Walking in Silence

I follow this couple on Instagram that is currently thru hiking the Appalachian Trail. Recently in one of their blog posts, they discussed how they had a decision to make about an aspect of their lives off the trail and how they were having difficulty making the decision. They chose to walk in silence and ultimately the decision came to them. Their practice of silence resonated with me and I couldn’t wait to hit my favorite hiking trail so I could walk in silence.

I am currently studying The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. The first law, The Law of Pure Potentiality is based on the fact that we are in our essential state, pure consciousness. Pure consciousness is pure potentiality, the field of all possibilities and infinite creativity. In order to practice The Law of Pure Potentiality, one must practice silent meditation, commune with nature and perfect non judgement.

Even though I’ve been out walking here and there as the weather gets warmer, today my husband I went hiking for the first time since January 30, 2017. I told my husband that I was going to practice the Law of Pure Potentiality and walk in silence today. We agreed to hike our own hikes at our own pace and meet up later. As I began to walk in silence, I wondered what I would discover during my silent hike. Instinctively, I found myself pausing to look through the tall trees up at the beautiful clear blue, cloudless sky wishing I could stay in the woods all day. There were birds happily chirping. I spotted a butterfly and stopped to observe two deer running across the trail. I witnessed the presence of spring in the woods. There are green buds on trees and in the grass and I came across a patch of pretty little blue flowers. I heard the sounds of my own footsteps; my boots making a crunching sound when I walk on gravel and small rocks or a hollow sound when I walked over dirt. I listened carefully to birds chirping and stopped to sit on a log on top of an elevation so I could look at and listen to the flowing river below me. It was heaven right here on earth.

The winter was hard on my asthma this year. From February through mid March, I completed two rounds of antibiotics and steroids. I’d find myself short of breath walking up steps, walking too fast, walking a block in the cold and wind, or even carrying my patient’s heavy belongings to a locker. It was scary and discouraging and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to tolerate hiking again.

Also through my silence I was able to focus on reclaiming my hiking body. I hiked with my new trekking poles for the first time today and the rhythm of walking with two poles came easily. I focused on controlling my breathing. Because I was alone, I stopped when I needed to catch my breath when I hiked on higher elevations and I reassured myself that getting my heart ticking a little faster and becoming winded because of a higher elevation was a good thing. To my surprise, I hiked five miles today and did just fine. I can’t wait to hit the trail again. I was silent for three hours and I cherished every minute of it. 

There is so much to gain through silence. It’s different for everyone. I don’t have to tell you because once you do it, you’ll know. Close your mouth and open your eyes and ears. Turn off your phone. Turn off the television and radio. Close the book. Be with nature. Watch the sunset. Walk in the woods. Be silent. Just be. Try it. You won’t regret it.

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Random Ideas are the Best

Today was awesome. Like totally. I took a chance on something random and what I got in return was priceless.

The trail has been calling me for weeks. It calls me when I drive by woods. It calls me when I watch You Tube videos of other people’s long distance hikes. It calls me when I research gear for my own long distance hike. It calls me when I dream of doing my first long distance hike. It calls me in the sun. It calls me in the rain. It calls me when the sun rises. It calls me when it snows. It’s always there. It asks me to check out and come into the woods. I’ve heard the calls but I couldn’t answer them. I couldn’t go to the trail. Instead I’d look out the window at the trees in the valley behind our house and just sigh. I had plenty of excuses. All valid yet torturous. Too many activities in one weekend. Bad weather. Run down. Take your pick.

As of last night, the plan for today was to get up before sunrise and hike my favorite trail with my husband at the state park near our house. We’d come home and I, the Sicilian mother would make a pot of “sauce” per my son’s request. Scratch the plan. The Universe had better things in store for us. Late last evening, my daughter received a call from her best friend who’d moved away in December. Her friend was in town for only one night and had a random change of plans. She wanted to spend the night with us. That random change of plans set things in motion to change my plans.

Plan B: get up, make the family breakfast, hike, come home and cook sauce. My daughter’s friend was going to be picked up at 0745. I wanted to make the kid a nice breakfast because my daughter misses her so much. Before I got out of bed, I scanned my email and found an invitation for a “meet up” hike.

A few months ago, I’d signed up on this “meet up” website. I’d hope to get into a hiking group to explore other trails in my area. Unfortunately I’ve had schedule conflicts and haven’t been able to attend any of them. On a whim, I took a random chance, and decided to try a meet up hike, thus changing my plans again.

Plan C: I cooked my sauce while I was making my family Belgian Waffles and then my husband and I met this hiking group at 12 noon at a different state park than we usually hike. This meet up was called, “Meditation Coffee Hike”. Well now those buzz word certainly sparked my interest! What more could I ask for in a hike?

There were seven of us, including the organizer. The organizer was a wellness coach of some sort. We all made our introductions and we were on our way. He was in shape but I quickly learned that he was not the hard core hiker that I want to be when I grow up. The purpose of this hike was walking meditation. The hike itself was exactly what the doctor ordered for me. Physical and spiritual. Plenty of uphills, downhills, streams to cross and logs to jump over. The scenery was gorgeous and the conversation stimulating. At the halfway mark we stopped at a waterfall, sat and meditated for ten minutes. It was the perfect place to “be”. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience today.

The quieter you become, the more you can hear. “-Ram Dass

 

 

 

#OptOutside

The sound of passing cars slowly fades as I put one foot in front of the other and settle into my hike. My head moves from side to side as I observe my surroundings. Fallen branches, dry leaves of all colors on the ground, bare trees , the faint smell of pine needles, and the sound of my boots hitting the dirt. I am so thankful to be here. It has been 37 days since I last entered these woods and although I’ve hiked this trail many times, each hike is different. I have to pay more attention to the trail because the leaves cover the path. The woods feel eerie today. The bare trees stand at attention in the absence of a breeze. The river is low and looks more like a pond than a river. The sky is gloomy gray  and there’s only 2 more hours of daylight left giving me the feeling of urgency and excitement to hike through these woods before dark.

My children’s Christmas lists are to my left as I type this. This is the same spot they place their lists each year. They are teenagers and no longer believe in Santa. I shop from their list and throw in a few surprise things too. Today is Black Friday. I don’t do malls on Black Friday not ever. I’d end up on the 6PM news with the headline of “Nurse went shit house crazy because the mall was too crowded and people were in her personal space”. With that said, I usually begin my online shopping on Black Friday and do at least 90% of my holiday shopping online.

I’ve had a busy fall and I’m finally starting to feel grounded again. In addition to the person who is making one aspect of my life hell, I attended 11 consecutive weekends of college and high school marching band events for my kids. I have no regrets and I am so very proud of my kids but constant motion without downtime on the weekends wears me out. Last Friday with the help of a committee, I executed a successful major fundraiser for the non profit organization that I volunteer for. Last Saturday my butt found the couch. I’ve managed to maintain my sanity through this long 12 weeks but barely. Today I decided to reclaim myself and my inner peace and strength. REI, the Outdoor Gear retail store that my husband and I frequent, remained closed today so their employees and customers could “Opt Outside” and spend the day outside instead of shopping or working. Instead of a day of online shopping, I went hiking.

Recently, I watched a National Geographic Documentary about when Long Distance Hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis hiked the Appalachian Trail in 46 days in 2011, setting a speed hiker record.  What resonated most for me was when she referred to hiking by stating, “There’s something very healing about the physical forward motion” and goes on to say “what makes hiking unique is the cadence and rhythm of moving through nature at two to three miles per hour, which is a pace at which you can really appreciate things. It gives you time and especially space to think, to process the big questions in life”.  In a nutshell that is why I hike and will continue to hike.

It is now 9PM. My belly is full and my legs and buns are sore, reminding me of the perfect hike I had today. I’m about to declare it “pajama time” and I just refused to go buy a refrigerator with my husband so it is doubtful I will get to any online Black Friday Shopping this evening. I don’t care. I opted out. I went hiking.

Why Adult?

Why adult when you can go hiking? I am hiking as we speak. I am sitting in the woods on a log as I draft this in my journal. A lady and her two dogs just passed by me on the trail. She gave me a puzzled look as if she wondered why I was sitting on a log writing in a notebook. Hasn’t she ever seen a writer trying to get her thoughts on paper?

Aside from a few minor annoyances at work Monday and Tuesday, I’m having a decent week so far. Monday afternoon my surgeon was running two hours behind. As I walked down the hall past my patient’s room on my way to the desk I heard my patient’s simple assed family member summon me. “HEY MISS, she’s hungry when is the surgery”. I froze. I felt as if I was in a torture chamber room listening to someone repeatedly scrape their fingernails down a chalkboard. I despise being called miss really I do. I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and turned around to walk into the room. “Nurse, you mean”, I replied. Now I know that woman knows I’m a nurse because I introduced myself as her daughter’s nurse when I went to the waiting room to retrieve her. I apologized to the patient for the delay and explained the situation, which I had no control over. I turned around and left the room having felt like all of the empathy had been sucked out.

Yesterday I was pulled to a preop unit to preop the patients of a surgeon who’s types of patients I simply don’t enjoy taking care of. Unfortunately while I was at lunch, one of my coworkers was screamed at by my patient’s mother, demanding pain medication for her son as he demonstrated drug seeking behavior. So the surgeon came to consent the patient, I got a pain medication order for something “extra stronger” than he takes at home and all was right in their world, but not in mine. Sometimes even something as small as being called “miss” and being yelled at by a drug seeker take their toll on a nurse’s humanity.

So here I am in the woods on my day off. I have adulting to do today but it’s going to have to wait until being in the woods has cleared my head and re-energized me. I’ll be busy this evening and tomorrow evening with something at my daughter’s school. If it doesn’t get done today, it wasn’t meant to be. With one kid in college marching band and the other kid in high school marching band I make it a top priority to hit the trail during my weekdays off because there’s no guarantee I’m going to have time on the weekends in the fall.

My husband and I look forward to hiking longer and different trails in the future but right now it will have to wait. My daughter is a freshman in high school and in her first year of marching band. It has been a thrill to see the experience and all of the firsts through her eyes. Her beautiful clear blue eyes that look as blue as a Caribbean Sea when she puts on that navy blue uniform. She’s so happy and we are at her marching band events, we are there with her, in the now and not on the trail.

The Appalachian Trail continues to call for us and remains part of our subconscious minds though. Whether it be day hike, a section hike or a thru hike, we want it all. We do research, read trail journals and I’ve read several books about people who have thru hiked. Now is not the time for us to thru hike but we will have time to section hike soon. Our kids need us. It’s ok.

On a positive note, I’ve learned a few things about myself as a hiker. I’ve learned that I need to eat and hydrate after each three miles I hike. I’m learning to use a compass. I’ve learned that I can carry more weight on my back than I originally thought I could. I’ve learned to follow a trail alone and how to find the trail again if I wander off trail to look at something. I’ve learned to hike my hike and enjoy my hike. I try so hard to let time limits go when I am in the woods. When I leave the woods my mind is in a much happier place.

 

 

 

Sunday Spiritual Bliss

This morning I sipped my coffee in my sun room. The sliding glass door was partially open and the curtains are dancing to a gentle breeze that passes through. Outside the sky is gloomy grey and the ground is still wet from all the rain we’ve had recently.

It would have been a perfect morning to go hiking. I pictured myself entering the woods just after dawn, inhaling through my nostrils the smell of the wet earth, the trees and plants and the river. I’d think to myself there’s no other place I’d rather be. The fact that I couldn’t get into the woods this morning made me feel like an animal being held in captivity. To me, going into the woods, in addition to exercise and walking in nature, is spiritual. I learn something each time I go in and come out uplifted and re-energized.

Today though, I had other obligations that kept me out of the woods and I’m extremely grateful for the experience. My daughter is on year two of a two year preparation for The Sacrament of Confirmation. Next May, my mother will stand behind my daughter, as her sponsor while the Bishop anoints my daughter’s forehead with Chrism, the oil used in Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. Confirmation for a Catholic means the Catholic will spend the rest of their lives as a Catholic.

Last year, my daughter was invited to join our church’s youth band. She graciously accepted the invitation to serve God through her music. The youth band performs on holidays and special occasions for the Parish and fills in during the 11AM Contemporary Mass when the Adult Contemporary Band is away. There are two flutes, two guitars, two vocalists, a pianist, a violinist, a percussionist and my daughter the trumpet girl. Imagine this group of 8th, 9th and 10th graders all from different schools playing music for our Lord in a full hour Catholic Mass! They play like professional musicians. Today’s mass was no different. In a Catholic Mass, after the Gospel is read, the Priest discusses the Gospel reading in his sermon. Today’s Gospel, Luke 17:5-10 discusses how God expects us to go above and beyond the minimum of what’s expected of us. The Youth Band was a fine example of meeting God’s expectations. Between the Priest’s sermon and the Youth Band’s music, I left church in a state of spiritual bliss. I couldn’t have been more thankful, more energized and spiritually uplifted.

The added bonus was after Mass, Father reminded us to bring our pets to the church parking lot at 5PM to celebrate The Feast of Saint Francis Assisi, the Patron Saints of Animals. My daughter and I happily brought our poodle. There were dogs, cats, and even a chicken and a goat! The Priest said a prayer and then walked around and sprinkled holy water on our animals. Yes, my dog was blessed with holy water. Yes he was. After a short visit with other members of the Parish, we returned home with our newly blessed dog, who’s been a blessing to our family and our home for over four years. The woods will be waiting for me on Thursday.

Hearing the Call

Life happens. If we open our minds and follow our hearts we will allow synchronicity to occur for us and lead us to people, places and experiences we might not have imagined ourselves in as our adult lives began.

In recent months, through a series of my own synchronicities, I have heard the trail calling me. The trail meaning any trail I choose to hike. I approached it with cautious baby steps at first but now I enter it with confident great strides. I belong there. It welcomes me, embraces me and shows me it’s true beauty each time I visit. It’s a necessity for me now. For inner peace, for inspiration and for exercise.

I hiked my favorite trail today. Blue to red to blue to orange to blue. The woods were wet from the heavy rains we had last night and I could smell the earth. There was no humidity or bugs, a plus. My eyes are always scanning the scenery as I hike along looking for anything I haven’t seen in a previous hike.  Although I know my landmarks, it always looks different to me. I haven’t seen any deer in the last three hikes I’ve taken but today I saw five! For as hard as I look for them, poof all of a sudden they just appear as if something is pointing my head right in their direction. They stand still as we make eye contact. If the breeze blows their way, I can see their nose lifting slightly into the air and I know they have inhaled my scent. I stand there for as long as they’ll tolerate it without them getting spooked and running off. I whisper to them. I tell them how beautiful they are and that I promise I will never shoot them. I thank them for visiting with me and when they finally run off, I continue on.

My husband and I have future hikes on different trails planned. These hikes are baby steps leading to great strides and longer distance hiking. We have a pretty cool date scheduled for 7PM on September 9, 2016, We will visit our local sporting good store to attend a class entitled “Planning Your Appalachian Trail Hike”. Yes I said it. The Appalachian Trail. It’s calling me and I can’t ignore it. I won’t ignore it. Our plan is to hike the 41 mile Maryland Section of the Appalachian Trail over four days in the fall of 2020 after we’ve both turned 50. I’d love to as my brother says “check out and hike the entire trail” but I know now is not the time for that. Why hike the Maryland section in 2020 and not now? Because our second child, our daughter will be a freshman in college and she says she’s “so going away to school”. Our son will have graduated college that spring. We’ll be empty nesters who won’t be committed to a high school marching band season for the first time in eight years. We’ll be 50. It will be our time to redefine who we are in a new phase of life and give something back to ourselves. Why not strip technology and comforts away for a few days in the wilderness to do that?

Four years seems like a long time but it really isn’t. My daughter’s time in high school will fly by probably faster than my son’s did. There’s much to learn and much hiking to do to prepare our bodies for a long distance hike like that. One thing is for sure: Each hike I take is one step closer to the Appalachian Trail.

Hiking Through

The Appalachian Trail is only something that has recently entered my subconscious mind. I’d heard people mention it but never really gave it another thought because I was unaware of it’s significance. One day while we hiking our favorite trail, my husband told me about this couple he knew of when we were in our 20’s (friends of a friend)  who were going to take several months off to hike the Appalachian Trail right after they got married. They’d spent months planning, preparing, buying gear and taking practice hikes. Four months before their wedding, the groom dumped the bride and the hike was cancelled.

Curious about the significance of the Appalachian Trail I decided to look for a book.  I downloaded a book onto my nook entitled “Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on The Appalachian Trail” by Paul V. Stutzman. The author of this book tells the story of how he lost his wife to cancer. After his wife died he continued to work at the restaurant he’d spent his entire career at until he realized he couldn’t do it anymore. In just two months he planned his hike and headed to Georgia to do the Georgia to Maine 2176 mile 300 mountain hike on the Appalachian Trail. His reason for this hike was to work through his grief and find his purpose again.

The author openly discussed his wife’s illness, his childhood, past and his regrets. He’s a deeply religious man and his relationship with God was a strong influence throughout this experience. In the book he stated that hiking the AT “mirrored his spiritual journey” as he sought out the gift of hope and new life. His descriptions of nature, the people he encountered along the way, the culture of the AT, his struggles on the trail, what he learned and his conversations with God left me feeling fulfilled when he completed the AT hike. I read this book last week. I loved it and absolutely could.not.put.it.down. It made me feel good and gave me great admiration for those who have hiked through the AT.

Spiritual Journey? Physical Challenge? Long distance hike? Nature? Count me in! I’m putting this on my bucket list. I told my husband about this book and asked him if he’d be interested in hiking the AT. He quickly said yes. I don’t know how or when this will materialize for us but I do know the universe will present it to us at the appropriate time. Until then, it’s research and lots of practice hikes. I’ll be in the woods if anyone is looking for me.