Empty the Cup, Make Room

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Being injured is taking a giant emotional toll on me. I’ve been up and down daily. I am missing my connection with nature, forgetting that I don’t need activities to take me outside. Today, after much wavering, after saying I’d do it before and then not doing it, I drove out to the desert just for the hell of it. I figured I had shoes to pick up from Nomad in Joshua Tree anyways, even though I can’t wear them right now. I told myself I’d take just a small walk and snap a few photos.

It’s high tourist season in jtree right now and as I ventured on, I found myself becoming more and more frustrated, wanting be away from people. I didn’t even care where. I pulled over on the road out to cottonwood, and decided to peek my head over a short hill and take a peek at Wilson Canyon. I feel like no one goes here. It’s not the picturesque boulders and Joshua trees they come to town for. It’s standard sand and rock and chaparral.

But it is so quiet. A humming bird flew by and fluttered around the bushes right at my feet. It’s calm. It’s peaceful. It’s content.

I read a note today that I wrote myself a long time ago. I reminded myself that I don’t have to do anything. I put pressure on myself, I take the fun out of things. I push myself to accomplish and I disappoint myself. I’d rather be having fun. I can have fun by relaxing, by doing what I enjoy and enjoying what I do, removing the pressure and changing the way I see need intertwined with desire.

It’s been time for me to scale back, as my knee injury has made it all too necessary to slow down. I don’t spend enough time being slow, and observing; I forget to just be.

Now that I’ve slowed down, removed distractions, I notice I can see more. I can feel more. I’m sitting here on a rock, feeling a breeze ebb and flow, noticing the direction. I can hear birds and insects, a plane above, a car nearby. I can see a splash of color on a monotone hillside, tiny plants sprouting from the earth, subtle patterns in the clouds. Sometimes we must empty out the cup a little, to just let go, to make room for more life.

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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.

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.

Confessions of the Insecure

I need to confess my insecurities.

Sometimes I just reach a point where my insecurity exhausts me so much that I just stop caring about being vulnerable. I stop caring about being strong. I’m too tired to keep trying to do anything. I exhaust myself emotionally until eventually I reset myself and start over.

That part leading up to this point is misery. I am up and down; justifying my feelings, I cry a little; I question everything. I second guess my relationships, my job, my life. I wonder how I can feel so broken, and yet continue on, comparing myself to my past selves, trying to gauge if I’ve made any progress at all — If I’m any closer to becoming the person I choose to be.

It’s too much thinking. Too much analyzing. I need to remind myself to just be and yet the feelings remain, just begging me to wrestle with them.

To expand: My parents passed on at a relatively early age. I have no siblings, an no other family that I’m remotely close to. The cousin I talk to the most lives in Australia … so far away that it’s not even the same day when we talk to each other. We’ve never even met in person. Less than four years ago, I didn’t even know he was alive. Everyone else I’m related to lives in another country. I don’t have children. And it feels like it’s been eons, waiting on my divorce to become final. I often feel completely alone. I was very close to my mother. She was my best friend — we talked almost every day, and I drove the 300 miles to my parent’s house as often as possible. I took friends with me to visit; my parent’s home was always a comforting place; it was my refuge in the desert. And so quickly, she was ripped from my life. Cancer stole her from me a mere four months after her diagnosis. I saw her only a few times before she was overtaken by the disease. I would never wish this fate on my worst enemy. Cancer is a horrible beast. Treatments are difficult, and not always effective. Hands down, this was the hardest time of my life. I can’t even compare it to the time spent ending my marriage and moving on. Watching someone you love suffering leaves you feeling helpless in a way that is different than internal suffering. After ending my marriage, I spend a lot of time alone, wishing that life would just end, not having the stamina to follow through with it on my own; remembering that was my father’s choice, and thinking of how people would talk about us in the end. I knew I could get through the pain. I have suffered through many bouts of depression, and every single time I have come out on top. Sometimes this is the only way I know that things are going to be okay — because they always are.

Sometimes I need the magic of someone else telling me it will be okay. It really is magical. When someone I care for and respect tells me this, it’s gold. It brings me out of my head and back into the world — normal people think it’s alright … it must be! It’s grand.

So I believe I’ve perhaps been sidetracked. I was discussing my insecurities, and I’ll connect the dots now. Being alone — feeling alone, completely alone — can really contribute so much to my insecurity. I no longer have my parents in my life, telling me each and every day how much they love me. I live alone; there isn’t anyone to kiss me goodnight and say I love you before bed anymore. I wake up to an empty house. It feels alone. Not everyone finds this to be an issue, but this is new for me. I feel alone. I’m not used to it.

My mind wanders. I second guess everything. I have a wonderful boyfriend. He goes on a trip without me and all of sudden my mind is telling me that we’re growing apart. He doesn’t want to be with me as much as I want to be with him. I’m broken, I’m clingy, I’m insecure and need reassurance. He’ll send me a random text message and all is well again. A picture of something fun? It’s the end of the world. Another message and all is well again. Nothing changes on the outside — my head is just on a roller coaster. And in the end, it’s always okay. 

My boss often tells me what a great job I do at work. I don’t see it. I guess I’m doing alright; I feel like a slacker. I feel like my work is sub par. I feel like I’m just floating through, no matter how hard I try; and some days trying is the most difficult thing. Clearly, I am not seeing the world in the same light. Again, I’m broken. Up and down. But in the end, it’s always okay. 

Some other things that are not really true, but find their way into my thinking:

  1. I’m not attractive. My body is awkward and uncomfortable and I don’t know how to dress it.
  2. Relationships. I always think my friends are my friends out of pity. My boyfriend could leave me any day without warning.
  3. No one loves me. And if they say they do, it’s just to make me feel better.
  4. I’m not really all that smart. I am not that observant and I struggle to learn things.
  5. I’m not actually even good at anything. Everything I do is sub par.

So I continue on  … feeling okay, and feeling insecure, up and down for now. In the end it will be okay, I know this. This is fact. But today, I’ll just allow myself to sit with my feelings, to get through them, and to know I’ll feel better soon.

On Motivation … or a lack thereof

I originally wrote the below as a private journal entry, and it began life as a stream-of-consciousness entry. These things don’t always make a lot of sense for anyone outside of my head, but I thought I’d take a moment to share it, regardless.


 

In this moment I struggle with my motivation. Everything feels as if the amount of effort required is crushing. I feel like each step is so long and drawn out and by the time I get to the next one, I have no idea where I am going. Was I foolish to think that I could right myself one time and then continue on in that particular state of being? Did I not think that I would continue to change and evolve and that sometimes life would direct me in ways that I could not have imagined, perceived as both positive and negative, forward and backward?

How does this change the way that I feel about my goals and desires? How does my journey influence my feelings toward where I might be headed and my desire to get there? I have observed that setbacks affect me terribly. As a sensitive individual, these setbacks, even minor, are felt so extensively, so deeply, and sometimes to the core. I have allowed them to rock me intensely, allowing these temporary moments to win and to shut me down. These sometimes minor, sometimes major, but always surmountable emotional triggers too often cause me to unnecessarily question my direction.

I oft think to sit and reconsider my goals and my plans to achieve them. I consider what level of energy and commitment is required, and if these things are what I genuinely desire. I infrequently actually engage in this practice, resulting in feelings of self-letdown. I know I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

I don’t need to change my goals when the terrain of my travel changes. There are many paths to reaching the place I desire to be. What I should value the most, is the journey I am on, and the present  moment that I am in. There is a special feeling in reaching back in my memories to consider the distance I have come, and to ruminate what might come next, measuring my progress with a critical, yet gentle mind, enjoying the process of becoming — but this is not the spotlight. The focal point is here and now, this present moment, the current feeling; recognizing what comes to the surface and allowing, rather than being overwhelmed; greeting each thought, feeling and judgement with kindness and peace. The rest will unfold organically.

But what of the times when the place I desire to be might change? Is this losing my focus? Is it a reassessment? I want to continue to assess my end goals, but I should not give up on my dreams — the strength of my desire for my dreams may wax and wane, but my dreams remain intact. Perhaps what should be continually assessed are the steps to reach my goals — one at a time, and as needed. There is no reason to overwhelm myself.

Perhaps my true goal is to be happy, in this moment, here and now.

Reflections On My Writing

I feel it’s odd that I can’t find words when I’m feeling comfort in my day-to-day life. As if my words are only expressions of my discomfort — as if expelling them from my brain was a way of releasing the toxins of anxiety, depression, loneliness, and so forth. Perhaps it is.

Without the feelings I associate with the self I am trying to overcome, the words stop, my mind slows, and I feel calm. The more peace I experience, the less I feel I need to fight to escape myself. But I also miss it — I miss the beauty of stitching words together; the art of literary flow. I find joy in reading other people’s works, but there is something special about creating my own. When I’m in a darker place, I spend countless hours piecing together a tapestry of language that will never see the light of day. I do this for myself; for my own sanity. I do this to release the emotional toxins trapped within my mind.

When I’ve reached my personal middle ground, I find thoughts that I deem as shareable with the world; ideas and feelings that I dare to put out in the universe, to float around and be a part of something larger than myself. When I’m busy and healthy and feeling very positive about my life, when I’m comfortable and calm and outwardly focused, there are so few words. They come fleetingly, and then I find one more thing that needs to be done.

One more thing that seeks a priority space on my ever growing to-do list. One more chore. One more adventure. One more run. One more episode. One more get-together. Just one more … and then I’ll get to it.

The reflecting and the writing have taken a backseat to the more opulent objects of my affection — the running, cycling, climbing, the long novels, series on Netflix, random dinners out, drinks with friends, the camping trips, volunteer days, trail runs and hikes; all the things I’ve found that are just simply fun. And the writing slows, the journaling becomes sporadic. Perhaps it is a good thing?

Let this be my reflection for today … Let this be me, reflecting on the happiness and joy that life brings. Let these few words represent that emotional mountains can be conquered; that every miserable hill in life has another side to it. Let me remind myself that life is good. 

The Art of Doing Nothing

I have been avoiding writing for a while now. I keep telling myself that I want to, but I then the writing never materializes. I’ve been slightly avoidant; finding little things to check off my list while procrastinating on the things that take more emotional involvement, or involve more difficult decision making. You could even say I’ve been wallowing in a little bit of self pity (This thing is so hard, I should just take it easy and have a glass of wine instead. Or, I’ve been working so much, I should just relax and do nothing.). 

And then … I actually end up doing nothing. And feeling terrible about it.

Is doing nothing such a bad thing? Maybe I really don’t know how to unwind. Doing nothing gives me that uneasy feeling of regret over wasting time that I could use to be “productive.” Contrarily, doing nothing can be a good thing — time to decompress, de-stress and let go of so much unwanted tension and pressure. Planning to do nothing is a hurdle for me; actually doing nothing is an even taller one.

The anxiety that stems from doing nothing has always negated any benefit that it might offer me. I’m absolutely terrible at relaxing. Just horrible at it. Every massage I’ve ever received yielded an unprecedented amount of abhorrent comments from every practitioner of the trade: “You’re ridiculously full of knots” and “You need to relax or I won’t even be able to do this” or “How on earth are you so tense?!”  Physical therapy, massage therapy, casual massages … all the same. Apparently I’m walking around with the tension of someone who actually has a stressful life. So what’s the deal? I need to learn to chill out …

Today, in front of God and man and all the Internet, I proclaim my promise to myself: to learn to properly relax. I am going to take very seriously my newly declared dedication to the art of doing nothing. From this point forward, I am going to actively pursue the steadfast ability to release tension, cope with unwanted stress and to sleep peacefully. I will remember the importance of a quiet mind and a calm soul. I will allow myself to do nothing without anxiety. I will give myself time to let it all go.

This is gonna be so good.

 

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

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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

noun
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.