Archives for posts with tag: a solo journey

I’d put it off for weeks. (For years?) It wasn’t even a long hike (2.5 miles). It wasn’t rough terrain, just steep (as steep as 6%). As a bus ride, Terwilliger Blvd is long-ish, twisting through forest, around the sides of small-ish mountains, gaining and losing elevation. It’s also quite lovely, with views that are difficult to enjoy driving a vehicle, or to enjoy long enough as passenger. I’ve had my eye on walking it for… years. Yesterday was a lovely cool misty gray morning, suitable for hiking. So I went.

I felt rather reassured that on foot, the perceived steepness of the paved trail seems quite manageable.

Hey, this isn’t so bad…

I felt rather reassured that on foot, the perceived steepness of the paved trail seems quite manageable. Trail? Sidewalk? Hiking? Walking? Do those distinctions matter? Not today.

In the distance, a city I love.

In the distance, a city I love.

The first view-point, hiking from my starting point at Sam Jackson Park Rd, was well up the hill and quite beautiful enough that if the hike had been tough going, I could have contentedly turned back at that point and felt satisfied with my progress… maybe. I exchanged pleasant greetings with a nice elder gentleman smoking a large aromatic cigar, and walked on.

A route for another day.

A route for another day.

I observe side trails along the way, taking note of each one and considering future hikes as I pass by. Once they are behind me, I return my attention to the path I am on, and this moment, now.

What's left of us when we're gone?

What’s left of us when we’re gone?

Along the road, off in the weeds, are the remnants of a well-planned exercise course laid out along Terwilliger Parkway. It hasn’t been maintained. The signage is rotting away in the weeds. Stations with exercise equipment still in place (like this one with a balance bar) are in disrepair, and not safe to use. We leave bits of ourselves behind as we move forward in life, don’t we? I found myself curious about the vision and intent of the parkway itself, and promise myself I’ll read up on it when I return home.

Nearing the top... and a place to rest.

Nearing the top… and a place to rest.

It would seem amusingly metaphorical some minutes later… but for now, I pause to enjoy a celebratory moment – I can see ‘the top’ just ahead!

The top!

The top!

Nope. Not the top at all. Just a peak, not the peak. There’s a lesson to be learned there, something about becoming attached to, or emotionally invested in, some goal or another… 🙂

...And then, too, there's the part about how it rained softly much of the way.

…And then, too, there’s the part about how it rained softly much of the way.

I have a raincoat, and proper rain gear for hiking. I could have worn it. Or brought it. Or checked the forecast. Instead, I just enjoy the soft mist, and cool fresh scent of petrichor as I walk through the forest.

Another beautiful view.

Another beautiful view.

I look eagerly up the trail… (“No. It’s not the top. Stop asking.” I tell myself.)

Beautiful parks and green spaces dot the trail.

Beautiful parks and green spaces dot the trail.

It’s a lovely day, and delightfully, I have the trail (and the day) mostly to myself. It is quiet, aside from the sound of traffic passing me now and then. Good timing… mid-morning on a Tuesday. 🙂

Just beyond the forest, the city.

Just beyond the forest, the city.

I keep walking. The trail keeps climbing.

Some of the exercise stations are well back into the trees, and quite overgrown.

Some of the exercise stations are well back into the trees, and quite overgrown.

Every point of view is subtly different. Each perspective on the city and the world beyond has nuance, and value. The trail just keeps climbing. So do I.

More forest, please.

More forest, please.

More acreage has been added to the original parkway over time. The high value placed on green spaces in the community is a characteristic I cherish about living in this area. More forest, more green, more trails… more ways to find a few chill content moments of stillness in a busy world. [Your results may vary.]

A handy side trail down into the dense wetland acreage conveniently at hand.

A handy side trail down into the dense wetland acreage conveniently at hand.

I stare down the trail into the wetland acreage… It’s tempting… but a lot steeper than I feel prepared for… and I’ve just spent nearly an hour walking a more or less continuous incline. I’m already feeling it. I’m not up to it, standing there staring down the steep staircase built into the bank… but I am thinking about other days, other hikes… I walk on.

Looking back from around the next bend.

Looking back from around the next bend.

I almost reconsider that side trail… I look back from farther up the trail, and see the staircase down through the trees from the other side. New perspective. Yeah… totally too steep for me, in that moment then. I chose wisely. I continue to walk on. My only real destination is to finish the 2.5 miles I’ve planned, and reach the bus stop at the far end. I’ve passed the last bus stop I could take if I cared to shorten the trip; I have to reach the finish at this point.

An exercise station deeper into the forest, seemingly without a path to reach it.

An exercise station deeper into the forest.

Each exercise station I pass reminds me of other forgotten human endeavors, trips with my Granny to see ghost towns, crumbling homesteads along country roads, isolated cabins left standing in land claimed by national parks… we settle, we live, we move on…

Approaching the final peak on this trail (in this direction).

Approaching the final peak on this trail (in this direction).

I laughed at myself when I experienced real relief seeing the final peak in elevation just ahead. Tired, and feeling more committed than joyful at that point, I feel renewed and re-energized by the feeling of achievement. Silly primate – it’s just a hill. lol

Unexpectedly pointless...

Unexpectedly pointless…

I shot a picture standing in a moment of utter stillness. No cars. No voices. No traffic in the distance. Nothing but the soft breeze, birdsong, and one still moment. I breathe. Relax. Exist so gently and contentedly… one moment that put the entire walk into perspective. This. This is my destination. A picture seemed appropriate…

…It was the last picture I took, with half a mile left to go. 🙂 I rounded the next bend and instantly frustrated myself with regret about the way I use my device; the battery died entirely, and my device powered down just as I approached a viewpoint called “Eagle Point”, with a carved wood totem pole standing nearby, and the landmark restaurant located there, The Chart House. I might have considered stopping there for coffee, but I was completely distracted by the sudden lack of camera, my feet were really aching by that point, and the bus stop was just a half mile further, down hill. I got started walking, after a few minutes enjoying the view from Eagle Point.

My bus ticket? On my device, which was as entirely dead and powered down as a device can be and still ever come back to life. lol I’m fortunate that the bus driver was very understanding about it, and my morning hike ending as the afternoon took over. If I took a moment I could remember what I did with the rest of the day… I do remember feeling quite content. That’s enough.

Every day is a solo hike on life’s journey. Destinations come and go, and have only as much meaning as I give them. The map is not the world. The destination is not the journey. I am my own cartographer, and each day is a new beginning. The future is a vast unwritten page in our unfinished story. What will I do with it?

IMAG8161

(There are verbs involved.)

I am sipping my coffee and considering, for a moment, how strange that there are so many yesterdays, and only just this one ‘today’, only this one ‘present’ moment. I’m not sure how to count futures; are they infinite, because there are so very many potential choices and happenstances, or are they not-even-one because no one such potential moment has any substance whatever until it occurs… in the present? No great calamity or stress pushes my thinking down this pathway this morning. I think I got here because I am contemplating retirement rather earnestly, and giving thought to ‘when’, and ‘how’. I have literally no interest in continuing a tedious corporate grind for someone else’s gross margin until I am 75 or 80 years old. Some days, I barely muster the commitment to do so now. Choices, however, come at a cost, and the bills must be paid.

I’m not having any sort of crisis of self or identity here, I’m just tired. lol I’ve been working my entire adult life with the exception of some weeks between jobs now and then, and I’m ready to invest my time in my own agenda. I’ve said as much before, and I don’t make a secret of it. Hell, the one time I tried to take a serious hiatus, a breather, six months for me… someone else in the household lost her job, income we’d all counted on, and I was asked to go back to work, and did (probably a good thing for all of us, since she was not able to find work for the better part of a year). Economically, I’m fortunate to be employed. Emotionally, I could sure use a break – and realistically, I’m not going to be getting one any time soon. Still, I find value in considering my future retirement. If nothing else, I am hopeful that considering it in a practical way regularly will ensure I have one. I know, I know – there are verbs involved. 🙂

I find myself feeling cross at the recollection of a recent conversation about retiring, and wanting do so before I am 60. There seemed to be real resistance to the idea, particularly if there were going to be any chance I might be dependent on my partner’s resources in any measure to make that happen. It was a peculiar moment. I managed not to bring up the months and years of an adult lifetime during which I have reliably and encouragingly supported partners who were not employed at the time – whether between jobs, careers, or starting their own thing; the only such months and years that are relevant are the ones with this partner. The apparent lack of reciprocity caught me by surprise with such force that I couldn’t ask the needed clarifying questions, and instead I let the topic die quietly. It is fairly academic at this point, anyway. It suffices as a red flag, though, calling attention to something that is worth understanding more clearly. Where will I really be in life at 70? At 80? At 110? Is it a given that my elder years will ‘look like’ my recollections of my great-grandmother’s life from my perspective as a child, secure at home with generations of close family? I know that it is not. I don’t know what it will be, but it’s fairly certainly not going to be that.

The travels of a stray ant wandering past remind me how little substance thoughts of the future really have. There is this ‘now’, really, and that’s all I have to work with. I can do my best now. Treat my loves well now. Treat myself well now. Live this moment right here, and make of it what I can, understanding that today’s resources may also have to pay for a tomorrow I can’t see a price tag for. I feel a little cross over the vagueness of the future. I feel fortunate, content, and warmed by love in this current finite present moment. I get to choose where to spend my time.

Planning for my future, surely, but not living there. 🙂

I sit back from my words and wonder what I can do to meet the underlying need begging to be addressed. “I need a break.” Okay, that’s a practical matter isn’t it? So… from what, exactly? Is it really about hours of work each week, or the nature of the job, or any of those details? Is it about an emotional experience that could be addressed quite without disrupting the work week? Is it simply a byproduct of a busy week on the calendar, on top of uncertainty about the future just weighing me down a bit? Questions. Maybe it is time to head to the trees for answers? Taking some time off for a long weekend would probably do me some good.

I slept well again last night. It’s wonderful. I definitely needed the sleep. By midday yesterday, after a great night’s sleep the night before, my body and mind were pretty certain sleep was the thing, and I wanted more than anything to go home at lunch time for a nap. 🙂 Instead, I went home for a sandwich and some yoga, enjoyed a walk in the fresh air, and got back to work. It was a long day, but a short ‘commute’ home – I was ‘in for the night’ by 7:00 pm , and by 8:00 pm I was fed, showered, and curled up under the covers teasing myself with the promise of reading for a while. I went straight to sleep and woke to an alarm clock I had fortunately remembered to set.

This morning, my pour over coffee is luscious, warm, and crafted according to my preferences. I didn’t have to ask, or compromise, or go out for it. I can count on me for a good coffee in the morning. I am learning how much I actually can count on me, for all sorts of things. The last two times in my life I have made an attempt at living alone were characterized by fairly chronic anxiety, insomnia, and poor decision-making, and like living with an ill-tempered child. This time is rather like an idealized version of living with my best friend. It’s still just me, here; I  have learned to treat myself fairly well. What matters most [to me] is clearer, and what to do about it seems more obvious [to me].

Although I am having my own experience, I am still a human primate; intimacy, connection, and contact are important to me. I thrive on love. Affection matters. Touch matters. Feeling valued matters. Being visible is a big deal, emotionally. Adjusting to how those things fit into this new context is taking some time, and firm adherence to good self-care practices; I rely on myself to take care of me almost entirely now. I’ve been here before, but this is my first shot at doing it skillfully, effectively, and achieving notably good results. I still want, need, and count on the positive interactions I enjoy with others to fill emotional needs for connection, and contact. I am a social creature, and even at my most reclusive I thrive when I enjoy close connections with others. There are, of course, verbs involved. My choices matter; interactions are not all equally valuable, or equally pleasant. My results vary. 🙂

Yesterday I went to the mail box after work, I’m not getting much mail here yet but I know bills and statements will be coming to this address now. There is a certain loneliness in an empty mail box, living alone. I opened the box…nothing. Oh, wait…there at the back…an envelope. I noticed happily that it appeared to be a real letter, and from someone dear to me. A ‘welcome home’ card! The handwritten note inside commented that she thought I might like to get some mail that isn’t a bill. I felt understood, valued, and loved. It was a nice moment. I am peculiarly sentimental about such things; I will keep the card for some time.

A smile came in the mail today, wrapped in a plain envelope.

A smile came in the mail today, wrapped in a plain envelope.

I still write letters on paper, and send cards, myself. I do it because of how I feel when I get one, at some moment when I am feeling distant, disconnected, or alone. A few minutes, the price of a stamp, the effort to address an envelope, and the consideration it takes to put the words together and follow them with a 🙂 and a signature are a small price to pay for the powerful moment delivered in a plain envelope. I find myself thinking about sending sweet notes, pictures, drawings and cards to my traveling partner – a sort of love delivery service. Living apart I do miss those small moments of connection, and finding new ways to connect over distance is something I consider often. (Consideration being one of my Big 5, this makes sense to me.)

In moments of great hurt or anger, I find value in letter writing, too, although of the sort I would not generally consider sending; there is clarity in seeing words on paper, and it can be a calming perspective, allowing me to take a step back from the moment, and see things through new eyes. I find writing a good self-care practice, generally, and the act of writing to an individual, about relevant things shared between us, can often soothe my heart in moments of hurt, or ease my anger or doubt, and sometimes helps me gain perspective or understand something better than I did before I saw it in words. I can’t point any fingers at my TBI on this one – I have no idea whether this is a shared experience that many people value, or unique to  me. I am learning to doubt ‘uniqueness’ on a number of levels. 🙂

There is power in our words. We choose them and express what we can. Our lies can affect someone else’s reality. Our anger can do real damage to someone else’s heart. Our lack of consideration, or disregard, can tear down a relationship. Our support and compassion can tear down walls. Our love can change someone’s mind, or heart. Hell, our love can change the world – it just takes a lot of it to overcome the chaos and damage. Even the words we direct at ourselves, in the privacy of our own minds, have enormous power over how we understand our experience, and how we experience ourselves.

I had observed, hanging out with my traveling partner over the weekend, that living alone I miss the welcome home greeting each evening when I get home from work. It’s a poignant moment these days; I unlock the door content and smiling, and there is this instant of pain when I step across the threshold into silence, alone. It’s a hard moment for me.  I wondered last night what I could do, myself, to meet that need. If words matter…can I throw words at the problem? Last night I explored that a bit with a sticky note in the bathroom, on the mirror, reminding myself of some task I didn’t want to forget…and at the bottom of the note I drew a wee heart, and added “You are loved, and thanks for taking care of this right away. You matter.” I had forgotten about it completely when I woke – and seeing it first thing made me smile in much the same way getting the nice card from my aunt did, last night. I don’t know that I have more to say about it, right now. It doesn’t quite rise to the level of a practice, but it was interestingly effective and thought-provokingly so.

I have plans to hang out with my traveling partner this evening after work. I am eager for the day to pass to get to that point; our time together is precious, and pretty wonderful. Living apart highlights the value of the time together, and small things stay small; we both put more into ‘now’, and appreciate the time together in a more willful way. It’s lovely. I don’t waste time wondering why it took living apart to feel this secure about love; I am content to act on what I observe, and I am eager to be in his arms, feeling the warmth of his flesh, and his smile.

I bloom when conditions are right, and in my own time. Don't we all?

I bloom when conditions are right, and in my own time. Don’t we all?

Today is a good day to enjoy the company of a ‘best friend’ I can count on every day, every moment, without ever wearing out my welcome [me]. Today is a good day to appreciate love and lovers, and the value of a hug, and a welcome home. Today is a good day to treat myself well, because it is the best way to treat me. Today is a good day to enjoy the journey.

 

It’s a weekend of quiet, spent mostly on housekeeping, meditation, and reading/studying. I spent some time, too, coloring in tiny squares on my Life in Weeks chart, which I started this year; it’s already an eye-opening project. I’m a very visual analyst, and I see patterns and trends fairly easily – especially painted with such a broad brush. I’m not imagining things; I’ve spent the largest portion of my life devoted to, and in support of, someone else’s agenda besides my own. Now, though, I also see the next 40 years laid out ahead of me – incomplete, unknown, and wide open with possibilities.

I’ve also been feeling fairly lonely. It’s odd. I’m not alone. I’ve spent considerable time in shared space with loved ones, too. The thing is…we’re not connecting easily. We’re each at such different places in life, with ourselves, with our understanding of the world; it is a season of change. I am learning to take care of me in moments when a conversation takes a turn that doesn’t really involved me, or isn’t the sort of thing I care to be all caught up in for one reason or another…by gently disengaging, or refraining from becoming involved in the first place. That’s a positive step for me…my tendency has been to be all up in everything, if it is within earshot, which over time feels more invasive than supportive for my loves, and for me quickly becomes a drain on my emotional resources, and just not much fun. There are other experiences I’d rather share with people who matter to me.

Taking a step back and letting other people’s business be other people’s business, and letting them have their moment – without me – feels like a better choice for my emotional wellness…but I had no idea just how much of what is going on around me has nothing whatsoever to do with me, at all. I am surprised to find that although I am aware that too little of my time supports my own agenda…I may not be prepared for what life holds if I stand firm on putting more of my emotional resources, and time, into my own needs and agenda; it could be very lonely indeed. This is a chapter in life’s curriculum I will study with great care; it looks like one of the more challenging bits. 🙂

OPD swirls around me in the background. I stay to myself. Sometimes it’s lonely, but it is less stressful, less emotionally fatiguing, and interestingly – I also seem to have far fewer, less intense, headaches. I don’t know that there’s any causality in there, but it’s an interesting coincidence.

When I started this journey I had some idea what I might find, built on assumptions and expectations.

When I started this journey I had some idea what I might find, seen through a veil of assumptions and expectations…

My traveling partner shared an article this morning, and I learned a new word that just delights me. The word is ‘listicle’ – you know, an article that is a list. I’m just delighted. It’s a needed word, that describes a real thing. It’s even in the dictionary. I feel like a child seeing a butterfly up close. lol I love words – they make it possible to communicate some very nuanced ideas. The article itself has value; it is a list of 7 traits the author suggests are common to chronically unhappy people. As I read the article, I felt a sense of forward progress, growth, and accomplishment, because there was a time when I definitely had all 7:

1. A default belief that ‘life is hard’ was definitely part of my experience until some relatively recent point. I’m not sure I really noticed when it changed, but reading the article this morning I feel keenly aware that it has. I would go so far as to acknowledge that I sometimes find life complicated, challenging, or moments when life feels hard, but it’s recognizably not my default experience.

2. A belief that ‘most people can’t be trusted’ most certainly describes how I used to feel about ‘people in general’; fearful, distrustful, and very very certain that if I dropped by guard for an instance, or turned my back, or shared a confidence, the consequences would be swift, severe, and painful. I don’t feel that way at all now. I find that generally, people mostly do their best, and are well-intended within the limits of their understanding of the world they live in. Well-meaning isn’t always enough for a good outcome, and I find that I am pretty accepting of that, too. I’m aware that people lie, that people are capable of fraud, bad acts, and real nastiness. I trust that each person I meet will likely behave very consistently with their nature, and underlying values, and that the best outcomes come from clear communication, awareness, and refraining from making assumptions, or holding on to expectations – or grudges – and that walking away from ‘toxic people’ is sometimes the only productive healthy choice.

3. Concentrating on what’s wrong versus what’s right is something I still struggle with. I get emotionally invested in something that seems unjust, unfair, unreasonable, and unnecessary, and my frustration with it can push me into becoming over-invested, and emotionally involved to a point that I lose perspective. I see this, too, as progress; I started in a very different place than I stand today. There is further to go.

4. Comparisons to others, and fostering jealousy are something I suppose most people struggle with; comparisons are an easy shortcut for measuring where we stand. The thing I’ve learned over time is that it’s not a competition, this ‘life’ thing. It’s more like a journey, and I take it pretty much alone – my own progress over time is my only measure of performance, really, and what that other person over there is doing with their time, money, heart, or intellect has little to do with me.  At the end of my life, when I look back, it won’t be to say “Well, compared to [insert name of celebrity or role model] I sure went far”; my life will have to stand on its own merits. Jealousy is new for me; I only recently learned what that feeling is, at all. I’m not really wired for it, and having finally experienced what it feels like, I’m okay with moving on as a being to a place where it is simply not likely to come up. Like ‘worry’ or ‘guilt’, ‘jealousy’ is a pretty pointless emotion that tends to start trouble, without offering any solutions. Having finally experienced what all the fuss is about, though, I am learning to use the feeling as a flare that pulls my attention to a specific need that I am not taking care of, and identifying that thing; making the underlying need, and taking care of that, a priority has tended to entirely satisfy any moment that feels like ‘jealousy’ – it nearly always turns out that some small thing I need isn’t being handled by me, and that I’ve made the mistake of assigning blame or responsibility to some other person, without being aware of it.

5. Striving for control isn’t something I have much problem with, at this point in my life, and it’s been a long while since it has. For me, letting go of the need to control everything in my experience turned out to be easily resolved by avoiding controlling or manipulative relationships; relationships of that sort tend to find me ‘pushing back’ to regain my freedom of will. It becomes an unpleasant see-saw of competitive power games that I find distasteful, and I went a different direction some years ago, and never looked back.

6. Considering the future fearfully comes up now and then. That’s sort of a given with anxiety. It’s not on the same order it once was, and these days I generally find that taking time to meditate kicks fear to the curb pretty handily. A better understanding of the value of thinking, of thoughts – and the understanding that thoughts have no ‘reality’ that I don’t give them, that I create them myself – has freed me to consider a ‘what if’ scenario to its conclusion – however ludicrous – and learn from it without being wounded by it; it’s not real.

7. Gossip and complaint filled conversations…yeah…just not my preference these days. Living in chronic misery, though, what else was there? It was a way to lift myself up…by comparing my experience to someone else’s. It was a way to make myself important…by venting about some unsatisfying thing or another. It was a way to get  and hold attention for some moment…and feel a little bit supported. It’s not honest, though, and it’s not … consensual. It also isn’t as effective as simple communication about my own feelings, and experience, using ‘I statements’ and just asking for a hug. Taking that more effective approach requires me to embrace a level of genuineness and vulnerability that was pretty scary, at first. It’s been worth it.

I don’t say much, above, about what I did to make these changes happen over time – because I’m not actually sure. Is it the meditation practice? Is it better health care? Is it taking care to get enough sleep? Is it a byproduct of changed perspective with time, and aging? Is it all the studying of the neuroscience of emotion, and the structured practicing of techniques intended to craft a more positive implicit memory? Is it love? Is it a coincidence? Is it my own idea – or someone else’s? I have no idea what specifically I’ve done that has amounted to so much change for the better, over time… I wasn’t even aware so much had changed, until I read that article (expecting to find myself nodding along and checking off all 7 as things characteristic of myself) and realized that it doesn’t speak to my ‘now’ experience.

...Without the powerful limitations assumptions and expectations place on my experience, I have found wide open vistas of possibility, and broad horizons of potential for change.

…Without the powerful limitations assumptions and expectations place on my experience, I have found wide open vistas of possibility, and broad horizons of potential for change. There are verbs involved, and your results may vary.

Today is a good day to share progress, and feel encouraged. Today is a good day to recognize change for the better. Today is a good day to say with conviction “I have come so far!” Today is a good day to see that I am changing the world…and to remind you that you can, too, and probably do. 😀