Bust It Out!

Wow, I overcame a huge emotional, self-esteem-ish hurdle this weekend: singing and playing guitar in front of others. I can’t really explain this leap away from shyness. Fear of putting myself out there in this intimate performing way has always terrified me. But this weekend my soul sister, Colleen, visited. She’s “shy” too…ahem!

The hurdle jumping happened rather organically. We were hanging out in the living room talking, talking, talking and watching guitar performing heroes of mine on YouTube. People like Mary Chapin Carpenter, Cheryl Wheeler, and Mark Knopfler;songwriters who also play a mean guitar and tell stories through their craft. That’s always been my dream, my real dream-to craft stories with words and a guitar and play them for people. I tried it in high school, but locked myself away in my room instead and entertained myself trying to play and sing along to Jackson Browne, Dan Fogelberg, and Gordon Lightfoot.

Anyway, yesterday I found myself heading into our guest room and coming out again with my guitar and a stack of songs that I can muddle my way through. And we began to sing together. Shyly at first, and then in big voices trying to hit notes like the pros. It was stunning. It felt freeing. I felt exuberant. I wanted it to go on all day. I was playing better than I know how to. Colleen was singing like it’s something she does on the side and makes money doing. It filled us up like nothing else we’ve done in the eleven years of our friendship.

Why does it take so long and require so much effort to be who you really are? I don’t know the answer to that. We muddle along the best we can and every now and then the stars all align to give you a glimpse of your own greatness. It was a miracle, I’d say. And I’m very, very grateful to have been insane enough to step into the offering.

Just wanted to share. I haven’t posted in a while and I have missed it.

Have you surprised yourself with greatness lately?


Mind Games

Yesterday on a solo day hike in our local mountains, the stunning Wind River Range of Wyoming, it struck me how aware I was of myself and my surroundings. Or, myself in my surroundings. Maybe it was because I had no one to talk to. I wasn’t alone-my trusty golden retriever, Jack, loped along a steady twenty yards out front the whole way. (Jack also hiked 1,000 miles of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike in 2004 so he is no slouch when it comes to churning out the trail miles.) He isn’t exactly a conversationalist, however, and yesterday that was a good thing.

The quiet allowed me to notice what was around me: the rushing river, the chatter of birds, the squeaking of trees rubbing together, the scuttle of unknown animals in the bushes, the wind in the sagebrush, and the shuffle of my feet in the dust. There were my thoughts, too. They were steadily passing into and out of my awareness settling nowhere, really. It was almost like they were being sifted through a set of filters. Some were being tossed aside, others were finding a nook of my mind to settle into to wait for later. A few would momentarily demand attention but were soon thrown out at the prompting of a bird call or sudden shift of wind. How comforting it was to feel that all of this-those things inside and out-moved to and fro with a gracefulness not usually apparent at home.

I’m contrasting this with another recent experience. This one at home midway through a hectic week. I was alone, privately taking care of business. My mind was frantic. Happy, but frantic. My thought pattern went something like this: “Hey, before I know it I’ll have a new classroom full of second graders. Oh, but before that I’ll be back in California at the second life coach training. What’s before that? Oh, yea, our llama trek. It’ll be great to finish the length of the Winds this year. And next week we’ll begin our motorcycle certification class. Oh, and don’t forget about the sidecar training. Whew, this will be a busy summer. Now what about home improvement projects? How will we fit those in? How far away is the Fourth of July? Joe’s family will be coming up for that weekend. Where will they all sleep? I wonder what’s for dinner tonight? Do we have any wine? Gotta check my Facebook page when I’m through here.” And on and on and on it went. Finally, my mind  caught itself up short with an exasperated,  “HEY, HOW ABOUT YOU JUST FINISH PEEING, THEN YOU CAN GET ON WITH THE REST OF YOUR OBSESSING!”.

Am I alone here? Is there anyone else out there being held hostage by their own mind?

Alas, I have no solutions. The benefits of being present, slowing down, enjoying each moment before moving to the next have been stated by numerous sources. And I believe them all.  I get it, I do. I experienced it on my hike yesterday. Is that the trick? For me, maybe I need to be physical out in nature for the magic to happen. Maybe experiencing it so simply will be reminder enough to try to bring it into my more everyday life. That seems like a good start. Good luck to me. Good luck to you. Let me know if you have any remedies for the obsessive mind spell I’m often held captive by. Until then, I’m off on another hike. Hope the magic lasts.

My New Motorcycle Friends

Joe and I spent the weekend in Rock Springs, WY attending a motorcycle safety/driving/licensing course. We were intimidated going in since our only motorcycle driving experience was mine 35 years ago in high school on a little dirt bike. Having recently bought a hot BMW 1200 GS with a Hannigan sidecar, though, the pressure was on to learn how to ride the thing and pass the course.

Class began after dinner Friday night and my predicted first impressions of the attendees were quickly confirmed. Bikers. Leather, boots, lotsa hair, piercings, the smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer in the air, leathery looking skin. You get the picture. One of our instructors fit the part, too: long grey ZZ Top beard, tight little  pony tail out back, multiple ear piercings. and a sort of biker swagger to his walk. And then there was us looking, I’m sure, like the two elementary school teachers we are. I had to giggle. No one talked much at first. It felt a little like we were all checking each other out. And honestly I didn’t think I’d have much in common with these folks. Ahem.

And then the magic happened. We were told to read through sections of the course book and summarize it together in small groups to present it to the rest of the class. And what do you know…all those biker stereotypes immediately fizzled and out came a bunch of people who were all a little unsure about what to do or say. It was great. There is just nothing like a challenging, new experience to bring a group of people together. In addition to working through the text together we shared what we knew and didn’t know about bikes, what we were a little scared about when it came to the driving portion of the course, and what brought us there.

Everyone had a story. One woman’s husband said he’d buy her a new bike if she passed the course. (She didn’t. She got sick and had to leave early). Another wanted to get out from behind her husband on his bike. She did! One guy was there to get over his huge fears after a crash on his bike beat up a good friend of his. My Joe is retiring this week and is looking forward to exploring Wyoming with the sidecar rig. His interest sparked mine so I was there to see if I could still ride. A young woman on the course had already built her own bike and was there to sharpen her skills.

I tell you, I get caught every time with these preconceived judgements. I’m sick of it. We had a total blast this weekend with our new biker friends. Out on the riding range we laughed and hooted it up with each other session after session after session. There was nothing but fun encouragement. There’s a whole new biker world out there waiting for us. Hey, do they allow BMWs w/a sidecar at Sturgis?!

Wise Words From Our Worker Bees

It’s been raining here lately so there’s not much honeybee foraging going on. I can hear them all inside the hives as I sit beside them in the early mornings. I think I’m beginning to comprehend some of what they’re saying in there. Here’s what I’ve heard this week:

  • Do what you’re born to do
  • Don’t stop
  • Persistence pays
  • Ignore the drones
Carry on,

A Lesson From Luka

I’m inspired to share this account of an experience shared with me by a friend  about her young son, Luka. There’s something about the way he responded to a recent event in his life that brought me up short.

Luka is a smart, spirited, outgoing, rough and tumble boy of about five years old. His cheeks are rosy red, his hair tousled and sun bleached. The sparkle in his eyes is playful and has you wondering what he’ll be up to next. He’s one you keep your eyes on. My kind of kid. And he was born with Clubfoot. According to the Mayo Clinic this is a term describing a range of abnormalities present at birth where the feet are twisted out of shape or position. I wouldn’t have known it. This kids gets around. He’s been through a lot with his feet: castings, braces, even surgery.

Recently in a medical check-up Luka’s feet were found to have regressed a bit and new action needed to be taken. Here’s his mom’s email to me describing their time with the doc:

“Sadly, Luka’s feet are not ok, he has regressed to the point we are serial casting again, so I have to go to Casper with him every three weeks to get the casts changed for about four visits. He completely flipped out when the doc told him, escaped the building twice, kicked, screamed, bucked, farted, yelled, OMG!!!! Eventually, there were doctors and nurses blocking the hallways, he was careening into patients, running into consulting rooms trying to get away. This went on for about 40 minutes. I can kind of giggle now, but boy, I was sweating! It was like dealing with a (large) frightened animal, poor guy. We got them on once he realized it was not painful and he is fine, he can walk and run, just cannot get them wet. He did get up last night at 2:00 and cried until 4:00 because he was itching under the casts. Hopefully that side-effect resolves soon.”

Luka’s story reminds me of myself and so many people I know who react immediately (and often fearfully) to  what we don’t fully understand or feel we cannot control. Oh if we could only see the big picture from the start. Luka was able to calm down “once he realized it was not painful” or as restrictive as his previous treatments had been. In the end, his new castings will help him.

We cannot ever really know how the events in our lives will turn and twist. What seems certainly bad at first can turn out to be good in the end. Blessings that come our way can morph into curses. I am going to try like hell to take life as it comes without freaking out and letting my primitive little self control my mental and physical responses. And have faith that there’s growth to be had or lessons to be learned from everything we encounter in life.

P.S. We spent part of yesterday afternoon with Luka and his family out at their place on the edge of town. There he was, casted up, riding his bike, charging through the fields, leaping over creeks and into muddy ditches seemingly unaware of what he had originally perceived as hell on earth.

Thanks, Luka. Way to bust through the fear and charge on with life. You’re my hero.

Note to Self

Last Friday night I be-bopped into my guitar lesson buoyant with new music in my ears; Alison Krauss and Union Station‘s new music. I could go on and on about them but won’t here. What was of note to me then was how my teacher, Jim Nelson, responded to a song I played for him. Wait, no. I didn’t play it. AKUS played it and I shared it with Jim. It went something like this:

“Hey Jim, you have to hear this. It’s from the new Alison Krauss and Union Station cd. I wonder if we could ever do this song?”

“Okay, pop it in. Let’s listen” (The track is called, “Miles to Go” and it features Jerry Douglas on Dobro. I dare anyone to sit still through the song.) So I plugged my iPod into his big music blaster. I don’t think three notes had escaped from the speakers before Jim was playing along on his little Taylor cut away. It was stunning. This man came alive. The spark of musical inspiration was oozing from him. He grabbed hold of that song like he’d been waiting all his life to hear it. Like this was what he had been born to play. I know the feeling. The difference is I can never play along. You could see him listening hard, predicting chord patterns, anticipating the change when the bridge came along. Smiling all the while. Really, I had never been so close to such a mix of off-the-cuff joy and ability. It was an inspiration to be part of.

I’m lucky. Jim agrees to share this passion with me once a week. And he somehow has me believing that there’s hope for me to skillfully finger my way through a song I love, too. That’s a great teacher. How’d I get so lucky in little ol’ Lander, Wyoming?

Note to self: Let ‘er rip! When you feel it, go for it!

From the tips of my clumsy little fingers, Jim, thank you!


The end of the trail

Have there been seeds of dreams planted inside you in the course of your lifetime that are demanding to be nurtured? Are you nurturing any? Time is short. Experiences are many. Let’s get going. Here’s one that speaks to my point. I’m looking for more.

In 2003 I could feel the growth of a dream seed in my guts.  It was demanding to sprout. It needed the sun, but it asked too much of me. I tried my best to ignore it. I really did. To see this dream through would require leaving my teaching career for at least six months.  Didn’t matter; it had to be done. I had to attempt the 2,175-mile thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. It stretches from Georgia to Maine. Friends thought I was crazy. From the very moment I voiced my intentions they would ask, what? Why? Where did that come from? And I’d tell them that I think a seed had been planted inside me long ago. It just took time and life’s experiences to fully grow it.

The Sowing: I remember being stretched out on the yellow shag carpet of my grandparent’s living room playing a game of Jacks by myself as the late afternoon sun slanted in through the front room’s window. This had to be somewhere around 1970. I was 10 years old, or so. The mail had just been delivered and Gram had received a package from the National Geographic Society. This was big. National Geographic magazines occupied “altar-like” status on the coffee table in their home. They connected us to the rest of the world; places I could only dream of going. Inside that package was a book, “The Appalachian Trail”. The book was filled with picture after picture of grungy hikers toting heavy loads in awkward-looking backpacks. The terrain they covered seemed remarkable in its variety: green hilly meadows of flowers, muddy trails winding around earthbound roots, exposed rocky mountaintops, and long green tunnels of trail.  It was mesmerizing. People really did this? Gram and I spent hours with that book. Not reading much, just staring at each photo straining to capture the essence of the hikers’ experiences. I dreamed it was me out there on that trail.

A seed was planted that afternoon. A seed whose packet label might have read, “Yes, dream it. Then do it”. Thirty-four years later that seed had grown into a dream demanding to be fulfilled. Time, work, relationships, and smaller journeys had nurtured its potential. My body and soul knew the truth of that seed for me.

The Reaping: I quit my job. And in the spring of 2004 I set off on that trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia with my young golden retriever, Jack. Six months later I stood at the finish, atop Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. I had done it. One dream down. How many more to go? What other seeds have been planted and are waiting to burst forth? I’m looking now; scraping away the topsoil in search of another experience.

BTW footnote: Things always work out, don’t they? After completing the hike I was re-hired; this time in the one room rural schoolhouse an hour from town, and that job provided another experience I will never forget.

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