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.

Holiday Series Take 1

I sat in the straight backed, hard wooden pew of the Cathedral and inhaled deeply through my nose so that I could smell the  incense of the Catholic Church. It’s a scent that is familiar to all Catholics and one that I find comforting each time I enter the church. I quietly observed the beauty of this place, my eyes often shifting focus between the cement walls, the large cross in the center of the alter and the lights hanging from the ceiling. I wasn’t here for a Catholic Mass though. 

The audience was silent. Applause were forbidden until intermission. I remained in stillness, thankful to be cut off from the outside world for two hours. One by one the songs were played, each performed by different musicians and conductors who added their own magical touch. Chorus, brass, brass, brass, organs, bagpipes, percussion and a popular high school steel drum band. The music entered my ears, made my body tingle, filled my heart and touched my soul. It was so beautiful and spiritually moving it was almost hypnotic.

For years of my adult life, I find myself feeling grumpy during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Year after year the frustration of shopping, rushing, traffic, retail stores being open on Thanksgiving builds and brings me down because the birth of Jesus Christ in our society is lost to greed. Yes, we exchange Christmas gifts with our family. Yes there was a Santa Claus that came to our house when our kids were little. No, my husband and I do not go over board showering our little darlings with every toy and electronic device their little hearts desire. They get a few things and randomly every few years they get surprised with a Red Ryder Bee Bee Gun type of gift because they are deserving. Before any gift exchange occurs in our home on Christmas morning, the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ is observed and reflected upon.

So how do pull myself out of my pre-holiday funks? I look forward to a series of yearly festive rituals that make me feel good and fill me with holiday cheer. It began in December 2012, when my son was a freshman in high school. With his trombone held high in the air, I saw him march in his first holiday parade with his high school marching band as they escorted Santa Claus in. I wasn’t interested in seeing Santa that day, it was the sight of my son marching and playing holiday music that moved me. Miraculously I captured a perfect image of him marching by us. My son is now a young man who is seven inches taller than that kid in the picture and a freshman in college but that image remains with me on the home screen of my phone as a reminder and since that first parade, my list of yearly holiday rituals has grown.

The concert I attended last night, for a second year in a row was The 13th Annual Holiday Brass Concert, and it has officially begun my holiday season rituals. This post is the first in my Holiday Series. It is my hope that my readers who share similar holiday funks will be inspired by this and find their own rituals that give them a reason to exist during the holiday season.

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.

Binge Watching

Last week, July 9-16 I was on vacation in a mountain lake, surrounded by trees, water and nature. I returned home rested, refreshed and craving an episode of my favorite History Channel series Mountain Men only to find that it’s on a small hiatus and a new episode would not return until July 28. I had to find another vehicle for my head to enter the woods after work when I literally don’t have the time to step foot into them myself. This week, just moments ago I finished binge watching Season 2 of Alone.

If you aren’t familiar with the series Alone below is the premise:

These people are skilled survivalists. Ten people are left in the Vancouver Island Wilderness carrying a backpack filled with 10 approved items of survival gear and some cloths. They are alone with no other human contact left to hunt, fish, build shelter and fire and survive the elements and complete isolation. The prize is 500,000.

For the record I’m not a huge reality show fan. Yes I watched survivor 15 years ago and turned my back on the ridiculousness of it and Jeff Probst within a few seasons. The only other reality show I’ve followed is Top Chef. Top Chef came into our lives when our children were young and our dinner menu was limited and mundane. From Top Chef, my husband and I cultivated a greater appreciation of food and cooking. Since then, we’ve enjoyed cooking together and trying new recipes.

In previous posts to this blog I’ve talked about my new found interest in nature and the outdoors. As my mid forties progresses and my children need me less, it is doubtful this is just a passing phase. Each time I enter the woods I gain knowledge, mental clarity or a visual I didn’t have before I went in. So what I have I gained by watching Season 2 of Alone? Ironically I paid close attention to the survivalists when they talked about and demonstrated basic survival skills I didn’t know before; fire starting, shelter building, fishing, gutting fish, edible plants. Some of the contestants were spiritual, earthy and enjoyable to watch  because their strong connection to nature was obvious and calming in a way. Through their knowledge, skill set and demeanor they became part of the ecosystem of their environment and they knew they belonged there.

I know that I can’t continue to watch reality wilderness shows and expect to find peace. I have to get out there and do. I am a hands on person. I look forward to doing. I just haven’t had the opportunity. So what do I do when I want to learn something? I buy the book, I read, I do. Right after I finished watching the final episode I purchased a book Wilderness Survival For Dummies and a book about trees and wildflowers in the Maryland and DC Area. I look forward to what awaits me inside these books, learning and doing.