Escaping on the Creeper Trail

It has been a tumultuous year for me personally.  Sure, there’s a pandemic, toilet paper shortages, a confusing array of government programs to navigate and the isolation of being thousands of miles from my immediate family; but during this year I finally am financially free of my ex and from the burden of taking care of my beloved lakeside home. Once moved into my apartment just miles away from my prior home, I really wanted an escape and my sweetheart, Roy, had the perfect solution, the Virginia Creeper Trail in Damascus, Virginia.

Roy and I on the Creeper Trail

As a thru hiker veteran, Roy is very familiar with the Creeper Trail as the Appalachian Trail goes through the middle of the tiny trail town.  In fact, right in the middle of town there is an entire side of a building painted with the bold letters, TRAIL TOWN USA.  Roy had experienced riding down the Creeper Trail some five years ago and he was riding his bike downhill for seventeen miles. I have to say that, being newly reacquainted with bike riding in the last three years, I was pretty skeptical of sitting on a bike for several hours regardless of riding downhill most of the way. But I was so focused on escaping from the drudgery of unpacking and my dog’s anxiety with a new space and lack of freedom (she needs to be attached to me to go outside, i.e. not chasing squirrels at her leisure), I was willing to be uncomfortable for a few hours getting saddle sores from a bike seat.

My reflections of escaping on the Creeper Trail:

Rent bikes from an Outfitter

Roy and I both have our own mountain bikes and figured we would take them to save a few bucks and to be on a familiar bike rather than a rental.  Thank goodness we changed our minds and decided to rent bikes instead.  Carrying the bikes on the back of the car, dragging them in and out of a hotel room and being vigilant about whether they are securely stored is a drag.  It was worth the extra $20 a piece to rent bikes and not have to contend with keeping track of our bikes on our three-day weekend vacation.  There are at least five outfitters in Damascus that will rent you a bike and then carry you to the top of the trail in a van with a bike rack behind. They will even carry your bike up to the top of the trail. We went to Sundog Outfitter in Damascus which is super convenient because the Creeper Trail goes right by Sundog as it enters the town after the seventeen mile ride. No need to try and navigate returning the bike.  The other advantage of the rental bike was an extra-large seat (don’t forget that seat, you on it, minimum two hours!) and they provide repair kits for free in case of any issues while coming down the trail. 

The Virginia Creeper

The Virginia Creeper is the name of the train that ran from Abingdon, Virginia to Todd, North Carolina.  The tracks were built in the 1894 mostly for moving timber and people in isolated far western Virginia.  It was dubbed “The Creeper” because of the speed at which it trudged up the mountainous terrain populated with sharp curves and rickety trestles; it was about 5 miles an hour. Eventually, the timber industry faded and the passage travel was not profitable.  The last train ran in 1977.  In 1978, the U.S. Forest Service purchased the right of way to build a hiking/biking trail that exists today.

Gliding down the trail

Sundog outfitters took us up to Whitetop station on a beautiful fall day and we arrived around 10:30 AM. It was cold at the top of the mountain, and Roy and I set off down the wide 8-foot-wide trail with about twenty or so hearty souls. The top of the trail near Whitetop is pretty steep and it didn’t take long to figure out that brakes were about all I needed to know on the bike.

Roy stayed behind me as I started flying down the hill and I realized that there were no shock absorbers on the rental bike.  The shock absorbers were apparently my arms.  It is a bumpy trail and at high speeds (greater than I initially realized…gulp) I was pretty terrified in the beginning. I was torn between focusing on avoiding any large rocks, holding onto the brakes for dear life, passing other folks and trying to take in the spectacular fall foliage. I must say that the first fifteen minutes were a blur and once I was acclimated to the trail, the bike and my brakes, I finally was able to take in the experience. 

I think I have been waiting for this since first taking the training wheels off my bike at age 7.  Gliding down a hill free of cars and pavement and barely any pedaling for almost three hours; covered by golden trees, gliding parallel to a picturesque river, and the smell of fall in the air while easily gliding through the air was a dream come true.  It was wonderful.

Roy did not tell me how fast I was going until the trip was over.  I think I had it in my head that I had to glide as fast as possible before the next uphill…which never came.  It was a magical trip, almost dreamlike in its simplicity and its beauty.  I pronounced at the end that we needed to make this an annual pilgrimage. I hope we do.

I almost felt with each bump, each change of scene, my recent traumas flew or melted away. It was nice to feel refreshed!

5 Steps Towards Compassion

I can get caught up in my own “stuff”. My own little corner of the world with my own little myopic view. Why isn’t everyone vegan, sober or trying to avoid sugar? I become that three-year-old stomping my feet wanting to get my way. If it’s raining, I want it to be sunny or if it’s hot I want it to be cold. The antidote I have found is to be compassionate.

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I recently read Zen Habits: Handbook for Life by Leo Babauta. The book has a terrific list of habits to take on to make life less complicated. Somewhat similar to my own “102 Itzy Bitzy Habits”, it’s a simple approach to take on one or two small changes that can make a significant difference in one’s daily life. Embracing compassion is a mindset to let go of that three-year-old in your head who is having a tantrum. As Babauta espoused, compassion can be learned, developed and cultivated.

The Commonalities Practice, as outlined in Leo’s book, attempts to get us to recognize what we have in common with others, instead of our differences.

Here are the five steps to Compassion:

  1. Support others in their happiness

I can get fixated on seeking my own happiness without regard for others. It goes along with the expression, “Every man for themselves” or “Whoever gets there first wins!” Everyone wants happiness. The waiter, the flight attendant, the construction worker, my child, my mother, my boss, my ex. It’s freeing to accept that we all want it and there is no limit to the amount of happiness available. My slice of the happiness pie doesn’t diminish the amount left for someone (read: Anyone) else.

  1. Everyone experiences suffering

Suffering is universal. We are all trying to avoid it. We have many ways to try to numb out or stuff it or ‘walk’ around it and ignore it. Acknowledging that there is pain in everyone’s experience is humbling. It is the core of compassion. Everyone suffers just like me. Someone is losing their job, their pet, their home or loved one right now. We all want to avoid it but it helps to be surrounded by understanding others.

  1. Complete unseen altruism

Everyone has known heartbreak, been embarrassed, been dumped or cheated on. We all walk around with wounds on the inside unseen by most. The Tibetan practice of Tonglen is to take and receive someone’s pain. To figuratively breath it in. I believe what is so special about this practice is that it is not seen. It is a spiritual practice of empathy and compassion that is carried by the practitioner in their heart. Complete unseen altruism.

  1. Wish-list of desires

Accept that everyone has needs. We all have needs that are more than simply material; perhaps it’s recognition, acknowledgement, acceptance, peace, rest, presence, time, knowledge, friendship, or love. We all have a Wish-list of Desires that contribute to our happiness and well-being.

  1. Life’s learning curve

We all make mistakes and are on different learning curves. Your ex may be on a different learning curve which may have even precipitated your split or at least at a different spot on their journey. The thing is that we all have to live and learn at our own pace. We are all on our own path. I don’t want to see anyone fail, especially those I love; but fail they must. It’s the only way we learn. And it’s incumbent on me to understand and support those I care about.

Remember, you can use these phrases as a prescription for compassion.

Silently repeat these 5 phrases to yourself:

  1.  Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life
  2.  Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.
  3.  Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.
  4.  Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.
  5.  Just like me, this person is learning about life.

We have a lot in common. Sure, there are things that divide us but at the base of it all is the need for compassion as a way to love ourselves and others. So the next time you are angry and need to get centered, think of the words “just like me” and see if it opens your heart.

No One Outside of You Has Your Answer

This is a repost from 2017. Enjoy!

No one outside of you has your answer.

This was the prompt for Day 114 of the Project 137 by Patti Digh. This idea really sets me adrift, like someone put me in a rowboat without oars and cut the towline. Go figure it out, Cathy. I feel like I have measured myself my entire life by living up to other people’s expectations; other’s dreams and wants. This comes down to me and what I want. My expectations of myself. Gulp.

I run into folks who are either followers or are curious about this blog. This is my sanctuary to work things out. My colander to strain out the unnecessary to find the good parts. I gave my card to someone at a conference last week and she asked about the blog. I said, “It helps me work out my stuff.” The hope is that the byproduct of me working out my stuff is that someone else gains some wisdom or thought-provoking question that propels them forward. But really, at the heart of it all, is me working out my stuff.

So here are some insights of looking inward:

  • Shoes. No one else really walks in your shoes. And I don’t really walk in anyone else’s shoes. I can make assumptions about a loved one’s journey or what my colleague aspires to or if that mystery man is unattached. While I can identify with someone else, I really can’t live in their shoes and they really don’t know what it’s like in my shoes. They probably don’t even know my shoe size! So, the answer is taking care of your shoes and throwing out the ones that don’t serve you anymore. I recently decided to hike Machu Picchu this summer. I will need new boots and will have to break them in. That answer is in me.
  • Advice.  I have spent the last month grilling friends and family about the fate of a huge financial decision. I sought advice from almost every trusted resource I have. It’s fine to get advice. To be informed. To find a devil’s advocate. To weigh out all your options. I feel really good that I have heard all the pros and cons of my next move. I’m glad I have trusted friends and family to confide in. In the end though, it really comes down to me. I need to make the decision. The answer is in me.
  • Faith.  I realize now that serendipity is always conspiring to help me. The Universe is in my corner and some pieces have fallen into my lap to help me forward; actually leaps forward. As they say, “Let go and let God.” So while I was gnashing my teeth in worry and fear, I learned to embrace the idea that there is a greater plan and I am at the center of that plan. It is freeing to release the pain of fear and uncertainty and know that, if I have faith in myself, the Universe will conspire to help me. The answer is in me.
  • Willingness. As Benjamin Foley writes for Medium, “Wisdom, in my opinion, is the willingness to live the questions of life with an acceptance of no immediate answer. In a world of immediacy, this is a difficult accomplishment, but one that is enormously important if you are to create anything of value.” As my trusted friend Janine says, “You don’t need to make a decision until you need to make a decision.” This means I need to be willing to be patient. Not my strongest suit, but knowing that the decision will appear before me, when it is needed, is powerful. The answer is in me.

I have said over the past year that “you can’t push a rope.” What will be, will be. Trust your intuition, listen to your gut and find the answer in you.

My Beginner’s Guide to Hiking the Appalachian Trail

This is a repost from 2018 when I hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail:

This is actually the over fifty’s guide to backpacking on the AT. For me, it’s actually a guide to returning to the woods after forty plus years. I have hiked a multitude of places, from Mount Saint Helena in Napa, California, Tent Rocks in New Mexico and Machu Picchu in Peru. None of those hikes were with a twenty-pound backpack. They were all day hikes, rather like a scenery stroll. And they all ended where I was sleeping comfortably in a cushy bed with running water, a flush toilet, and a solid roof over my head. The last time I had a backpack on was when I was at Camp Merrowvista in Ossipee, New Hampshire and I was sixteen years old. Things have changed. More importantly, I have changed.

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My boyfriend Roy attempted hiking the entire Appalachian Trail in 2015. If you are unfamiliar, this is no small task. It can take upwards of five to seven months to complete the 2,190 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine. Roy made it 531 miles before a medical issue derailed his attempt. This lent me the desire to experience the allure of the trail.

Here are my findings:

Water

This is a whole different ball game when it comes to backpacking versus day hiking. Though towns are close to the trail, it isn’t the point to hike and drop back into civilization. There aren’t handy convenience stores, faucets, or water fountains out on the trail. Carrying five to ten days of water is not feasible. Roy bought me a Sawyer Mini Water filter about a month before we went backpacking. I threw it in my closet and figured I’d be carrying my water with me. Nope. Water is the heaviest item you are carrying, so you should try and keep enough for one day. Make sure you know where the springs or water sources are along the trail. It’s not like a road trip, where you can stop off at the next exit to refill on water and use the restrooms! We had several empty water bottles to help filter from our bladder bags when we refilled at a water source on the trail. We were fortunate that the water source was a cistern on the trail versus a spring along the trail. It would have been a process and a lot more time consuming to retrieve water from a natural source. Sawyer filtration systems are very easy to use and are highly recommended by practically every A.T. thru-hiker. Don’t leave home without a water system at the ready and located water sources.

Guide

I was fortunate to be guided by a seasoned hiker like Roy. He knew that we needed the most recent A.T. Guide Northbound 2018. Roy had ripped out the page we needed for our hike. It showed the elevation, the location of the shelters, and water sources along the route we were taking. If we didn’t have the guide, it would have been impossible to know where the next water source or shelter might have been. You wouldn’t go on a road trip without a GPS or paper map. Make sure you have one that is most up-to-date before you head out. On the A.T., the white blazes on the trees and rocks are your guide. However, there are blue blazes (indicating a trail to a water source or shelter) and double white blazes (indicating some type of change coming up, such as a fire road crossing) as well. These indicate when you are off the main trail or if there is a change coming up. You might wonder why you need the most updated guide for the trail, but there are changes each year as trails become rerouted due to damage or are remeasured by volunteers. In contrast, my previous day hikes were trails that were heavily marked with frequent mileage indicators. The A.T. has very few signs, so the guide is invaluable when heading out. I found it frustrating, in retrospect, that I didn’t know whether I had walked a half mile or not. Most day hikes have a lot more signage with progress indicated along the way. It would be very easy to get lost rather quickly if we didn’t stick to the white blazes.

Clothing

My daughter Natalie is an experienced backpacker, as is Roy. Both kept warning me about not having ANY cotton clothing on the trip. Cotton will absorb sweat like a sponge and will not properly insulate. Boy, am I glad I listened. I opted for everything to be nylon or polyester, except for my wool socks. I tried a few shirts on that were merino wool but that particular material irritated my skin. In my practice hikes, I tested out several sets of shirts and pants to make sure nothing rubbed against my backpack. I cut every tag off every piece of clothing that I took with me. I get aggravated by anything rubbing against my skin. I didn’t want to be looking for a pair of scissors two miles in. I had a total of three (yes, three) jackets. One rain jacket for rain and wind. I started off the hike wearing a jacket since it was 40 degrees and windy at the start. I also brought a fleece jacket, which I changed into once the wind died down, as it was still cold. Finally, I wrapped myself in a puffy down jacket at the actual campsite since I was no longer exerting myself as much and needed to retain my body heat. I had a base layer under my hiking pants, which I kept on the entire trip to stay warm. The only thing I didn’t wear that was stored in my pack was my extra underwear. So my entire list was three pairs of wool socks (one for each day hiking and one pair to sleep in), two pairs of underwear, one short sleeve shirt, one long sleeve shirt, rain paints, convertible hiking pants, base layer pants (long johns), sports bra, bandana, buff, wool hat, cap, fleece jacket, rain jacket and down jacket. My advice is to try them all out with your backpack in different temperatures and weather conditions. Being as comfortable as possible is key.

Food

I figured that I would be starving the whole time we were backpacking. I’m not sure if it was nerves or exhaustion, but I ended up not eating that much. We had some peanut butter crackers, trail mix, and oatmeal bars. I think it’s easy to overthink and over-carry on food. We probably brought back about half as much as we started with. But gratefully, nothing went wrong on the trip. If we had been stranded for some reason due to injury, we would have needed all the food. We cooked a rice package for our only dinner on the trail and didn’t even bother cooking the ramen we brought. Having a hot cup of tea at the end of a daylong hike in our campsite was restorative. Coffee, the next morning, when it was 38 degrees was important as well. There is something about a warm beverage that makes everything feel better. Before you head out, make sure you’ve tested your burner and cookware. I’m not sure I would have been able to figure it out on my own in the waning light of day. Warm food makes a huge difference out on the trail.

Light

I had a light attached to the end of a cap for my entire trip. I knew where that hat was whether it was in the tent, in my pack or on my head. We hiked at the end of October and the sun was setting around 6:30 PM. I did not want to be stuck hiking, eating, finding water, or unpacking my sleeping bag without a light. It was critical to be able to see at night, especially when trying to go to relieve yourself. There were warnings about black bears in the area and being aware of my surroundings was critical. Have a light and know where it is always.

There are more must-haves like a backpack, tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress. Trekking polls were invaluable as well. If you take anything away from this at all, test out everything you are planning to take with you in as many ways possible. You don’t want to find out five miles into your trip that your hiking shoes are uncomfortable, your backpack is too small, or that the tags on your clothes won’t stop rubbing your skin. When you head out backpacking, you have your entire life on your back. Thankfully, we only went out for a two-day hike, but getting the right combination of necessities can make the difference between a miserable and wonderful hike. Make sure you have the right basics for you.

“What other people think of me is none of my business.” – Wayne Dyer

Are you having trouble wrapping your head around that title quote? I did. I still do. I’m not sure if it’s my upbringing. The Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident and What will the neighbors think? kind of upbringing. My parents were always passing judgment on whether or not so-and-so is too thin or too fat, or if someone was spending their money unwisely. I know when I dress in the morning, I’m wondering what people will think. Is the skirt too short? Is the blouse too tight? I’m not paralyzed by this, but as I read that statement, I realize it’s a monologue that goes on in my head unconsciously.

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Actually, the source of this valuing other’s opinions above all else is Junior High School life at its finest. I was in 7th grade in the 70s. Bell bottoms and corduroy were the rage. I had purchased 10 pairs of corduroys in 10 different shades with all my hard-earned babysitting money. I cared a lot about blending in. God forbid I walk into the cafeteria and stand out by wearing a dress. My world centered on what others thought about me; if I gained weight or lost weight, had an opinion different than theirs, had a bad hair day…the list goes on and on. Heck, I do that today. Has anyone noticed I lost 5 pounds? Should I point it out? Am I expecting too much? Do people really notice me? I realize I spend a lot of time and energy wondering about others’ opinions.

Here are some ways to let go of the importance of others’ opinions:

  1. Realize that this is self-inflicted pain. Bryon Katie’s book, Love What Is, posits that the suffering is in your head. The first question of “The Work” is “Is it true?” When I work with clients, I hear all kinds of statements that are causing the client pain: “She doesn’t like me,” “He wants me off the project,” and “They think I’m incompetent.” How can you verify that it is true? Realize that believing it is true is in your own head. You are suffering from your own beliefs and thoughts.
  2. Beware of how you accept both criticism and compliments. These are two sides to the very same coin. Someone can be validating you and giving you feedback that sounds like or is actually a critique. Whether it’s positive or negative, it is an opinion that you could potentially benefit from and has no bearing on who you are. You are still you. If you are focused and enamored only with praise. When you are criticized, you will roll down the other side of the hill and be thrown off your game. I believe a simple “Thank you” for either is just fine. Temper your reactions and how you internalize feedback. Find a way to benefit from the critique of those whose opinions you trust.
  3. Let go of the battle. In Jack Kornfield’s A Path with Heart, he writes, “Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting.” Fighting requires a lot of energy. It’s exhausting to spend your day worrying about what everyone else is thinking. Put down your armor and let go.
  4. Be skeptical. As written in Don Miguel Ruiz’ book, The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery, “Doubt takes us behind the words we hear to the intent behind them. By being skeptical, we don’t believe every message we hear; we don’t put our faith in lies, and when our faith is not in lies, we quickly move beyond emotional drama, victimization, and the limiting belief systems our ‘domestication’ has programmed us with.” When you find the truth for yourself, you are free to live without regret and fear.
  5. Let go of attachment. Kornfield has some wonderful meditations in his book. One of them is letting go of anger. He writes, “The strength of our anger reveals the strength of our attachment.” It’s amazing how many things I am attached to and how much suffering it causes. It’s my control freak inside who doesn’t want to let go. But this constant striving to control the thoughts of others is unobtainable. This is a huge insight for me. It’s futile. Don’t attach.
  6. Be careful of your own language. My daughter made me aware of this. I would say, “Have you lost weight?” She asked that I say, “You look healthy.” You might think that it’s a compliment but as she explained, it’s also a value judgment. It is essentially saying that you were or weren’t thin enough before.
  7. Give up the idea of perfection. I think about this when I meditate. I feel like when my thoughts wander (and they always do) that I am not being perfect at meditation. So what? It’s the same with your self-dialogue. When you are trying out #1-#6, let go of being perfect. So when you start worrying that your boss thinks you’re incompetent, acknowledge that you let that thought slip in and maybe you can avoid it the next time. Perfection is exhausting.

All of this can be difficult to try and implement. It’s a habit that you’ve likely been doing since you were a child. Changing your thoughts takes patience and trial and error. We are all just works in progress. How wonderful it is that we have others to help us!

Coping with Blamers

Your co-worker is constantly blaming his boss for his 80+ hour work weeks. You are blamed by the project chair for the missed deadline although they were responsible for the delay. Your partner blames you for the cold dinner, after arriving thirty minutes late. You end up embarrassed. Dumbfounded. Sometimes seething. These destructive feelings, when ongoing, cause irreparable damage to the relationship and your self-esteem.

Blamers are everywhere. I see blamers as those who have external locus of control. As defined by Psychology Today, “The belief that events in one’s life, whether good or bad, are caused by uncontrollable factors such as the environment, other people, or a higher power.” If you feel as though everything is out of your control and out of your realm of responsibility, you’re going to have lost that responsibility elsewhere. This is what blamers do. “A person with an internal locus of control believes that he or she can influence events and their outcomes.” Odds are that if you are suffering from the blamers around you, you have an internal locus of control and are feeling responsible for the blame that is heaped on you. Fear not! There are ways to cope with this.

Coping with Blamers:

  1. Own your piece. Everyone has at least 2% of the truth. This is a tenet of CRR Global. So does the blamer. If you get defensive and start arguing with the blamer, it is discounting the 2% of truth. Maybe you were late with one little piece of the project, maybe you didn’t answer the email by the deadline, maybe your ideas weren’t well fleshed out. I’m not suggesting you be a doormat, but acknowledge the 2% that is correct. It’s not “I completely blew this, I’m sorry” but “I can see that responding faster to that email would have impacted the outcome.” Everyone is right…partially.
  1. Find the brilliance. A lot of people rarely compliment the other folks in their lives. Whether at home or at work, we don’t try and catch people doing something right. But everyone does something right every day. Even if it’s brush their teeth or complete the monthly report on time. Look for the positive. Hunt for it. I was working with a narcissist once. She didn’t like any of my ideas for a project. She showed me one of her ideas which I sincerely thought was innovative. I said, “This is brilliant.” She did a 180 degree change on the project. Now she was onboard. If I had held my tongue, we would have remained at logger heads. Look for the brilliance. Then broadcast it.
  1. Listen with empathy. When someone is blaming either someone else or you, be sure to actively listen with empathy. This can be difficult. It can be painful to hear someone trash your best efforts. It will help to focus on your breath so that you can stay out of going to your lizard brain and activating your limbic system (the fight or flight response). It may even take returning to the topic later after you’ve had a chance to cool off. My son was upset with me a few days ago and asked that we talk about the topic on Wednesday morning. This was really effective. I had time to reflect and he had time to reflect. We were in a better space to listen and be empathetic. Make space to listen.
  1. Respond looking for solutions. Aja Frost wrote a great article called “7 Perfect Replies to (Politely) Shut Down Negative People.” My two favorite for coping with the chronic blamer is, “Is there anything I can do?” and “I’m sorry to hear that. Did anything good come out of the situation?” This can shut the blamer down because it is focused on forward positive motion. Blamers typically want to dwell on how bad everything is. I have asked clients who are focusing on blame, “What 2% are you responsible for?” This is a proactive approach. It focuses on what can be versus what was
  1. Come from a place of love. As Kelly Smith wrote for Tiny Buddha, “Remember, all actions are based in either fear or love. Base yours in love. Realize their actions are based in fear. Often, these fears are ones that no one can reach because they are too deep-seated for the person to acknowledge. Accept that, and continue to operate from your own base of love.” I personally have been meditating on loving kindness for months. My mantra has been to be the “Love and light” in my life. Having an open heart and compassion for others helps me see the good in all people regardless of the facade they may be exhibiting. We all want to be loved, happy and at peace.
  1. Let go. As Kelly Smith wrote, “It’s not worth your constant wondering and worrying. It isn’t good for you to hold onto it and over-analyze it. Let it go; visualize yourself blowing it all into a balloon, tying it off, and letting it drift away. Feel lighter because of it!” I love the balloon metaphor. Another practice is to clench your hand in a fist with your anger towards the blamer, and then release. Let the blame dissolve into the ether.

Sometimes your best efforts can’t change or pacify other people’s behavior. There may be a difficult decision in front of you. Chronic blamers can be toxic for an organization or family unit. If you’ve tried these coping mechanisms and you still feel like your self-esteem is being affected, you might need to move on.

It’s Ok to Not Be Ok

There. Be with that for a moment. I read that line in an insightful post from Marita Fridjhon, the CEO and Co-Founder of CRR Global. She wrote an eloquent piece called “The Case for Taking Space: A Bigger Picture Approach.” I am writing this article in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve found myself on auto-pilot when friends and co-workers ask, “How are you?” and I, on auto-response, say: “Good. And you?” No. Actually, I’m not good. I’m not ok. I’m getting by. I’m coping. I’m trying to find some semblance of control. I so appreciate when there is permission to not be ok, whether I give that permission to myself or it’s offered by someone else.

Here are some thoughts on being not ok:

Don’t rush.  Marita writes: “Let’s not rush through to the ‘everything is okay’ stage. Otherwise, the steam is going to continue to build and reactivity is going to direct our choices. Instead, we could take some time to be with this. To process what we’re going through and to grieve what is lost.” This resonates for me. I want to push through to get on to the next step. I don’t want to scrap a trip to visit my mother in her new home on the west coast. I want to wave a magic wand and make this all go away so I can get on an airplane (again) and just go. My absolute fatal flaw is impatience (inherited, ironically, from my mother). I want to skip all the chapters and get to the end of the book and see how this all ends. This is like pushing a rope, it’s frustrating and gets me nowhere closer. Don’t rush.

Feel the feelsThis is not the time for a stiff upper lip. I think of Marita’s analogy of continuing to build up steam. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen a lot of steam billowing out of people. The steam shows up as anger, frustration, tears, shutting down and stonewalling. Co-workers crying at work (virtually), managers popping off in knee jerk reactions, and directors passive aggressively ignoring urgent requests. Some of us are releasing the pressure while the rest try to keep it bottled up. Let the pressure go. It doesn’t need to be public but don’t be surprised if it is. I was taking a walk two days ago listening to a podcast and suddenly, there were tears streaming down my face. Marita wrote, “Take the pressure off yourself to be super positive and cheery so that you don’t end up feeling stressed about being stressed or sad about being sad. These emotions are understandable and taking space to honor them will help you to eventually shift them into something else.” Let go of the pressure and feel the feels.

You have permission to just process.  You have a hall pass on your exercise regime, starting your book, clearing out your closet, learning guitar, planting a garden, reading War and Peace, or painting. It’s fine if you do and it’s fine if you don’t. Take time to reflect on this experience and see what is present for you. It’s great to invite others to process as well. Marita suggests asking: “What’s been the most challenging thing for you about working from home?” I’ve tried this out and it can have humorous results from, “I’ll be a big fat drunk by the end of this” to “I had no idea my dog was so neurotic” to interesting insights like, “I like these four walls, I just want four different walls.” I need to give myself permission to be lazy. To process. To let go of expectations and be safe.

A step back.  Marita posited, “Before we innovate and create, we need to take space. If we create space to process reactivity, we can choose to respond differently. Instead of letting fear and worry drive the show, we can step in with the response pattern that will best serve us, and others, in the situation.” For me, this is about slowing down and letting things be. It’s allowing what will happen unfold and to be an observer. I let go of my inclination to be the fixer and to have the broom out in front of the mess before it happens. Taking the space to be curious instead of consumed by anxiety and dread. I wonder what career my daughter will pivot too.  I’m curious if my son will be able to compete in Korea in October. I’m curious if world travel will be as accessible going forward and how will my life change if does. It’s about stepping back and responding with an open mind and heart.

Annie Grace wrote an interesting quote, “I’m Okay, You’re Okay, We’re All Not Okay.” There is that comparative suffering where we feel guilt for not being in worse shape. Not exactly survivor’s remorse but close. It’s ok for me to suffer even as there are those who are suffering as well. Process this time in our lives and try not to skim through as fast as possible. Be present. Be safe. Be here right now.

Memories of My Lake House

This house has been home for over 17 years. My children grew up here. My parents built onto the house. My dog has fought tirelessly against squirrels and honed her fly catching skills (yes…she can catch a fly) in this house. My friends have visited to stand on the deck and take a selfie with the lake as a backdrop. My boyfriend has observed all manner of wildlife with his morning coffee while perched on a deck chair. I have documented and marveled at countless sunrises. It’s been home and the center of my life for seventeen years.

My last sunrise picture from the lake house

My son came home this past weekend to say goodbye to the house. We moved here when he was eight and his sister Natalie when she was ten. Their heights and weights are marked on a closet door. The slow evolution of my son’s height lagging his sister until a growth spurt propelled him ahead. It’s all there. Each penciled line and scrawled date. Years in the making. Time marches on and, so do my children. He is in Miami and she is in Seattle. My father passed away, my mother is on the West Coast. The boyfriend Roy is in Carteret County or as he refers to it: “God’s Country.” All that is left is me and my dog and the move to an apartment about 8 miles away.

Memories of our lake house:

Remodeling

The house was built in 1975 and for almost every minute I have lived here, it’s been in a perpetual state of remodel. When we first moved in the kitchen was completely gutted and I remember trying to feed a family of four with a microwave in the family room, a refrigerator in the dining room and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. I think back now, why the heck didn’t we just eat at McDonald’s every day? There was the porch and carport that eventually became a sunroom and garage. There was the three weeks of summer camp when we decided to surprise the kids by completely remodeling the second-floor bedrooms, bath and all (and yes, I actually painted). The dining room and living room remodel where my dog would not walk across the new floor for weeks (yes…she’s that neurotic). And the addition of the in-law unit and a front porch; my parents moved in six years ago. Finally, the reflooring of the first floor and a brand-new deck across the back of the house. The paint colors have changed, the seventies wood paneling is gone, and popcorn ceilings were scraped off, but the bones are still there. It’s the same steps my kids came down each Christmas morning to see what Santa left.

Games

My fondest memories are of playing games around the kitchen table. My son remembers Tripoly, using macaroni to ante up and dreaming of ending up with a huge pile of macaroni by the end of the evening. I remember playing Uno and prefacing each +2 draw card (a really bad card) with “I love you!” to try and soften the blow. I remember always wanting my Dad on my team for Trivial Pursuit, especially for the history questions and my Mom for all the science questions (Medical Technologists know a bunch of medical and scientific terms). I looked forward to every Christmas break when my college-bound children would come home and play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. I can hear Natalie laughing and screaming at her brother as he always seemed to be charging ahead and taking advantage of his sister’s good graces. There was also the brief stint of playing with the Wii and having endless sword fights. There is a ton of laughter in these walls.

Boats

I remember when we bought this house and the original owner pointed to the boat slip and said, “You’ll need to get a boat.” Well, sure enough we did. This led to knee boards, beginner skis, wake boards, single skis, and a tube. You name it, we tried it. Benson was amazingly tenacious on an innertube as we tried in vain (most of the time) to kick him off banking the boat on a tight corner. I remember the one and only time I got onto an innertube behind the boat and I could not stop laughing from fear and exhilaration. My poor kids stared from the back of the boat forlorn yelling, “Mommy, are you OK?” I survived. Later there were kayaks and paddle boats. I have truly learned this lake from stem to stern. It’s an amazing eco system that changes from cormorants to martins to mallards in an endless cycle with the ospreys and herons being the only apparent constant. There are a multitude of memories in that lake.

Neighbors

For almost seventeen years we have had the same neighbors. I can remember the original owner, Pat Jones, pointing to the houses and saying, “Well, there’s Fred and Pete across the street and the Nuns next door.” I was a recent transplant from California and I remember thinking: “Wow, a gay couple across the street and catholic nuns next door…pretty progressive.” Of course, this was incorrect, “Pete” was Marilyn’s nick name and the catholic nuns were actually “The Nunns.” Terrific neighbors all. We didn’t need neighborhood watch because I’d get a text or call if anything out of the norm was happening in my yard while I was away at work. The best story that Natalie remembers is that the original owners let us drop the kids off at the top of the driveway to be picked up by the bus at the beginning of the school year (before we moved in). We had instructed the kids not to bother the owners and that we would swing by to pick them up. One time, Natalie desperately had to use the bathroom and she ran across the street to Miss Pete’s house. Natalie asked to use the bathroom and, of course, Miss Pete obliged. This started a family friendship that led to many shared gatherings and Thanksgivings together.

This week has been a week of lasts. The last loaf of bread baked in the oven. The last sunrise photo posted on Facebook. The last evening watching a lone Great Blue Heron pacing the lake bank searching for a fish. The last cup of coffee. The last shower. The last walk through the neighborhood. The last post written from my chair looking out at the lake. As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Goodbye, Sweet House – thank you for the memories.

Avoiding the Second Arrow

This is a repost from before COVID-19 and the passing of my father. It still resonates for me and I hope it does for you.

I recently finished Dan Harris’ book, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, wherein the concept of the second arrow came up. This Buddhist parable is explained by Phillip Perry: “In the parable of the arrow, sometimes called the second arrow, you picture yourself walking through a forest. Suddenly, you’re hit by an arrow. This causes you great pain. But the archer isn’t done. Can you avoid the second one? That’s the arrow of emotional reaction. Dodge the second by consciously choosing contemplation. It will help you avoid a lot of suffering.” I’ve been struck by second arrows my whole life. Wow. Wouldn’t it be great to avoid all that suffering?

Here are some ideas on how to avoid that second arrow:

Own it

The first is to realize that it is within you to control the second arrow. You never need to even release the bow. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of should-haves and could-haves. I think of my friend Angie who experienced a horrific car accident several months back. I can imagine that if it was me, I would have beat myself up for not leaving 5 minutes earlier, or working from home that day, or driving in the right lane instead of the left. Acceptance that something bad has happened and not trying to recreate history is the first step. I think of regrets about my now two ex-husbands, all the what if I had never married them? I would, of course, be living in Paris right now writing poetry and living next to the Seine. These day dreams are merely fantasy and have no reality. Getting caught up in the pain of regret is something you can control. Own it and accept it.

Blame Game

The second arrow shows up as self-recrimination for most of us. Our self-talk is far worse than anyone would ever say to your face. What are you telling yourself? I get on the scale and beat myself up for that brownie yesterday and only walking one mile. Can you imagine telling your child, your friend, your co-worker, heck even your enemy, the same thing? “Hey fatso, why did you have the brownie yesterday and only walk a mile?” I didn’t think so. Stop blaming yourself for everything that befalls you. This suffering is not helping you in anyway. It’s not going to change the trajectory you are on. Beating yourself up for losing your job, getting a divorce or losing money on Bitcoin isn’t going to change a thing and it will engulf you in suffering. Get off of the blame game.

Contemplation

There are many ways to get to contemplation. I like the fact that Dan Harris espouses that even one minute of meditation can be helpful. Most people are so afraid they won’t achieve perfection with meditation, yoga, or prayer; that they give up before they even start. There is an expectation that you will be able to empty your mind and sit peacefully for hours without a care in the world. That is unreasonable. That is perfection. I’ve been meditating for years and my head has yet to be empty of thought. So why do it? Because I have been able to control my response. I can discern. When I endure pain of the first arrow, I can respond instead of reacting. Contemplation brings discernment.

Feel the feels

I have learned this in coaching. We need to feel the feeling. We must experience it. Essentially, we must feel the pain of that first arrow fully. Name it (such as rejection, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc.). Experience it fully (such as tightness in my throat, tension in my shoulders, upset stomach, etc.). Don’t numb it out (such as online shopping, drinking, gaming, etc.) or hope it goes away. Phone or grab coffee with a friend. Reflect on the emotion with someone you trust. When you try to go around the feeling, that second arrow takes over. The suffering takes over as you try and escape from the pain of the first arrow. You must go through and feel the feels, instead of trying to go around.

Gratitude

I wrote about my father’s recent medical issues and how he feels so fortunate because he is not as bad off as others. He told me to be grateful that I am in good health. This is the same take away from my friend Angie and her car crash that could have (and was so drastic, it should have) killed her. She is focused on the other driver and grateful that she was not in ICU. Counting your blessings helps you be grateful for what you have instead of looking and comparing what you don’t have (the second arrow). I might want a new car with Bluetooth and defrosting rearview mirrors, but I am grateful for not having a car payment and that my car is running just fine. I don’t need to suffer from the comparison I make with my co-worker and their brand-new ride. Gratitude stops the second arrow from launching.

The second arrow is a choice. I don’t have to experience the second arrow. Realizing that helps diminish the worry and catastrophizing, as I would have done years ago. I’m not perfect and I have been guilty of jumping ahead towards suffering, but it has subsided over time. How can you avoid the second arrow?

Traveling Up Mount Washington

This is a repost from last year before COVID-19, when my boyfriend was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Enjoy.

I spent almost every summer of my childhood in New Hampshire. I can see now how fortunate I was to be either near Lake Winnipesaukee or Dan Hole Pond for much of the summer, rather than in the heat and humidity of Wilmington, Delaware. My father was a schoolteacher and had the summers off to work at Camp DeWitt, which gave my family the opportunity to sail, hike, canoe or swim for endless hours. Mount Washington sits proudly at 6,288 feet in the Presidential Range (various mountains are named after presidents) of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I remember it was always a great landmark, much like the Empire State Building is in Manhattan. I would gauge where I was in relation to Mount Washington. Until a few weeks ago, I had never been on top of that mythical mountain.

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Me on top of Mount Washington and all those rocks!

If you spend most of your childhood summering in New Hampshire, you would figure you would have been to the top of that mountain at least once. The issue is getting to the top of the mountain with the time and money you have allotted to spend.

Here are the various ways up Mount Washington:

Hiking

My boyfriend Roy hiked up Mount Washington on Labor Day weekend while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. When thru-hiking, one must either put up a tent in an authorized spot, like Madison Hut or stay in a hut operated by the AMC, which can cost upwards of $120 (but includes a bunk, dinner and breakfast). One can hike up from the town of Gorham along Tuckerman Ravine Trail, which is 7.9 miles long, up 4,000 feet and is indicated as “strenuous” in all hiking guides. It is referred to as the “rock pile” and takes 8 or more hours to hike. Then, once on top of the mountain (if you manage getting there), you must descend the mountain. Hiking the mountain is only recommended for experienced hikers. Mount Washington has had 137 fatalities since 1849 and it also has some of the most dangerous weather on record. Having supported Roy on his thru-hike, I can tell you that the wind speed, weather and wind gusts varied greatly from hour to hour and elevation to elevation. It has the highest wind velocity ever recorded at any surface weather station at 231 miles an hour. Based on all these stats and my current level of hiking skill, I chose not to hike up Mount Washington. I am in awe of those, like Roy, who have accomplished such a feat.

Railway

Before Roy left on his thru-hike, I imagined meeting up with him, hiking up Mount Washington, and taking the Cog Railway back down. I imagined it. Once the reality of how strenuousness the hike would be set in over the months leading up, I realized what a technical hike it would be scrambling over rocks where every footstep could result in a twisted ankle. The Mount Washington Cog Railway opened in 1868 and travels up to the top of the mountain via cogs, not rails.

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Cog Railway on top of Mount Washington

It’s three hours round trip and is remarkable because the engine is in the back of the train as it pushes the single car (with the aid of cogs) to the top of the mountain. The Appalachian Trail goes over the rack and pinion railway as it meanders through the White Mountains. It is the second steepest rack railway in the world with an average grade of 25% and a maximum of 37.5% (!!!). I ended up not taking the railway but it’s still on my bucket list.

Auto Tour

The road to the top of Mount Washington has been open since 1861. It is a 7.6 miles toll road that has always been privately owned and the road climbs 4,618 feet. When I picked up Roy as he ended his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, I wanted to take the opportunity to go up Mount Washington while I was in New Hampshire. I figured I would drive up the road but, luckily, Roy suggested getting a van tour up the road. The vans that drive up and down the auto road offer rides to thru-hikers, and Roy had taken one of the rides a week or so earlier. He said that the tour was informative and interesting; that if we drove our own car, we would miss some interesting facts. Was I glad we took the tour! It was interesting but as my dad would say, “there was some hairy driving” on the way up the mountain.

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Roy next to the Appalachian Trail and one of the many cairns.

It is scenic and we had a beautiful cloudless day. This only happens about 40 days out of the year on Mount Washington. But hairpin turns above the tree line? Absolutely terrifying. I was squirming as we passed descending cars on the outside lane as the driver pointed out the sights and I prayed with each gesture that he would leave both hands on the wheel. The only ride I can think of that was more terrifying was a bus ride driving up to Machu Picchu. The view at the top? Tremendous. We were so fortunate that we went up on a cloudless day. There were the cairns to mark the Appalachian Trail, the cafeteria and museum to see the back packers and other tourists who took the far easier way to the top. If you have a choice and suffer any acrophobia, be sure to take the van instead of driving yourself.

I’m pretty sure that at least one of my brothers have submitted Mount Washington but I called my mom to confirm if I had been to the top of the mountain before. It was interesting my mom reflected: “Paying to drive to the top of a mountain is not a very Noice thing to do”. There is a reason my parents scrimped and saved and, therefore did not spend money to drive up a mountain, it was to send my brother and me to Ivy League schools. Odds are, it was my first time on top of that mountain. And the views from the top confirm that belief as I know I would have remembered those rock-covered mountains and deep-forbidding notches.