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 26, 2021

Wildlife and more

You can't see me

I see a fair amount of wildlife on my walks around town. This little cottontail runs across the trail as I head home from my morning walk almost daily. It might not be the same one, but who knows? Last week I saw him again, and I saw that he went under a tree to hide from me, and he stayed perfectly still as I captured him on my camera.

This survival technique must work pretty well, since it's been going on for millennia: hold perfectly still and maybe the predator won't see you and will just move on. Of course, bunnies are one of the most sought-after prey for many animals looking for a quick snack, so I guess the magic doesn't work all that well most times. I do enjoy seeing his little white tail disappear into the brush and hope he is able to grow up and enjoy life for a good long time to come.

We are in the midst of wonderful fall weather, with sunny bright days that don't get very hot, interspersed occasionally with a rain shower that greens up the entire environment. My favorite time of the year, in fact. Yesterday four of us ladies walked down to the harbor to admire the boats and get our steps in for the day. We finished it off with a quick trip to the Farmers' Market, which is only open for a few hours on Saturday. It was packed with people, everyone masked and looking happy to be outside on a beautiful day.

And now we have the opposite of yesterday's sunshine: showers all morning turning into a steady rain for the afternoon. One thing I especially like about this time of year: while it will be rainy for most of the day, I wouldn't be surprised to see the sun come out at the end of the day, after everything is washed clean. Like I said, it's a wonderful time of the year and makes me happy to be alive.

This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.—Dalai Lama

I am getting to know my own brain and heart as I study the principles of love and kindness. I have been attracted lately to Buddhist thought and have been reading a great deal about how to meditate, and how to live a good life in the context of today's challenges. It reminds me that many years ago, long before I became the person I am today, I was a meditator. I had actually forgotten the benefits of sitting quietly and watching my breath. It's been a long time since I have actually done it, but it has come back to me once again, and it already brought me some serenity.

And it all started with me reading a few books about the Dalai Lama's cat, by David Michie. Now I have read several books by the author, and I have found something else that intrigues me: meditating on the Medicine Buddha.  Michie also wrote a suspense novel that ends with his discovery of the power of meditating with this particular Buddha. I love that each meditation begins and ends with this prayer:

By this practice of Medicine Buddha, may I be purified of all disease, pain, and suffering, and enjoy robust good health, and attain complete and perfect enlightenment to lead all other beings to this same state.

 Well, it's a start. You gotta have something to work towards, and now I am thinking I will continue to find peace and contentment in my life through meditation. Since I am retired and supposedly have all the time in the world (!), I can certainly find many different ways to slip in a moment or two of breathing in the Medicine Buddha's mantra. Funny how just a little story that captivated me has changed the trajectory of my days. Maybe there will be at least one more person out there who might give it a whirl.

This post is taking longer to write than usual, and that's because I keep going off to Google and looking up one thing or another regarding the Medicine Buddha, and then I end up reading the entire article. It surprises me how often David Michie keeps coming up in relation to Bhaisajyaguru (the name of this particular Buddha). I have no idea how to pronounce it, although I could probably figure it out, since Sanskrit has become more familiar to me through my yoga practice.

Life's little twists and turns fascinate me, and I will continue to keep you updated on the evolution of my practice. Every day is a new and precious gift, and I will continue to attempt to make use of these days for the benefit of every living being.

I send you, my dear readers, a special gift today: one of healing and wholeness that should be the birthright of everyone. On this day, I will sit in meditation with you in mind, and I have no doubt that if you do the same, we will be connected to one another through our intention. I know it sounds pretty woo-woo, but what the heck? What do we have to lose? We have everything to gain.

Well, this has been a much different journey to the end of this post than I could have imagined. I am now ready to begin the rest of my day, with a trip to the coffee shop (of course) and the chance to smile at some new friends and spread around a little happiness. My dear partner still sleeps quietly beside me, the sun is not yet over the horizon, and I will walk with a spring in my step as I move through my day. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things, dear ones.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Last post of summer

Bellingham Bay yesterday

Our rain started later in the day on Friday, and it continued all night long. Bellingham had a record amount of rainfall on Saturday, after a summer of below normal precipitation: 1.82 inches fell before I got out of bed yesterday. But then the skies cleared and it was a glorious day. Melanie and I walked a little more than six miles along the South Bay trail beside Bellingham Bay, into Fairhaven and down to the ferry terminal and back. The rain returned sometime last night, and it should be damp today. I don't mind, really, since I consider Sunday my day off and I don't even try to close the exercise rings on my Apple Watch.

Usually I try to get some exercise in every day and manage the three rings on my Watch fairly easily. By walking to the bus first thing, I get around a third of a mile in, and then when my friend John drops me off at a trailhead, after coffee, I get about three miles total before I come home before 10:00am in the morning. I also have a daily routine of my Five Tibetan Rites (which only takes about ten minutes to accomplish), and I am trying to get in at least three days a week of yoga, and a long-ish hike on Thursdays. It's not a huge exercise regimen, but it's enough for me to feel pretty good most days.

I happened across an article about exercise the other day, with the intriguing title, The Exercise Routine That Can Make Your Body 30 Years Younger. It sounds great, right? It's a hook that made me have to read it, and of course I found out that you also must have begun that routine thirty years ago! The study found that older adults who began getting fit during the exercise boom of the 1970s, and continued into their seventies and beyond, were far fitter than "normal" septuagenarians. They studied three groups, people in their twenties and older folks who exercised and those who didn't.
The muscles, capillaries and enzymes of the exercising older adults were similar to those of the younger cohort. However, while their aerobic capacities were lower than the younger folks, they were 40% greater than the group of older adults who did not exercise regularly. When compared to the national averages, they had the cardiovascular health of someone 30 years younger.
I was one of those people who got hooked on exercise in the 1970s. I well remember standing in the doorway of my apartment, looking down at my brand-new running shoes, before heading out for my very first run. Back then, I didn't really care that much about aerobic fitness, but I wanted to lose about ten pounds and thought this was the ticket. Well, within three days I was almost unable to walk, with shin splints that were agonizingly painful. 

I went to a sports doctor to find out what I was doing wrong, and he analyzed my gait and said I am a pronator (my feet turn slightly inward) and fitted me with orthotics, which I wore inside my running shoes. I kept it up, and before long I had experienced the fabled "runner's high" that came from vigorous exercise. I also realized that I could walk and run and still get the benefits, as long as I dedicated myself to a daily regimen.

Before long, I was strapping on my running shoes and hitting the trails behind my workplace on my lunch hour. I found other people who were just as dedicated as me, and I found others who would join me on what we called "fun runs," just going out and enjoying being outdoors. What I was able to do is not exactly what some would consider actual runs, since my pace was around nine miles an hour. But I got better, and I did lose those pounds. My best race was a 10K (6.2 miles) at an 8.5-mile-an-hour pace.

I also got into bicycling long distances. Living in Boulder, there were so many opportunities to just get onto my bike and go, plenty of places with little traffic. My friend Donna and I decided, one summer long ago, to ride our bikes from Boulder to San Francisco! And we did it, taking six weeks, camping each night in city parks or the equivalent. We crossed the Continental Divide five times, riding through Yellowstone, up and down country roads. I got pretty good at changing a bike tire quickly. The only drawback was that, after being with each other for so long, we were barely speaking to one another at the end. (We did reconcile eventually.)

I fell in with some friends who were attempting to climb all 52 of Colorado's mountains of 14,000 feet or higher. We would head out for a weekend adventure, always with the hope of summiting a peak before returning home. Before that period was over, I had managed to climb 26 of them. Some memories of those days still pop into my head occasionally, usually when we had gotten lost, or looking up at a rocky climb towards the top and wondering if I could make it.

And then, in my fifties, I got hooked on skydiving, and all the rest of my world was completely fixated on jumping out of airplanes. Nothing interested me except getting to be a better and more accomplished skydiver. Since I could still jog and learned that packing my parachute several times a day was plenty of exercise, I still kept fit during those years. I made my first jump in 1990, and my last in 2015. It was where I met my life partner, and we were married in freefall in 1994.

When I look back at the journey I've made into the present moment, I am amazed at how different my life has been because of exercise. As I peer over at my dear partner sleeping next to me right now, I realize that he wouldn't be here if I hadn't become a skydiver, so that is probably the one activity that has changed my life the most. But today, here in Bellingham, I am fortunate to be fit enough to walk up to around eight miles at a time, and knowing that I am doing quite well for a really old lady, thanks to having started this fitness journey so many decades ago.
You’re only one workout away from a good mood. —Unknown

 And here I am, finishing up my Sunday morning meditation, having been brought into the memories of all those years of different types of exercise by that article, and realizing how different my life would have been without it. I am incredibly fortunate to have the life I lead today, and with the ability to make friends around the world through the magic of the Internet, I can also learn about others like me.

I do hope, dear friends, that you will have a wonderful week ahead, and don't forget to mark the new season that begins in three days: autumn. It begins here around noon on Wednesday, September 22. And now, it's time for me to begin the rest of my Sunday. Until we meet again next week, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Fall ruminations

Whatcom Falls

 Yesterday morning the three of us ladies walked in Whatcom Falls park and I took this picture, showing how puny the falls can get. We've been in a drought, with little rain (as usual) this summer, and the falls are almost nonexistent. After weeks of rain, the entire area from left to right will be filled with roaring water, making it almost impossible to hear each other talking while standing here. But not today. This is the lowest level of the falls that I've seen since I moved here in 2008.

The trees are beginning to change color, just at the beginning of the season, and the rain is supposed to return this coming week. The change is pretty normal for mid-September and marks the beginning of my favorite time of the year. Cool weather, clear skies, punctuated by the occasional shower, perfect for a nice walk with just a light jacket. 

Yesterday was also the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, and it has been impossible to turn on the TV without being reminded again and again of that awful time in our nation's history. It began our longest period of war and it has not ended yet, even if we have left Afghanistan and Iraq. Those countries are in terrible shape, and it does make me wonder what it was all for. So many soldiers and civilians dead. I can barely stand to think of it, so we pretty much kept the TV turned off this past weekend and hope we can move on to more positive memories soon.

Much of my attention these days has been towards taking off a few pounds. I started keeping track of my daily food intake, using an app on my phone, and I see it's now been 30 days since I began. It reminds me of how often I will lose a pound or two at the beginning of a diet and then enter a plateau where the scales stubbornly stay the same for awhile. When the entire amount of weight to lose is a small number, for me under ten pounds, seeing any progress comes and goes, which is normal. I've added more protein into my diet, which helps keep me from being too hungry, and it's been helpful to cut back and make every calorie come from healthy food rather than comfort food.

Even if the scales are not registering the weight loss, I can tell that I'm losing weight by the way my clothes fit. I have a pair of favorite pants that have needed a belt to stay up, and for months I managed to wear them without that belt. And they no longer are comfortable without it, which makes me happy. My belly has begun to shrink a little, so I will continue until I lose another three pounds over the next month or so. I'm moving in the right direction; nothing is more demoralizing than to be gaining pounds on my small frame. 

As I sit here in bed, in the dim light with the laptop sitting open, I can hear the rain starting, and the sound makes a light drumming on the roof, reminding me that we won't be having clear skies today. It is time to pull out my numerous rain jackets for the coming days ahead. It's a nice change and I really don't mind, and if it's not a downpour, it's nice to walk in it now and then. It doesn't take much for all the brown grass to begin to green up once again. 

I'm not feeling very inspired to write anything with much substance this morning, and I wonder why. It's not like I haven't been reading plenty of books and watching the occasional movie. Several friends asked if I had watched CODA, a new film about a young girl who is the only hearing person in her family. CODA is an acronym for "Child of Deaf Adults," and I found it moving and very uplifting. It apparently won all sorts of awards at the Sundance Film Festival. I enjoyed it very much and recommend it.

My sister recommended a book to me that I suggested last week that you might also enjoy, The Midnight Library. I ordered another book by the same author, Matt Haig, How to Stop Time, which I also enjoyed. It's not as wonderful as his previous book, but I will now make an effort to read everything he's written. One reviewer said this book is "a meditation on the tick and tock of time and mortality." From the above link:

Tom Hazard is a high school history teacher who has just moved back to London. He may look like an ordinary 41-year-old, but due to a rare condition, he has been alive for centuries. Tom was born in 1581 in France and has lived history alongside famous historical characters such as Shakespeare, Captain Cook, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Now, he just wants an ordinary life.

 It is interesting to think about what it would be like to live forever, or at least for longer than our short lifespan. I remember long ago thinking about that, and realizing with a shock that all the people I love would be left behind in such a situation. And now here I am, old enough to have lost many dear friends and family already, and I wouldn't like it at all. Better to be a "mayfly" in the world (one who lives only for a day) than an "albatross" (long lived birds). In any event, the premise of the book was a good one and a good speculation about what it would be like to live for centuries.

Since our society equates happiness with youth, we often assume that sorrow, quiet desperation, and hopelessness go hand in hand with getting older. They don't. Emotional pain or numbness are symptoms of living the wrong life, not a long life. —Martha Beck

I can attest to the fact that getting older has its benefits. I am fortunate to live in a situation where I have access to healthy food (sometimes a bit too much of it), lots of green trails to explore, a comfortable place to live, and a dear sweet partner who helps me navigate the shoals of growing older. I look at him and see how hard he works to make our living situation better, and I am grateful. I pretty much have everything I need to continue comfortably in this life for a bit longer. But I do have to remember that it won't always be like this, and to stop and look around to help myself continue to be grateful, even when things change.  

The rain has stopped for the moment, and I feel the need to wrap up this post and begin the rest of my day. I will have 1,200 calories to spend, including a visit to the coffee shop for my oat latte, and time to spend with my friends there. Then I will come home and consider how I might enjoy the rest of my day. One thing I always do these days is stop to consider my dear virtual friends; I will visit your blogs and see how the world looks from your vantage point. I do hope it's a good day for you, too. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Kindness in today's world

Front porch flowers yesterday

Not knowing for sure what I might write about, yesterday I snapped this picture of my front porch flowers to start the process: showing what my petunias and geraniums are doing right now. I look at the flowers in my fellow bloggers' posts and realize my little offering is modest. But just right for me, since I tend to be someone whose garden needs to flourish under my "benign neglect." In other words, I enjoy looking at them and making sure they are watered, but otherwise they must get by without much else.
I've been searching for ways to heal myself, and I've found that kindness is the best way. —Lady Gaga

Kindness. What an interesting concept. I've written before about how much better it feels to treat others with kindness rather than hatred, to see them as we would like to be seen, and having a sense of forgiveness for slights, great or small,  to allow ourselves to grow in kindness.

It's amazing how much that can change my mood and the trajectory of my entire day. Finding ways to choose the softer, more inclusive path makes my life feel so much better. In other posts I've given ideas of how we might find more kindness in our lives, with the incredibly distressing news cycle trying hard to make us suspicious of everything and everybody. But it doesn't have to be like that. 

Instead, we can start each day with the idea that we will be agents of good today, that we will find ways to make someone else's day better. After all, this day is really all we have: our hopes and dreams can disappear in the blink of an eye. Nobody has a  guarantee that there will be a tomorrow, so let's take the present moment and use it for joy and love. We do get to choose that much.

This past week I joined the Senior Trailblazers for a hike I have enjoyed for more than a decade. The weather was perfect, late summer and clear skies made for a cold start in the High Country, but more than a dozen of us made the trek together. It was really nice to see everyone again, but I was so nervous about whether I could still do it that I hardly slept the night before. I worried that I would have ankle problems, or overheat as I have often lately, and I built the entire excursion into a problem. 

It occurs to me that I am no longer the risk taker I was in my earlier years. No, these days I am happy to keep going in a much safer, more sedate way. This is someone who enjoyed hurling herself out of an airplane several times in one day. But that was then. Now, I am so very happy to walk or hike, using my trekking poles for balance, with good friends in the wilderness and forests of my world. And remembering always to give thanks for the ability to continue well into my late seventies. 

I read a really good story this past week, The Midnight Library by Matt Haig. It's a book that will make you think about what your life might have been like, if only you had made a different decision in some past situation. From that link:

As a place, the Midnight Library isn't really a library (of course), but is instead a 101-level lecture in parallel universe theory, philosophy and quantum indeterminacy. Really, it's a therapist simulator, minus the couch. A place of regret and possibility. Because who, in their darkest moments — or maybe just on a Tuesday — hasn't wondered what life would be like if only...

 I really enjoyed the book and thinking about how different my own life would have been if I had taken off in a different direction at various junctures in my life. If I had not made that first tandem jump back in 1990 and not having fallen in love with freefall, I would never had met my life partner, for one thing. As he sleeps next to me, I try but fail to imagine my life without him. Although we don't jump out of airplanes together any more, skydiving shaped my life and changed its trajectory forever. We have been together now for three decades and watched each other grow old. We met just before our fiftieth birthdays and, doing the math, you know we are well into our final years. Happy together in ways I could never have imagined.

When I retired from my job in 2007, we made the decision to move somewhere other than Colorado. What if we had chosen to stay, or to move some place like, for instance, Louisiana? Or New Jersey? Those places are in the news today because of Hurricane Ida, which caused enormous destruction as it tore apart entire cities this past week.

I am being careful here, because I could easily go down the path in my writing to consider today's news cycle. But I won't, since I believe most of us are looking for something else to fill our minds with. Like love and joy and hope and happiness. These aspects of life are always available to us by changing the direction of our thoughts, by looking past the present difficulties and being grateful for that which is always present in our lives: peace and hope for a better future. As I write this, I realize that there are many of us who are suffering, but it is possible to look beyond today's problems to a time when things will get better. And one thing I can promise you: it will change, because nothing in life holds still. It's always changing, and we can imagine a happy future just as well as any other.

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. —Albert Einstein

I am incredibly blessed in my own present world, but I also know it will not stay this way forever. Life isn't like that, but it doesn't mean I need to cower in a corner and be afraid of what is coming. It does mean that I must continue to take care of myself and my surroundings as best I can, and look ahead to more joy and love in my life, no matter what else comes along. We can all do that, if we just put our minds to it. 

Oh, yes. A good friend of mine has always said "yes" to the world and what comes to her through it. And why not? It's so much easier to say yes than to try to push the river into our own idea of what our lives should look like. I so enjoy seeing how others are coping during this difficult time in the history of the world. Many of us are continuing to support and love each other, choosing kindness instead of meanness, choosing love instead of hate: we can do that through every breath we take.

And now it's time for me to finish up this post so I can publish it and see what you, my dear virtual friends, have to add to it. I always look forward to each one's "take" on my Sunday morning musings. And I do hope you will find some way today to add a little kindness to the world around you. I'll do the same and we will have made a difference.

My tea is gone, my dear partner sleeps quietly next to me, and the world looks so much brighter right now than it did when I sat down to write. Be well, dear ones, and I look forward to the coming week, with light and love in my heart.