Category Archives: Emotional Health

Crying in the forest

It has been awhile. Too long actually. And with the passage of time comes inevitably the melancholy when the memory is revisited. It is has been too long since she hiked in a pine forest, Ponderosa Pine to be specific. Each step forward, each thought, each memory is enough to make her cry. The Sunshine filtering through the needle laden branches, the soughing and lowing-strong but not howling-is urgent in the wind and she cries for what was, feels a touch of anguish for what could have been and was not. Every sensation she feels calls her to weep. The present beauty is devastating. It evokes memories of what has passed. She realizes, even as she puts one foot in front of the other, she is still clinging to the past, still trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong, how to make things right. Perhaps it is time to let go of the past and move into the future-her very own future. The fresh air and evergreen trees seem to nudge her forward. But the thought of what the future can be is painfully dazzling. Can she really leave the past behind? Is it right to let go and move forward?

Twenty steps forward the beauty subtly changes. Without warning she steps into a part of the woods that has been ravaged by fire. Scorched from the ground up to about 20 feet high on the bark of the pines. Burned pieces of log litter the ground like the remains of a giant’s campfire. It is not clear who or what started the fire. It happened. Yet, there is still beauty here. She notices that the trees grew, continued to move forward. Forgetting what was behind – unashamed of their blackened scorched trunks –the trees were green at the top, reaching toward the sky without slackening their pace. Brilliant fall-colored foliage peaked out here and there along the ground. She stops in her tracks to contemplate. If the forest can survive a fire and move on, so can I. So can you.

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The best season ever

It is fall and I am nearly giddy. Something broke in me yesterday. Some chain or bondage or oppression – I think it was the heat. Today I took my morning walk and rejoiced at being alive, stopped and talked with my neighbors, started to think I will survive this leg of my life’s journey. Over these past 10 years of being alone and single, I have often pointed out that Nature loves you back. I go for a walk; I am refreshed. I take a long hike; I am restored. Yes. Nature loves me, feeds me and cares for me. But Nature does not coddle. Nature can be brutal. This year I have been in the desert. This year I felt Nature abused me with the heat – and then turned around and comforted me with a lake. But that is behind me now. The weather has turned. It is nearly time for sweaters and hoodies. Definitely time to plan those long weekend hikes to all the beautiful places.

 

The year I learned to love to swim

This is the year that will go down in my record book as the year I learned to love to swim. It is odd to think that I never really embraced the water until this year. What is even harder to grasp is that I am past sixty. This feels more like my prime. Admittedly, I am a late bloomer when it comes to loving the water.

I learned to swim in the first place in the ocean, on a sandy USO beach with clear azure water, on Guam. I was thirteen. Before that I was fearful, too tense to float, lacking trust in my teachers, the water was chilling. But at thirteen I was hot and humid and miserable and the water was tropic and very accessible.

My instructor was a tall lean Filipino, kind, encouraging, insistent. He put us through our paces and laps with confidence. Float. Fin water. Tread water. Swim out to the raft. Dive back in and swim to shore. My brother was the youngest in our class. I certainly did not want him to score ahead of me.

What I called swimming, my parents called dog-paddling. The motion I loved most was lying on my back and finning water, legs straight and arms pumping, propelling me to shore.

Given the choice of beach versus swimming pool? No contest. On a beach you can dive off a raft into 15 feet of transparent aqua-hued water and swim with the tropical fish. You can float face down until you run aground when your chin and chest drag the sand. You can lie on your back and fin water until you beach yourself like a body canoe.

During all those ensuing decades between passing my Red Cross swim test in 1968 and the present 2017, I may have averaged going to a pool and swimming once a year.

This summer, I picked up a swimming habit. I have lost count of the number of days I meander off the highway after work. I slough off my office wear in favor of swimsuit and walk straight into Lake Powell. I keep going until water meets my chin. And then, I tip back and repose, buoyed by the water. I rest, looking at the blue, blue sky and the lovely clouds. And I fin water, bringing my arms from cross down to sides, up my sides and back to cross again, alternately propelling myself and pausing to gaze at the sky and the approaching sunset. Long, leisurely strokes. One. Two. Maybe as many as thirteen. Finally, I run aground in the sand and prop myself up on elbows to scan the rock formations on the horizon – arches and buttes in desert pastels.

‘Cause when it’s too hot to hike, you learn to love the lake.

My Hospital, My Church and Daily Meditation

There are places in Colorado where the water comes gushing out of the igneous rock at temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. These spots were well known to the Native Coloradoans: Utes, Arapahoe. For Chief Ouray, the hot springs that issue from high in the mountains at around 8,000 feet were a known place of healing – both physical and spiritual – for decades.

Water is an amazing healing agent. Walking beside it is calming. Swimming is cooling. Soaking in a hot springs, you can absorb all the mineral nutrients and warmth Mother Nature has to offer you. And rain, yes rain washes away the things that are past, maybe things we would like to forget, and carries them on down the river.

I have only recently learned to be a water baby. A variety of factors caused me not to favor swimming in my youth. But when I returned to the high desert of Western Colorado as a middle-aged woman, my favorite get-away was Chief Ouray’s old haunt in Ouray Colorado. I would go there tired and bruised and come away healed. The vapor cave I frequented was once a hospital and it became mine – and sometimes my church – my place of spiritual renewal – because it evoked such peace and gratitude in me.

This summer-in the desert of Arizona- the temperature inside my car clocked 120 degrees. The water bottle in the console was beyond lukewarm, beyond tepid – it was hot enough to pretend I was drinking tea. During a summer like that, it is important to find a beach, walk into the water, and thereby escape the temperatures over ninety or 100, or 110. What is the use of living next to massive Lake Powell if you never venture in the water? For the hottest days of June, July and August, I went to the beach more often than not. Yet, sometimes my habitual swimming and cooling is interrupted by travel or urgent business.

I returned to the lake in the desert the other night. The last time I swam was on a weekend trip to Ouray. It had been nine days. I missed the water. It seems water is a thing I must have daily just like a walk, or meditation, or prayer.

When I was growing up we had everyday clothes and Sunday clothes; workday activities and Sunday activities.

Ouray is my Sunday place, my church. But Lake Powell is my daily maintenance. One is natural and one man made. One is Sunday best and the other is for everyday.

Wade in the Water. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crème Brûlée and the Great Outdoors

It was a familiar, though unwelcome, feeling. There were things she couldn’t fix. Too many things. Challenges without recourse. Problems without solutions. Insidiously, the depression crept in. Numbing of emotion. Flat-lining of feeling. No dreams, no desire for anything.

Instinctively she retreated to the beauty of nature – a long hike in the wilderness. The remedy learned with the wisdom of years.

It was wiltingly hot when she locked the car and started out, but she was headed for a shady glen. A sandy trail led into a canyon, crisscrossed a gurgling stream. Moss-covered rocks lay calm and green in the water. Up ahead sandstone mountains sported a variety of coniferous vegetation and a burst of blue sky.

Each step was refreshment. Return of vigor of thought. Hope for the future.

Typically she could judge distance by the state of her emotions. It usually took about a mile for the tension to begin to loosen- sometimes two.

About a mile and a half out she turned. The afternoon was waning. Finding the end of the canyon would have to wait for another time. Then, just like clockwork, her appetite returned. Appetite – the signal of lifting depression. This time she craved crème brûlée or custard or flan. She hungered. But not for egg rolls – her usual fantasy food.

“How odd,” she thought, “right out here in the wild and I can almost smell dessert cooking, wafting warm and sweet from the kitchen.”

It was then she realized she was striding through a stand of ponderosa pine, inhaling great gulps of air two feet away from thick sun-warmed trunks. And ponderosa are known by their faint vanilla scent.

Dream on, Happy Wanderer. And may all your desires and appetites be healthful.

 

Gluten Free Sun Screen

She didn’t even flinch as she pressed “submit reservation.” Nor did she deliberate long over ordering the lunch for $13.00. It was not clear from the information if she was allowed to bring food and she well knew her propensity for hunger on the river, or anywhere in the out of doors. What do we work for anyway but to give ourselves a treat once in awhile? A mini vacation. An early birthday gift. A reward to ourselves for staying at work nine hours a day and often going in on weekends. This was a  reminder to herself why she is even here in this town on the edge of the river.

“So what’s a $100 dollar bill between best friends?” she asked. Me, Myself and I.

A trip to the beach just the day before in 99 degree heat reminded her of the necessity of sunblock. Don’t underestimate burn potential of reflected sun. So when she arrived at Colorado River Discovery to check in, she went straight to the counter and requested fragrance-free sunscreen. The clerk read the ingredients: hypoallergenic, gluten –free…. she laughed at sunscreen needing a gluten free label. “I’ll take it,” she said. She gulped at the $10 price tag, but did not reconsider. A moment later, as she slathered on the expensive, but quality, goo in bright hot sun she had no regrets. An hour later, eating lunch on a raft with fingers, camera lenses, sunglasses and nearly everything in sight greased with sunblock she acknowledged the necessity of gluten free-or at least non-toxic, sunscreen. It was a fabulous trip. The river is beauty. The river is nature. Nature has healing powers. Beauty can restore. And it did.

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Getting Back Your Best Game

She was new to this place and it had been a grueling two months. The face in the mirror looked her age – no longer youthful and refreshed. She had slipped into working every day of her life (again) in a mad bid to catch up, to get settled, to get a grip. BTDT in her twenties. Sometimes you have to pull out all the stops for a season – but she knew it was now time to get her game back.

She insisted on a half day off. It was only herself she argued with. She made herself take it. Half day out of seven, but it was a start in the right direction. She took a long hike. She sloshed her feet through the sand and water at the edge of the river and let the rushing water chill the raging worry and the work addiction within her. She sat on a rock in perfect spring sunshine. It turned out to be a comfortable rock – so comfortable she leaned back and closed her eyes and hazarded letting her mind drift like the gently gurgling riffle.

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How long had it been since she said that phrase, “These are the best years of my life?” She used to mean it. Now life felt suspiciously like some of the earlier years; grasping, gasping for survival.

She longed to laugh at a well-turned phrase, to feel the wind of adventure in her face, to see and hear new beauty.

“Take a look back,” she said to herself, “What were you doing? When was the last time you felt, really felt you were at the top of your game? The last time you said with sincerity, ‘These are the best years’?”

She remembered those deeply spiritually reviving days of living on the edge of beautiful places, of hiking before the heat of the day, of watching a sunrise, of strolling a beach at sunset. Times of letting nature nourish and nurture.

Those were the times she was dating herself; taking herself to an event or a concert-traveling – finding how to love herself so she might in turn love her neighbor as herself.

Those were the times she was eating with thought and care and great appetite for the healthful.

Those were the times she tucked into bed at a comfortable hour and woke naturally without necessity of an alarm or agenda.

So now, lounging on the rock like a lizard, she pondered, “How did I get to that soul- healthy position in the first place?” Part of it was a product of a resolution to live the next 365 days as though they were all she had. Part of it was allowing herself to be steeped in music and art.

She had a well-balanced brain and at one time had made the decision to live more fully in her right brain – her creative brain – with her organized left brain always guiding her. Now she wondered if it was possible to live in her left brain – forge ahead in organizational success –while letting her right brain guide her.   It was a grand experiment.

She didn’t want to give up the corporate part of life – the paycheck. Some of the best times of life to be had are times when you share with others. Her one big reason for having a job, for making money, was to have something to share.

But now she knew it was time to nourish and nurture that spiritual side again. Not all day. Not in lieu of the practical, but every single day in tandem with the practical.

More nature

More exercise out of doors

More music

More love

Less addiction to work stress and more commitment to working smart

Managing smarter

Embracing the beauty in work

Mini vacations

Why do you work? What do you love? What nurtures and nourishes your soul?

 

 

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from the beach nearest my condo. It is only four miles from where I sleep, but I have to drive in the car, cross a state line and go through a fee station to get here. I am lying on my beach towel, conducting a little self-care, taking a mini R&R, and thinking Easter thoughts. Perhaps I’ll just rest and relax here until Someone brings me grilled fish and little loaves of bread, breaks the bread and offers it to me saying, “Take. Eat.” Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful Easter Sunday brunch? Wouldn’t that make a believer out of you? But for now, I have the balm of the wet sand and sunshine, the smell of the water, and I will try to relax. I will not check my cell phone – which doesn’t have a signal out here anyway-to see if someone at the office needs me. I will spend an hour or two in sacred silence. I will walk away spiritually renewed, ready to speak truth, live in peace. I will know myself a little better and consequently be able to better love and understand those around me.

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Take Me To Church

It is Sunday morning as I write this – For many, a traditional day of gathering together in brick and mortar buildings for worship. A time for soul searching, spiritual refreshment. Others like to worship in mountain cathedrals, commune with the great outdoors. Still others find peace in the wilderness.

“If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.” Terry Tempest Williams

I hope you did something deeply spiritual today, something sacred. May the peace linger with you.

Hiking with The Phantom of the Opera

“I love to go a wandering, along the mountain path; and as I go, I love to sing, my knapsack on my back.” Who hasn’t chortled that song at the top of their lungs whilst trekking with a group of young people? Though I have grown older, I am nothing if not a happy wanderer.

So often the things we love most to do in life dovetail. Hiking and Music. That’s the perfect combination for me. Hiking. Writing about it. Writing a musical about it. Even better.

Nowadays I don’t often sing while hiking. Silence is better in the great outdoors. I embrace it. I think better in solitude. But there are times a tune whistled or hummed is just the right thing to get you through a narrow passage, barren stretch, or energize you for extra effort.

I have learned something about hiking along the Colorado River or its tributary canyons: There be willows – sometimes tamarisk – in riparian areas and sand bars. Willows and tamarisk can slap you, lash you and poke your eyes out.

Further up White Canyon from Sipapu Natural Bridge, the willows tower above my head, yet in the undergrowth, the trail is clear. The animals who regularly roam these paths are short, maybe coyotes. And there, on the wildlife path, I discovered a new way to wield my hiking pole.

Keep your hand at the level of your eye, may be a famous line from Phantom of the Opera but it’s also the latest principle I learned while putting one foot in front of the other.

Take your staff by the hilt, but still pointing down. Now salute with your fist in front of your nose, thumb on forehead, fist, pole and forearm vertical. You can now see around either side of your fist, your walking pole will part the willows from your forehead to your knees and you just might come out of the brush free of most lashes and scratches and without your eyes smarting.

Cue marching music. Let’s go a wandering, friends, with our hand at the level of our eyes