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, November 27, 2016

Coping with it all

Unknown woman gazing out to sea
I took this picture during my walk on Friday. Since I didn't have a hike to enjoy on Thursday, and my class at the gym was canceled for Friday, I decided to go for a walk in the sunshine. It was also a day between rain systems. The puddle on the walkway made for a nice reflection, I thought. It was early, around 9:00am, and a few people were out enjoying the break in the weather, but by the time I headed back to town, Boulevard Park was crowded with people smiling and walking off some of their previous day's indulgence.

As many of my readers know, I have a hard time with a break in my routine. I just don't quite know what to do with myself, and now that I count my steps every day, trying to keep myself to a minimum of 12,500, it meant I had to find a way. Fortunately, this six-mile walk ended up getting me right up there before it was all over. And yesterday it was back to my normal routine with the Saturday morning ladies' walk. I wondered if anyone would show up, because the rain had returned, along with wind, making it less than ideal. Thirteen of us walked twice around Lake Padden anyway.

When I got home and out of my wet clothes, I settled down into my favorite chair with a new book I bought myself, Upstream by Mary Oliver. I have read and enjoyed many books of poetry by her, but this was my first time to experience her essays. I am finding solace in this book, which is meant to be read slowly, taking time to ponder her words, her world of wonder. Oliver recently turned 81, so she, as well as myself, are in the winter of our lives. One of my favorite poems of hers, "The Summer Day," ends with the following question:
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                        --Mary Oliver, 1990
 I feel pretty good about what I've done so far with my one wild and precious life, but there's more to come, apparently. I am still in good health, at least as far as I know, and the aches and pains of age are manageable. I wake every day looking forward to what it might hold for me. Although I have been known to fall into despair when coping with loss or illness, my natural ebullience always reasserts itself. And I learn new methods for getting through from here to there.

I've stopped watching television, except for the PBS News Hour now and then, and try hard to keep myself from reading too much about what our incoming president is doing these days. It's the only way I've found to keep the knot in my stomach from getting out of hand. At first, in hopes that he would appoint people around him who would help him make good decisions, I would read about them, until I realized that, if I continued, I would be unable to keep myself out of despair. Our worldviews are so completely different that I must turn away to stay sane. That's all I'm going to say about that sad turn of events. Let others agonize over it if they wish.

In just over a week, I'll be heading off to Florida to visit my dear sister Norma Jean. I've already starting thinking about what to take with me. With travel these days being not only expensive but also very tiring, I'm only taking a few things so I don't have to check a bag and can walk right out into the street and into her car. Once I land and turn on my phone, she is able to leave the waiting station and be there right away. It works very well. I am so looking forward to seeing her! It's been just over a year since I last visited, but it seems longer. I'll be writing this post on the 11th from there.

I also need to say a little about what my yoga classes have given me. It was early 2015 when I began to look for a class that might help me regain some flexibility and balance, as I was noticing that I was falling on our Thursday hikes more than other people, and that my lower back was beginning to be unhappy more often than not. I took several yoga classes in other venues, even trying out the ones offered through my own gym, the YMCA, but nothing was quite right. Then a friend on one of our hikes mentioned the gentle yoga class offered at Yoga Northwest. The rest is history: I began with the easiest level and then moved to what is called Gentle II, and from there I have taken two full semesters of Level I along with the Gentle II. I just signed up for a fifth semester, taking a class with a more advanced teacher, and I am really looking forward to it. Today and next Sunday will be my final classes with Laifong, after taking the summer and fall semesters with her.

I can now get into the shoulder stand, and even some other inverted postures without too much trouble. I find that there is something really beneficial about getting upside down, and I'm hoping I will be able to continue to advance at this very special studio. I met a woman who was taking a much harder class that takes place right before my Gentle II class, and we chatted for a minute. She was obviously older, like me, but in such great shape I was a little envious. She told me she has been taking yoga at the studio since 1985, and that she credits it with her ability to stay very fit. She's 77 and looks much younger. She told me that starting at any age, even as an older person, will have its benefits, and I can say it's certainly been true for me, and I've only been attending for a year. I am so happy I finally found this place where I belong.

Just sitting here and writing this morning has made me feel like I know what else I want to incorporate into my life, and that's a special time for allowing my creative juices to flow. You would think that being retired I should have all the time in the world, but I have found that I must carve out moments into my day so that I can fit it all in. Otherwise, the days slip by and things I have wanted to do haven't happened. I want to get back into writing that short story that keeps wafting its way into my brain. Mary Oliver says in her book, "The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

I don't want that to happen to me, so I'll find a time to answer the call. I certainly have heard it, and I will. Writing that intention here already gives me a focus, and now all I need to do is feel out the logistics of it. Right now my life is balanced between activity and inactivity, and the creative spark is trying to find a way out. I'll help it along. This blog is a first step, and perhaps I just need to get out that pen and the notebook and get started again. What do you think? Any tips for me?

But for now, I'm beginning to change my focus from this post to the next part of my day. Get up, get out of bed, drag a comb across my head. And take a moment to give thanks for all that I have present in my life today, this moment: my partner, pretending to sleep next to me, my laptop nestled across my lap, a respite from the rain, a latte with a good friend, and a yoga class to attend.

Until we meet again next week, I wish you the very best of days, with love surrounding you. I am sending you a virtual hug through the ether; your vibration is present underneath my fingertips. Be well until then.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The world looks brighter this week

Taken on my walk to the bus
It's still fall here. I've been reading on some of my fellow bloggers' posts about a snowstorm that has hit the upper Midwest, with lots of snow and then sunshine to light it up. Now that's something I would love to see. I remember it often when I lived in Colorado: the light on the snow making lavish patterns and the incomparable beauty of everything turning softly white. And the sun almost always came out right after a big snowstorm.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we can go days in winter and fall without seeing more than a little peekaboo sunshine, and lately it's been very wet. October was the fourth wettest on record for Bellingham, and Seattle actually had the wettest ever. And November, so far, has had rain almost every day, even if just a little bit. But until Wednesday, every single day has been unusually warm. So we've been in no danger of seeing our rain turn white; in fact, we've not even had a freeze, just a light frosting on the windshield of my car, once.

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who commented on my last post. I was actually encouraged to find that I am not alone in this little corner of the world in my despair over the election. In the past week, I've regained my equilibrium, with only a glitch now and then in my burgeoning optimism. Friday was a tough day, for no reason I could fathom, but everything seemed to be going wrong and I'd get in an argument with a friend at the drop of a hat. I realized it was me, so I decided to go to an extra yoga class and ended up doing two classes, one right after the other. It was just what the doctor ordered: after that marathon of twisting and turning and getting into very successful postures, I left the studio feeling a little sore but very happy. The rest of the day was much, much better.

Years ago I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and it resonated deeply with me. She wrote it after her daughter became gravely ill, and then her husband died suddenly. She talks in the book about how she coped with such loss, and having been there myself in similar circumstances, I understood what she meant when she said, "There was a level on which I believed that what had happened remained reversible." Oh, how well I remember waking up for weeks after my son died, thinking somehow that I had dreamed it, and that, as she said, it remained reversible. That's the kind of magical thinking I remember experiencing, and the intense powerful grief would hit me once again so hard that I had to catch my breath. Slowly, very slowly, I began to accept what had happened and knew that he was not coming back.

Now, it's been long enough that I can think of Chris with a smile on my face, and fond memories in my heart. I'm no longer grieving or in mourning over the loss. And when I think of the election, I know that sooner or later I will feel that way about it too, without trying to normalize the loss or pretend it never happened. After the depression of last week, as I feel it beginning to lift, I realize that I want to take action. I'm not sure how yet, but when I talked with my sister Norma Jean last Wednesday, I decided to fly to Florida and spend a week with her. I'll leave in three weeks and that has given me a focus, something to look forward to. I am no longer a lover of travel, but I sure do enjoy being with her. It's been a year now since we were together in person, and after the ordeal of flying across the country, I'll be in her hands for a week. I'll swim at the Y with her every morning, walk every day with her, visit my little grand-nieces and niece, and basically have a good time with the one person in the world who knows me best. And then the world will look very different.

Coming back home to the Pacific Northwest after being somewhere else, I realize how much I have grown to love it here. Colorado was pretty wonderful in its own way, but there's something very special about being close to the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea. What is the Salish Sea, you ask? Well, check it out here. Bellingham is one of the main ports in that body of water, along with Vancouver to our north and Seattle to the south. Yes, it rains here a lot, and the dark winter months discourage many people from living here. I find that exercising outdoors year round, no matter what the weather, does wonders for my mood. If I were housebound, I don't think I'd like it here nearly as much as I do. Once when I was returning from some trip or other, the plane circled the Space Needle in Seattle, and I gazed at the incredible green of the land and the blue water, and I knew I was home. I still recall that feeling, which is really something for a person who grew up without roots and had no single place to call home. I chose this area, and now it's been eight years since we moved here, and I cannot imagine living elsewhere.

On another topic entirely, I learned the the Oxford Dictionary has named the phrase "post-truth" the Word of the Year for 2016. This article from Salon, written yesterday, tells you all about it. From that article by Erin Keane:
Post-truth is defined as a state in which “objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth admits that facts exist but rejects their political utility. It’s not about what you personally believe but a crass and quasi-abusive exploitation of the human impulse to reach toward faith and tribal affiliation.
The entire article is well worth a read, and it explained a lot to me about how we got into this political situation. The fact that we have moved from "truthiness" to "post-truth" scares me. A lot. But, as I said last week, and I'll say it again so that I won't forget it, it's more important to live my own truth, and spread love and light as much as I can. I cannot change the world through magical thinking, but I can change my response to it. I can forgive, including myself for my shortcomings, and I can keep on moving toward seeing the bright world around me.

And with that, another post, is written, and I'll hop up out of bed and make my way to the coffee shop to enjoy hanging out with my friends, and then another yoga class on top of that. Maybe a movie with my friend Judy this afternoon. I hope that you will have a wonderful week ahead, and I am giving myself permission to have one myself. Be well until next week.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Stepping into the morass

Gazing at the beauty around us
Well, here goes. I'm giving you fair warning that I'm going to be talking about politics a bit, and I ask that you be kind. This is my space for trying to find some solace within my broken heart. I have voted Democratic and progressive for my whole long life, and I supported Bernie Sanders when he was running. When it became evident that he was losing, I shifted my loyalty to Hillary. That doesn't mean I was thrilled with her old-style establishment ways, but I was simply horrified by Trump. I still am. He has never been elected to anything before, and nobody knows how he will govern. No one. And I am not reassured by the people he's surrounding himself with.

If the media and the pollsters had not been so wrong, I don't think I would have had the reaction I did to watching the election returns come in. I would have had some warning and a chance to get myself ready for what happened. As it became more and more clear that she was going to lose, I went over to my neighbor's apartment and started to drink wine with her. We watched with horror as we saw what was happening. Then I came back home to see SG in front of the TV, alarmed but nothing like I was experiencing. The knot in my stomach ached and the tears flowed. I went to bed before there was any resolution, but SG came in to tell me when Pennsylvania was called for Trump and it was all over.

I cried, not for myself alone, but for the country. I lay in bed, unable to sleep for the despair I felt. When Trump came out for his victory speech, I got out of bed to watch it. He seemed subdued and not bombastic, and if anything it felt like he couldn't believe he had won, either. I was awake for most of the night after that. I got out of bed early and looked at the news and tried to absorb what I was reading. It turned out that most of the entire world was also shocked and afraid, not just me.

I drove in the dark to the coffee shop, wanting to surround myself with familiarity and friends. I knew that the owner is a Trump supporter and might be celebrating, but she was sympathetic and understanding of the state I was in. Then I went over to the gym to take my usual Wednesday morning class, and people were standing around in small circles, stunned and sad. Tammy Bennett is the Activities Director at the YMCA where I work out, and I saw this on her Facebook page:
My Y Gmas & Gpas make me happy every day. They are tough, they are resilient, they are intelligent and they don't let their physical glitches stop them. But today, for the first time in over three decades at the YMCA, I walked into a room that was so heavy with sadness and disappointment that I was speechless (those of you who know me well know that is very rare). So we exercised awhile, and I noted their disappointment in silence until I figured out the safe space of acknowledgement. "Thank you for coming to exercise at the Y with me today. One thing we know for sure is that exercise eases stress so your decision to be here today was a good decision." And we move onward. Always onward.
 My exercise class did make me feel better, but still I noticed that I wasn't hungry when I should have been, that I didn't feel much like doing anything but wallow in despondency. Even so, I went to bed Wednesday night hopeful that I would sleep. Nope, still not able to. And I knew the next day I would be hiking all day. I got up feeling tired but glad to be able to be with my friends. Eighteen of us showed up, not one voted for Trump and we were all suffering. The hike helped, and when we got to Herman Saddle after wrestling our way through the snow, we had lunch and turned around the way we had come, deciding it was not a good idea to try to make the loop we had planned.

Friday morning I realized I was going to have to do something to help myself sleep, although long talks with my beloved partner, who is not as devastated as me, has helped me more than anything. After my usual workout, I decided to take a trip to the marijuana store, since my friend John uses a tincture, putting a few drops under his tongue, which he swears makes him sleep like a baby. I walked into a bustling business and got in line. Once I got to the counter, I asked the guy for something that would help me sleep but wouldn't make me high.

He directed me to a series of tinctures that help people who deal with pain, and I finally ended up buying an "incredible edible" labeled Crash. I decided to try a half dose in a cup of tea, and I was pleasantly surprised by how relaxed I felt, almost immediately. Although expensive, I think this might be just the ticket. Last night I took a full dose, and I slept like a baby. I also noticed that the usual aches and pains I have all the time are gone, or at least masked by the weed. And I never felt any untoward effects mentally. Quite pleased.

Now it's Sunday morning, sitting in bed with my partner sleeping beside me, and I'm rested, finally. The world looks a whole lot better now. In just these few short days since 11/9, the Democrats are beginning to take a look at how to get our party back from the elites who decided that Hillary was the only choice for us, and I've regained my equilibrium. I know how to grieve, I've done lots of it in my day, and I know that once you get through the first few days, your system begins to recover from the shock.

I am also reading the opinion pages on the New York Times and the Washington Post, taking in all kinds of different views on the election. I'm realizing that many of us on both sides of the aisle are plenty worried and scared about the future direction of this country. I found this article by Garrett Epps at The Atlantic that pretty much sums up my fear.

If you are a Trump supporter, I congratulate you on your win. I truly hope that we will find that he is not the con man that so many think of him as being, and that he will lead responsibly. In her concession speech, Hillary said we need to give him a chance, and I certainly will do that. What choice do I have? Do any of us have? As I walked out the door on Wednesday morning in a cloud of despair, I saw Obama on the TV, smiling and reminding me that the sun will still come up tomorrow morning, and that I have the privilege of living in one of the greatest countries in the world.

The only choice I have is where to focus my thoughts. I believe that love and mercy are some of the strongest powers in the universe, and I will surround myself with them. Be well, dear friends, until we meet again next week.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunshine on my shoulder

Mt. Shuksan behind me with a new coat of snow
I look happy in that picture, don't I? It was such a glorious day on Thursday that I am still filled with joy when I think back on that wonderful hike up to Goat Mountain Overlook on a (mostly) sunny day.  The entire month of October was so rainy that we weren't able to spend even one Thursday in the High Country, but instead hiked on the trails around town in the rain. It takes some pretty awful weather to get me to stay home on a Thursday.

Although I work out in exercise classes at the gym, they are just not the same thing as getting outside. I found this article about the Top 10 Health Benefits of Hiking, just because I was wondering what the difference might be between indoor and outdoor activity. It turns out that being outdoors increases my sense of well-being and happiness when I commune with nature. Yep. I agree.

It was so different yesterday morning at 8:00am when I met with nineteen others to go on our walk around town. It rained all night long, and although when we met the rain had tapered off, I looked at the future track on my phone and it indicated plenty of rain. We ended up walking for the first half of in a driving rain, but it had again slowed down towards the end. At least a dozen of us stayed for coffee afterwards, and I have to say I was really happy with my new raincoat: although I wasn't completely dry, I was way more so than I expected to be. We got two full inches of rain yesterday, and although it was quite warm, the wind and rain were quite a challenge.

Today I have an extra hour, what with the time change last night. Of course, my body didn't know about the difference, so I woke up at the usual time. I decided to just go ahead and start my day, with this post and reading the blogs of my internet friends, and let the day play out as usual. I might show up at the coffee shop a little early, but otherwise the hour should be absorbed into my daily routine without much hassle. Tonight, however, I'll try to go to bed a little later than usual so that I won't keep waking up early. It's funny, but I have a harder time with the extra hour than I do when I lose an hour in the springtime.

On the bus the other day, I overheard a conversation between a young woman and her companion. She said, "oh, is the election next week already? I had forgotten about it." I couldn't believe it. We were on the same bus but existing in two different universes. If there had been some way for me to lower the volume on this election, I would have. It never occurred to me that there are other people out there who aren't even paying attention to it. It has been, without a doubt, the most acrimonious and dismaying election of my lifetime. I did see an article yesterday that compared this election with some of our early ones and realized that this is really not new in American politics. You might enjoy reading the UK Guardian's take on it here. It was informative and gave me a little perspective. We had some pretty awful elections 200 years ago, it seems, and we survived. From that article:
Actually, the US electorate has been here before, many times, going back to the 1780s, in elections replete with assassination, corruption, rhetorical vitriol, and good old “dirty tricks”. The meat-grinding process by which the American democratic sausage is made has always fallen a long way short of edifying.
Whew! I'll sure be glad when it's over, although whoever loses isn't going anywhere. The hatred and vitriol that has been unleashed will give the victor a terrible hangover of hard feelings to deal with. But still, we will go forward and have, in my opinion, a very good chance of making progress toward a better future, no matter what. Of course, that's just my opinion and only helps to make me feel a little better. I mean, what alternative do I have other than to fall into despair? That doesn't help anything and only affects me negatively.

Having sunshine on my shoulder, playing outdoors with my friends and breathing in the smell of pine trees at high altitude, that is the best cure of all. It looks like we might have one more trip into the High Country this coming Thursday, with another expected break in the weather in the forecast. No matter what happens in my little life, the magnificent trees and forests will be a balm to my spirit and will continue to inspire joyful mindfulness to all who visit them. Ah, yes, just thinking about it makes my heart soar and dispels the darkness.

Not to mention the darkness outside my window will soon be dispelled, since the sun will rise an entire hour earlier this morning than yesterday. Let's not talk about the other end of the day, though, shall we? I'm concentrating on the good things about returning to Pacific Standard Time. Walking to the bus in the morning means I won't have to use my headlamp to see the sidewalk, at least for awhile. And I've got a yoga class at 9:00am that I'm looking forward to, so life is good right now. And the rain has stopped, at least for today. My very special latte is waiting for me at the coffee shop, and today it will be free. Every 12th cup is free when you use their award system. I like to save it for Sundays.

Oh, will you look at that? Another post just got written, and it's still early! I can post this and go back to reading my news sites and check out Facebook. I usually don't have the time to do it all, but this morning I will. Anyone who uses Facebook knows it can be a real time sink, but I like to see how my family and friends are doing. It takes a little discipline, but I really enjoy it. I have plenty of friends who post inspirational quotes and they lift my spirits. I've blocked all the ones who post negativity, so I can enjoy the others.

And my tea is gone, my dear partner is breathing softly next to me, and I've got a good full day ahead of me. I hope that you have a truly wonderful week ahead, and that you might get a chance to spy a pine tree and say hello to it. Until next week, be well.