October 14, 2013 § 8 Comments
The sea is nearly flat this evening, rhythmic undulations moving slowly to shore, small waves peeling across in a soft roar. I take the ocean kayak out, paddling to the horizon. Along the way, a massive sea turtle pops it head up to see the intruder. A bird dives into the sea ahead of me, emerging with its glistening dinner.
When it feels right, I stop paddling. Allowing myself to receive what is all around. I dip my hand into the cold, clear water. Hear the muffled roar of the break now far away.
As the kayak drifts, my vistas evolve. The endless sea stretching to the horizon becomes the shore and the final brilliant display of the setting sun.
Isolated and connected, alone but in harmony with all. The bone deep sense of wonder and peace sets in.
After a time, I paddle in, pausing at the break, not wanting it to end right then. When it’s time, I push into the small but perfectly formed wave and ride to shore. I imagine that my kayak especially likes this part.
Splendor. From standing on the shore preparing to launch to standing in the same spot preparing to leave, and each moment in between.
I want to exist like this, in each moment, in every place, for all of my life.
Flesh and Bones
March 5, 2013 § 43 Comments
Strength feeds strength, as weakness feeds weakness.
Weeks of drifting. A ghost of myself, neither truly alive nor fully present.
A malaise to match the gray, damp, chill that has hovered over my city. Shuffling through the grimy streets with my devoted companions- doubt, fear, and evasion.
Even as I got things done, I performed rather than existed. Not committed. Not engaged. Thinking, thinking, thinking. Busy, busy, busy.
This morning different. Meditation. A walk in the woods. Being present with those I love. Strength. The flesh and bones of true being shattering that pale, ghostly shell.
And then the sun came out. I bathed in its warmth, adored the way it lit up the snow and ice, lost myself in the blue sky.
But those were just extra things.
The light of my true self had already broken through. All I needed.
October 31, 2012 § 12 Comments
Tasks occupy me. Important and worthy tasks. But these tasks keep me right now from my heart’s calling- to write and to read.
This deferral though is a good thing because when I return, I’ll come with an even clearer and deeper appreciation for the rightness of the work that I have put aside.
This, I believe, is true of all things. No real joy without pain. No real wisdom without wandering. So pain and wandering and distance from the people and the things we love- these are all good and necessary pieces of our life.
Not Stepping Away
October 10, 2012 § 32 Comments
Away, away, away.
When I felt the closeness growing, I pulled away from her.
When the big book opportunity came, I slowly drifted off.
When this work- right here- began to feel big and meaningful, I retreated into my busy schedule- stopped writing. Not enough time, I said. I’ll get back to it- later- when I have the time.
What is this? Why do I step away from what feels good and right?
I know the pattern. Always asking myself- what’s the point? Be with her, write the book, stay with this blog- or not- what’s the difference? Nothing will really change.
But I never ask this of the less important pieces of my life. Only when I’m standing at the threshold of something real and authentic and true, do I trigger this cascading, self-crushing analysis. And the answer is always the same. No point. No difference.
What lies beneath this terrible and self-destructive way of living? I sense fear and doubt, feel the weariness. But when I really sit with this, I know the source- my oldest and most constant demon. He whispers- who are you to aspire to an authentic life? You lack the heart for it. You’ll always back away because you know it’s not for you. Not you. Unworthy.
But no more.
This is my life. Each moment a chance to live- truly and forcibly. With great heart and presence.
So I’m throwing myself into what I know is good and right for me. Embracing what comes. And saying this here and now- to myself and to you- this is who I am.
Not stepping away. Not ever again.
September 25, 2012 § 22 Comments
I grew up with the surf and ocean as part of my life. My mother used to say that the first day of each summer season, I would always run screaming directly into the surf- full sprint- undiluted joy. I still feel that way about the ocean.
In my adult life, it is my sanctuary. A place of peace, a spiritual place.
I now understand that the ocean is also a great teacher.
When you are trying to paddle out against a strong surf, you soon discover that you can’t just bust through the big waves. You must learn to maneuver yourself and your board to create the least possible resistance to the wave and allow it to wash over you. Even the strongest surfer cannot bend the wave to his will.
And when the surf presents itself like a roiling cauldron, as on the eve of a great storm, and you go out without the board, you must give yourself over to the surf. You swim and struggle to get out but once in the midst of the raging surf, you’re best off just letting go. Letting the crashing and ricocheting waves bounce you around, push you under, and have their way.
The ocean is a mighty thing. When it rises up, resistance gets you nowhere. But letting go, accepting its power, can bring moments of great bliss.
This is true in life- everywhere, always. We do not achieve our moments of transcendent bliss by wrenching them out of the cauldron of our busy lives. Effort, thrashing about, resistance- not the path. Those blissful moments come to us only when we are open to the wonder and energy that surrounds us.
So I try to live the lesson the surf has taught me.
September 23, 2012 § 54 Comments
I have been away. Not in the ordinary sense. Away as in disconnected from my sense of self. Lost.
Last night was the worst. I awoke in the dark with a rock sure sense of my unworthiness. This blog, this book idea, this whole thing- all a big hoax. I had nothing to say, really. What was the point of it all? I composed in my head the final post, called it “Done.” Thinking the pain would subside once I embraced my unworthiness.
Somehow I returned to sleep and awoke this morning feeling different. Like a fever had broken. The doubt and fear weren’t washed away but I thought- when the darkness has run its course, it will go. You will find the strength again and carry on.
Struggle, I now understand, comes to me in two ways. When great loss comes, or when my busy lethal mind beckons, I feel the battle rise. But I am aware and ready. I know that I will falter. But I also know who I am. This is good struggle.
But when I lose my sense of self, it’s different. Nothing but the demons of anxiety and self-loathing battling against my blunt desire to be free of those horrors, a desire for relief in any form, at any cost. In this battle, no peace can exist for me- only numbness.
Before the fever broke this morning, I was in the pit of bad struggle. Fighting a battle that I could never win as I wasn’t really there.
Good struggle, even in its most daunting moments, is a great blessing. A reminder that we are here- fully conscious of our self- seeking that way of being that is the great treasure. A struggle that never ends and never should.
September 13, 2012 § 40 Comments
I sometimes feel like a fraud in this work. Peace, strength, presence. Who am I to speak of such things?
These past few days have been like that.
I’m going through a period of what I call feeing “unsteady.” Like walking across an icy sidewalk in dress shoes. Having to consciously hold on to my balance.
The thing about feeling unsteady is not so much the risk of falling. Nor is the pain really in the fall itself. The great cost of the feeling is that so long as I am feeling unsteady, I cannot be at peace.
I say to myself- you’re okay, just breath. And I pretend that the calm this induces is peace.
There are long stretches where I’m not consciously anxious or bereft, where I’m holding myself together. And I think that in this effort I have found peace.
But all that time where I am watching where I step, where I project calm and composure, where from the outside all looks well, I am not well, really. All that conscious effort blocks any hope of real peace.
And so as these unsteady days roll on, I sometimes wonder what I am doing writing about peace and strength. Someone who lives the lessons with such inconsistency.
I have no pat answer to this. But I do believe that anyone who seeks self-awareness and to live an authentic life will struggle. And I know that among my great teachers have been those who struggle, who battle their demons with awareness and honesty.
So I’ll just have to feel unsteady until it passes. Then I’ll regain peace, the true peace that is natural and effortless, not falsely manufactured, just lived.
Struggle, peace, struggle, peace My life from here forward, I imagine. But a real life, not a fraudulent one.
September 6, 2012 § 41 Comments
I step out this morning just before dawn. I notice first the air. It feels cool and rich to my skin, a mixture of the cold night and the warmer, humid advancing day.
I look to the sky. A bright half moon, stars emerging to my vision.
In the dim light the towering trees that encircle my house appear nearly black and two-dimensional- like abstract paintings propped up against the sky’s gray backdrop. As I turn to the east, I notice that in just that moment the pinkish blush of dawn’s promise is starting to push its way in.
Birds calling to each other, a staccato interruption of the hum of night. The silent dark houses of my neighbors. And just then the distant sound of a truck starting up in the valley below.
Before I step back in, I close my eyes and feel that place and moment one last time. All of it- the air, the moon, the stars, the sky, the trees, the birds, the silent houses- existing for me right then.
In that moment between night and dawn, the awareness filled me up, leaving no room for worry, doubt, or fear. No space for anxiety. Quieting my busy mind.
I know that this awareness and peace can be mine at any moment, in any place, not just that quiet sanctuary where I stood this morning.
If only I can live what I know.
Against the Cabin Wall
September 3, 2012 § 34 Comments
I am not sure what it means to believe in God. I cannot offer any clear definition of spirituality. But this I can say.
Thunder Lake sits in a bowl high in the Rockies. It is a natural amphitheater, ringed by peaks. Breathtaking grandeur.
That day a storm had blown in. Deep snow. Nearly whiteout conditions. Howling winds across the lake.
The small wooden patrol cabin locked. No shelter inside. I huddled against the cabin wall on the side away from the wind. As I pressed my body against the wood, I felt fear. Alone. Isolated.
I looked across the lake, through the swirling snow, and saw the mountains, rising up into the gray sky. In the next moment, the wind died, its howl drifting down into the valley. The quiet came. A dim, filtered sunlight pushed its way into the bowl.
Fear left my body like a sweat. Washed away, gone. In its place came a sense of well-being, a preternatural calm- the sense of safety and security that I can only imagine last belonged to me as a small child in my mother’s arms.
I felt no anxiety. I wanted for nothing. I was right where I was supposed to be- still huddled against that cabin wall, still hours from the trailhead, still deep snow ahead. Still alone. But not alone.
These words are as good as I can do to describe that moment. But they’re not good enough. That feeling that day was more. Beyond words. Not to be pinned down with language or explained by reason. Just to be felt- and to be lived.
A Hard Peace
August 23, 2012 § 53 Comments
I often refer to “peace.” I say that peace is “always there.”
Sounds good and works so seamlessly when life’s ordinary ups and downs knock you sideways. Stuck in traffic and late for an appointment? No problem. Just take a breath and feel the peace of acceptance.
But when you confront real loss, the kind that takes your breath away- a child dies, a parent disappears into dementia, a marriage unravels- what does it mean to say that you should seek the “peace that is always there”? How exactly does that work? What possible consolation could exist for such loss?
I don’t know the answer. But this I believe.
If I can spread my arms wide and hold that terrible loss in my embrace, if I can stop all the avoiding, all the thinking, and just let that howling grief come in, I will feel for a moment nearly undone. Standing on the edge of a terrible precipice.
But it will be there- in that horrific and unfiltered embrace of loss- that acceptance will come. Not made up acceptance. Not “all things work out for the best” kind of acceptance. Not happiness, not even contentment. And certainly not free of the loss and pain. But free of all the resistance and all the pretend consolations. Free to find and hold my strength again. Free to go on.
It’s a hard kind of peace. But when unspeakable loss comes crashing in, it’s the only kind I know.