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, July 29, 2018

Compassion starts with me

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide
I took this picture while hiking along the ridge on Skyline Divide last Thursday. Again, I lagged behind the others, suffering from the heat and the bugs, and I stopped for a lunch break before the rest of the group. Melanie stayed with me, I think partly because she was worried about me. The last few years I've noticed that the heat really bothers me when I try to hike uphill. Of course, what I'm able to do is still considerable, especially when I compare myself to other septuagenarians. There is something unpleasant that begins to happen to the body as it ages, and I sometimes forget that I'm no longer young.

Ten years. That's how long I've lived in the Pacific Northwest and have been going on these weekly hikes with the Senior Trailblazers. Many of the participants that were along back then are no longer hiking. One day, I'll be one of them who has to find other, less strenuous activities to enjoy. Truly, though, I hope that I can keep going for at least a few more years. That means I need to be kind to myself and forgiving of my shortcomings.

Yesterday I read a passage from a book that resonated with me. The author is trying to show how to be compassionate to oneself. He starts by asking why it is that we can be kind to others but berate ourselves and find it difficult to forgive that one person the way we do others. Here's the quote:
Compassion begins with self-acceptance. Self-acceptance first requires letting go of negative thoughts about yourself. And it requires being aware of the negative thoughts to begin with.
Awhile back I wrote about the Buddhist Five Remembrances, and in pondering them again today, I realize that I keep forgetting that life is change, nothing stays the same, and that the only true belongings I have, that I can keep, are my actions. "They are the ground upon which I stand. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions." When I forget to take care of myself, and when I extend my body past its limits, I pay the price. That's what I did a couple of weeks ago, and I regretfully acknowledge that I will never visit the top of Church Mountain again. Although I believe that today I am pretty much recovered, more than a week later, my knee is still bothering me and now I realize that I was deficient in self-acceptance. I wasn't taking care of myself.

Yesterday I walked with the ladies, my usual Saturday activity, and I was feeling strong and happily strode along with the others, not lagging behind, and being glad to be back in the swing of things. But you know I will forget, once again, that I must be kind to myself and will overdo it. It's my nature to overdo and push myself too far. But times are a-changing, and my body must be allowed to take longer and longer periods of recovery. Otherwise, I'll be falling over unable to get up. And all because I was unkind to myself, unrealistic in my thinking.

Some people are naturally compassionate to others but not to themselves. I'm one of them, I fear. It comes partly from having a competitive nature, and partly from being in denial about the vagaries of age. Yes, I know I'm guilty of this failing, but it's becoming evident that I must forgive myself and become more accepting of my nature. Otherwise, I'll continue to think if I just push myself a little bit more, I'll leave behind those aches and pains. Life doesn't work that way.


In the coming week, those of us who watch the sun make its way across the seasons will get to celebrate Lammas, summer's First Harvest. Although I've already been bringing in lots of vegetables from the garden, this is the time when the first grain is harvested and the first loaves of bread from the harvested grain are baked. It's also halfway between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.
August was considered an auspicious month for handfastings and weddings. But underlying this is the knowledge that the bounty and energy of Lugh, of the Sun, is now beginning to wane. It is a time of change and shift. Active growth is slowing down and the darker days of winter and reflection are beckoning.
 Soon the long days of summer will be but a memory, and I'll think back on all the wonderful days we spent in the High Country. And I'll also be glad to find ways to enjoy my favorite season, autumn. The equinox marks the Second Harvest, and the Third Harvest is at Halloween, when the nuts and berries are gathered. The circle of life reminds me to look around and enjoy it, not try to push the river, or pretend that it's a static condition. Every day that passes brings me closer and closer to a greater understanding of myself, if I allow it.

Now that I've written this post, I'm feeling like I've found a direction for the day's activities. I'll pay attention to how I treat that most important person in my life, me, and how much I can show compassion to myself. Not only that, but those around me will feel it, and it will spread out to the larger world. And we know the world needs all the compassion and kindness we can muster.

With that, I'm smiling over at my partner, still asleep, and finding myself ready to face the day filled with good feelings towards all. I hope that you will spend a little time today being kind to yourself, and that all will be well in your world. Until we meet again next week, I hope all good things will come your way.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Perspective through the years

Church Mountain, almost to the summit
Last Thursday, another hiker friend, Dave, took this picture of me along with Cathy and Jim, as we debated whether or not to climb the final fifty feet to the summit of Church Mountain. There would obviously be no view, since the clouds had remained pretty thick during our trek to this spot. We had traveled more than four miles and up almost 4,000 feet of elevation to get here, and I was tired. Little did I know what was in store for my aging body on the way down, though: my knees and back began to complain mightily. It was my last time on this summit, I'm afraid.

Since the other two had never been to the top, we decided to go. I'm glad I did, and after looking back on my blog, I found that it had been five years since I last visited the top. Five years is a long time, and Thursday I was reminded that my body is three-quarters of a century old now and needs TLC, not arduous hikes like this one.

It's three days later, and I am now almost back to normal. I have binge-watched a Netflix series and an Amazon Prime original, which helped keep me occupied in a way that wouldn't put too much stress on my tired limbs. And it was interesting what I learned while watching those two series. First, I was intrigued by the nominations for the Emmy awards and discovered that two shows I had not heard much about are nominated for numerous awards. The first is entitled "GLOW" or "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling." Not being a fan of wrestling, I didn't think I would enjoy it, but after seeing its 11 nominations, I decided to give it a go.

The comedy series is set in 1985, more than thirty years ago, and I enjoyed looking at the clothes and hairdos of the era as much as anything else. The premise is that a guy decided to create a TV show of women wrestlers and recruited a bunch of non-wrestling women (with a couple who know what they're doing) and trained them. I had many a laugh while I watched the first two seasons. Season 3 is in production, and I am excited to see what happens to these women next.

It is hard for me to fathom that thirty years has passed by in the blink of an eye, that this period piece represents a time when I was already in my forties, older than those GLOW girls. Although the cars and clothes are dated, they changed so slowly that I didn't notice that it's long enough in the past to be part of my history. I thought I was old back then in 1985, but now I'm truly elderly. I laughed when I realized that if I were to die today, my obituary would not reflect on my tragic truncated life, but instead would reflect on a full life well lived. I've reached the age when most people are beginning to feel all the time like I do right now: achy and tired. I just keep forgetting that I'm old.

The second series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, follows a housewife in 1958 New York City who discovers she has a knack for stand-up comedy. It's an Amazon Prime original, and I was glad I discovered it after only one season, which meant I didn't have to binge-watch it for days to catch up. In fact, after I watched the pilot, I was truly hooked and could hardly wait to learn more about Midge Maisel. This period comedy is set in a time that I remember so very well: I was in high school, and the clothes in the series brought back so many wonderful memories. I wore those pretty dresses with layers and layers of crinolines underneath. I remember washing and starching them so that when I walked, frothy petticoats swirled around my legs.

Sixty years! Although in 1958 I had no idea what life had in store for me, I was young and idealistic, like most people were in those days.  Now it's a historical period. This comedy series received even more nominations: 14, to be exact. I had to find out what the fuss was about. Here's a quote from that Wikipedia article I referenced above.
NPR similarly highlighted the effectiveness of the comedy in the show, writing "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel isn't aiming for realism. It's a heroic fantasy. And Midge's humor, one might say, is the ultimate version of staircase wit. Recklessly honest, she says what female comedians would've said half a century ago — if they had only been free to say it."
 A heroic fantasy. Maybe that's why I resonated so deeply with her as I watched the eight episodes released by Amazon. I even watched the last one over again, because it was so densely packed with... just about everything. And it brought back another period of time when I was actually there, enjoying the beginning of my adult years. The two series are coincidentally thirty years apart, and it's thirty years since then. It gave me a chance to look at my life from three different vantage points, to be reminded of how much I've been privileged to live through.

I have also realized that there will be no more thirty-year periods, that I will have to imagine them because I won't be here to live through them, it feels like I've been given a priceless gift: the chance to reflect, be reminded, and celebrate a life well lived. And I have the most precious gift of all: a pantheon of wonderful friends and family who populate my memories, who are still with me in so many ways, even if they have already moved on. But today I will enjoy the richness of my current crop of friends and acquaintances, and we will find many things to laugh about and enjoy together.
Laughing is one of the best exercises, it's like running inside your mind. You can do it almost anywhere and it's even better with a friend. -Anon
And now, having been given the gift of retrospection, I now look forward to my day in the sunshine. I get to head down to the coffee shop and join my friends there, and I believe I'm going to the movies with my friend Judy later today. I've finished my first Sunday meditation, this post, and I hope that I will get to smile at your comments later this day and this week. Blogging is a gift that I treasure and am glad to share with my friends.

Hubby is still sleeping quietly, my tea is long gone, and the day beckons. I wish you all good things in your upcoming week, concentrate on finding laughter to warm your soul and share with your friends. It's what I'll be doing until we meet again next week.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Good medicine

Someone's collection of hearts
One day, while on a walk in the park, I discovered someone's collection of heart-shaped rocks, with a "good medicine" message in the middle. What does it mean, good medicine? A quick search on the internet gave me the source:
“A cheerful heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” –Proverbs 17:22
Laughter and a happy attitude does indeed go a long way towards making me feel better about myself, and gives me hope for the world, too. Being depressed and sorrowful doesn't help anybody, especially me. So today I'm going to look at ways to lift my heart and share a bit of the joy we can all feel for simply being alive.

Yes, I know that as I age, aches and pains are normal, and I have grown accustomed to feeling my familiar aches when I first step out of bed and start my day, but I also know that as I move around and stretch a little, I'll feel better and before long, they will diminish to more manageable levels. When I was younger, I'd leap out of bed feeling nothing more than delight in the workings of my body. But these days, I no longer leap with confidence into much of anything, but instead take it easy in situations where leaping is required.

Last Thursday my hiking group had to cross several roaring streams, and we needed to leap from rock to rock, and I must say that my confidence waned as I eyed one rock to another, trying to figure out how to get across. And then I found myself unable to move, unable to go forward or backward without falling, so Jim, one of my fellow hikers, came over to help me get across. And sure enough, I was able to make it across with his help, without getting my boots submerged in the rushing water. It is always a good idea to ask for help when you need it.

Kindness and caring comes naturally to some people. My friend Jim is one of them, and although I only know of one aspect of his life, his joy in hiking and travel, I know he will be available to help me if I ask. He recently traveled to Peru and hiked the entire length of the Inca Trail, which I also did way back in 1981. It surprised me to see his pictures and hear of his adventures, because it's changed so much since then. Now it's practically an industry, with hordes of people on the trail all at once. When I was there, I saw only a handful of others during the three-day backpacking trip from Km 88 (where the train left us to begin our journey) through the ancient ruins to our destination of Machu Picchu. Now you can hire a guide, or (in Jim's case) a sherpa, who carried his gear for him. In all his pictures, I saw so many other people that I hardly recognized the trail I covered almost forty years ago.

Forty years! It boggles my mind how quickly those years passed, but if I recall the memories carefully, I realize how much I still remember of those days, those moments in my long life, and am grateful that I got a chance to see those ruins for myself. I would not go back; it would make me sorrowful to see how much it's changed. That is true for many of my previous excursions. When I spent those six weeks in Peru, my first international trip, I had no idea that I would travel many more times to places in the world that would astound me: the Forbidden City in Beijing, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, to name a few. I've traveled more than my share, and now that I'm retired, I have little desire to go very far from home. Visiting my sister in Florida during the winter is far enough for me these days.

There was a time when I truly wanted to travel the world. Little did I know back in 1981 that I would have the chance, but it happened and now I have a plethora of memories, photographs, and stories that will always be with me. One thing that emerges in my mind's eye as I think back over those years are little vignettes of the people who, at one time or another, showed me a kindness, for no reason other than that they are good people. We need the good medicine of kindness now, as much as we needed it then. It's like a benign virus: showing someone a kindness causes them to want to do something nice for another.

This morning, as I venture out into my little corner of the world, I'm going to take my own cheerful heart out there and spread a little of that virus around. First the coffee shop, giving me a chance to share a bagel with my friend John, having a few laughs together before perhaps taking a short walk down the boulevard in the early morning before it begins to get hot, and noticing how often a stranger will smile at me if I smile first.

Something that will warm your heart, if you are an animal lover like I am, that is, is a video that I discovered about a retired couple who created a wonderful haven for elderly cats. It just happened without their planning it, and this should help to spread that virus around from me to you:

I must warn you that it's 12 minutes long, and I have to admit I cried several times during the video, but they were tears of happiness, and gratitude for people like this couple, who spend their retirement years creating something like a Cat Heaven.

Now it's time for me to start my day, having finished my first and most important task, writing this post. Interestingly, I feel quite a bit of happiness already, just now, and I'd like to share it with the others. My partner still sleeps next to me, so I'll just send him a virtual hug rather than waking him with a kiss. Thank you for being with me in this electronic life we share, and I do hope you will leave me a comment, if you want, to help spread the benign virus of love. I wish you well until we meet again next week.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Muddling through

Good morning! I have been looking for some place I could use this drawing, and today I decided it would be on this post. I like the image of the seed breaking open and putting down all those roots into the fertile ground. It reminds me that nothing dies without another life being born from it. And that is true, even if it's a "weed" that carries on, popping up from the small cracks in pavement, on its way to reducing the pavement, eventually, back into dirt.

Today is one of those days when nothing comes to mind to write about. I woke up in the middle of the night wondering what would happen if I just didn't even attempt a blog post, but that didn't last long. I've been doing this without a break since 2009, so I'm going to muddle through today.

When I first get up and make a cup of tea and carry my laptop back into bed to start my Sunday, I make a quick pass through the news before starting. I also read any new blogs from my friends that showed up in my Reader overnight. There were only a few, so here I am without much direction from that front, but I just learned that the rescuers in Thailand have begun to take out the 12 trapped boys and their soccer coach from that dark cave. Two of them are safe. This attempt has captured the attention of the entire world. At first I thought with all the help to rescue them would be easy, but then that young rescuer died, and I began to fear for all their lives. I pray for the safety of them all. Apparently it's got to be done right now, because the monsoon rains will fill up their escape route at any moment. And those boys don't even know how to swim!

I am not a fan of caves and would never have done what those boys did. Or perhaps I would have, if peer pressure had caused me to feel it necessary to go along with the others. I remember long ago visiting Carlsbad Caverns and going down the walkway deep into the ground to a central room in what felt like the center of the earth. I could feel the weight of the rocks over my head and was very glad to emerge into the sunlight after that. I think I suffer from a little claustrophobia that only shows up now and then. And my imagination does a great job of putting me in that cave with those young boys.

I guess we all have to live with our fears and phobias, which differ from each other. I'm sure that standing on the outside of an airplane two miles from the ground would trigger many people's anxiety, but for me it is liberating. I can still feel the exhilaration I felt as I climbed outside, waiting for the other skydivers to get into position so that we could all let go at once. It's been a long time ago, but the feeling still lives on when I recall my skydiving adventures. Give me the sky and plenty of air, the opposite of those caves, anytime.

There was a time, long ago, when I couldn't even imagine making a skydive. I was well into my late forties when I finally made that fateful tandem jump, older than most skydivers are when they are finished with their jumping careers. And then, to my surprise, I felt the need to go again and again. I couldn't get enough of the feeling of being in freefall, and now I have accumulated well over 68 hours of time in that wonderful place. I wish I could describe to you what it feels like to be flying through the air, looking around at your fellow playmates hooking up to make a formation. It's magical. I'm sure if I had the proper gear (which I sold in 2015) I could still make a skydive, but nothing calls me in that direction very strongly these days. After all, I must carefully pick and choose my activities at this point in my life, so that I can continue to play in the outdoors during these later years.

When I turned 75, the first several days after my birthday I would wake up and the first thing that I'd remember is that: I am 75 now. I won't ever be any younger than three-quarters of a century. Who knows what the future holds? One thing I know is that my time here on earth is limited. Of course, this is always true, but milestones give me a chance to reflect on what has passed, what has changed, and what lies ahead. I have had a fulfilling life, and if I died today, there is little I've left undone that I wanted to accomplish.

I feel very fortunate to have the circle of friends that I have, my family members and my dear partner to share these later years with. And wonder of wonders, the internet has brought many delightful people into my life and given me a chance to expand my horizons well beyond the borders of my own country. I've got friends all over the world who mean as much to me as any "skin" friends I have, and I look forward to hearing what's going on in your lives, being happy and sad with you, as you do with me.

This will not be one of those posts that everyone thanks me for, I suspect, because it's not really inspired. Sometimes the magic works, and sometimes it doesn't. But I will be here again next week, God willing, and I'll hopefully have something more profound in here. Until then, I'll leave you with one of my very favorite pieces I discovered years ago:
Life is not a journey to the grave
With the intention of
Arriving safely in a pretty
And well preserved body,
But rather to skid in broadside,
Thoroughly used up,
Totally worn out,
And loudly proclaiming,
WOW !!!! What a ride!
Be well until we meet again next week, dear friends.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The wolf I feed

Yesterday's rally at City Hall
It was happening all over the country: rallies against the tragedy at the Mexican border and a call to reunite the children who have already been separated from their parents. I am not much of an activist, but I felt it was important to add my body to those gathered together in protest. I know that many of my readers might object to any overt political posts, so I keep my thoughts to myself and away from my blog. Mostly. Sometimes it leaks out a little, like today.

It was raining here in Bellingham yesterday. Pretty much the whole day a light rain fell, but we are used to it, and in the picture, I see only one or two umbrellas. I had my raincoat and rain hat and was just fine. You might notice in the picture that most of the attendees seemed to be little old ladies, just like me. White hairs prevailed, and I saw many of my friends from other activities were there as well. However, young children and their parents were also there in large numbers.

The speakers mostly talked about the injustices we face, but I was particularly moved by a Native American woman who spoke of the early days of this country when her people were systematically separated from each other, and either killed or relocated. It reminded me that our country has been doing this ever since the first settlers usurped Indian lands. This is not new behavior. But that doesn't mean it needs to continue.

As I wandered through the crowd, I was sometimes overcome with emotion, for many reasons, but mostly because there are so many people like myself who really do care about the fate of people we will never know in person. There was no sense of anger or rage, like I often see portrayed in the media, just sadness and solidarity, and a desire to make a difference.

The other day I listened to a podcast that spoke about the parable of the two wolves that live inside all of us. It goes like this, from Virtues for Life:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. 
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” 
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” 
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
 As I wandered through the crowd and looked at the signs, smiled at the children, and felt the mutual support and harmony among the crowd, I realized that it would do nobody any good, especially myself, to allow anger to overtake me about what is happening. The feeling of despair and misery I sometimes feel when I watch the news is also not good for me. Depression is just anger turned inwards, so I am actively looking for other ways to heal myself and my world.

My thoughts are a choice I make, just like deciding which wolf I will feed, and I choose to have positive thoughts dominate my mind. I found this interesting post on line: Think Positive: 11 Ways to Boost Positive Thinking. I will read it carefully and take some tips from it; I hope you might think about doing the same, if you think you might need it. It's not just our thoughts that matter, but what we say to others is important as well, and what we say about others.

I've also often used this short little mental note of three things to remind myself before speaking about others is helpful: First, is it true? Second, is it kind? Third, is it necessary? This applies to so many areas of my life, and it's certainly something that makes me feel better if I think of it before speaking.


This week I went to the movies with my friend Judy to see "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", a documentary about Fred Rogers, who had the long-running TV show for kids for three decades. I only occasionally saw the show, but I watched him enough early on to get the feeling he portrayed of innocence and sweetness. The documentary also has many interviews he gave over the years, and you really sense that here was a gentle soul who wanted nothing more than the best for kids. I didn't know he was an ordained Presbyterian minister, but it makes sense. He just ministered through television rather than in a church. He had two children of his own, and they are extensively interviewed in the documentary.

It was fun to see him interact with Koko, the gorilla who just recently died at the age of 46 and knew sign language so well. I learned that one of my coffee shop friends went to school with Penny, the woman who worked with Koko ever since she was a baby. Penny must be devastated, having lost her dear companion. The gorilla did live a good long life, and she knew she was near the end. I read that one of the last "conversations" she had with Penny, she signed "old" and "patient" with sad eyes. She knew; I think other animals often know better than we do when our time is up. In any event, I highly recommend the documentary and hope you might find the time to see it. Surely it will make its way to Netflix once it's out of the theaters.

Today I will make a special effort to look for the beauty around me, not only in the external world, but my own internal thoughts as well. As Mr. Rogers says, "It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood." The neighborhood of my mind is looking pretty good right now, since I am almost finished with my Sunday morning post, and I feel the happiness of heading to the coffee shop to hang out with my friends. Sundays are my days that I have regulated the least, and so the day stretches forward with my anticipation of joy. A little time in my garden, finishing my latest book, and another movie with Judy. Sounds good to me!

I hope that the coming week, with our Independence Day holiday right in the middle, will be filled with everything that makes you happy. Don't forget to give thanks for everything that is going right in the world, because I'll be doing that as well and it always helps to have a friend or two along the way. Be well until we meet again next week.