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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Accepting What Life Brings

Last night I arrived just below treeline on Greenhorn Mountain just as the swiftly moving mists overtook me, turning the blue gloaming into a dark downpour. I made my way as swiftly as I could into the dark of the forest and began to pitch my tent. I was feeling that it was not going to go well, that pitching my tent in the rain was going to be a miserable situation. I feared that I and the inside of my tent and my sleeping bag would get wet before I could get the protective rain fly up. I had brief notions of a cold, wet, sleepless night atop a mountain.

I knew that the rain was going to pass through the mesh netting of its roof and so I would need to work swiftly and with single focus. I spread the tent out and covered it with the rain fly while I ran the poles through their sleeve tubes. This is not easy and the tent was getting wet, the material resisting against the progress of the poles a bit due to the new friction of it's wet weight and the weight of the wet rain fly on it.

The breeze moving this misty cloud through the forest was cold and my clothes were getting soaked. I had decided to forgo spending time on getting my rain gear out in lieu of getting my shelter up as quickly as possible. I could always change into dry clothes once inside.

Once the tent was up and I was inside changing out of my wet clothes, I realized that the intensity of setting up the tent in this swift manner had lent the moment a focus and a calm to the situation. I had not been worrying about the rain or the cold or how wet my clothes or the tents insides were getting, I had been completely focused on the mechanics of the process. I found that with this single pointed focus I had achieved a meditative state where all of these factors were known or acknowledged, but without all the complicated and fearful thoughts. In fact I felt a bit elated. The challenge of the rain had made the event almost a game for me. I laughed in the dark at the thought that I had been having a rather joyful time through the whole "ordeal."

Hours later, I heard the rain stop hitting the rain fly. I unzipped my tent door and scooted out into the vestibule of the rain fly and unzipped its door. The thick mist of that mountaintop cloud was still moving ghostlike through the forest. I got out to experience it. The air was fragrant with the smell of a rain drenched forest. The evergreen scent, the earthy smell of the ancient humus beneath my feet. I could smell mushrooms out there growing in the moisture of the dark.

The mist began to thin as the cloud was sweeping over the mountain now. It dragged the tail-end of it's ragged tendrils through the narrow alpine firs and as that floating wet blanket slipped across the treeless summit, the dark expanse of the night sky was revealed. At this elevation above any artificial lights of the towns below, the amount of stars one can see is stunning. I realized that the cloud moving across the sky had been like a theater curtain, as it swept over the mountain the revelation of the night sky had a very dramatic effect. It would have been a completely different experience had the sky remained clear at sunset and the dark slowly gathered and one by one the stars slowly became visible. I realized that my experience of all that cold rain and mist was essential to the joyous experience I was having in the present moment. For a moment, here was no real distinction between the discomfort of pitching my tent in the rain and the pleasure of looking out into the glorious stars of our galaxy. There was only joy and gratitude. All that had happened was the path to this deep felt and timeless moment of bliss.

I hadn't been dwelling on how I wished the situation had been different, I was too engaged, too focused for thoughts like that. Accepting life as it is, tensions disappear, discontent disappears; being able to accept life as it is, one starts feeling very joyful for no reason at all!

When I saw the night sky fully opened cup with those innumerable stars in the nearly liquid black of space and the misty cloud dissapearing over the treeless sumit of the mountain, I was overcome with it's beauty. I felt grateful.

With great gratitude I was thankful for the cloud and the rain and the mist. I was grateful that I was spending a night with no other lodging than a tent; otherwise I would be sleeping under an ordinary roof and I would have missed this blessing--these stars, and the whispering retreat of this misty cloud, and this silence of the mountain, the utter beauty of this mountaintop night.

It was a great lesson, a lesson in the value of a focused meditational state in challenging times. A lesson in remaining calm in adverse conditions. This direct experience of nature had powerfully demonstrated to me a lesson in accepting all that life brings, with gratitude.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Stones in the Path.

"When the trail gets muddy, it is the stones in ones path which become the path."

We are living through times of great change. Many friends of mine lately are struggling with aspects of themselves which seem to be chronic and persistent. These things range from physical illness to life long issues which seem to keep arising. Challenges which present themselves over and over again. I have found that if I allow things to flow instead of attaching ones identity to those things, they disappear. Embrace them as part of your experience, they are part of your path taking you where you want to be; at times it is only a shift in perspective that we need.

Having spent several seasons hiking in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, I can tell you that after (or during) the rain or in seasons of snow-melt runoff, all those trails through the deeply forests mountains and lowlands become tiny streams. The whole area becomes saturated and moist. It becomes evident when in the forests of the raincoast, that the moisture which can be annoying, uncomfortable and at times an obstacle is also the very reason why it is so lush here. This water feeds and sustains everything. All of the fauna around one is water being held and used to increase life.

For a year I lived above 9,000 feet in the Indian Peaks Wilderness of Colorado. It was a beautiful place and my job at a mountain resort allowed me to be in some of the most pristine country around every day. I had the opportunity of walking out my tiny cabin door and walking straight into the forest. Even my walk to work took me on dirt roads through the forest. One day, while I was hiking one day below Longs Peak on the trails around Brainard Lake, I had a realization.

It was Spring time and the snow was begining to melt. At times, the trail would get so muddy that I had to switch over to stepping from stone to stone instead of the space between and around the stones which I usually thought of as the trail. It was a natural switch, this stepping out of the mud to dance upon the rocks. As I laughed to myself about what it was I was doing and how I had so easilly shifted my perception and that shift had made my way along the path so much easier. These stones in my path were no longer what I had previously thought they were. I had the realization that at times, it is the stones in ones path which are the way.

Later in my meditations on this aphorism, I began to draw other metaphors from it. Often the times the trails are muddy is when there is much water around. I already knew that the water was, of course feeding the life around me, however, what started to materialize was the process and how it related to my life. Often the wet times in nature come in the Spring, which is a time of great change. The trails are mudiest when life is the newest, shoots are poping from the ground, pushing up the rich humus, trees are begining to use the water as they once again start the process of using sunlight, elements and nutrients into sugar. I saw how this mirrored my life's muddy times. Usually when my life or path gets muddy, messy and difficult to navigate without slipping, it is a time when there is much change and new growth. Of course changes in life bring stress, even "good" change still has teh mud of stress mucking things up.

When things don't appear to be going as we feel they should, or have planned them out, our first response is often to be upset or fearful. The fact that we see obstacles, challenges and difficulties often translates as "things are not going as planned" or "things are not going well" or "I am failing." I have found, however, that these times of change are usually times where the old is leaving me and something new, something more to my liking is emerging or becoming manifest in my life. Over and over again in my life, it seemed to me that things were falling apart only to later realize that things were actually reassembling themselves into something better. Times of change or stress are times of transformation, of shape-shifting; form is changing to allow energy to flow more efficiently in service to life usually by facilitating growth or through the the creation of new life forms.

At times in my life I have encountered the same problems or issues over and over again. Often I have said to myself "Why is this happening again" when facing things which seem to be a recurring pattern in my life. Usually I found that eventually there was a lesson there which I needed to learn in order to progress. Time and time again though, I would see these recurring issues as problems, as obstacles and engage them in battle. I would not welcome them, but instead despise them and feel as though my life was not going the way I wanted it to. It was only after I finally learned the lesson that I could progress in my life and not run up against the same problems over and over. I had to shift my pespective, stop reacting and judging and see what was really happening.

I was fixated on the stones in my path, usuing all my energy on them. I was so focused on them that the issues were all I could see. I was failing to notice that I was still moving, growing;and change, you see, is a sign of life. Life is change. Living things grow, they have a circulation system, they change form, they take in nutrients and combine them into new forms; they build muscle or cell walls, they heal, they eliminate waste, they engage other life forms, they reproduce.

I have learned to see changes in life as growth, as an expansion of my life, an increase of experience, and so things which at first seem like obstacles or problems in the path become steps through times of change. Once I realized the true challenge was in the way I saw things I was able to welcome the many changes of form in my life, knowing that new things were forming or coming into existence. It was just like dancing on the rocks of the muddy trail, with a shift in perspective all obstacles vanished and all that remained was the path I was on going where I wanted to go.

"Change your thoughts, change your life."
~Wayne Dyer

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Seedling Sermon: The Illusion of Failure

My brother is celebrating his new home by putting in a garden. We have been talking about gardening together now for a while since it is a shared joy. Planting a garden is a great way to expand ones dominion in ones life, of tending the flow of abundance and seeking to expand. I have always found gardening to be a way of learning about nature and about my own nature.

Recently my brother contacted me about prepping a bed for beans and such and inquired about “hardening-off” his seedlings. Young, pampered seedlings that were grown either indoors or in a greenhouse need a period to adjust to outdoor conditions, gradually exposing the tender seedlings to wind, sun and rain and toughens them up prior to planting in the garden. This transition period is called "hardening off.” It usually involves the simple method of placing them outdoors for gradually longer periods of time. Hardening-off seedlings helps prevent transplant shock. However, one must be prepared to bring them indoors if there's a late freeze or snow.

My brother’s question was “How many days to harden off seedlings before planting?” I told him that several days; perhaps a week was often sufficient. I told him to observe the changes in the plants as they harden-off, sometimes one can see a marked darkening of the green or notice a strength or an ability to stand up even in a bit of wind, or popping back up after a bit of rain.

I explained that when in doubt, leave them out to harden–off longer, the only concern being their becoming root bound in the tiny containers usually used to sprout seeds. Becoming root bound stunts their growth, so check for that and re-pot if needed.

“That’s my worry.” He said.
“Don’t worry, just check.” I said. It’s okay to loosen up the soil in the container gently and lift out the soil and root mass to examine it briefly. Knowledge is power.

One should look for root growth on the outside of the root and soil ball, roots not in soil but wrapping themselves around the soil and obviously constrained by the walls of the container. If this is the case, they should be re-potted into a larger container with more soil. This way the plant knows that there is ample room to grow and more nutrient territory to be had and it will continue to grow and expand and seek its natural full expression. Another method instead of the re-potting of the seedlings is to temporarily plant them loosely in a tray or a wheelbarrow to allow for root growth and expansion as well as providing a continued ease of moving them in and out of frost danger.

Also, one can go the “not all eggs in one basket” route and diversify your seedling hardening off techniques profile. Try a few different things in an effort to maximize ones sense sureness. Learning gardening is an opportunity for experimentation and discovery.

I have found the Path of the Gardener to be an amazing potent Wisdom Path. Rich metaphors between the ways of plants and the ways of humans become evident. There is much to be learned about the process of all living things on this path. Immersing oneself in the planting and tending, in the growth and flowering and fruiting, in the dying, composting and the eventual return to the source can greatly enrich ones life.

The part which spoke to me today was The Sermon of the Seedling, especially the part about trying new techniques, about exploration and discovery. When taking on new projects, trying new things in life, changing the form of something so that the energy flows more efficiently or more in line with our preferences there is often a hesitation, a fear of failure.

What I have found is that if I maintain a mindfulness and consciousness through the decisions to move in the direction of my intentions or dreams, I can not fail.

Life is a journey of discovery, a process by which we like the seedlings, seek expansion and growth. We like all life are seeking a full expression of our selves. Whatever we decide, whatever choice we make, we will learn and grow either way. There is no such thing as failure when doing something. The only failing is “trying” which, in the end, is simply “not doing.”

Things not “working out the way one planned” should not be seen as the marker of failure, but instead, as the path of growth. Our own life story can attest to this if we examine it. How many times have we worried about changing jobs or shifting the shape of a relationship or moving to a new home only to find that the new form and situation was just what you needed? The wisdom of our lives tells us to take a leap of faith; we will learn and grow, either way.

We never fail to succeed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Contemplating Change as the Flow of Life

A friend reminded me this morning about how we tend to try to grasp or clutch at things, and that we need to learn to recognize when we are doing this and instead, let go. Allow. Open the hand of thought and allow it to flow, to breath, instead of attempting to attaching our selves to it. Like water, one cannot attach things to the flow of life; it carries things, and we carry it, but one cannot affix anything to it.

In meditating on the Tao of life, one can see it much like water. Life wants to flow. Energy, love, abundance, emotions, thoughts, all flowing through us.

Trying to hold onto the flow of life is like grasping at water. One cannot grasp water, it must be cupped gently, held softly. To hold it even for a short time we must embody it. We are conduits of the flow of our lives, the self transforming, shifting shape as a vessel for it to flow through.

Breathe, relax.
Be serene, the eye of the storm.

Change is not easy, it is often uncomfortable when we fear we are loosing our grip, losing control. One must always be mindful of the flow, of change, that it is necessary for our lives to change so that we can grow and progress. We can take refuge in this, knowing that it is merely form shifting to accommodate energy. Form will shift for life is constantly transforming to facilitate the flow. Life is expanding, increasing in scope and experience. Life is a verb, it is a becoming. All life seeks a fullness of expression.

We can ease our grip and let go of the ideas we have of the past form. Instead we can choose to allow the new form to take shape. There is a peace that can be found within this change, this shift. While form shifts, there is always this center of inner stillness, this original peace which is there buried under the millions of thoughts we pile atop it each day. It is this place of peace we should inhabit, base all of our comings and goings from there.

Interacting with others from this place of inner stillness, it is easy to be kind and compassionate, understanding. For it seems that all of us have a storm of our own, and yet on closer examination it is the same storm, it is the storm of life, the ever changing and transforming nature of form.

The universe is constantly in flux, it is in constant motion. It is not stagnant, it is not stable, it is active and alive. It is life, and we are all in this together.
All Photography courtesy of Paul Martin. For more information on Paul Martin, go to

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

~Tao Te Ching, Vs. 8