Ebb and flow

ebb-and-flow

Limitless
To the human eye
Stretching out
To eternity

A glimmer of light
Just beneath the whitecaps
Engulfing darkness
At its deepest depths

A tale of two worlds
Smooth and level on the surface
Craggy and jagged
Miles below

Pressure building
As one descends
The weight of the world
Resting on weary shoulders

Toes sinking
Into the grains of sand
On the threshold
Of this mysterious realm

Foamy tendrils
Outstretched, enveloping
Wrap themselves
Around my ankles

Luring me
With its captivating rhythm
First fear, then curiosity
Awakens me

The ebb and flow of salty waves
Cresting over my feet
Receding back from whence they came
Reminds me, I am alive

Encourages me
To feel
To love
To live

The seed

volunteer-stateAuthor’s Note: This is the third chapter of a six part story. If you would like to read the previous chapters, please visit Chapter 1 – The key and Chapter 2 – Plus one.

Gryffin, the loyal golden retriever belonging to Damon, couldn’t help but feel slighted. Now relegated to the makeshift back seat of the pickup truck, he didn’t have nearly as clear a view out the front windshield. Nor did he have the occasional scratch behind the ears from his master.

Nope, the front seat was now occupied by Damon and his new human companion. Jo, a waitress from the plantation house turned diner, joined the trek south towards the Smoky Mountains after the fortuitous revelation of her latest customer’s final destination on the previous evening.

Merging back on to the interstate, Gryffin got comfortable with his new surroundings, head resting on his two front paws. The flurry of chatter coming from the seats ahead of him was evidence of the budding rapport being established between his master and Jo. Damon shared the details of his adventure – as much as he knew anyway. He really wasn’t quite sure what he expected to find at his destination marked by a set of coordinates just off the Appalachian Trail.

Jo reciprocated the conversation by sharing some of the fascinating history in her family – the origins of their plantation from more than a century ago, the story about how her great grandfather fought as an advocate for the abolition of slavery even though it was against the mainstream way of thinking, and how it ultimately compromised his status in the community.

It was pleasant conversation, and perhaps necessary for two people who had known each other for less than sixteen hours. The topics provided a safe haven in which one person could become comfortable with the other, to feel each other out and begin to understand their way of thinking. They might as well do so since they would be spending the next ten hours or so together in a truck en route to the Volunteer State.

After about the first hour on the road, however, the conversation had begun to dry up. The silence was becoming more uncomfortable with every passing mile marker. Jo decided to take a courageous leap into slightly more tumultuous conversational waters.

“So, do you have a significant other in your life?” She attempted to catch herself from spewing this inquiry into the space between them, afraid that it would come off sounding like a pick-up line, but she failed miserably. It was now out there to be answered, even though the intent behind her question had a much different meaning than it may have initially sounded.

If Jo was worried that the question would be interpreted the wrong way, her fears were quickly assuaged when Damon responded with a chuckle, “Yeah, I have someone special in my life. He’s sitting right behind you. It’s always been Gryffin and I for as long as I can remember.”

Jo stared ahead, eagerly anticipating the question she expected would be returned to her. And just as she had given up hope that it would be asked, Damon replied, “How about you? With the significant other thing.”

Jo cracked open this door – on purpose – and now she was committed to pushing it wide open and inviting Damon inside, even if neither he nor Jo were quite ready. She had been desperately searching for an unbiased individual to share her story with, and she finally came to the realization that this may be her best opportunity.

true-friendshipAnd so began the story of Jo and her boyfriend – well, ex-boyfriend now, she presumed. It wasn’t a story that Damon was expecting to unfurl with a question as simple as “How about you?” But, each passing minute and empathetic exchange led the two passengers to become more than simply riding companions. They began to understand that they shared something in common, even if their situations were dramatically different.

Jo’s boyfriend had treated her quite well – initially. But, there had to be something extra going on behind the scenes. Excuses began to pile up when Jo proposed a getaway weekend together. And it probably wasn’t a coincidence, Jo realized, that the frequency of his visits decreased as her monetary contributions to his undisclosed business venture began to approach critical mass. It was a secret he had promised to share with her when the time was right. Apparently, that right time had never arrived. And it never would, for one morning when Jo worked up the courage to confront him at his apartment, she found it empty. She felt exploited, neglected, and abandoned. Jo reached out to several mutual friends. Each swore they were not privy to his business secrets. She had discovered, however, that there were rumors he had moved to precisely the location they were now headed. That was Jo’s personal business and ultimate reason for hitching a ride south – to discover the truth.

Despite the differing circumstances, Damon felt the same emotions inside – abandoned and taken advantage of in his professional endeavors. He didn’t feel it justified to compare the delicacy of these emotions in a relationship to his own situation, but he felt a connection to Jo’s emotions nonetheless.

welcome-to-gatlinburgThere are times when an individual gets into a flow state. Things begin to occur in a sort of surreal manner. Time both seems to stand still and speed by in an incomprehensible manner. That must have been what transpired between Damon and Jo, for they found themselves rolling into the outskirts of town just north of the Smoky Mountain National Park. More than four hours had passed since Jo initiated this conversation. Both were silent now with the same notion occupying their thoughts. Neither was prepared for the abrupt separation that would come to pass if Damon dropped Jo off in town, not after the conversation that had just materialized. The newly fashioned bond between these two riding companions turned friends was undeniable.

The ball was in Jo’s court, and she wasn’t quite ready yet to make a decision. So, she decided to stall.

“How about I help you find your … well, whatever it is you’re looking for,” offered Jo. Part of her was curious. Part of her wasn’t ready to confront the truth about her boyfriend. Perhaps the biggest part of her wasn’t prepared to sever ties with Damon at this point.

“You’re more than welcome to tag along. I really have no idea if and what I’ll find. It might very well be anti-climactic, but I do have a key,” he smiled as he grabbed hold of it and held it up in his left hand.

So, three riders remained in the vehicle, more than just disinterested passengers now. Each of them seemed to have some vested interest in the outcome of the situation in their own peculiar way. As they wound their way up the solitary park thoroughfare, the switchbacks and tight curves had Gryffin sliding to and fro in the back seat.

As their truck arrived at the summit of the pass bordering on the Tennessee and North Carolina state lines, the setting sun provided a stunning backdrop for the vista greeting them. It left them speechless with an awe-inspiring smile reflecting the beaming rendition provided by the landscape itself.

Opening the back door, Gryffin jumped out and began dashing along the path, as if he had the destination coordinates locked in his canine brain. Damon and Jo, for just a brief moment that seemed like forever, forgot about the coordinates. They stared out over the majestic landscape so eloquently painted by Mother Nature, and were held captive by her innate beauty in some unseen metaphysical world. Looking down, Damon and Jo both noticed the plaque that was serendipitously positioned directly in front of them:

Man 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. ~ Harvey Broome, Naturalist

Damon and Jo looked at each other, smiles still etched on their faces. No words were exchanged. None were needed. They had just shared a moment together. The wet feeling on Damon’s hand brought him back to the physical world. Gryffin was slobbering all over him, anxious to continue, almost understanding that something special was awaiting them.

appalachian-trail-newfound-gapDamon turned the dial on his watch to GPS mode and began to walk towards the trail head that he had seen depicted on his laptop screen less than forty-eight hours ago. It felt like so much more time had elapsed. So much had transpired in such a short period of time.

With the cooler weather and waning sunlight, Damon, Jo, and Gryffin found themselves alone on the mountain crest. The sun was descending below the horizon quickly. They would need to expedite their pursuit to have any chance of discovering whatever it was they were looking for before daylight escaped them.

Damon was assuredly happy that Jo was with him – to take part in whatever was to be discovered, and to help drive back down the mountain in darkness. He began to wonder what would happen when they returned to a lower elevation. Would Jo’s sense of adventure recede? Would she ask to be dropped off in town, never to be seen again?

While contemplating these questions in his own mind, Damon found himself navigating on autopilot to the exact coordinates indicated on the brass key around his neck. He looked at the inscription on the key again, then back at his watch to make sure they matched.

Looking around the area, nothing seemed to be out of place. Everything seemed to be undisturbed, to the human eye at least. Gryffin must have been a bloodhound in a previous life for he started to bark gruffly at a spot right behind the tree where Damon and Jo were standing.

“What’s up boy?” asked Damon.

Gryffin retreated back to his companions, and then turned around to return to his previous spot as if to say follow me. Both Damon and Jo picked up on the cue. At the base of the tree were a collection of leaves that had been displaced by Gryffin’s investigative efforts. What laid beneath those leaves was a large burrow. If anyone else had revealed this burrow, one would have thought it was the home of a wild critter. Everyone in its presence now suspected otherwise.

smoky-mountain-treeGetting down on his hands and knees, Damon reached his hand and arm – slowly – into the hole up to his elbow. “I feel something,” he said with a tinge of excitement in his voice. Pulling his arm back out brought with it a small container. It looked like an antique jewelry case. And on the front panel was a keyhole that looked to be just the right size.

He quickly, but carefully took the key around his neck and inserted it into the keyhole. Jo squatted down next to Damon, peering over his shoulder in anticipation. As he turned the key and opened the lid, he wasn’t sure what he would find. But, what he did find surprised him nonetheless.

Sitting in the box was an acorn and a rolled up parchment. Unrolling the leathery material, slightly yellowed with age, he found the following quote transcribed in beautiful penmanship:

Man is wise and constantly in quest of more wisdom; but the ultimate wisdom, which deals with beginnings, remains locked in a seed. There it lies, the simplest fact of the universe and at the same time the one which calls forth faith rather than reason. ~ Hal Borland

new-beginningsBelow the quote were three numbers. Two of them didn’t need decoding. The exact location denoted by the new set of coordinates was unknown, but Damon did know he would be next heading somewhere north and east of his present location. The third number was more mysterious and required mental contemplation. Damon was, however, becoming less concerned with the meaning of the number and more concerned with whether he would have a kindred spirit accompanying him on the next leg of his journey. Straddling the Tennessee/North Carolina state line, he was simultaneously straddling a state of mind. As he massaged the acorn between his fingertips, Damon reminded himself that new beginnings do indeed require faith. The metaphorical seed had been planted – the nurturing process had begun.

Author’s Note: This is the third part of a six part “not-so-short” short story about self-discovery. A new segment will be published each Wednesday in December with the closing chapter being posted on the first Wednesday of 2015. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment – best wishes for an inspired day and new year!

Brave

self-expressionThe legend of Pandora’s Box, deeply rooted in Greek mythology, carries with it severely detrimental and far-reaching consequences for those who dare to open it. Me? I had a different experience altogether when I cracked open that ill-fated cauldron. Was it detrimental? No. Was it far-reaching? I can only hope. Time will tell.

My weekday hours lapse in front of a computer monitor, eyes blurring through pages of computer code. Sometimes the only saving grace for my sanity is the melodic tunes that fill the air. Enter Pandora. I like surprises. I never listen to an album front to back. I always shuffle. I like not knowing what’s coming next. It turns out that preference holds true for more than just my musical offerings.

As I meticulously matchup parentheses in my code, the magic of Pandora is streaming through my headphones. Relinquished as a backdrop for my primary activity, it is typically little more than white noise to break up the monotony in the silence of my cave. Until. The music once reserved for the background is suddenly promoted to the foreground. There is no longer any focus on sans serif characters in the form of a computer program. Now, it is only the chords, percussion, and lyrics combining to reach my core with more expediency than it reaches my ears. And ever since that moment in time, Sara Bareilles’ Brave has been my anthem. Most songs catch me with their tune first. The lyrical appreciation usually comes later. This song was no exception. However, usually taking days or weeks, the lyrics captured me within seconds.

Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out, honestly I wanna see you be brave. ~Sara Bareilles

I am a free spirit when my thoughts spill onto the page. I muster more courage to publish what is on my mind when I can avow it through the safety of a blog post, shielded from immediate critique, either positive or negative. For me, neither one is handled with the necessary grace. There is a sense of refuge when I am able to remain concealed behind my words.

Run across me on the street and my propensity to usher true feelings into the open is much more unlikely. This song and these words, however, have shifted the fulcrum ever so slightly. I have been given a subtle vote of encouragement to be me. I know that these little nudges ideally come from your family, your friends, those people that are closest to you in your daily life. But, it doesn’t always happen that way. And you know what, that’s alright. You take inspiration in any form it comes, from any place it originates. More often than not, it comes around full circle.

A few weekends ago, while I was off getting lost in the forest, my wife sunk two wooden 4x4s into the ground. Serving as the anchor points for our hammock that had been sitting in the garage for close to a year, she had picked up my slack and created a serene and tranquil resting spot a few short steps from the back porch. Framed by two tiki torches on either end and surrounded by the colorful blooms of our cape honeysuckle bushes, our own private oasis had been established in the comfort of our own backyard.

On a cool Florida evening with a slight chill in the air, the setting could not have been more sublime. With my wife and I seated comfortably in our Adirondack chairs, our son is gently swaying back and forth in the rope hammock. The two tiki torches flicker with life. Its flames illuminate the cape honeysuckle as the setting sun provides the magic of twilight, a transition from sunset to moonlight. Unbeknownst to me, another transition was about to transpire.

Momentarily disrupting the ambience, my son and I vacate in different directions. He heads off to his bedroom, me to mine. We return to our previous venue, musical instruments in hand. He with his Native American flute, me with my acoustic guitar. We easily slip back into the aura of bliss supplied by two female influences, Mother Nature and the handiwork of my beautiful and artistic wife.

The moment of truth arrives. Or so I thought. It just so happens that what I was really encountering was the moment of inertia. As I began to strum the chords to Brave on my guitar, the words followed from my very own vocal chords. First with slight apprehension, but soon with the freedom and conviction that the lyrics portray. We each have our own unique obstacles to surmount. This was one of mine. This was the first time that I had freely strummed my guitar and sang a tune in front of my family. Big deal, right? Well, for me it was a big deal. Probably bigger than it should have been, but I’m not too sheepish to share that it was a big step for me to take.

What followed was special, almost surreal. After my unique rendition of Brave, my son followed suit by performing a song of his own creation on the flute. Back and forth, we exchanged the spotlight in our own private concert. Native American song on flute, then my version of Radioactive by Imagine Dragons. Another mesmerizing combination of flute tones courtesy of my son, followed by The Rainbow Connection on my guitar. Kermit the Frog probably performs it better on the banjo. But, in this private oasis, our connection is much stronger. Our evening’s final performance is an extended interpretation on my son’s flute which is shared by him with the same confidence I was lacking at the beginning of the evening. As his notes roll from one to the next with ease, my fingers tap on the guitar body while my wife’s do the same on the side of her chair. Providing a complimentary drum beat, the rhythm keeps our family in sync. In so many different ways.

find-yourself-artSelf expression is just that, expression of yourself. There is no right or wrong. Actually, there is a wrong. Choosing to not reveal your authentic self, that is wrong. And unfortunate. Whether you are singing a song, playing an instrument, painting on a canvas, giving a speech, writing a book, or jumping into any other creative endeavor, the most important choice is to do it in your own unique way. Express yourself.

Self-acceptance precedes effective self-expression. I leapt over a personal hurdle on this magical evening that will not soon be forgotten. But, the element that will forever be preserved in my memory is watching a young boy open up and share what is inside with courage and bravery. If that is the only thing that I help to inspire in my lifetime, it will also be one of the most meaningful to me. With a synergistic effort from husband, wife, and son, we composed our own music. Maybe out of tune to the rest of the world, but wonderfully so within our own circle.

 

Walk in the woods

clearest-wayThe snow drifts, layered like a deck of stacked cards during this unrelenting winter season, are finally succumbing to nature. Or so I am told. The frozen north is slowly transitioning from snow and ice to puddles of water, maybe more like small lakes. The anguish of prolonged indoor confinement is being replaced with the hope of fluttering butterflies, budding blossoms, and the warmth of spring. Hope springs eternal, in different ways for different people. While our northern compatriots are yearning for a rise in the mercury, I am clinging to the last few days of cooler weather before the heat and humidity settle in for the Florida summer.

It’s Saturday morning. Sitting on my back porch, I look into my coffee cup, steam rising through the dollop of whipped cream floating on the top. I inhale the scent of fresh java and feel inspired. This may be one of the final weekends of the season to enjoy the delightful weather that Mother Nature reserves for the winter months in Florida. Today, I decide to commune with nature through the majestic pine trees of Welaka State Forest.

Historically, I have a propensity to plan. Like, every single hour of the day. Thankfully, my spurts of spontaneity are becoming more frequent and leak out just when it is needed the most. The location of today’s expedition carries me two and a half hours north of my home base. The very loosely defined plan is to hike about three miles into the wilderness, towards the undisturbed shores of the St. John’s River, and camp overnight.

Upon reaching the trail-head, I anchor the thirty five pounds of necessary gear in my backpack around my hips and over my shoulders. As I set forth on this solo adventure, my mind is perpetually hunting for the next orange blaze painted on the trees to insure I remain on the right path. With more focus on staying the course, per se, my mind is tangled in the logistics of the hike instead of the captivating displays of nature surrounding me. The ironic thing is that being alone out in the forest allows one to recognize this preoccupation. One deep breath of crisp forest air persuaded me to let go, exhale, and utilize my five senses to consume everything bestowed upon me.

I suppose there is a fine line between completely letting go and remaining at least peripherally aware of your surroundings. After two hours of lightheartedly placing one foot in front of the other, I looked on the ground to find a most familiar sight, my own footprints. After three miles of carefree trekking along this tranquil forest path, I had come full circle, quite literally, walking in a complete loop to my point of origin.

With the sun slipping closer to the horizon, there was no longer enough daylight to safely make a second attempt in finding the primitive campsite by the river as intended. Disappointed, and slightly embarrassed, I lumbered towards my car for a return trip home. Once en route, however, a peaceful sort of feeling washed over me. I didn’t accomplish what I originally set out to do. Did that mean my experience had to hold any less significance? Do we always need to achieve what we intend in order for it to make a difference?

I reflected on my mood throughout the day. I had thirty five pounds on my back, but I felt as light as a feather. I was caressed by soaring pine trees on either side of me as I navigated farther from civilization. The stimulus for my senses was subtle, yet revitalizing. The crunch of fallen pine needles beneath my feet, the flash of red as a male cardinal crosses my path. The kindly visit from serendipity as I watch a young doe prance across the trail aptly named Deer Run.

wander-lostSometimes we need to follow a well-charted path. And more often we need to wander, into nature and within ourselves. Over the course of those two hours, I hadn’t taken a single thing out of my backpack. And yet, in the end, it felt lighter. Like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost. Wandering through that forest, getting lost while meandering gently through the depths of my mind. It may not have glittered, but it certainly was golden.

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.

Flying high

actually-i-canActually, I can. If we chose to utilize these three words more often, amazing experiences would begin to materialize in the world around us. Truth be told, I am often plagued by self-doubt.

For some mysterious reason, a recurring pattern continues to emerge. Given a particular situation, negative outcomes reign supreme as a tyrant in our psyche. The possibility of a positive effect is forced deep into the recesses of our subconscious mind, difficult if not impossible to grasp. But, they are there. And if we search diligently, we can locate them and promote them to their rightful place in our conscious mind.

crossing-obstacle-closeupAs I balance my weight between two floating logs suspended twenty feet in the air, I look down upon a sloth and begin to appreciate the power of the words “I can”. I suppose an explanation with a bit more clarity is in order.

Several years ago, our local zoo added a zip line adventure to its offerings. With the two available courses being named Canopy Walk and Challenge, it was completely natural as a novice to begin with the former course. Although I am not necessarily the fittest of individuals, I think any participant would agree that you receive a full body workout from completing this course. Time and time again, my son and I would tackle the Canopy Walk, getting ourselves ready for the Challenge.

With the swirls of self-doubt circulating in my mind, the word challenge kept pushing me back to the easier course, the comfortable one (from a mental standpoint, at least). The uneasiness of accepting a new challenge was keeping me for missing out on some great things. Luckily, that was about to change.

on-my-wayAs I cross over the floating logs and perch myself on a platform above the sloth exhibit, I see this beautiful animal begin to stretch. As if in slow motion, I need to remember that this is the only speed known to the sloth. He uncurls his long toes and stretches for the branch that appears beyond his reach. With an aura of confidence around his deliberate movements, his success is certain. The completion of his mission has inspired me to carry forward with my own.

As I slither down the ladder from the final obstacle on the Canopy Walk course, I march towards the Challenge course with an air of excitement, an adventurous spirit in full bloom. Climbing the wooden bridge that ushers me thirty feet into the sky, I am greeted with another ladder to ascend the final twenty feet. At fifty feet above ground level in Florida, I feel like I am on top of the world.

On a day characterized by blustery winds and cool temperatures, the platform I anchor myself upon sways back and forth with a gentle creaking sound. I suppose I should be anxious, worried, unsure, perhaps even frightened. However, all I feel is rush of adrenaline and excitement. An innate desire to fully submerge myself in this new experience.

large-ziplineAs I clip into the zip line and settle into a sitting position within my harness, I prepare to travel across the wetlands below me. I have put all my faith in two metal clips, a harness, and the integrity of a metal cable stretched across a distance of 700 feet.

It is the greatest shot of adrenaline to be doing what you have wanted to do so badly. You almost feel like you could fly without the plane. ~Charles Lindbergh

It was in this very moment that I recognized my absurdity. I am perfectly able to put faith in these inanimate objects. Yet, I struggle with inner demons and my ability to tackle the unknown. As I lean back and set forth on my journey across the sky, I hear the whine of metal on pulley as my equipment carries me back down to earth. I am flying high. A smile wider than the distance traveled spreads across my face. An impulsive childlike laughter escapes from my lungs and fills the air with hope and tenacity. I can’t believe this is actually happening. Actually, I can.

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.

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

A life well lived

paradigm shiftThere is a phrase for those moments when we suddenly see a situation in a different light. It’s called a paradigm shift. We believe that we see the world as it really is. In actuality, we are seeing the world as we are. We filter everything that we observe through the lenses of our life experience. When we change, the world as we see it also changes.

It reminds me of the time many years ago when I first began wearing glasses. My vision felt good enough. I was getting around without running into any walls or other inanimate objects. A visit to my optometrist, however, was eye-opening (pun intended). When I realized just how much effort was required of my eyes to see things clearly, it became quite evident that corrective eyewear was in my future. Those prescription glasses provided a much clearer perspective of the physical world around me.

In much the same way, when we equip ourselves with new mental glasses, we can choose to observe the world around us with a fresh new perspective that sheds some light on who we are.

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. ~Neale Donald Walsch

I embrace the spirit of this inspiring quote. I really do. But, I am not enamored with the use of the term “comfort zone”. Think about those two words. Comfort. Zone.

Comfort exudes images of soothing tea, warm blankets, and cozy fireplaces on a blustery winter day. Zone is the place we all long to be. Being “in the zone” is highly desirable for optimal performance in whatever we do.

With the images we are left to associate with our comfort zone, is it any wonder we stay put right there? It’s … well … comfortable. And these thoughts certainly don’t do anything to push us outside of it. We’re perfectly content right where we are, thank you very much.

comfort zoneWhat if we turned that phrase “comfort zone” upside down and gave it an edgier tone? What if we put on those new mental eyeglasses and looked at this term with a new mindset? Let’s call it our “complacent corner” instead. Did you just feel an unsettling urge to squirm in your seat? If your desire is to abandon your zone of comfort and do something extraordinary and breathtaking, squirming is a good sign.

com · pla · cent – adjective – pleased with one’s situation, often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied.

Comfortable carries a much different connotation than complacency. Comfortable is acceptable. Complacency leaves us on edge. Are we certain our situation is what we want it to be? Our new word choice certainly stokes the fire a bit and gets our inner flame burning a little hotter. We begin to favor action over inaction.

And what about a corner? No one wants to be stuck in a corner. It symbolizes not having a choice. There are no other options available to us. We are without any recourse for the situation we find ourselves in. Another subtle nudge towards action.

So, I have come up with my own alternate version of this quotation that favors momentum towards the adventure that we all innately desire. Life begins when we escape from our complacent corner.

We have so much to explore in this world. We have so much to see, to share, to do, to experience. We’re not going to do it snuggled under a blanket on the couch. We’re not going to do it with continual urges to leave our comfort zone. It’s just too darn comfortable there. We need a fresh, new perspective. We need a new paradigm. We need to escape from our complacent corner and live.

Being out on the edge, with everything at risk, is where you learn and grow the most. ~Jim Whittaker (1st American to summit Mt Everest)

Live on the edge and you will have a life well lived.

A little slice of heaven

Friendship-Quotes-02-524x350_largeI choose my Facebook friends with the same philosophy as “real-life” friends. Quality over quantity. Every morning, one friend posts an insightful thought on her wall to begin the day. I always look forward to these sparks of inspiration. This morning it was from the infamous author unknown.

What I am doing today is important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. ~Author Unknown

Such a simple statement really woke me up, even before my morning coffee kicked in. What was I doing today? Even after my last article emphasized experiencing life, I found myself drifting into the prohibited doldrums zone. Whatever I do today must be important. If I don’t feel like what I’m doing is important, I need to make it so.

Staring at my 24″ monitor filled with computer code blurring my vision (figuratively and literally), I realize the most important thing I can do right now is absorb some Vitamin D courtesy of the Florida sunshine that I know exists outside my cave.

turtle trekHopping into the car, windows down, I find myself cruising over the Melbourne Causeway towards the border between land and sea. I’ve flown over this threshold many times before as a part of my flight training. The small strip of beach that separates land from water is like a proverbial line in the sand. It separates the known from the unknown. It is calling out to the daring soul to cross its line and explore despite the crashing waves that push you back. The loggerhead turtles do it. Why don’t we?

As I coast into the parking spot at Bizzarro’s Pizza on the beach, I look forward to my two slices of cheese pizza and a sweet tea. I sometimes forget that the Atlantic Ocean is my virtual backyard. Less than a 10 minute drive from home or work and I am at that line in the sand, able to appreciate nature’s beauty. Able to dream about adventure to lands beyond. This led me to ponder an article by a fellow writer earlier this week about being home.

What is home? Is it just a physical structure? Is it the people in your life? Is it defined by the environment that surrounds you?

For me, home is whenever and wherever I am in harmony with my surroundings while feeling relaxed, comfortable, and at peace. Sometimes, this is in my physical house. At other times it may be on a trail in the back-country, or among shelves of books in a bookstore. I am reminded that home is ultimately wherever we can go to let go of the challenges of the day and just unwind, a place to recharge your batteries and be yourself.

WP_20130719_005At this particular point in time, I was at home right here. Eating a slice of pizza and sitting on the beach.

So, was this the most important thing I could have done today? Some would say no. Others may say yes. The bottom line is that I became aware of an important fact. I should be grateful for what is right in front of my eyes. My thoughts, my surroundings, my relationships. And that realization is truly a little slice of heaven.

What are you doing today?