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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Saying Goodbye

Our one of two cat food bowls sitting empty this morning took on a whole new and sorrow-filled meaning. We put our cat Juba down yesterday.

14-years ago, almost directly after filling out the paperwork to buy the house we still reside in, we went to the Humane Society to fetch ourselves a cat in which to accompany our fresh purchase. Over-run with a new litter of orange kittens – to the point of being out of cages to put them in – they offered us a two-for-one deal. After some minor hesitation, we accepted their offer and left with two brother kittens, one in each hand.

Over the years, we’ve often pondered how terrible it would’ve been had we gotten only one, as we had intended (though we wouldn’t have known it). Our 2 brother cats have been great company and friends to each other. A couple of years ago, I finally got around to something I’d wanted to do for a long while. I sent the Humane Society a card, thanking them for their generosity in giving us a buy-one-get-one-free kitten and providing such a wonderful service to our community.

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Posted by on May 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 2 of 3)

I’m back among the ground-dwellers. I awoke this morning around 3:30am, disappointed after a confusing moment that I wasn’t in the tower.

Prior to my solo sojourn, I’d given no thought to the effects of tree top living. I hadn’t considered how well I might take to it or the re-calibration period afterwards that I’m experiencing now.

Upon returning home on Saturday night, I stood on our wooden deck out back, located 19″ off the ground, wondering why I felt so strange. In short order, I realized it was due to having spent the week in high concentration of time on a wooden deck rocketed 40-feet up high in the air. The ground was just too oddly close from where my feet were settled.

I didn’t anticipate loving – and therefor now missing – the ritual of lighting the gas stove. A task I involved myself in more than the average person who is not an avid tea drinker.

I’d forgotten how in love I am with trees and sky and sun rises – and how sad I would be to leave them behind. While they surround me every day, of course, it’s not the same as paying the kind of close and unscripted attention to them that comes from dwelling directly in their midst.

Tuesday May 22nd: Day 2. 4:48am

I’m sitting here at the map table inside, guessing over which peak the sun will rise, based on the color patterns unfurling over the mountains. I’ve got it narrowed down to two. With how much light hangs in the sky this time of year, I will make little use of my headlamp, book light, and lantern I packed along. Perhaps an hour’s worth of artificial lighting in the morning is all I’ll need. A truly dark sky only lasts for around 6-hours, in the late springtime of Montana.

With the light, temperatures, and time of year, I think I’ve managed to stumble upon the very best time to situate myself here. It’s neither bug, fire, or tourist season just yet; the nights and mornings are tinged with just the right amount of cool to accompany tea drinking and a hoodie; and the days are warm and friendly to my skin. I see this place becoming an annual excursion, and I only just arrived yesterday. It’s simply brilliant here.

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Solo Retreat in a Lookout Tower (Part 1 of 3)

Six months ago, on November 21st, 2017, I reserved to stay a full week at the Mission Lookout Tower starting on May 21st, located just a few miles from Swan Lake, Montana. With the exception of my husband and stepson coming up to spend the afternoon yesterday, I spent the week there solo. No power, no running water, no cell service.

It was deeply nourishing…ravishingly beautiful…heart-quenchingly filled with quietude…and luminous in every possible internal and external way.

I have scores of daily logging entries in my spiral-bound notebook, dozens of short creative writing snippets in my leather-bound catch-all, two freshly written spoken word pieces, over two hundred photos, and a multitude of video segments. It’s difficult to know how best to wrap up this past week, so I plan on crafting a 3-post series.

My 360-degree glass nest was perched 40-feet up high in the air atop a wooden tower, nestled in a thick of pine trees. Mission Mountains to the west. Swan Range to the east. I watched the sun rise every morning and the sun set every evening. I watched as the waxing moon made her way across the sky. Never before had I been so connected, engaged, and enthralled with the presence and pulsing movement of light.

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Posted by on May 27, 2018 in Fun, Travel, writer's life

 

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Resting, Not Quitting

I’ve been watching this state I find myself in slowly developing over the past month, like witnessing the moon gradually go from full to new. This low energy state; this I quit state; this I’m tired of taking care of everyone and tending to every little thing state; this I’m done and everyone’s on their own state.

It’s a rather important practice to know what it means to rest and how to do it, rather than throw in the towel and quit, when confronted with running on fumes – or being out of gas entirely and breaking down on the side of the road.

Today, I slept in and then stayed in bed till around 1:00pm. Having foreseen that this time of the year would be a exhaustive time for me after a few big planning events I’ve managed in the last couple of months, I reserved a stay (six months ago) in a fire lookout tower for the whole of next week for myself, starting on Monday. So, off I will go into the high elevation of the mountains for a solo stay in the woods.

I’ll play guitar, write, rest, sip tea, make campfires, and watch the sun rise.

I won’t have anyone to tend to other than myself…and it will be glorious.

I’ll recharge my tank and re-hydrate my spirit.

Once or twice a year, I find that I need this kind of time to myself. I need to reconnect: with my own person in a concentrated fashion; with silence; with stillness; with the rising and falling of the sun and the moon; with the simplicity and beauty of life that I often take for granted.

Off into the woods I will go come Monday. And I will return home with a rejuvenated inner landscape, I’m sure of it.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2018 in Travel

 

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The River Is High

The Clark Fork River is high, here in Missoula Montana. Swelling and spilling over its bank high. Flood stage high. Whole trees and mobile homes being carried downstream high.

Yesterday, I grabbed a shovel and some work gloves and headed to the staging area on 3rd Street to help fill sandbags. It was the same shovel I used to help during the in-town avalanche cleanup efforts here in town a few years ago. I know because it was still marked with duct tape – a way to distinguish it from the rest.

Dozens upon dozens of folks came out to take part in the volunteer efforts. Some volunteers even drove into town from over an hour away. I spent 5 1/2 hours at the sandbag station, with a 30-minute hiatus to fetch dinner for Mike & Jaden. I ate in the car on my way back to resume the second part of my shift, then left for the day just before 8:00pm.

While filling, moving, and stacking sandbags, I spoke with a woman who’d just returned from army training the previous day; I tag-teamed a few bags with a middle-school boy, who was apologetic every time he spilled some of the sand he was trying to get into the bag I was holding open for him, despite my friendly efforts to tell him it was par for the course in filling sandbags; I overheard an older woman tell a fellow shoveler that she was recently diagnosed with an extremely rare disease that will likely render her blind within the next 3-years; I joked around with a couple of guys as we all worked side-by-side atop the big mound of sand, as though we were victorious hikers who’d staked claim to a mountain peak; I enjoyed the synergy generated between myself and a young 20-something year-old trainer from the Bitterroot, as I passed down my filled bags to him, from my eventually lone and dwindling perch situated at the top of the heap; and my heart warmed at the short break we all took around 7:00pm to sing Happy Birthday to a 10-year-old girl, who insisted that she didn’t want to do anything to celebrate her birthday other than help fill sandbags.

Gosh I just love this town.

Today, my body is terribly sore. My hands are stiff and aching. And my ring-finger on my left hand is numb. It’s not ideal timing to be in such a painful physical state, as I’m in charge of our big community yard sale fundraiser at our local meditation center on Saturday, and I have a full day of sorting and prepping the sea of donations we’ve collected over the last 2 months tomorrow. AND, I’m quite sure that there’s no where else I would’ve rather been yesterday afternoon and evening.

My aches and pains will subside – and they’re a small price to pay in comparison to those who’s houses are being threatened or held in limbo by the rising river.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2018 in Community

 

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Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last night, I participated in an interfaith concert event called Tangible Hope, which was put together by the Missoula Interfaith Collaborative (MIC). Every year we have an interfaith summit event, but this was the first year is was turned into a concert at the Wilma Theater.

It was a wonderfully diverse concert, starting with bagpipes and ending with a Christian rock band, with a hand bell ensemble, community choir, and local singer/songwriter sandwiched in between. Included in the mix were also a couple of speakers and two storytellers, which is where I came in.

After weeks of preparation and a workshop session with our local storytelling pro Marc Moss, who runs Tell Us Something here in Missoula, here’s what I came up with along the topic theme of Tangible Hope:

In the fall of 2002, when I was 23 years old, I started a weekly meditation group called Be Here Now, based in the Buddhist tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And for the first 8-years, I was the sole facilitator of the group. Flash-forward to present day, we are now over 15 years old and have grown from a small meditation group into an active, vibrant, and relatively large sangha. And in Buddhism, the word sangha means: spiritual community. In our tradition, sangha is one of the most important and highly emphasized components that we are called to develop and strengthen in our daily lives. Sangha is an action verb; and it’s a quality of heartfulness that propels us in the direction of cultivating brotherhood and sisterhood. And for me, when I practice to fully embody the spirit of sangha, I’m also able to encounter it wherever I go.

As an example: I remember a time a few years ago when I was standing in a long security line at the LAX airport. I had just spent 4-weeks on a retreat at Deer Park monastery, which is based in our tradition located in southern CA, so I went from this beautiful, sequestered and quiet environment to a place that was decidedly quite different: LAX. And as I was standing in that security line a wonderful insight arose, which was that I didn’t feel as though I had left a lovely setting with my extended sangha friends and was now tossed into a hectic and unpleasant environment filled with grumpy strangers; I felt as though I had simply transitioned from one sangha to another – from my monastery sangha to my air traveling sangha. This insight allowed me to interact with the space and the people around me in a different way – a way that was more open, friendly, caring, and kind. So, when I look and operate through the lens of sangha I experience it wherever I go, all around me because I carry it with me and I actively create it.

Our teacher Thich Nhat Hanh says that sangha is more than a community, it’s a deep spiritual practice. So, it involves relationship building, spending time together, learning how to communicate and negotiate with various personalities and ways of doing things – it involves interacting with everyone around us in a way that promotes love and connection. And oftentimes the work of sangha building, of community and relationship building, is not easy. I’m reminded of our very first Be Here Now council meeting, which took place in November of 2010. There were 7 of us in attendance and it was the first time we were delving into the group becoming more of a collective endeavor, vs. just me holding down the fort. People shared a wealth of feedback and input mostly centered around all the changes they wanted to see have made; things we weren’t doing that we should be doing, things we were doing that we shouldn’t be doing, format adjustments, and so on. And what I recall most about this first meeting is getting home afterwards and breaking down crying. I was so overwhelmed, wondering how we would be able to incorporate everyone’s ideas and changes they wanted to see made and I was filled with worry that the simplicity and loveliness of our group was going to be lost. So, while it took some time to adjust and find our way together as a council and we had some growing pains, it was also the most beneficial thing we could’ve done to help ensure the health and vibrancy and stability of our group. So while it’s often challenging to do this work of sangha building, it’s also incredibly important that we do it.

And I’m so very grateful to be part of a tradition that ushers us in this direction and that we have the great fortune to be partners with the MIC in this regard, so that we can extend our capacity for sangha building outwards to include our interfaith sangha, which then ripples out to include our citywide Missoula sangha, our statewide Montana sangha, our nationwide American sangha, and our global worldwide sangha. Because the good news is: we’re all in this together, truly, there is no separation. And for this reality – and the opportunity that we have to be part of this interfaith collaborative – I am filled with joy and appreciation, because it’s this work that will allow us to continue beautifully into the future.

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Tell Me How It Is

Speak to me of what makes your eyes spark to life. Speak to me about the heart of your experience. Speak not in fragrant poetic verse, unless there is authenticity in so doing.

Don’t put a spin on things to help soften the blow of your inner strife. I want you to tell me like it is; what it means to be you in your own skin. I am not interested in meeting a version of you – one you gussy up for company: muted, fake, and dull. I don’t want to meet you in passing, sharing only pleasantries and hollow sentiments.

This may sound strange. It may even scare you off, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I want to absorb you fully and consume you. I want to dissolve the separation we think exists between us and become one being – all of us, in this together.

 

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