The Cracked-Open Heart

On nearly a daily basis, I have moments when I ask myself a series of questions: “Why am I here in Western North Carolina?  Why did I leave my old life behind?  Is this the right thing to do?  How will I know when I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing if I don’t even know what that is just yet?”

A series of serendipities this weekend delivered me a piece of the mysterious puzzle I have been trying to solve.

On Saturday, at the suggestion of my new neighbor, I went to the literary festival in Burnsville, NC.  The drive to Burnsville was thirty minutes of glorious scenery of undulating two lane highways towards a soft, rolling, layered backdrop of gentle mountains.  The trees are beginning to yellow and already there is some type of brush that has turned a fiery orange and yellow.

img_2642I walked up to the old brick building of Yancey County Public Library at 8:45 a.m. and watched the last of the fog peel away from the distant mountains and reveal a glowing sunlight on the tops of the trees.  I was there to attend a writing workshop hosted by local writer and teacher, Jennifer McGaha.  She is a lovely woman with a sense of humor and really challenging and interesting writing prompts.  By the time the nearly three hour session was over, I was fighting back tears of tenderness I had unlocked in my writing, most of which I didn’t share with a single soul but my composition notebook.

Across the room at another table facing me was a beautiful woman who had snow white hair, a sweet face, and the cutest red shoes that I coveted all morning long.  She shared a piece of writing with the group that was so descriptive and emotionally moving that I knew I had to talk to her afterwards.  I felt so drawn to her (and I wanted to know where she got her shoes).  She invited me to lunch with her and Jennifer.

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Through their kind words, listening ears, and probing questions, they validated me as a writer and as a teacher of writing.  I soaked up everything they said and internally I was fighting back tears.  Not of sadness but of sheer gratitude.  Here before me were two women gently mentoring me and holding me accountable to my dreams.

fullsizerenderLater that evening, I attended the ending lecture of the three day festival.  The speaker was David George Haskell, biologist and writer who is nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction for his beautiful book The Forest Unseen.  I had only read two pages of his book the day before when I purchased it and my ticket.  Something inside of me told me to forgo my cheapness and spend the money to listen to him talk about the natural world.  He spent one entire year observing a square meter of forest in Tennessee.  What he learned and what he shared resonated so deeply within me that I cannot even begin to articulate it.  Just imagine Charles Darwin meets Charles Dickens meets Mary Oliver.  This man has the mind of a scientist, the master craftsmanship of a novelist, and the heart and soul of a poet.  He reminded us that the beings in the natural world are relational not to just one another but to us as well (they’re our “blood kin” literally if we believe in evolution).  His message was that we must pay attention to the particular so as to be able to see our part in the universal.  Through this practice, he learned:  1.)  that there is an opening for everyone to experience the unspeakable beauty in this world; 2.)  that there is a sense of the fathomless brokenness in things – from a sense of feeling so lonely to trying to understand the universe and humans inability to communicate with their natural kin; 3.)  that the pain in just one square meter of forest is extraordinary and we must learn to live and appreciate the duality of the beauty and the suffering and not try to create a resolution between the two.  (See?  My words are incapable to do his justice.  I mean, we gave the man two standing ovations, for God’s sake.)

At the end of the lecture, I noticed no one was clamoring around him to bend his ear or have him sign their book (I realized later I missed the pre-lecture book signing).  My knees shook and my heart fluttered.  I knew I must go over to him and thank him for being my teacher this evening.  When I spoke, tears alighted to my eyes.  My heart was overflowing with so much gratitude and incomprehensible desire to know more about myself through the natural world and his understanding of it.  Why did I uproot myself and plant myself hundreds of miles away from the rippling cornfields and blue skies of my Midwestern world?  Why am I in these mountains, sometimes alone and lonely, overstimulated and confused, or peaceful and laid back?  Why was I almost crying in front of a stranger who spoke his truth and his beauty not more than 10 minutes earlier?

I collected myself and he was so moved by my tenderness that I saw him put his hand over his heart.  He pursed his lips into a smile and he lowered his shoulders and became very humble when I asked him to sign my book.  Another impulse came over me and I told him about my time last year spent in Colorado where I “attuned to the particular to see myself in the unversal.”  He became very excited and he noted down the name of the psychologist (Bill Plotkin) and his foundation (Animas Valley Institute).  He assured me his work was now on his radar.  We both discussed how it is important to start re-wilding ourselves as a society and learn again how to talk to nature and let nature talk to us.

Which leads me to today.  My two new yoga friends suggested I go to Warren Wilson college so I could spend some time in nature and write and attune to the particulars of my chosen world and path.

I spread my blanket in the shade of the glorious meadow that was covered on all sides by these divine, feminine, graceful mountains.  I began to write, hoping to capture some sense of beauty and inspiration.  What happened instead was that I became agitated and annoyed.  Out of nowhere, tiny insects began biting me and buzzing my head.  A big black ant came marching towards my thighs.  A tiny green spider crawled over my foot.  My dog strayed too far away from our sitting area and I had to stop writing and call her over.  I held on to her leash and she pulled and strained and walked around me as I tried to balance my composition notebook on my lap.  She spilled her drinking water and frustration welled up inside of me.  Birds started to pick up on my frustration and they became noisy.  I was ready to call it quits, when I heard myself ask, “Why must you always try to orchestrate everything with your mind?  What if you just sat here and tuned in to what is happening in and on your body, in your surroundings?”img_2663

 

I put my pen and notebook down.  I closed my eyes.  I took a breath.  Then another.  And then another.

A gentle breeze picked up and evaporated the sweat off of my upper lip, my armpits, and behind my knees.  The breeze acted like a balm and suddenly all of my itching went away.

I focused my attention on the particular area of my heart.  The breeze picked up and blew steadily against me.

I said a prayer of gratitude for all of the goodness that has been happening to me.  And without warning, I began to cry.  And more than cry, I started to sob.  My mind wanted to start to rationalize why I was sobbing, but my body stopped it and asked it to be silent and just let this wave of sadness pour over me.

That’s when I felt a lot of compassion, more than I have ever felt in all my life.  Compassion for my dog who was hot and tired.  Compassion for the ant that I had chased away.  Compassion for the birds that were searching for food.  Compassion for my friends and family who have their own fears and obstacles to overcome.  Compassion for the constant struggle we all have to just stay alive and thrive.  Compassion for these mountains that are ancient and weary but ready to nurture and give more life to their space on this planet.

In that moment, the wind enveloped me.  The birds began to sing even louder.  And right before I pushed through the other side of some type of release, I remembered to include myself in this chain of compassion too.

I do not need to know the answers as to why I am here.  If I only came here for this pure moment of utter gratitude and compassion that cracked open my heart and allowed my tenderness to pour out with no shame or embarrassment attached to it and no need to withhold it, then that was enough.  A piece of the mystery was revealed in that moment when I chose to give my tenderness and practice a second of compassion here in this world where I am a tiny leaf on this great tree of life.

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Beyond the Edge of Reason

My house sold yesterday.  It had been on the market for 5 days.

I had a blog post started before this one.  It was a long spiel justifying why I decided to quit my teaching job of 16 years and sell my house after living in it for only 3 years.  But, I deleted it.  It was a big long list of reasons why I’m fed up with the public education system and why I no longer like living alone in a really large house in a nice neighborhood.  I deleted it because while those reasons are valid and have merit, they don’t really get down to the truth of it all:  my heart is calling me to live larger and love harder than I have ever lived or loved before.

What all of that looks like is uncertain to me.  Where I go from here is really uncertain as well.  When I think too hard, fear shows up.  I try to welcome its warning signs that I’m on the edge of something really great.  Something steeped in mystery and rich with possibilities.  But, I struggle with the things I can’t see or pretend to control.

This weekend, my friend Valerie and I rented a small cabin in Southern Illinois as a way to take a break from fast and furious changes happening in our lives.  Time slowed down and we both had a chance to unplug and unwind.

Late on Saturday morning, while we sat at a greasy spoon eating an amazing breakfast, I got a phone call from my realtor.  She told me the young couple who viewed my house the night before fell in love with it and made an offer.  I walked outside to talk more in detail with her.  I took her advice and went with a high counter-offer to see how serious they were.  They took the bait and offered a counter that was reasonable for them, but not beneficial to me.  I asked for a few hours to breathe (my house had only been on the market since Tuesday, had 5 viewings in that short amount of time, and here it was Saturday morning with another viewing for later that day).  My realtor was supportive and told me to call her when I was ready.

13043740_10208396384859264_7803905505226254346_nVal and I drove 40 mins south to Fern Clyffe State Park to see the luscious and unique ferns and small flowers that are in bloom this time of year.  Once we were at the trail head, all of my anxieties and nerves over the impending real estate situation dropped away.  We started in on the north side of the loop and immediately were greeted by lacy ferns, spiral and spiky plants, tiny flowers peaking out from underbrush, sunlit leaves, mossy stones, and warm sunshine on our faces and arms.  I silently said a prayer to be guided to an answer by the time the hike was done.

13043348_10208396395419528_6683458090150522021_nWe came around the western side and noticed the changed ecology.  Here were dry evergreens, splotches of sand, prairie cacti, little geckos running underfoot, and a passable incline to sit on the cliff and look out across the park and towards the lake.  The sun was hot and we didn’t have much shade.  We made our way up the trail to sit on the bluffs and write in our journals.  Valerie was gracious enough to help me with a writing exercise.  She asked me a series of questions regarding my feelings and ideas to selling my house and all I had to do was write my honest responses.  It helped but I didn’t have a specific answer to my question:  how much should I accept and how quickly should I sell my house?  I had emotions around all of this, but mostly I was numb to it all.

I have been in a “get shit done” mode since I crossed the threshold into this new phase and journey in my life.  Time and events seem to be swirling around me that it’s all I can do to stay calm and centered.  I had been doing well and felt grounded most days, but I could feel myself beginning to run on fumes.  Sitting in the hot sun on top of that cliff really brought me to the edge of a breaking point or a break through.  I wasn’t sure which one was coming.  I walked deeper into the brush and wound up seeing a higher part of the cliff about 10 feet away.  Valerie heard me yell “Oh wow!” and came to my side.  She was in awe of the beauty as well.

I was ready to walk away and continue the hike, when Valerie suggested we do some yoga poses near the cliff and take pictures of each other.  I wanted to do my classic wheel pose (a deep back bend) and Valerie advised I do a few strengthening and back-bending poses before I went into something that deep and physically engaging.  So, I wound up doing Warrior II and Reverse Warrior a few times.  And something inside of me called me to assume a focused Warrior stance, like I was ready to release my bow and arrow and hit my mark.  I stood a few feet from the edge of the cliff, grounded my feet, got strong in my legs, stood tall in my spine, and pulled back my imaginary bow and arrow and said a prayer to be guided so my aim could be one-pointed, fierce, and full of love.  That’s when Valerie snapped this photo:

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Afterwards, we climbed down the trail and headed south.  The ecology changed again and the scenery became more lush and dense.  A coolness settled onto our skin as we were shaded by denser trees, ferns, moss, and a damp earth that smelled of sweet and decaying leaves mixed with mud.  We rounded the corner of the cliff and tucked back off the trail was what looked like a grotto.

We gravitated towards it and could sense the temperature change immediately.  A feeling of profound love and gratitude came over me.  It almost felt like some earth goddess was calling to me, to climb up the sides of the slippery wet stones and stay with her.  I tried to climb the stones using two pieces of wood that others had placed there to do the same thing, but it was just too slippery and I was too much of a chicken.  Valerie gave me some space and walked back to the trail.  I stayed there and silently prayed.  I asked the stone goddess, the Divine Feminine, what I should do about this difficult decision of selling my house.  I honestly wasn’t expecting that I could let go of it in under a week.  I thought I had at least a month or so before this transition got under way and that I could have a little time to plot out a more detailed version of my new life.  Yet, I knew that this was my moment:  that I had to take some action and make some really tough decisions and place all of my faith (what little of it I feel I have) and all of my courage (more than the bravada I sometimes tend to show) into this one moment that must happen today.  And that’s when I felt a voice somewhere in my heart whisper “Know your worth.”

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I took a deep breath as tears streamed down my face.  I listened internally again and heard the same loving voice say, “Know what you’re worth.  Value yourself.  Say it out loud.  You deserve everything and you will not settle for less.”  And I stood there and cried.  I looked up and searched the dark cave-like structure that was above me.  I knew there wasn’t going to be anyone or anything that walked out of there, but it felt right to just look up and know that Mother Earth was with me, was inside of me, was a part of me.  I placed my hands on the cool, wet stone cliff that was even with my heart center and I repeatedly said, “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  I had my answer.  I knew what I was going to say to my realtor.  I knew that my decision was final and that it was a decision that would protect me and give me everything I wanted either today with these potential buyers or with another one that would show up at another time.

I got back on the trail and Valerie was waiting for me.  She saw my tears and my relief and just hugged me and smiled.

We finished the loop of the trail by coming out on the east side to circle back to the car park.   We had to climb up three sets of wooden stairs that took us up and towards the sunny day again. The end of the trail was light and airy and a trickling stream was barely meandering next to the trail and underneath the outcrop of the cliff.  A family of Amish people were coming towards us and they stepped to the side of the trail to let us pass.  They were all smiles and we greeted one another and it was obvious the children were excited to be out in such a beautiful park like Fern Clyffe.  There was an innocence and simplicity to our interactions with one another.  Val and I walked out to the car lot smiling and said hello to an old man who who was dressed in overalls, a light blue tshirt, and was using a walking stick.  He sat down at the picnic area to enjoy his afternoon.13007152_10208396400099645_3720152102370147528_n

I threw my pack into the car and told Val I was going to go back to the picnic area to call my realtor.  I encountered the old man again and asked if he minded that I make an important phone call.  I’m a sucker for a charming old man that has the energy and humor of an ornery and adorable teenage boy, so I wound up telling him a little bit of my life story.  When he asked where I would be living or what I would be doing next, I didn’t have a really good answer for him.  He laughed and said, “Oh well.  They still homestead in Alaska.  All you need is a chainsaw and a shotgun and you’ll be fine.”  I needed that laugh.

He then told me that I reminded him of his daughter and that she didn’t settle for anything but the best for herself and now has the life she’s been wanting for a long time.  I told him, “Thank you.  I needed to hear that.”  He replied with his southern Illinois country twang, “Oh sure.  Now, go make that phone call.  Just be honest and say what you want.  Everything will be fine and you’ll get what you want when you’re honest and it’ll be good for everyone else too.”

I took his advice.  I called my realtor and told her my honest answer and what I would be willing to accept for the deal.  It was fair.  It was exactly what the house was worth to me and what I deserved in order to be free and to move on without any financial or stressful emotional burdens.

I thanked my wise old, funny man and in return I did a favor for him.  He asked to use my phone to call his wife because he realized he had left his phone at home on the charger.  I dialed and he talked to her and told her that he and the Amish people from their town would be back before night time.  “Do you need anything before I come home, babe?” he asked.  And then he listened and asked her about her day.  They laughed and then he nonchalantly asked, “How’s my chickens?”  The conversation went on another 30 seconds or so and then he lovingly said goodbye to her.  I smiled and knew that I was a lucky girl.  My wise old man gave me back my phone and thanked me.  I patted his back and thanked him.  He told me he was always there for advice.  I turned around to wave goodbye and he said, “Don’t forget your chainsaw and your shotgun!”  And like any good trickster or sage, he laughed and laughed and laughed.

 

 

 

The Heart of the Matter: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 5

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible;
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on to fruit.
-Dawna Markova

Last month, I went to a yoga workshop taught by a renowned yoga teacher, Saul David Raye.  He practices and teaches a style of yoga called “Bahkti” – the yoga of love and devotion.  I’ve had the good fortune of taking his workshops a few other times over the years in St. Louis.  Sometimes, he moved me to tears, other times, he frustrated and confused me with his message of “Love is all you need.”  Looking back, I see that was only because I was stuck in a rut of seeing myself as a victim of love and heartache.  His message wasn’t the issue, my mind was.

This time around, I felt a strong connection to him as a person.  He spoke of the beauty of nature, of love of another person, of the connection of heart and mind as a way to feel fulfilled and wonderful about life’s mysteries.  I understood that the mind is a wild and beautiful thing of its own, but it can spin out of control if not synched up with a loving, open heart to balance and nurture it.  Under his guidance that day, I allowed my mind to follow my feeling heart and express my love through the live music and the yoga poses.  More importantly, I realized that my inner light burns the brightest when I am feeling fully present in my body, in my observing, wonder-filled mind, and loving heart center as opposed to allowing the wild, chattering side of my mind to wander off into the future to create untold disasters and hopeless scenarios in my tiny spot on Earth.

Fears, real and imagined (mostly imagined), have ruled my life for decades.  Monsters in my dreams. Sounds that go bump in the night.  Harsh, critical words and actions of ex-boyfriends.  The memory of my bipolar, schizophrenic aunt standing in our kitchen in full camo-gear complete with machete in hand.  Images of my grandmother’s scratchy hand-written letter to me in college describing her observations and sadness of her fast-growing, tumor that eventually split her brain in half.

As I came into my late thirties, I began to experience my daily life from a place of fear. I could feel every muscle twitch in my body and imagined I was beginning the sufferings of Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.  I would sit in my recliner, alone at home, having a series of panic attacks because my shoulder was so tight that I could feel muscles twitching.  I could not breathe and choked on my food once and coughed so hard that spit rolled out of my mouth.  I thought then and there it was a sign that something neurological was going on, so I got on the internet and researched everything I thought could possibly be wrong with me. Every symptom was vague enough and so close to one another that I was sure I had that particular disorder.  This belief would send blood rushing to my head, sweat to my armpits.  My hands would become clammy and I paced around my house, crying and panicking while my dog circled around me, confused.

 I worried that my Wi-Fi and cellphone were causing a horrible brain tumor like my grandmother’s, and I began overanalyzing my food choices and focused so much on what I put into my body so as to heal myself or protect myself from any type of disease, that I didn’t realize I was already suffering the painful, slow, suffering death I so feared by not living a life where I felt part of the world and part of nature.  Love was not in my vocabulary.  I could have love and give love as soon as I fixed all of these terrible, horrible, no good things that were going on in my body and mind.  On the outside, I could laugh with my friends, practice yoga moves in classes or in my home, walk my dog, pay my bills, teach my students, drive my car, live a seemingly normal life, while on the inside I was fanning the flames of Hell.

I realized that I am a functioning neurotic.

What is different now, is that I can admit to that fact.  I now see the neuroses for what they are:  techniques I have developed over the years to keep me “safe” and “small” instead of risking my significance to bring out my talents and gifts of creativity, writing, and teaching.  When I am brave, I become vulnerable and open to love.  I can match my heart force to my soul force and share that with others so they can do the same.

The bravery comes from not turning away from my fears, but walking directly towards them, facing them head on.  Regardless of the outcome.

In my time out in Colorado, I learned this about myself.  A particular solo hike focused on finding a place and sitting with some part of ourselves that act as an Escapist from reality.  Before we all went our separate ways, I had joked with another group member about searching for a place off trail where I could pee freely like a deer.  (I had gulped a lot of water during our circle time.)  We both laughed and I walked away with the mantra “Pee like a deer,” in my mind.  I was all smiles and didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t found a spot nearby to go and meditate.  Fifteen minutes, a far way up the trail, and a good pee later, I saw an overhanging of rocks that sloped down into an area riddled with fallen timbers and dead or dying pine trees.  In a small clearing, rested a boulder.  I shuddered because I knew I had to go and sit on that boulder.  Alone.

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I marked my spot, took a picture of the overhang so I knew what to look for when I came back, and I slowly climbed down the rocks.  The sky became overcast the closer I got to the boulder.  I climbed over fallen trees, untangled my pants and backpack from dry grass, thorns, and small, dry sticks.  I scrambled on top of the boulder and sat there thinking, “Now what?”

My mind was full of chatter and was working hard to take me out of this situation I had just put myself in.  I was nervous and kept waiting for some “A-ha” moment so I could grab my pack and leave.  But, I just sat there, feeling the coolness of the boulder seep through my pants to my legs.  It was soothing to be on top of something so solid.  I started breathing and thinking, “This is where my sweet deer live,” and I hoped that I might see one like I did the day before in the meadow.  I started to deepen my breath and relax into my surroundings.  Just then, I heard creaking and cracking noises.  At first I thought it was some animal, but a breeze blew through the trees and I realized it was the sound of the dying trees around me being moved by the wind.

Part of me wanted to flee, the other part of me wanted to see what would happen next.  As if on cue, the sky became gray and a stronger wind picked up.  The trees began to make a low whistling sound almost like a far off freight train.  I looked around and realized there were very few living trees in this area I was sitting.  In fact, I remembered a part of the trail I had traveled the day before was clear and today I had to climb over two fallen trees to get to where I was.  My breath became shorter.  I began seeing which tree would fall on me first, and what direction I could move to get out of the way.  Luckily I had put my whistle around my neck and my hand instinctively went to it.  Immediately my sacrum became electric and my hamstrings tensed up, which caused my back, shoulder, neck and jaw to tighten as well.  My muscles began to twitch.  I wanted to bolt, but some wise voice inside of me said, “Breathe.  Stay with the fear and just breathe.”

11914005_10206779612200958_9091906973701362821_n I took a few more breaths and started thinking about my imaginary deer I had hoped to see.  What would she do right now if she was foraging for food?  She would become alert, look around, evaluate her surroundings, and probably go back to eating.  She lives with the possibility of death and destruction every day.  I could die here as well.  A tree could fall on me and kill me instantly, or I could be knocked unconscious and die a slower death.  Why didn’t I make a run for it then?   I wanted to leave, but something anchored me there.  And without warning, a wave of grief rushed over me and I began to cry so hard that I was shaking.  I wanted my mother.  I wanted peace of mind.  I wanted to be able to live a full life and not become so trapped by my fears and illusions of fear.

The tears began to wash away my fears and in my mind’s eye I saw my doe in the meadow looking at me.  A warmth spread from my heart and went to every part of my body.  I breathed fully, deeply, richly, and safely.  True, I could die right here, right now.  But, I could also die from any number of things at any time.  And the fact of the matter was:  wasn’t I dying every day that I fed my neurotic fears so much that I allowed them to hijack my mind and body and paralyze me, causing me to suffer, and die a painful, agonizing death of spirit?  At least here, if I truly died on this boulder, I would have been alive to my emotions, my body, and have witnessed with all of my senses the beauty and power of nature.  And another thought came to me:  my one physical death would simply be a fade into more beauty and mystery.  Spiritual death, on the other hand, brings rot, disease, control issues, neuroses, pain and suffering among other things.

Once I had this breakthrough, another wind blew through the area, and I realized now was the time to leave.  I didn’t need to be so brave that I became stupid.  I picked up my pack and walked quickly to the overhang and back onto the trail.  I looked out at the boulder, brought my hands to prayer and bowed my head in gratitude and reminded myself that love got me through a dark moment and love will do that for me time and time again.

And so I have been working with this lesson for a few months now.  After the workshop, I went up to Saul and re-introduced myself and asked him if I could use his name and picture in a possible blog post about love and fear.  He smiled with such warmth and told me that not only did he want to contribute to that post in some small way, but that it was important to share this type of writing with others.  “There are two paths that intertwine: one of Wisdom and one of Love,” he had said during practice.  “The path of Love leads to Wisdom.  And the path to Wisdom leads to Love.  Feel with your heart.  Love is all you need.”  He then asked me if I would be in the picture with him.  He gave my camera to someone nearby and he held up his hand in the gesture of fearlessness.  Uncertain at first but in a moment of bravery, I put up my hand as well.

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The Wild One and Her Muse: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 4

I had a voracious appetite when I was in Colorado.  I ate a wide variety of foods set before me at the buffet style meals in the lodge.  Bison lasagna?  Put it on my plate.  Stewed lamb with tsatsiki sauce?  Put it on my plate.  Roasted garlic chicken, acorn squash soup, quinoa and oatmeal with stewed fruit, pastrami sandwich with hummus, lettuce, and tomato, root vegetables in tomato sauce with basmati rice?  Put it all on my plate and give me seconds when possible.

True, I spent the majority of my days hiking in the forest, but there was more to my appetite and the fact that I needed calories and protein to sustain the strenuous daily activities.  I came to realize how much I have denied my connection to the earth, to my body, to my sensuality and pleasure of life in general.  I felt a need to prove to myself and others that I was maintaining a strict diet that helped cure my Crohn’s dis-ease, keeping up a strict exercise routine (complete with fancy yoga poses) to aid my lumbar spine, SI joint, and sciatica issues, and always saying “Yes,” when asked to help take care of others’ needs, even if it meant pushing aside my wants and desires.  If I did all of these things, then I would finally prove that I am “good-enough,” “worthy-enough,” and “lovable-enough” to be accepted and loved.  By doing all these things and so much more I could justify all the good things and events that happen to occasionally show up in my life.  The worst thing about this self-imposed mental prison of conformity?  I was the one that had locked myself inside and hid away the key somewhere in my psyche.  The youth-oriented, material-driven, pleasure-denying and rewarding, guilt-ridden, ego-inflating and shaming immature aspects of our Western society don’t help matters much either.

Turns out, I’m a very sensual, emotional, loving, tender-hearted woman.  Yet, I’ve devised techniques over the years to hide as much of that side of myself as possible due to so much heart-break, shameful experiences, and confusion about what it means to be a woman.  I’ve always thought I had to be emotionally strong, independent, opinionated, forceful, and in control at all times.  My heart, my imagination, and my body were not places to inhabit full time.  My linear, logical mind was what got things done, got me a good job, (and also gave me a lot of grief and anxiety).  It was the comfort zone-safe space for the majority of my 20s & 30s.

For so many reasons (too many to list here), I pushed away and/or safe-guarded my sensuality, my creativity, my tenderness and intuition.  I was an artist, a dancer, and a writer from a very early age.  I could move my hips and shoulders in rhythm with any beat.  I could paint and draw and express my raw and unbridled emotions in a variety of ways and with a plethora of unique words, phrases, body movements, shapes and colors.

One thing I loved to paint, draw, write about, and imagine I was when I went out into nature, was deer, the doe in particular.  Recently, I cleaned out my closets and came across three drawings of a doe, a stag, and a fawn that I did when I was in the 5th-7th grades.  These paintings made me smile and I have them displayed in my house along with other porcelain figures of deer that I have collected over the decades.  I have been drawn to deer for as long as I can remember.  They’re so graceful, gentle, intuitive, brave, perceptive creatures.  They can adapt to almost any situation and living condition.  although many of my Midwestern friends and family would say they’re a nuisance, for me they inspire a sense of tenderness and divine feminine quality inside of me.

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In Colorado, I finally returned fully to my body and fed it with earthy, delicious, sensual, tasty food.  I moved my hips and shoulders to the rhythm of drum beats in our group activities.  I peeled away layers of clothing under the dappled, sunlit aspens, and revealed the flesh of my arms, wiping sweat away from my brow as I continued my hike.  I pressed hot sunbaked stones to my cheek and smelled the dusty earth that covered them.  I dipped my polished toenails in the creek bed and slid my feet into the cool waters of the gently flowing stream as the smooth river rocks massaged my achy feet.  I laid down in tall grasses and stared up at the sky and listened to the wind moving through each blade,  crickets playing bass, and birds chirping a melody.

And I cried tears of joy.  Of sadness.  Of longing for what was lost to my regimented mind and old ways.  Of a longing to rekindle whatever wasn’t dried up from years of neglect, shame, and self-doubt.

What I didn’t realize is that nothing was lost or dried up.  And my tears were a gift.  A way to signify that I was present with and able to express all of my emotions.  That I had all the tools to unlock myself from my self-imposed prison.  My heart was cracking open and the tears were breaking through the floodgate.  What would follow?  Well, that was (and sometimes still is) a mystery.

One day, we were divided into two small groups for the afternoon’s activity.  I was with 4 other people and one of our guides, Gene.  I remember Gene telling us a personal story of how he finally owned up to his sensual, passionate side of himself and told us, “I may be small in stature, but I’m big in heart. . .I realized then that I love who I love, and I want what I want.”  His story of reclaiming his wild, passionate, sensual side inspired me.  If this strong, earthy, passionate, kind, tenderhearted man could own his wild, beautiful self, then why couldn’t I?  I realized on this trip that I was not a “freak,” and “artsy-fartsy hippy,” or a “wimpy” person who was overly sensitive and emotional.  That it was just those passionate, tender, artistic, creative, sensual aspects of myself that I and others need to see and know and learn about in order to grow and feel more connected to the world and each other.  Staying small and safe is more destructive than being vulnerable, open, and true to one’s nature and gifts/talents.

After one of our many large group discussions, I set off on a solo creek and headed for the creek and meadow that called to me earlier on that day’s first hike.  I turned the bend, and in the clearing I saw the gentle slopes and sinewy curves of a doe foraging in the field.  My breath caught and she looked up.  I stopped walking.  We locked eyes.  I smiled and waved to her. She did not move or look away and we continued to hold each other’s gaze.  I took off my sunglasses and hat and lowered my pack by sliding it down my arm and leg until it settled to the ground.  I blew her kisses and laughed.  Still she did not move.  Her eyes pierced me and a sudden urge to go deep inside of my heart and soul came over me.  So, without fear or embarrassment of other hikers who may walk by me, I opened up my arms wide and offered her my heart – fully & completely.  At that moment I felt so very vulnerable, but I knew that was what she was asking of me.  As if on cue, she stood straight up, elongated her neck, spread her ears wide, and broadened her chest.  Gazing into each others’ eyes, we stood – Heart to Heart.  The Wild One and Her Muse.photo

The Unfolding: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 3

imgresI have a wound deep inside of me that hasn’t fully healed.  It’s tender, soft, and warm.  It has an electric sensitivity to emotions, mine and others.  When it witnesses beauty in all its many splendid forms, it fills up my soul and almost crushes it at the same time.  It is a special, sacred place tucked away inside the cave of my heart.  I can access it at any time, in a variety of creative ways.  It sometimes reveals itself to me as a fountain of tears falling into a crystalline bright pink lotus flower with green petals surrounding it.  Other times, it appears to me in the form of a small girl child that can only communicate through images and dance-like movements.

In Colorado, I came to know my wound and found some of the lessons it has been trying to teach me all my life.

I was on another one of my solo hikes, searching for a place off trail that was beckoning me to sit and tell my story.  As I climbed up the trail, the creek was to my right, slowly gliding down the foothill of the mountain.  Dappled sunlight streamed through the pines and aspen trees.  A short distance away, I saw a clearing where the light broke through the underbrush.  I approached this space and immediately felt the magical call of faeries, woodland sprites and all the other tiny creatures that once inhabited my childhood imagination.

I stepped off the trail into this spot, and saw a boulder in the center of the stream.  I carefully waded out into the creek bed, choosing stable, large stones that looked like they would support me and my backpack.  Each step became more precarious as a few of the stones rolled slightly left to right.  The boulder was almost within arm’s length and so I became brave and stepped boldly towards it.  I did not gage the depth of the river well enough, and for all the money I spent on waterproof boots they weren’t enough to keep the water from rushing in over my ankles, past my shins, and soaking my socks and shoes.  But, I was committed, so I tossed my pack onto the boulder and dragged my waterlogged feet behind me as I crawled up the flat-faced, sun-baked boulder.

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After a few minutes of ringing out my socks and dumping water out of my boots, I got cozy and realized I was blessed to be in such a quiet, untouched part of the woods with a rushing creek on both sides of me.

Gently and lovingly, I called out the wounded child in me who has been afraid of living, creating, and loving too passionately and too grandly.  Afraid of being seen as weak, or different, or too emotional.  I told her story to the creek and the stones.  I shared with them how she remembers playing a game in kindergarten where everyone was in a circle, holding the edge of a red parachute and moving it up and down while kids were called to run underneath it and escape to the other side before it touched down on them.  Her name was called.  She remembers being underneath the parachute and looking up to see the sunlight diffused in a glow of translucent red, like the inside of a womb or a beating heart.  She stayed under there longer than most children, mesmerized at the beauty of the moment. She had to crawl on the cool green grass to make it to the other side and was teased by another kid for being “too slow” to play this game.

I told the creek and the stones how she remembers her heart breaking as natural light flooded through the windows of the darkened second grade classroom during a “lights out, heads down” moment.  She saw the tiny beans planted in the plastic cup, their stems reaching up to the light.  Tears came to her eyes at the sheer beauty of beanstalks and dirt and sunlight.  She pretended to pay attention when the halogen lights came back on, but her head kept turning towards the sunlight and the beanstalks on the bookshelves instead of towards the chalkboard.

I told the creek and the stones how she would walk her dog down the neighborhood street and stare up at the moon and stars, hoping that if she stared long enough she would be filled with starlight and stardust and float away on the breeze.

Her world as it was then wasn’t ready for her romantic gifts of light, tenderness, beauty and expression.  She would write poetry, but then throw them away because she feared they were not good enough.  She would criticize her mistakes on her drawings or get frustrated when kids didn’t see her vision of how their games could be made more special by adding in song or dance. She would keep ideas, dreams and imagination tucked inside of her, storing it all within the dark recesses of her sacred cave and instead encourage friends to feel like they were the ones more creative and entitled to attention and recognition.  Over the years as she shed some of her fears, her gifts trickled out in forms of tears, of poems, of drawings, or of dance. But they were quickly put away when they became too much to handle, either for her or for others around her.

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Here in the middle of the creek bed I let her be seen by the butterflies, the chipmunks, the creek, and the stones.  I asked her what she wanted to do with all of these gifts she had stored away or doled out in small doses over the years.  I audibly heard myself tell my pent up dreams to the creek, the same dreams of the small, wounded girl who is a steward to the sacred wound in the cave of my heart.  If money, status, career do not really matter on this earth, then my dream is to fall in love and be loved and seen in return.  To be creative and write, draw, dance and express myself in every way that I know how at any given moment when beauty abounds, whether inside or outside of me.

I told the creek that I would pledge my stewardship to my creative talents that come out in various forms that can only be expressed by me.  Creative nonfiction writing and poetry are part of this plan to express and share my heart with others.  I also know by sharing my writing others they will have moments to access their own emotions more freely and willingly and connect to their own hearts more authentically as well.
I even told the creek and the stones that I knew this meant letting go of my job as a high school English teacher and I would follow the path whenever it appears and to wherever it takes me, no matter how uncertain it may seem at times.  Creative ideas of becoming a freelance writer, a yoga and body-centered instructor, a nature lover/guide, and a creative arts program director all danced in my heart and mind.   New ideas are revealing themselves as the days and weeks go by.

My inner child thanked me for being so honest with myself.  I felt a lightness, a lifting, form around my heart and fill up my body with peace and contentment.  The sunlight danced brighter on the ripples of the creek, and the birds and insect chirps became louder, almost as if they were cheering me on.  Tears of relief flowed down my face.  I let out a sigh and wiped away the remaining droplets that were streaming now down my neck.  I took a long inhale, and as I exhaled any residual worries or fears, an osprey silently glided over me and swooped down near the creek as it continued flying south.  I took this as a sign that the unfolding of my desires, talents, and gifts are beginning to flow more freely from my fountain of tears that were once locked inside the cave of my heart.images

Birds of a Feather: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 2

The first morning after arriving at Shadowcliff Lodge near Grand Lake, Colorado, I decided to get up early and do yoga on the rocks that faced the looming mountains in the east.  I dressed in layers, zipped myself up in my black jacket, and pulled on sparkly red, fingerless gloves.  When I walked outside, the cold mountain air was a shock to my system and I was a bit confused that I could see my breath in mid-August.

I climbed up on an outcropping not too far from the lodge.  I started breathing in while reaching my arms overhead and breathing out while lowering my hands to my side.  I noticed one of my group members, Sarah, on another outcropping not too far from me.  She was doing tai chi with grace and ease.  Meanwhile, I was fumbling to hold myself upright with my left hand pressed up against the boulder behind me while my right ankle was over my knee as I was squatting so as to get a good hip stretch.

The sun slowly began inching its way over the top of the mountain as frustration and tension began rising up my spine, lodging into my tense neck and facial muscles.  “Why am I not doing my yoga right?” I thought to myself.  “Why doesn’t this feel as organic and beautiful as it should?  I’m in the Rocky Mountains as the sun is coming up, damn’t.  This should feel like a profound and heart-opening moment right now.”  I chalked it up to the chill in the air and the fact that I had just spent the night on a bunk bed in which I could feel every spring and wooden slat in the mattress.

I knew those weren’t the real reasons why I felt a resistance inside of me, however.  It was because I was trying to force my mind and body into a meditative and serene state of being by doing linear poses that were in alignment with my inhale and exhale.  My breath was forced.  My poses were forced.  My beliefs that this specific moment would bring me instant inner peace and knowing were forced.  The whole experience was forced.  So, I forced myself to stop moving and to watch the woman in front of me instead.  She is in her early 50s, tall, athletic, with her brown hair cut in a youthful and pretty bob.  That morning, her down-filled vest looked like the color of the morning’s sky.  In my mind’s eye, she seemed to be surrounded by a soft mountain mist that artfully blurred the edges of her and her surroundings.  She was so fluid and smooth in her movements:  leaning and pushing with her arms, swooping down and around with her hips and knees, holding and steadying herself before her body took on another fluid, organic shape.

About this time, I heard a solitary wind flute as if a Native American ceremony was happening somewhere in the valley below us.  The sun’s angle transformed her into a silhouette.  Every rise and fall of the notes from the flute moved her more gracefully into herself then out into the air, the trees, the boulders, the creek below, and the mountains in the distance and back again.  I took all of this to be a sign and closed my eyes and forgot about the fact that I could tumble down a rocky outcropping.  (I reassured myself if I did fall, I would survive by landing somewhat ungracefully on the gravel trail not too far below).  I grounded my legs and feet and started moving with the flute sounds.  This grounding and slow movement turned into my breath, which then in turn circled around inside of my body and breathed out into the crisp morning air and back again.  My hips circled and swayed.  I moved my fingers and arms as I opened my chest and pulled back my shoulders.  I felt as graceful as the osprey and the eagles that glided on the wind in the valley below me.  I was as alert as the two chipmunk that scurried around my feet and the shrubs around me.

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The flute music came to an end and I opened my eyes.  Sarah was walking towards my area and we greeted each other.  The breeze, the chill, and the brightness of the morning sun had brought water to my eyes and I had already the beginnings of post-nasal drip.  I laughed and wiped away the tears that probably looked like they belonged to an emotional basket case.  I asked her if she had heard the flute player as we were practicing our morning movements.  She grinned and told me that was the music she had on her cellphone and uses every morning for her tai chi exercises.  Albeit, the revelation of this fact was less glamourous that my romantic notion of a rustic, magical mountain man stepping out of his log cabin below to greet us and the morning sun; yet I couldn’t help to think how lovely everything synced up this morning to pull me out of my stuck thoughts and back into my body and my heart center.

We chatted a few more minutes and then she went inside to eat breakfast.  I stayed a little longer in hopes to capture the sun’s rays on my face, and to also hold on to the brief moment of fluidity and sensuality that arose in my body not more than five minutes ago.

I stood there, facing east, waiting again to feel a sense of enlightenment or rapture at being out in the wild.  A breeze blew over me and I filled my lungs deeply, cursing slightly at the slight headache and dryness in my nose, both lingering effects of yesterday’s altitude sickness.  I turned and began walking back to the big lodge.  Just when I thought the magic had faded from my morning, two hummingbirds swooped up over my head.  Hoping for a drop of nectar, they dove down, hovered over my hands, and brushed up against my red sequenced, fingerless gloves.  I stopped in the middle of climbing the stairs and held out my hands, palms up.  I heard the motorized fluttering of their wings and tiny chirps of communication between the two of them.  As fast as they had arrived, they left and landed in a pine tree a few feet away.

I got to the top of the stairs and leaned up against the banister of the deck that wrapped around the dining lodge.  Sage, one of our guides, came out with her cup of coffee and stood next to me silently, like a patient teacher waiting for the curious yet guarded student to ask a question or spark a conversation.  I took the bait and told her about my two hummingbirds.  I laughed off the encounter as a fluke due to the fact that I was wearing bright red.  She took a sip of coffee and leaned up against the banister as well.  She simply nodded her head and said, “Mmmm. . .”  I smiled, recognizing that as both acknowledgment of my statement and a prompt to really dig deeper and trust my intuition that the encounter was also a sign or a communication from the larger world that houses both the outer and inner wilderness of ourselves.  These hummingbirds were reintroducing me back to my natural, beautiful, sweet, sensual self that I had lost along the way as a full-fledged adult caught up in the railroad track of life (to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau).  At least these were my thoughts I finally uncovered as Sage stood there listening to me babbling on and on.  She gazed off into the valley below us and paraphrased what I had just said, adding on, “That sounds like a lovely way to start this journey.  I wouldn’t be surprised if your hummingbirds came back to check in on you.”

Later that day, I went farther down the trail by the lodge and spotted two huge boulders.  I started to climb up one, and heard some rustling right below it.  It was Bernard, one of the older men in our group, and a great lover of the Earth.  He had nestled himself next to the boulder that was balanced on and supported by another smaller boulder below it.  He told me it was solid but that it wasn’t the best idea to climb on top of it.  I asked him if he was Ok if I sat on the boulder next to his for the afternoon’s contemplation exercise.  He welcomed me and I climbed a little ways up the hill and scampered up the boulder.  I shrugged off my backpack and unzipped my black jacket to use as a seat cover.  I pushed up the red sleeves of my thin shirt and faced east again.  I could see and hear the running creek below.  I got very quiet, settling in to simply watch the full afternoon sunlight dance off the rippling waves.  That’s when I heard the beautiful, light drumming coming from Bernard’s direction.

He was humming with a lovely sing-song voice in sync with the constant drumming of his handheld Native American drum.  He was there to offer prayers and blessings to the four boulders in that area that he called “Grandfather Rocks”.  My thoughts and worries dropped away from me and I was lulled by the sound of the creek, the beat of the drum, and Bernard’s shamanistic humming that was soothing and rhythmic at the same time.  Tears swelled up to my eyes, real ones this time.  The modern world faded away and I no longer saw the town of Grand Lake with its telephone wires, speed boats, early afternoon traffic below.  Instead, the creek came alive even more and I watched as a hawk swooped down and skimmed the surface of the water.  Chipmunks came out of their hiding places and danced around in the brush below me.  Grasshoppers with snapping-sounding wings jumped and danced around me.  A butterfly flitted by and was carried on the breeze.  Still I heard the rushing of the creek, the constant beat of the drum, and the rhythmic pulses of Bernard’s humming, which all now sounded ancient yet alive at the same time.

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My heart swelled and I felt so alive in not only my body but in the moment.  Nothing else mattered.  No one desire welled up inside of me yet everything I’ve ever wanted seemed possible and tangible.  Just then, two hummingbirds danced around my head.  One dive-bombed my shirt and I felt the ripple of its wings caressing my back left shoulder as I heard their motor-like hum purring in my ear.  A slight wind from the fast motion of its wings lifted wisps of my hair and tickled my neck.  I sat as still as I possibly could.  It kept flying away into the air and back again, this time moving to the center of my spine, right between both shoulder blades at the back of my heart.  Back and forth, keeping time with the drumbeat.  And I could swear that I felt my heart pounding more strongly than I have in my life.  The sound of the creek became more distinct.  The hummingbird’s wings created a tattoo of small pulses on my back.  The drumbeat stayed constant and strong.  The ancient voice issued forth from this modern man connected to the land.   If this was being alive, truly alive, then I was experiencing it, not thinking it.  My heartbeat, the drumbeat.  My heart’s desires, the hummingbird’s wings.  My tears, my heart’s song flowing like the voices of the ancient ones.  All gathered here on this rock:  unwavering, feeling, and living in sync with the wilderness both outside and inside of myself.

Into the Woods: A Return to the Wild Mind, Part 1

photo 2The guides take us into a small clearing under pine trees and next to a small, rushing stream.  We plop our backpacks down, our breath heaving a bit as we try to recover from the rocky, uphill walk to the trail head.  Some have portable camping chairs while others of us brush away the pine needles, tiny pine cones, spiders and ants before sitting.

“I can’t believe I’m finally here,” I think to myself as the group settles in and the guides begin explaining the first exercise of the 5 day retreat.

For the past few months, I’ve felt the urge to somehow mark my 40th birthday in a big way.  I feel, for whatever reason, that this is a year of transition and manifestation.  A year for me to finally take root and fill out the shape of who I am as a woman.  Since the time I was 5, a tenderness and artistic sensitivity were present in my heart and mind.  When I was 8, 9, and 10, I would walk to the edge of the woods behind my house, breathe in the scent of the earthy ground mixed with the sweet decaying smell of oak leaves, and get excited because inside those woods mystery abounded.  I would take the longer, darker path and wait to hear some whispering of imagination or my spirit speak to me or reveal something important or meaningful to me.   In those woods, I felt large, alive, and magical, like a woodland spirit or sprite, or when I was feeling particularly powerful and imaginative, like Artemis, the goddess of the hunt and the moon.  In my room, I would write poetry, draw my ideas, and dream of the wild things that lived not too far from my backyard.

Flash forward some 30 years later and I found myself quite removed from those childhood fantasies, dreams, and other-worldy connections.  My heart was tucked away for safe keeping, and I became dominated by my mind.  I was a functioning neurotic with an oddball sense of humor, a high sensitivity to other’s words and emotions, and a thirst for knowledge and wisdom.  I was wracked with guilt, fear, shame, loathing, contempt, and anger at myself and my life.  I secretly longed for love, passion, connection, and expression.  I was having an “existential crisis” without labeling it that.  Somewhere along this path, some part of my guard around my heart cracked open and I began to question if 40 would finally mark the time in my life where I stopped fearing not only my impending death but also fearing my existence.  I decided to get brave and took it upon myself to find out.  That’s how I found myself in the forest of the Colorado Rockies with 9 other like-minded individuals and 2 guides willing to lead us not only back into the woods but also back to our true selves.photo 1

I can not recall what the group talked about a few moments ago.  On the break, I pick up a small black pebble near the creek bed and turn it over and over in my hand.  It feels warm to the touch and I press it up to my face and let the sun’s baked-in warmth soak into my cheek.  My head and ears are still muffled from this afternoon’s earlier altitude sickness.  I hear one of the guides calling us back from break and impulsively I dip the small rock into the stream and press it again to my cheek, this time noticing the drastic difference of the cool water that surges and prickles my nerve endings.

I carry this rounded pebble with me, hold it, and use it almost like a worry stone when I hear the instructions for our first solo hike.  “You probably won’t encounter a bear,” they say.  “Or a mountain lion.  But if you do, get really large and yell.  Hold your pack over your head and show no fear.  Do not run.  If you see deer or elk or moose. . .give them plenty of space. . .Carry your whistles and blow really hard if you find yourself in need.  Don’t stop blowing the whistle until someone finds you.”

We are instructed to find a place, preferably off-trail, that calls to us and to walk into that space and sit with that feeling of being welcomed back into the wild world.  As silly as it sounds, our guides tell us that it may be beneficial to even have a conversation with the place and introduce ourselves.  “Silently, right?” someone asks.  One of the guides laughs and gently says, “You can.  But why not speak your heart out loud?  Let yourself be known.  You’re being watched as it is.”

We all walk out of the clearing and like birds searching the ground for food, we begin cocking our heads, turning in circles, looking at the ground, and then looking up and down the trail to find our place.  We slowly break from the flock and go our separate ways.

I begin walking up the trail, wondering when I will know where to go.  I’m mindful that the creek is to my right.  It’s comforting to hear the rushing waters at all times.    I walk, searching for the place.  My mind begins to wander with each step I take.  My old patterns of worry and fear start playing their one-track song inside my head.  I notice that I am no longer in the present and this noticing actually helps bring me back to the moment.  Just then, I look to my left and see the sun streaming softly through the trees.  This place welcomes me and invites me in.

“It’s like being in Sherwood forest or in King Arthur’s Camelot,” I muse to myself.  I creep to the edge of the trail and peer through the underbrush and the overgrowth and see, at the top of the hill, a log, perfect for sitting and contemplating my life. Without any hesitation, I venture into the woods.  Twigs snap under my hiking boots, tiny limbs catch on my sweatshirt, pants, and backpack.  I walk on and gingerly cross over small, rotted pine trees and push aside brambles and weeds.  The birds become quiet and the scramblings of squirrels and other ground animals stop as well.  I have arrived at the log and I look up and see a clearing of sky between an aspen to my left and two beautiful pines to my right.  There, in the blue sky and the muted sunshine is the quarter moon on its slow journey to becoming its full, luminous self.

It’s breathtaking to be able to experience sunshine, the moon, the whispers of pine and the rustle of wild grass in the breeze.

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I sit down on the log and look up at the moon.  The trees in front of me slightly sway, left to right, back and forth.  Nature’s way of saying, “Hello.”  I smile and without even thinking I wave back to the trees.  I take a few deep breaths of the fresh mountain air and settle into myself.  Suddenly, it doesn’t matter that I’m alone, in the forest, with mountain lions, elk, moose, deer and whatever slithered away behind me.  I’m supposed to be here, in this moment, with all the other living, breathing creatures of this planet.  I’m supposed to sway slightly like the trees as the wind from the mountaintop breezes through this space.

I continue to gaze at the moon and just breathe.  The slight chirping of birds turn into their full songs.  A little squirrel begins cracking a nut at the other end of the log.  We look at each other and he decides I’m not to be trusted with his bounty, so he scampers away.  I laugh and I hear some creature behind me make a noise that sounds eerily like a grunt.  I speak out loud to him, saying, “I hear you.  I promise you I’m not here to hurt you.  You’re safe. It’s Ok.”  I hear him retreat and let out a sigh of relief and giggle in amusement at my bold 10 year old self talking to the woodland creatures like a loving Artemis or Snow White.

“Why have I come here?” I ask out loud to the trees that are framing the moon.  “What desire lured me out West to sit on a log away from a well-worn path?”  I get no response except for their gentle swaying and the glorious views around me.  Suddenly, I have my answer:  I am here to simply be myself.  All of me.  All of those parts of me that I have hidden away for whatever reason, for whatever necessity, for whatever excuse or fear or desire or need or longing that I have denied.  I am to be like both the sun and the moon.  The light and the shadow.  The wind and the trees.  The scurrying squirrel.  The hidden beast.  The chirping birds.  The clinging vines.  The broken twigs.  The resting log.  And I don’t have to choose; for it all has been chosen for me simply because I am a living, breathing creature of this earth.  And all of me has been waiting for this part of me all along.  I have been welcomed back to my wild, beautiful, natural self.