Everything is Uphill

“You park here”, the lady said, “and the check in is up there.” I gazed up the hill at the beauty of this place and realized this entire week was gonna be uphill. I never really imagined what I was thinking and the depths of how real it was. Everything is uphill.

From my first step I was beginning the journey of a lifetime. I looked around at the steep grassy hills, dotted with groves of brilliant green trees. I looked at the buildings set against this stunning backdrop and noticed how each one blended in and was accented by the grassy hills. There was a peacefulness here and it was evident that this was a powerful land and this was a powerful place.

I walked slowly uphill to the retreat site and through the gate that had a large prayer wheel…what the heck, I gave it a spin and said a silent prayer as I walked through the gate. I could feel the energy emanating from all around me. At first it was intimidating but soon it washed over me in a wave of warmth and a peaceful feeling came over me. I continued uphill till I came to the first building, a sign said “Start Here”.

That was the beginning of it all. From that moment forward everything was gonna be uphill. My cabin, the main meditation hall, the dinning hall and the path that took you to the top of the beautiful hills. Even my spiritual growth would be an uphill climb. There wasn’t much further down I was willing to go, so I welcomed the energy and settled in.

That was four days ago. I have surmounted more hills both metaphysically and physically. We do a walking meditation eight times a day. At least one of those meditations I take the path to the top of the hill and explore. It is breathtakingly beautiful and in a meditative state you don’t even feel the gravity or your heart beating in your chest. Your breathing is slow and steady and with each slow methodical step you climb further up.

Scattered at the top are more trails leading off to glorious views of the surrounding countryside. Each trail has benches with makeshift alters and colorfully adorned Buddhas with prayer beads and chakra stones. The energy radiates clear up to the top of the hill from the valley below and you can gaze out and soar with the birds gliding on the air currents. Since this is a silent retreat there is no human sound short of footsteps. The deer walk right out onto the fields as you stand there. The lizards scurry around at your feet. Bees buzz as they do their busy work. The trees whisper their stories for anyone willing to listen.

I’ve learned this week that uphill can be hard and it can also be rewarding. Uphill isn’t so bad after all.

Day Three: Mindful Awareness

Each day starts out before the dawn. The sound of bells, deep, low gongs. I awoke in a great deal of pain today. Perhaps from sitting and walking…or maybe it was the bed? No matter, just one more hurdle in my day. It could be pain caused by emotional upheaval manifesting itself in physical pain. The things we put ourselves through to achieve peace of mind, body and spirit.

I roll out of bed and head to morning meditation, 6:15 sharp. The first few meditations were guided, the last few however, have been left to us and our personal practice. After sitting for forty five minutes we have walking meditation and then breakfast. Today I had a special awareness on my walking meditation. I heard a small bird calling in the morning light, hidden away inside a tree. I paused and listened to its tiny calls and finally found it amongst the tangle of branches…it was the smallest hummingbird sitting on a branch singing away. It sat and watched me as I listened. Nothing else around was present, just me and this small bird. I thanked it for its early morning song, and continued on my walk. It is this awareness, this awakening that can only be achieved in a silent meditation.

Have I told you how loud silence is? Silence is very loud at times and very calming others. I can hear the pounding of my heart, the rush of blood through my head, my belly is always making very loud noises since I am eating delicious food that is totally foreign to its system. In silence you can here the wind, you can here the rustling of the trees, every sound you normally wouldn’t even notice is ten times louder when no one is speaking. You can hear birds feathers on the wind as they glide by. In silence I have come to appreciate all that goes unnoticed. You can hear distant buzzing from the bees collecting nectar. The world is silent when we are making sounds and full of incredible sounds when we are quiet.

I have also noticed, when silent, all other senses are heightened. Like I said earlier, I hear even the smallest sound. I wish I could bottle the smell of the air here. My eyes see colors more vividly. My mind thinks clearer. I just want to touch everything as if it were for the first time. A heightened awareness of all my surroundings. The world is alive an vibrant and I have only to be silent to take it all in.

Day Two: The Road to Change

I just completed my first full day at Spirit Rock Meditaion Retreat Center in Woodacre, California. I have run the entire gambit of emotions in the last fifteen hours. I have cried silently, laughed silently and waged battle, silently, with acceptance. I have sat in meditation for eight long hours. I have walked slowly, silently for another eight. I have listened to the teachers as they have reached inside of me, grabbed hold of all my fears and opened the flood gates. I was brought face to face with my darkest demons and tried to make some peace.

Today has been a whirlwind ride into a place I haven’t been in a long time, myself. Here at the retreat we are devoid from outside interference. We all have entered into “noble silence”. We have a life line available to us at anytime if the experience gets to intense, to decompress and seek clarity and direction. This is no cake walk and these teachers are here to guide us and lift us up. It is up to me to decide what I get from this. Trust me, the last three sitting meditations were tough to attend.

This retreat is about Mindfulness. It’s about learning to love all parts of you. To embrace all you fears and felt inadequacies with kindness and acknowledging short comings. It’s about generating a compassionate inner being. Compassion for oneself is needed in order to give it. Love is needed for oneself in order to give it. Understanding how to internalize the good even in a messed up world. This retreat is about me and whatever I choose to take from it. Breakdown the walls, embracing whatever comes up, owning it and embracing it with love and compassion.

When it Rains…It Pours: Belize day six

We knew that it was too good to last. So far our vacation has been perfect. Perfect weather, perfect food and drink and perfect group out here on Half Moon Caye. Our last night was full of dancing, drinking and sharing tales. We watched the sunset at the beach just outside of camp while partying with all our new friends. We took pictures and shared email addresses then went back to camp where the guides performed native Garafuna drumming, song and dance. We all danced the night away and had a lovely prepared meal (no shortage of those). Then off to bed.

The sun began to wake up the day as a big ball of pink in the morning sky. A cloud bank began to roll in and by breakfast the storm had arrived. We all ran out to our tents and secured the rain flaps. Within 5 minutes the rain began. First a little drizzle, then the lightening and thunder accompanied the sheets of rain. Now we are all sitting in the mess hall watching the rain, hoping the boat coming to get us today actually will leave Belize City and make the 2-3 hour trip across open water. I personally would be happy if the boat was unable to come.

Chris and I recounted our trip so far. Chris said that this island adventure reminded her of summer camp. There was always activities to sign up for each day, an applause after each meal, educational moments and of course glamping. So now every time I think of the last five days I smile and think “adult summer camp”.

Have I Said This Before?

My girlfriend and I have been planning our escape for years. It was some fear and apprehensions that stopped us from taking the leap years ago and wandering our beautiful planet on a forever way of life…traveling.

We planned and saved every dollar we could. Tried to make good decisions about big purchases. Brought our company to a viable asset. Fixed everything physically wrong with our aging bodies so we could be young again. We made a goal of 2017 as our jumping off point.

Well 2017 came and went. We put our business up for sale at the beginning of 2017. We had several interested parties, but running a car dealership is not as simple as liking cars. Everyone that came to the table either faded away when they found out how much was actually involved or the banks turned them down. I fell into a deep depression that I kept hidden as best as I could.

We set ourselves up to live a good life. We built our dream home 18 years ago and are about 3-4 years away from paying it off. Our house is warm and comfortable and WAY too big for our little family of two humans and a corgi. It was a tax shelter and necessity which has now become a source of financial security, affording us freedom if we could cut the chains.

We have read countless books on becoming a minimalist. We have attended Overlanding expos and created good, healthy ties with fellow explorers and travelers living both here in the US and in foreign countries. We bought a 2015 Ford Transit 250 to build into our adventure mobile. Of course with our still busy schedule it has not had much attention. So here we sit, chained to our business and unwilling to give up our comfortable home until the sale.

To make matters worse… everyday we wake up to another mass shooting, another unarmed kid shot by cops, a narcissistic POTUS who is batshit crazy and can seriously impact our financial health, physical health and turn the world against us. Kids are taking to the streets demanding change but getting the hand by the grownups they rally against. It is just too much for my fragile psyche to be bombarded with everyday.

Why take off and leave all that we know? Why sell off everything and have nothing but freedom to show for it? Why break away from all that is comfortable and travel to third world countries where people are happy and live harmoniously with the world around them? Seriously… you need to ask!

35,000 Feet

I am on a plane. On my way to see my 97 year old grandmother. Leaving the country means not seeing loved ones anytime in the near future. At 97 that future might be shorter than others.

I planned this trip a month ago. My cousin Suzie has always been afraid to drive her car across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a 3.5 mile span of bridge connecting mainland Maryland to the Eastern Shore. She normally pays $35 each way for someone else to drive her car across. I offered my sevices in lieu of room and board at her lovely home in DC. She and I have always been pretty close cousins.

When leaving on your infinite trip, traipsing off to other parts of the world, one of the choices you make is to leave your family. At our age that family runs deep. No kids of our own, but plenty of cousins we’ve watched grow up and have families. Nieces and nephews who have grown up and had kids. Friends who have grown up around you and had kids. These are as much family as if we had had our own. I think it is a little easier to leave them behind though… you know their immediate families are close and watching over them. You kind of realize how alone your life really is.

Now I know we have worked just as hard as the family and friends around us. We have been able to make investments and cash out on those to fund our next phase of life. We don’t have to think about any legacy, how to make our kid’s lives easier once we are gone… by the time that happens our family’s kids would be having kids. Life is somewhat selfish when you don’t have any immediate legacy to worry about.

Looking out the window of the plane I see flat. I am on my second leg through Minneapolis on to D.C. My family has seen my FB post and realize this is it… figure out how to visit with me now or continue to visit via internet. Growing up there was no internet, cell phones, texting or ” blogging”. You got in your car and drove to visit your people. You planned elaborate dinners around holidays. I think I actually like the virtual connections better. A whole year would go by without a word then you are thrust back into each other’s lives and try to play catchup in a few hours.

Introduce internet, cell phones, Facebook, Instagram and so forth and now on an almost daily basis we can see their kids grow up, achievements, and ups and downs. It’s like being in their lives on a weekly basis. You can visit and continue a conversation without the catch up. It brings the entire world into your grasp. It makes the world a smaller more friendly place. It connects generations. Opens new worlds once thought unachievable. It becomes a road map to exploration of foreign cultures and life styles… without being so foreign anymore. It also has taken us away from today. Heads down in our phones. Find a balance. The world is still out there.