I’m sure there are a number of you out there who have been waiting patiently for the next installment of The Six Keys of Happiness as defined by Tolkien and as discussed in the text The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy.
Wait no more, dear reader! Today we’re talking about key #5: Cherish and Create Beauty.
When I sat down to write this post my mind was focused on cherishing beauty. I thought about sharing more regarding all the beauty I’ve seen while on the road, and about how cherishing those moments of beauty has greatly contributed to my happiness.
Of course this sentiment is true, but as I re-read this section of the aforementioned book, I realized something I haven’t internalized.
That being how the happiest characters in The Lord of the Rings stories are also the most creative. They aren’t just beautiful to look at, they also contribute to the world’s beauty. I stopped at this realization, and took it in. Could the following equation be true?
Being creative = increased happiness
I should note here I’m of the school of thought that all of us are creative. I wasn’t always an attendee of this school. I actually didn’t realize HOW creative I was until I started this phase of my journey. Further, I have to admit that it’s true; my increased awareness and practice of creating has a direct correlation to an increase in my overall happiness.
I should also note that I don’t believe I’m creative in the societal sense of the word. I don’t paint, sculpt, or draw. I take pictures, but I wouldn’t call myself a photographer. I even joke how I don’t use colors in my consulting practice outputs.
But, I am pretty damn creative.
I’m creative in the way I use words (NOTE: Creative doesn’t necessarily mean skilled, haha.) I’m creative in how I put together my living situations. I create new ways to make the pets I sit more comfortable with me. I also create new friendships wherever I go.
Creating beauty isn’t always visual. You may create and share a beautiful feeling or idea. You may work in an ugly place, but your encouraging words at work may create a beautiful moment between you and a co-worker. Creating beauty is something we can ALL do. It’s something we should all do.
Why? Because in these moments of creating we become so absorbed and present that all of our suffering falls away. It is in these moments of unselfconscious absorption we find ourselves the most happy!
So take a moment today to think about the beauty you create in this world. I’m serious. You only need 5 minutes or less. Then, go forth and make more beauty. I bet you’ll be happier for it.
Much like any dream, I didn’t remember it until something clicked the next day. Unfortunately, I don’t remember what it was that clicked, but I do remember where I was when I woke up.
It was my first morning in the Oakland mountains, and I was staying in the guest room until the homeowners departed for their trip. The day before I had arrived from Arvin, CA, and I suppose even the drive and my arrival are worth noting.
I woke up on a Sunday morning in Arvin; a small farm labor community right outside of Bakersfield. I had a peaceful night sleep, but the morning was a bit frantic. After a cold shower (long story), and spending most of the morning looking for a decent cup of coffee, I hit the road.
As I drove I began wondering what my time in Oakland would be like. I’d be spending 2 days with the homeowners before they departed, and I couldn’t help but wonder about them too. We’d exchanged some great emails up to this point, so I imagined them as fun, kind, and just good.
My mind also wondered about little things. I thought about the book club I’m a part of, and reminded myself I’d need to buy the next book because I was number 295 on the waitlist for it at the library. Then a curious thought entered my mind, “I bet you they’ll have it at the cottage.” I chuckled then released the thought.
After 4 hours I made it to the beautiful Oakland Hills. I was rewarded with an amazing neighborhood I was sure I had dreamt about many times over the years, as well as a cozy looking cottage to stay in. Here I have some pictures for you:
I walked into the house and met one of the homeowners. After saying our hellos I looked on the desk and sure enough, there was the book for the book club! I gasped, then explained my excitement.
The homeowner explained that the book was a gift given only a few days ago. She didn’t think they were taking it on the trip with them, so I was free to read it while they were away.
Thank you, Universe!
When the other homeowner arrived we quickly picked up from our email exchanges. I learned she was a poet who taught writing at the local university for many years. I marveled at both of their stories and at their life together. I felt so completely at home; meant to be there. I also felt really grateful.
Going to sleep that first night I didn’t expect such an impactful dream. Though to be truthful my dreams have been much more vivid and telling over the past months.
In the dream a dear friend from my youth and I were talking like the old days. Though, I had the since that I was the age I am currently. At one point, he picked me up and started throwing my up in the air in a playful way. I was terrified. My heart races remembering it now.
“Put me down. I’m scared!!” I shrieked.
My friend continued to laugh as I wrapped my arms around his neck trying to regain control. “Of what??” he shouted through kind laughter.
“To let go!!” I blurted out.
He laughed again, taking all the seriousness out my distress. “Don’t be afraid of THAT!”
I closed my eyes.
I woke up and promptly forgot the dream until later that day when something triggered its memory. I let reprieve fill me.
My past was giving me permission to let it go. No, I was giving myself the permission.
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.)
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.
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!
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:
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.
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”.
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.
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?
I write to you from Springdale, Utah (NOTE: This is the 38th state I’ve visited! Only 12 more to go!). I’m sitting at the Bumbleberry Inn nestled in the mountains of Zion National Park. Allow me set the stage for you:
I meant to be hiking during this time, but considering the amount of rain pattering outside, I’m inside writing instead. It’s ok, though. I like the writing as much as the hiking.
In all honesty, I’m conflicted about what to write today. I WANT to write to you about my Albuquerque to Oakland road trip and about how it’s been up to this point. I want to tell you all the growing and learning I’ve done along the way. I also want to share the pictures of the amazing sites I’ve been graced with, and I’d like to tell you the stories of the people I’ve met. But, I can’t do it.
Trust that I WILL share all of this with you someday soon, but know that now, as I write to you from this rainy place, I realize I want to write about those things because they are easy to write about. I also see I NEED to write about the hards things right, for this is a life practice have ignored for far too long. So, writing about the hard things wins out today folks. Here goes.
When I left the East Coast less than a week ago (I write to you on February 14th. I think this will go live a week or two from now.), I left with a heavy heart. As I spent the next few days in New Mexico packing and preparing for the road trip, the weight didn’t lessen. Curious, I reflected back over the past several weeks and recognized I’d been existing in a somewhat depressed state.
For example, I saw that when I looked toward my trip to Europe this Spring, I felt no tingle of excitement. When new (and amazing!) work opportunities were presented to me I saw them as chores instead of fun challenges. When others asked about my journey, I shrank back from sharing it. During these reflections, I saw how inward facing I had become.
As I brought all of this to mind, I also remembered a discussion I had with a friend while in NYC. He was worried about my lack of direction in this current journey, and frankly so was I.
Hell, why don’t I just say it… so AM I.
I should note that this lack of direction is not new. I realize to many of you who know me this may seem inaccurate. I probably seem very sure of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I assure you, this is very much not the case. I’ve said it before. I’ve spent my entire life building the person I think I should be, instead of accepting and loving the person I am. (NOTE: I think alot of us do this. I know I’m certainly not alone in it. Anywhos, back to the story.)
All of these reflections continued to weigh on me. Then, yesterday as I was driving the 4.5 hours from Gallup, NM to Page, AZ, I could take the weight no longer. I started offing it at the Navajo Nation Museum. There I did something I’d never done before. As I walked among the artworks, I stopped in front of each one and asked myself, “How does this piece of art make me feel?” Funny enough, I even answered myself too!
I’m embarrassed to say it, but this self talk was new to me. You see, when you’re busy making a life you think you should have, you don’t ask yourself what life you actually want very often, or at all. Instead, you observe what makes other people happy and try to use those things to make you happy. But.. you never ask yourself if you’re actually happy. Doing so would be sacrilegious! The jig would be up!
Needless to say, I felt a little lighter when I left the museum.
I got back into my Subaru, Liam, and continued the trip. Through mile after mile of reservation land, I noticed small shifts. Instead of listening to music or podcasts the entire time, I took breaks to think. During these breaks I asked myself questions and when I couldn’t come up with answers I sat with the emotions and frustrations.
All of this helped to ease the weight a tad bit more.
Later that evening, I opened up to another friend about everything. I shared with him, quite unwillingly, how lost and lonely and WRONG I’ve been feeling. I also shared with him my reflections from the day; the biggest being me realizing this situation didn’t happen to me. I created my own discontent through my false actions over the years!
I worked to not judge myself. I told myself that whatever I’ve done in my life it’s been to keep myself safe, and I haven’t hurt others in the process. The only real person I’ve hurt is myself… and I’m tired of DOING that. The weight is just too heavy.
For the next two hours, said friend broke down his own journey to me (yet again… thankfully he’s patient). He reiterated to me the keys to finding and loving ourselves which is the only path to releasing a life you think you should live, and gaining the beauty of a life you actually want. It’s the only true way to get rid of the weight I’ve been carrying.
The keys to doing this are so very simply in concept, but putting them into actions is “the work” that everyone keeps talking about.
Here are the keys to life happiness as explained to me by my friend. Hold on to your hat!
1. Practice acceptance
2. When you’re unable to accept, ask yourself “why” until you have the answer.
I want to tell you I’ll be able to have a consistent practice of acceptance by the time I’m done with this phase of my journey, but I can’t.
What I do know is that nothing external can make this consistent practice happen. It doesn’t matter how spiritual the practice nor how beautiful the landscape it’s done in. It doesn’t matter how many interactions I have with strangers, nor how many fun facts I learn. I could take all the yoga classes and go to all the meditations in the world and it still wouldn’t guarantee a consistent practice of acceptance to lead me to self love.
This is what I considered as I drove the miles today; the knowledge that it is due to one thing and one thing only if I succeed in this self love endeavor. That thing is both the challenge and the reward. It is the question and the answer. It is the origin AND the destination.
Last week was a hell of a week. There’s no other way to say it. It was one of those weeks filled with a lot of bad, but also a whole lot of good. It was a week which I’m grateful for, despite its challenges. In fact, I’m grateful for it because of its challenges. Finally, it was a week where I was able to clearly see why I was sent back to NYC for a spell, and this fact renewed my faith in the universe having my back.
The week started off normal enough. It wasn’t until Monday afternoon when the action began. I was working away and getting a ton of great work done when I opened up my laptop to a black screen. It was a problem I had seen many times before, and I solved it by closing said screen and opening it again. Success!
I began typing something which I’m sure was incredibly profound, and that’s when my screen decided to go black. Poof! There were no other warnings, nor were there signals of dismay. Just me and my black laptop screen.
I was unable to get the screen working again, and this led me to call tech support. Tech support quickly realized they were unable to help me, but since I was here in good ole New York I was able to get an appointment at the Apple Store an hour later.
The genius at the Genius Bar, Mike, was very helpful. His mantra was, “I want customers to pay the least amount possible.” This mantra led to us trying a whole bunch of options, and then to me leaving the computer at the 5th Avenue store for a couple days. After the 48 hours were up, I was happy to report I left the Apple Store not only with a working laptop, but with zero effect on my wallet. Thanks, Genius Mike!
The next day, Thursday, I received a call from my mother telling me her mother, my grandmother, had passed away. It was somewhat unexpected. She had fallen a week earlier and, being a woman of 92, was unable to recover from her injuries. It was sad news. The funeral services would be the next Monday, and as chance would have it, there was a train that could take me from where I was staying in New Jersey to the town where the services were being held. Score a second sorta win for the universe!
Saturday came, and as I sat with my thoughts and emotions enjoying a calmer weekend, I received a text from a dear family member who lives in Massachusetts. He, his wife and their children were going to be in New Jersey later that day. We were able to meet up and spend several loving, fun, and uplifting hours together which helped to renew my spirit. Here’s a picture of the event:
The weekend past and Monday appeared. That morning I boarded the train upstate and a few hours later made my way to my parents’ car. On the ride to the funeral home I sat in our shared energy. I listened to them argue about the things people who have been married 46 years argue about, and all the while considered … well let’s just say I considered a lot.
What stands out now, is the sound of the church bells. I can still hear them, actually. I can still feel the finality of their song. On the flip side I can also still feel the love that stood side by side with the grief. Yes, for once I was able to make the room to feel them both. I can also still feel my realization of their shared space, along with my realization of the spaces I’ve refused to share. But, all of this for another piece.
After the services and a reception with the family, I boarded the train back to New Jersey. I took the next few hours to reflect on all that happened in the past 8 days. I had lows of varying degrees, but each was followed by a high (i.e. a fixed for free computer, time to grieve and love with my family) which would not have been possible without my being here in New York. I reflected on how the universe whispered to me to go to New York while I was housesitting in Charlotte, and I saw how if I hadn’t listened to it things could have been much harder.
I saw how extensive my family and support system is. From precious time with friends made family, to new insights about how my family loves, my cup was quite full.
Finally, I saw how through the light comes darkness, and how through the darkness the light becomes that much brighter.
I saw a lot. I experience a lot. It was a lot.
I mean, I DID tell you it was a hell of a week, didn’t I?
The past week or so has been another tough one full of anxiety, worry, and doubt. I spent much of my time letting my thoughts spin out of control and got very little sleep in the process.
What was I spinning over? The usual culprits (money, career, etc) were certainly present, and they were accompanied by an overarching concern of not having “a plan” for my life.
I thought I had a plan once. I was going to progress in my career, buy a home, get married, etc, but then there was the realization that many parts of said plan weren’t mine. With this realization my current life path began.
As I unfold myself then let go of, add to, and realign parts of my life plan, there are moments were I feel quite exposed. These are the times where I haven’t yet filled the gaps left by letting go of parts of the old plan, and these times leave me feeling uber vulnerable… and scared.
When this fear and vulnerability arise (as they did this past week), I question everything and find myself only focusing on these reactions; hence the spinning. I think we all do this as we go through the process of rediscovering and realigning with our true selves, but knowing this doesn’t make it any less challenging.
One line of thinking that I brought to the surface this week was how I choose to see life as final and of two dimensions. I view circumstances as “If this, then that” as opposed to “if this, then maybe a whole lot of different things”. I think this two dimensional thinking is a thorn in my progress. Since it came to the surface I’ve been working to release it and extend my perspective.
The line of thinking came to the surface in two ways. First was a response to an email I sent a dear friend updating her on my current thinking on letting go of old friendships. She replied to said email with, “I’ve tolerated some people who were on their path and maybe not in a great space and you know what, I don’t know what to tell you, I was in the same place I think at your age, just be okay with it, you’re fine, people are fine, life is fine!”
Second, a friend was telling me about a similar discussion she had recently. Her response to the parties present, who were bringing up similar thoughts to the ones I was having, was “the friends you’re letting go for now may very well come back”. I know this idea seems obvious, but it’s something I’ve never considered. I never thought that all that I’m letting go could indeed return to me one day in a new, improved form (or in a old, unimproved form).
I believe it was having these insights, then targeting my two dimensional thinking, which allowed me to start to calm down enough to push past my fears and dig deeper. I mustered up the courage to share my story with yet another friend whom I was visiting in Connecticut.
He responded to my fears of not having a plan with the usual advice. I need to figure out myself first. I need to continue to question everything about what I like, what I don’t, and why. By doing this, by exposing my core, I can create a plan and walk a path that is true to me. Until then any plan I put together will be someone else’s plan, and following someone else’s plan will ultimately cause me angst and discontent.
I question why this message is so hard for me to keep in mind, but now I think I realize it’s because that journey of letting go, having gaps, and needing to fill them feels so scary and daunting.
What if we just let the gaps stick around for awhile? What if instead of rushing to fill the gaps, and focusing on the fear of never having the gaps filled, I focused on the possibilities of filling them? What if I choose the positive and not the negative?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but given how much sleep I lose to the former, I think I’m finally ready to try the latter. Here’s hoping.
About a week into the New Year I made my way to New York for a spell. I’m lucky enough to have dear friends, no, to have dear family members, who live in nearby New Jersey, and whom are generous enough to provide me with a place to live. When I arrived here I didn’t have a return ticket, though I knew I wouldn’t stay for too long. I love New York, sometimes more than I give it credit for, but it is no longer home.
That said, when I arrived at LaGuardia airport I felt at home. I even feel at home, sometimes, as I walk the streets and spend time with friends. It’s quite the sensation to be visiting such a big, confusing place and yet feel I know exactly where I’m going at all times. Talk about a metaphor… but I digress.
What was I saying again? Oh that’s right. I feel at home here, and yet I know I’m not. The person I was when I lived here still exists, but being that person doesn’t make me feel at home. I’ve noticed that person at times, and I’ve accepted and sat with her. But what I’ve also noticed is a different person. She is the woman who walks through the melee with immense calm and observation. She is the person who is far more selective about the way she spends her time and with whom that time is spent.
One of my few trips into Manhattan involved a lecture I had read about online. I went alone and I met no one there. I simply sat, listened, enjoyed, then gave myself permission to leave when the Q & A went a direction I was no longer interested in.
Another trip into the city was to go to a play I’d heard about on the news. Another dear family member came into town from Connecticut, and we set out from New Jersey to take in the culture:
Instead of packing my calendar with events as I used to do when in New York, I’ve been setting more healthy boundaries. I’ve been cooking for myself and my friends, a lot, and enjoying it immensely.
I’ve also been reading and thinking a lot in an attempt to maintain balance:
Finally I’ve been exploring, although in smaller ways than driving cross country. For example, yesterday I wandered into a shop to view this beauty:
My intentions, and the actions that are based off of them, are much more clear, at times. Still, there are times when the other woman appears and I have to sit with her again; give her the stage for awhile and see what part she plays and why.
All this to say a lot of internal work has been happening with the external here in good ole NYC. It’s been good, yet challenging. To tell friends I can’t meet up with them is a hard one for me, but then to realize our friendships have changed is even harder.
It’s kind of like my relationship with my old home which is no longer my home, but which I still love dearly. Maybe when relationships like these change all is not lost, just shifted? Maybe I can love, then leave but still love a place or a person? Maybe one can leave a home, and still see it as a home despite no longer living there?
Maybe the home, person, place will always be a part of us, or maybe, they never were in the first place? Hmmmm.
I felt a shifting stir that morning well before the brunt of the blow hit. When I awoke the internet was out. This fact threw a wrench in my yoga routine. I tried to forge ahead with streaming a yoga video, but even that was choppy. So, I accepted my fate and skipped out on my practice. I always hesitate with this for fear of my inner sloth being validated. However on this day I had little choice, a fact I noted for later.
Shortly after I put away my mat, I realized cell service also was down. At this point I felt fairly content though. The heavy snows hadn’t yet come in and the family I was staying with was still home, so I wasn’t yet faced with it all. (NOTE: The family was heading out of town that day. The plan was for me to stay on at the house to take care of the pets while they were away.)
We lamented the lack of internet and cell service, but didn’t let it stop us in our planning. They continued to pack up their car, and I made a shopping list to stock up on goods before I couldn’t leave the house for awhile (NOTE: by awhile I meant a week).
The family made their departure as I made my way into town. My first stop was Walgreens where I found they were only allowing “cash-only” purchases due to the outage. (NOTE: come to find out this outage extended throughout much of the rocky mountain and west coast regions.)
Luckily I was able to use my card to purchase my food supplies at the grocery store and fuel up my car. I didn’t know when I’d be able to leave the property again, or when I’d see other people again, so I was grateful for this ability.
When I left the house that morning the view outside my bedroom window was something like this:
I got back to the house and the view was much the same. Still without any sort of internet or phone service, I unpacked my grocery bags and decided to get cozy on the couch to watch some movies. This plan was a solid one until the electricity went out.
There I was without electricity, internet, or phone, and completely alone on 32 acres somewhere in New Mexico.
Then the snow began.
What started as a flurry turned into this:
The tree I showed you earlier very shortly looked like this:
I only allowed myself to panic slightly before reminding myself I was completely safe and sound and well stocked up. The electricity came back on when it was still daylight, and I had a quiet night at home.
When I woke up the next morning, I saw the total snowfall had increased significantly.
I also realized I had to walk quite a way to feed the horses. Not only did I have to walk down to feed them, but I had to carry buckets of water along with me. Here’s a picture of the trail I managed to carve out:
It was on these walks through the several feet of snow that the panic kicked in. What if I slip and fall and freeze to death out here and no one knows? What if a coyote comes out of the woods and attacks me? (NOTE: I have no idea if this is even something a coyote would do. I doubt it.) What if I’m unable to keep the horses fed and watered and something happens?
You get the idea. I stopped each time I noticed these thoughts. Yeah it was -2° F with the wind chill, so standing there with two heavy buckets of water wasn’t the best idea, but I stopped nonetheless. I stood there, feeling the fear, noticing it, then watching it drift away. As I continued walking I let the huffing and puffing of my breath release any other old thinking and negativity.
I continued this practice while indoors (which was significantly easier, physically, anyway). Each anxious thought. Each fear filled reaction. I sat (or stood) with them all. I did little else except stay present with them.
Each time, they disappeared.
Little did I know it was this practice which clears the mind and soul, and readies us for bigger and more intense moments. Little did I know how much I would need this practice in the weeks to come. Nor did I know how much bigger those moments would be.
What I did know is as I cleared my mind and heart, so too did the weather clear, and with it came an incredible beauty:
I like to think that this last part of the story is not mere coincidence; that if I continue with this practice in my everyday life, I’ll bring more beauty in as well. Perhaps that beauty will also be bigger as the moments themselves grow.
Well… there’s only one way to find out, isn’t there?
This past Christmas was different. This wasn’t only because I spent it with new friends in a new place. In addition to the location difference, there was a deep change within myself. Being honest, I didn’t know that change was what I was going to write about in this post, but, here we are.
What I wanted to write about was the immense amount of kindness bestowed upon me by my ‘host family’ this holiday season. I was going to tell you about the simplicity, ease, and caring that filled me on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Here I was, in the home of people whom I’d not met until a month earlier, celebrating the most familial of holidays, and feeling completely accepted and at peace.
During the day, I reflected on Christmases past. Most of these I had spent with my family in New York celebrating in our traditional ways. I thought about how closed-in that world of mine was. I recognized how growing up in small place with a large, tight-knit family sheltered me considerably.
I called my parents house early that afternoon, but they were quick to shuffle me off the phone due to a neighbor who was visiting. I noticed how my heart winced at this lack of attention. I then noticed how familiar that wincing felt.
My day continued on. I called it “The Lazy Christmas” because none of us decided to get out of our pajamas much before 3pm, and, even then, it was a stretch. I also saw it was a loving Christmas as I witnessed a mother, father, and daughter who all showed each other, and me, the utmost respect. I was grateful to experience their example.
I was also quite grateful for their hospitality as evidenced here:
After our usual enlightening and fun conversations, I made my way to bed. When alone in the room the thoughts and feelings of home again flowed over me, but this time with ever more sadness. I’d love to tell you the sadness was due to missing my family and our traditions, but it wasn’t. Instead I felt sad for not missing them much at all.
It is this feeling I continue to sit with and process despite decades of running. It is this feeling which I have been denying all this time.
Let’s see what happens as I finally face it, shall we?
I first learned of the town called Madrid, New Mexico from the homeowners of the house where I’m staying. From there the name kept coming up. Combine this with having driven through on my way to Santa Fe the week before, and I knew I had to visit. The Saturday before Christmas seemed the perfect time. After-all, there were a few more presents I wanted to secure, AND I figured some holiday cheer would be in the air.
I woke up early to feed the horses, and about mid-morning I made my way to the town. It was only a 45 minute drive, and, as I mentioned in previous posts, the landscape along the way was stunning.
Madrid is a small town, so parking wasn’t an issue. I found a spot in front of one of the shops, then began my walking adventure. For my first stop I, for some reason, walked into one of the local art galleries. I wasn’t in the market for anything there, but something drew me inside. It wasn’t long before I found out what.
As I was looking around the gallery, the man behind the counter began speaking to me. It turned out he was from Albany, NY. He and his wife (and now his adult children) are artists, and they decided to move to New Mexico to explore their art some 31 years ago. We exchanged war stories of winters back East. I asked him, and he told me, about his adventures in the West. Needless to say when I left the shop I not only felt full of good vibes, but I was reminded that I’m never really alone.
My next stop was at a place I had read about online, the Gypsy Gem. I was looking for some earrings for my mom, and this seemed the place to find them. When I entered the shop I was greeted by a young man in his 20s. He let me know to ask him for help should I need any, after which I began making my way around the shop.
Several moments later I found myself engaged in another full on conversation. This time I learned the young man had just moved to Madrid last month from Miami. He was having a hard time finding a job in sales there due to the tattoos on his arms and face, but a friend to him that his parents owned a shop here and would certainly hire him. They did, and here he was.
I also learned he was getting used to the colder weather. In fact, he was very excited to have purchased his first wood stove after learning just how expensive propane heat was. This young man’s stories touched me. Not because they were particularly endearing, but because I could very much relate to them.
I remembered having a hard time grappling with heating costs at my first post college apartment in Connecticut. I also remembered moving across the country to San Antonio, Texas due to a friend’s suggestion. It was like peering through a looking glass into the past. I shared with him my current journey which we bonded over, and, although I left the shop without a gift for my mother, my step was a bit lighter the rest of the day.
My step was not too light for an afternoon coffee however, so my next stop was the Java Junction. Note that I had to walk past this before arriving:
I was delighted to find they served and sold beans which were locally roasted in Santa Fe. I had yet to try any local roasts, and thankfully I was not disappointed. I stocked up on coffee for the house, then made my way to a local chocolate shop.
This stop was like the chocolate equivalent of Cheers. A local man sat on a stool chatting. A worker made chocolate in the back. The owner gave me tastes of her amazing chocolate masterpieces while chatting about friends and family. It was a really great environment. I bought some of the wares to have around the house when the family came back for the holiday, and was on my way.
After chocolate I made my way to a final jewelry shop. Within the first few minutes I saw a pair of earrings I liked. I was going to keep looking, but realized that energy would be wasted. These were the prize of the day!
I secured the turquoise beauties then left the shop and the town. When I arrived home, I put away my wares and enjoyed the quiet afternoon. Towards the end of the day, this view greeted me on my walk down to feed the horses.
When I was done, I made the trek back to the house and reflected on the beauty of a day well spent. To have strangers share their lives and art with me is something I’m truly grateful for. Not only does it expand my understanding of others, but it helps me reflect on myself, what I’ve been through, and who I want to be.
Not too bad for a day in small town New Mexico, right?
DISCLAIMER AFFILIATE LINKS
Links on this blog are often affiliate links and may generate a commission. (So thanks for clicking!)