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, September 16, 2018

Late summer musings

Taken from my front porch
I took this pretty scene when I got up one day last week, seeing the sun just beginning to lighten the sky and brighten the clouds. It was early, but in just a week since I took this picture, the sun is now coming up later and later, and it's dark when I go out the door. In fact, this coming Saturday, September 22, will usher in the first day of fall. The equinox will occur at 6:54pm PDT. The September equinox occurs the moment the Sun crosses the celestial equator – the imaginary line in the sky above Earth’s Equator – from north to south. Some fun facts about the equinox from timeanddate.com:

  • The full Moon closest to the September equinox, the Harvest Moon, is astronomically special. This is because the time between one moonrise to another around this period becomes shorter.
  • In the old days, the early moonrise for a few days around the equinox in the Northern Hemisphere meant that farmers could work and harvest their crops for a longer time in the evenings.
  • Many cultures around the world hold feasts and celebrate festivals and holidays to mark the September equinox.
I don't think there will be any festivals I'll attend at the equinox next Saturday, since I don't know of any. Many of my friends don't like to acknowledge that summer is truly over for this year and that we're now heading toward the long nights of winter. Of course, in the Southern Hemisphere, it's all reversed and the days will get longer after Saturday and spring arrives, so one could always hop on a plane and fly into spring! 

For those who might be wondering how Lyle is doing a week after I wrote about his accident, according to Peggy he is "precarious," now fighting infection and continuing to have surgeries. It's pretty awful; I'm getting my information by email from our mutual friend Linda, since I sure don't want to add to Peggy's burden by bothering her for updates. My heart goes out to both of them and their family.

Meanwhile, I'm continuing to spend fifteen minutes every day doing some yoga here at home, trying to make it through the 100-day Challenge. The studio has sent out some emails with ideas of how one might use that fifteen minutes. You would think it would be easy to carve out a niche of that small amount of time every day, but I'm finding it impossible to do it at the same time every day. It needs to be between meals, in the proper clothes and barefoot, so the preparation takes at least as long as the asanas (yoga poses).

I've been doing the sun salutation twice through, a couple of the standing poses, stretching my hamstrings with a yoga belt, and at least one twisting posture. Then it's done and I can write on my little sheet that I've accomplished one more day of the challenge. A friend told me that if you do something for at least 21 days in a row, it will become a habit. Well, it's not yet a habit, but I'm beginning to think I will finish it. I had been wanting to start a daily yoga practice, and this seems to be the way to do it. I hear the instructor's voice in my head as I attempt some of the poses, so perhaps that helps keep me from doing the postures incorrectly. Anyway, it's not the burden I thought it would be, and I occasionally find myself smiling as I lay out the yoga mat in preparation for my daily practice.

Hurricane Florence is no longer a hurricane since its winds have diminished, but incredible amounts of rain are continuing to inundate the Carolinas and beyond. At the same time, there is a huge typhoon in the Philippines that is causing terrible damage from winds and rain (Typhoon Mangkhut). I just learned that there little difference between hurricanes and typhoons:
Hurricanes and typhoons are the same weather phenomenon: tropical cyclones. Once a tropical cyclone reaches maximum sustained winds of 74 miles per hour or higher, it is then classified as a hurricane, typhoon, or tropical cyclone, depending upon where the storm originates in the world.
 I feel very fortunate to be experiencing gentle rain for most of the coming week, with a little breeze now and then, nothing like what millions of people around the world are coping with right now. September is peak hurricane season, and most storms occur right around this time. It should be over by the end of November. Hopefully we won't be having any more monster storms after this one leaves. But you never know.

Anyway, I've taken out my raincoat and am ready to face the elements here in my little town, and I'm glad for their relative harmlessness. While the world is a dangerous place, there are many little pockets of serenity, and I'm feeling quite glad to be in one today. The coffee shop will open in a few minutes and my barista will be preparing fragrant coffee for the patrons, one of which will be me within a short time. I can almost smell the coffee!

I do hope you will find a little pocket of serenity for yourself today, and that you will not forget to be grateful for its presence. I will take that advice for myself, as I begin my Sunday. My beloved partner still sleeps quietly next to me, the sun will be coming up soon, and it's time to begin the rest of my day. I wish you all good things between now and when we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

How quickly life can change

Me, Sue, and Al taken last Thursday
My friend Cathy took this picture of us on our hike into the High Country last week, and I like it for several reasons. First, it shows us in one of our favorite places, on one of our favorite hikes. Second, you can see how dry it's been up there, with orange colors predominating. That will all change this coming week, however, with rain in the forecast every day: it's the beginning of the fall changeover. We'll still have plenty of sunny days, if past seasons are any indication, but still.

It's a bittersweet picture for me, since I am finally taking seriously the need to stop hiking uphill in high temperatures. Although I will still be able to visit this incredible place in future seasons, I'll be going with the slower group. Once again, I struggled with the uphill part of this hike, climbing more than a thousand feet from Bagley Lakes to Herman Saddle, and with my new fitness tracker device, I saw that when I was feeling the absolute worst, my heart rate had skyrocketed well above where it should be. It gave me the excuse to slow down and rest more often on the way up. Out of the twelve of us, I was the only one having such difficulty. Another indication that I must start hiking with the "relaxed" Trailblazers, rather than the "half-fast" group.

It's not the end of the world, after all, to admit that I cannot keep up with the faster hikers any longer. And it was exactly ten years ago that I began my hiking career with the Trailblazers, on this very hike, when I discovered the joys of our beautiful wilderness area. You can read the Washington Trails Association description of this loop hike, Chain Lakes, here. I've been fortunate to have enjoyed the company of my fellow hikers for so long that I haven't wanted to lose their companionship, but the couple of hikes I've done with the other group makes me realize that there are a whole bunch of people I will enjoy getting to know better. Like I said, I can still for the moment continue to hike, just at a slower pace.

Yesterday on my usual Saturday morning walk with the ladies, as we gathered to begin our trek up the very steep Taylor street, I was glad it was cool and that I knew I'd be done with the hard part quickly. We always form a circle and Cindy, our leader, tells us what the route will be, and then we go around and state our names. There were fifteen of us yesterday, and Linda, a long-time friend, shared with us a terrible accident that Peggy's husband Lyle endured on Labor Day.

He was out at the end of their driveway gathering their bins after trash collection. The truck had just passed by, but apparently the driver had missed one of the cans and backed up to get it. Although the backup beep sounded, Lyle seemingly didn't hear it, and the truck ran right over him. He was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital, and then transferred to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle in critical condition. Although it's been almost a week, he's still in critical condition and has had numerous surgeries; they even had to amputate one of his legs. I cry just thinking about it, how terribly injured he is.

I did find out that he is conscious, even if heavily medicated. They were able to take him off the ventilator and now he can at least communicate with his family. Lyle has never hiked with us, but he has never missed a party, so I feel I know him somewhat. Not as much as Peggy, but over the years we learn a great deal about each other's family life as we hike along, and I knew that Lyle was hard of hearing but had not gotten hearing aids yet. I wonder if he didn't hear the backup sound, or whether it all just happened so fast that he didn't register the significance of the sound quickly enough. I know that I hear that sound often enough that I might not have responded, either.

When I got home I sent an email to Peggy, telling her I'm thinking of both of them and sending fervent wishes that he will recover. She wrote back that there's an old saying that "in every life some rain must fall," but in their case, it's more like a snowstorm that will drastically change the course of their lives. She said they are strong and made stronger by the caring thoughts of friends. We will be kept up to date over the weeks by Linda. Peggy will not be hiking or walking with us for some time to come. My heart just breaks for them.

It is also a reminder to appreciate our loved ones, every single day, because you just never know when an accident like this one will upend the course of your life. I have also thought of the driver of the truck, and how the course of his life has also been changed. He will have to deal with it every day as well. There were no tickets issued, and the accident has been chalked up to inattention by both parties. But Lyle is the one who pays the heaviest price.

I am doing everything I can to care for the condition of my own body, but something like this could happen to any of us. And then the climbing back to whatever semblance of wellness we can muster. I must remember to be thankful for every single bit of health I have, and something like this helps me to continue my efforts. Just last week I joined a 100-day challenge with the yoga studio I attend. First of all, I was just not sure I could commit to fifteen minutes of yoga every single day for 100 days, but after talking it over with other students, I realized that it is a perfect way for me to grow a home practice. I've been wanting to do that, and now I've got a perfect justification to get that going. It started on September 5, and I've now managed to get four days behind me. I found that setting a fifteen-minute timer on my phone lets me know when I'm done, and I've already learned how many asanas I can do in that time period.

The sun is just now rising, and I glimpsed the orange colors of the sunrise through the window, realizing that we are not far from the first day of fall in this hemisphere, and that we will begin our long journey into the dark and wet months of the year. Fall is my favorite season of the year, and I look forward to the brilliant leaves as we move through it. I have so many things in my life to be thankful for, and I sometimes need a reminder to appreciate and enjoy my day to the fullest, for we never know what the future holds.
Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present. 
I hope that the coming week will bring healing to all who need it (which is pretty much everyone), and that you will not forget to send love and joy out to the world from your own abundance. My tea is gone, the post is written, and the world outside beckons. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Maintenance

Cathy took this last Thursday
Last week I was thrilled to be out in the wilderness with my friends, feeling better than I have in awhile. I don't do well in the heat, but that seems to be gone for now, and it was cool and delightful to hike in the clouds, rather than in the uncomfortable (to me) heat. For once, I didn't lag behind. Cathy took several hundred pictures and sent me her favorites.

It's that time of year. The leaves are beginning to turn and the wildflowers are on the wane and the mountains will soon be covered with snow until next year. It seems like summer just began, but now it's almost over. In three weeks we'll have the autumnal equinox upon us, when the days and nights are the same length, and then we'll start moving towards the shortest day and the longest night, before it all begins once again. Fall is definitely my favorite of the four seasons, but as in all things, it's the variety of experiences that add to the flavor.

This month, I will celebrate ten years of hiking in the wilderness with the Senior Trailblazers. It's hard for me to remember today how the places we visit every summer felt to me back then. Now, I've gone to all the places at least once every summer season, and they are very familiar. But that first time we went into the High Country, back in September 2008, I was overwhelmed with the beauty and the challenge to my hiking ability. I didn't have a pair of trekking poles at the time, since I had never used them before, but I was the only one who didn't have them. These days, there are several hikers who choose not to use them, but I was at a definite disadvantage back then, especially navigating the steep downhill sections.

Ten years. I know I will not be so privileged to be doing this activity ten years from now, and although some of our hikers are close to their eighties, they are mostly male. The women don't seem to keep going for nearly as long. We do have a couple of members over eighty, but they mostly begin to miss hikes now and then, and one day they just don't come back any more. It's to be expected, really, but I sometimes forget that it's normal as we age to change our activities to fit our abilities. And those abilities change.

This past week I bought myself a fitness tracker. I was intending to buy a Fitbit like my sister has, but I was talked into a Garmin Vivosport instead. The salesperson said if I didn't like it, I could always bring it back and try another. But I have been quite pleased with it. I wear it on my wrist, and it gives me my heart rate, steps taken, distance traveled each day, stress level, and best of all, my sleep patterns. Since I started wearing it, I've learned that I get around eight hours of sleep every night, with most of it light rather than deep sleep (last night I didn't get any deep sleep; I tossed and turned much of the night). It's useful information, and I had been envious of my sister's Fitbit; now I'm feeling up to having some bragging rights when we FaceTime next week.

I did have to go online to figure out how in the world a device you wear on your wrist can possibly tell you how much sleep you get, and whether it's deep, light, or REM sleep. Well, it turns out that these trackers are not all that sophisticated. They use your heart rate, age, and movement to estimate these things with an algorithm. Did you know that when you're in REM sleep that your heart rate increases even though you're asleep? I didn't know that. Anyway, I take it all with a grain of salt but still feel happy to know my statistics. It's another tool to help me maintain my fitness level.

It takes more and more effort to maintain that level. Right now I spend four days a week at the gym, not for long periods, but enough to raise my heart rate and to lift a few weights. I also attend an hour-long class on those four days, and I usually leave a little early to beat the swimmers into the shower. They take a class at the same time as I do and when they come into the locker room, sometimes I have to wait in line to get into the shower.

I am also at present taking two yoga classes a week, and I'm thinking of joining a 100-day challenge that starts next week. You commit to at least fifteen minutes of yoga each day. That might help me to incorporate yoga into a daily practice, so it's worth a try. I learned that even savasana (corpse pose) counts towards that time, so why not? Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Nobody will yell at me if I don't accomplish it.

I have been taking the same yoga class, yoga Level 1, for a couple of years now. It's been more enjoyable and helpful to my maintenance than I ever expected. For years I had taken my flexibility for granted, and it had slipped away during decades of not stretching properly. When I first started, my left knee was a little wonky, but now it's as good as the other knee, and I no longer need to wear a brace when I hike, although I always carry it. I credit yoga for the improvement. I look forward to every class and am sorry if I have to miss one. And there are people in the class who have been coming to the same class for decades, so I'm in good company.

Well, here I am again, at the end of a post. This one wasn't very inspirational, unless you're looking to be inspired to hit the gym or the yoga studio. I know I'm much happier with myself and my life because I work to remain a level of fitness that works for me. I did look for a quote, but nothing quite hit the mark. So I'll just sign off here, for now, and get up and start the rest of my day. It's the middle day of a three-day weekend for those who still go to work. For me, it means there will be no gym tomorrow (it's closed) or bus (they don't run on holidays), so I'll have to find something out of the ordinary to do with my day.

Until we meet again next week, I do hope you will find some inspiration to work up a little sweat. And don't forget to give a gentle hug to those you love; they will appreciate it. Be well, dear friends.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Saying goodbye

It never gets any easier
Yesterday one of my favorite politicians died from brain cancer. He was 81 and would have turned 82 this coming Wednesday. This is not news to anybody, but for me it was a bit of a shock. When I learned last year that he had developed the same kind of cancer that Ted Kennedy and Beau Biden died from, but that it had been caught early, I was hopeful that even at 80 he would prevail.

When I read over the past year about the amazing breakthroughs made in treatment of this particular type of cancer, I began to hope. John McCain was always a true fighter and, over the years, I watched him stay true to his beliefs, even bucking the party line when it wasn't what he thought was right. But I sure didn't expect to feel the way I did when I learned last week that he had stopped treatment for his condition. That told me, sadly, he also would succumb.

I felt a kinship with him for many reasons. We were both parachutists, and when I visited the "Hanoi Hilton" in Vietnam years ago, I saw a display behind glass of the gear he was wearing when he was captured by the Viet Cong. Inside, along with his jumpsuit and helmet, was his parachute, the thick lines coiled neatly and the faded silk of his canopy looking like it could be used even today. Pictures of him during his five years of captivity were arranged alongside the display. I was fascinated and spent a good long time studying it.

The Vietnam War was horrible in so many ways, both sides suffering such terrible losses while those in Washington stayed comfortably removed from the awfulness. Many years later, McCain became one of the leaders in Washington who fought to normalize our relations with Vietnam, and now many veterans from that war have returned to the country to try to make sense of it all. Today I see homeless veterans on the streets begging on street corners. I despair for our sense of fairness. What a world!

There have been quite a few people over the years whom I have mourned, even though I only knew them through the media, from Martin Luther King and JFK, to Kofi Annan and Nelson Mandela. Great people that I shared the planet with for a short or long time. We all end up dead in the long run, but mourning good people who pass away before we do is cause for reflection and sadness on our loss. The world will long remember these remarkable people.

I am only six years younger than McCain was when he died, and I realize that when he was 75, he was seemingly healthy, as I think I am. It's a reminder that age continues to cause our decline, and that's totally normal. Perhaps I'll make it into my eighties, but perhaps I will get sick and die before then. Normal either way. In any event, I don't think I would feel there is anything in my life that I left undone, or unsaid, or unexperienced. In these final years, I am trying to enjoy my many blessings and tie up any loose ends I've left unraveled.

I've had more than my fair share of loss over the years, starting when I was 22 and my son Stephen died suddenly of spinal meningitis. More than fifty years later, I am still trying to learn how to grieve properly. Back then, there were no grief support groups to attend, and I must say that first loss was the very hardest I've experienced. In 1993, when my mother died at the age of 69, I was able to handle it much better, and I've learned that the stages of grief are real: you don't stay feeling like your life is over for very long, and that gradually, very gradually, the scars of your loss will heal. But there will always be scars. You are never the same, just as John McCain bore the scars of his five years of torture for the rest of his life. I bear the scars of my losses, too, even if they are not visible they are just as real.

It's only when we allow our losses, which are a natural part of life, to distort us into incapacitation, make it impossible to carry on, that it becomes a problem. Today there are many ways to help us heal, ways that didn't exist a half century ago. If I were to lose my dear partner, for instance, I would grieve terribly, but I would attend support groups and connect with others going through the same thing. And I would find a way to carry on with my new scars, until I too finish my time here and move on.
“How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” – Winnie The Pooh
Today I will spend some time watching the news, which of course will be filled with stories and remembrances of McCain's time on earth. It will trigger some memories I've had of loved ones I've lost, and believe it or not, I cherish going into those reminiscences of times gone by, people long gone.

I will also remember to cherish those I share my time with, starting with the one who sleeps next to me right now, and those whom I look forward to seeing at the coffee shop, my neighbors, my friends, those of you in the blogosphere, those with whom I also share my life. It's good to be reminded of the brevity of life every once in awhile. So, dear friends, until we meet again next week, I hope you will do a little of that, too. I wish you well and that all good things will come your way.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Changing my mindset

Red sky
We are preparing (as much as one can) for another onslaught of bad air, after two days of glorious clear skies and mild temperatures. When I woke this morning, I first checked the air quality for my area and find that it is still in the good category. Here is the current forecast:
Sunday morning update: Currently, still MODERATE in many areas. Later today, we may start to see smoke levels that are UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS, due to the fires in British Columbia and the nearby Cascade Mountains. Smoke could worsen into UNHEALTHY levels on Monday or Tuesday. We'll keep this forecast updated as conditions change.
That will be the most pressing issue on my mind for the next couple of days, I suspect. It's hard to figure out what to do when the air around you is so bad. It's not like you can decide to breathe later. There's not much else to do except stay indoors as much as possible. 

For some other reasons, I woke this morning in a dark mood. It's hard for me to watch people I care about having a hard time, and right now that is happening with a dear friend. Plus I had been doing so very well with my diet lately, having lost five pounds and feeling great, until Friday when I went off the rails. I indulged in ice cream and when I'd gone over my daily calorie budget, it was a signal to just keep going. And then yesterday I went to a barbeque gathering and had already told myself that I could stay within limits, but no, I continued to overeat. So I woke reminding myself that I need to cut myself some slack here.

Figuring that I could write a blog post that would hopefully cheer myself up, it did help a little to find that the air quality outdoors is still in the moderate range and not yet unhealthy. But the forecast is not good, so I'm bracing myself. In addition to that, I'll be getting on the scales, which I do every day, feeling resigned to whatever number I see. It was so nice to see the numbers fall and feeling my clothes begin to fit better. Sigh.

The last couple of weeks I've been able to write about compassion and that love is all you need. But today I'm on the flip side, trying to find those same emotions so that I can feel good about life, and they are elusive. I guess this is typical for everyone, feeling good sometimes and feeling bad other times, but I figure there must be a way to climb out of this well of darkness. All I need is to find some purchase on the slippery walls of gloom.

It didn't help to lose Aretha Franklin this week. She's my age, and she died from pancreatic cancer, which seems to be taking more people lately. My friend Ronni is recovering from the serious Whipple surgery and is doing well, but the statistics for how many people survive five years afterwards is scary. Apparently Aretha had that same surgery in 2011 and made it until this week. I watched some clips of her and enjoyed the realization that she was a truly amazing person in so many different ways. Sigh.
We sometimes congratulate ourselves at the moment of waking from a troubled dream; it may be so the moment after death. --Nathaniel Hawthorne 
I am probably making a mistake by going to the theater today to see Spike Lee's latest movie. Yesterday a friend asked me if I had seen it yet, and I told her I am going today. She said she walked out of the theater unable to speak, it was so powerful. It does say it has some comedy in it, so maybe I won't be too overwhelmed. We'll see. It's certainly getting an audience here; some of the showings are selling out.

By writing down all the different things that are bothering me right now, it sure doesn't look like it should be enough to explain my grumpy outlook. It could be so much worse, I suppose, and there are no real reasons not to simply scale the walls and emerge into the filtered sunlight and give a whoop for still being alive and kicking. Can I do that? I don't see why not. All I need to do is plaster a smile on my face and step on that scale. Take myself off to the coffee shop to join my friends and quaff a cuppa coffee together. In the larger scheme of things, I'm doing pretty well. And I have hopes for a better day today.

Okay, I'm halfway out of the doldrums, so I guess it's time for me to make it the rest of the way. Partner is still slumbering next to me, my tea is gone, and I've got people to see, places to go. There is even a smile playing across my face, thinking of the day ahead. I hope you will find some joy in the day, and that you might leave me a comment that will boost my spirits, eh? Until next week, be well and I wish all good things to come your way.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

All you need is love

Stream crossing
Last Thursday I joined more than a dozen of my friends for a hike, something I love to do every week, although it's quite difficult for me in the heat. There was a song playing inside my head during the entire day: the Beatles song "All You Need Is Love."
There's nothing you can know that isn't known
Nothing you can see that isn't shown
There's nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
It's easy
All you need is love, all you need is love
All you need is love, love, love is all you need
 
John Lennon wrote this song for Britain's contribution to Our World, the first live global television link. Watched by over 400 million in 25 countries, the program was broadcast via satellite on 25 June 1967. I didn't realize, until I decided to learn more about this song, that it has such a complex and asymmetric time signature, according to Wikipedia's entry. I know it is still a universally loved song fifty years later, and I hear it on the radio as well as in elevator music, still to this day. But is it true?

Lately I have been feeling very out of place on these hot summer hikes, falling farther and farther behind the others as I struggle to keep going. With my legs all a-tremble and fighting back nausea, I considered whether it's in everyone's best interest for me to go along. There are easier hikes, and I wonder whether it's just my own ego that keeps me from going on them. I actually almost joined the other group last week, but they were going somewhere that would be just as hot and, as it turned out, they turned around after a couple hikers got sick in the same way I did, mostly from the intense heat and lack of shade. And I did accomplish the hike without any permanent injury to anything other than my self-esteem.

Next month, I will celebrate ten years of hiking with the Senior Trailblazers and hope that, one way or another, I'll be able to continue on for awhile longer. The coming week I will not join them, because it's a scheduled hard hike in the hot sun, with no shade at all. The other group is going somewhere I've already been this summer (and it is also a hot one), so I'm not at all sure what I'll end up doing on Thursday. It's a little disconcerting, but I really have to remember that ten years of wonderful trips into the wilderness is a gift I will always cherish and can never lose.

It's sort of like when I stopped skydiving. At one time, it was the center of my world, with my entire life shaped by the excursions to the Drop Zone on the weekends, and week-long trips during the year going to boogies (gatherings of jumpers from all over with specialty aircraft to jump out of). When I finally finished being an active skydiver after 25 years, it was because I knew that I had become the oldest person still active on the Drop Zone and that I was placing myself in danger to continue doing something I loved. It took a fairly long process over a couple of years for me to get to that realization. I seem to be in the middle of that same process concerning these difficult hikes. There are still plenty of places for me to go into the wilderness; I just have to take stock realistically of what I can and cannot do any more.

Learning to love myself and have compassion for the aging hippie inside me that never went away, never learned the lesson of moderation and tends to live in denial, well that seems to be my current assignment, doesn't it? Most of the time, I am happy and enjoy every single day, whether it's puttering in the garden, reading a good book, talking with my mate, or struggling up a hill. And, of course, I must always remember to be thankful for the wonderful life I've been given. Many of the family and friends who have mattered so much to me are already gone, and I'm still here. I've outlived both of my parents and my two sons, but it won't always be true: at some time I'll be joining them, too. Is it true that love is all I need?

Yes, I believe it is. When I think back on my life, the moments that stand out in high relief from the others are filled with memories of love. It's also true that although I suffered during the loss of my loved ones, that suffering is not what stands out when I think back: it's those priceless moments of happiness that I remember. They will never leave me, and I am blessed that I can recall myriad episodes when we laughed together until we cried.

My current assignment seems to be to find the next stage of my life, explore where the days will take me, and find myself surrounded by love everywhere I look. Waiting for me at the coffee shop are a couple of my good friends, and my partner sleeps beside me as I write. My pals in the world of the Internet are also present (that would be you, my friend) and give me great pleasure as I share my thoughts this morning.

I've managed to write another post, although this morning I had no idea what might emerge. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. Today was one of those days when I felt the magic. I do hope the coming week will bring you some realization of the love that surrounds you. And I wish that same thing for myself. Be well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Mindfulness and aging

Glacier lilies emerging from detritus
One of the things I love most about hiking in the High Country is seeing how the seasons change the landscape. Those dead stalks were living, vibrant growth just last fall, and now they are sinking back down into the earth to sustain new growth. Glacier lilies emerge for just a few short weeks once the snow has retreated. I took this picture last month, and I suspect that this same spot is now covered with greenery, with no lilies to be seen anywhere.

This past week has been a real blessing in so many ways: first, the intense heat that we Pacific Northwesterners only occasionally experience is gone. We went from a high temperature of 90°F to a high of 68°F, with marine air finally scouring out the heat and giving us back our usual summertime temperatures. Yesterday, however, I could feel the beginning of the return of higher than normal temperatures, which are expected by the end of the week. After this lovely interlude, I don't feel the same dismay; my frame of mind seems to be rather fluid, and that's okay.

Second, I attended three wonderful yoga classes that helped me appreciate the ability my body has of recovering from the exertions I put it through. Although I hiked ten miles on Thursday and gained quite a bit of elevation, I woke on Friday feeling refreshed and happy. Very different from two weeks earlier when I could barely walk after a hard hike. I don't know what caused the difference, but it reminded me that if I give myself enough time to recover, lots of restful sleep and mindful stretching, even at 75 I am capable of more than one might imagine.

I know it's temporary, that the aging process continues apace, and that one day I'll have to change my activities, but that's not today. So today I'd like to consider the tools that help anyone to have Mindful Sustainable Aging. It's a thing, I discovered, actually, and that article I've linked will give you the whole story, if you're interested (and I hope you are). To sum up:
Learning to use mindfulness later in life can be important in terms of coping with the (psychosocial) crises of old age and the struggle to find meaning in late life. The fact that mindfulness spans both the normal and the pathological makes it capable of addressing a wide range of problems, something that this article has attempted to point out.
When I started taking yoga classes a few years ago, it was so that I might be able to regain some of the flexibility I'd lost over the past decade. Although continuing to exercise, I noticed that getting out of bed in the morning was always accompanied with myriad aches and pains, which I attributed to my age. But once I started doing the yoga poses, gradually I noticed a difference in my body throughout the day, starting with getting out of bed. Yes, there are still arthritic and achy moments, but they are much, much less. And my feeling about those aches and pains has changed to one of compassion. Last week I wrote about having compassion for myself, and just a simple change of attitude has given my days a happier perspective. Another quote from that article:
By engaging in things that demand both activity and spirituality, older people cultivate a mindful sense that is still vibrant with hope and meaning. However, older people also need time to cultivate their inner being by withdrawal from the outer realm of the doing-mode. Older adults who have made the shift from a doing-mode to a being-mode are considered to be spiritual elders.
Oh! A spiritual elder, can I become one too? That sounds like just the ticket for those days in my future when I can no longer continue to engage in my daily pursuits. I found another wonderful website from the Positive Psychology Program that gives 22 Mindfulness Exercises, Techniques and Activities for Adults, which should keep me busy reading and studying these techniques for quite awhile. I'll be sure to let you know which ones have worked best for me. I do know that writing this blog post on Sunday morning, my first activity of the day, has been very therapeutic and never fails to give me a changed perspective toward the day ahead.

Years ago, I meditated twice a day for at least a half hour, and I still remember how much I would crave to return to that state after a full day of hard intellectual work. I kept it up for what I remember to be at least a year, maybe longer. During that time I actually had moments of transcendence while meditating. I don't know why I stopped, but several attempts to take it up again have been disappointing. Part of me longs for the serenity I found back then, and maybe now that I have so many tools at my disposal, I can find my way back to that place. Or even to a new and more delightful one on my journey to become a spiritual elder.

There are so many twists and turns in one's life, and nobody can predict where a certain avenue might end up. I do know that, in my quest to regain my flexibility by taking those yoga classes, I've grown more willing to find mindfulness in everyday life. The best part is realizing that there is so much more to learn and so many ways to expand my horizons, even (or especially) as an older person.

I just looked at the clock and realized that I've spent more than an hour getting to this place, with all the reading of those two websites I linked above, and my attempt to capture it for you, and for myself at a later time. My partner lies sleeping next to me, quietly breathing, so I know he's fast asleep, not in a light doze as usual. And of course my tea is long gone, and a light grumbling in my stomach reminds me that I'm a little bit hungry. Time to finish and start the rest of my day.

Please remember that we are all surrounded by peace and beauty, if we just take a little time to search for it. Or at least that is what I desire for us all. Take a moment to think of what makes you happy and maybe it will come to you today. It is my most sincere wish that we have a wonderful day ahead. I wish you all good things until we meet again next week.