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, August 3, 2014

Sunshine and reflections

Mt. Shuksan
I took this picture as I was struggling my way up to the summit of Yellow Aster Butte last Thursday. Any chance I had to stop and catch my breath before trudging on behind my fellow hikers I took gratefully, along with a sip of water. I drank two liters of water during the six hours we spent out in the sun. I was also slathered with sunscreen and wearing my Tilley hat. The next day, Friday, I was tired all day and any upward exertion, such as walking up a flight of steps, reminded my complaining thighs of their earlier hard work.

By yesterday, Saturday, I was not only fully recovered, but the almost six miles we Fairhaven walkers covered at a brisk pace seemed, if not easy, at least nowhere near as tiring. Of course, the difference was that although it was sunny, it was also early in the day, and we had plenty of shady spots and it was a mere hour and a half. Not to mention with iced coffee at the end, along with lots of animated conversation.

My faithful readers know that I am definitely addicted to getting regular exercise, and I wrote last week about having discovered the Five Tibetan Rites while reading a book about Olga Kotelko. It's been a couple of weeks now and I've done them every morning and definitely can feel a difference in the way I approach my day afterwards. I read yesterday that Rian from Older But Better has started doing them, too. I'll be curious to learn if she notices anything after some more time passes. They are purported to be ancient rites that balance the body's vortexes, practiced by Tibetan monks long ago (and maybe even today). I downloaded the 1939 book that was first written about them and learned that it's a good idea to work up slowly to performing them 21 times each, even if you're able to do it easily. Well, of course yesterday I decided to try all 21 but won't do that again, after having read that it's not a good idea. So I'll stick to 11 for awhile, although while I don't think it would hurt me, I also don't want to burn out on them too soon. They are interesting.

I've been spending my summer days reading a good deal, too. I finished The Boys in the Boat, which I loved, about a rowing team from the University of Washington that went to the 1936 Olympics and won gold, against all odds. Fabulous book, available on Kindle for $2.99. Then yesterday I finished a book that had been recommended by another blogger, The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes, written in 2011 and awarded the Booker Prize. I've read other Booker Prize winners that I didn't enjoy, but this book really captured my attention. I woke last night thinking about it. It's too close to some of the things I've written about here, the feeling of shame I carry for things I've done in the past. As an old man, the book's protagonist is confronted with a letter he wrote when he was young that altered the course of several lives, and he didn't even remember writing it.

That's happened to me, too. It makes me realize that my selective memory tends to think of my character today as having been the same throughout my entire life, but it's just not so. When I was a crass youth, I often said things that hurt others, and I often did it only because I told myself it was my duty to be forthright and "honest" with them. Humph. Now I see through my younger self as simply desiring to be the center of attention and possessing information that another person might think was proprietary. I was never very cognizant of the sensibilities of other people when I was young, but my sister Norma Jean was. I think now that she might have been the only reason I wasn't more destructive in terms of the feelings of others. Do you remember the "Peanuts" cartoon character of Lucy? I think that describes me pretty well: talking poor Charlie Brown into kicking the football she's holding and pulling it away right at the last second.

I'm not sure when I became aware of the hurt that can come from unthinking words. See, that's where I'm different now: I think before I speak, rather than saying whatever comes into my head without filtering. It's also possible that the simple fact of getting older, having experienced so much more of life, has made the biggest difference. I also like to think that the younger me wasn't doing what she did out of malice, but because she just didn't know any better. The bull in a china shop syndrome. As hard as I've tried while writing this morning, I can't think of a single event that stands out that I might use as an example. Probably because I really don't want to; it's still painful to look too hard at the Lucy side of my younger self. I'm just grateful that I have changed.

Now that isn't to say that the hurtful thoughts don't still pop into my head, they do, but they stay there, and I don't feel that need to let them out. It makes me wonder, when I sit sipping my coffee at the coffee shop, watching the people in line as they wait, if they too have volumes of unspoken conversations going on inside their heads. Do you sometimes read a book that will remind you of yourself when you were young and thoughtless? Or is it just me?

I suspect that getting older and more circumspect has much to do with the internal changes we experience as we age. That mellowing is real in my own life, that's for sure. That, and the ability to write down my feelings and ponder what my life is all about has helped me to find some understanding of how much I've changed over the years. Memory is a funny thing: I can remember something that happened decades ago as if it were yesterday, but yesterday's events blend together with nothing much standing out. In the 1980s I kept a journal and have those 16 books sitting on my bookshelf. Sometimes I will pick one of them up and open it at random and read what I wrote long ago. Although some things are embarrassing, other moments I see the person I am today coming through.

Just for grins, I went over to the bookshelf and pulled out one of my old journals. I opened it to a page and found an interesting piece from July 1982. It reminds me that I have been addicted to exercising for many years. At the time I wrote it, I was on a four-day-long solo backpacking trip into the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area. It astounds me that I have forgotten how long I've been enjoying the outdoors. Here's a nice excerpt to tie together all the threads of this post.
The sun has finally made it over the ridge and in walking around, feeling the joyousness welling up in me for this lovely place. I decided that it is not only possible, but desirable, to do nothing today. Now I wish I had brought my camera, to capture some of the zen scenes: trees growing right out of the rock, tiny trees with great root systems to weather the storms and wind that hit this place all year round.
These days I am rarely without a camera. And I don't go out on solo backpacking trips any more, but that was more than thirty years ago! I'm still enjoying being outdoors and transporting my one and only body from place to place. From the past to the present moment, I'm enjoying my life and continuing to grow and learn. I hope you will find some peace and contentment in your own life between now and when we meet again next Sunday. I'm wishing that for myself, too.


Anonymous said...

Your posts are what make my life worthwhile. Too often I am locked in my own world. Then I read other people's blogs and I am transported elsewhere.

Friko said...

Not so much about this post as about the person who wrote it.

Life really is a journey, isn’t it and being outdoors, alone with ones thoughts, helps to see the steps along the way more clearly.

Like you, I was unthinking and even rather stupid when I was young, in many ways, but I hope that experience and mellowing have helped me to become nicer all round.

Often I learn from books; indeed, one of my major epiphanies, something which drastically changed my life, came from one sentence. I no longer reminder the title of the book or the author but that one sentence has stayed with me.

Do you like yourself better now than you did when you were young?

Elephant's Child said...

Oh yes. Life is a work in progress - and I haven't always taken the easy or the level route. And shame is indeed part of my journey.

Linda Reeder said...

Knowing you now from your posts and the comments you write on the blogs of others, I can't imagine you being unkind.
I started writing my memoir last January. I need to get back to it. But I realized how self centered I was. I have always been aware of the feelings of others, but still most of my memories are from such a narrow perspective. I do think that is typical of most young people. With age comes wisdom, fortunately.

Mersad said...

Thank you for this post, I really needed to read this today!

Mersad Donko Photography

Rian said...

Great post, DJan. But I don't think that doing thoughtless things is reserved for the young... think about Doc Martin (and I've known others like him)... there are some people that just don't see how their actions or words affect others.

BTW, thanks for the mention. I am still doing the Tibetan 5, but still only 3 times each. I will begin to increase next week. Will let you know how that goes.

Mel said...

Lovely post, and thanks for sharing your walks past and present. I have to read up on the Tibetan Rites, plus so much to think about now that I've stopped by.
I need to go for more walks and remember more of the wonderful hikes and treks I've taken. Those solo ones build character and ground us, don't they?
I also need to read more. And forgive myself for the selfish ass I was when I was younger. Youth can be a very self centered time, but I think we have both made great strides at being better people. :)
Thanks for this Sunday conversation and have a lovely week.

Arkansas Patti said...

Had to laugh when you said you preformed them 21 times after being warned not to. That is so you:))
You are so right about our younger selves being less kind. I know there were times I hurt people in ways that I wouldn't tolerate today. Sometimes I think we should be like Benjamin Button,being born old and growing young. Then the nice us and the young fit bodies would be in sync.

Red said...

You cover some interesting territory in this post. I would look at other people around me an ask why I wasn't as mature and poised as they were. It took me until my early forties before I felt secure and confident in myself. Yes I do enjoy life even if I do look back at some of the dumb things i did.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, Your writing this week hit home with me again. Well, I was recently watching the 1956 classic movie Around the World in 80 Days. I watched that movie with a friend when it first came out and remember attending the matinee performance at a theater near the home where I grew up. It’s funny … I remembered some parts of the film perfectly, but had completely forgotten others. And, it’s also funny … in reflection, I think that film may have influenced me and encouraged my life-long love to travel and my interests in trains and ships. Like you, I am really enjoying and appreciating this ability to reflect on life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Best wishes for the week ahead. John

Dee said...

Dear DJan, I loved this posting. Truly. Both loved and enjoyed. Enriched by it. Made to think about my own memories of my youth and how much I've changed and yet how much of today's Dee Ready was there in the actions of Sister Innocence so long ago.

Like you, I remember hurtful things I've said--one to my dear friend Yvette after we'd seen the movie "All That Jazz." After saying it, I knew immediately that I'd hurt her feelings.

But my most regretful memory comes from something I said to my brother when he was probably 7 or 8 and I was 10 or 11, caught up in my own world and uncaring about his. That is one of the regrets that I need to apologize to him for. He may not remember. But I do.

Thanks for the reading suggestions. Your mind is far and wide. And your commitment to becoming fully human is deep and gracious. Peace.

Gigi said...

I so love your Sunday posts - they always make me take a moment to reflect (even if I don't read it till Monday!).

Our youth is a very self-centered time - I've always said so. The life experiences we have teach us along the way. I think reading (and being cognizant of what is being said) also shows us the way.

I hope you have a wonderfully, beautiful week.

Sandi said...

Hi DJan! I enjoyed this post and certainly could relate to much of it. I so admire your determination and desire to seek the best that life has to offer. Looking forward to our annual Vashon gathering!

Rita said...

When we are young we think we know so much. If we are blessed enough to grow older we (hopefully) learn how little we know, become more humble, gain perspective, and become better, wiser people. I believe that's what our sojourn here is all about. You have obviously traveled very well...and your sister seems to have been an excellent guide. :) :)

Glenda C. Beall said...

Thanks for this post. I, too, look back on things I wish I'd not said or done, and feel blessed that I've been able to grow old and learn better. In our youth we are often afraid, insecure, and speak without thinking first. It takes some of us a long time to reach the stage when we love ourselves, can be kind to ourselves, and therefore to others.
I have kept journals for many, many years, and when I read some of the older ones, I can't believe that I wrote that. The same with poems I've written in the past. I read them now and wonder if someone else wrote those words or was it really me.
This is a great post and I plan to copy parts of it to keep in my files where I can read and use them for inspiration - with your permission, of course.

Far Side of Fifty said...

I had to smile. We are opposites. In my younger years I used to bite my lip or cheek and say nothing...nowadays not so much...in fact you may call me outspoken. Perhaps it is because during my childhood I was to be seen and not heard...I heard that a hundred times a day..I must have been a chatterbox:)

Teresa Evangeline said...

I just have to comment on the photo of Mt. Shuksan. to be able to stand there, as you have, and see that astounding beauty is testament to making good choices and knowing your place in the world, and it's a beauty.