Friday, March 6, 2015

Serendipity and Adventure

Life in Taos seems to be strewn with fascinating serendipitous and synchronous moments, as well as tremendous opportunities for adventure. Lately, it seems as if all of it has been occurring with great frequency, and today was no exception. 

I’ve been working with a particularly talented skier named Christopher over the past 6-7 years who’s soon getting ready to graduate high school. He has quite a demanding academic workload, so today was our first day riding together all season. 

On a chairlift ride, I asked him what schools he’s applied to and what he intends to study. After sharing names of several schools in the local region, he named a handful of Ivy League schools, including Dartmouth, my step-father’s alma mater, to study medicine. Upon hearing this, I told him about a family friend I have here in Taos, Lloyd, who’s a medical researcher at Dartmouth and that I’d love to introduce them. While we took a lap in the steeps of West Basin, I wondered how I’d ever find myself in a position to actually make that happen.   

Following our lap, back at chair #2, as we slowed our way through the lanes, I saw Lloyd working his way through to catch a chair up. We all rode together to the top. Christopher and Lloyd were able to have their introduction and share a conversation. It was a completely unexpected and unplanned meeting that happened with ease just moments after initially pondering the possibility; it seemed entirely intended to be.   

Upon our goodbyes, Christopher and I proceeded to hike up and traverse across the steep rim of West Basin, sidestepping and digging in some herringbone steps to a spine line we call Bamboo. It’s a rather technical descent and the snow was punchy, thick, and sticky. Christopher’s one of the few students I work with who I trust to be able to navigate such terrain and conditions competently since it requires a high level of physical skill, focus, and intelligence, especially to ski it well. We patiently but rapidly hoped and steered from turn to turn to the middle of the spine until we came to the crest of a rather large rock ledge overlooking the gully of T-bird. 

We studied the landing for a moment, judging it to be 20-25 feet down, thinking we’d save it for another time. But then, a sense came to Christopher, that he should probably do the leap now since another opportunity might not come since the snow can change so rapidly. I thought I’d ski down and set up to take photos and rest an aching hip, but then came to the sense myself that I should follow suit and leap it, realizing the landing would be fairly cushioned. We both dropped it, one after another, hooting and hollering with exhilarated joy before tracking some bouncy turns down through the lower aprons extending out of T-Bird and Cuervo. 

Despite my relatively seasoned experience, I still get some butterflies in the pit of my stomach before I huck a rock or cliff or ski a steep, tight, technical line at speed. But I breathe in and out slowly, relax my body, and look out around me, taking in the natural beauty of the surrounding landscape. I visually line up and intuitively feel out my take off and landing spots, back up to create some space in which to push off and skate for some speed, prep my body to anticipate the dynamics of shifting alignment from launch to landing, and say a brief prayer. This takes all of 5-10 seconds and then just go for it and do it without further thought. 

There’s a moment when I’m beginning my leap that I ask myself, “what in the world am I getting myself into?” But that thought quickly evaporates and becomes a dualistic out-of-body experience balanced with full-body presence in which trained instincts kick in. While the experience happens almost instantaneously, with repetition and experience, the strange and scary sensation of falling at a high rate of speed and expectation of a pounding thump seemingly shifts to a sensation of floating with the sense of time slowing down with anticipation of moving forward into fast flowing turns upon impact.    

I feel fortunate for the abilities to be able to experience life in this way, and I'm grateful to be able to work with such a young talent and a kindhearted, good, quality young man. Sharing experiences with him like those today remind me of the joy in shared experience. And it's through those shared experiences that I most often feel gifted with moments of serendipity and adventure. They make for beautiful and ecstatic experiences and I’m grateful for them in my life. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Shedding: Accepting and Embracing the Gifts of Questions

Following my recent return after a month and a half on the road, I’m feeling grounded and settled back into a routine with life in Taos as I embrace elements of very significant and specific changes in my life. Among other things, this includes the dynamics and arrangements within personal relationships, living arrangements, creative output and public exposure, plans and expectations, and health. 

Sometimes we need to shed in order to grow, whether that comes in letting go of something, changing perceptions or expectations, or coming to completion of something. With a new cycle of the moon and the subtle yet recognizable shift of seasons towards fall, I sense clearly a necessary shedding. Acceptance of these changes brings with it greater peace to my head and heart.

It was, at first, a slightly awkward transition back to Taos over the past two days and I needed to sit with my unsettled feelings. I’m searching for answers to very specific questions within the depths of my soul, much of it having to do with my place in relationship to others, intimate and otherwise. But rather than expect an answer to be given to me, I’ve decided to embrace Rilke’s advice from Letters to a Young Poet and live the questions. So, on a gorgeous sun-soaked afternoon, I took the dogs for a walk along the Rim Road, lined with stunning canary yellow wild sunflowers, and onto trails of a section of the Taos Land Trust at the western end of Valdez. 

Along the way, I passed by an acquaintance whom I tend to see in the most random of moments, Aponi Kai, a vocalist, actress, and conservationist. While I anticipated the possibility of seeing each other given the proximity to her mother’s home, it was only in that moment that we could have. There’s been an underlying sense of archetypal symbolism in her presence in prior meetings and that detail wasn’t lost on me in that moment. Along with others, she seems to be representative of something significant for me. Departing in a car with her companion, we waved hello and smiled as we passed. 

Down into the Land Trust canyon, the dogs and I descended to the clear, chilly mountain stream waters of the Hondo. After a game of fetch (Zillah goes nuts w/o a little action), I waded barefoot overtop the river rocks and walked upstream through the water flow. 

A fallen tree spanned across the stream from shoreline to shoreline, suspended 4’ above the water. I jumped onto the tree and tested my balance and pained knee, walking back and forth across, spinning around, leaping, dipping, closing my eyes, and walking backwards. And then, I simply stood, for an extended period, listening to the steady sound of cascading water. 

The sound seeped deeply into my head and took me into a welcome state of meditation. I had been feeling uneasy and confused prior to these moments and listening to the steady flow of water beneath me felt like a cleansing solution. I released the tension in my face and brain, eased out of my controlled thought, and allowed whatever images and perceptions decided to present themselves to arise and fade away. 

Ten or fifteen minutes passed and I decided to sit, continuing in the same routine. Thoughts and images came in and faded away. I breathed and listened to the water as the dogs scurried all around, immersed in their own collective adventures. Clear, unadulterated sunlight beamed into the emerald canyon valley, bringing out the most vivid qualities of natural colors in the space. 

The thoughts and images that presented themselves seemed to have similar themes, providing an element of clarity to me. They reminded me to remain aligned with the deepest aspects of my inner truth, my heart of hearts, and to carry on in my interactions with others from this state and to trust the voice that arises from that place and to share it, for it’s intended not only to provide clarity for myself, but to empower others as well. My confusions were shifting towards becoming strengths.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, two bridled horses, one brown, one buckskin, tramped alone into the small patch of chamisa and sage pasture below the basalt cliff sides. The atmosphere briefly turned ethereal and dream-like. The horses stopped in their tracks and gazed at us, causing the dogs to cease their activities and concentrate their attention on the horses. Curious and engaged, the dogs began to bark and ran up close to the horses simply to check them out, startling them slightly. I called the dogs back in and allowed the horses enough time and distance to pass through to the other side of a large cottonwood 30 yards away.   

I kept the dogs occupied by tossing a stick downstream for them to chase. The brown horse was curious and came closer to study me. As he became more comfortable, he inched ever closer. Despite my limited time with them, I’ve always had a sense of peace and an unspoken connection with horses. This bond seemed to occur almost instantly. After a few moments gazing at each other, one of the dogs ran over towards the horse, causing him to retreat back to the other side of the cottonwood to graze. Again, I felt a sense of symbolism emanating from this encounter and it left me in a state of wonder. 

The dogs and I walked back downstream and began our ascent towards the top of the canyon. We stopped briefly at the corner of a switchback and I gazed out to the distant horizon towards San Antonio Mountain in reflection upon this brief experience and to give thanks for it. I felt a sense of strength and clarity envelope me, reminding me that while I’m enhanced by the experience of relationship, in staying true to my heart’s path, I am whole, fulfilled, and complete as an individual. 

We continued our ascent and crested back onto the Rim Road and began our return towards the house. Just past the trail head, I noticed someone walking down the opposite end of the road. They spun around and began coming towards us when I discovered a light, plastic representation of a baseball. 

In order to keep the dogs occupied on a specific side of the road, I began tossing the ball to strategic spots. I looked behind and the person walking was coming closer. It was a woman and she flashed a bright, brilliant smile. I smiled in return. I tossed the ball again and the woman, who was now just a few feet behind me, made a comment about the dogs and the proximity of the nearby cliffs. She smiled again, a comforting and knowing smile, as I did in return, recognizing that it was Julia Roberts, a day removed from her attendance at the Emmy’s. She passed on by as I returned my attention to the dogs. 

It was quite an interesting and unexpected moment to share with Julia. I laughed to myself at the seeming improbable randomness and synchronicity of that interaction, especially in light of its bookend with Aponi prior to our descent. 

The symbolic gesture of actresses appearing in my life in various, random moments over the past couple of years I recognize presently has a significant theme, tying into a profound vision I was blessed to experience on San Antonio a couple of years ago. But rather than provide clear answers, these symbolic interactions seem to fuel the questions, adding emphasis to their existence in my life. 

The excitement behind the mystery of answers to come helps me find comfort with living within the ambiguity of those questions provided now, rather than needing immediate answers. To paraphrase Rilke, if we can shed our need for control, we’ll live our way into the answers. And so I find myself in this space, returned home in a state of the unknown with changes ahead, and I'm content.

Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart 
and try to love the questions themselves 
as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. 

Don't search for the answers, 
which could not be given to you now, 
because you would not be able to live them. 
And the point is, to live everything. 
Live the questions now. 

Perhaps then, someday far in the future, 
you will gradually, without even noticing it, 
live your way into the answer. 

Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, 
as an especially blessed and pure way of living; 
train yourself for that but take whatever comes, with great trust, 
and as long as it comes out of your will, 
out of some need of your innermost self, 
then take it upon yourself, and don't hate anything.

- Rainer Maria Rilke from Letters to a Young Poet 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Natural Running

Darting up a hillside, I bound over a soft, pine-needled forest floor. Along the ridge, I followed Deer trails over a sandy patch of ground. Up and down a ravine, I slalom raced around a group of Scrub Oaks.

At the base of an elder Pinion, the trail forked. A quick decision needed to be made. Passing the right branch of the trail, I quickly spun-jumped back onto that trail and downhill. I slowed to a walk to tend to cramps and catch my breath, then quickly back to a run, downhill.

Long-jumping a large stream bed, I landed abruptly on its uphill edge, but quickly dug my toes into the ground to launch me back to a run. Through an arroyo in the valley, I snaked up and down each side of the half-pipe walls as I gained elevation. Up a steep, sandy-soiled hillside, I plowed my way through a thicket and onto a portion of Gallina Canyon Road.

Rain began to gently but steadily fall and I bound uphill in a rhythmic gait. A maroon-red pickup filled with Hispanic men passed, a young boy in the bed holding a rifle. Back in rhythm, I ran until a black Jetta passed, a middle-aged woman, Caucasian, short straight black hair, driving. I jumped to the side, behind a large Juniper bush for camouflage. She didn't see me.

Happy for a brief respite, I quickly worked my way back into a steady rhythm. My breath inhaled and exhaled within the groove of a polyrhythmic song, syncing with my feet as they shuffled along the sandy, fine-graveled road. Linear time faded briefly from my consciousness. I bound up another hill along the road with relative ease and worked my way to the top.

Western views of the Mesa, Two Peaks, and Tres Orejas opened up through a window in the forest and I stopped to gaze. Thoughts of future journeys came to mind. The thunderous sky opened and a heavy rain began to fall. I stuffed my shirt into a pocket of my shorts and began to retrace my tracks. I slid the tie holding my hair together onto my wrist and put my cap back on, backwards. My breath worked its way back into the polyrhythmic song and my run became a dance. I spun a 360 into the flow of my decent. My arms and hands waved and wound to a groove like Shiva.

A large white pickup passed and I jumped off trail without missing a beat. Clumps of muddy clay clung to the tread of my shoes. It flung off as I jumped and clicked my soles together. Time once again faded away as my consciousness shifted to a steady stream of meditative thought. Outside an adobe, voices of conversation brought my external awareness back into focus. I was at the edge of our driveway.

Down the rocky drive and up the last stone-covered 30 yards, I raced quickly. I walked into the house to wash my hands. My skin was damp, my hair soaked and curled. In dry clothes, I spread out upon the floor into yoga postures to bring my forest jaunt to a close.

Natural Running.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Andromeda Galaxy

When I look up at the night time sky, often I simplify what I'm seeing down to stars, planets, and the moon. They're amazing unto themselves, but I often overlook the deeper details of what the sky is sharing. After all, the naked eye can only take in so much.

Lately, however, in my quest to become ever-more familiar with the constellations, I've been searching beyond the stars for galaxies, nebulae, and other cosmic lights. This past week, while house sitting in the relative countryside of Taos, I set out to search for the Andromeda Galaxy, a spiral similar to the Milky Way. With a pair of binoculars in hand, I located the corner star of the Great Square of Pegasus, Alpheratz, that connected the constellation with Andromeda, and followed a line of stars towards Cassiopeia.

I eye-balled the location where I suspected the galaxy to be and brought the binoculars in line with my eyes. And there it was, a large blurry glow, spiraling beside the stars of Andromeda's V. An entire galaxy in the night sky!

There are many more to search for and many more to be seen. But it simply amazes me to look into the sky and recognize that we can see, from our own little planet, beyond the reaches of our own galaxy.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Taos: Acequias & Agriculture - An Evening Lecture at the TCA

A couple of weeks back, after a full day of work at La Dona Luz, I awoke from a much needed nap. I grabbed a snack, set the house up for a night time return, and walked down the street. The warm light of sunset shone on the mountain peaks behind me and created a golden glow on the adobe architecture lining Paseo (del Pueblo Norte).

Along the way, towards the heart of town, I passed a patch of colorful zinnias and large-bodied marigolds, Ouray’s Spirit Runner Gallery of oil landscapes, a large twirling wind sculpture dangling from the branch of a chestnut tree, and a labyrinth circling in front of a Presbyterian Church. I turned off of the sidewalk and mozied across the green, spongy lawn of Kit Carson Park and to the TCA, the local community arts center.

The TCA was in its third evening of a lecture series provided by the Taos branches of UNM & SMU. That’s a lot of acronyms for one sentence. The evening’s speaker, Miguel Santistevan, shared, with an occasional dry humor, an intelligent look at the deeply historic regional subject of water usage and conservation through the acequia system, as well as traditional agriculture. Here’s a brief bio & summary:

Here’s a recording of the lecture:

Some important points I took from the lecture:
1. The acequia system has deep, cultural history that was adopted by this region and is a water source that is truly communal, creating its own system of trust and balance within the community.

2. The digging of the acequia and helping to open up the spring water flow is an opportunity for a Rite of Passage experience for local youth and their bond with the community.

3. There are many time tested methods, as well as current experimental methods, for conserving moisture for agricultural uses. Lowered, gridded “waffle” gardens with shade fences, rock piles to collect moisture and regulate heat, and even giant snowballs harvested in the spring and placed in the shade are some methods used.

4. As a reminder of the wild plants that have edible and medicinal use, many exist in this region right under our very feet, from watercress and lemon balm to a whole host of others. 

5. Sustainable placement of features for land use is absolutely vital in order to make the entire regional system of acequias and agriculture to work.

6. Indigenous and historic seeds are able to adapt and flourish on their own, without much need for coaxing, and they offer a healthy diet. Genetically modified seeds are doomed to potentially fail on a mass level and offer poor dietary benefits.

I first came to Taos nearly 14 years ago and have come and gone four separate times, with numerous visits in between. After a full year spent in Oregon, I’m just now completing my first consecutive year-long stay in this unique community. Through that transient relationship, Taos has slowly become my adopted home.

It was once suggested through a mentor that, wherever one may travel, it is best and most efficient to learn from the natives. In the spirit of that idea, evenings such as this are about opening myself up to the greater local community and to learn from centuries of tradition, conservation, and survival. It feels of the greatest importance to connect with educators such as Miguel. Being native to the northeast, this is a landscape that will take years for me to truly come to understand and gain intimate familiarity with.

For a small town of perhaps 6,000 people (similar in size to the Pennsylvania town I grew up near), I’m always amazed at the colorful diversity, depth of cultural experiences, and mix of progressive attitude and tradition that exists here. And this on nothing more than a mundane Wednesday evening. It rivals any city that I would care to inhabit, yet with the quiet, steady pace of the Southwestern, small-town countryside.

After a brief chat with Miguel and others following the lecture, I left the TCA and retraced my footsteps home, gazing up at the stars along the way. Ten minutes later, I was lounging on the couch and eating dinner to the steady sounds of crickets and a myriad of other insects buzzing and chirping in a comfortable September night. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Seasonal Transitions: Connecting Nature & Culture

The High Holy Days and Reflections of Spiritual Experience

Among cultural events of this time of season that inspire the idea of fall reflection come the high holidays of the Jewish tradition. The shift of seasons traditionally brings Rosh Hashana, with its renewal of the New Year, and Yom Kippur, with its solemn day of prayer, fasting, and atonement. With my mixed ancestral Jewish and Protestant backgrounds, I’ve become increasingly focused on acknowledging the significance of such sacred holidays in my life throughout my adult years.

The significance of the New Year occurring at this time of year is not lost on me. The symbolic and literal shedding that occurs during the fall months marks this as a season of renewal and rebirth. We reflect on our lives as they are, as they have been, and the direction we intend to travel in the coming year. We remember our family and community, the roads they have traveled before us, and the roads they help guide us through now. We atone for our misgivings and come back to center, at-one-ness, with God in our lives. Yesterday was Yom Kippur and as we awoke to the first significant snowfall of the season, I took it as a positive sign of weather to come in the white season ahead.

Among those experiences, personally I am coming upon the 15 year anniversary of significant entheogenic journeys in my early college years that helped set the course for my life as it is now. It is from these psychedelic experiences that I began a deep pursuit of spiritual understanding and recognition in my life and what has brought me into communion with my family traditions. And it’s upon these experiences that I reflect most deeply now. As the weeks roll along, I plan to return alone to a wilderness location to sit in contemplation in recognition of those journeys.

Philosophically speaking, from those early college years to now, I would say that I’ve been most profoundly influenced by the ideas of Zen Buddhism and intrigued by a variety of indigenous views. Their fluid and sustainable natures simply make sense to me. And it’s through this philosophy that I’ve come to connect with my Judeo-Christian roots. Some might question how an individual can connect such contrasting beliefs to one another, yet I’ve always found connection.

In the fall of ’99, while traveling through Thailand, I first came to recognize a connection between Jewish and Buddhist traditions. At the time of the November full moon, I visited the city of Sukhothai and the Loi Krathong festival. Loi Krathong is the Buddhist festival of lights, just as Chanukah is considered the festival of lights in Judaism.

During the experience of Loi Krathong, I had befriended a group of young wanderers from Bangkok who let me tag along. They explained the significance of various ceremonies and let me participate with them. By a lakeside, we held krathongs, small disc-like objects made of banana tree cross-sections wrapped with banana leaves and decorated with flowers, a stick of incense, and a candle. The Bangkok kids guided me through, suggesting I place a strand of hair and a coin on the krathong, light the candle and incense stick, sit it in the water, and offer a prayer to the water spirits for cleansing and replenishment for the year to come. Simultaneously, we all floated our krathongs out into the lake water as they symbolically carried our prayers with them. The direction they traveled on the water and the connection they held to the other krathongs would represent the course our lives were to take over the next year. With a magnetic-like draw, mine floated into the path of one of the gals of their group who reminded me of a close friend in Pennsylvania.

The following week, in the southwestern coastal village of Rai Ley, I befriended a Jewish traveler from Seattle. We sat on the beach under the stars. As I described my experiences form Loi Krathong, he immediately recognized the similarities to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Just as in the Buddhist tradition, the High Holy Days are a time for cleansing and replenishment (in repentance of one’s misgivings), for reflecting on the past year and looking at the year ahead. And just as the krathongs take our prayers onto the water, Judaism has a tradition with rocks. While it is customary to lay rocks on the graves of the deceased, it’s also a custom to some to place rocks into running stream waters to help wash away the sins of the past year. In reflection of these experiences, Yom Kippur will always serve as a sacred experience in my life and it highlights the extraordinary experiences I explored at Loi Krathong during my visit to Thailand years ago.

With the year ahead, I find it important to honor both tradition and past experiences that have guided me through my personal spiritual journey. In doing so, it helps me to recognize the spiritual direction I’m intended to follow through the future.

What spiritual traditions are important to you that encourage reflection in the direction of your life?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Find Your Voice & Trust It

Welcome. Glad to have you join in.

This blog is intended to be a journey of expression. For a number of years now, I've been seeking the courage and discipline to share a variety of thoughts, ideas, and experiences through creative writing. Sharing one’s voice and vision is a powerful experience. It holds the potential to impact others in positive and negative ways. It’s been intimidating for me to open up this avenue within. It feels like an exposure of my soul that holds the possibility of rejection and criticism. The thoughts that pour through my head make me wonder if the ideas I’m attempting to convey are intelligent and not convoluted, thoughtful and not hurtful, and honest, not veiled. I wonder if the writing itself will be technically sound, as well as intriguing, not boring. I can be rather critical of myself, yet I also believe in the process. Sharing one’s voice also holds the possibility of freedom, enlightenment, and learning. 

I genuinely believe that to awaken, one must find their voice and trust it. That voice can be any manner of expression, whether it’s through the written word, a piece of music, a painting, or simply in leading by example through the lifestyle choice one makes. While these are personal forms of expression, you in fact become selfless by sharing these ideas with others. Perhaps someone will hear just what they need to at that moment in time in their lives to inspire them to change and grow. With this in mind, I’m going to let go of those fears as best I can and trust you, the readers, to share with me as this blog rolls on.

Through these writings, I intend to explore a variety of subjects ranging from nature, sustainability, educational philosophy, athletics, and traveling, to relationships, communication, community, health, and much more. I also intend to offer some reflection on life through current & past experiences (both shared and solo), thoughts on future dreams, critical analysis of a variety of stories, excerpts from a collection of evolving novel writings, photographs, links to a host of interesting pieces, and hopefully a little bit of fun.

Given the nature of my life, the posts will likely be sporadic, but I hope you enjoy it, and I encourage you to share your thoughts along the way. Perhaps we'll learn a bit from each other as we go. Our perspectives might vary. Perhaps they will even change. I ask only that you be respectful if you do choose to share your thoughts.

With that, let’s go exploring!