Simplicity

to-be-or-not-to-beTo be, or not to be. That is the question. Or is it? In the chaotic and restless world of today, we are encouraged to do, not to be. At a time of the year characterized by resolutions and goals, both new and revisited, it is the perfect time to take a moment for reflection. Reflection on what is ultimately important in our lives.

I perpetually fret over the same responsibilities. The things that appear big, but in reality are quite small. The sink full of dirty dishes. The hamper overflowing with dirty (or clean) laundry. The trash cans that need to be emptied. The jungle forming in the back yard. The three cats meowing for their daily ration of flaked tuna dinner. Okay, maybe that last one really is important 😉

We exert so much mental and physical energy attempting to keep up with the demands of daily life that we miss out on the simple things, the elements of our everyday lives that ultimately provide a sense of inner peace, a smile on our face, and a bounce in our step.

The scent of freshly baked bread in the grocery store. Listening to the caressing nature of spoken Hawaiian words. Pandora providing the perfect Disney tune at exactly the right time. The silky feel of the next page turned in a book.

sunriseThese often overlooked pleasures came to pass due to an extraordinary observation on an otherwise ordinary morning commute. As I turned south on to US-1, driving alongside the Indian River, my eyes caught sight of the good morning wish provided by Mother Nature. In that moment, every petty desire, every task on my mind, every anxious worry, was replaced by a single thought. I must find a place to stop. To gaze at this wondrous spectacle, for no particular reason other than to appreciate its beauty.

As I pulled into the parking lot of a local restaurant and stepped out of my car, the sunrise simply took my breath away. The fact that it was 37 degrees outside may have played a small factor in that feeling. But, I never would have known it in the moment. I was simply consumed by the natural creation in front of me. The light of the rising sun almost lifting the clouds, providing a sense of hope and comfort for the coming day. I suspect that commuters zipping by in their vehicles would have seen one of the most genuine smiles ever present on my face. If they had also chosen to stop and appreciate the gift of this simple pleasure.

if-u-want-to-be-happyWith the flurry of activity and rushing about us, adopting an attitude of simplicity can often be the most complex thing we do. Once it catches hold of you, however, you will never want to let go. Free yourself from the frivolous white noise that distracts you from the simple beauty around you. Stop chasing everything. Focus less on what you want to do and more on who you want to be. Just be.

Advertisement

Musical rest

fall-colorsAs I step over the threshold from indoor shelter into the natural elements of this late October morning, it welcomes me. The crisp autumn air envelops my body like a comfortable blanket. Fall in Florida is here. I am not graced with the beautiful parade of colors. Nor am I privileged to witness the tranquil dance of falling leaves as they delicately tiptoe towards the ground. But, I am still treated to a cool breeze that has traveled for a thousand miles from the north to greet me. And like a long lost friend returning from afar, I embrace it.

With windows down and blazing sun rising over the Indian River to the east, music is pouring from the speakers in my car, adding to the aura of bliss that only Mother Nature can provide.

As I coast past a local police station, a temporary road sign that displays important information on an LED screen catches my attention. It is cycling through three different messages: “Don’t text and drive”, “It’s the law”, and “Follow us on Twitter”. Of course, at the exact moment my eyes first met the display, I see the last two messages in succession. “It’s the law, follow us on Twitter.” Funny, I thought, when was the law passed that requires me to follow the police on social media? 😉

All joking aside, this message is one that should be taken very seriously and is worthy of everyone’s attention. And, the manner in which I received it made me appreciate just how important it is to process information within the right context. It’s important to see the whole picture.

Music is mediator between spiritual and sensual life. ~Ludwig van Beethoven

Think about your favorite piece of music. It is composed of many different musical notes. When put together and played sequentially, it results in both a sensual and spiritual experience that enhances the ambiance in much the same way it did for me on this fall morning commute.

But, the musical notes themselves do not constitute the whole picture. In fact, it is debatable whether they are even the most important part of a musical piece. It is how they are spaced apart from one another, the silence between each musical note that defines the song and provides its character. Is it a soft, flowing love song? Or is it an energizing, adrenaline infusing rock song? It all depends on how the artist utilizes that magical space between the notes.

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. ~Maya Angelou

My musical tastes are quite eclectic. I may have an unstated personal agenda to outwit the Pandora algorithms so that it can’t possibly figure out what it should play next on my behalf. Pop. Rock. Classical. Childrens. You never really know what tunes are entertaining my psyche on any given day. In that respect, at least, I am a difficult book to read. Hey, who can resist bouncing inside to the tune of The Lion Sleeps Tonight? A-weema-weh, a-weema-weh. Be honest 😉

be-quietWe subconsciously use music to help massage our moods. Deep inside, we know exactly what is needed and instinctively reach for that right track to get us back on track. When you listen to that song which resonates with you, however, take notice of the musical rests.

You are the music while the music lasts. ~T.S. Eliot

We each have a song within us. In our own personal rendition, we have many unique notes that comprise the melody of our life. Remain quiet and reflect during the space between each of your musical notes. It will define you. It will give meaning and character to your song. Compose your own masterpiece. Sing your own song.

Perspective

final-summitIt’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see. ~Henry David Thoreau

As we approached the completion of our trek along Chimney Tops trail, the anticipation of triumph battled with the exhaustion in our legs for supremacy. After two miles and a steady ascent up 1400 feet, we could taste victory. Beholding the final climb, however, it became apparent that our hiking skills were no longer needed. We were now called upon to become rock climbers. Fatigue had taken the lead.

If you could transform yourself into any creature from the wild, which one would it be? I had been posed this question as a youngster in grade school. With so many options to choose from, which direction do I go? Do I choose the mighty strength of the lion? How about the swift speed of the cheetah? Or perhaps the resilient adaptability of the giraffe?

With all the obvious choices already taken, I was reluctant to follow another’s lead. Perhaps I should have chosen the stubbornness of a rhino. I was determined to be different and unique. With a little more thought and a flip through my virtual encyclopedia, I settled upon a bird. As I look back on that time in my life, I realize that although my bullheaded mind insisted on being different, a less obvious influence was at play. Perspective.

red-shouldered-hawkI have always been the person to look at something and twist it around like a pretzel. Looking at everyday occurrences from different angles, I am able to gain a deeper appreciation for what is right in front of my eyes. There is magic in everything. The ordinary can be extraordinary when you look at it with a fresh perspective. Like our avian friends soaring above, a birds-eye view often provides a fresh perspective on our daily lives.

Proud husband interlude 😉 My wife took this stunning photo of a red-shouldered hawk at the Viera Wetlands a few days ago. A talented artist, she has perfectly captured the beauty, majesty, and keen perspective of a bird in this one image that has not been altered in any manner. Way to go sunshine 🙂

Back to our conquest of the Chimney Tops trail. As we gathered our strength and began the final ascent, it became apparent that Mother Nature was intent on providing us with an additional challenge beyond the rocky terrain. Although a delicate breeze whistled through the trees, the blazing sun was heating the rock façade to temperatures worthy of a fried egg.

In an effort to reach the summit and with the noblest of intentions, I began serving as director for my son. Put one foot here. Now, take your left hand and put it there. See that little crack over there. Good, put your right foot in there. With each step, we were closer to the summit, but the narrowing rocks also placed us closer to the edge. One careless step could have dire consequences to say the least. I would venture to say that I was the more anxious one.

After several attempts at a precarious juncture in our climb, my son finally caved in and dejectedly conceded that he just couldn’t do it. With tears streaming down his face, a figurative black cloud settled over us on that mountain. Crestfallen, it took every ounce of energy to focus on the return trip to the base of that final summit.

Never, never, never give up. ~Winston Churchill

The energy expended over those last several hours had left us fatigued, both physically and mentally. To be quite honest, at that point in time, I would have been happy to traverse back down the 2 mile trail and call it a day. I am glad that my son did not feel the same way. After much internal turmoil, his tenacity for setting a goal and reaching it shone through. That figurative black cloud over the mountain was lifted and a guiding light from the sun replaced it.

On that second attempt, my son was resolute and unswerving. His destiny was to reach that summit. Although my wife and I provided insight into the recommended steps, he ultimately chose his path. The route that made the most sense for him. In looking back on that afternoon, I learned a valuable lesson.

We all have our mountains to climb. We can take guidance and inspiration from those around us to help along the way. But, ultimately it is our path to blaze. When we are able to step back and look at things from a different angle, we adopt a new mindset that serves to shed light on the path we are meant to take. A path that is uniquely our own. And when we do reach that summit, the view gives us a new perspective on what it means to be on top of the world.

view-from-the-top

Mountain magic

mountains-portraitMan has created some lovely dwellings – some soul stirring literature. He has done much to alleviate physical pain. But, he has not created a substitute for a sunset, a grove of pines, the music of the winds, the dank smell of the deep forest, or the shy beauty of a wildflower. ~Henry Broome, Posted at Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

What do a faulty master brake cylinder and a mountain vacation have in common? Unfortunately, too much in our case. After a car repair bill just south of $1000 and a two day delay in our departure date, the utopian edition of our trip to the Smoky Mountains did not begin as envisioned. However, we are a resilient clan. Stubborn determination runs deep through my blood. This was one time where I could channel that character trait towards a worthy cause.

We packed up the car that had been figuratively duct taped together and headed for the hills, literally. 685 miles and 11 hours later, we coasted into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. With temperatures hovering around 70 degrees and relative humidity near zero, any leftover feelings of anxiety or stress were expelled from our system like the exhaust from a car. Poof. Gone. Vaporized. It’s amazing how nature can provide instant relief like that.

Before the whole debacle surrounding our departure, I remember hearing a story about recent additions to the Oxford dictionary. The new word that piqued my interest, digital detox. Used to describe those times where you unplug from all electronic devices, it is a scary endeavor to consider for many individuals into today’s world. I was up for the challenge.

For eight days, I carried only a cell phone in my pocket. Not a single phone call was made. Not even one e-mail was read or responded to. The only liberty I provided to myself was the ability to use that phone as a camera to chronicle our adventure. The entire experience was soothing, rejuvenating, and peaceful. In one word, it was holistic. It reminded me that stepping into ways of the past may be the way of the future.

Travel is the dominion of the muse. You are out of your comfort zone, in unfamiliar territory, so you are particularly receptive to new input. ~Laura Oliver

wildflowersWith natural beauty pouring into our being from every direction, all our senses were fully engaged. It’s as if the mountains provided us with a magical 6th sense that penetrates the soul and provides a portal to a new dimension. It speaks through the smell of the fir trees, the chirping of the chickadees, the sight of butterflies frolicking from one brilliant bloom to the next. If there is a non-verbal definition for pure bliss, this is it. It needs to be felt, experienced, and fully absorbed in order to appreciate the influence it has over your sense of completeness.

sunset-moonBefore embarking upon this pilgrimage, I had seen a reasonable amount of wildlife in their natural habitat. After watching an absolutely breathtaking sunset unfold before our eyes at Clingmans Dome, we were “clinging” to every last drop of beauty the sunlight painted across the evening sky. Not to be left out, the crescent moon even made an appearance to dance with the sun during the waning moments of its performance (if you enlarge the picture, you are able to see it). Our senses were numb from over-stimulation. The numbness may have been enhanced by the 45 degree wind chills 😉

As we made our way out of the parking lot, the quickly fading sun provided us with the perfect nightcap. Silhouettes that could not be mistaken, a mama black bear with her cub served as gatekeepers to the exit. As the cub playfully scampered across the road, the unabashed smiles across our faces followed. It is a vision and a memory that I will never forget. There is something sacred about seeing an animal in the wild.

In the days that followed, we were blessed with other wildlife sightings: a wolf, a fox, and an entire herd of elk migrating across an open field at dusk. Only one word could come close to describing it. Magical.

Speaking of migration, we felt as though we were members of a migrating herd ourselves. Over the course of 8 days, we hiked over 23 miles on trails throughout the national park. Although 23 miles is not an earth-shattering accomplishment, for us flat-landers from Florida, the 23 miles in the horizontal direction coupled with the 2 miles in vertical elevation hiked imparted a feeling of supreme triumph even if our “well-used” legs did not share in the same level of exuberance 😉

rainbow-fallsAs we begrudgingly prepared to complete our annual pilgrimage, the final day included a trek to the summit of Rainbow Falls. Having a natural affinity for waterfalls and being the tallest in the Smoky Mountains, it was one destination on my must see list. After a 2.7 mile hike up 1700 feet, the journey’s end did not disappoint.

Faith is not being sure where you’re going but going anyway. ~Frederick Buechner

There is something therapeutic about the inertia of moving water as it falls over a ledge. It reminds me to have faith and always keep moving. A new type of rainbow connection was made on that day, a connection that stretches across the miles between my physical home in Florida and my spiritual home in the mountains.

Mother Nature provided us with a special connection over these precious days. Our return to civilization has been accompanied by a renewed sense of inner peace and calmness. Perhaps, it’s because we know those memories are waiting at the other end of our own personal rainbow. A pot of gold to be sure.

May the warm winds of heaven blow softly upon your house. May the Great Spirit bless all who enter there. May your moccasins make happy tracks in many snows, and may the rainbow always touch your shoulder. ~Cherokee Blessing

sunset