Video: Walking With Our Parents (A Tribute to the Survivors of Slavery)

 

Walking With Our Ancestors is a collaborative film, created as a tribute to the survivors of slavery and to all of our ancestors. Walking With Our Ancestors contains video and still photographs from the 2016 Roots Retreat to New Orleans and features a reading of Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Walking With Our Parents,” performed by Jaydon Galindo Lovell.

Walking With Our Ancestors is dedicated to our parents and the children of tomorrow.

Enjoy!

Plus, here’s the URL, just in case! https://youtu.be/nKUXc0pXwek

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A Crash Course in Aikido: Living a Healthy, Memorable Life with Martial Arts

Most of us don’t start thinking about health and longevity until an unexpected death occurs. Fortunately, we don’t have to wait for bad news to make changes. The challenge for most of us is to balance lifestyle, diet and family history with physical ability. A great way to take care of the externals is to join a martial-arts school. It’s easier than you think, and with rewards like new friends and mental and physical agility, Aikido may be perfect for you.

There are some unique benefits to joining a dojo like Aikido SF. Aikido is a good way to reclaim health and flexibility, replenishing stamina and energy for doing things with the people who matter. Training with a robust group of children, adolescents and adults at all levels of Aikido provides community and emotional connection. Plus, most people place a high value on staying independent in their advanced years, when it will really count. Maintaining physical and mental plasticity are important ways to promote long-term resilience.

While you may think it’s impossible to train in martial arts after a certain age, it’s really not the case with some non-competitive forms, such as Aikido. And apart from the benefits of increased physical prowess, evidence that intellectual capacity, social intelligence and positive personality traits are boosted by an athletic lifestyle is mounting. The martial-arts community emphasizes community work, civic engagement, respect, participation, health and meditation as part of the practice.

Opportunities to learn in a dojo vary greatly. An example is the annual Aikido SF Seminar, where I watched skilled teachers and students from SF Bay Area train for a half day. There’s a lot to be gained from the venerable tradition of observation, disciplining the mind to understand physical principles, then applying those skills later.

Need more incentive? There’s ample evidence correlating a lack of exercise and poor diet to increased incidences of early onset dementia like Alzheimer’s. That’s evidence I’m not willing to ignore. Most of us want to call our spouses, friends and grandchildren by name. When the consequences of a sedentary life means risking the loss of precious memories, the idea of Aikido training gets even sweeter. After all, a sharp mind is critical to longevity. And, Aikido’s non-competitive discipline is a great habit to cultivate.

With huge gains to garner, like optimal brain functioning and a smaller waistline, Aikido is a big winner. Add caring instructors and supportive peers, and it’s clear that anyone can learn to take better care of her body in a nurturing environment, where physical and mental training are important aspects of good health. Of course, you don’t need to study martial arts to improve your health A small commitment to walk just 15 minutes a day could turn the tide enough to impact the rest of your life. Do it for you. Do it for your family.

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Getting It Wrong to Get Things Right

 

Life has a way of giving us enough challenges to teach us to adapt quickly to situations by forcing us to pay attention to mistakes. Setbacks, missteps and shortfalls form the backdrop of our experience, shaping and contrasting the triumphs and achievements that are the peaks of a rich existence. Accepting mistakes, embracing them, even, is not only a life skill, it is resilience at its most optimal. Mistakes are our teachers—the bigger the error, the greater our potential for growth. I’m finally beginning to appreciate my own mistakes now more than ever, and I’m looking for ways to fall down with grace. If I scrape my knees often enough, I know I’m playing for keeps. Only benchwarmers escape scratches and lumps.

 

During office hours recently, a young lady came to see me to tell me about all the things that weren’t working in her life. Unable to produce work, she complained that she had no motivation and could make no effort. She was scared about failing her classes, rightly so. This particular young person has a great personality, a lot of energy and possesses a very chatty disposition. Even when she is completely unprepared to discuss the topic at hand, she still wants to contribute. Looking at her, I couldn’t help notice her need for guidance. Interrupting her rambling, I asked her to think about the advice she’d give a friend in her situation. Her mouth opened, but I didn’t want an answer—at least not at that moment. I wanted her to go home, reflect and stop by again. I could see that talking is too easy for her. She can talk all day and never get to the reflection and introspection she needs.

 

That’s a familiar response for many of us. We fill the silences with noise. We turn the volume up on the voices on the television or radio—anything so long as we don’t have to be alone with our thoughts. To her credit, she pulled out a battered notebook and a pencil stub and wrote down the assignment. I’m not sure I’ll see her again, however. She hasn’t been back, yet, despite her enthusiasm. But before she left my office, I looked her in the eye and told her she shouldn’t worry too much about making mistakes. They’re natural, I said, just make some new ones, too.

 

Contemplating her situation later, I couldn’t help but see myself. She’s been repeating the same errors for nine weeks, now, always returning to pick up where she left off, and I, too, have done the same things for years. It seems I easily get on the dreaded hamster wheel, naively expecting to step off in Paris, while merely circumnavigating the familiar perimeters of my comfort zone. I can’t grow if I’m not willing to be clumsy, to fall down a few times and keep trying. I’ve grown too careful; I don’t want to look foolish or risk too much, but security also has a price tag.

 

Reading the San Francisco Chronicle a few Sundays ago, I was so saddened by an article about the growing income gaps between blacks and everyone in San Francisco and California. It seems that every other group is making financial and economic gains, while African Americans are literally moving backwards. I walked around with the unsettling numbers on my mind for weeks. I searched my students’ faces for answers, but they don’t have any more answers than I do. I grieve as I look at the handful of African-American students out of the ninety in my sphere. I think about my part to play in keeping them from becoming the living statistics in the newspaper. I pray for them. I nudge them to stay vigilant so they can ride their star to victory.

 

A few days later, it hits me. An email about a full-time position in my department sent by our department chair is a historical first. It was the first time in my eight years as an instructor in the department that I learned about a position from an inside source. As my past telescoped through my mind, all the pain I’ve endured at the hands of my colleagues, of hiring committees predisposed to disqualify applicants who happen to be people of color, I suddenly recognized myself, the woman trapped by fear.

 

 

Despite being illegally disqualified from the applicant pool more than once, I repeatedly applied for a full-time post, steadfast and loyal daughter of the college that I am. Each time, my disappointment mounted heavily on my buoyant personality, weighing me down, etching away my confidence. It was only last year that I decided to stop applying, to stop torturing myself with the process. But there I was, once more drawn to the idea by an email even though I know I have try something different if I want to thrive.

 

I am the living statistic in the paper. This year I spent half the year unemployed, only to make up the deficit in a deafening whirl of activity as I unexpectedly accepted a temporary full-time position, while nursing a debilitating injury.

 

Noticing is my first step off the wheel.

 

For me, the task is to stay on course with my purpose and calling, to be willing to persevere and walk into the unknown. The temptation to stay comfortable is great. Even the squeak of the wheel is comforting—I know just where the bumps are, where to pause for a breath. Limping at high speed on the wheel to nowhere, I hurry to my stop, chasing a dream that has long since lost its opulence.

 

With these realizations, I am at last able to see that my student, the one justifying and stringing together excuses, the one who can do it all with her eyes closed like an expert beader, is me. I am my student. I keep making the same mistake. It’s safe and easy—predictably awkward, but not at all scary. Finally able to understand why the Chronicle article was so upsetting, I acknowledge that it is because the article is about me. I have to make a new mistake.

 

The decision to change is nothing new for me. I have been a transitional character all my life. This is my big chance to fall down while doing something I feel is critical for my own liberation. Ironically, it’s the best semester of my teaching career, because I am finally living from the very center of my heart. Releasing and opening to possibilities is more like disembarking in a strange land than it is like falling exhausted from a squeaky wheel. At least I know I’m heading toward the unfamiliar. When the alternative is to tighten up my laces, pop a few Advil, and keep spinning, I want all the more to take a chance. It can’t get any worse. I’m already at the bottom. Maybe I can kick off from here and make some of those mistakes I’ve been dreaming of, the ones that require faith, courage and support—the essence of what we must believe, ask for and risk to answer a calling.

 

Taking time to reflect on the last 15 years of my life, I notice some of my biggest failures have helped me to get quiet and reflect. In many ways, taking a risk to make a major change, such as a career shift, is an opportunity to be authentic. I can’t tell my students to follow their dreams and take risks if I live a safe existence, sanitized by fear. A life of meaning requires letting go and inviting transformation to happen; transitions require discernment and faith, a deep knowing that there is enough, that God will sustain us, and that we are meant to fall down and help each other up again.

 

Why Should Black Lives Matter? by Ed Stewart

On my way home after church a few weeks ago, I stopped for a snack at the Arizmendi Bakery on Valencia Street in San Francisco. Behind the counter is a small chalkboard that usually displays a handwritten inspirational message, usually aligned with the progressive, left-leaning nature of the Mission District neighborhood. That day the message was: Black Lives Matter. And as an African American, I had to concur. Only a couple of weeks earlier, the nation had been confronted with a video showing the killing of an unarmed African American male who was shot in the back by a police officer in South Carolina, just the latest in the string of incidents that have given rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

But others seemed perplexed by the message, to put it kindly. Specifically, two men standing in line behind me were engaged in the following conversation:

– Why should Black lives matter? I mean, of course they do, but why more than anyone else’s?
– I think all lives matter.
– You’re right! I think the sign should say ‘All Lives Matter.’
– Yeah, that’s what I would have said.

I discreetly turned around, pretending to look at the various baked goods on display beside me, but really seeking to find out just who could have been so oblivious to the context behind a phrase that has become its own Twitter hashtag: #BlackLivesMatter.

Behind me stood two young men, both White, in their late 20’s or early 30’s and dressed in hipster fashion (although only one sported the requisite amount of facial hair). In other words, these were exactly the sort of people one might expect to find standing in line for pricy pastries on a sunny afternoon in the Mission.

“A-ha,” I thought, “you’re the target demographic. And as for me, well…I’m just the target.”

I wanted to say something to them, to explain why their words troubled me. But what could I say? After all, I agreed with their assertion that “all lives matter” – and as a Christian, how could I not? Yet at the same time I was angered by the apparent ease with which they could disregard the silenced voices of those who tell us that #BlackLives MatterLess:

Oscar Grant. Trayvon Martin. Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Walter Scott.

While you may not recognize all of these names (and there are others I could add to the list), chances are at least one will cause you to pause and remember a headline, a video clip, a scene from a protest march in Oakland or elsewhere. But that day at the bakery, I knew that those names resonate with me for reasons that I feel intensely. Yet I couldn’t find the words to articulate my frustration to those two young men who had the luxury of insisting that all lives matter equally. Instead I left the store, wondering what could I say the next time I found myself in a similar situation?

As it happens, I got my answer the next day, courtesy of the New York Times. On April 20 the Times ran a story about a demographic study showing that among African Americans between 25 and 54, there are only 83 black men for every 100 black women. (For whites, by contrast, the ratio is 99:100 – in other words, near parity.) The “missing black men” are either in jail or in the grave, their early deaths often due to preventable disease or gun violence.

Add the numbers up, and 1.5 million men in my age cohort and racial category – a number equivalent to the entire population of Alameda County – have simply “gone missing.” These men were sons, fathers, and brothers. For the men, women, and children who loved them, no doubt their #BlackLivesMattered, until they were taken away from them.

As the Times commented in a subsequent editorial on April 25, this gender imbalance reveals itself in “lower marriage rates, more out-of-wedlock births, a greater risk of poverty…and by extension, less stable communities.” The surge in Black male imprisonment following the never-ending War on Drugs not only contributes the missing man problem, it has “stigmatized blackness itself.” And as Black men and those who love them have learned, that stigma yields consequences ranging from subtle discrimination in their day-to-day lives to death at the hands of the police.

Removing that stigma requires all of us, regardless of color, to confront our own internal racial biases as well as the structural racism that, at its worst, literally costs lives. But until we do, the burden of the stigma will continue to be felt most acutely by African Americans, who collectively remain vulnerable to the evils of racism regardless of any progress we make as individuals. And that, quite frankly, is why we must be reminded that Black Lives Matter.

Making Peace with Gophers: How Personal Transformation Can Transform a Garden

 

 

In May 2015 I went to a Mindfulness Meditation retreat in the tradition of Community of Mindful Living, where I was reunited with old friends and made some new ones. The road to Ukiah was a long one, as it led to the journey within, to an interior of long-untouched places. There were many surprises, many unexpected openings, and even more healing and flowering of possibilities. Among my awakenings, I learned to care for my inner child with both historic tenderness and fierce protectiveness, both long overdue for my little girl. In the fertile ground of introspective work born of being thrown into close proximity with many people, the idea of equanimity both challenged and unfurled in me, holding my attention as I grappled with the realities of the concept as it applies to my emotional, physical and mental bodies. The question arose in me, What is it to make room for the other, the beloved?

 

I borrow from Stephen and Ondrea Levine’s book, Embracing the Beloved, for their work of naming the conscious relationships that can unfold and are encompassed when one allows for and embraces the “beloved”. They write that the “Other is the basis of every cruelty, all bigotry and war” for it is a practice that permits us to dis-identify as connected, a state wherein we are “nonfamily, nonfriend, nonrelationship, nonhuman, nonfeeling.” Indeed, these are all the many ways we separate ourselves. We can see this behavior and thinking everywhere. It is the most terrible disease of our modern times. Yet, it is all too easy to fall into this casual Othering and judging. For one, I am the Other, and two, the Beloved is me. The Beloved is all of us, our neighbors and those we don’t wish to hold close or dear: The shooter and the shot. We cannot chose. We must hold all in our center. That is equanimity.

 

As I breathe into this new-found understanding, I touch hesitation and resistance, discomfort and relief. When we hold the Beloved, the precious one, we hold ourselves all the more tenderly: Our adorable screaming infants, as well as our well-behaved and compliant studious children, held with the same love. We don’t get to choose any more than we select our skin color, birth order or origins. When I get angry, I aim for a smaller tilt and less unraveling. I come back to myself with purpose.

 

The mindfulness retreat was a place to practice all the things I’ve been studying in Cognitive and Dialectical Behavioral Therapies for six months. With most of the day spent in silence, the focus turned naturally inward. I found myself utterly depleted after Dharma talks, crying uncontrollably after meditation, enraged by a benign comment. Could I really be carrying all that unclaimed emotion around with me? Yes. In fact, I have been moving in the world, unconsciously acting on a lifetime of unacknowledged feelings, sensations and urges. When feelings are not taken care of properly, they act out on our physical and mental bodies. They will be heard. They will kick, scratch, ache and strain to be seen. By opening the door and committing to my whole self, experienced in the full breadth of my existence on earth, I have felt more than I ever imagined. Part of my work was also attending to my needs: To cry and be held; To laugh and share joy; To risk shame; To open and be rejected; To stand firm in my own convictions. I had no idea of the degree of capaciousness in me, that I could feel so much and not explode, and I found myself alive like a newborn star, delicate, bright, precious.

 

This process is not surprising to me, since as the years pass, I’m more inclined to look for and invent the path of least resistance. That is not to say that I’m afraid of conflict and confrontation, for I’m learning to deal with both, as they arise, with skillfulness and tact though it is not and has not been easy, and they will doubtless continue to instruct and inform me as firm and loving teachers. Still I look within and without for solutions to the habitual patterns, some destructive, some not, that have kept me from growing spiritually and emotionally, and these are surely the treasure troves of my own renewal.

 

Even before leaving home for the retreat, some calcified, implacable obstinacy in me had already begun to give way. Perhaps tired of the hunting, I had asked Hal to construct some cages from chicken wire we had in the garage. I had the idea to bury the cages to protect the dahlia bulbs and the broccoli roots in the garden, favorites of the gophers, who seemed to have voracious appetites and greedy spirits for my own favorites. As I returned home to my full self, the container of violence in me seemed to crack open, if only a hairline. I saw the chicken wire as protecting the gophers from me, from my need to control and contain the order of the universe represented as my garden, according to my plans. The chicken wire, then, has become the symbol for my own countermovement away from fighting toward boundaries that allow and invite. After all, what is an organic garden for if the gophers cannot roam there as well? Why has so much hate and violence been activated in me and directed to a creature whose own natural habitat I have cultivated with rare and delicious delicacies?

 

Through meditation and the observation of the land and my own habitual reactions, my own vigilance and anger have subsided, and I have begun to see fewer signs of the gophers’ presence though they’re clearly still in residence. The furious hiding, tunneling and unearthing seemed to have quelled into a gentle, beneficial tilling of earth and dirt. With less resistance, I have found that our gophers have eased up on their devouring, ravishing hunger and have become the tunneling resident foragers they’re meant to be. Could this all be my imagination? I don’t think so. I hope not. Hal now puts in shallower cages as we consider the needs of vegetable roots. There’s enough here, a whispering says.

 

I’ve stopped worrying that the dahlias will be eaten or that the blueberry bushes will disappear one morning. This is life, the very reason I garden, to witness the cycles of life up close, participating in the dance of seasons with the Beloved.

Learning to Age with Grace and Dignity

 

Now that I’m older and more aware of the cycles of life, I see how critical it is to stay open to care, love and support from family members and from unexpected people and places. I have a small fragmented family and no children, so I can’t expect that care will come from the traditional people. I’m open to receiving love from family and other sources of care and love. I’m also open to giving it where and when it is needed. That’s how I became involved in caring for my good friend’s aging mother last year. The experience has made me think more about aging, and more specifically, how I want to age, because I do believe we have a choice to make.

 

After a series of accidents and unexplained injuries requiring medical treatment, my friend’s 80-year-old mother needed round the clock support for several months in order to prevent further unexplained harm. Various factors undermined her independence: her inability to continue driving, extreme memory degradation and physical limitations, stemming from inflamed joints. Because of her impaired memory, no one could account for periods of time in which she went missing; objects disappeared from her home and purse. She created fantasies about her adventures and repeated her fantasy narratives constantly. Most of this was about medication, but trying to manage and assess the cause of the problem was challenging. For one, she didn’t want help—she was outright belligerent at times and did not want anyone around except for her daughter, who she asked for constantly. Two, she could not remember from moment to moment what was going on. Three, she was often irritable, gruff and occasionally angry, which was often connected to over-consumption of coffee, diet or personality. Notwithstanding, we joined the team of community members ready to pitch in.

 

To care for her, I resorted to tactics, not all successful and not all tactful. I spent time in the car, waiting for her to show up; we pretended to renovate our home so we could sleep in her house. Eventually, we fell into a routine. We ate lunch together and read magazines and newspapers together, gossiping about local news and the celebrities, and found in the midst of it all, that we shared a love of gardening and floral arrangement. We drank tea and watched the light change in the afternoons.

 

The things that were a hard for her were about her perception of giving up of her freedom; independence is indispensable, and she is a fighter. When she fought me, I knew she was fighting to be the resourceful, energetic and bossy lady she wants to be. The problem was, we were working, all of us, to keep her independent, safe and outgoing. But I was an interloper in her private domain, the earwig in her dahlias—I wasn’t wanted. I was a reminder that our society seldom lets us age with dignity.

 

She’s better now. Her medication doesn’t cause her problems; she’s adjusted to walking to places in the neighborhood rather than driving everywhere. This experience made me thinks about what it will take to remain in our home with the familiar things we love as we grow frail. It makes sense to fight for liberties, but we have to know when to entrust ourselves to others, when to open the door to friendship and kindness.

 

I sense the places where it will be difficult for me. I have to let go having things done my way, now. I have to give in to the yielding part of myself, to let others do things their way, even in my space. I never thought about my control issues as a potential hindrance to relationship, but I can see that if I allow my perspective to get entrenched, no one will ever be able to wash my dishes, cook my meals or launder my clothes as well as I can, and those are the exact openings for a friend to step in and lend a hand with the least intrusion.

 

Instead, I’m going to try to infuse my day with more mindfulness. I’m going to breathe when it’s not as I would have it and just say, “Thank you.” So what if it’s not my way? At least someone else is sharing my load.

 

I have to learn to “yes, please,” while there’s very little at stake, so when my time comes, I can say, “Yes,” with grace and dignity and let someone do for me what I’m willing to do for others.

The Business of Business: A “How-To” for Novice Entrepreneurs (Part 1)

 

 

This year I started my own business. I had some time on my hands and a hobby, from which I derived a great deal of joy. The journey has been both rewarding and incredibly challenging. Even a humble business requires enormous amounts of capital, mental and physical energy and time. Still, I wouldn’t go back. It’s a powerful creative outlet, and I absolutely love it when people tell me that the soap is wonderful. Here’s a picture of one of my newest soaps:

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I’m so pleased, in fact, that I want to share lessons learned and insights gained with readers. Because a small business is usually about a desire to be self-reliant and independent, it’s critical to know what’s on the other side before you set out. We all want to thrive. Why should financial independence be the exception?

 

Here are some really simple tips for entrepreneurs just starting out:

  • Do lots of research before you get your license. Once you get started, it’s difficult to slow down, and you may not be financially or mentally ready to start, even if you do have a great idea.
  • Find a mentor. If you know people in your field of interest, make a connection. If you’re totally new to the industry, make time to attend some workshops. Be creative: Mentoring can be as simple as investing in some books written by a respected and experienced person in your field.
  • Save Money! There are probably more hidden costs than you can imagine. You might need supplies you’ve overlooked, or even a canopy tent for sales. You might buy packaging that simply doesn’t work or need liability insurance. It’s shocking, but little expenses add up. Having a cushion, or even regular income until your product takes off, is a must if you want to see your venture to the end.
  • Lastly, find and follow your passion. This may seem simple, and it is true, but often overlooked. Chances are, if you’re not excited, it’s going be very difficult to get other people excited. Plus, passion will help you get through setbacks, tedious paperwork and the profit-less periods, which are, unfortunately, inevitable. The best prescription here is heart.

 

I’ll be sharing more about other business-related topics, such as business blogging, using social media and getting a domain. These are just some of the things I’m learning by running a small business. In the meantime, you’re invited to my business blog to see just what I’ve got going on at Majestic Garden!

 

http://majesticgardensoap.com/

 

Don’t forget to let me know what you think!

Crafting a Connection

 

Spending time with my partner’s mother is important. We live far away from each other, and I only see her in person every few years. One way that we stay connected is via correspondence. She makes and sends us the most beautiful handmade cards. They are utterly perfect and charming and chuck full of love, so when we scheduled a visit to the Twin Cities to see Hal’s family, I made a special request that his mother teach me to how to make cards.

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Like any great artist, Glenda has a process. The perfection of her cards comes from her careful attention to detail. She’s not afraid to start over, either. No glue goes on a card until the design, pattern, and shapes are just as she wants them. The paper must be folded just so and a burnisher used to align the edges. After stamping, Glenda patiently cut along the edges of the ink until there was an entirely different object. Paper and ink color must be sampled and selected; cut and matched. I know she does it this way every time. Each card has suddenly become even more precious to me, now that I see how much time she puts into each one. They are an act of love.

 

My inclination was to rush in and make several cards, but we spent the afternoon talking, sharing and explaining, and it yielded only the one collaboration. From cutting the paper to reviewing a catalog, it was clear to me Glenda’s intention was to give me an introduction to an art form and her passion. I don’t know that I can keep up her standards, but I’m thrilled about the memory and the card we created. I know what’s important to her. It’s the little things that count.

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What Fear Teaches: Lessons from the Cliffside

I remember a day in a Colorado canyon, on the side of a 750-foot cliff. I had taken a less experienced climber up a route that would take us a few hours. We were near the top, resting at a belay together before the final stretch of climbing, an exposed section that lead out on semi-rotten rock. The only protection against falling in this part of the rock wall were small metal nails, called pitons, hammered into the rock what looked like decades earlier. They appeared very old and rusted.

Old piton with carabiner clipped to it
Old piton with carabiner clipped to it
Old piton
Old piton

There would be a lot of empty air under our heels as we made the moves. We were thirsty and out of water. The view was spectacular, but despite the fact that I had led us to this place, the anticipation of the next part sat very heavy in the pit of my stomach. I asked my friend if he wanted to take the lead on the final section, but he didn’t want it and I didn’t blame him – it was a daunting prospect. I had got us into this and I had to get us out.

I sat there considering the options. Retreating from our location would have been at least as risky, if not more so, than going up. Daylight was waning. I had to go on. I checked to make sure my gear was in order and steeled myself to move. The first part was mostly sideways, angling up a little past those ancient pitons. I didn’t look at or think about anything except placing my hands and feet, testing each hold gingerly before fully committing my weight. Everything held and at the end of the traverse, I looked back at my friend, only 20 feet away, but with hundreds of feet beneath us. He was holding my rope and paying full attention to the situation. We were bound together by that thin cord. Our eyes met, but we said nothing and I smiled a little as I headed up over a vertical section of rock to easier ground and, eventually, to the top of the climb. We made it without mishap.

For me, climbing is a form of meditation and an art form. It is a practice that requires discipline, focus, and strength, both mental and physical. It is about the objective hazards of putting your body in places that your consciousness says are not okay and dealing with the emotional, psychological, and physical consequences of that choice. It is also about solitude and the wilderness and bonding with a friend.

I have been a rock climber for 27 years. At 47 years old, I’ve climbed for more than half my life, putting in thousands of hours and miles of vertical distance. The lessons that I learn are often hard to put into words, but it is part of my life now and I celebrate every opportunity I have to practice.

So much of what we do in life is about trying to keep calm in the face of challenges that literally make us sick. We would do anything to avoid painful circumstances that, if we face the truth, we put ourselves in. When climbing, there is no avoiding the situation. You must deal with it or the consequences will be immediate and severe. You must face your fears head on.

This does not mean you ignore your fears. As I climbed past those old pitons, I connected my rope, and thus my body, to them. And I was afraid at the same time. That fear was justified, because I had little confidence that they were strong enough to hold me if I had fallen. At times the fear of a particular climb has caused me to avoid it and even to head home early. Who knows what would have happened in those cases, but there is little doubt that the fear is rational and should be headed sometimes. As I like to say, a good day of climbing is a day in which you arrive home safely.

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The Real Joy of Backpacking

 

Recently two young women from Chicago, students at our college, approached me surreptitiously about going backpacking. The situation was comical and unexpected. When Lulu pulled me aside at that dinner, I didn’t know what to expect, but was amazed to learn she and her friend want to go on a camping trip with us. While she had my attention, she hastened to add with a firm look into my eyes and a hand on my forearm, a real one. While this made me laugh, I knew exactly what she meant. You want to go backpacking—with us? Yes, she said.

 

Lulu doesn’t want to drive in the car for two hours, park and walk ten feet to a campsite. She wants to feel challenged. She wants to hurt and experience something she never dreamed of in her city life. She wants to answer the call of the wild with aching feet, a sore back and weathered skin. I recognized the look when I stepped back to take her in fully. She nodded.

 

The word is slowly getting around that we are crunchy folks, perhaps because we tell stories about nature and our garden during check ins. It could also be the odd photos and posts on Facebook or Instagram that tell a story we can’t control. What is clear is that the more we do it, the more the people in our community want to join in. Even our eight-year-old friend told us she wants to go camping with us when we got back from our most recent trip. People are beginning to sense what we know: that something magical happens when we hit the outdoors.

 

Among the many benefits of backpacking, conquering oneself while facing down obstacles is the greatest. For the most part backpacking is not a dangerous endeavor, not like a trip to the Himalayas. Of course, nature commands respect and discipline, but we can mostly coexist for a few days. Out there, the wild creatures are in charge. They take over the demands of the day with their songs and rituals. One learns to fall into step and quiet the body and the mind. It’s amazing just how much noise we make: tin clanking or a zipper flapping and the swish-swish sound of synthetic clothes. I sound like a 200-pound elephant out there. The real conquering is letting the rain hit your face for hours; eating only what you can carry; and, leaving as little trace of yourself behind as possible. In a world of large egos, this is a test in humility. If I want the luxury of a wet wipe, well I’m going to pack that around for three days and 32 miles or for however long it may be. There are few toilets and trashcans in the wild. We even accumulate the odd lip balm or lost strap left behind by some other hikers. As you slip the found object into your pocket, you wonder, How much does this weigh? The answer is, it doesn’t matter, because unlike in the city, there’s no way to casually step over it without a pang of shame. It’s all a test.

 

The last few miles of a long trip are powerful portholes into one’s interior workings. You begin to see more people as you get closer to base. Personality becomes the focus. In contrast, there are generally less creatures of the wild. Your mind begins to wander, thinking of to-do lists or something you missed. Your heart may quicken while your pace slackens because you are finally returning home. We have a rich infrastructure in our country, with running fresh water, sewage that also flushes clean water, unfortunately, and heating that does not require chopping and hauling. These comforts, so often taken for granted are the very details that become illuminated in the return. The basics seem more precious than ever: a soft bed, soap and a shower; the telephone, Internet and mail; comfy chairs and lunch dates. For most of us, when we’re home again, life is pretty sweet.