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, May 28, 2023

Things are looking up

Looking up

Yes, just a bit of a joke here. I was looking up at these lovely trees while on my hike last Thursday, and noticed how beautiful it is up there above eye level. The entire eight miles (well, four out and back) is filled with gorgeous trees and green splendor. And it wasn't too hot, since I tend to wilt pretty quickly in the heat, so I made it without incident.

I am feeling better about how I will adjust to Melanie's move, now that I've made the leap into the other hiking group. They stop more often and don't always travel as far as Group 1, which is all I knew about them before I took up with these hikers. I've slowed down a lot and appreciate the slower pace. And I still get to walk with Melanie on Saturday mornings. Her house goes on the market on Wednesday, and how long she will stay in town depends on how fast or slow it sells. Then she will move south of Portland to be closer to her relatives in California. 

As I mentioned in last week's post, two weeks ago we had our annual gathering of all three hiking groups, getting ready to start the summer season of travels into the High Country. I'm not sure how many of these I will attend, since last year one of my favorite hikes just about did me in and warned me I might need to skip them, especially if it's hot and sunny. Most climb at least 2,000 feet in elevation, much of it in full sun. Not my idea of fun any more. But we'll see. I am optimistic and will take it one week at a time.

One thing about hiking with other seniors, everyone is dealing with health issues now and then. Since we cover the gamut from mid-fifties to mid-eighties in age, there's quite a difference in abilities, which is why there are three groups. You can check them out here if you're interested. Between my two regular hiking days, I also walk every morning to the bus stop, about a half-mile from my front porch. After visiting the coffee shop, my friend John drops me off at Cornwall Rose Garden for a two-and-a-half mile walk home. That gives me three miles for the morning, which is very much needed to keep myself in shape. But let's face it: there is a price to pay for accumulating so many years on the planet, and nothing will change the trajectory of aging. Well, one thing, but I'm not going there quite yet!
The aging process is not gradual or gentle. It rushes up, pushes you over, and runs off laughing. No one should grow old who isn't ready to appear ridiculous. —John Mortimer

 Yeah, I know. Now I am old enough to know the truth of this statement, and I intend to get older yet, I am braced for all that comes next. The only real problem I have with my aging process is the gradual loss of my eyesight. I have been experiencing AMD (age-related macular degeneration) and am dealing with a darkness that has appeared in both eyes. Fortunately for me, what is missing in one eye is mostly covered by the same area in my other eye. But it makes for a darkening landscape, since there are really and truly visual holes, and nothing I do will change that fact. Wet MD actually has some ability to be slowed down, but dry, which I have. is not. I take lots of vitamins for my eyes and wear broad-brimmed hats and sunglasses that might slow down the progression, but I see changes from one eye appointment to the next. I've also lost a good bit of depth perception, so sunglasses in dappled sunlight make it even harder to see where I'm going. But I'm optimistic, and my eyes have helped to get me this far. 

It's Memorial Day weekend, and here in Bellingham we have the annual Ski to Sea team relay race which, if you're not in it, means lots of disruption throughout the entire town. The race has seven segments, starting at the Mt. Baker Ski Area (with both cross-country and downhill legs) and ending with kayaks pulling into Marine Park in Fairhaven. In past years, I've gone to the finish line (taking a designated bus from downtown) and watched some of the finishers drag their kayaks out of the water. I probably won't do that this year, because with good weather it means it will be packed tight with raucous people, drinking and carousing around. Just not my thing, but I will enjoy reading about it in the local paper tomorrow. Hope it goes without incident and everybody is safe.

I'm thinking about all those in my family who have served in the military, although nobody in my family actually died in a war. My son died while serving, but he died of a heart attack while jogging, more than twenty years ago now. My niece Allison retired from the Army as a Colonel, the highest rank anyone in our family ever reached. Daddy was a Major, and my son was a soldier with a couple stripes. We have, over the years, given plenty of days and years of service to our country. I am grateful.

In re-reading my latest book, I was reminded of the ancient sages of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other Asian cultures. And also curious about the language that many ancient scrolls were written in, Sanskrit. It's a beautiful language, and I love to see it written. Nobody speaks it as their own native language today, but it still exists and is used in many cultures as a sacred language. Many sages wrote scriptures in it that are studied today. Here's a name you probably never heard before: Padmasambhava. In modern Tibetan Buddhism, Padmasambhava is considered to be a Buddha that was foretold by Buddha Shakyamuni. I was fascinated to learn that he made some astounding prophecies, among them foretelling today's world. He lived more than a twelve hundred years ago, and he made this prediction:

When the iron bird flies and the horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the world, and the Dharma will come to the land of the red men (western countries).

How did he know about airplanes and automobiles? Or about the Chinese invasion of Tibet? It makes me wonder whether the ancient sages were actually clairvoyant and able to see the future so clearly. Many books I've read say that is so, and this gives credibility to that fact. It also makes me wonder whether reincarnation and rebirth is also real; I'm still a skeptic when it comes to that concept. One thing I know for sure: we don't actually know very much about the true nature of reality. Maybe that's one reason why I am so fascinated with quantum physics and Buddhism: it feels like the answers lie in there somewhere. Plus it gives me something to study and fill my mind with; it's a very useful way to pass the time and fills me with wonder.

Life is full and my days pass quickly. Too quickly, mostly, and I'm often totally taken by surprise to look up from my laptop and see it's grown late. Looking up is the theme for me on this Memorial Day in 2023. But for now, as I look over at my dear sweet partner sleeping away, I'm thinking about whether when John picks me up for breakfast in Fairhaven, we'll be disrupted by the festival that will take place later today. Tomorrow should be a quiet day for me, since everything will be closed, and I'll go for a nice walk in the park and afterwards sit down, open my laptop and learn more about Sanskrit and ancient sages. 

I am truly blessed to have such a good life, and if it were to end today, it's been a very full ride, all the way to this present moment. I am filled with gratitude for so many different aspects of life to appreciate and enjoy. Hopefully you will also have a wonderful day and will remember to look up. You never know what you might see. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

The four immeasurables

First rosebud in Cornwall Rose Garden

Before I get into talking about that Buddhist concept (the title of this post), I needed to show you that when John dropped me off at the Rose Garden yesterday, I found quite a few rosebuds. This one looks like it might already have bloomed, with all the sunshine we've been having lately. From nothing to a fully formed flower in what seems like no time at all! I also noticed that many of the emerging buds seem to have attracted aphids. Hope someone takes care of that before it damages them.

On Thursday, I enjoyed a wonderful walk with my old Senior Trailblazer friends, and then we had a rather large feast, with all three of the Senior Trailblazer groups, along with family. I used to hike with Group 1 (here's a link to all three groups). It was quite a large gathering, and everyone brought stuff to the potluck. Two of the three groups went on a hike in the Lake Padden area before we ate, and I got to visit with many of my old hiking buddies. It was a little disconcerting to notice that many of them have aged considerably since I saw them last, reminding me that times does not hold still even when I'm not paying attention. Of course, I'm not aging alone; we are all slowing down and losing some of our abilities as well. When you see people weekly, it's easy to miss these changes, but after a year or two, the differences are quite evident.

There are some new faces, mostly members who have discovered the hiking groups since I left. It seems some of them are quite a bit younger, like in their fifties and sixties, rather than in their seventies and eighties. I think I will rejoin the groups by starting by joining Group 2, which has a slower pace, and see how I do with them. I did one hike recently with them, and it was lovely to find myself pretty much in the middle, rather than working hard to stay fast enough with Group 1. This coming week I will join them again, since Melanie is getting too busy to hike with me on Thursdays. She has decided to sell her home and move to Oregon, south of Portland, in order to be closer to her family in California. This entails quite a bit of work, and she's thinking she would like to get her home on the market by the end of this month. Then everything depends on how fast her two-bedroom home sells. So, change is coming, not only to her life, but to all those who are part of her daily activities. Like me, for instance.
Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment — a means to an end. —Eckhart Tolle
Change is a permanent part of existence, and it is not something we can avoid, no matter how much we might want to. Whether it's attempting to slow down the rate of aging or watching a friend getting her house ready for sale; it's happening all the time. It occurred to me that trying to hold change back is one reason I like routine: it makes me feel like each day is the same as the one before, when nothing could be further from the truth.

I am currently re-reading a book that introduced me to some concepts of Buddhist thinking that have resonated with me, and it's almost like I never read it at all, since the person reading it today is not the one who read it a couple years ago. But one thing I remember and want to share is the idea that there are four immeasurables that we can use to shape the way we move through the world. They are: loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. 

Many Buddhist notions count things like this: the eightfold path, the five remembrances, and so on. I think it helps one to recall them when immersed in the study of their concepts. Or whatever; I realize it does help me remember them. We all want to be happy. We sometimes go about procuring that happiness in very unskillful ways, but this doesn’t change that fundamental intent. The challenge we face as human beings is how to be happy together, how to act so our happiness doesn’t impede another’s. Making space for others through the practice of the four immeasurables is an excellent place to begin.

When thinking about writing a new post, I almost always begin by going to a favorite website, brainyquote.com, and look for inspiration. I found the above quote by Eckhart Tolle and went over to Wikipedia to learn more about this interesting person. It turns out that he is still around, and the Wikipedia entry helped me to understand his philosophy. He suffered from debilitating depression for much of his life, and when he was 29 he experienced a life-changing epiphany.
I couldn’t live with myself any longer. And in this a question arose without an answer: who is the ‘I’ that cannot live with the self? What is the self? I felt drawn into a void! I didn’t know at the time that what really happened was the mind-made self, with its heaviness, its problems, that lives between the unsatisfying past and the fearful future, collapsed. It dissolved. The next morning I woke up and everything was so peaceful. The peace was there because there was no self. Just a sense of presence or “beingness,” just observing and watching.
That was when he began to teach others, and his story led him to write several books. I'm going to start with his first one (written in 1997), The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. I can get it on my Kindle for a really good price. I had never heard of it, or him, before running across that quote. I feel like it will make it much easier for me to practice the four immeasurables to immerse myself with a new author. 

I am afraid that I've been a little bit all over the place with this post, but that's because I am searching for a focus that still, as I come to the end of it, has not surfaced. That's okay; I'm doing this for my own benefit, and for the benefit of my readers. I am feeling quite content to ramble this morning, to allow the corners of my mind to smooth out a little. My dear friend John will be coming by in an hour, to take me to our usual Sunday breakfast, and I need to finish this up soon.

My tea is gone and my loved one lies quietly next to me, not quite asleep, but if I finish this and get up out of bed quietly, I think he will slip back into slumber. I do hope that the coming week will bring you lots of love and compassion, joy and equanimity. Until then, be well, my friends.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Mother's Day 2023

A natural Mother's Day bouquet

When I first started this post, I wondered what is the most appropriate place for the apostrophe in "Mother's Day" when referring to all mothers. I tried various solutions, but actually none seems perfectly correct. So I decided to go with the flow of "most" articles I found,  referring to a singular mother. In any event, I am wanting to talk about my own departed mother.

She has been gone since 1993, but she still to this day visits me often in dreams. I hear her voice sometimes when I least expect it, but it always turns out to be someone else's, or even my own voice. I don't think my mother will ever truly be gone from my consciousness, as long as I am alive.

Daddy, Fran, Mama (and someone in the back)

While cleaning out a desk, I ran across this picture of my parents from some long-ago event in a kitchen that might or might not have been theirs. Everyone is pretty dressed up, and the woman at the stove is wearing a corsage (I think). It was in the years before Mama stopped using henna in her long hair, and Daddy is actually wearing a tie (I've never actually seen him in one, or at least I have no memory of it). Some ancient recollection of having seen Mama's pretty embroidered blouse under her jacket lets me know that I was around somewhere.

I was born right after my parents celebrated their first anniversary, and I suspect this picture was taken in the late 1940s or early 1950s. From the expression on Daddy's face, it was not his first drink of the evening. It might have been a party for someone not in the picture, and some anonymous person captured these three friends enjoying themselves. Fran was an RN from the local hospital who became a good friend to my parents. She was the attending RN when Mama had surgery for some kind of "women's problem," and she urged the doctor not to give Mama a complete hysterectomy. Mama ended up having four more children, and my brother's middle name was bestowed on him to honor Fran's part in his having been born. It's all ancient history now, but the picture preserves the moment; I will never know what the occasion was, but I have spent many hours studying the picture for clues.

I don't think the occasion was for Mother's Day; everyone is dressed for what seems to have been a fairly formal occasion. I don't remember Mother's Day in our family ever having been celebrated like that. We would sometimes go out to a restaurant, which is what I suppose most families do, but we didn't usually dress up. However, since I don't possess any pictures from old Mother's Day celebrations, I suppose I could just invent it as one, and make this my offering to my beloved mother on her day. Just because she's not physically present doesn't mean she isn't still deserving of appreciation for all the years she gave me as her mother.

I know I have given her many bouquets of flowers over the years, so the beautiful lilacs in bloom at the start of this post are appropriate. I have some childhood memories of having picked wildflowers for a bouquet and having given her a wilted but heartfelt gift. Mama was always appreciative of the sentiment. But she was also never one given to long celebrations with her at the center of attention. Mama was a great cook and spent many hours making delicious meals for her children and husband. I sure wish I knew how to make that wonderful cornbread casserole I remember from long ago. 
Our mothers give us so many gifts. They give us the precious gift of life, of course, but they also leave treasured lessons that can guide us along our journeys even when they are no longer with us. —Maria Shriver

It really doesn't matter how old you are, you will always be a child to your mother. And she will often be someone who gives her advice to her offspring to help them navigate the way to happiness.  Mama was a real housewife; she never worked outside of the home except as a volunteer. She spent time with us, although she seldom was without a book or two that she was reading. There were stacks of books beside her bed and in the living room by her chair. I still remember seeing her carrying books home from the library, huge numbers of them, sometimes in boxes. And she read them all. I believe she was one of the most well-read people I've ever known. 

We moved a lot when I was young, and Mama was able to turn whatever place we were living into a real home in a very short period of time. I always remember thinking of home with her at its center, wherever we lived. It was hard when she died, because suddenly the world no longer had a place in it that I felt was my home. She was a central figure to my feeling of safety in the world. It was not something I could ever find again, even when I was grown and a mother myself. I suppose this is fairly common among women, but I don't really know for sure. I only have my own memories of my safe haven with Mama at the center.

Today, this post is a love letter to my irreplaceable mother. I believe she knows somehow that I am still thinking of her and remembering her with love and gratitude in my heart. She carried me under her own heart and gave me a loving and safe childhood against all odds. I am who I am today because of her. I wish all mothers and their children could have been so blessed. She personified love, and so on her day, today, I'll try my best to do the same with everyone I meet. It's the least I can do to honor her memory. Happy Mother's Day, Mama!

Sunday, May 7, 2023

Lilacs in full bloom

Sweet smell and blooms

 Lilacs bring such strong memories to me, from many years past, and remembering the strong unforgettable scent of the flowering shrub. It's a good thing the smell is unforgettable, since my smeller now only retains a faint hint of what I once enjoyed in abundance. But it's still there, at least a little. There are so many memories of experiences in the past that have changed in present days.

As a teenager living on an Air Force Base with my family, I didn't have the opportunity to shop in a store, but perused a Sears catalog to pick out my new school clothes each year. I saw a lovely shirtwaist dress that came in lilac flowers with green leaves, and I fell in love with it. My mother ordered it for me, along with some other clothes, but that is the one I remember the most. And once it came, I wore it over and over. The look of lilacs and green like in the above picture bring back memories of those days. It was sleeveless and had a small collar, I remember, and a flowing skirt.

Of course, in those days we also wore full skirts with lots of crinoline petticoats so that we swished prettily as we walked, and which allowed the skirts to fan out and give a glimpse of the petticoats underneath as we sat at our school desks. I have memories of spending long hours washing and treating those petticoats with starch so that they would continue to stand up with wear. Ah, those were the days when I actually felt that my world would crumble if everything in my outfit wasn't just perfect every day. How long has it been since I've even worn any dress or skirt? A very, very long time. But back then, I was quite the fashionista.

These days I care so much more about the water resistance of my jackets, most of which are either used for rain or misty cool conditions. Fashion doesn't even fit into my life anymore. What does fit into my life is waking each day feeling that only the weather will make a difference in what I do with my day. After fifteen years of experiencing retirement from the workplace, from the ritual of getting up every weekday morning and heading to the office, I realize that I have learned a new way of living, and I like it a lot! I decide what I will do with each and every day, not some schedule imposed upon me by others.  and

I have learned that I do need schedules, they make it easier for me to get what I really want out of each day. That, and having a dear partner who shares a life with me that is not imposed from without, but does what makes him happy while I do what makes me happy. I get a lot more exercise than he does, but his days are filled to the brim. We are both so lucky to have found a partner whose desires for happiness coincide. Yesterday was our wedding anniversary, and we acknowledged it, smiled and hugged, and went on about our day. No need for fancy restaurant food or flowers, just enjoying our togetherness. It's not for everybody, but it is perfect for this duo.

Six decades have passed since those halcyon days long ago when I worried about such things as having the correct clothes for school, or petticoats, or any such frivolous activities. I see the kids on the bus sometimes who are heading to school, and most of them are wearing shorts (even when it's cold) and everyone is dressed differently from everyone else. Not so when I was a teenager; you wore the regulation outfit so that you would not stand out. You didn't want to be teased or pointed out that you are not dressed properly. I think the teenage years are when one feels it the strongest, or at least that is my recollection.

I have been watching a delightful limited series on Netflix based on "Bridgerton" characters, and it has dovetailed perfectly into the whole Coronation of the new King of England (which happened yesterday). Although it's based partly on fact, the series also takes a lot of license with what actually occurred in the lives of King George III and Queen Charlotte in the 1800s. I didn't realize that the King was suffering from a malady that meant he was considered mad. Although the story is embellished and changed from reality, it certainly is fascinating to think of what life was like back then. Every society has its norms, just a wee bit different from what it was like six decades ago for me growing up. 

It was pouring in London yesterday during the Coronation, but the streets with filled with those who would not miss the occasion. And it was quite impressive to watch the crowning of King Charles and Queen Camilla. I am reminded of an Emily Dickinson poem that speaks to this time: Springtime in the Northern Hemisphere of our lovely planet, with flowers are sprouting everywhere among the Coronations and the rain.

A little Madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King,
But God be with the Clown –
Who ponders this tremendous scene –
This whole Experiment of Green –
As if it were his own!

If you had the chance to go back in time to another era, where would you go? Sometimes I think it would be lovely to have lived during an earlier century, but then again, it would not be so lovely unless I was a privileged individual. And still I would have to deal with the lack of all the amenities I take for granted: electricity, for one, and modern bathrooms, too. When I consider all of those differences, I think I'll stay right here in the middle of the twenty-first century after all. It's given me so many ways to be grateful for all that I am blessed with, including sitting here in the dark writing on my laptop, communicating with others around our wonderful planet. No, I'll stay here.

In just over an hour from now, my friend John will pick me up and take me in his chariot to breakfast, one that would have been sumptuous in any era, and then later I will join my friend Lily to play in a bowling alley with her. I'm not good at it, but I do enjoy being with friends and trying to stay out of the gutter. I do hope you will have a great Sunday, and that you will remember to look around at all the trappings we have, those of us living today in what once would have been unimaginable luxury. Until we meet again next week, dear friends, I wish you all good things. Be well.