7 Things I Learned This Summer
1. Seeds Of Change
I re-learned this summer that change is hard—and yet, it is my only constant. No one wants to see this gorgeous summer pass by, least of all me. I try to remind myself that with change there is always something just as beautiful and enriching waiting right around the corner, if only I can make the space and time to receive its splendor. As the leaves prepare their fireworks and fat apples are harvested early here in Vermont, I feel invigorated by September’s astonishing energy and abundance. I feel filled with purpose when I remember that within the single seed of an apple is the potential for a whole orchard. I make a promise to myself to stop and savor—the apples, the autumn sunlight, and the wealth of poignant prose available to me.
'You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself that you tasted as many as you could.' –Louise Erdrich The Painted Drum
2. Sign Of The Times
It is deeply, profoundly human: the desire to know oneself and to understand how we connect to the universe. An opportunity that often goes untapped is the simple act of acknowledging signs from the universe. They are everywhere, just waiting for us to receive their counsel and comfort. Call it intuition, gut-feeling, synchronicity, coincidence, chance, serendipity, luck—all of these are signals from the other side trying to connect with us and guide us. Every time I see a hummingbird my spirit soars and connects me energetically with my Dad who crossed in 1994; it’s like a tailwind for my heart and it brings me joy. Connecting the mystical to the everyday is simple and soul-satisfying, if you are game. A conscious, welcoming attitude and some active practice are all that’s needed. Igniting this energy and accessing it on a regular basis is available to all of us, it’s simply a matter of how we choose to receive the information.
Having a world-class psychic medium brokering the deal is always helpful. I was blessed to attend a workshop with Laura Lynne Jackson in Manhattan this past spring. To witness her skills in person and hear her explain the phenomena of supernatural connection as a natural and accessible thing is at once reassuring and mind-blowing. I found further guidance in LLJ’s book Signs this summer. After identifying where I needed support, I actively engaged with the universe by asking for help using very specific signs. To my delight and comfort, I was rewarded abundantly. Some signs I used were pinwheels, feathers, hooks, hummingbirds, and monkeys—they all played important roles in my communion with spirit energy. If you haven't read Jackson’s first book 'The Light Between Us' may I suggest you begin there. It's a powerful bridge of a book that explains exactly how we connect to the other side and how Jackson developed her remarkable gifts. Then read ‘Signs’; it’s a wonderful series of stories that beautifully illustrates this phenomena and encourages curious readers to discover their own gifts. LLJ is teaching another NYC workshop in November, and as of this writing there are still tickets available.
3. The Present Of Presence
Busted! I learned about a word that I am SO guilty of: ‘Ultracrepidarianism’– the habit of giving advice and opinions outside of one's knowledge and competence. Love this word. I’m loquacious and a psych major, so when there is a problem, my emotional default is to dissect and fix the situation—immediately! What I am really supposed to be doing is listening: to the person who has honored me with their confidence, to my daughters, to my spouse, to myself. Yacking is an excellent way to deflect life’s pain, drama, and inconvenience. Quick-Fixing the issue (rather than hashing it out, enduring unpleasant feelings, or letting time do its magical thing) is how I once managed challenges. Nowadays, I'm channeling Will Rogers who said ‘Never miss a good chance to shut up.’ I am more relaxed and aware, and I am less prescriptive. I am learning to zip it, listen more intently, and be as empathetic as I know how. I am learning to be a receiver, not a telegrapher, and it’s very hard work, indeed—but what a gift. What I've learned is that most people want agency over their decisions and choices and just need a safe sounding board, not an ultracrepidarian (aka not-know-it-all) to figure things out.
That said, there are plenty of askholes out there and some folks really like to muck in the drama of suffering so deeply that they never have to get to the root of what's causing their actual pain. Processing pain is inevitable fact of life, but suffering is an actual choice. Check out the GOOP podcast: 'Why you should follow your envy'. It's a fascinating discussion of our motivations with psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb, author of 'Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.'
4. Fight Fatigue
Fatigue. I am suffering from a couple of forms of fatigue that are new to me in my Third Age. Compassionate fatigue is the kind of energy drain I experience daily via CNN (Crisis News Network) as I learn of yet another tragic mass shooting. Devastating reports of gun violence and other traumatic events are the default diet for all of us nowadays. I try to limit my media exposure, but I still need basic news. Sadly, even my small dose keeps me perpetually caught in a vicious cycle of hemorrhaging empathy and mourning. Despite my best efforts, I am growing increasingly numb to the inevitable. My modest expectations of civility and safety are now just festering resentments. As our culture devolves and our future rage becomes a chronically unmet need, I keep wondering—where is the unspoken ‘NO’? Where is the leadership? When is enough, enough?
Which leads me to Trump fatigue: the demoralizing exhaustion of life under the Trump regime. I was naive, if not willfully ignorant, of the magnitude of the Trump tsunami until I read a reader comment in the NYT that scared the living daylights out of me. Trump has a huge war chest; Trump will choose Ivanka as his VP; Trump will win; Trump will resign after two years and install his prized daughter as America’s first female president; Trump will become a puppeteer president and rule unchecked; Ivanka will be eligible to run for two more terms. This horror story is on our immediate horizon and it’s absolutely terrifying.
Our suffering state helps no one—we must connect to this suffering and bring on the light. We must go through it, not around it. I ask myself: ‘What do you plan to do to help prevent this travesty from continuing? What kind of America to do you want to live in?’ Actively advocating for my concerns: a healthy planet, serious gun control, food and water security for all, universal physical AND mental health care—everything that resonates deeply, is a good place for me to begin. This numbing fatigue simply does not suit me. I’m making a commitment to remain optimistic, to hang on to the power of love, and to DO SOMETHING to contribute to improving our current dilemma. I'm learning that every effort matters—when practiced together, habitual acts of conscience can rule the world.
How do we know the difference between listening to our intuition and listening to our fear? Intuition is a calm, steady knowing of what’s right, and what to do. It radiates confidence. Fear shows up extremely emotional and starts pushing all of our buttons. It wants us to overreact—sometimes for a very good reason—by shooting adrenaline through our bloodstream. We need a lot of intuition and a little bit of fear to lead safe, healthy lives. When anxiety and fear become our default reaction it holds us back from life’s enjoyable activities (and even some major milestones.) I tend to be overly cautious about my safety when I’m solo—I’m female. I always weigh in on how wise it is to ride or hike in the woods alone. In every situation I meditate on it, calling on my intuition to be the final safety judge. If I wasn’t able do this, fear and anxiety would keep me stuck at home. I’ve had a daily practice of meditation for over forty years, and it has helped me to develop very strong intuition skills by keeping me regularly grounded. When I feel my gut engage as it weighs in on a situation, I am able to pay attention to the message the first time it signals. So many of us override our inner-wisdom with too much technology, overloaded schedules, and distracting habits. A bit of mindfulness goes a long way—this summer I learned to take my practice to a higher level by employing it more often, and journaling my progress. Intuition is the GPS of the soul and provides amazing guidance in all aspects of life.
6. Riding The Wild
Cycle Greater Yellowstone is a grand cycling/camping event staged annually by the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. I have never been on a trip that combines adventure with advocacy and I was thrilled with how satisfying a travel combination this can be. I learned about the preservation mission of GYC through round table talks and reading, and I am wholeheartedly on board with all things national park.
There is an altruism borne of suffering, even if it’s only for a week. When there is a greater good at stake (in this case, protection of Yellowstone’s wildlife) one tends to suck it up faster—awkward and inconvenient situations are resolved quickly. Who cares if we slept in a tent millimeters away from 400 other folks; or, after a firefighter-style shower, teeth-brushing and other daily ablutions were performed in full view of the mess tent. The port-a-potty routine was tolerable, despite the lines and the constant anxiety I endured worrying that my iPhone might fall out of my bike jersey’s back pocket. I made Jeff do the washing up of our mess kits after meals, the sanitation set-up made my inner-Virgo gag. The sleeping bags were cozy and fun—until they weren’t. These small challenges become tiny when you are living large in the wild and have bear dogs canvassing the campsite so you don’t get eaten.
I was mainly focused on surviving from one day to the next: the five-day, 400 hundred mile ride with 23,000 ft of climbing was a grueling and invigorating test of endurance. (We had one rest day, and that involved a 12 mile hike—these people are animals!) We were blessed with perfect weather and no accidents. This year’s route included the famous Beartooth Pass (10,947 ft) and the Chief Joseph Highway (8,000+ ft) two epic climbs that were drop-dead gorgeous—the rugged beauty and vast skies of Montana and Wyoming are simply mesmerizing.
This event might not sound like a lot of fun to my readers—and that’s cool, I get it. My point of sharing is that the whole of this experience was far greater than the sum of its parts. I think travel and adventure is enhanced when there is an aspirational element, some inconvenience, and unexpected enrichment from new people and spontaneous situations. I want these elements more in play going forward—I want to be a more conscious nomad. It can be as simple as a thoughtful book choice—one that corresponds to the destination. We read ‘American Wolf’ by Nate Blakeslee on the trip, and it greatly enhanced our appreciation and understanding of the Yellowstone wolves and how they impact local prosperity and politics. It can be a helpful gesture, like leaving a check or a bag of groceries at the local food shelf, or enquiring as to how you might contribute to the area you are visiting; or, it could even be a full on mission. It’s a choice, finding experiences that fit our vision of how we want to live life. This was a first for me, and it provided an unexpected opportunity to reboot priorities and refresh my gratitude practices (‘I am so grateful for plumbing!’) My take-away from this trip is significant for me: I have a deeper connection to the wild, a higher threshold for suffering, and a desire to broaden my horizons by choosing unconventional styles of travel.
7. Grace Note
‘Perhaps somewhere, some place deep inside your being you have undergone important changes when you were sad.’ -Rumi
We can’t reserve gratitude for when life becomes the way we want it to be. I am learning to be grateful in each moment, not just the joyful ones. When I am in pain I go to the garden, and I sit with it. I no longer numb it with chatter or wine. I am grateful for my feeling heart, for the chance to confront my weaknesses and small thinking. I give thanks for every ‘gift’ that comes my way. Gratitude is the recognition of value; I value my full pendulum of feeling even though it’s often inconvenient and uncomfortable. I flush away these small hurts with my garden hose; tending to beauty and wonder is my surest way back to equilibrium. Gardening provides me the very best kind of therapy—spirit, yoga, miracles, new life, dirt, sunshine—all wrapped into one satisfying session.
I’d love to hear from you—feel free to send your comments to me.