Embrace the Suck!

Grapeyard Ridge/Baskin Creek Trail 8/5 and 8/6, 2017

This is a term that is well known on the Appalachian Trail for thru-hikers….Embrace the Suck!  That’s because so much of the trail is hard to do, uphill, strenuous, exhausting, etc.  Well, I was reminded of this on Saturday when I started the Grapeyard Ridge Trail. Several days before the hike, I asked our fearless leader (Mr. D.)  if he thought I was capable of such a “moderate” hike as it is labeled, and he said, “The question for you is whether 7 miles with a backpack is still too much at this point? Or are you willing to go for it and see what happens?”  To me that sounded like a challenge….well, challenge accepted!  I should have known better….but wait, there’s more….

So my friend, Eventually, (this is her trail name), gets to my house to ride with me.  I am pretty excited about it, but nervous as well.  I have meticulously planned, coordinated, researched the hike, my gear, printed my permit, packed, repacked and packed my backpack again trying to cut out any extras that might save some weight because you want as light a pack as you can have.  I think mine weighed about 30 pounds which is way too heavy.  I am feeling okay about my pack when I remember I hadn’t even added my food or water to the pack….there is a few more pounds.  We get all of our stuff together and head off.

On the way to the trailhead, I am looking at my phone trying to figure out where we are going to turn when I look in my rear-view mirror and see a police officer with his lights on in the far distance.  I said, “I think he might be after me.”  Sure enough, I was speeding, but there was nowhere to pull off.  He came right up behind me and turned on his sirens now, so I pulled right over on the road, got out my license and registration and prepared myself.  I had no idea what the speed limit was.  I hadn’t been to Gatlinburg in years, and honestly I was looking at my phone at Google maps.  I know it’s wrong, but I thought I was paying attention.  He said, “Do you have any idea how fast you were going?”  I said, “No, sir.” because I didn’t know.  Well, I was going 60 in a 35!  Yup, that’s right.  I had not been pulled over by anyone in so many years, I was completely flustered and bracing myself for the worst.  I deserved it.  I even held up my phone and explained that I was looking at Google maps, not the speed limit, which is even worse.  I wasn’t going to lie to him, so there you go.  He then went into helper mode and told us where the trailhead would be and told me to have a nice day.  HAVE A NICE DAY!  I couldn’t believe it.  I haven’t even gotten to the trail yet, and I have already had so much adrenaline pumping, it was ridiculous.  I learned my lesson and drove about 20 miles per hour the rest of the way…  SOOOOO GRATEFUL!!!

So that was how I started my hike….jump forward and we get to the trailhead and I have to pee.  Well, I better get used to going in the woods for the next 24 hours so why not start now.  It wasn’t that bad, and I had meticulously planned for all types of scenarios for that as well.  All set and here we go!  It quickly breaks up into the fast group and the slow group.  Mr. D. is our trail sweep and our teacher as well, and he hikes the whole way with us, one patient step at a time.  Seven miles pretty much straight up the first day and three or so miles the next day.  It was roughly 500 feet per mile incline which is really steep (at least for me and my unconditioned legs, lungs and body), and we were hauling ourselves up there at about one mile per hour…yes, you heard correctly one mile per hour….SEVEN-ish VERY LONG HOURS LATER….we reached our destination at Campsite 32!!!  Literally thought I was going to die…seriously!!!

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Before the pain…

Now, let me paint you a little picture of those seven miles….First of all, we see a bear first thing walking off in the distance.  Then not one mile in I step in a very large pile of bear poo.  Nice.  Got so nauseated from the ascent that I nearly puked several times, got multiple charlie horses so bad that my hiking buddy had to rub my knee from spasming so badly.  Every few feet having to stop to breathe and quit sucking wind, with constant (and I mean), constant encouragement from our teacher not to quit, keep going, you can do this, I was there where you are, etc. etc.!  I was so exhausted and sore I almost cried several times.  I really ruminated about how nice it might be if I could just lay down and have a bear come drag me off and eat me.  Seriously!!!  It would be cheaper than a helicopter picking my ass off the side of a mountain, and I just didn’t care!

So seven and a half hours later, we had climbed seven miles….yes, 7 miles!!!!  OMG!!!!  I was beyond exhausted.  I was having charlie horses in my knees, legs, and ankles – yes, I said ankles.  Have you ever had a charlie horse in your ankle?  Well, it ain’t pretty!  I was dehydrated, had a headache, and I couldn’t even eat.  I laid in my tent and fantasized about being home wondering what the heck I was doing.  I couldn’t wait to get home.  I laid there for about an hour and finally started doing some stretches in my tent and got up, ate a little bit of food and drank a little water, and I started to feel a little better.  Everyone else seemed to be doing just fine and having a great time.  I just sat there and tried to think positive even though I was wondering what kind of craziness my life had spiraled into.

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My wonderful tent!

As the night progressed I started to feel even better and I finally did some yoga, took some Vitamin I (ibuprofen), and sat around an awesome campfire.  We listened to stories and adventures and it was beautiful.  We had wonderful weather, a full bright moon, and cicadas singing really loudly.  As we wound down the night, Mr. D. told us to gather round the fire for the traditional “thorns, roses, and buds”.  This is a tradition where you tell your experience of the day: thorns = what was bad, roses = what was good, buds = what you are looking forward to.  Okay, so I know what you are thinking.  But by this time, I had a little bit better attitude and some time to think and gather myself.  Thorns for me, of course, was the fact that my pack was too heavy.  I was too heavy, and I was hurting…duh…no-brainer, but the rose was the fact that I had a great teacher and an encouraging friend to help me up the mountain; to never give up, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  And the bud was that I now knew my limits and what I needed to work on, how I need to train, and that I need to find the Middle Path.  Another thing that was really awesome was that Mr. D. said that I was his rose for the day because I didn’t give up, and I was an example of what it means to keep going even when you think you can’t.  That meant so much to me!  He said that I would be a future story to someone else who was struggling with whether or not they could do this.

So off to bed…well, literally I pretty much passed out.  I only woke up once, but I slept really well.  I woke up very, very sore.  I could hardly move.  I didn’t want to get up.  I didn’t want to eat but I did, and I tried to drink as much water as I could.  We had about 3.5 miles out of the backcountry and we were informed that the first mile out was straight up and then it would be all downhill.  All I could think about was getting home.  Oh, yeah, and I didn’t mention we had about 8-10 small river crossings…yeah! That was fun, but it just slowed me down.  I was on a mission.  I wanted to get home.  I was tired, sore and now I was hungry.

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Whooped!

We had been told that a good steady hiking pace was about three miles per hour, so I asked Mr. D. to show me what that looked like because I wanted to hit that speed at least for a few seconds on the descent.  When I finally reached that pace, I thought to myself how cool it would be if one day I could catch the fast group who I knew was probably at least 30 minutes ahead of us, but it was a fleeting thought.  The next thing I know we come to a river, and I look up and there is the fast group.  We had actually caught them based on my pace.  I was pretty excited because every time we hit a flat spot on the way down, he would encourage me to pick up my pace.  It only lasted for a few seconds, but then the fast group was gone again.  I didn’t care.  That was the highlight of my trip, and I was on cloud nine.  The rest of the way down the mountain went pretty fast, and I was never so excited to get in a vehicle and be headed home in my life.

I know it doesn’t sound like I had that much fun, and I wouldn’t say it was fun.  It was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life, but the sense of accomplishment that I have is pretty great!  I know what I need to work on.  I have new goals, and I also picked up a lot of new skills for the backcountry.  Even though it was extremely difficult for me, I still want to go back.  I want to work up to that, be smarter about my hikes, reduce the pack weight, reduce my weight, and work even harder on it.  Once I make my mind up, I don’t give up easily.  I still love nature.  I still love the quietness of the forest, and I always will.  It’s my temple.

A very dear friend of mine asked me when I got back and she saw how sore I was and how hard it was for me to move, “What got you into hiking?”  I told her it was the solitude, the quiet, being in nature, and just really getting away from it all, and that still holds true.  I love it back there.  And the more I do it, the better I will get.  To me, the mountain is a metaphor for so much of my life…life is hard.  It is a lot of uphill with bumps, twists, turns, roots, rocks, snakes, bears, and so much more.  It hurts and sometimes you want to quit and give up, but I don’t.  And when you reach your destination, what you have accomplished feels so good, makes you feel stronger, and lets me know that I am way more capable of things than I think I am.  This is the mountain.  This is life!  This is hiking, and that’s why I Embrace the Suck!

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NEVER GIVE UP!!!

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Happiness Doesn’t Exist!

Sermon given on 10/25/16

Image result for happiness and flowers

I was so honored when Rev. McKee asked me to talk to you this morning about happiness.  To be honest, I was nervous, too – especially when I decided to call my sermon, “Happiness Doesn’t Exist.”  So let me ask you…How do YOU define happiness?  Is it money?  Is it a big house or a fancy trip to exotic places?  Is it family?  Is it health and well-being?  What is it?

From a Zen perspective, happiness doesn’t exist. You can’t go buy happiness.  You can’t order happiness on Amazon and have it shipped to your house.  You can’t pick up happiness.  You can’t borrow it from someone else.  Happiness is an inside job.  It comes from within oneself, our own Buddha nature, our true self.

I have been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say to all of you about happiness, and I have thought of all the different Zen aspects that apply to this topic.  I have written this talk over many different times trying to get it just right and say just the right thing, but that is not really how I do things.  I have to do them from a feeling place.  I have to speak from my heart.  What it really boils down to for me is perspective.  When I was younger, I was a pretty angry young adult.  I felt that there was a lot of injustice in the world.  I wanted to make things right and change people.  I wanted to bang my drum and stomp my feet.  I thought if I threw enough fits, yelled the loudest, protested the most, people would change their ways.  What I really wanted was for everyone to think like I did.  I thought I was right.  I always thought I was right; that my way was the only way, and if you didn’t see it my way, well, then you were narrow-minded, close minded, or better yet, you were down right wrong.  My perspective was very messed up, and the truth is I didn’t love myself.  I didn’t think I was good enough, so I overcompensated in other areas.  I never looked outside myself.  I never put myself in someone else’s shoes.  I never thought about how it was for anybody else, what their life was like, how they grew up, what their belief systems were; that there might be more than one way to look at things.  My mind was so closed to anything else, it just didn’t matter.  The world had done me wrong.  The world was wrong.  Poor me.  I was angry and very, very unhappy.

Material things didn’t make me happy.  Money didn’t make me happy.  Happiness didn’t exist for me at least not the way I thought it should.  I wanted to make myself happy by changing my surroundings, changing people.  I was looking outside myself for happiness.  People who agreed with me might have made me somewhat happy, but nothing really changed my heart until my perspective on life and the way things are.. changed.  And believe me this did not happen overnight.  It has taken me a long time to make the decision to change and to work on myself.  Some of it has come with age, but a lot of it has come with a willingness to want to feel happy, to bring happiness to others, and to show my children happiness.  I have to be willing to change.  I had to work for it.  I didn’t wake up one morning and boom I was happy.  Bad things still happen and there is still suffering. Life keeps on going.  People die.  People get sick.  People lose jobs, people move away.  Things in life change, and there is nothing I can do about that.  I can’t change other people, but what I recognized was I don’t need to change other people.  All I need to worry about is myself.  I need to work on me.  I need to focus on how I can make myself better, because if I don’t love myself, take care of myself, learn to be happy myself, how can I help anyone else?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a famous Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, would say that we have to water the seeds of happiness.  This means I have to work at being happy.  I have to do things that bring happiness to me and my life, and to others, but he would also say being able to enjoy happiness doesn’t require that we have zero suffering.  It just means that my perspective on how I deal with any given situation is up to me.  I am not saying that we have to smile all the time or “act” like nothing is wrong when it is.  I am saying part of having a happy life in general for me is to honor my feelings, no matter what they are, when they come up.  It’s about being present in the moment and trying to learn how not to live in the past or project about the future.  It’s about right here, right now.  It’s about learning to be awake to this very precious moment that is all I have.

Rev. McKee said in the first sermon at the beginning of the semester, “we only have to recognize the gift and see it as good and respond to it.”  Recognizing it is the key here, and it made me think of the Bible verse from John 13:34, where Simon Peter and Jesus were talking.  Jesus said, “A new command I give you:  Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  Simon Peter said in response:  “Lord, where are you going?”  One could say or argue that Simon was not in the moment perhaps; that he didn’t even realize that Jesus just gave him a fabulous, awesome new commandment….to love one another.  He was worried about where he was going and completely missed the point.  He didn’t recognize the gift.

A Buddhist story along these same lines is the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha.  He said absolutely nothing in this sermon.  All he did was hold up a single flower and waited and waited and waited.  Everyone was trying to figure out why the Buddha was not saying anything….except one, Mahakasyapa.  All he did was look at the Buddha and smile.  The Buddha knew at that moment that he understood, and that he was the only one that understood.  It was about being in that particular moment fully awake and recognizing that there was nothing else but the Buddha holding up a flower.

Being present and awake to this moment with loving kindness toward myself and others, I believe, is the cornerstone of happiness.  When I am able to apply this to my life, with attention to this moment, I believe this is when I am the most happy.  Recognizing the absolute energy of right now is pretty huge.  Smiling to someone else and really smiling to their heart, meaning it.  Helping anyone I see that I can if they need it.  Being grateful for every.. little.. thing, my children, my family, friends, my breath, my health, a job, food, clothes.  I could go on and on.  These things may seem little to some, but I am truly, truly grateful for every one of those things.

I believe we are all one big sentient family, and if I have loving kindness at the center of my actions towards my fellow Earthlings and practice this with as much skill as I can, I believe this will bring me happiness and my family, and for others.  I believe that is the Zen of happiness….everyday life with loving kindness, filling our lives with love.  Do I do this all the time, definitely not!  But being open to the fact that I don’t have to live in negativity all the time and that I have a choice.  I can be miserable and negative all the time or I can try to be positive and uplifting.  I can open my heart and mind.  I don’t have to create opposites with my opinions. I can make amends when I do something wrong.  There is no “us” and “them”.  There is just us.  I can put it all down and just ask, “how may I help you?”

It hurts me to see all the anger, hatred, and negativity in the world today, and quite honestly I know that I cannot fix the world’s problems by any stretch, but what I can change is myself.  I can be as happy a person as I can.  I can work on myself, better myself, spread love wherever possible.  I can help my fellow family which is each one of us whenever and wherever possible.  I can always, always choose LOVE!  It’s like a ripple effect.  It starts with me and ripples out to my family, my street, my community, my country, the world.  It’s about building bridges, not tearing them down.  It’s about not creating opposites, not knee-jerk reacting to every little thing.  It’s about finding similarities.  We all want to be happy.  All of us do not want to suffer.  We are all one.  We are interdependent on this planet with everyone and everything else, and it’s up to each one of us to be LOVE.  I aspire to be this.  I want to be Love, and when I am not, I won’t give up.  I will try harder the next time because I believe happiness is on the path of love.  Imagine if we all looked at everyone, every sentient being, as a member of our family that we loved and cherished.  Just imagine that for a moment!

This summer I had the honor and privilege of seeing His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama, with my Great Teacher and his wife.  This was truly a bucket-list moment for me.  His message was, WE ARE ONE…we are all brothers and sisters on this rock…all sentient beings matter! His main message, of course, was love.  It takes a strong and courageous heart to love those who are not very lovable.  That is the only thing that will work in the long run. Stand taller and rise above all the stuff that only brings people down. His Holiness said it doesn’t matter what your faith is as long as love and compassion are at the core. He said you have to be determined to BE love.  “Happiness is not something ready-made.  It comes from your own actions.”

So if no one has told you today that they love you, then I will.  I love you all.  Peace, love and happiness, Everyone!!!

 

Emmitt

So on May 25th, 2016, at 6:39 p.m. my world got even fuller.  My grandbaby, Emmitt, or as he is also known as (My G-baby, my Squishy baby, Grunty Baby or “him’s the tootest!”) was born!  Words really can’t describe what it’s like to be a Grammie, but I’m going to try.  He is the perfect blend of my son, Ethan, and his momma, Ashley.   They are great parents who love that little one so much!  They are handling their new roles like champs and with a great deal of ease, maturity, and poise.  I am so proud of them.  You know, it’s such an amazing thing to have children, to know that “this little human” is a part of you, but then when you get handed your grandbaby, well, that is a whole new level of life and awesomeness!!!  It’s legacy!  It’s spectacular!  I didn’t really know what that love was until that moment.  I remember getting the text from my son saying he was here, and I could come upstairs to see him for the first time.  I literally jumped up out of my seat and yelled in the middle of the hospital lobby.  It’s surreal.  The absolute two best days of my life happened on October 24, 1993, and October 20, 2005, when MY two babies were born.  But now I get to add a third best day, May 25, 2016.  Ten pounds, 14 ounces and 23 inches of the sweetest, most precious, most cuddly, preciousness ever!  I already have my next tattoo planned!  I love you, Emmitt!

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First Noble Truth

So last night I had a dream. There was no movie to the dream. There were no pictures. It was just the simple dialog of the Four Noble Truths with a huge emphasis on Number 1. Life is suffering! That’s it. Pretty simple. Why did this happen to me? Why do I feel the way I do? Why is it that every time I….how come animals are tortured and abused? Why do people suffer endless pain all over the world? Why are we destroying our planet for future generations? Why are people mean? Why? Why? Why?…..well, because the First Noble Truth is FACT!!!!! That’s why. Nothing else really. You cannot escape the First Noble Truth…Life is suffering. There is suffering. You cannot pretend that it is not there, and you cannot get away from that fact. I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe. It doesn’t matter what your faith is. It doesn’t matter if you have a faith or not, you are going to suffer, period.

Now, the good news is we have two, three and four. There could be an end to it if I choose, and there is a path that tells me how to end suffering, which for me I believe is my life’s journey, so it’s all a learning curve basically. But for some reason last night in my dream, the only thing that kept repeating itself over and over was that Number 1 exists, and there is nothing I can do about the fact that it exists. I can work my whole life to help to stop it, but it still exists nonetheless. Then as I was waking up, it turned into I need to make this into a tattoo somehow and then in my mind it turned into the fact that I need to make a collage or painting with this in mind. Other than that, the truth is, next time I ask why me, the answer is because the First Noble Truth exists and is in place regardless of what I think about it. Acceptance, right? Now on with 2, 3, and 4…..especially 4….the Noble Eightfold Path which outlines exactly what I need to do to help stop Number 1 for me. Pretty exciting awareness for so early in the morning don’t you think?

My blog…

So why am I blogging? Really, I am not totally sure yet, but I think I need to say stuff. I have a lot of ideas about what I am “supposed” to say and how my blog should look, but really it’s about stepping off the edge and diving in, being vulnerable and letting others in. It’s about saying what’s on my mind and saying it not for approval, but because it’s part of my creative nature. It’s about helping and sharing.  It’s not about if someone likes it or not, because quite frankly there is a lot I have to say that a lot of people probably won’t like, but I can’t write for them. I have to get out what I want my legacy to be, my fingerprint on this life, what my children will someday look at and say to themselves, “Wow! my mom was pretty kick-ass.” My grandbabies will hopefully say, “I wish I could have met her” or “Can I hang a piece of her art in my room, Dad? What? She made jewelry, too, and she was vegan?  That is way cool.”

Yeah, I am vegan. I could write an entire book on my food journey, but I won’t because how way boring is that? Let’s just say I WILL write about veganism and animals…that’s just who I am.

I am also a Zen Buddhist in seminary studying to be a priest. That’s a huge part of my life and my journey.

I am an artist. I make stuff. I paint. I decorate. I do murals. I create. I love to create all sorts of things, and I guess this blog is just another outlet for creativity.

But most importantly, I am a mother. This is one of the main reasons I was put on this plane of existence was to be a mother. Talk about a book!!! Well, my two boys are the most important, awesome two boys a mother could ever have. I will write about them all the time.

I like to say things bluntly and to the point. I don’t like to sugar-coat anything. Say it like it is. Why waste time with anything less? Life is too short for guessing games.

Really I want to blog about stuff that may possibly help someone, too…help them to think outside the box, outside the matrix.  I want to use the matrix to educate about the matrix….stay tuned.  I want to empower people. I want to show them that they can do things that they don’t think they can do.  I want to share my life in the hopes that it could give hope, encourage, and give determination to those who need it.

So if any of the things I write about bring up emotion in you or give you something to talk about, great.  If you want to talk about any of it with me, that is cool, too.  I would be happy to chat.  I want what I say to create dialog.  This is me diving in.