I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Bouquets of gratitude

A sidewalk bouquet
Last year at this time we were sweltering in an unusual heat wave. Usually here in the Pacific Northwest we have something called "June Gloom" that I wrote about recently. And we've had it right on schedule for several weeks now, but summer is officially under way now, and we've got sun on our weather forecast for as far as the eye can see. I just hope it's not going to be as hot this summer as last year.

The days are already beginning to shorten. Today will be 35 seconds shorter than yesterday, as we start the journey to the autumnal equinox in September, when the days and nights will again be of equal length. At the beginning of summer, however, I wake in daylight and fall asleep before the sun is down at 9:17pm. It's beautiful out there right now, with the temperature in the low 50s and early morning dew on everything. It's enough to fill me with bouquets of gratitude for this wonderful place that I live.

This past week I finished two books that have given me a great deal of joy. The first, a long one and hard to get into, is A Tale for the Time Being. The link will take you to the Goodreads page about this book, where I found that many people were unable to enjoy it, but others felt just like I did. Here's an excerpt from a review:
If I’d had my way, the 2013 Man Booker Prize would have gone to this novel-writing documentary filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priestess from British Columbia, Canada (by way of Japan). A Tale for the Time Being is a rich reflection on what it means to be human in an era of short attention spans, the dearth of meaning, and imminent environmental threat. (Rebecca Foster)
I spent lots of time googling aspects of the book that I felt I needed to know more about, as well as time pondering the meaning of Ruth Ozeki's magic realism. Ruth came to Bellingham in March and gave several very well-attended talks about this book, but I hadn't read it yet and missed them all. But I'm really glad I didn't miss the book itself and that I soldiered on through the parts where the novel dragged. I can't really recommend this book to everyone, but it has definitely enriched my own life.

When I finished it on Friday, I was really in a bit of a funk, because I left Ruth's world and felt a little bereft. Fortunately for me, I had a pile of negected books from the library that were waiting for me to open them. Someone had suggested that I read A Man Called Ove. I don't remember who: when a book is recommended by a blogger or another friend, I go right to my library's website and log in and put a hold on it. Then when it shows up and I pick it up from the library, I have no idea where the recommendation came from.

This book was just the ticket. I started it late on Friday and finished it yesterday, reading it in one day. It's translated from Swedish and introduced me to Ove, a grumpy old man who has a past that the author, Fredrik Backman, slowly reveals as you go from disliking him to loving him. I finished it last night with tears streaming down my face, tears of joy and recognition. It's a novel about loss and loneliness, as well as love and redemption. My favorite paragraph from the book:
Death is a strange thing. People live their whole lives as if it does not exist, and yet it's often one of the greatest motivations for living. Some of us, in time, become so conscious of it that we live harder, more obstinately, with more fury. Some need its constant presence to even be aware of its antithesis. Others become so preoccupied with it that they go into the waiting room long before it has announced its arrival. We fear it, yet most of us fear more than anything that it may take someone other than ourselves. (Fredrik Backman)
 Yes, that paragraph sums up exactly my relationship with death, all the little deaths we face every day and the big ones, too. By the time you get to be in your eighth decade of life, those little deaths continue to pile up until one day, if you're like me, you realize that the person you have become is almost unrecognizable from the person you used to be, the person you thought you were. There are times when I catch my reflection in a window and don't realize it's my own. After all, most of the time I don't feel my age.

Yesterday when I was walking with the ladies early in the morning, as is my habit, I realized I am the oldest person in the group. Most of the women are in their fifties and sixties, and most of them are still working. There are a few others who are retired, like me, but I am now the oldest. There are a few other septuagenarians who join the group now and then, but yesterday they were not present. Just me. It makes me realize that I need to enjoy and appreciate every single Saturday that I am able to keep up with them, and I will continue to do just that, even if sometimes it's a struggle.

I will continue to do everything I can to stave off the inevitable decline of my body, and doing so is definitely one of the motivations for all my exercise. But something interesting has happened as I strive in every last moment of exertion: I'm enjoying myself immensely. As I walked along the lush streets of town, with everything in riotous bloom, I couldn't help but grin and feast my eyes on the rich exuberance of everything around me, feeling my body gliding along the narrow streets.

Afterwards, we gathered in the coffee shop where we began the walk and shared stories and laughter. It was the antithesis of last Saturday's walk, when it rained the entire time and we were so soaked afterwards that nobody wanted to stop anywhere for coffee. But we were together for the walk anyway, more than a dozen of us. These women are inspirations for me to get out there and see what the day brings. I'll take yesterday over last week anytime, but each day is unique and filled with whatever we make of it.

Well. This post didn't go where I intended, but I did want to be sure and share with you those books that will remain favorites and worth a re-read at some time in the future. I'll be looking for the other books by these two authors and read them as well, hoping for a repeat. In the meantime, I'll be out there walking and hiking and enjoying the summer. And of course reading about the adventures of my blogging friends. This morning when I read the dozen that waited in my Reader, every single one was filled with gratitude and joy, which helped put me in the mindset of gratitude. It's catching.

So, with that, and the usual morning ritual of writing this post finished, I will leave you with a quote from that book by Fredrik:
She laughed and laughed and laughed until the vowels were rolling across the walls and floors, as if they meant to do away with the laws of time and space.
Indeed. Be well until we meet again next week, and don't forget to laugh now and then.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Father's Day 2016

Daddy
This picture of my father was posted on Facebook recently by one of my siblings, and it brought back memories of long ago. I remember watching that green wavy line on the oscilloscope when I was a kid, but I don't know to this day what that device did. Daddy probably told me but it didn't mean anything to me so I have forgotten. I've forgotten a lot of things in my life, but my parents are still very present to me. Even all these years later, I can still remember the sound and resonance of Daddy's voice.

I was very fortunate to have been raised in a large family with parents who loved each other and stayed together. It's a rarity these days, and I myself managed to bumble my way through many relationships and marriages, until I found my soulmate in SG. It's wonderful to share my life with him, and to actually be happier together today than the day we met. Although we have no children between us, having met at the age of fifty, and with only the sport of skydiving as a shared activity, it's a miracle that we got together at all. I give thanks every day for his presence in my life. I can't imagine how different my life would be without him.

While I was writing this post last Sunday, I didn't know that a gunman had killed and wounded more than a hundred people in Orlando, Florida, a few hours before. I suffered over the news of that event as much as I did over Sandy Hook in 2013. I found myself crying at odd times and without much warning. Although we have almost daily mass murders here in the United States, I never think of myself as  being possibly caught up in one. I'm not so sure any more. There is so much hatred and anger everywhere I look, and it is only growing with this toxic presidential election looming. I've taken to skipping the daily news cycle and only watching the PBS News Hour once or twice a week, getting the rest of my news from the internet, where I can pick and choose what I let in.

Just writing that last paragraph makes me sad, once again. This is not the direction I want to travel for this Father's Day post, and it was only last year when I wrote a tribute to my father, which you can read here if you're interested. I reread it just now, hoping to find some direction for today's post. I don't want to wallow in sadness, and I don't want to repeat myself, so I'm casting a wide net to see what I catch. Last year's post told about who Daddy was to me and about his early death from heart disease. I've now lived eleven years longer than he did, partly because I exercise obsessively and take statins, which seems to have helped. My numbers are good, even exceptional, which would not be the case if I allowed myself to slack off on diet and exercise.

Tomorrow we in the Northern Hemisphere will celebrate the summer solstice, with revelers in Britain gathering at Stonehenge to watch the sunrise. Here's an excerpt from that link:
The encompassing horseshoe arrangement of the five central trilithons, the heel stone, and the embanked avenue, are aligned to the sunset of the winter solstice and the opposing sunrise of the summer solstice. A natural landform at the monument's location followed this line, and may have inspired its construction.
Nobody knows why Stonehenge was created so many thousands of years ago, but its history and what has been learned about it is fascinating to me. That something created so long ago still exists fills me with wonder. So much of what surrounds me every day will not be in existence even a few centuries from now. It's somehow comforting to me to take a longer view of history.

What will I do with this Father's Day? First of all, I will finish my early morning task of writing this post, and then I'll get up and head off to the coffee shop, my own special place in Bellingham, and wish a happy Father's Day to John, who will already have arrived and had his breakfast, with his iPad in front of him to read the news. Gene is gone off to Alaska for his six-week fishing expedition, catching salmon on his little tugboat, Hobo, with his crew of women.
Gene with last year's crew on Hobo
I found this picture on Gene's Facebook page, just to show you what he's up there in Alaska doing right now instead of hanging around in the coffee shop with us. He built that boat, along with many others, and swears every year when he comes back to Bellingham that it's the last year he'll be doing this. But every year he goes back. I know there will come a day when he doesn't go off fishing at this time of year; he's been doing it since he was a teenager. I celebrate his presence in my life, not to mention the great salmon I'll be eating when he returns. Gene is very generous with his friends and I'm glad to count myself in that number.

Then after the time I spend in the coffee shop, I'll come home and spend some time with my guy before heading out into the sunshine. It rained all day long yesterday and made my garden very happy; I won't need to water for a day or two, but weeds need constant tending to keep them at bay. I sure love to get my hands dirty these days and talk to my plants, so that's also on the agenda. I'm also reading a book that isn't holding my interest all that much, so I'll pick it up and read a little at a time. It's called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It's good enough that I continue to return to it, but it just hasn't grabbed me yet.

Other than that, I'll enjoy my day off from scheduled exercise and maybe visit with a few nearby friends. Next week begins another semester of yoga, so I have the week off and will try a free class at the next level up from mine, to see if I'm yet ready to take it or will stay with my gentle yoga for another season. And I've decided to skip next week's hike with the Trailblazers, since I know it's one that would challenge my knee too much. I'll be looking for something to take its place, maybe a favorite hike around town.

Yes, I am definitely a creature of habit, and I realize how much I miss it when there's a change in my schedule. I'll be volunteering at WAHA tomorrow as I do most Mondays. I enjoy helping people with their Advance Care Directives for end-of-life care. I have learned so much from my clients already, and I've only been doing this since the beginning of the year. I've also got a new circle of friends with the other women who do this work. Yes, my life here in Bellingham continues to keep me occupied; in fact, every now and then I realize that I'm actually too busy! Well, since I'm in charge, I can change that, right? Right.

And having cast that wide net, I've caught myself an eclectic post, filled with a bit of this and a bit of that. But I can feel myself being drawn into the day, ready to get up and have a spot of breakfast before heading out. I do hope that you fathers out there will have an especially fine day, and that all the rest of you will have a good day, too. I give thanks for all that fills my life, and that includes you, my dear readers. Please be well and filled with happiness until we meet again.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

June Gloom

The view at 5,000 feet last Thursday
In this part of the country, mostly on the west coast, we have an atmospheric phenomenon known as June Gloom. It usually occurs during late spring and early summer and is characterized by low clouds and cool temperatures. We've had years when we never had a day of warm sunshine until after the 4th of July. Not so this year; we've already had several days of temperatures in the 80s, so I'm happy to report that for the past several days our normal weather has returned and we're ensconced in June Gloom. The high temperature yesterday was 61F and we never saw the sun at all.

On our hike to Church Mountain last Thursday, we had a few moments when we saw the sun, briefly, but it was also cool enough that we needed most of our warm clothing. I much prefer hiking in cool weather rather than full sun, so even though we didn't have much of a view, it was a beautiful day to be out. Even without the sun, we had fun, and I wrote about it here. I always take pictures and write about our adventure on my other blog every Thursday, as well as again once on Saturday and Tuesday. Here, as you know, I sit with my laptop on my knees early in the morning on Sunday and just wing it.

I am definitely a creature of habit, and I find that it's comforting to know what my daily activities will be, even though I'm retired and can do whatever I want with my time. I've become accustomed to getting up and going to bed early, although yesterday I had a hard time getting to sleep, since I was unable to put my book down and stayed up reading until close to midnight. Unusual for me but not unheard of, either. I'm sufficiently well rested that it doesn't really make me feel tired, but I sure slept well last night and woke this morning feeling like my usual self.

I've written about it here before, but I'm reminded again about what that means, my "usual self." As I age, that changes, but usually it's gradual enough that I don't notice until something makes me pay attention to my daily routine. Hurting my knee in early April and being unable to hike on Thursdays or walk with the ladies on Saturday changed my schedule, all right. It made me grateful for my usual good health and ability to exercise. I have now done four Thursday hikes with my friends and enjoyed myself immensely, but I woke on Friday with pain in my knee again, making me cautious and a bit apprehensive. I'm treating the knee with creams and compression, hoping to avoid a repeat. Before, I thought if I ignored the pain it would go away; now I know better. I've learned a hard lesson and am anxious not to get injured again.

As we drove back on Thursday, I had a chance to visit with two new hikers. I sat in the back seat and perused my pictures, thinking about the blog post I'd be writing when I arrived home. Dick, sitting next to me, has joined us a couple of times before, but I hadn't had a chance to learn much about him. It turns out that the four of us in the car were all in our seventies and retired from our professions. Dick's wife is also a hiker and recently fell and broke her leg while out hiking. She's gradually getting back to normal; he said they were able to walk up to Fragrance Lake last week.

Sometimes when I'm walking along, thinking my own thoughts and looking at the trail in front of me, I imagine what I would do if I got really injured, like breaking a bone, while out in the wilderness. One of our regular hikers carries a first aid kit, and I carry a few bandaids and compression bandage, along with my knee braces. It wouldn't be easy but we'd be able to manage to get to safety. In the wilderness, we don't have cell coverage, so it would be necessary to get to the highway and down to the Ranger Station for help. Although it wouldn't be pleasant, we would manage, by helping each other through it all.

I've been going out on these hikes for eight years now. Nobody has ever been hurt badly, other than a few scrapes from a fall or injuring a knee, like I did in April. I hope it stays that way, but realistically each hiker must make the decision before going out about his or her fitness level for that day. I forget that fact, thinking that every day is like every other one, but I've learned that there are reasons why my friends stay home from hard hikes, or don't come at all any more because of injury or illness. We're seniors, after all, and time doesn't stand still for anyone, does it?

Hubris: isn't that a wonderful word? It is an ancient Greek word meaning pride or arrogance, used particularly to mean the kind of arrogance that often brings about someone's downfall. I've been guilty of it most of my life, and now that I'm in my seventies, I realize that it's long past time for me to grow out of it. In spite of myself, I'm actually gaining wisdom as I age. It's partly because I can't continue to believe that if I ignore a pain or symptom in my aging body that it will get better. It won't. I am moving in one direction only, and listening to my body will give me a chance to keep going a bit longer. It's true for all of us; it's not just me getting older while everybody else stays the same.

I just finished reading a really good book yesterday, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History. It tells the story of the hurricane that destroyed Galveston in 1900, and it also made me realize the hubris of that time. The weather forecasters of the day believed that they were able to predict storm paths, even though we know today that they knew very little. They also believed that Galveston was immune to that kind of hurricane. How wrong they were: more than 8,000 people died in that storm, and much of it was caused by the kind of arrogance that leads to destruction. Today we have satellites and instantaneous communication, and all those in a storm's path are evacuated to higher ground. And still: we have situations like Hurricane Katrina where more than a thousand people died, and it was in the twenty-first century. We continue to believe that we are past all that, but we aren't, are we?

Yes, it's gloomy to consider the human predicament, which leads right into the title of this post: June Gloom. Although it refers to a climatological event, it can also be thought of as a state of mind. As I consider how to nurse my knee so that I don't end up injured again, and as I try to stay clear of the hubris that I am so often guilty of, I'll think ahead to the bright and sunny days of July.

And with that, the post is written. My mind and heart feel clear and ready to begin another week, whether in clouds or in sunshine. I'll make every attempt to stay healthy and wish exactly the same situation for you, my dear reader. The day is about to begin, and it holds the promise of a day filled with love and happiness. Be well until we meet again next week, and remember than gloom always gives way to the light.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

I live in a beautiful place

Trail in misty woods
It was only last Thursday when I was hiking in the High Country in cool wet weather, enjoying scenes like this one. And yesterday I sweltered in unusually warm and sunny heat here in Bellingham. Even that area pictured above is thirty degrees warmer than it was three days ago! Springtime usually brings us wild swings in weather conditions, but it seems awfully early to me for us to be having temperatures in the 80s (26C). I'm fine with cooler temperatures since I can always add a sweater, but you can only take off so much.

That said, I am so grateful that I live in such a beautiful place as the Pacific Northwest. Even with the heat, it's not oppressive like much of the western United States is experiencing today, since the humidity and dew point stay pretty low. And the weather will change again by midweek, back to our usual temperatures. Some people love the heat, but I'm not one of them.

Last night I had a lucid dream. Or at least one where I remembered it and woke during the night, realizing that I wasn't done with the dream so I went back to it. It involved skydiving, as many of my dreams do. I was attempting a skydive with an attached wing, and I had to hold it tightly in my hand so as not to lose it. When I woke, my hand was still curled around the handle of that imaginary wing. I stayed with the dream until it was successfully completed.

I've recently been interested in lucid dreaming and ordered a couple of books from the library. I'd forgotten about one I requested and was pleased when it showed up ready for me to check out last week. It's called A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming and is fascinating. I don't get to keep it long enough to practice the exercises that are suggested, so I ordered it on Amazon for my Kindle. Now I can read it and practice at my own pace. Last night got me excited about what's possible.

I was also visited last night in my dreams by a departed husband. He lingers around in my consciousness this morning, although I hadn't thought of him in years. It makes me realize that there is a pantheon of lost loved ones who are still alive in my heart, and this whole idea of lucid dreaming might give me a chance to spend some time with them in a manner that is more directed than usually happens in a dream. I've got a lot to learn; I'll keep you informed as to my success with it. I'm just in the second chapter of the book.

Sunday is the only day in my self-imposed schedule that doesn't have exercise built in. The app that comes with my iPhone that shows how many steps I take every day has informed me that even if I stayed in bed all day, I would still be considered highly active for the week, with a daily average of more than 15,000 steps. Sometimes I forget why I am so tired when I fall into bed at the end of the day, but the app reminds me that I have every reason to feel well used and ready for sleep. And now when I sleep, I've got plans for that time, too!

There is no doubt that I am addicted to both exercise and structure. Whenever we have a holiday, as we did last week, it throws off my schedule for days. I kept thinking it was Monday when it was Tuesday. This week everything goes back to normal. And speaking of normal, I was mightily pleased to find that my knee is healed and will not be keeping me from my usual activities. I still carry a brace with me when hiking or walking, but I haven't had to use it and am thinking that I am whole again. Is it because I am fit that I've healed so quickly? Or was it just not that injured? Whatever, I am very happy to be running and hiking again. (I almost put "jumping again" but realize that skydiving is in my past, not my future.)

You would think that an activity that consumed me for a quarter of a century would not fall away as easily as skydiving did for me. Since it has, that tells me it was time. It's been almost exactly a year since I sold my skydiving gear, and I don't miss it at all. It helps to see Lauren, the young woman who bought my gear, on Facebook every now and then keeping the gear well used. It makes me smile every time I see her. It also helps to realize that the many hours I've spent in freefall are still a part of me and tucked away somewhere in the chambers of my mind. I may have found the key that will allow me to fly whenever I want. A lovely aspect about keeping blogs is that I can return to times when I've discussed the same topic before: I wrote this post on my other blog about flying dreams way back in 2010, when I was still an active skydiver.

Some people write in journals, but I write in my blogs and can go back and visit my posts whenever I want. I am especially fond of the search engine that I have on both blogs, because it gives me the ability to sort by topic. Since most of my readers are also bloggers, I wonder how different people use theirs. Am I missing out on some techniques? Sometimes I think I could go back to the beginning of each one and just start reading if I don't have anything else to do. Since I am so fond of schedules, I could just work in some time during the week to do just that.

And I'll be signing up for my third semester of yoga next week, too! Between my volunteer work on Mondays, taking a yoga class on Wednesdays and Fridays, hiking every Thursday, and my usual gym activity four days a week, I'm not sure just where I'd find that time. Oh, yes, I just remembered: during this time of year I've also got my garden to tend to, which doesn't do well if I forget to water it when it's so hot. This is the best time to get out there and water: before the sun reaches it in the morning. That time is fast approaching, so I'd better hop out of bed and get started with my day.

So, on that note, I wish you, my dear readers, a very wonderful week ahead. You are all an essential part of my life and I cherish every one of you. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Lost loved ones and good news

Bald eagle at Lummi Flats
I snagged this picture from "Love Bellingham" on Facebook, taken by Laurie Winters. It's a beautiful picture of a bird we see plenty of around here. In most parts of the country, you'd be ecstatic to see one, but here they are ubiquitous. In fact, just yesterday a friend of mine took a picture of one that visited her clothesline and stayed for awhile. I almost used her picture, but this one seemed to portray not only the eagle, the water behind, but is also a fitting symbol for Memorial Day, which is tomorrow.

I knew I was in trouble this morning when I thought of writing this post. No pictures came to mind, and I perused my stash of them thoughtfully, but nothing emerged. Pictures of my garden, flowers in bloom, Arlington National Cemetery pictures, nothing seemed quite right for the mood I am in this morning. Thinking of my relatives who served in the military, wanting to honor them all by remembering them on this Memorial Day, I went to Wikipedia to learn about just what exactly Memorial Day is about. It was first called Decoration Day and started in 1868 and reminds us to remember those who died while serving in the US armed forces. Although my son Chris died while serving, he was thankfully not killed in a war but instead died of a heart attack. If he had lived another year, he would have been sent to Iraq and probably would have died there. I can be thankful for that small comfort.

It's been long enough now that I recall most of his life without pain, except for that last awful visit to watch his body being lowered into the ground. I try not to bring that period of time into conscious memory very often, but maybe today is a good time. I had not seen Chris since he left for Germany when I received a call from his wife that he had died. That moment when I heard the news is etched into my memory and cannot be erased. August 15, 2002: it's the day when I learned that my beautiful son was no longer. The pain of that memory still makes my breath become shallow and my heart tighten in my chest. I will probably carry that moment of sorrow for the rest of my life.

This is an experience that millions of parents have had to endure. When it happens because of an accident or illness, that is one thing. But when it happens because of a war, where your loved one has been sent to a foreign country to carry out the will of political actors who have decided to start a war, that must be much harder to bear. When I visited the Korean War Memorial in Washington, I was very moved by the sight of those statues of men marching through Korea.
The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces... They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes which represent the rugged terrain of Korea.
More than 54,000 Americans and 628,000 from the United Nations died in that war. And that was just one war. When I think of all the parents who had to be notified of the death of their beloved child, it makes me want to cry. But even worse are the wars that still go on, the awful Iraq war that has no memorial but has killed so many people, and for what?

Of course, I can tell myself that wars have been going on for as long as there have been people on this planet, but it makes it no easier to lose a child to a senseless cause. I hear people saying they died to make us safe, but is that really true? Can it be possible that it's just what some people say to justify the loss of life? The soldier has no say in what happens but must carry out the orders of those above him in rank. They too are no more culpable than the poor foot soldier who is given a gun and told to kill as many "enemies" as possible.

There are movies that glorify war and make it seem like a noble cause, but I just cannot understand it. I have never watched some of the more famous movies about Vietnam, because I was traumatized by others that I saw because I thought I should. There are scenes from other movies about war that haunt me as well. It makes me wonder if it's better to be given an outlet for one's grief by watching scenes like those, or if the producers are just capitalizing on our macabre interest in blood and gore without having to go through it ourselves. I wonder.

There are other things going on in the world today that are positive. Although there is still (and probably always will be) war in some parts of the world, there are many who do everything in their power to make things better. I just went to Google and looked up "good news" to see what comes up. I found several websites that share positive stories to inspire and uplift me. They all seem to be featuring the same stories, such as this one about the city of Los Angeles converting old hotels to apartments for homeless veterans.
Officials called it a major step forward toward developing large-scale housing for hundreds of homeless veterans. Advocates say about 2,700 homeless veterans remain in the county, despite an intensive drive by local and federal officials.
When I first read this article, I saw that number of homeless vets as being in the country, but no, it's how many there are in the county of Los Angeles.  That makes me wonder just how many there are throughout the United States. I am unwilling to look it up, since I am trying to find a way towards a positive outlook for this post. I'm not going there, but instead struggling to find more good news to share, for you and for myself as well.

Okay, how about this one? It's about how positive media can make us better people. I learned in this article that several studies bear out the importance of what we focus on.
[A researcher] asked 483 students to recall either a particularly meaningful or a particularly pleasurable movie they watched recently and to indicate the degree to which they felt joyful or elevated from watching it. When the researchers analyzed the content of these movies, they found that, sure enough, the meaningful movies depicted altruistic values, such as social justice and care for the weak, significantly more often than the pleasurable movies did.
Well, that settles it for me, then. I'm going to fill my mind and heart with positive stories and watch uplifting movies to celebrate this long weekend. No more wallowing in pain and suffering! I've been all over the place with the post this morning,  but it has helped me to find what I want to do. I hope that I have possibly pointed you, my dear reader, in a direction that will uplift you rather than bring you down. Until next week, then, when who knows where we'll go?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Connecting with my breath

Fresh strawberries at the Farmers' Market
Yesterday I made a quick stop at the Farmers' Market to have a treat from Sophie's (Raven Bread) and then head home to get ready for my two-and-a-half-hour seminar at the yoga studio. It was advertised to be about Pranayama and yoga philosophy, taught by Felicity Green, an Advanced Level Teacher who also happens to be 83 years old. I couldn't resist spending an afternoon with her, along with almost forty others in a fairly small room. You could either sit in a chair or sit cross-legged on bolsters and blankets. I chose the chair, which meant I was much more comfortable than I otherwise would have been, but at the back of the room.

Felicity is a tall regal woman with a slight accent that I associate with New Zealanders, but I never did find out where she is originally from. She taught yoga in Washington for years and retired about ten years ago. She moved to Lopez Island and is now coming out of retirement in order to write a book on yoga. It was interesting to see someone my age put herself in a cross-legged position where she actually looked comfortable, with both knees flat on the floor. I think she was the only person in the room with such flexibility. The seminar was open to every level, and we did no asanas (yoga postures) but instead concentrated on the breath.

Felicity described the Eight Limbs of the Patanjali yoga sutras: Yamas (relation to the world), Niyamas (relation to ourselves), Asanas (bodily postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (controlled use of the senses), Dharana (focus on a broad subject), Dhyana (complete focus), and Samadhi (loss of ego self).

Patanjali was an Indian sage who lived around 400 AD. He was the main inspiration for BKS Iyengar, who founded the yoga that I am studying today. From Wikipedia:
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali was the most translated ancient Indian text in the medieval era, having been translated into about forty Indian languages and two non-Indian languages: Old Javanese and Arabic. The text fell into obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century, and made a comeback in late 19th century due to the efforts of Swami Vivekananda. It gained prominence again as a comeback classic in the 20th century.
How did I ever get by without Wikipedia? I find myself using that resource on a daily basis, and almost every time I sit down to write this post, I go there for one thing or another. Anyway: back to yesterday and how Felicity taught us about Pranayama.

After some discussion, we closed our eyes and made ourselves comfortable with our spines as straight as we could manage. Years ago I could sit for long periods cross-legged, but no more. At home I have a kneeling stool, which I sure could have used yesterday. We were then instructed to count our inhalations, from one to nine and then start over again. If we lost focus, we were to just start over again at one. I found it fairly easy to do and didn't lose track during the three minutes we did this exercise. Felicity timed us and ended the session by tapping a brass gong.

Then we did the same thing again, counting our exhalations. Now this was interesting to me, since it seemed completely different from counting my inhalations. I kept going off into another place, feeling sleepy but I still didn't lose count. Again we did this for three minutes. Afterwards, we discussed the differences and how we did. I was surprised to learn that if you feel relaxed while counting the exhalations, your mind is more quiet. If you are more comfortable counting the inhalations, you have a busier mind.

We then did the same exercise again for a longer period of time. It's incredibly relaxing to just count your breath. I was once long ago a regular meditator, and I realize that the discipline I learned then is still alive somewhere in my brain. Every once in awhile while I felt as though I had traveled back in time and was sitting in a room with old friends, almost as if all those decades and years had simply evaporated. It was somehow very comforting and lovely to sit silently with these new friends, with Felicity as our guide.

We then did one more exercise, where we simply watched our breath, imagining a light going from the base of the spine right up to the top of the head on the inhalation, and then going back down again on the exhalation. Interestingly, this one went on for ten minutes, but it felt like just a minute or two, I think because by this time I was so calm and relaxed after these exercises.

And then it was over, and I came home to relate my experiences to SG, and to think about what I had learned about breath and Pranayama. Felicity left us with something to ponder: you can live for three weeks without food, three days without water, and three minutes without breath.

I have much to learn, but it's a good beginning into this next phase of my life, one where I will become less focused on external activity and more on developing my inner life. This blog is a good vehicle to allow me to see myself traveling along from one phase to another. And my yoga practice will only continue to grow. It's hard to imagine that it was only a few months ago that I took my first class at Yoga Northwest, and now I look forward so much to each hour I spend there, or in my own developing practice.

I'm sure other events have happened in my life since last Sunday, but at this moment I can't think of any of real significance, other than yesterday's seminar and Thursday's annual picnic to begin the summer season with the Trailblazers. It rained most of the time we were hiking, but it didn't dampen our spirits at all. And the following potluck was simply delightful.

I realize I am incredibly blessed with the life I have these days. Every day I give thanks for having discovered Bellingham for my retirement years and wish that everybody could have as supportive an environment as the one in which I've found myself. It's true that it's not just by chance, but when you make a big decision to move somewhere you've never been, leaving your career and friends behind, you really don't know what's ahead. Well, here I am: ahead, and it's really good at this moment in time.

So with that, I've managed to get my laundry done while writing this post, tea is long gone, and I've got a latte with my name on it at the coffee shop. (Partner is still gently snoring.) So with these words, I'll wish you not only all good things but a wonderful week ahead.
"Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

We're all in this together

The stream in the Church Mountain meadows
I was so thrilled to be able to join the Senior Trailblazers for our Thursday hike last Thursday and see this wonderful scene with all that snow still in the High Country. It had been over a month since I was able to go out with them because of my knee injury. On the hike on April 7th, I tore the medial meniscus and was hobbling around, unable to go up and down steps, unable to walk without a pronounced limp.

It improved quickly, once I accepted the situation and stopped going up and down hills and curtailed my walking somewhat. In fact, getting sick a few weeks ago was the first time it really improved, because I was off my feet for three days. It's such a hard thing to stay off my feet entirely, even without doing my regular routine. I found that bicycling on the stationary bicycle at the gym didn't hurt it at all and I ended up doing that most days, since I couldn't attend my usual aerobic class. Strangely enough, yoga didn't seem to hurt it, so I continued that too. I was not completely immobile after all, but it was such an annoyance.

One of my blogging friends, Linda, wrote a post a while ago that summed it all up for me. She called it "A Thousand Little Pestilences." She recounted several annoyances that kept her going to specialists for treatment, and I could relate to every one except for the hearing aid problem. I know I have lost hearing in my left ear, and probably my right one, too, but it's not a problem for me so I haven't had it checked. Maybe I should. My left ear has some tinnitus occasionally, a clicking that goes on for a short while and then stops. If it continued, I would have more of a problem with it, but it's intermittent and not really a problem. When I lay on my right side in bed, I can't hear the crickets outside my window and everything gets a little quieter.

Now that I am able to enjoy my usual aerobic activity, my mood has improved; there is no doubt in my mind that I am addicted to physical exercise. When I exercise hard enough to break into a sweat and then have a nice hot shower and step into clean clothes, I feel just great. Leaving the gym after a workout and walking around in the spring sunshine makes me happy and content. The whole rest of the day looks better after that, which is one reason I get up early and am finished and back home by noon.

The only day that doesn't have exercise built in is Sunday. The one thing I have on Sundays in my self-imposed schedule is this post, the one I am writing right now. I get up and make a cup of tea, and then I head back into bed and prop myself up with pillows as I create a post. Sometimes I have a hard time getting started, and other times it just flows out of my fingers. This morning I had a topic in mind, which is that ageing is a process that we are all in together. There is no way to stop the process except by dying, the final chapter of this adventure we call life.

In my yoga class, the teacher always starts the class with a reading from B.K.S. Iyengar, the founder of this particular type of yoga. Lately we have been talking about samskaras that we carry with us, unconscious habits of behavior. From that Wikipedia link:
In the philosophical theories of Hinduism, every karma (action, intent) leaves a samskara (impression, impact, imprint) in the deeper structure of human mind. This impression then awaits volitional fruition, in the form of hidden expectations, circumstances or unconscious sense of self-worth. It manifests as tendency, karmic impulse, subliminal impression, habitual potency or innate dispositions.
 I realized that in my own life, samskaras often manifest themselves as being in a rut, being unable to even see that rut, making it virtually impossible to change. My sense of self-worth is tied to exercise, obviously, and that makes me a little uncomfortable, as I know that as I get older I will find it harder and harder to continue my level of activity. Hopefully other activities will emerge if I am able to be nonjudgmental about it all. The thing is, I am not alone in my anxiety about this process called ageing. We are all in this together.

The image of being on a life raft, a rather large one, with people continually getting on and continually slipping off the edge seems rather appropriate. A life raft that holds a certain number of us cannot be sustained unless some of us are willing to leave. In a manner of speaking, this is the life raft we are all on. I find myself looking over the edge into the dark water below and wondering if one day it will invite me to dip my toes in. Well, of course it will, and I may not look forward to that day, but I know that it is in my future. What I get to choose is not whether or not I go, but how. Right now it seems far in the future, but who knows? Each day I live I realize is a gift. That each of us has here, together, is a gift that should be appreciated and lived to the fullest.

Joining my fellow Trailblazers was not without a price. Although my knee was fine, the rest of me felt the impact of that strenuous hike, and although three days have passed since then, my leg muscles are still very sore. It was just over a month of hiking that I missed, but it was long enough for me to get out of shape. And it wasn't like I was in my easy chair the whole time. Getting older means putting more and more effort into the constant upkeep of this body. I wrote a post not long ago about this being the year that I started to fall apart. But actually, it's just the time when I first began to notice. It gives the phrase "keep yourself together" a whole new meaning. I'm doing the best I can.

Every single day I am reminded that I am a septuagenarian. I think of this as being my last active decade, and once I reach eighty (if I am so fortunate), I'll take up basket weaving or something. But not unless I find out why I am so addicted to exercise and find a suitable replacement activity. All my life I have been giving up things, so you'd think I'd be an expert by now. But no, I have conveniently forgotten that I was ever able to run, to play hopscotch, to ski, to skydive and pack my parachute for days on end. Those activities are now out of reach.

I am extremely fortunate to be able to lead the life I do, even with all the limitations that are placed upon it. I've learned that it's possible to be happy with less, in fact it seems to be what I'm called upon to learn even better. I'm surrounded by like-minded friends, and I am continually pleased to realize that I've got a virtual community that is a new and wonderful addition to the world: the blogging community. Although it's only been around for a short while, it now is a lifeline for many to connect with others like ourselves. It's no coincidence that most of you are older and dealing with the same issues. As I said before, we're all in this together, but boy am I glad to have your company!

It's happened again: I've written a post from the brain froth that coalesced here on this page, with only a topic to guide me, and several stops and starts to get to this place right here. I'm hoping that this coming week will bring you peace and contentment, and I wish the same for myself. Until next week, when we meet again, I wish you all good things.