End of Year Reflections

The end of the year always comes with some form of reflection. Have I done everything I sought out the year to do? What were my achievements? Downfalls? Setbacks?

I headed into 2016 with a list of resolutions, like so many people. A lot of what I resolved to do revolved around furthering my spiritual state of mind through meditation, yoga, clean- eating, fasting, and being present.

As the year comes to an end, I have not become the meditation guru I had dreamed to be. Sitting quiet and still, in one spot, for a designated amount of time may be attainable on the occasion, but committing to a daily meditation practice fell out out of my reach.

Not that I didn’t meditate. I did. But not every day, not nearly as much as I had intended. I’m no where close to where I thought, one year ago, I’d be today. On days I meditate, I do so in thirty-minute intervals. Anything longer, my mind strays. More training will fix that problem, but I need to put in the time.

I can’t imagine anything more freeing than sitting in one place, closing your eyes so you are blind to all that is around you, with nothing but your mind, body, and soul at your disposal, and completely losing yourself to your own self, for hours at a time.

This state may not be something one can plan, but rather, is attained naturally through practice done organically. I need to stop treating yoga and meditation as words I cross off a daily “to-do” list.

If I forget to make a list, do I forget my practice?

Yoga and meditation need to be felt. Once my body grows to crave the serenity, the state of missing nothing that yoga and meditation provide, I won’t need a list to remind me to do my daily practice. 

It will become who I am.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s Just the Writer in Me.

An excerpt of a story about a middle-aged woman who visits her old college in an attempt to settle the obvious midlife crisis/crossroad she’s living through:

The coffee tastes like shit, yet I continue to drink it. Writing and coffee always went hand in hand. At least I no longer smoked. I visit the old college I attended when I was a fresh-faced eighteen year-old. Maybe it will help me become more creative as I sit in a place that reminds me of my younger days, when anything seemed possible.

One of the perks of writing here is the coffee costs 75 cents, a monster savings compared to Starbucks, but like I already said, the coffee tastes like shit and I’m on my fourth cup.

I’m sitting at one of the tables in the lounge. There is a young woman, maybe nineteen, at the table next to me, face deep in a text book. Her long hair is dark and carelessly messy, but in a stylish way. She looks like someone I would have had a crush on. She wears jeans with holes at the knees, a black graphic tee, leather studded boots that capped at her mid-calf. Kind of grungy (do kids today even know what grunge is?). Maybe she’s a bit rebellious in a dark, mysterious, Kristen Stewart, kind of a way.

Her attire shows she might be of the “alternative” lifestyle. I remember looking for that in girls I met at college in 1995 because I was incredibly desperate to meet girls who were like me. I expected everything to be so much broader than the restricted Catholic high school I went to, and in some ways they were, but probably not broad as I had wanted, or needed, them to be.

I wonder if what I’m experiencing is a mid-life crisis. I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I felt I had accomplished something in my life. The fact that I haven’t done anything depresses me.

Did I know I would do this? Did I know I was going to spend so much time looking back? I wonder if I’m capable of anything more with my life. It’s so hard making it as a writer and I fear I may not even be any good at it. (Pause. Takes another sip of coffee. Yep. Still tastes like shit, even more so now that it’s cold.)

Two girls sit on a couch across from me. They are very affectionate and playful toward each other, despite the fact I’m only a few feet away from them and another boy sits at a near-by table. But they don’t seem to notice either of us. I watch as people pass in the busy halls, and barely look at the two girls sitting closer, now holding hands.

Their interaction isn’t tacky, nor is it an in-your-face display of affection. The two girls appear to be in love, lucky to be living in a time when they could be like this in public. Definitely not something I would have expected to see when I walked these halls very frequently, 21 years ago – though I wish I had.

I think about leaving, but decide to stay. I watch. I write. I sip my bad coffee. I sit and observe other people, like a spectator in life.

I suppose that’s the writer in me.

 

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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphoto.net

 

 

 

 

 

Orlando Won’t Be the Last.

It was a week ago tonight that a gunman would enter a popular gay nightclub with a semi-automatic weapon and kill 49 people and injure an additional 53.  Some of those people are still in hospitals today, desperately clasping onto the life their injuries threaten to take away.

I pray they all make it.

Most of us by now have heard the names of the dead and have seen their faces. The majority of those lives taken were young people in their twenties. Though any life taken in such a brutal manner as this is tragic, seeing the pictures of those young faces, some posing in bars from a different time in their life, hit me hard.

I used to be one of those twenty-something year old faces, back in the the days when the weekend meant going to bars filled with people like me. Where I could dance, kiss, and hold hands with another girl without feeling strange. It was “normal” to be like me in places like those. And despite what people say about “defying the ordinary” and “normal is boring” it’s nice to not stand out sometimes, rather to fit in. Go unnoticed.

Gay bars offered a refuge, a safe haven, for gay people who might have spent Monday through Friday hiding while feeling self-conscious living and working in a heterosexual world. But the weekends we were free. We let loose. We were ourselves.

Because the gunman (I won’t call him by his name because he doesn’t deserve that kind of respect) called 911 before the attack and pledged his allegiance to the terrorist group ISIS, some people are calling this a terrorist attack, and only a terrorist attack.  All attacks are done to cause terror, but this assault was triggered by hatred toward a specific group of people. Gay people. And everyone needs to acknowledge that.

Every gay person across the country, maybe even the world, who’d ever been to a gay bar – felt safe in a gay bar – has watched this story unfold as each day brought new horrifying details, and thought, “That could have been me.”

Those are terrifying words when uttered in relation to a morbidly hatred act.

I learned of the shooting the morning after my niece’s wedding. I had just woken up in a hotel room, my mother beside me in my bed and my two young nephews sleeping in the other bed, and I turned on my phone. I read the headlines news of that morning and sat in stunned silence as my mind took in the unbelievable words I had just read. I listened to the steady breath of my loved ones, sleeping safely in the room with me, yet I still felt so afraid.

My mind turned to the night before, a joyous occasion, and I struggled to imagine that while I was dancing and laughing and drinking, there were people, half my age, thousands of miles away from me, who were only minutes away from taking their last breath while doing something I had done hundreds of times before – dancing, laughing, having fun at a gay bar.

A little while later, my 11 year old niece came into my hotel room from her own, and when she heard the news on the TV reporting that 50 people were killed, her eyes opened wide and she asked me why someone would do that.

One of the most difficult consequences of hate-filled murder is trying to explain the act to children. I couldn’t answer my niece’s question because I don’t know how a person hates so much to kill innocent people. All I could do was hug my young niece. Assure her she was safe.

The same niece, days later, would overhear me on the phone talking to a friend about going to a gay bar the following weekend (because gay people aren’t going to hide in fear) and she cried out for me not go. “Gay people are being killed Auntie! Don’t go!”

She had heard the reports of the man who was arrested while heading to the L.A. Pride Parade the Sunday following the shooting, with guns in his car, looking to do more harm to gay people.  I assured my niece I wouldn’t go to a gay bar this weekend, however my city’s Pride Parade is next weekend, and I’m planning on being there.

I don’t know what happens from here. If six-year old’s can be gunned down in their Kindergarten class, no one is safe. I don’t know when or where the next shooting is going to take place, or who the target will be this time, but I do know that another mass shooting will happen again.

That, I know for certain. That past assures me of this.

While we wait for our country’s leaders to finally do something about our much too-easy access to high-powered, high-killing guns, we cross our fingers that it’s not us, or our loved ones, caught in the next horrifying headline news that results in moments of silence and American flags ordered at half staff.

 

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Photo Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Things…

Today was the epitome of what a spring day should be, and it was about time because only a few short weeks ago there was snow on the ground. But this morning, as I walked my dog underneath the warm sunshine, I watched birds flap their wings boldly as they flew in the sky, and listened to them chirp their soothing sounds. I love listening to birds sing. For me, the sound is the first proof that winter is finally coming to an end and the days will soon be getting longer. 

I took a moment to appreciate that not only was I physically well enough to take my dog for a walk outside, but also, that I was able to hear and see all the beauties of the day. Ever since I had read an article written by a young man who had lost his sense of taste after suffering a nasty cold, I have imagined what living would be like without other senses. 

When people are asked about our five senses, the ones that people probably consider the most are hearing and seeing. I remember as a child watching a blind woman in my grandmother’s neighborhood walking by herself, up and down the streets, with only a stick to guide her. I was amazed and when I asked me grandma about it, she very causally responded that the woman walks by herself outside all the time. Everywhere.

I have been in public places where I’ve watched hearing impaired people communicate through sign language, and of course, before most any TV show or sporting broadcast, a voice instructs the audience of the option available to select for the hearing impaired.

Also, I’ve seen many movies and TV shows that have included characters who are either deaf or blind, so I have many times considered what it would be like to be deaf or blind. Yet, I don’t remember ever contemplating how life would be if I lost my sense of taste, but since reading that article, I think about that possibility all the time.

Losing one’s sense of taste may not seem so life-changing as compared to the thought of losing one’s sight or hearing, and that may be true. But food is a big part of people’s lives. Not only is it needed to stay alive, but people often feel an identity by the food they eat as being part of their culture.

The man in the article described eating with no sense of taste as being the same as chewing a piece of gum that has lost its flavor.  Basically, when the gum starts to taste like rubber. This is how this man’s food now tastes to him–all the time. Like rubber.  There is no getting a fresh piece of gum for him any longer. Everything he puts in his mouth has the same bland, dull taste.

The food he eats will no longer satisfy any craving he may have. His taste buds have deceived him. About a month ago, I was watching a movie about the Australian band, INXS. I learned that lead singer, Michael Hutchence, had lost not only his sense of taste, but his sense of smell, as well, after a confrontation with a cab driver that left Hutchence on the ground with a banged up head. Hutchence would take his own life years later.

As I walked my dog this morning, I took a moment to appreciate the ability to take in the scene in every way possible. I could see the gorgeous blue sky with its white fluffy scattered clouds. I heard the birds sing, as well as the roar of lawnmowers, and smelled the earthy scent of freshly cut grass. All of this combined, helped to bring out the true beauty of that day.

I may never realize the feeling of flying in my own private jet, or  having more money than I know what to do with, but today I am grateful to have all of my senses.

Sometimes, it truly are the little things that matter in life.

 

Climbing Everest

This past weekend I rented Everest, a movie based on the 1996 true story about eight people who died while on their quest to reach the top of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth. An unexpected storm made conditions for the climbers of this already dangerous journey, completely unbearable.

Professionally experienced Lead Guides for two of the expeditions, Rob Hall and Scott Fisher, were among the eight who lost their lives to exposure. Their bodies, along with the bodies of over 150 other people who have attempted to climb Mt. Everest, but succumbed to the elements, still lie, scattered, among the famous mountain.

It is not uncommon for climbers to pass corpses as they embark on the same journey that killed their fellow climbers.  According to HistoryVsHollywood.com, an unidentified corpse known as Green Boots, because his green boots and brightly colored climbing jacket are still tugged tightly onto his body as he lay frozen in the same spot he died, is commonly seen by other climbers.

Recovering dead bodies off the mountain is so dangerous for the conditions that it is considered to be a suicide mission.  According to Macleans.ca, a woman named Hannelore Schmatz died of exhaustion in 1979 near one of the camps, and for many years climbers could see Schmatz’s body from their route “sitting upright against her backpack, her eyes open and her brown hair blowing in the wind.”

In 1984, two people tried to retrieve Schmatz’s body, but fell off the mountain. Schmatz’s body remained where she died, frozen in time (like the others), until the late nineties when strong winter winds finally swept her remains over the edge.  (Macleans.ca)

There is an area of the mountain, just below the summit, known as Rainbow Valley “due to the number of corpses still there clad in their colorful climbing jackets.” (Gizmodo.com) The highest point of Mt. Everest is 29,029 feet. The section between camp IV (26,000 ft) and the summit is considered the Death Zone because it is the place where most climbers lose their life.

At 26,000 feet the human body can no longer function on its own and it slowly begins to break down.  The air is near oxygen-free.  A person will not survive more than two days without extra oxygen.  “Mental and physical states are affected, leading climbers to experience hallucination, deteriorations of bodily functions, loss of consciousness, the feeling of slowly being choked, and finally, death.” (Gizmodo.com)

There are a few weeks in May that are considered to be the best time to climb Everest because conditions are the most tolerable. Instead of having to endure normal temps of -31 degrees Fahrenheit, the temps can reach -4 degrees Fahrenheit during this temporary time.  The winds near the top of Mt. Everest can be stronger than a Category 5 hurricane. A record wind speed of 175mph was recorded in 2004 at the summit.  “Mt. Everest is so high that the summit actually protrudes into the stratosphere, where jet streams create 100+ winds during most months and temperatures can plummet as low as -76 degrees Fahrenheit. The winds alone can easily send climbers hurtling off the mountain to their deaths.” (PopularMechanics.com)

Only a climber can tell you why he or she acknowledges the risks in climbing the highest mountain in the world, and accepts those risks as they slip on their boots and bundle into their climbing jackets. One could guess maybe these people have nothing to lose, nothing to live for. But Rob Hall had everything to lose, and everything to live for. His wife was pregnant when he led his expedition up to the top of the mountain.

The movie captures a tender and tragic moment when Hall speaks to his wife (via satellite phone connection patched through to his radio) as he is trapped near the top of the summit, after having just spent the night in the blizzard on an overhang. He was so high up, the air was near oxygen-free, and all oxygen tanks were empty. Rob Hall was aware of his doomed fate when he spoke to his pregnant wife for the last time. “…After naming their unborn baby ‘Sarah,’ he told his wife Jan, ‘I love you. Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don’t worry too much.’ That was the last time anyone heard from Hall.” (TIME.com)

There is a chance that if not for the unexpected brutal storm in the 1996 expeditions, no one would have lost their lives. There’s risk in climbing any mountain, even the smallest one, because there are elements that can not be controlled, such as weather, a sudden avalanche, body response.

When I first read about the corpses lying all across the mountain, I asked myself how a person can continue to ascend a mountain scattered with dead bodies along their route. Dead bodies clothed in similar dress as their own gear, and lying in the same position they died as if no time had passed, without turning back, scared to death they would meet the same fate.

And then I imagined driving down a road I’ve driven a thousand times before, but now littered with the corpses of every person who perished in accidents along that highway, and suddenly that innocuous and familiar road becomes an ominous warning of what could happen to me.

Do I turn back? Try to find another route, clear of corpses, where nothing bad has ever happened?

Does such a path even exist?

In life, do we keep going despite the horrific events and tragedies that already have happened along the same path we’re headed?

Or do we use them as warning signs and find another way?

What would you do?

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I don’t own the copyright to this picture. If it violates any copyright I will take it down.