Category Archives: Hiking

The Case for Walking

Nowhere can you see the realness and the history of where you live better than by foot. You may drive a place every day but until your feet touch its soil, until your eyes stop looking straight ahead but off to the side where a wide set of steps rise like an upside down waterfall leading to a young man with an old school ‘fro texting his girl on the night before his college graduation- will you begin to know a place.

Until you notice just how many people plant rows and rows of lavender along the strip of land after their yard but before the street on the other side of the sidewalk- you won’t understand the generosity of your neighbors and the glory of bees on a summer day.

I passed the cemetery and for the first time realized that a leafy tree stands as a sentinel at the end of even rows of each line of headstones. The grass is exactly even but not mechanized like a modern place, it is still different shades of green from dark to light with some dried grass, yellow and stiff. The rows are more like paths inviting me to follow them and get to know the people who came before.

I found families, a husband who died twenty years before his wife. I kneeled before three headstones of three brothers who all died in different wars. Those people once also walked these streets.

Rounding through town I was stopped by a gaggle of young and lively guys with long dreadlocks and short little songs they busted out in bursts for me. “We’re the rainbow, join us!” I stayed awhile, talked about the Rainbow Gathering coming to Oregon, we talked about their dog and one guy told me I was beautiful. It was generous given that he was a lovely young guy with eyes as blue as any I’d seen.

Walking can boost your morale substantially.

I walked past bus stops and old homes. I saw some trash left by the steps of a stately old place which bragged of its 1888 lineage and I picked it up thinking, it  must be hard to see everything change around you.

I visited with a guy roughly my age carrying a backpack and sleeping bag. He looked clean and was sorting some food as he tucked it away. “It was a good day,” he said smiling. “I see that and I’m glad,” I tipped my head and smiled back. He was about to offer me some of his food but I walked on waving as I passed.

Strangers can be kind for no reason.

I also fell in love with an assorted group of dogs who ran to greet me like their long lost friend. Tails wagging, some singing sorrowful songs urging me to come back and I walked on and I remembered the joy of a good dog. I saw a woman cradling her little black and white dog coming from the vet and kissing the top of her furry head.

Love is so present in the world if you look.

I exchanged dozens of smiles with strangers, witnessed countless acts of awe among children seeing birds and flowers and I never once wished I was in a car despite the sweat which pooled at the back of my neck.

The best moment was in passing a girl, maybe seven or eight, wearing a crisp blue and white dress, a ribbon in her dark wavy hair and the smile on her innocent illuminated face that made years roll backwards to my second grade year. She stood at the top of the stairs outside her home while her grandmother sat smiling that same way on her porch. The girl began waving at strangers and smiling, for no particular reason. She ate an orange popsicle. As I approached the popsicle slipped off its stick into the grass. She observed but didn’t react choosing to continue her waving campaign.

Everything about her gave me hope. I asked if I could capture her picture and I did. I did not ask her a million questions like I might normally do. Frankly I didn’t want to know more than what I could see–the perfect mixture of light and love, innocence and care, playfulness and childish boredom.

If you walk enough you will get bored. Boredom is such a relief. Boredom doesn’t have technology attached or success or failure. It is expansive and allows you to fill it or feel it just as it is. I love boredom.

The case for walking is great. It is good for every part of you except your oh so busy schedule. So here’s the best case for it beyond all others–walk because you do not have time to do it. Break free of your calendar and make the room for walking and seeing and loving and speaking to strangers, and flirting and being bored.

 

 

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The Sad Story of Christopher Toughill

I walked into my apartment and immediately locked the door. I did it before turning on the light, before slipping off my shoes, before looking around.

Locking the door is not something I’ve ever much bothered with. I’ve been scolded for years by friends and family but I didn’t want to be the person who locks my shit up and then decides I’m safe because my possessions are tucked tightly behind a lock. I didn’t want to let that paranoia creep in–not even a little.

But then today I heard in depth the story of Christopher Toughill exactly as he told me. He stopped often to cry. Sometimes he would dip his head and begin going through the photos on his phone of rainbows. “I just took a lot of rainbow pictures. I suppose it was a crime of opportunity,” he quipped.

Before October 18, 2016- Christopher describes himself as a person who believed in “…rainbows and Unicorns, I believed in the very best in people and I thought that’s what they gave me. If I was ever disappointed it was worth the price of believing in the good in people.”

He grew up in DC to a journalist mom and a speech writing dad. His father, also a union organizer, taught him every labor song and chant and he still recounts them without a prompt breaking into song across the lunch table. In those moments, he’s someone else.

After October 18, 2016- Christopher has nowhere to live, owns nothing but one change of clothes and his dog, Harmony, a 14 year old geriatric pup who fits her name. His hands are still recovering, his teeth never will and his heart, however expansive, is shattered.

I found Christopher after he posted something on Facebook that sounded suicidal. “I give up” it began. When my intrepid friend tracked him down she asked me to go to him–a total stranger–and help. I said yes. That lead me to an abandoned mobile home space and a tall man with a brown dog sitting in a gravel spot surrounded by trash in a broken chair. He was on his cell phone and by his posture and expression he could have been a business person closing a deal, yet his dirty clothes, his untrimmed toe nails poking from old sandals, a single backpack with a broken zipper and his entire lack of options told part of the story.

But only part.

Christopher had been a very successful business owner. He had an optical shop in the affluent art village of Ashland, Oregon where he sold high end, hand crafted glasses to the rich and famous including more than one movie star.

Now-after his attacker brutalized him- he is homeless and by outside appearances looks broken.

On October 18, 2016- he was held hostage–chained in fact–by his landlord who rented him a one bedroom shop behind his house. Christopher was beaten, his hands broken, his teeth knocked out, his feet battered and he was burned with hot oil and dowsed in gasoline. “I was humiliated, degraded and tortured,” he says of the experience. Unknown to him at the time he rented his place–his landlord belonged to a criminal gang and had a long, violent history.

Christopher managed to escape to safety and the man who held him hostage is now in prison.

But in some ways so is Christopher. He cannot understand how so much evil exists on one hand, on another he chose mercy for his attacker. He agreed to his plea bargain. “I couldn’t be responsible for depriving someone of their freedom for life–even though I couldn’t understand what he did to me. Still, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken the deal. He is not fit to live free among people. He is a monster.”

Christopher considered taking his own life. “I was in my shell. I was non functional.” He came away from the experience with nothing. His health too fragile to work, his home gone because he could never go back there, he found himself deteriorating. He went into a diabetic coma due to stress and lack of food and crashed his last thing–his car.

Christopher was waiting for his old dog to die so he could take his own life. “I couldn’t let Harmony down.” But Harmony did not die. She kept living and so did Christopher. “Now I don’t want to do it anymore. There are still sunrises and sunsets…the world itself. I got touched by the dregs of society, but for all its sham and drudgery the world is still a beautiful place.”

His pain is noticeable and I could feel it when we talked. He cried often, reached out for my hand, sometimes needed to get up and walk it off.  He would speak of the crime and discuss the “incomprehensible.”  He says he is disappointed that there was not a safety net deep enough to hold him. He’s tried all the services, he shows me all the calls he’s made on his cell phone to no good effect. “They can’t really help me.”

I left him at a clean hotel for the night where he could get a shower and his dog could take rest. It’s not enough. Nothing I do for Christopher is enough.

One time a cop told me there are few real, innocent victims. He implied most people put themselves in bad spots. I tried to believe that because it makes life less scary. But Christopher did not invite his trouble. What happened to him could have happened to me–or you.

There are innocent victims. There are people who do evil to them.

But there are also people who forgive evil, people who get back up and try again. There is me and you. And those pictures of rainbows on Christopher’s phone did happen.

So tonight I’m behind the locked door. I’m thinking of Christopher and I may shed more tears. I don’t know the way forward for him and I don’t know how he overcomes but I know he does. I can see that he is still the hero of his story.

If you want to help Christopher he has a GoFundme:

https://www.gofundme.com/HelpChrisRecoverFromTortureMaiming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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American Buddha-prequel

When I first saw him he was walking past my entrance to Southern Oregon University. He had a head scarf over white boy dreads, a tall walking stick and a noticeable hitch in his walk. He moved quickly through a crowd, his head above the rest. He had to be about six foot two.

He had this smile. Sanguine. Serene. I muttered to myself as I clicked the turn signal to pull into campus, “that kid has a Buddha smile.”

I had not seen him before. Then I saw him again. Once in the library, another time outside Stevenson Union, another time sitting on a small concrete wall. He was often working, writing in a small book.

But always that smile with calm, very light eyes. He wore the same jeans, too big and tied with a rope, also rolled up along the bottom to reveal the cause of his hitch–a metal leg.

Each time I saw him he made his way quickly through the crowds. Every now and then he would stop and bow in acknowledgement to a person who approached him but I never saw him speaking with another person. He was always alone and often tucked in where he could stay that way.

It’s like when you buy a certain car and then realize how many others there are. Once you notice something, you see it everywhere. Once I noticed him I saw him everywhere on campus and even some other places in town.

I assumed he was a student at the small liberal arts school at the southern tip of Oregon. I taught a few classes there and it wasn’t long before I knew quite a few students. Teaching journalism, I looked for the writers. I encouraged students to try writing for the campus paper. Vowing to ask him about his major, I planned to approach him next time he popped into view.

Over spring break my chance came. He passed my window and walked under the Southern Oregon University arch across a baseball field sized lawn, past Churchill, one of the oldest and storied buildings on campus said to contain ghosts, past a cute Japanese Maple and out of sight.

“Go! Now!” I thought as I threw on my jacket and kept a brisk pace down the “Comm. Hall”, out through the big glass doors with clanky handles, past the smoking benches and up the hill toward the library. It was open, I figured he was going there. But instead I saw him sitting in a small Zen Garden just behind Churchill.

I had no idea what I’d say to him. But I knew I’d say something. I ducked under a tree branch and stood at the other end of the bench where he sat….

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July 27, 2016 · 7:43 am

The Tiger in the Grass Needs You to Look

I want to write you a love letter you’ll never forget.

Slip out of your shoes and just begin walking.

Look in the mirror and smile at those little dimples, that spark, that life looking back at you as you head out for your next adventure.

You can lay in the cool grass under a tree and watch clouds, you can ask a friend or even a stranger if they want to play, you can move a little faster or stay totally still and all that magic in you is showing. We can all see it…if you can.

You are sweet tarts and green apples and lime soda, you are a cool orange slice after a soccer game, you are fresh water at the top of the trail, you are butterflies and crickets and fire flies. You are the night sky in Santa Fe and the Red Rocks and the Ancient Redwood Forest.

That’s just half of it.

You are love. Infinity. You do not need to worry–not about one thing.

Can I tell you a little story?

There was a woman who lived in Africa. Not in the cities but the wild places still left there. She worried about a family of elephants who shared a large open field with her.  They might stampede, they might get nervous and stomp her.

These things can happen.

One day, despite her fear, she sat in the long grass and watched the elephants from a distance. She was so focused on the elephants, that off to her side, laying in wait was a tiger. She did not see him.

As the tiger prepared to pounce, a large grandmother elephant began running at the woman who had no idea a tiger prepared to attack her. Panicked, she froze in place. She thought, it finally was coming true, she would be killed by an elephant.

Instead the elephant drove the tiger out of the grass and away from her. The elephant whom she thought would kill her actually saved her life. As the elephant walked away the woman lay back in the grass breathing.

Her failure to see the tiger in the grass, her fixation on the wrong enemy almost cost the woman her life. Had she had a more expansive view which included tigers in the grass and the possibility of goodness in elephants her life before that moment would be different.

After that moment her view changed.

 

The coffee of Portugal, the Spanish bar with serious guacamole down the way from where Cerventes wrote Don Quixote, the warm afternoon on the French Coast, the Irish bars and trains, the sunset on the Big Sur Coast, the first snow of a Boston winter, the easy sands of North Carolina, the Florida Egrets, the Mexican markets and uneven tiles, Canadian waterfalls, The sweet child who offered me water, the beautiful man who bought me a drink and left, the woman with red lipstick who said–“Do it now!”

Everyone I loved, I still love. Every adventure is a thread that knits me together.

I value the friendship of our children and grandchildren. I had them deep in my focus from the start. That was the right place to look.

You were the right person to look at too. You are happy to play with words, ideas, on this page and others. You ask me to find my passion and share it.

Here’s the big irony–all that stuff I use to worry about is back in some personal deep time closet I don’t look at anymore. I don’t miss it.

The stuff which showed up at the corner of my sight when I began to change focus is exactly what I needed. I embrace the elephants and watch for the tigers. I can appreciate them both because they make up this beautiful adventure. I honor them both, but I don’t walk the grasses without a stick and an elephant near me. That’s not worry that’s just vision.

Now I travel with all kinds of things packed in my life’s backpack that I never knew I would carry. All the safety kits and carefully folded items are out of there. All the unnecessary worry weighs too much. I travel light with friendship, love and balance.

It works out, I’ve learned.

I fear nothing in this moment and should fear return I will face it boldly. That’s what it takes–knowing you have what it takes.

You have what it takes.

Let’s play.

 

 

 

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The Secret-Life is Meaningless and that’s Great!

I have good news: Life is meaningless and then you die.

There will be moments where you feel you have discovered your purpose and feel important-even special. There will be moments when life feels so long you just want to lay down and let go. Both are part of this long schlog to no particular finish line.

We are not special. We were not “put here” to do a particular thing.

And here is the very good news: You have permission to do want you want. Here’s the even better news: for most people that means being healthy, happy and helpful.

Almost no one when given the chance to do what they actually want prefers to be a selfish jerk. That’s reserved for trapped people who are not happy.

Do as you wish, make yourself happy, create your own meaning. You have no God given authority or specialness and no debt to repay. You are alive–so do that–live and be happy. Not all the time because that would be boring and shallow–but be happy as much as you can.

Then we get to the hours of study, the volumes of self help books and psychology 101 classes, the years spent in devotion on a church pew or meditation hall to answer the question of how one becomes happy.

I have the answer. You ready?

Be brave, be bold and do what you actually want to do. Don’t make up excuses about duty or obligation or some set of rules which you claim confine you when you are just afraid. Just like me. I sat at a desk for three extra years hunkered down loathing myself out of terror.

Don’t get me wrong-you will make sacrifices for this freedom and happiness. You won’t have the piles of stuff, you may not buy new things, replace your technology every year, live in a giant house or have the kind of job that makes someone else think your cool. In exchange you’ll have just what you need, you won’t throw things away to sit in a garbage dump in someone’s country which doesn’t belong to you and instead of having a job someone thinks sounds cool, you’ll do work you think is cool.

With your extra time of not hanging around pretending to be busy for 9 hours per day doing nonsense that not even your boss cares about, you’ll be able to actually be of service to another person. You will find yourself feeding hungry people, holding babies and cleaning up the environment. You will have less stress because you will be running and hiking and swimming. You will be fit, so caring your older neighbors groceries in the house and staying for tea will be easy and enjoyable. You will stop and actually look and listen to people and discover that unvarnished reality is so much better than you imagined.

You will teach whenever you can, you will nurture relationships, you will stop and smell the flowers and notice the bees on them. You will discover you’re funny and the best part of your day will be doing someone else a favor. You will have time and energy and gratitude.

If you are inspired by a person who broke free and is living the kind of life you want–then go have that life. Be willing to spend the sleepless nights and work a little harder, be willing to hustle up the extra work when all you have is one nice suit and some confidence. Challenge yourself.

Whatever that thing is that you’ve been wanting to do–do it. Be kind, respectful, responsible and humble. Challenge your assumptions and treat your ideas like strangers–question them early and often. If you are supporting a family and think you need a lot of money to support them–make sure that’s what they also want. Children do not need a back yard pool, they need a happy, engaged parent.

So get out there and jump into this beautiful, unwieldy and uncontrollable life and love it up until it’s gone. Love everyone around you and love yourself.

If you’re scared. It’s okay. We all are. We’re all hanging by a thread and hoping. Sometimes it just feels better to let go of that thread and fall into reality.

 

 

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Menopause’s Folly

Broken-Heart-Backgrounds-HD-Wallpapers-2

Something happens when you go through the passageway to the next twenty or thirty years punctuated by being 50 or better.

Yes- hot flashes which might be nature’s way of reminding me to stay humble, and a compulsion to be at the gym fighting the potential of the winter of my incontinence, which I hope never comes but then so did everyone who currently buys ever sleeker adult diapers, and a creeping anxiety that I’m not doing enough since the clock is actually ticking loud enough for me to hear.

Dying is no longer theoretical but actual. My dad is dead, my mom has dementia and my friends are aging, just like me.

What is life about now-now that I have the time and need to understand the question?

It’s staggering that at this ripe old age,as they say in golf, I’m still away from the goal. So far away. The hard headiness persists, the lack of ease in my skin and the persistent concept that I am a fraud-are all still there waking me in the night.

I spoke to a young woman brimming with intellect and hope outside the local food coop as her many friends came up to give her hugs. Her blue eyes shining, she said, “I am trying to figure out who I am and what is expected of me. I’m trying to see if my culture and community can meet me there.”

Wow.

But can those questions be answered, really? I hope so. I have not yet answered those questions myself. That is not say it can’t be done. I believe in her abilities.

Perhaps it’s not about being met there, if you ever arrive, but making the long walk. Just keep walking. Keep trying.

I wish I had more wisdom than the fortune cookie type  but it seems all the striving, climbing, buying and selling, educating and being educated has come down to this: life is in the work of it, not the achievement of it.

Maybe the basic questions philosophy tries to answer, can I be happy? What is happiness? are still the ones worth asking. Despite the millions made selling answers, I don’t think a single answer exists beyond the moment. Sit, stare, feel, breathe and repeat. What shows up? Look at it and do it again.

I will be reinventing hike day this summer. Sitting with the bugs seems to be among my answers. That and the love which grows from that. Volumes have been written about this method. For me, they are all true.

Love is also important. I’m not sure about the romantic kind but the sort which makes me stop and see the beauty around me-the kind which makes me drive through a howling storm to deliver a meal to a sick friend. That thing that arises in that moment feels like happiness of purpose.

I have no fully formed answers and I’m starting to think they may not exist accept with every step taken and every aspiration whispered–“Before I die…….”

 

 

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May 18, 2016 · 7:26 pm

Zencarcerated: True Life Stories Behind the Cracked Beam

First I must confess that “Zencarcerated” is plagiarism. It’s a theft from the Zen Monastery where I resided daily, often in silence keeping a tough and barren schedule under a mysterious star filled sky so close to heaven that my first night I was warned not to look up, “Once you start looking up you won’t be able to stop. Many people have fallen, run into things and been hurt.”

I thought it was dramatic until I was there under that sky after a day long meditation eating and working in total silence. The pull of the stars so profound under the blackness of the sky I felt them lifting me up from the lonely uninhabited mountain we sat on top of in our Zendo and dorms. They magnetized me until I tripped on an uneven rock and fell on the red, clay soil and scraped up my knees and palms.

Let the magic begin.

The cracked beam is almost always present at otherwise impeccable Zen centers and monasteries. It signals a total break. You must be broken to enter and open to what will happen. You must be willing to make a true inquiry into that space where you end and light may enter and filter through you. Nothing worth having is flawless. Nothing is indeed without a crack if you are willing to see it.

It took me more than a month to notice it. I was busy learning how to live in deep silence while losing my head. I took up trail running through snow and mud to outrun my thoughts and bring stillness to my soul which churned every darkness within me that now came forward through the silence. I was like a rushing muddy river inside. Running became a bandage to match my insides but sitting was the actual cure.

When you are brave enough and ready you must sit quietly, not moving, and face the demons and dragons that haunt you. You acknowledge; unflinching as they rise around you but you do not speak with them nor interact. You become an observer of these demon and dragon thoughts without fearing them.  They are false and you begin to see that. It’s a marathon of endurance, a marathon of sitting through body aches and mind games.

Ego is a bitch. It wants to attach to something, anything will do, actually. It will tell you that even though you are all dressed in black scrubbing floors you are still special. Your square of tile is the cleanest, you finished first–you are the most humble. It will say anything to preserve your mental picture of yourself as separate in the dead center of the universe.

Anything.

It lives in your thoughts and coaches you toward quitting. But I would not quit. I wanted this.

For weeks I watched others be picked for special jobs, banging drums, timing meditations, lighting candles, greeting meditators with silent bows. But I didn’t get picked. At first I was bothered, “Why not me?” Then as Zen set in I began to see myself as lucky. “One less thing” I thought, “I am fine not being special. In fact it feels good.”

Then it happened. I got the assignment. Play the Han.

The Han is a giant metal slab that is struck at precise intervals for several minutes announcing to the monastery that it is time to come to meditation. There is a very exact and complicated order of striking the Han in certain places at fractions of seconds within each minute. I panicked. The first time I blew it.

I was off by nearly 20 seconds.

Disaster. I entered the Zendo and the timers did not bow to each other and take their seats. They had to wait.

I reviewed my error. Every time I made it– which was three more times.

Then one day, insight. The light made it through a crack.

I realized, you cannot play the Han if you are thinking ahead or behind. You must keep your full attention on the fractions of seconds when it is to be struck and while striking you must only be thinking about the stroke, not the one before or after. Anything short of full present moment awareness and you will get lost.

Fast forward two years and I am on a hiking trail. Lost. The sun going behind the mountain- I had no idea where I was. I panicked. I started making loops, time was running out, cold setting in. I thought about how I’d spend the night and try in the morning under better light. I sat on a rock to calm down. I breathed and closed my eyes. I was back on the Zafu calming myself. I picked up a small rock and hit it with a stick. The rhythm of the Han came back. One strike. Wait, another strike.

I felt an ease return. I stood up and headed up the hill with the stream behind me. Finally I picked up a path and then a stranger who guided me in closer and eventually a ride back to my car.

After a long, hot shower I lay in bed looking at the mini Han by my bedside. I tapped it with a finger. Here. Now. Strike. Stop. Wait. Now.

The wider the crack, the better the understanding of now, the less of what we think we know, the greater the chance for light to filter through.

Last night I left my daughter’s house. It was just past midnight under an ordinary Oregon sky filled with stars. My head tipped up staring, I tripped on a rock.

Let the magic continue.

 

 

 

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April 4, 2016 · 1:40 am