living, breathing mantra.

Today, during my walking meditation, I imagined myself as a tree — grounded and peaceful. My feet, roots communing with the earth on each step. The hairs on my head, branches and leaves. As I walked, my thoughts and worries and stressors all streamed behind me, taken by the wind and dissolved into the sky. The breeze rustling and multiplying the love in my heart, carrying it far, and wrapping all of my worries in a blanket of compassion before sending them off into the atmosphere. The growing compassion swelling my heart and spreading to the farthest reaches of all humanity. My mind, clearing and making room for all of the love, kindness and compassion absorbed throughout my day and beyond. Like a tree, I am strong and unwavering.

This is a beautiful life I’ve been given and each moment is wasted if not filled with love and kindness.

I am exceedingly fortunate that I am able to have these experiences; that my life has provided me the opportunity to have strong and admirable teachers, mentors and friends. I am thankful for each and everyone of them — and for all who read this, you are loved, even from afar.

I Am Not Fearless

It is a misconception that some things require one to be fearless. Those who climb rocks, scale mountains, sleep under the stars … those who adventure beyond the norm are expected to be always strong, resilient, bold and brave.

I am not fearless.

I carry, always, a small seed of fear; the question “what if?” always lingering. I fear with an irrational bent. I am claustrophobic with great intensity. I have strange, random and unwarranted anxieties.

And yet, I climb on. I continue planning trips into the wilderness. Why? Because it’s brilliant to face your fears. It’s thrilling to look at what scares you right in the eye and say, “bring it.” Because I know I can do it, whatever it is, in spite of my fears. I take with me, seated right next to that seed of fear, a great ball of confidence. Confidence in knowing my capabilities and know what my challenges are. I know what I’m ready to face, and I know that I’ll always be afraid, and I know, most importantly, that I’m going to be glad I followed through; glad I took the chance. I will never regret trying that hard thing.

Yesterday I read about the missing hiker, Robert “Bob” Woodie. We were so close; maybe on the same trail, on the same day. He was okay when we were nearby. He sent an “ok” signal that day, just a few miles from where I had been. I reached out to the agency involved with as much information as I could pull out of my memories of last weekend. I want them to find him so badly. A week out in poor weather conditions is not promising for a 74 year old hiker, but I still hope. I hope for many things … for safety and health, for lack of suffering, for answers, for conclusions, for bonding the outdoor community together.

I think about these great people working in our National Parks, our wilderness areas, our SAR volunteers — people who are just average people, just like the rest of us — and I think, “what is making them so great?” Is it because they are fearless? Or are they are feeling that fear, just as I am, and going forth in spite of it?

I don’t know what, in simple terms, makes someone great. I’m sure there are pages and pages of discussion on the topic, but I don’t want to demystify it. I believe that we can all be great in our own capacity, when we believe we can, when we just do the thing our heart leads us to do.

We all have the capacity to be great.

Bob Woodie, in his way, is great. He is a human being, in his 70s, getting out into the world; being in the world. He is a human that has been really living. I don’t know him, nor do I know anything about him, but I know he went outside carrying his pack, and he was great. And I admire him for it.

If anyone was in the the area near Bishop Pass, Dusy Basin, Barrett Lakes, or Le Conte Canyon between October 13th and now, please reach out to the NPS:

On Backpacking

It’s always fascinating to me how carrying a pack changes the way in which I hike. Physically, as well as emotionally. I find that the weight changes the way that I step, creating a methodical, purposeful walk that carries with it the feel of a pilgrimage — something of spiritual journey; a mission of self-discovery. I put effort into the balance of the weight, minimizing the inevitable discomfort, learning through every step how to be with this experience that is so far outside of my everyday existence.

By the end of the first day, typically with the last few miles, the final switchbacks, the crest of the summit in sight, I find myself wondering why on earth I would do such a thing. I ask myself time and time again why I would venture this far from creature comforts, from the reclusive hideaway of a warm, soft home. I tell myself I shouldn’t try so hard to do this; I should find another hobby to spend my time off doing. I re-hydrate my dinner, I have a bit of chocolate, I methodically arrange my sleeping space. I fall asleep with fresh air on my face, the trees and sky visible through the tent mesh, the sound of the breeze through the branches. I turn in the night, the rustling of the wind in the tent fabric audible through the thin veil of wilderness sleep.

Before I know it, I’ve slept through sunrise. The morning air is cool and crisp and I become refreshed at the thought of another mountain day. I methodically go through my morning routine, savoring every purposeful step. I note the tenderness in my hips where my pack’s belt sits. My shoulders and back feel used, my leg muscles a little tight, my body feeling strong. I nurse my knee with some Ibuprofen and I am happy to feel it gaining strength as time goes on. I pack up my things and realize that by the morning of day two, I never want to go home.

In the wilderness, nothing matters aside from the here and now. The moment you are in is the most important moment, and the people you are with become the most important people. Everyone you see is brethren; you all share a connection that can only be gained by venturing off the grid. All of a sudden your cell phone doesn’t matter; you couldn’t care less about your inbox, or your mailbox, or your anything else. Your house could burn down and you would cease to care until you were back on the grid. In fact, it’s quite possible that you would care far less, regardless — after all, the mountains want you back.

Post Christmas Vacation Reflections

It seems that I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately — or perhaps because I have been keeping myself so fully occupied that I haven’t given myself the time to look for the words.

It’s just past Christmas, a few days from New Year’s, and also my late mother’s birthday. I feel slightly bad for not knowing how old she would have been. Maybe it’s an excuse, but to me, she will always be the mother that I remember, regardless of what age she might have been to me at any moment in time. In every memory of my mother, she is timeless — young and beautiful, smiling and radiating warmth, kindness and always love. I see my dad, always that ridiculous trouble-maker’s grin and chuckle, always joking around and telling some long-winded story that may or may not be true.

I remember them jolly, smiling and enjoying life.

And this is my gift. Some know that I don’t typically celebrate holidays. If I do, it is more of a cursory acknowledgement of a wider societal practice; sometimes to have a little fun, to share in community celebration and an excuse to display gratitude. I had originally chosen not to partake in most holiday rituals as more of a necessity, and later convenience, and perhaps now a combination of the two among many other reasons that many others also claim — to protest commercialism, lack of religious reasons, etc. (but this post is not about the reasons why).

I don’t partake often in gift-giving rituals, however, it has become apparent to me that the greatest gifts are received when your soul is moved — and that can happen at any moment, so long as we are open to receive. With that thought in mind, I realize that I received so many wonderful gifts in the past week — visiting new places, experiencing the kindness of complete strangers, seeing history preserved, the love and sorrow in a roadside alter, exploring off the beaten path, a homeless couple expressing their simple affection for one another, a waiter who expressed appreciation for kindness in return, a shopkeeper bursting with knowledge and eager to share; and nature giving back to me — the feel of sandstone under my hands, a dusting of snow blowing in a gust, the sun warming my face in a calm moment, the exhilaration of conquering a goal, breathtaking sunsets from so many angles, the desert from a height beyond what I had imagined.

There aren’t enough words, or enough photos to express what I gained from taking a full week to let go of everything; to let go of it all and remain open and let the world fill my soul. There is no intended lesson here, there is nothing I wish to impart on anyone reading this — I just simply wish to express that I am grateful for every moment, in spite of everything that I find difficult. I am grateful to know that even when I’m not feeling like I’m going to come out on top, I will.

Photo Dec 23, 12 10 41 PM

Downtown Tucson, AZ

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind, the second is to be kind, and the third is to be kind.
— Henry James

Photo Dec 24, 4 41 53 PM

Windy Point, Santa Catalina Mountains, AZ

Photo Dec 28, 11 23 20 AM

Tuzigoot Ruins, Cottonwood, AZ


Gratitude and Intentions

It’s the day before Thanksgiving – one of America’s most celebrated holidays. A holiday that has come to be synonymous with acts of glutton, greed and gratitude. What a strange conglomeration.

It would be very stereotypical for me to write a specific onerous Thanksgiving post listing the many things I am thankful for and the many reasons for you to be grateful. We have so much! We are so blessed! We’re the best! Hurrah! In the midst of many horrific events and sad situations surrounding us in this world, I suppose it is not a bad idea to reflect on what we are grateful for. To do so in a humble, peaceful, non-boastful way is very commendable. To take action, turning that gratitude into something that can be radiated to others is strikingly noble. I hope that I have it in me to do so.

I am immensely grateful (and I hope that it is evident in the majority of my writing), however, I want to share that more and more each day, I am focused on the intentions I set for myself. I am approaching the close of a very epic year for me – a year that has included one of the most amazing re-birth processes I never could have imagined. It is a year in which I bravely turned my focus inward in the most profound way; I looked in a proverbial mirror and saw what I needed to see, picked up the heavy weight of my downtrodden soul and ran. Ran far from every preconceived notion, every stubborn idea, every idealized and unfounded desire. I picked up my disillusioned self and embarked upon a journey to replace it with something calm, balanced, emboldened, with eyes and mind wide open.

What I found was that I could choose to be the person I wanted to be — and then just be. There are times, however, that I find myself unhappy with my direction, and I determine that I’ve wandered from the path I chose to be on, and I again choose my direction. I’ve found wise and appropriate moments to look back upon my progress, and re-visit my choice, and with extreme kindness, redirect myself. To set my intentions. 

Recently, I sat down and assessed how I spent my time. I walked through my schedule in my head and what I did that week and thought about what each activity brought to my life — if it enriched my life, or took something away. I thought about the feelings that certain activities evoked and I thought about if I felt satisfied with that. I wrote down everything I did that I thought enriched my life — brought me joy or satisfaction, increased my happiness, contributed to my journey and propelled me in the direction I wish to travel. What was I doing that was making me into the person I want to be? What wasn’t?

I thought about my intentions behind the things that I choose to do with my time. Am I doing things that have no purpose or meaning? Are the things I do having an unintended effect? This practice was so very clarifying. Thinking ahead to the new year, I am more and more exhilarated about what the coming months will bring, and I am increasingly satisfied and content with the person that I am becoming.

So, while I am always trying in every way to express as much gratitude as possible, today I draw my focus to setting honorable intentions for myself — for the coming year, and for each and every day.

I encourage each of you, dear readers, to put thought into the intentions behind the things you do with your time; and, with kindness, determine how they influence you, what feelings they evoke.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Goodbye, Summertime.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

1. recurrent winter depression characterized by oversleeping, overeating, and irritability, and relieved by the arrival of spring or by light therapy.
Abbreviation: SAD.

Or if you prefer, from the Mayo Clinic definition:

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

As if dealing with regular old depression wasn’t enough, now we have a seasonal version. It is the mental health equivalent of pumpkin spice everything. With the end of daylight saving time, we now have the opportunity to venture down the rabbit hole of deep, dark evenings, lack of motivation and the beginning of terrible eating habits that will surely contribute to the fall of summer health initiatives and sun bathed recreational activities. Sunset runs are now dark and frosty torture events. Paranoia over sinus pressure and the chance of catching a cold become overwhelmingly annoying qualities of mine. I fear sundown when camping; I can’t decide what layers will be the warmest. I balk over wearing three pairs of pants and still tuck hand-warmers into every pocket. My wool hat is my best friend.

I will see my breathe and shed a small tear and feel a soft ache in my heart.

Good-bye, summertime. You will be missed. My already low energy levels take it down a couple of notches. My productivity wanes. The holidays come and I feel the extreme end of the spectrum on which the feelings of missing my family lie. As always, there are good days … and there are very bad ones.

Winter arrives, some things speed up, but for me — many things slow down. Many of those around me are spending time with their families, and I am gently reflecting on my life. Amidst the boxes of old photographs, books of memories, handwritten letters and old cards, I find myself. I am given a beautiful opportunity to reflect; to feel quiet. To feel peace. I have an amazing opportunity to turn inward and dust out the symbolic cobwebs in the deepest places of my soul. It is my gift to have extra time to reflect on my life and the joys within it. The challenges of this season do not need to consume me — this is a wonderful time for me to re-calibrate, to reinforce the habit of being gentle with myself, to really absorb the love and good fortune in my life and allow it to overwhelm me; to become so consumed with these positive emotions and this positive energy, that I may take this beautiful opportunity to love those around me, to be kind and gentle to others.

Winter is always a struggle for me, but this year I vow to turn it around. I will take the opportunity. I will make the most of it. It is possible.

Good-bye, summertime. Until we meet again. 

Observations and Reflections

Well, then. I finally missed a week of blogging. Let me explain (or make an excuse): There have a been a few changes at work, and I’ve been fairly busy with the transition. The days have been flying by and my brain has been just a bit exhausted.

With this increased level of mental exhaustion, I am reminded that it is very important to care for myself emotionally. Last week’s workload warranted a cleansing trip to Joshua Tree for some much needed escape from society – some time in the desert to clear my head, purify my soul; to meditate, to take a peaceful walk and just be. 

Once more, I sat atop a boulder, in the midst of a vast expanse of glorious desert, and took note of my observations. From Saturday night:

We have outcast ourselves from the tourist campers – they with fires burning and cumbersome canopies; chairs and tents tall enough to stand in; bringing with them too much of what my being needs to be away from. We find our own quiet piece of desert behind an outcropping of jumbled granite boulders. We sip boxed wine out of a titanium cup and watch quietly as the moon ascends toward the heavens, basked in a soft glow, masking the stars we know are lurking beneath. The moon is ringed by a phenomenal contrasting halo, a ring that continues to grow and transform as this majestic orb journeys across the sky. The stars begin to emerge, peacefully and calmly alighting in the sky as if turned on one by one.

My companion tells me stories of math and science and history. The moon’s luminance continues to grow and the ring continues to transform; a perfect display of nature’s splendor. The sky is streaked with remnants of the daytime — wisps of clouds, contrails evidencing local flight paths drifting through the moonlight. There is so much beauty surrounding us. The air is calm. The cicadas carry on in their eternal praises to their maker. The desert lives and buzzes and rests all at once. We are surrounded by what can only be described as large. Not foreboding, but most certainly majestic, breathtaking and inspiring.

I am at peace here. Tonight I share that peace with someone close to me. I can feel the power of this place in my bones, permeating my soul and allowing my heart to be restored. My tired self is awakened and refreshed. Tomorrow I can go on, back to my busy world, back to obligations that are now opportunities. My heart may be broken from loss and grief, but I can fill the empty spaces with the wonder of nature, with peace and with the warmth of sharing this special place and these moments.

Later, we notice on the ground before us, one tiny ant carrying another dead ant. Why? Are they having an ant funeral? I laugh. I take a drink and I see my reflection in the bottom of the titanium cup. I have so much to be thankful for.

I have so much.

Joshua Tree Landscape

On Appreciation … or “That time I lived in a Volkswagen”

I was walking along the bike path behind my office this week and I thought to myself, I am extremely fortunate to have this small bit of nature at my disposal. I observed falling leaves, chirping finches, a delicate dragonfly, a hawk circling above. Every time I walk this path, I remind myself to appreciate these small things and the freedoms and comforts I am afforded. There have been many struggles in my life, however, none so grand that I can allow myself to forget to feel and express gratitude. I see it as part of my duty on this earth to appreciate as much as I can, for as long as I can, whenever I can.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about the time when I was in college when I was more-or-less homeless. It was brief (probably no more than a month or so), but nonetheless, a terrifying situation for a 19 year old college student 300 miles from home.

Let me preface by saying that sometimes you find yourself in situations that aren’t always what they seem. Had I not been so young and naive, there’s a chance I wouldn’t have found myself in this situation, however, sometimes life just has a way of happening to you. You see people on the street, in situations you think you might understand, but have no way of really knowing what might be happening behind the scenes — might I make another case here for choosing to be kind and gentle with one another. Things truly are not often what they seem.

But back to the story: I made some interesting choices (that I might discuss in detail later) that involved college, a cult, and my stubbornly adventuresome attitude. Around two weeks before my 20th birthday, I found myself moving out of one apartment, only for my new roommate situation to fall through last minute. I was homeless.

I had a part-time job, a car, and (if I remember correctly) a cell phone. I was in school at the time, and I had enough couches to sleep on during the week so that I could clean up for work. Very few people actually knew that I was living out of my car, and I managed to let the ones who did know, think that I had more places to go than I might have actually had.

The nights that stood out the most were the ones in which I bundled up in my car at the train station, a quiet neighborhood, or at the beach. One night I got away with sleeping on the sand for a few hours. On other nights I slowly drank coffee at Denny’s with my head in a text book, trying to steal short naps when the servers left me alone. I would sleep in the school library with a book on my lap in the afternoons, or even nap on the grass in the park, when the daylight masked my “sleep” and labeled it as merely a “nap.” I was just another kid enjoying the park between classes. I napped when I could, and I’d find things to do at night when I had nowhere to go. I would drive around looking for inconspicuous places to park, and move when I was being observed as shady. I’d sit in coffee shops as long as I could, under the pretense of studying for class. Even a 24-hour Kmart was a brief respite. On the weekends, I could always find a party to pass out at.

I racked up quite the debt eating out for every meal, and constantly filling up my gas tank. Three days a week I got away with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that I could make at work and leave the jelly in the fridge. The rest of the time, I subsisted on fifty cent bean and cheese burritos from Del Taco. Denny’s was a splurge, but it was worth it for the shelter. I was also keeping a small storage unit with what few belongings I had in it. When the facility was open, sometimes I would go and just sit among my things, just to feel comforted. I don’t even think my parents knew I was homeless.

For someone with no home, I was still so, so fortunate. I had family to call, and if they had known the magnitude of my situation, they would have been there in a heartbeat. I had safe couches to sleep on; I had a vehicle. I even had a job. I was able to stay in school, keep working, keep paying bills and keep feeding myself – I was so fortunate. 

Not everyone is.

In retrospect, however, I still appreciated the freedoms that I had during that time, and what I took from the situation: I have so much now, but whatever happens, I know I will survive. I suppose the moral of my brief story here is that we should not take what we have for granted — no matter how little or how large what we have might be. And I implore you, dear reader, to put some thought into the things that are in your lives to be appreciated, and to appreciate them with all of your being.