Themes Emerge: Driving from Edgewood to Oakland

Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.

To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)

map with route outlined
The route I drove from New Mexico to California.

I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.

That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.

a dam over a river with canyons
The view before I cross the Colorado River near Page, AZ.
coffee shop outdoors
River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah.
patio and mountains
The view from the River Rock Roasting Company.
Desert art installation
The Seven Magic Mountains art installation outside Las Vegas.
Desert mountains
Desert views as I drove West from Las Vegas.

The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:

Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back

Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.

“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.

His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.

As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!

Snow on the mountain roads
The snow begins.

I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”

Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:

Mountains
View from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.

The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.

Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!

Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all

This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.

For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.

I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.

The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.

Window Rock
Window Rock
Navajo Code Talkers monument
In dedication to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Sign in dedication.
Dedicated to veterans.
museum entrance
The entrance to the museum.
museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Museum.

All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.

As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)

I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.

Motel sign for Lu lu's Sleep Ezze Motel
The motel I stayed at in Page, AZ

While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.

After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.

I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.

Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it

This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.

Scratch that.

I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.

As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.

I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.

One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.

Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.

There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:

Who am I without my past?

Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”

The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.

As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.

Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.

All these insights, from one little road trip.

Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?

Cultivate Good Character

During my recent stay in Charlotte, I had the treat of watching the Lord of the Rings movies with two newbies to the series. For any LOTR fan, this is quite the delight! Answering questions, waiting for reactions, noticing things you didn’t the first 20 times you watched… it’s a time that can’t be beat. You can also bet I was WAY more excited by this than they were… what can I say, the story never gets old!

It is this, Tolkien’s masterpiece, which inspires post number 4! Well, actually it inspired The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, and it is this latter text which bolsters our discussion on the Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien.

What is key to happiness number 4? Cultivate Good Character

The authors explain how this aspect is pretty much cut and dry for Tolkien. In LOTR, morally good characters meet with good ends and morally bad characters do not. There is only a very slight deviation from this in his books, but for the most part it’s a solid bet that if you are good in Tolkien’s middle earth, life will work out for you, and if not… sorry. Thus, it is clear that being a good person is something Tolkien thinks everyone should aim for.

I can’t deny that cultivating my own good character has been something of a focus for me along this path. As I reflect on when and why this started, I’m left blank. Was I always this way? I think not. Sure I have always been an OK person, but as of late I’ve found myself focused much more on putting energy out into the world that I would want to receive back. Further, I don’t want to receive bad, angry, resentful vibes, so I work not to give them out.

In addition, good character to me is about, as the Buddhists would say, cultivating Right Action, Right Speech, Right View, and the like. Meaning, I work to only take actions which I think are good for all involved. I try to keep my word when I say I’m going to do something. When I speak I try not to say bad things about others. I even look to see the whole picture in a situation and not blindly accuse.

Of course, I’m not always successful at these tasks. In fact I’m maybe successful half the time if I’m lucky. But, I do think the practice here is as important as the result. After-all, the key is to Cultivate Good Character, NOT Somehow Have Good Character Without Having Worked On It.

In this way, I plan on going about my journey towards a happy Hobbit style life. Doing so thus far has led to great conversations, increased knowledge, comfortable stays, and fun times.

In the end, what else is there, really?

Reflections from East to West

I write to you from the other side of my travels back West. I left Charlotte on Saturday (I’m writing to you on the following Tuesday), and am settling back in to a life alone. In reflections on my time in North Carolina, I found much bubbling to the surface.

First, several people were trying hard to get me to stay. It was a humbling experience; their asking this of me. For example, the night before I left we had a holiday party with about 20 of my friend’s friends. In attendance was a second friend of mine from high school (the one whom I spent Thanksgiving with) and her husband. Her husband said to me, “In all seriousness. Should you choose to come back to Charlotte to settle, we’d love to help you. When D came home from dinner with you the other night, she said it was the best she’s felt in long time.”

Wow.

Combine that with other guests asking me when I would return, and I felt more than welcomed. In fact, during that dinner out with D it was the closest to family and home I’d felt in a long while. I hesitated to leave the comfort of these sentiments.

But then the friend I was staying with countered, “She won’t be back. She doesn’t even like Charlotte.” She wasn’t all wrong, but she wasn’t all right either.

As I’ve mentioned time and again, a large part of this journey for me is about connecting with myself, understanding the core of my being, and living my truth. On many levels, the area around Charlotte isn’t a fit. There’s an energy there that just doesn’t connect with me. It’s a beautiful place, but it FEELS like a land inflicted with pain. It feels contracting and stifling to me, and, I recognize this is probably just for me. It doesn’t make the place a bad one, just not for me for the long term.

In contrast, many of the people there were quite wonderful to me. I felt honored to be in their presence, and to be taken into their group of friends. I hope to meet them again one day, and get to continue to swap life stories with them in the hopes of growing even closer.

For now, I take these lessons and reflections with me as I settle into the winter months in the New Mexico mountains. This is where I’ll wrap up 2018, and there seems no better place to turn inward to investigate all that has shifted and happened for me this year.

Let’s see what bubbles up this time, shall we?

Don’t Sweat the Technique**

Yesterday was a hard day for me emotionally. It started off a great day. I felt as if I were finally stepping into my truth. I spent the morning confident and inspired. When the afternoon came though, something shifted. I became downtrodden. I felt overwhelmed with work and trapped in a prison of my own making. I find this place often. Too often.

Getting back to the story… I still haven’t figured out what exactly shifted. I’m unsure if I absorbed and internalized someone else’s negativity, or if my own negativity was surfacing itself to crush my positivity. I do attribute some of it to a friend not responding to my excitement with a equal excitement and my not remembering that her response needn’t effect me. Obviously there is more work to do here, but I digress.

After this episode, I finally made the time to sit down today to write. When I looked at my writing idea notes there was only one there: Post about idolatrizing technique and method from page 123 of Imperfection book.

Oh, Touché, Universe… Touché.

The book I refer to is titled The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham. The point I focus on revolves around idolizing external experiences and objects in lieu of loving and supporting oneself from an internal perspective. In this discussion the book states:

Perhaps the most pervasive modern-day idolatry is the worship of “technique”.

The authors go on to define technique as “Attention to methods, use of routines”.

I do this. In fact, I idolize methods and routines ALOT. I convince myself that by following my daily routine, getting all my to dos for a day done, or following a method of another I’ll find wisdom, answers, and contentment. This is, of course, a lie. It’s not the technique that provides the output. It’s us.

It’s me.

When I think about it, I believe this idolization is one of the main causes of strife for me. It’s what I allow to prevent me from serendipitous happenings, from the magic of manifestation, and from the love of my imperfections.

I notice that because of this idolizing, if one part of one of my methods or routines is out of whack, my world comes crashing down. This is, of course, what happened yesterday when a whirlwind of meetings took me away from my normal flow. My foundation was cracked and my house fell in. I really hate when that happens.

How can I turn the tide?

Perhaps I need only take a cue from Rakim:

“Here’s some soothing souvenirs
For all the years you taught to sought the thoughts and ideas
It’s cool when you freak to the beat
But don’t sweat the technique.”

Yeah, that sounds right.


** Inspired by Eric B & Rakim

Just a Bracelet

What you see in the picture above is a simple beaded bracelet, but to me it represents much, much more. This is the bracelet the homeowner of the Tucson house offered me as a departing gift. She often stops on the way back from her adventures and buys jewelry made by the local Navajo tribes. This was one such piece.

I put it on and wore it pretty consistently even as I arrived here in Charlotte. A few nights ago I set it on the bathroom counter for the night, and sure enough the next day it was gone. Of course I looked at the loss as my fault, as this is the kind of thing that happens when you’re staying in a house with a couple of curious cats.

Cat looking out window
1 of 2 curious cats

My gut hurt as I recognized the bracelet was gone. How could I be so careless? I’d only had it a couple of weeks and already I had lost it… how stupid of me!

These be-ratings were only part of the story though. I saw my losing the bracelet not just as careless, but as separating me from the experiences I had in Tucson. I saw it as a fracturing of my journey; a carelessness which meant a disregard for the lessons I had learned.

Yeah, I’m that hard on myself.

At the same time, I didn’t panic or search high and low for the item. I reminded myself that I carried the sentiments with me; bracelet or not. The bracelet was simply that, a bracelet. It was pretty, but losing it didn’t mean my ultimate demise.

I teetered back and forth between these two points of view for several days. At times I felt guilty that I wasn’t more torn up over losing such an heirloom, then other times I reminded myself it was no heirloom.

As I was talking with a friend overseas about nothing in particular, I felt moved to share with him this story. The sensation to do so came out of nowhere, but it was powerful. I spewed the story out as he listened patiently. When I was done he smiled at me then said, “You of course know all these experiences and lessons are inside of you. You carry them with you.”

Of course I knew this.

Hearing his words made the decision final. I stopped the teetering and let the bracelet go without remorse. I felt free.

The next night I was sitting on the couch watching a movie. Out of nowhere the kitten jumped on my lap, paused as if to set something down, then jumped off my lap.

When I looked down, you know what I saw;

Just a bracelet.

Getting to the Root

I write to you after a week spent back on the East Coast. My current location is Lincolnton, NC; a smaller town about 45 minutes outside of Charlotte. It’s rural here. It’s maybe not as rural as where I grew up, but there is certainly a great deal here which reminds me of my hometown.

Not the least of these reminders are my childhood friends who currently live in the area. In fact, I’m here because a friend whom I’ve known since I was 4 years old needed a pet sitter while her and her husband honeymoon in New Zealand. I am delighted to be that pet sitter! (NOTE: Their pets are really cute… AND they have a beagle)

Beagle on a bed
Jack gets into bed.
Cat posing
Arya strikes a pose.
Cat curled up
Pickle settles in for TV time.
dog and cats curled up on a couch
The pets curl up for a family cuddle on the couch.

Being surrounded by reminders of my youth has me thinking of a line from a book I recently read:

After all, it is the root that looks after the survival of an organism. It is the root that has withstood severe changes in climatic conditions. And it is the root that has regrown trunks time and time again. It is in the roots that centuries of experience are stored, and it is this experience that has allowed the tree’s survival to the present day. ~ The Hidden Life of Trees; Peter Wohlleben

When I read this, I paused. I’ve often thought of my current journey as one in which I’m getting back in touch with my roots. When one spends so much time alone without much external stimulus and distraction, it’s kind of hard not to go through this process. It’s a process where I’m constantly figuring out and trying to own who I am, why I am, what I believe, and how I want to live in this world. It’s also a process where I investigate how these beliefs were established, or became rooted, to be begin with.

If, as the author says, a being’s roots are the key to its survival of chaotic and changing times, it seems a necessary exercise to get back in touch with mine. After-all, they are what store my experiences and allow me to be who I am in my present day life. If I don’t unearth them, I fear I’ll remain a shell of what others say I should be instead of identifying with my core and living my own narrative.

And you know what… I’ve lived as a shell for far too long.

Guess I’ll keep digging.

Get Personal

In this my third post on Tolkien’s Keys to Happiness as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy, I’d like to take a few moments to add some commentary to the author’s third key to happiness:

Get Personal

Throughout the chapter, the author continuously refers back to the hobbits as exemplars for living this happy life. He starts section number 3 with

“Hobbits are a clannish and highly sociable people.”

He then goes on to further describe the extents of their loyalty to and interactions between friends. He points out how deeply friendship is valued in the hobbit community, how this contributes to their happy go lucky hobbit life, then compares Tolkien’s description of these values to those of real life philosophers. He states,

“The importance of belonging to other people–of forming close, supportive attachments–is something many philosophers have noted as well.“

Friendship is important, we all know this. Further, many of us define our quality of life based off the friendships we have. Being on the road has been a journey not just through time and space, but through reflections on my own relationships.

I have had countless friends, both old and new, extend their encouragement and support. Several have reached out to schedule regular catch up chats with me, and many continuously reach out via email or even, *gasp*, real mail to stay in touch.

I’m lucky.

I’ve also met many wonderful people on the road. I was saying just the other day that I’ve yet to meet someone who has been genuinely unkind to me. Kinda crazy given how the world is portrayed to us nowadays, but I assure you it’s true.

Getting personal to me means exploring and deepening both types of interactions; friend and stranger. I’ve allowed myself to do so by being more vulnerable, open, and honest with both sets of individuals. In return I have not only gained new knowledge and perspectives, but have also increased my ability to get to know myself.

As this process unfolds, I find I have more confidence and increased feelings of self worth. I’m also able to extend more love and compassion to both myself and others.

I believe all of these characteristics are what contribute to happier and more fulfilling moments. And, as we all know, more happy and fulfilling moments make for a more happy and fulfilling life.

Score another for Tolkien and his happy hobbits!

Experiencing Oneness

Being in New Mexico has brought a new thread to my reflections. After leaving the magic of the Gila National Forest, I drove North for El Morro.

I should mention that before I actually LEFT the forest, I took some time to explore the nearby Catwalk Trail. A friend came through this area not too long ago and told me it was worth a stop. After driving through several small brooks on the way up (NOTE: the heavy rains cause a lot of runoff apparently. I thought I was in the desert, but I was way wrong.) I pulled in to the area about mid-morning.

Gila National Forest Sign
Entering the Catwalk Trail.

I noticed three motorcycles parked in the lot, the only vehicles around. As I walked to the trailhead I saw their owners, 3 older gentlemen reading about the history of the area. I asked them, “What’s the word on the road?”

“Which road?” one of the men responded.

The three of us chuckled and I told them of my travel plans for the day. They were taking a similar route North, but were planning on splitting off back into Arizona instead of heading East like me. I bid them safe travels as I began walking the 2 mile trail.

Brook
I enjoyed walking along this brook a bit.
Gila National Forest Mountains
I couldn’t stop looking up at these mountains as I walked.

About .5 miles in a deep fear gripped me. What the hell was I doing walking this trail alone while leaving my car unattended in the parking lot and filled with all my important belongings? I practically ran back to find Liam safe and sound just as I had left him.

I got in the car, then continued the trip north, stopping for lunch at a cafe about 45 minutes away. (NOTE: this was the only “local” restaurant open.) When I walked in, who did I see but the motorcyclists. “Well, you made it this far”, one of them said to me. “And, so did you!” I replied.

This was my last interaction with them, but I still felt connected to them in a way I can’t yet describe. I left the cafe with this sensation.

Several hours later, after passing maybe a total of 10 other vehicles along the way, I arrived in the El Morro area. Here I would be staying at another amazing AirBnB rental. This time I would be in an RV parked on a property with some amazing views.

RV
Where I stayed during my time in El Morro.
View of mesa
View of the mesa from the RV.
Sunset over the mesa
Sunset view from the RV.

The owner, Jeff, met me and showed me the RV. He was concerned with me staying warm given that the temps were supposed to get down to 27 degrees Fahrenheit that night. I assured him I’d be fine. We talked for several moments there after, and the feeling I had earlier that day when I was around the bikers returned.

I had a sound night’s sleep, then woke up for a morning of meetings. When these were finished, I set out to hike the El Morro National Monument. I arrived at the site, and, since I hadn’t done much research beforehand, went up to the visitors’ center to figure out a game plan. The park ranger greeted me, gave me a map, AND provided me a guide to the inscriptions left on the famous Inscription Rock.

NOTE about the rock from Wikipedia: Travelers left signatures, names, dates, and stories of their treks. While some of the inscriptions are fading, there are still many that can be seen today, some dating to the 17th century. Among the Anglo-American emigrants who left their names there in 1858 were several members of the Rose-Baley Party, including Leonard Rose and John Udell.[3] Some petroglyphs and carvings were made by the Ancestral Puebloan centuries before Europeans started making their mark. In 1906, U.S. federal law prohibited further carving.

Front of the visitors center.
Approaching the visitors’ center.

I took a few moments to peruse the small museum attached, and upon entering saw this sign:

Pueblo prayer
This quote got me.

Immediately tears flooded my face. I have no idea where from or why they appeared, but I accepted them and kept walking.

I decided on the longer of the two hikes available at the park. I would see both the Inscription Rock trail, as well as hike up to the pueblo town dating back to 1275 A.D. It would be a longer hike than I anticipated, but I had time so why not? Here are some images from the day.

Inscription Rock
The side of inscription rock. I was in awe!
Top of the rocks
The top of the rocks I would eventually hike too.
Looking up at the monument. NOTE: the black bits are from water that runs down the sides.
High rock wall.
A view looking up from the side of the rocks.
petroglyphs
Check out the ancient petroglyphs!
inscriptions in rock.
See how there is an inscription from 1801. Pretty amazing.
petroglyphs
More petroglyphs and inscriptions.
cactus bushes
The fauna of the high desert.
Stone path
Notice the lines which mark the path. Apparently they brought a jack hammer up to create a trail. Crazy right?
Mesa in the distance.
More views of the surrounding area. Hell yeah I hiked up this high!
Canyon views
A view down into the canyon.
Brick ruins
This is only a fraction of the city they uncovered. People lived there from 1275 – 1400 AD.
Stone ruins
Looking at the ruins from another angle.
Circular stone ruins.
Another part of the city.
Stone ruins
I loved looking at the mesa in the background and imagining life here all those years ago.

As I arrived at the ruins of the town, I noted my isolation. I thought about how I had just climbed alone up the backside of this mountain, then somehow navigated my way across the rocks to this very spot where about 1500 people lived some 750 years ago.

The feeling from the interactions with the bikers and the AirBnB host appeared here again in this sacred feeling place. I took a look at the feeling more closely. I asked myself what it was. A whisper of an answer appeared in the back of my consciousness:

Oneness

At that moment I saw flashes of human life fly across mind. The people who lived here, the bikers on the road, my housing host, me; no matter how different our lives seem, we are all made from the same atomic elements, the same biological tissues, and the same sacred spirit. Our perceptions and beliefs may differ, but we all need to eat, drink, and sleep to stay alive. Those who lived hundreds of years before us needed the same things. How amazing. How humbling.

I stood alone with this clarity for several moments before hiking my way down, then heading back home. When back at the RV I witnessed one last sunset as I reflected on the day.

Sunset over the mesa.
One last sunset to amaze me.

As I thought about it I asked myself; If we’re all one, was I really standing up at that site all alone?

My answer? No, I don’t think I was.

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

Making Friends with Strangers

I had such a wonderful day this past Sunday, I find myself anxious sitting to write about it. I fear I won’t be able to write a piece which expresses the immense amount of gratitude I feel. I’ll try to explore my reactions and reflections along the way, but to start perhaps I’ll just tell you about the day.

I started it as I do any Sunday, or, rather, any day here in Tucson. I took care of Sunny, did yoga, and had a lovely coffee-filled breakfast. I then left the house and headed towards Old Tucson where I was meeting a friend of a friend who lives here in town. (NOTE: This is a friend of the friends I stayed with while in Richmond, VA this Summer.)

I was excited for the excursion because I knew I’d not only meet someone new, but I’d also get to experience something new; always a win-win for me. While I was driving the 20 minutes west the friend texted saying she was going to be a few minutes late. Instead of arriving at the park early, I decided to pull over at a scenic point to finish my coffee. Here was the scene I got to sip to:

Desert view
What a view.

I got back in the car and drove the rest of the way to Old Tucson. I should tell you, I didn’t research the place at all. Thus, it was quite the surprise to find out most of the western movies my dad spends hours on end watching were filmed at the location! Unfortunately, I’ve had to sit through many of these movies in my day, but fortunately this provided a pretty awesome experience as I walked around the park. Here let me share some of them with you:

Gift shop front.
The Last Outpost gift shop.
Movie camera
One of the cameras set out front.
Old Tucson entrance
The entrance to Old Tucson.
Movie list
Just a small subset of the movies that were filmed at Old Tucson.
Movie set
The sheriff office set.
Movie set
Set for “The Hanging Man” reenactment.
Old west store fronts.
The Barber and Dentist here in “town”.
Old west hotel building
The hotel in Old Tucson
Old west store.
The mercantile store set.
Fake grave marker
These grave markers in the cemetery cracked me up.
Actors on set.
The actors play out the last show of the day.

The friend arrived shortly after I did and brought with her her boyfriend and his sister. The four of us thought we’d only spend a few short hours at the park, but we found we were having such a great time talking, exploring the park, and hearing about the stories filmed there and life in the Wild West in general that we ended up staying until closing!

In talking with my new friends I learned so much about them and their life experiences. I felt my knowledge of the world grow tremendously in only a few hours. Plus, being at the park with them was great!

We saw live reenactments of scenes from films, we road rides, we experienced mines… it was awesome to be around great people again! We also talked about how much we loved the experience of the park. What it came down to was the people who worked there CARED about the park and the patrons. Even though it was an act everyone was putting on, it genuinely felt GOOD to experience it. Yeah, it was a place of commerce, but it didn’t feel overly commercialized. It was an endearing place.

Before we left the park the boyfriend and I were sitting on the bench outside of a gift shop chatting while we waited for the others to purchase their wares. He turned to me and said, “You know, I’m surprised by how great today was. I really enjoyed the time here at the park and meeting and talking with you. I didn’t expect that.”

“I didn’t either, but when good folks get together, good times are bound to happen”, I replied.

We sat in the quiet of the next moment simply appreciating the time the four of us had together that day.

Eventually we four bid adieu and I headed back to the house to take care of Sunny before heading to another event full of people I didn’t know; the Halloween block party thrown by the neighbors next door.

It was another welcoming place where I had the opportunity to talk to so many new people about their lives. One person was the father of the neighbor. I sat and talked with the 86 year old man for quite awhile.

He told me about his life; how he left Mexico in the 60s then came here to make a new life for himself. He worked several jobs before landing one with the state of Arizona where he earned the pension he now lives off of. When I asked him what he did and still does during his 23 years of retirement, he didn’t flinch in sharing with me the simple things in life that make him happy. These included cooking, working around the house, and making crosses for those he loves and for his church. Here is a picture of the ones he made for the homeowner whose house I’m staying in:

Wooden crosses
Crosses made by José.

I walked back home after the event and sat down in silence. I reflected on how strange it was to live out entire relationships with new friends, the beginning and ending, all in one day. I suppose this is life on the road. I WAS still saddened by having to leave the loving energy of the day, but I reminded myself that I’ll be taking the energy with me wherever I go. This continues to help me work through the sadness.

Another thought that helps me is in thinking of all of the strangers I’d miss out on making friends with if I chose to stay in one place. Now THAT’s something to be sad about indeed.