the flower-power stickers adhering to my growing-up wall and my sister’s volkswagen beetle were these colors. hot pink and orange daisies, yellows, greens, vibrant and happy. and you think that some pantone or pms chart somewhere was the place they originated. but it’s not so.
this is where they came from.
and the tulips stand – proudly but not arrogantly – in their color, in their field. completely present and at ease, they open to the world, giving it all they’ve got. stand in nature and try not to be humbled…it’s impossible.
belleruth naparstek guides you – inside and outside – to quiet. a place of presence, of ease. not trying to push out thoughts or streams of consciousness passing by, but allowing it all to flow. with practice, you can feel the roots growing under your feet, the steady breathing of awareness, calmness.
and, if you are fortunate, you are held gently, right in the middle of tulip petals, and you are reminded, once again, you are alive. “knowing in a deep place that this place is inside of you…that you are better for this…“
over here, by one of the great great lakes, it is mostly flat. when you drive a bit south – toward chicago – particularly on the back roads – you will find ravines punctuating the landscape, gorgeous woods with deep cuts, gullies likely carved by streams into glacial moraines with bluffs high above the lake. i can’t imagine choosing the interstate over these roads and, if time allows, we are avid believers in the back ways.
most of the places we hike in our area do not present elevation gain as a challenge. instead, we have to do distance to make up the exercise gap. i’ve been a sea-level-girl pretty much my whole life – from a where-i’ve-lived standpoint – so when we are faced with elevation gain i have to do a bit of acclimatizing to get any kind of mountain legs or lungs. long island, florida, wisconsin – clearly, none of these are known for their mountain peaks.
we hadn’t ever walked the bike trail on the south side of the illinois border. we parked littlebabyscion near the entrance of the bike trail in some neighborhood – much to the chagrin of a woman walking her dog who – clearly – immediately had her suspicions about these two people exiting their vehicle – having parked their good-grief-it’s-a-2006-vehicle-ewww on the end of the road in this upscale ‘hood – for the trail. i started to walk to the trail and went back, wrote a cheery note “hi. we are just walking on the bike path,” finished it with a happy face and placed it in full view in the windshield. for the first hour or so of hiking i worried if we would get back to an empty space where our sweet littlebabyscion had been and a note to call the tow company. (it was with relief we later returned to find our little vehicle and another parked there as well.)
we crossed the wisconsin-illinois border and found the straight and narrow. illinois does a remarkable job of trail upkeep, no matter where we have found one, no matter the terrain. we kept walking. and walking. and walking. it was a beautiful day and easy to lose sight of the time or distance. we had water and halos and lemon lärabars. we were set.
we looked at the bike trail maps. though there are sections that are harder to define – one must find one’s way from one defined trail to another – you can pretty much walk or bike all the way to chicago.
we giggled and decided we would section-hike to chicago. it will be practice for the possibility of section-hiking or thru-hiking the john muir trail or the PCT. uh-huh. because walking on a bike trail – near civilization, without elevation gain, without 30 pounds on our backs, with littlebabyscion patiently waiting for us and our kitchen and comfy bed at the end of the day – is definitely good practice for say 211 miles or 2650. oh ye of little faith. whatever.
we turned around after checking time and the mileage and the forecasted hour of sunset. the way back – like the previous day on the des plaines river trail – i thought about how many miles we would complete that day, in a few hours. i doubled it and tripled the time and pondered doing that day after day for weeks or – in the case of the PCT – months.
it has a magical dreamy lure. there is no straight and narrow out there. there is hard work and perseverance. and we – watchers of more youtube video accounts than most – ponder if we could do it. we are fueled by people like the remarkable (!) wander women and, really, anyone, say, over 60 we watch successfully navigate the challenges. we think aloud – “maybe someday.”
in the meanwhile there is work to do, a plan to piece back together again post-implosion, and section-hikes to chicago.
after coffee, after breakfast, after hugging on dogga snuffling in our faces, after the weather app, after a littabittanews…my sturdy old laptop and our quilt.
i know that not everyone wants to read all these words. i know that many will do much to avoid it. i know that – in the grand scheme of things – my blahblah doesn’t really matter much. sometimes there are responses, comments from people, questions, validations, pushbacks. sometimes people ask if we have a patreon account or a way to donate a cup of coffee. that there is someone out there who takes time to write a few words back at all is pretty gigantic. because in today’s world, there are an inordinate number of things – out there – one could choose to read, to watch, to listen to.
but i guess it all doesn’t matter.
because i have found – now – that i write for me.
writing each morning – this practice – makes me think and ponder and rehash and sort. it is a caffeinated burst in the day, a jump-start to everything that will follow.
sometimes it is a walk into a bank of memories, complete with tears or laughter.
sometimes it is a wondering for the future, attempting to connect the dots of constellations i have yet to see.
sometimes it is a rant about the world, the country, the community, things i perceive as wrongdoings.
sometimes it lifts others up, those who levitate our spirits and souls with generosity.
sometimes it is with amazement for what we see and hear and taste and smell – out there – in nature and on this good earth.
always it is with a sense of impermanence.
these words will stay on the page, so to speak, for as long as wordpress allows them to. they will eventually fade as more words will enter the big melting pot of written thoughts.
our writings will lift off someday into the atmosphere. they will float around, bouncing off stars and planets – like the silver balls in a pinball machine. maybe they will leave a little something behind, a touch of evanescent dust that someone will see and remember.
the other night – around 2:30am – we heard the owl. outside our window, the great horned owl spoke into the night. it didn’t know if anyone was listening. but we did. we listened. we heard it call. and for its unspoken spoken words, we were grateful. we will remember.
i still have it. the index card is taped to the inside bottom of my old piano bench down in the basement. these words, “perfection is an eight letter word. practice ” written in eight-year-old pencil-printing. it’s been there – in that old spinet piano bench – since 1967, when i started taking lessons and needed a reminder how to keep the ups and downs in perspective.
i spent long hours on that bench and on the organ bench also in my growing-up living room. what i could hear in my imagination wasn’t necessarily what was showing up on the keys. my sweet poppo would encourage me, “remember, practice makes perfect,” he’d say. i’d add, well, at least practice moves you in that direction.
there’s no guarantee for perfect. there’s no route to it and any expectation that you will achieve it really is for naught. the best you can do is the best you can do – moment by moment. with practice, each best-you-can-do is better than the last. and so on and so on.
it’s the caring that matters.
i have two amazing children who have shown me examples of the pursuit of how to do something, to a point of excellence, that you’ve never done before. the keeping-at-it, toughlove-letting-go-of-judgment, the training, the practice, the trying-failing-rinse-repeat-ness of learning. they approach new things like stoic explorers, adventurers prepared and open to experience.
it’s the very thing that inspired our snowboarding lesson earlier this year – the one where i broke both of my wrists. every time i hear someone say, “eh, i’m too old; i can’t learn that,” i store my emotional response to that statement away in my memory bank, waiting for the day i’m about to say just that so i might pummel the words before they escape my lips.
even though my wrists broke and might never be the same and even though i cannot point to any great accomplishment or success on the slope, i would not take back the experience or the exhilaration and anticipation of learning something new, particularly, in this case, that very thing that would give me the slightest first-hand touch, not merely a window, into my daughter’s professional world.
in post-cast moments many people, aghast, said to me, “what were you thinking? don’t you think there’s a point you are too old for that? remember your age!” i am more aghast at these words than all the months dealing with uncooperative wrists in a livelihood where they really matter.
knowing first-hand how difficult and humbling pure novice-ness is, i hope i can always release the suffocating self-evaluating that goes hand-in-hand with being new at something; i hope that i always care about learning.
at eight i had no idea what piano lessons would mean to my life. i simply wanted – really, really wanted – to learn. i, at 8, didn’t beat myself up over getting it wrong or failing nor did i get self-conscious about my journey of mastery. i just stepped into it. and i cared with all of my eight-year-old heart.
we walk and talk about the day The Girl or The Boy suggest to getting-older-every-day-us that we purchase new technology or download a new app or try a new recipe or consider a new lifestyle or or or …. the day we will want to say, “eh, we’re too old; we can’t learn that.” i look down at my wrists and i remember to care.
blind faith. every day. dare i say that is the way we live?
live (verb): to be alive or have life. we rise, we go about our day, never really certain what or who will cross our path, never absolute about any single thing we might encounter or be challenged by or be gifted with. we make plans, we have hopes, we dream of freely checking off that which is on our list-of-things-to-do and our bucket list.
in this moment now, we cannot see the moment of the past or the moment of the future, but we know that they are there; they exist. there is much we cannot see. words that elicit emotional response but nothing you can see as a thing with your eyes – love, grace, forgiveness, freedom. you can see evidence of them but not an actual thing, like the simplicity of a table or a chair. faith is one of those amorphous things. present as a gentle reassurance, zealous as a fire in your heart. you can no sooner lasso faith as you can lasso love. both are omnipotent; both are invincible.
“well i will walk by faith, even when i cannot see.”(walk by faith – jeremy camp)
and so we keep walking, never really knowing anything for sure. we trust. we trust the next day will come. we trust we understand these words that capture that which we cannot see; we embrace them. we trust we have life and that #allwillbewell.
but it suggests giving over to something bigger than us. it suggests belief in a universe where we are aligned with each of the stars in the milky way, where we are equally important – each of us, where we are held and richly loved and granted grace and forgiveness. where we lay our heads down to sleep and rest, believing, blindly, that next will come with the sun.
none of it is easy – our lives are not pre-scripted for ease. but we have been gifted with big hearts, thinking minds and the ability to keep on, despite all of life’s ambiguity.
my sweet momma loved these words, “breathe in faith. exhale fear.” no real proof. unless of course you count all those around you who love you, who have loved you and who will love you. the grace you have been granted with each day. that new day that comes.
“none of us knows what might happen even the next minute, yet still we go forward. because we trust. because we have faith.” (paulo coelho)
sometimes it takes a little practice. one foot in front of the other. stepping lightly.
“live generously and the world will treat you royally.” (crown royal commercial)
“practice makes perfect,” it says on an index card in the piano bench of my old piano downstairs in the basement. written in the careful-penmanship-printing of me-probably-as-an-8-year-old, i have kept this card in my bench for over 50 years. i’m sure there were multiple times i rolled my eyes at this, as i opened the bench to take out and work on lesson music. i still roll my eyes. everything takes practice.
everything. including living generously. there’s always that moment when you have to decide to either take up the rope, as they say, and tug back or let the rope lay still. so much easier to pick it up and tug, letting it lay there and not touching it requires sheer grit-your-teeth-restraint sometimes. it’s too easy to tug, to even wrench, and too royally hard to let a sleeping rope lie.
but in those moments, the really tough ones and the little ones, that you actually and intentionally choose to mother-teresa your way through, your generosity spins outward in concentric circles and goodness spreads. goodness has a way of coming back, returning to center, with centrifugal force and your heart in the middle. gravity draws back goodness and keeps close the spirit of all with whom you have been generous. kindness bestowed upon you is royal treatment; it is the world treating you royally. we are all so fortunate. we are already receiving lavish unconditional love. what would happen if we practiced living generously even more?
while i laid awake, i tried to picture how i would react to someone literally placing me – without ropes – several hundred feet up a sheer granite wall, my hands gripping a crack and small outcropping, my feet perched on a slight deviation in the granite face. it made my hands sweat and my heart race thinking about how paralyzed by fear i would be, unable to move either hand or foot. THIS is out of my comfort zone. far out. and i couldn’t get the image out of my mind.
the wind was gusting about 35mph and there were tiny snow squalls on the way to madison. we were on our way to a movie theatre for a national geographic release of the movie FREE SOLO, the documentary capturing alex honnold’s successful free solo scaling of el capitan in yosemite. free solo. without benefit of any ropes or safety gear. just his hands, his feet, climbing chalk, and memorization, no – absolute physical retention – of the precise moves he would make on the way up this 3000′ beautiful monster.
alex doesn’t talk about his fear much. he, instead, speaks of enlarging his comfort zone, little by little. his somewhat unemotional approach to this challenge is daunting. one of his support team said words to the effect that alex had this challenge: like an olympic athlete he needed to win the gold. no ifs, ands or buts. it was the gold or he would fall to his death. who does that?!! the black and white of that makes my breathing pause. but alex pressed on. clearly his comfort zone is huge, that bubble around him. at least when it comes to mountains.
i know, as fascinated as i am with mountains and climbing stories of all sorts, that this is not something i could or would do. my mountains are different than that and my comfort zone bubble has more to do with my artistry, music, writing. not necessarily less scary, but certainly less physically demanding and clearly, without a doubt, less treacherous. but we are not limited to one mountain at a time.
each of us has this bubble and i picture pushing on the walls of the chrysalis, little by little conquering the fear of the outside – whatever the challenge or challenges – making our way, without ropes or safety equipment, into the next step of our lives. we try to “dream big.” we “go after it.” we “just do it.” but in reality, with no protective membrane around us, we first have to gear up, face fear vs comfort, garner courage and climb. yes. we free solo every day.
trust. practice. faith. repeat. not necessarily in that order. through the ages, a common challenge – faith without seeing. ‘we’ are no different now than ‘they’ were ‘back then.’ faith. it’s ambiguous.
it’s funny. you might think that the most faith-reinforcing moments come during a service and this true for some. as a minister of music for three decades, i have always sought to create those moments for others…when all things come together: music, lyrics, emotion to amplify the words (and the word) spoken in the service and resonate within someone’s heart and reinforce their feelings of faith. it is a job i take seriously; sometimes you only have one chance to help connect a service with a person’s heart, one chance to reassure, one chance to raise awareness, one chance to have them ask questions within their faith, to challenge their assumptions for and otherwise.
for me, though, the most faith-reinforcing moments are outside of the faith-based venue, be it a church, temple, cathedral, mosque. they are the moments that i can feel the hugeness of this universe of God and my absolute tiny-ness within it: walking in the woods, standing in the sunlight, looking out on a mountain, holding hands, seeing the moon rise over the lake, watching the surf, seeing love pass between two people’s eyes, hearing my children’s voices, finding the right chord for a song, eating breakfast on the deck in the sun with cardinals, hearing music swell…
as a minister of music, i have heard a lot of sermons and been at an un-countable number of services. think about it. (and this is not counting all the years not spent in this position, nor does it count all the extra services at certain times of the year…you’re thinking, “ok, ok, ohmygosh, we get it!” ) so thirty years multiplied by 52 weeks multiplied by at least two services a sunday (sometimes three, but we will round it to two, as you roll your eyes.) that equals 3,120 services and sermons. and let me just mention, some have been…ummm…way better than others. so you would likely deduce that i would know all the stories of the old and new testaments pretty well by now. well, i beg to differ with you. for me, those stories are peripheral.
what really counts for me is the stuff you can’t see with your eyes, the things you can only experience: love, kindness, peace, generosity… simplicities. complexities. these are the foundations of my faith. faith in goodness. faith in being held. faith in grace. choosing actions that are life-giving. knowing that if i fail today, i can try again tomorrow. walking the broken road, faithfully believing that there is a higher power that i can’t see but i can experience. one that surrounds me in my joy and in my pain. ptom, in his lenten sermon the other evening, said, “God is for you.” it takes a little (read: a lot of) practice; it’s a new day every new day. but i believe.