Love, Interrupted

I have been processing the recent break up of a relationship. I really struggled to get this piece to capture that process without getting too analytical or wordy in the wrong sort of way. So, I settled on a collection of small pieces that weave through the different emotions and thoughts that I have been cycling through.

I Cry Into a Blue Darkness

I want to curl into a ball, turn into my soul, and retreat deep within. Deep within to that place where no one can harm me. I want to cry into a blue darkness. Tucked into that familiar aloneness. This is that place where I was left. All alone. One little girl abandoned. This pain touches that pain. This moment reflects that moment. That moment. That first time. Where I felt, that all I had was me.

Why?

It has been really hard to wrap my mind around why you would do this to me. It has been even harder to wrap my mind around why you would do this to yourself. That “why?” keeps surfacing even when I want to push it away. Not you again. Just leave me alone. I want to be over this. But the “why?” keeps twisting and turning in my thoughts. As I wonder where I went wrong and how it could have been different. It didn’t have to end. This way.

Into These Depths We Wander

We had only just begun to wander into the depths of what is  yours and what is mine. It is here in relationship that we can find valuable insights and reflections about ourselves. Valuable insights that show us where we need to grow. Insights that may be harder to see on our own. I wanted this for you. I wanted this for me. And we had only just begun to get to those uncomfortable places. Those places where, I wanted to challenge you. And where, I wanted you, to challenge me. What a gift we had. To learn together.

Between Space and Closeness

There is this balance between space and closeness in a relationship that we had only just begun to touch upon. This pushing you away when it got too close. This pulling you back when it got too far. Story interrupted. Tale untold. We will never know. Was there a point of balance in between? Space for me to be me? And you to be you? And have an us in between?

Touch Me, Please, Don’t Touch Me

My pattern of touch has been complicated. I was told as a young girl that my body was something to be ashamed of. I was like fire and men were like butter. This is what they said. And I believed it. I believed it so much that my body became not my own. Theirs for the taking. My little girl body. My love used against me. I had only, just. Laid claim. To what was mine all along. My body. For my pleasure and enjoyment. For me to share or not share. For me to say yes or no. This was new territory. Boundaries and edges not fully explored. I wanted to be touched. I loved your touch. Your hands wandering all over me. Your arms enfolding me. Your touch was healing. And yet, there were times, when I needed to not be touched. Times when I needed a pause. To check in. How am I doing here? How does this feel to me? I needed that power to slow down. Or move forward. To explore this way of touching or that way of touching. I needed a sacred place. Of openness and safety. Of lightness and fun. To try new things. Or old things in new ways. No expectations. I really needed this.

Holding On, To Me

I had only just begun to get in touch with me. What I wanted. Being responsible for my life. Digging in to what I love. Being creative. Writing. The journey to get here was steep, and hard won. I have scars to prove it. I have been, just barely,  holding on to this place. I sure as hell, wasn’t going to let myself lose ground. In fact, more than not lose ground, I was ready to climb the next mountain. Get to that next level of growth. Getting that voice to be stronger. Clearer. Articulating more fully. Not letting those fears of not-good-enough hold me down. I needed to be sure that any relationship was not going to be at a cost of this self I had worked so hard to claim.

You Mattered to Me

I wanted this for you too. I wanted this for you too, because you mattered to me. I recognized where you were at. Because I had just come from that place. I wanted you to find this love and respect for yourself. And while, I wasn’t going to do the work for you. I was willing to do the work with you. I wanted to. I wanted very much to give this gift to you. All I wanted in return was for you to give this gift back to me. I wanted us to both come out of our experience together, with something of value and contribution to our lives.

A Slow Blooming Flower

I am a slow blooming flower. If you try to pry open my blossom, I will close down tighter. Whereas, if you allow me to patiently unfold, you will learn about me. Layer by layer. Petal by petal. Intimacy upon intimacy. My trust is built with this patience. I learned early that if I was going to survive in this world, I had to hide deep within my own being. I have been unlearning that. But I won’t give you all of me, all at once. I wanted you to be patient. I wanted you to love being patient. For me. To let me unfold. Moment by moment. I wanted you to give me time to move towards you. To find that resistance to love and closeness within. To bump up against those edges. To find where I could soften that resistance. And let love in. Where I could give. Where I could receive. What I could learn from you. I was just beginning to touch upon that. This was my work. I wasn’t done yet. We weren’t done yet. There was so much more available. To you. And me.

Right Here, Right Now

Right here, right now we needed each other. I wanted you. I wanted to have this experience. Of going deeper. With you. You with that humble futon. Smallest room in fancy house. You with your beat up car. Decorated with child’s art. You with that old cracked phone. Dedicated father. It was this I loved. This that made me want know you more. I wanted to be right here in this moment getting to know you. The real you. Layer by layer. Conversation by conversation. Day by day. Night by night. I didn’t need or want nicer cars or bigger paychecks. There was no rush or need to define us. Who is to say whether our time together would be long or short. We had right now. We had right here. And right here, right now we needed each other. And that was enough. For me.

Zero-sum Game

For some reason, possessing me, having me as a girlfriend, became your goal. This had you lose sight of the possibilities an open exploration offered to both of us. As soon as the game became to get me, you stopped just being yourself. You started trying to figure out what I wanted and tried to be that. Except, we weren’t having conversations about what I wanted. And you weren’t listening to what I was saying I wanted. I wanted this open exploration. This slowing down. This going deeper. With you. The more you fixated on winning me and having me, the more I would pull back. I kept trying. To get back to that fun and exploration. That getting to know each other. Authentically. As we really are. And yet. You kept rushing forward. Your focus so narrow. You inadvertently created a zero-sum game. In this zero-sum game, it was accept or reject you. And here, I kept finding myself rejecting you. I didn’t want this. I wasn’t playing a zero-sum game. I wasn’t deciding whether or not to have you in my life. I was deciding how to have you in my life. We shared a connection and I enjoyed that connection. You see, there were a whole range of possibilities for our relationship to take form: friends, lovers, two parents supporting one another, committed partners, advocates, yogis, teachers…. Whatever we wanted to create between us, really.

Who Won?

In your zero sum game somebody had to lose, and it wasn’t going to be you. Afraid. You bailed ship. Leaving me before I could leave you. I had said. Repeatedly. Numerous times. That the only way to break off a relationship with me completely was to lie to me, cheat on me, or manipulate me. And that is exactly what you did.

You won.

But we both lost. Each other.

It breaks my heart. To be with that.

On Love

I reach for The Prophet and open to the section “On Love.” This book is sitting out because I lent it to you. I am not exactly sure why. It was one of those impulsive moments, that one just follows, without thinking. I don’t believe you ever even picked it up. But here it is back with me. These words on love, chocolate to my soul. I eat them and they nourish me. They show me what is possible as a human being. I live into them. I realize that, yes. This is what I want. To be in relationship. To love and be loved.

Kahlil Gibran on Love

When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears…

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A Ritual of Love

Today I cried. The tears held tight for hours. After I learned the truth. A breath of solitude in an urban landscape. Created the space to feel. More than anger. I cried for the possibilities interrupted. For the opportunity to go deeper, with one another. And the gift that was available in that. For the hours of loving and that sweet, musky desire. That clung to me. I cried for the hope. That this one, this time, was different. And I cried over the betrayal. The crossing a boundary that cannot be uncrossed. That one thing I stated would definitely lose me. In all ways. I stated clearly that taking that action would end all possibilities. I wonder if that was the intent? And then I cry more still for the lack of respect. The lack of love.

I started the ritual of letting go as soon as I heard the truth spoken. But last night, even before I knew the truth, something in me knew that it was over. At times I wish I didn’t know these things. That strong pulse of intuition runs deep in my veins. So that I sense an essence of the truth, even in those moments when I would rather be. Blissfully unaware. I stated the words I needed to say. The words to end it. I drew a warm bath. Perfumed it with essential oils. And as I began to cleanse and scrub my body I also began washing away the attachments in my heart. Each outward motion a reflection of the inner motion taking place. This ritual of love and grieving begun. I wanted you to do the work with me. And more than that, I wanted you to want to do the work with me. This was not the way I wanted us to end. Completely and irrevocably. I cling to and recite like an incantation the words of bell hooks: “ …when we love rightly we know that the healthy, loving response to cruelty and abuse is putting ourselves out of harm’s way.”  This is my mantra. And this time, I really and truly get these words. Not at a mere intellectual level, but because I am living and feeling them right now. I love. I love deeply. And this love enfolds and embraces me.

I think about how I will tell my children, especially my daughter. This person is no longer in our lives, because he took the actions to make it so. Part of me wants to shield them from the truth, but this other part wants to live the truth so deeply that one day if someone were to do this to my daughter, she would remember how I walked away. And do the same. I want my son to hear and see and know by my very actions that this is not ever the way you treat a woman, a person, a human being. I recite more words of power. My own personal mission statement. These words are strong because they are mine. And then, I get angry at myself for allowing myself to care. These feelings hurt! I allow myself this space to experience this rhythm and ritual of grieving. Whatever, however I feel right now is okay. Anger. Sadness. Love. Compassion. I feel all of this and more. I have been hurt. I am letting someone go.

I am making a stand for myself. I am loving myself fiercely. I am loving myself fiercely. I meditate and visualize this powerful goddess that is the soul of who I am. As a goddess, I take out my swords and sever the energetic ties between this person and me. This person made a choice. They made a choice by their actions to not to have me in their life. I am not taking responsibility for their actions. I am making a choice to have people in my life that treat me with love and respect. This means severing these cords of connection between us. This means moving away from that un-kindness and cruelty. This is love in action. As I make a stand for myself, I make a stand for every woman that has endured something like this. Who said love was soft? Well they were wrong, because this is love. And it is fierce and fiery.

I am ready to let go. I create a prayer, a poem of love for this person:

May you experience,
in this lifetime,
a love so fierce
and fiery

That you radiate respect
and dignity
from the core
of your being

And may every action you take
towards yourself
and others
come from this place

May you go to
those places
that scare you
and get uncomfortable

And delve deeper
and deeper
to find all
that you hold dear

May you find the
courage to
love every bit
of yourself

May you live your
life from a place
where your words,
and actions, meet

May you be
the person you wish
your children
to become

And may you know
that I have loved you
only as deeply
as you have allowed

I wrote this in pencil on three small pieces of paper, rolled them into tight little scrolls, and sent them floating down a stream. Letting the earth work her magic on them. Her magic of death and rebirth.

When I return home, I will light a fire to some cleansing herbs, letting their smoke waft through every room in my house that he has been. This person has sought to cause harm and is no longer welcome in this home. This is the end.

Activism, A Day of Love, & Black History Month

An Experiment

Monday, February 12, 2018

I have been reflecting a lot this past year about activism. At heart, I am an activist. But I have been incredibly disillusioned by present day activism. I have honestly questioned its impact. I have showed up at marches, protests, and rallies, but have left uncertain whether or not my presence had made a difference that day. It’s as if the corporate machine knows our strategy. We’ve played these moves before and they know their countermoves. They know them well. To change the outcomes we need to change the way we play the game. These are different times that call for different moves. I have also paused to look more deeply at social media activism. Social media activism is just too easy. What does it actually require of us to post or repost something? We feel good about ourselves for doing something. But what have we really done when only our friends, who already agree with us, like our posts? Or when, someone disagrees with us and we have an unconstructive conflict that doesn’t change or move anything forward? Social media dialogue just doesn’t have quite the same transformational force as a face to face conversation. So much is lost when we can hide behind screens.

The point of activism is to shift or transform the way things are, and not to grind them more firmly into existence. I have asked myself, “What is the most authentic way for me to truly be an activist?” I know myself well. I am not an Out There person. I don’t really have a desire to be in the spotlight. I am an In Here person–constantly doing the work on myself. Preferring to contemplate behind the scenes. Yet, keeping all that work and contemplating to myself isn’t going to make a difference.

I have also come up against my disenchantment with U.S. holidays. I did not grow up with them. They have no emotional pull for me. I can see that they have been hijacked by the corporate machine. Buy. Buy. Buy. And somehow, in that buying, we will find contentment. Or so, that is the story they sell us. Consuming leads to connection. Every commercial tries to tell us this. But it doesn’t.

Every experience I have had with connection has taught me that connection is the opposite of consumption. Think on it. Just reflect for a moment.

I am a person that likes to ask questions. I like to take on little experiments and see what happens. “What would happen if I were brave?” “What would that look like in my life?” “Bravery?” Then, I take these questions and try to explore the answer with a sense of curiosity. I try on new ways of being. Continually checking and rechecking in with myself to see what I have learned about myself and others. This has been one of my most powerful tools for transformation.

So…..I am going to challenge myself to take this inner work outward. I am going to use this approach that I have practiced again, and again, in a new way. I am going to do an experiment combining my personal strengths (writing & this inner work I do), activism, social media, this holiday (Valentine’s Day), and Black History Month as an inspiration to work on one social justice issue that is important to me–ending racism and hate in our country. I have no idea what will happen. But that is entirely the point.

 

Making it Personal

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

I can’t say I know how to honor Black History Month. What I can say is that I am grateful for the contribution black people have made to the history and culture of the U.S. Black people, who are the descendants of humans kept as slaves in the American isles and continents, who were in turn, were descendants of free African people of many diverse nations, have had to endure so much at the hands of white supremacy. But in that endurance there is a spirit, a culture, and a soul. I know that I am a better person because of being touched, moved, and inspired by the contribution of black artists, thinkers, activists, and leaders that have boldly shared themselves with us. So…I will honor the ones that stand out in my mind, knowing that there are many more that I am missing or just haven’t been introduced to yet. If you feel inspired by this list, please make it your own by reposting your own version of gratitude for black history and culture in your life. And if you can’t think of any black cultural icon or leader that inspires you, look at the lists of other people and start discovering.

Joseph Collins (aka Jai Sri) for his amazing art and for his son.
Vanessa German for her truth telling through her art and words..
Bob Marley for being a lover supreme.
Maya Angelou for her wisdom (in Hinduism we would call her an amma or mataji (mother) out of respect.)
Sojourner Truth for her raw courage in her  “Ain’t I a Woman” speech.
Ta-Nehisi Coates for sharing his brilliant mind.
bell hooks for her stand for love and healing (for all of us).
Martin Luther King Jr., may I live my name half as well as he did.
Malcolm X for his force for black empowerment.
Nelson Mandela (Madiba) for living compassion.
Desmond Tutu for teaching me about forgiveness.
Otis Redding for “These Arms of Mine”.
Common for “The Light”.
2Pac for “Keep Ya Head Up”.
Jimi Hendrix for his contribution to music and playing “All Along the Watchtower” better than Bob Dylan.
Oprah for being Oprah, there really isn’t anyone else like her.
Barack Obama for inspiring hope.
Michelle Obama for being a strong woman in her own right, while fully supporting her man.
Queen Latifah for being admirable.
Will Smith for having such a cute smile (not to mention his acting skills)
Lauryn Hill for her beautiful struggle as an artist.
Ava DuVernay for such a thought provoking film.

 

Love Poems for Black People

Wednesday, Valentine’s Day 2018

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I sat down to make Black History Month even more personal than cultural leaders and icons, I had to bring it back to the black people in my personal life. The everyday people that I am in or have been in relationship with. I started to make a list (without naming individual people, because it’s not my place to include other people in my experiment). The list, of its own accord, became a poem. Then I thought, what if for every hate post we see, we write a love poem for a black person or black people in our life? Especially today. On this so called day of love. What a way to combine Black History Month and Valentine’s Day–by reclaiming both as something more meaningful. I challenge you to write a love poem for black people and post it as a counter post to a hate message. I challenge you to do that today. If you cannot invoke enough emotion to write a love poem for a black person or people in your life, I ask you take a moment to reflect on how you can learn to love more black people or make space for more black people in your life. Anyone can participate, but this is especially a call to white people.

Black LOVE, in my Life

On this day of LOVE,
coinciding with Black History Month
I want to honor
ALL the black people
in my life

To the woman who loved me,
as if I was her own
Who was in my life
for such a short time,
I don’t even remember her name,
but I remember her LOVE
She was my mamma,
if only for a time

To her son,
who was pesky
–as brothers can be
and yet gracious enough
to share his mamma with me

To her husband,
who carried me on his shoulders,
when my little child legs tired
I don’t remember much,
but I remember
that act of LOVE

To my Kuli brothers and sisters
My friends
My LOVERS
YOU know who you are
To my doula sisters
Black midwives
And those of you,
I secretly admire

To that man at the gas station,
who saved my day
And the woman who worked at Chipotle,
who fed my children,
when I could not
YOU showed ME
We are a beloved
community

To all my doula clients
who so graciously
allowed me to serve them
and who so bravely
trusted ME

Most especially to,
one 14 year old girl,
strapped down,
birth raped
You were BRAVE
when you allowed me
to be your mamma,
If only for a time

I AM GRATEFUL FOR YOU!!
I am better for having known you!

I

LOVE

YOU!

 

This is OUR Work,
We Are All in This Together

Thursday, February 15, 2018

“”Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds!”

“Redemption Song”, Bob Marley

Diversity is uncomfortable. It always will be. When we brush up against something that is different or unknown in another, or something we don’t understand in another, or even deeper, something we disagree with in another, how can we still, in that moment, be more present to the that other person’s humanity, or our shared human experience, than our differences? How can we embrace our differences as an asset, not a hindrance to our connection. We must be willing to get it wrong to learn how to get it right.

While each individual is responsible for their own healing and empowerment, it is us white people who are responsible for repairing the legacy of slavery. It is our own survival and humanity that is at stake. We can’t undo slavery or go back and undo a past that we weren’t personally a part of. But nobody is asking us to. What we need to ask is, “How can we create a future that OUR children will not have to look back on with guilt and shame?”

The answer lies in every single one of us. When we choose to wake up from “The Dream”, to acknowledge the lies, and expose the myth we have been living in, we can then choose to opt out of The Corporate Machine–that has us all losing anyway. Every step towards consciousness moves us towards freedom–for ourselves and others. We often live believing that one of us cannot make a difference, but the truth is that it is precisely when every one of us chooses to make a difference and truly believes that we can, that transformation begins.

Dismantling white supremacy and racism is The Work of white people. Personal empowerment is The Work of black people. How have I come to this conclusion? I have drawn upon my own personal experiences with healing and empowerment. The closest analogy that I can come up with deals with healing my sexual abuse. I did not choose to be sexually abused. It is not my fault. But because it happened to me, I am the only one who can go on the healing journey within myself to break free from the oppression this trauma has caused me. My healing and empowerment is my responsibility. But I am not responsible for healing my abusers, being gracious towards them, absolving them of responsibility, healing them, taking responsibility for their actions, or repairing the pain or consequences that their actions have caused other people in the family or community. It is the work of the abusers to be responsible for and heal the pain that they have caused to me and/or other people. It is the work of the abusers to heal themselves and make amends.

Likewise, every adult black person is responsible for their own empowerment and healing journey. This is their work. Every white person is responsible for dismantling white supremacy and racism. This is our work. Let me clarify. The average white person is not going around trying to actively harm the average black person. But as white people we are inadvertently causing harm when we continually choose to remain unconscious and blindly accept the benefits of white supremacy and racism while being complicit to and a beneficiary of both. Most of us don’t want to be a part of this, but at the same time, we are not doing the work to dismantle white supremacy and racism either. I believe this is because most of us do not know how or where to start.

How do we dismantle white supremacy and racism?

See black people as powerful and capable of doing the work of empowering themselves. Listen. Listen. And listen some more to the lived experiences of black people. Until you get it. Hold space for black people to heal, but only hold space if you are really able to. It is hard to hold space if we haven’t done the work on ourselves. We can only assist healing in others, for that which we have healed within ourselves. Understand the stages of healing. Accept that we are all at different stages of this process and we must be forgiving and understanding of honest mistakes along the way and know that learning involves making mistakes. Learn to distinguish intent behind actions and respond to the intent. Give constructive feedback. Do the work on yourself first and then share what you have learned on your journey with other people not as far along on their journey. Be in relationship with black people who are ready to be in relationship with you–this is on their terms, not yours. Relationships our one of our most powerful tools for transformation. Let Black people guide us–but only if they want to. Hold each other accountable. Be radically responsible for who you are being. Practice integrity and make amends when you fall out of it. Apologize when you are wrong. As you can see these are the tools for all healthy relationships. When you are ready, and in a way that is authentic to you, give back what you are learning. Ask, is there a way I can give back to the black community? Remember this is not about handing out table scraps, but about giving people a seat at the table right next to us, so that we are all receiving the benefits of our society, equitably. Charity is not equitable, but a relationship of giving and receiving is.

The reward of everyone taking responsibility for their part is the power to choose and create new relationships with one another. Anything is possible when we get to the space of creation in our lives. Anything! Perhaps we can create a beloved community of black and white brothers and sisters. Perhaps even more is possible.

The people who are afraid to let go of power are going to fight to maintain control. We are seeing this right now in our culture. Yet if we fight back, we are grinding in the already always ways of being. We are being no different than them. When we refuse to engage in a fight, but instead make a stand for what we want, we become more powerful. Our actions are not reactionary, but creative. They cause transformation. As the lyrics to Solomon Burke’s song say:

If you just look around you,
Your gonna see what I say.
Cause the world is getting smaller each passing day.
Now it’s time to start making changes,
And it’s time for us all to realize,
That the truth is shining real bright right before our eyes.

None of us are free.
None of us are free.
None of us are free, one of us are chained.
None of us are free.

 

One Human Tribe:
An Invitation

Friday, February 16, 2018

At the end of “Between the World and Me” Ta-Nehisi Coates says something incredibly profound. When I read it, I thought, “I would love for him to expound upon that idea.”

“The Dreamers will have to learn to struggle themselves to understand that the field for their dream, the stage where they have painted themselves white is the deathbed of us all. The Dream is the same habit that endangers the planet, the same habit that sees our bodies stowed away in prisons and ghettos.”

Ta-Nehisi’s writing has revealed brilliantly that the story of our nation is a myth. He has examined how our nation was built upon the exploitation of the free labor of captured and enslaved people from Africa, and not, as we love to believe, on a foundation of freedom for all. So I won’t say what he has already said much more eloquently than I ever could. What I will do is see if I can get at what he was saying in that statement above. Because I am convinced that the truth of that statement has the power to transform.

The very nature of the culture we live in exists on exploitation. The more powerful exploit the less powerful and we mostly accept this as just the way it is. Slavery rests on the back of colonialism, which rests on the back of civilization. The very nature of civilization is hierarchical, exploitative, patriarchal, and misogynistic. Civilization is based on the structure of someone (usually a king or patriarch) being at the top to protect and hoard the wealth, an elite class of warriors and nobles to serve and protect the king, a middle class to work and cultivate, and minions, slaves, or lower class people to do the hard labor for the wealth hoarders. The bodies and freedom of women are shackled to the pleasure and procreation of the elite and rulings classes. Women are not seen as full and whole human beings of their own accord. In our current world civilization people with dark skin have been exploited as the slaves or lower class people. Their humanness has been relegated to something less than fully human. White or light skinned has been deemed the attribute associated with the masters and rulers–the rightful and privileged group of people. And whether or not we agree with these statements, to a certain extent we are all racist and misogynistic because we all exist within this underlying paradigm. Very few people have fully liberated their minds from this foundational narrative to our current civilization.

The problem with civilizations is that all civilizations collapse. Without exception. Civilizations expand and expand, consuming and consuming until all available resources are expended. This has always been so. If you don’t believe me, go study civilizations. In the past, civilizations only expanded so far, before collapsing, but our current civilization has expanded to the edges of our world. The resources of our entire planet are being consumed much faster than they can be replenished. The result is that we have a global civilization that threatens to collapse and annihilate the human race. Really. Let that one sink in. Deeply. Denial is no longer a price we can afford to pay.

The answer to this current paradigm is to dismantle it and create a new paradigm, or more aptly return to an old paradigm. The paradigm of the human tribe. The paradigm of the human tribe is less about returning to a more “primitive” way of living, and much more about a shift in consciousness in the way we relate to each other and the world we live in. The consciousness of the human tribe is that all the humans and creatures of this planet are connected. It is a consciousness that says that our freedom and survival is related to your freedom and survival. In a tribal paradigm Black salvation and White salvation are intricately connected. Because the very survival of life on this planet, as we know it, is at stake. We can no longer survive in a civilization where exploitation and white supremacy is the underlying narrative. Let’s start dismantling racism, misogyny, colonialism, white supremacy, and patriarchy within ourselves, so we can create a new story, with a better ending for all of us. Start doing The Work. And, support others to do the same. As we begin to do The Work, and one by one we each wake up, we add to the critical mass of consciousness needed to shift our global story from one of civilization and exploitation to one of a tribe or collective working together to save us all. One human tribe.

 

 

 

The Art of Being With

Recently someone revealed something pretty deep and personal, and I honestly wasn’t sure if I could be with this person’s experience. Their experience was so far outside my own experiences. I wasn’t sure I would have anything to draw upon to relate and understand in a way that would be meaningful for this person. The first thing I thought to do was create a safe space. I said something along the lines of, “You can express anything to me, as long as you can accept that I may or may not be able to meet your needs.” This was important, because I actually created a safe space for both of us. I have always been quiet. And in being quiet, when other people were alone with me, they felt the need to fill that silence. I became a listener, whether or not I was ready to be a listener. As a young teen, I sometimes had adults share things with me that they probably shouldn’t have, because I wasn’t ready to listen to and support an adult’s problems. Whether I wanted to or not I became a listener–empathic, caretaking–at times, at my own expense. Creating a safe space for someone else while honoring my own limits was new territory for me. I was able to be with this person at a much deeper level than I anticipated. For even though our experiences are worlds apart, I do know what it is like to hold something inside for so long. And to finally get to a place where you are ready to share this thing. I know what is like to feel fear. Guilt. Shame. Relief. What it is like to need a safe space. I pulled forth that own need in myself. I said something along the lines of, “I know what is like to need a safe space.” I used different words, but that was the essential message behind the words. I shared about a time when I needed this kind of support. And you know what, I was able to be with this person. I was able to provide something they needed, that I didn’t believe I was capable of providing. I wrapped this person up in all the tenderness that I needed in my moments. I was bold where they needed me to be bold and soft where they needed me to be soft. I let go of thinking about what the right thing to do was, and just did what felt right. We both grew from this experience. We were both transformed. I used the art of a doula, the art of “being with” another, in a new context. This is the work that I love to do. The fierce work of love.

I Will Always Buy Flowers

There have been times in my life where $5 was often the running balance in my bank account. I would often have just barely enough or not quite enough to cover my bills and expenses. These times in my life were the hardest. The constant struggle to meet basic needs creates a certain kind of stress–the stress of living in a perpetual state of survival. This is something no one should have to face, and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone. Yet, it was in these moments that I learned so much about life, money, and people, and my own relationship to these things.

I learned in these moments to take sanctuary in the little pleasures of life, and to allow myself to fully experience and enjoy moments of happiness when they arise. A $2 cup of good coffee, now and then, while I was out, became the ultimate indulgence. I would savor the aroma and taste how the coffee, cream, and sugar combined to form this perfectly drinkable experience. And, I would let it be an experience. Or, I would enjoy the pleasure of learning for the sake of learning. I would pack up a lunch and gather my kids, and we would walk to a nearby park. I would lay down a blanket and read whatever I felt drawn to learn (something I have always enjoyed) for hours while my children played nearby. I have a deep appreciation for libraries and their access to free knowledge because of this. One summer, I read eight books by and about Mother Teresa, which led me to read books on prayer (an important part of her life), which somehow led me back to trying to understand the spiritual tradition I was raised in. So, I read books related to the spread of Indian culture, yoga, and Hinduism to the U.S. It was all so fascinating, and I learned so much. Mother Teresa, like many great leaders, felt called to make a difference in the world. She started her whole organization under a tree in India, by teaching children with the skills that she had learned from many years of being a teacher. Everything else grew from that. And even the spread of yoga and Hinduism began with Indian spiritual leaders feeling called to spread their faith to the West. It was in these little moments that I learned that if a feeling of happiness came to me unexpectedly, like a special moment with my child or a beautiful sunset, I should soak it in and feel it with all I had, for the next moment might go back to struggle and sacrifice.

I learned from these little pleasures and moments of happiness what a sense of gratitude really looks and feels like. It is incredibly hard to feel grateful for a too small apartment, with only a half bath, and no air conditioner, on a 100 degree night, with two sweaty children clinging to you in one queen size bed, and where, through the window there flows more wafts of cigarette smoke than cooling breeze. I must admit that I haven’t necessarily learned to be grateful while experiencing a moment like that. I have been most likely to feel angry or sorry for myself, living in a stance of poor me. But I have learned that it is possible to get to gratitude even when your life is full of such uncomfortable and intense moments. For however bad my situation looked and felt like to me, I would consider that there is someone out there who has it even worse. Or that, it could be even worse for me. So I learned to become grateful for what I did have. I would think, I have this food to eat, that someone else may not have in this moment. I have a shelter that is clean and safe, however small. I have clothes to wear. I have two beautiful children to love. I am poor, but poor in the U.S. is still a much higher standard of living than poor in other places. Or even, the most simplest gratitude, which is, I am alive.

I have learned about the generosity of strangers. I was once standing in line at a Chipotle trying to figure out the most amount of food I could get for my $10 to feed my two children and me. I would usually pack lunches and snacks for this reason, but sometimes it would happen that we would get stuck out and need to eat. This is incredibly hard when you really can’t afford to eat out. I have learned many tricks to work with this situation, like many Indian stores have $1 samosas, which are calorie dense and filling, or some cafes have day old muffins, or a bowl of soup is usually less expensive, but hearty and filling. But this time, the server realized what was happening, so she discreetly gave us a free kids meal with extra drinks and some free burrito coupons to come back another time. Another time, my car was overheating to the point of being dangerous. I had to pull over at a gas station, to fill it with coolant, but I only had that $5 or so in my account and the coolant was more expensive than that. The attendant came out to help and when I desperately explained the situation, he gave me a bottle of coolant for free. I have had many unexpected experiences like this. It is hard to describe the emotion that is felt in moments like these. It doesn’t feel good to be in such low and desperate situations. There is such a powerlessness, a helplessness to be in a place where you cannot take care of yourself. But when another person comes in and helps, and helps from a place like these people did, from this place of solidarity, like maybe, they have been there in some way themselves, these are the moments that really bring tears to your eyes.

I learned about humility, resilience, and resolve. There are moments where I have had to let go of all my pride, after all, I am a person that feels good about going it alone and taking care of myself, and have had to show up and beg for the help that I needed. There was a day where my SNAP benefits (food stamps) were turned off, not because I didn’t qualify any more, but because of some error in the processing of my regular renewal. This is an incredibly common scenario. If you have ever been on any public assistance benefits, you know the ordeal it is to work with the system. It is hands down, one of the most disempowering agencies to experience. And if you don’t understand the complicated welfare laws and your rights (most people don’t), you are at the mercy of your worker, who may or may not understand how to apply the laws and rules, which may, or may not, work out to your benefit. This day, I had to take a bus downtown to this office with my two children to wait for hours to speak with my worker. She insisted she could not turn on my benefits that day, but I insisted that I could not leave that office without them turned back on. All I had left in the fridge were condiments and I let her know this. It was only after I continued to refuse to leave and was directed to a manager that I did get my benefits turned back on. I sometimes wonder if these people realize how devastating a simple action on their part can be to another human being. Power or strong is not what I felt in that moment, I was just truly desperate and needing to feed my children. Another time, I needed to reach out for help paying my rent, because the child support that I had been expecting was instead spent on cocaine and crack. And there were times where I have begged utility companies to not turn off my power or gas, because I just didn’t have the money to pay them, not because I didn’t want to. Asking for help or speaking up for myself has never been easy for me, but these situations pushed me to let go of my ego and advocate for myself and my children. And these experiences later helped me to advocate for other women and families as a caseworker and a doula.

These situations have taught me about giving and receiving, and how intricately they are connected. Giving and receiving are a relationship. If you are only a giver, you are holding power over someone, you are relying on and getting some kind of power from them needing you. If you are only a receiver, you are giving your power away, you are losing power by being needy or dependant on another. By not being able to receive, you are not allowing other people to contribute to you. By not being able to give, you are not contributing to others. This is one reason that I always accepted gifts from my clients when I was a doula. Not accepting them would have conveyed the message that I was somehow above receiving something from them. By receiving the gifts, I acknowledged that we were in a relationship that was equal, where we were both able to give and receive. In fact, I usually saw it as a sign of success if I was given a gift (often something simple like cooking me a meal). Then, I knew they hadn’t seen me as purely a professional, but as someone who had contributed to them and to whom they wanted to contribute back. When I learned that giving and receiving were a relationship, I was able to come to a place where I could receive without guilt or shame, even in times of great need, because I knew there would come a time or place where I would give back, even if it was not at that time. We all have times of need and there are so many ways to give and receive from one another. Giving that comes from the heart has a special kind of power, because it comes from a space of love and not lack. Mother Teresa understood this concept. She once encouraged a wealthy woman who wanted to support her cause, to buy less expensive saris and give the difference to her organization. She did this because she wanted the woman to actually have the experience of giving, something she would not have had as profoundly if she had just written a check. When I was in this place of poverty and no money, new opportunities for community arose, because life became about supporting one another. I have had moments where I have spent my last $10 on another, knowing that there really was nothing to lose. It would come back to me, in some other moment, in some other way.

Not everything I have learned has been positive. I have also learned just how cruel other humans can be to those that are lower than them. I once had a bus driver, a woman bus driver, insist that I fold my stroller before getting on the bus. Never mind the five bags of groceries, the wiggly and squirmy toddler, the adventurous five year old in tow, that this was one of two buses I needed to take to get affordable groceries, and that stepping onto the bus first would actually allow me to get situated properly. Her power in that moment, or her need to be better and look down upon me, was more important than recognizing, understanding, and being compassionate to my situation. I also began to see how there are rules in place, that whether deliberately intending to or not, can shut people out. These rules are in place to protect the privileged, because they are created under the assumption that people have at least a certain amount of resources. For example, I once went to a library where they had a rule that only children could use the computers in the children’s section. On the surface this could seem like a reasonable rule, especially for patrons who come to the library for storytime and playtime with their kids, but it is also a rule that assumes parents with children only come to the library for these reasons. It assumes that parents with young children have computers at home to do business or other important things. When I tried to use the computers at this library to find a permanent place to live, I was first kicked out of the children’s section, but then when I brought my one and five year old up to the adult computers, other patrons complained about them acting the way little kids that age do. The librarians addressed this issue as though I was being negligent to my children, but with no computer at home, and no free or available child care, I was really just trying to use the library’s computers as a resource to find a home. There are a lot of these kinds of rules in place that shut people out and that often aren’t noticed unless they start to affect you personally. When I worked at the YWCA’s Women’s Resource Center, I received dozens of calls a day from people in need. I was always struck by the people who were experiencing a setback for the first time and frustrated with the rules that seemed more designed to keep people down than build them up. I made it a point to gently and politely point out, that yes, this is the way it is, and one of the reasons people get stuck on the treadmill of poverty.

The most important lesson I learned while living in poverty was about the real worth of people. Worth cannot and should never be measured by the dollars that someone has or has not. A person’s contribution to life, community, and other people is not always related to the magnitude of their wealth or power. There are many great people who had not much of either, but have contributed to the world in a meaningful way, and there are people who have had a lot of both, but who have not been a positive contribution to the world. And there are so many people who contribute in small unknown, never known ways like the Chipotle server or the gas station attendant in my story. Both did something for me not just in that they gave me something that I needed, but also in who they were and in how they gave to me. What’s more, there are many other ways to measure the value of something than through dollars and power. Who is really better off? The person that has learned to be happy with nothing, or the person who has everything, but is still not happy? And is power over others really a better form of power than the true power someone gains from mastering themself? This was something else that Mother Teresa often spoke of. She described what she called the poverty of the West, which she stated was a poverty of loneliness, spirituality, and love.

In learning about measuring the worth of other people by who and not what they are or what they own, I learned to measure my own worth and sense of self less and less on these outward measures and more and more on what kind of person I was. I started asking myself who I wanted to be in the world and what was it going to take for me to get there. This question is an ongoing one that I am continually asking. I strive to embrace every experience as an opportunity to learn about myself and others and to get closer to living the answer to this question. This was not easy transformation. For years, every time that I could not afford something that I wanted or needed, I would feel this heavy feeling of sadness, guilt, and shame. There was this sense that something was wrong with me, and I did have the experience of feeling as though I was worth less. When other people looked down upon me and made negative assumptions about me, on some level I absorbed this and believed it. I was often depressed, and I regularly felt hopeless. In fact, it was only just recently that I realized how far I have come. I have been laid off and living on unemployment for the past few months, and recently when I couldn’t afford something, I didn’t have any feeling or emotion over it. I just couldn’t afford it, and that was it. There is no longer any significance or story about myself and my worth because of not being able to afford something. It took a conscious effort on my part and a regular practice to get myself to this point.

I developed little rituals to get out of this poverty of mind and self kind of thinking. I learned to set aside a little bit of money each month to do something for myself, even is it was only $10 or $20. One of the impacts of not having money, is that I would feel shut out of social interactions that cost money or required me to spend money to participate. By putting aside this small amount, which was not enough to significantly impact my bills, but enough for me to enjoy some coffee or tea with a friend or some other small event, I gave myself some power to choose to participate in one or two small things a month. I would make it practice to give money to someone or some cause, now and then, as a deliberate practice to get out of the mindset of I don’t have enough. I learned to trust that in tough times it would work out, because one way or another, it always did. I started to view welfare benefits and other needs based programs as resources, so I wouldn’t attach significance to the fact that I had to use them. I learned how to receive, graciously. I found ways to nourish and take care of myself that did not cost money. I have always found solace in nature, so I started hiking regularly. I found fun and free or low cost things to do with my children. I would make our lack of money a challenge. How much fun can we have this $5 or $10? I realized how important these small acts of self care were to my overall sense of wellbeing. Another of these rituals, was to buy myself flowers, even, or most especially when, money was tight. Beautiful flowers can be had for as little as a few dollars, or even, free if you pick them, but their message is so much more valuable. I will always buy flowers as a symbol of beauty, hope, and worthiness–my own and others.

 

 

Pittsburgh

I first moved to Pittsburgh when I was 13. Ever since, I have tried to get away. In fact, I have moved away from Pittsburgh at least 6 times, only to be pulled back again, and again. Clearly, I have some unfinished business here. I can’t lie, there are many other cities where my ethnic and cultural identity would have much more room for expression, and I would not feel so odd and out of place. Yet, as I pulled away from the city recently, on the top level of a Megabus, watching the familiar landmarks of this city roll by, I realized that this is exactly where I am meant to be. This is where my work is, and I am here for a reason.

What’s more, this city holds pieces of my story, important pieces. For instance, it was in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in Oakland, where as a teenager, I left the public school system, that wasn’t serving my needs, and found solace, comfort for my aloneness, in that old building full of books. I was too awkward for Pittsburgh, but those books allowed me to travel places in my mind and challenged me to think in new ways. I had no agenda or limits, so I would wander the stacks, picking books that caught my fancy, or letting books lead me to other books. Maybe my future would have been better served by staying in school or even going to college early. But with no one to understand or guide me, I did the best I could with what was there. That library was all I had.

It was under the tunnel at Point State Park where I was first kissed. A kiss that is only really memorable because it was my first. And it was followed by my first night with a man, in that hotel, that is just right there, at the edge of the park. He was kind to me, but I remember the view of Pittsburgh most about that night: Point State Park, the rivers, an incline, all that was out beyond those hotel windows. It was much simpler to be with a complete stranger, than to risk having feelings for someone.

It was here in this city that my children were born. Where after 23 hours of resistance, on a night where the moon was shining, I gave birth to my son, in a white house, with too many steps, and a red door. And years later, on a bright and sunny morning, after many less hours than my first, and layers and layers of acceptance, I gave birth to my daughter, in the hospital on the Northside.

Pittsburgh is the place where I have been brought down so low, many times. Each time, not exactly sure how I would make it. It is the place where I have faced deeper and deeper truths about myself. Finding and uncovering layers of strength, previously unknown. And where, I decided that if I was going to be stuck here, and stuck here again, that I was going to learn to be happy here. And that, if I could learn to be happy here, I could be happy anywhere.

So you see this city has woven itself into my life. It has claimed me as it’s own. Even as it struggles to fully embrace me.

Warrior Within

There were no yoga classes at the time I wanted or with a teacher I wanted to work with, so I decided to do a yoga practice at home. I made it a ritual. I lit candles, burned palo santo, and recited some sacred words. I let my practice be whatever it wanted to be. Which turned out to be a session about the warrior within. Warrior II, warrior I, warrior III, and back again to warrior I. Getting in touch with this inner warrior was all about foundation and balance. Where am I coming from with this pose? And, who am I being in this pose? I realized that being clear about your foundation and balance is essential to every fight. If I fight from a place of being against something, I am actually giving power to the very thing I am fighting. But if I fight from a place of being a stand for something, I am creating something new. This second stance holds more power, even if it doesn’t always win. This sort of power carriers through and is passed along to others who choose to carry the torch. There have been powerful people who came from this stance and gave their lives to a cause, even knowing  they would not live to see the results in their lifetime. Yet their power lives on, their message lives on, and they inspire others to continue their work. And whether their contribution was tiny or huge, they were important. They made a difference.

Let me be like this in my life.

Fierce with love.

A contribution to the world in some way, small or grand.

Magnitude less important than the stance of having the courage to envision the world in a new way.

Not as opposite to what is, but as an entirely new possibility.

Ahimsa and Kai’s Backpacking Adventure : 5 Days and 4 Nights Hiking the Laurel Highlands Trail: Part 5

An Adventure Ends

Day 5: Sunday July 23, 2017

Our last day on the trail—the home stretch. With no way to tell time, we have no sense of what time we head out in the morning. We are tired and take our time to pack up and head out. We are both extra impatient with each other this morning, and at our snappiest (which really isn’t all that bad.) Once we get our morning caffeine in, we feel better. Going down to a stream to filter your water before you can then go and heat it up for tea, adds a whole level of complexity to the morning. I misplaced our measuring spoon, so I make a matcha tea that is way too strong. So strong that Kai gets a belly ache and insists he is incapable of moving. I know it is just the too strong tea, so I reply that I am heading to Ohiopyle—he knows the way.

Both of us, separately, made a trip to the out houses first thing in the morning. On the path coming out of them, is a big information sign about rattlesnakes. We both read that sign—completely. Consequently, for the first few miles of our trip to Ohiopyle, we are on high alert for rattlesnakes. When Kai sees a rattlesnake skin wrapped in a tree, we are on even higher alert. We step carefully over each log or big stone. Kai developes a ritual of tapping on logs with his hiking pole, before stepping over them. And, I swear I hear faint rattles here and there. You know, just like you swear you are hearing your phone ring or your baby cry when you are in the shower. We talk and joke about what we would do with an emergent snake bite, and frequently trade places, so the other is in front, and will be the one to get bit. In between looking out for snakes and talking about snakes, Kai likes to pass the time by talking about Minecraft. Kai has brought up Minecraft many times over the past few days. He talks on and on in elaborate detail about game strategies, books he has read on Minecraft, worlds or things he wants to build or has built, famous Minecrafters he follows, and all the fascinating things that other people have created. For me it is as though he speaks another language, and I am only able to pick up and comprehend bits here and there. So I have gotten into the habit of only half listening when Kai speaks of Minecraft. I am upfront with him that I am not completely listening, but he still chatters on. This morning is different. When he starts in on Minecraft, I refuse to listen. This up, up, and more up is hard work, and my mind wants to be somewhere other than Minecraft. He keeps attempting to go back into his monologue about redstone (whatever that is). I insist that he can speak to me about anything but Minecraft.

Our journey today is only six miles, but a strenuous six miles. Basically, we hike one mile up a mountain, one mile down a mountain, followed by another mile up and another mile down, and then, a two mile home stretch. After conquering our first mountain, we take a small break near a nice stream. Kai plays in the water and gets the wind knocked out of him when he slips, hits his elbow on a rocky creek bed, and just misses a giant rock coming down on him. He is fine, just shaken. I sit and soak in the view, bathing in the calm and luscious valley of trees between two mountains. We are down to the last of our snacks: curried cashews, sesame sticks, Panda red raspberry licorice, and honey-sesame snaps. I have planned our food well, and we have eaten all but a few things and have wasted only two bananas and one avocado.

As we set to climb our second mountain, a storm sets in. This keeps us moving fast and I can barely catch my breath as we go up, and up some more. It feels unnerving to be on the top of this mountain with the thunder and lightning, and we feel good when we start to move down again. When we reach mile marker 2, we think that we will just sail through these last miles. We are wrong, mile 2 to 1 seems to take forever. The rain has ceased, but we are soaked down to our toes and our feet are getting blistered and chaffed from all the wetness. When we finally see mile marker 1, we get encouraged and pick up the pace. Mile 1 down to 0 goes by quickly. As we descend down the last hill, canes (hiking poles) in hand, we see my mother and her friend Bob there to meet us. It is 3:45pm. We thought we would get in between noon and one, so we were much later than expected, but we had storms and mountains to get through.

Video of Kai Stepping off the Trail

Video of Ahimsa Stepping off the Trail

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Ohiopyle. Fresh off the trail.

Ohiopyle:

I have been promising Kai all you can eat ice cream for days. He has visions of having a root beer float, a banana split, and trying every flavor of ice cream they have. I insist that if he can make it through all of that, he can have it, but not before showers. I use a whole travel size bottle of Dr. Bronners lavender soap. I scrub every inch of my body from my ears to my toes, keeping my wash cloth thick with suds, and ending with my hair. This shower is amazing! I can’t even entertain the thought of putting my feet back into my trail shoes, so we head across from the showers to Wilderness Voyageurs Outfitter Store, and buy outrageously priced, comfy, flip-floppy type shoes (the kind made from yoga mats). My feet love them. We see the lovely Ms. Laura from the Waldorf School working at the coffee cart outside the store, and she treats me to a latte so delicious and creamy with real, not powdered, milk. I don’t even need to put sugar in it, it is that good. And then, we get to the ice cream. Kai makes it through a banana split, a root beer float, and a chunk of fudge before giving up on his quest to try every flavor of ice cream.

Home:

As we step into our apartment, we can’t help but notice how small the space feels compared to where we have been. It feels strange to be indoors, and we know that this is home, but it feels different. We revel in the novelty of our home and lounge around until we get hungry. It is 9pm and we decide we are hungry for Japanese food, but it is Sunday and all of the Japanese restaurants close by close by 10pm, and by the time we drive there, we won’t have too much time to eat. We don’t want to feel rushed, or drive too far, so we settle on The Cheesecake Factory, because it is close and open until 11pm. Driving down Becks Run Road to the Cheesecake Factory feels surreal. It feels unsettling to be moving so fast in a car, in the dark. I keep putting my foot on the brake to slow us down, but we are not even breaking 30 miles per hour on a road where most cars are moving over 40. It is not just me, Kai feels this too. At the Cheesecake Factory, there are so many choices and we just know that we are hungry. Overwhelmed by our choices, we settle on breakfast for dinner, since eggs and potatoes was one of my trail fantasies. I get two scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese, and an English muffin, home fried potatoes, and a side of spinach. I clean every single crumb off that plate, and order a cherry cheesecake to go. Food, cooked properly, tastes wonderful. We are completely satisfied, and ready to go home to our real beds.

 

Backpacking with Kai had me move at a slower pace than I did last year. Last year I hiked the whole 70 mile trail solo in 6 days and 5 nights, whereas this year with Kai, we hiked 35 miles in 5 days and 4 nights. Many backpackers taking longer trips can work up to 20 mile days, but they have time to condition their bodies and work up to this. I found that when I am just going out on these short trips, this slower pace is preferable. Going at this slower pace with Kai, had me slow down and enjoy the journey more. We had a really great time and I experienced the trail in a new way. My next goal is to hike the trail in 9 days and 8 nights. And my far off goal is to hike the entire Appalachian Trail.

Ahimsa and Kai’s Backpacking Adventure : 5 Days and 4 Nights Hiking the Laurel Highlands Trail: Part 4

One Day in 12 Miles

Day 4: Saturday July 22, 2017

Mile Marker 18:

This portion of the Laurel Highlands trail is abundant in flowing runs of water, so finding or having enough water is not an issue. We stop at our first good run to filter and fill only two of our water bottles, knowing we will come across more water sources throughout the day. This helps our packs feel lighter. Last year, I caught a fairly serious parasite on my backpacking adventure, so this year, I am being more deliberate about preventing cross contamination. We fill the plastic pouch that comes with our filter and dry it before filtering the water into a clean bottle. This is to prevent any unclean drips from sliding down into our clean drinking water. Filtering water is a time consuming process and not a job for the impatient. Our packs are also feeling lighter, because we have been literally eating our weight away. I am sure this is one of the few times in life where you can say that.

Since our shelter last night was more than halfway past the previous mile, this first mile marker comes easy.

Mile Marker 17:

Our energy level is great this morning, and mile marker 17 is the halfway point of our backpacking trip. We stop to take a picture, but my phone dies—no more pictures, only memories in our minds.

Mile Marker 16:

We are feeling good, so we decide to push through to mile marker 15 (3 ½ miles in) before taking a break. We try to make use of the energy we feel from our morning cup of matcha green tea. I am grateful that I did that restorative yoga, because I feel so refreshed and not too sore today. Kai regrets that he didn’t listen to my prodding that he do some yoga too. He also regrets staying up late to play with the fire. I woke him up early since we have a long day ahead of us. I want to be sure we have plenty of time to reach camp tonight. I had to have a talk with Kai about being responsible. He had left his lighter on the edge of the fire. When I was sleeping, I heard a big pop, a wiz, and a bang as something flung out of the fireplace. I woke Kai, but we couldn’t figure out what it had been. In the morning, I found his lighter less than a foot away from me, with the top burnt off. It must have exploded and flung in my direction, just missing me. I admonished Kai, saying that with more freedom comes more responsibility, and that he needs to be aware of and on top of these things.

Mile Marker 15:

We breezed through those first three miles pretty well. We are starting to feel like we want a break and we are coming upon a pretty stream. Kai makes a strong case that we should rest at this nice spot. I like to push through to the mile marker we planned for before we take a break. As we we are crossing the stream, I spot on the opposite bank, the mile 15 marker. I point out to Kai that we can break here after all. It rarely works out this way. We are decompressing, our packs off. I am doing some easy, stretchy yoga and Kai is playing at the stream. As we are just about to start in on our allotted snacks, we see clouds rolling in. We decide to pull out our rain gear, and we get it set up just in time. The rain starts coming down and picking up fast.

Mile Marker 14:

Sitting and eating in heavy rain is not restive, so we decide to keep moving. We finish up the dried mango we had started as we are walking, but we don’t make it through all our morning snacks. The little adrenaline rush caused by the sudden rain keeps us moving at a steady pace. It’s like our natural urge is to walk out of the rain, but of course, we really can only walk through it and hope it stops. I keep Kai moving by promising chocolate covered espresso beans soon. And then, “when we get to the 14 mile marker.” I try to push us a little past our limits and time our caffeine hits just right, so we are not overdoing it, but are milking each dose to its fullest. Mile marker 14 comes quickly, or so it seems.

Mile Marker 13:

Kai likes to suck the chocolate off the coffee bean and then eat the coffee bean inside. I like to take one at a time and savor the coffee and chocolate flavor together, so that I can almost imagine that I am drinking a mocha. And then in my mind, I am in a coffee shop. The nice and cozy kind. With a fireplace, books, and games. The type you could spend all day at. Each coffee bean transports me to this place, so I space them out well, at regular intervals to keep the thoughts alive. We are at the point where we know that it is wet and raining, but this has just become the state of our existence. There is no walking away from the rain. We are just in the rain. “Blueberries!”,  Kai exclaims, pulling me out of my fantasy.  Earlier I had noticed that the climate was changing as we were descending in elevation. It looked like the territory we might find wild blueberries in. I thought I would mention this to Kai, but then thought better to leave it as a surprise. New territories, new scenery, and new discoveries keep our spirits up and renew our energy. Wild blueberries are not like their cultivated cousins. Finding a good patch might yield a couple tablespoons at most, and they are teeny tiny. But their flavor is truly wild and complex. We try a bite of blueberries with coffee beans. It is an interesting and curious flavor combination, but we didn’t discover anything worth writing about.

Mile marker 13 feels like a long time coming. We pass by a small duck pond where this group of about fifteen day hikers come upon us. Kai decides to make a game of running up ahead of them, hiding himself up in a small tree, a bush, or a fallen log, and seeing if they will spot him. I keep myself going by chanting in my head, “thirteen is my favorite number.”

Mile Marker 12:

Kai keeps up his game with the hikers for a good bit of this mile, while I keep a slow, steady pace, so I actually don’t seen him for much of this mile. I need to pee, but I don’t want one of the day hikers to catch me with my pants down, so I just hold it in—a whole mile. Mile marker 12 is our next scheduled break, lunch time, and our halfway point of this day (6 miles in).  As I go along, I realize that I haven’t seen Kai for a while, and I am really not sure if he is ahead or behind. All I can think is that he better have the sense not to leave the trail. I am not moving backwards and I don’t have it in me to go on a Kai hunt. I can make it to mile marker 12, not anything more. Then, I feel, slightly, guilty and worried, so I call out for him. No response. I keep moving forward. I continue to call out every so often. Eventually, he responds and I catch up to him. My greeting is, “You are lucky you were ahead of me, because there is no way I was going back to hunt you down.”  Kai laughs. We do have a conversation about the importance of staying on the trail. He does understand, and has an equal desire not to be lost or completely on his own out here.

Finally, mile marker 12, and the relief of peeing without being watched. There are several fallen logs that act as our benches. It feels so great to have the packs come off for a bit. And we are hungry. Lunch is wraps with Primal Strips, mayo, Babybel cheese, and grape tomatoes torn into pieces. We have an avocado, but it has somehow managed to not ripen, so we sacrifice it to the forest gods and goddesses. Our wraps are served with a side of potato chips leftover from our market meal. When I tear open the bag of potato chips, I inhale the scent as if it were the most satisfying smell I have ever experienced. The taste of each bite of food, is enhanced by each mile we have walked to earn it. The rain lets up long enough for us to have a decent lunch break. My song of clear skies and prayed for rainbows worked. I am able to lay on a wet log to rest. It feels like lying on a wet log, but it feels soo good.

Mile Marker 11:

Before we head out, I switch my shoes. On these longer days, I alternate between my hiking sandals and my sturdier hiking shoes. Each set of shoes hit my feet at different parts of my foot, so alternating between them gives my feet some relief. Our next scheduled break is mile marker 9. I promised Kai that we would split the second half of our package of coffee beans after lunch, but I am trying to stretch them out a bit longer, so I keep saying, “soon.” And finally, “at mile marker 11.” He doesn’t like this. The rain hits again and we are getting to the point where we are tired of being wet. Kai tries going barefoot for a while. He splashes his feet in the puddles and streams. Hiking barefoot on the trail feels good and gives your feet a break from your shoes, but it is easy to stub your toes on stones and tree roots, and it definitely slows you down. Kai manages for about a half mile, before returning to his shoes.

Mile Marker 10:

The coffee beans are our reward for the past sloshy mile. There is no savoring them this time. They are wet and clumped together. We pop them in our mouths several at a time, hoping to get their high quickly. This part of the trail is beautiful. Rocky corners. Flowering pink and white Rhododendrons. Flowing streams. We try to stay present, but our minds fluctuate between awing at the beauty around us and escaping to a more comfortable place in our minds. At mile marker 10 there is a perfect tree stump, at just the right height to sit into and lean the weight of our packs against. We sit just long enough to get some water in us. No packs off. This isn’t our break yet.

Mile Marker 9:

As our coffee beans kick in, I tell Kai maybe we should push on to mile marker 8 before taking our break. But as the mile drags on, and the coffee high fades, and we come upon mile marker 9, we are both in full agreement that we need a break. Caffeine has its limits. We have hiked nine miles today, and we are tired. Kai lays prone on a wet log, arms and legs wrapped around the log, his head turned to one side; he has forgotten to take off his pack. I do take off my pack and sit on a log on the other side of the trail. The rain gods and goddesses are smiling on us, for the rain has stopped for this break too. I look at our map, and I am encouraged. I had thought that after mile marker 9, we had a steep hill to climb, but I see that we are already up the hill, and there will not be too much incline coming up. After resting for a bit, we pull out the carob malt balls. I had been saving this sugary snack for a time when we would need that sugar rush, and this is it. You definitely don’t want to overdo it, but sweets do have their place on the trail.

Mile Marker 8:

The next three miles or so, we start getting loopy. We are at that point where we are doing whatever it takes to make it through. The trail to mile marker 8 is misty and surreal. We start being silly and make things up. I say, “The guy at REI, Joe, or I think he is Joe anyway, so I will call him Joe, he knows this trail well, and everything has said has been true, and well, he said that there is a lemonade stand at mile marker 8.” Kai says, “really?” Just for a moment, his mind wanted to believe it was true. Then, we joke about how we really died at mile marker 9, and that we are just ghosts walking through the mist. The topic of death is appropriate and not disturbing. I mean, we do feel like we have died. And death is merely stepping into another dimension.

When we reach mile marker 8, we really do have lemonade. We stop and rest on a rock and make lemonade out of two packets of Real Lemon that I stole from GetGo, and two fizzy electrolyte tablets. The lemonade lacks the icy refreshness that we long for. It is cool, at best. But it is some kind of break from everything else we have had. Then, we move on.

Mile Marker 7:

We start moving down hill both literally and figuratively, as we make our way to mile marker 7 and beyond to Ohiopyle shelter. I start humming and singing Alison Krauss’s song “Your Long Journey.” A song about death. Kai first thinks I am kooky for singing to myself, but I say, “In my mind I am wearing headphones and listening to the radio.” And, “It is working, as long as the song is playing in my head, I am not focusing on my pain and fatigue.” After a bit, Kai decides to give it a go by highjacking my song. He starts singing a song he made up about us being slower than snails and snails singing better than us too. He sings loud, and his singing drowns out my peaceful melody, so I give up. We are moving pretty slowly at this point, and perhaps, snails are faster than us. We each have one hiking pole to rely on. The hill is so steep and relentless. Our already tired feet crush up against the edges of our shoes and each step is painful. It really is impossible to move any faster. Kai keeps his song up for nearly a mile, and as we pass mile marker 7 (no stopping, only moving forward), and move into our last stretch to the shelters, his chant changes. It changes to something along the lines of “we are going to die, we are never going to make it.” Over and over again. I am completely demoralized. Who can think positive when someone is shouting those things.  I attempt a “shut up!” a few times, to no avail. So I just give up, and my feet keep slowly crawling forward. Because forward is where home for the night is. At one point, Kai decides to try positivity by shouting, “look, I see the shelter sign!” He lies. It is still at least a quarter mile down.

Ohiopyle Shelter:

Finally, we make it to Ohiopyle shelter, and our humble shelter 3. The rain starts in again, so for the first time we cook and eat in the shelter. This is the first time I actually start the fire. There are three dry logs that are at our shelter and some bits of sticks leftover from previous users. I use five petroleum jelly saturated cotton balls (our emergency fire starter), because I am not in the mood to coax a fire all night. It works and our fire takes off quickly. Dinner is vacuum packed indian meals, but they don’t hit the spot, so we manage to eat just enough. We are tired of being wet and it is still raining, so we do everything in our shelter tonight. We go to sleep as soon as we can. I had agreed that we would exchange sleeping systems for the night. I want to try out Kai’s equipment and he wants to see if my setup is more comfortable. Unfortunately, Kai’s sleeping mat is defective, with a very slow leak, so that after several hours it loses most of its inflation. This is not a fun way to wake up.

Ahimsa and Kai’s Backpacking Adventure : 5 Days and 4 Nights Hiking the Laurel Highlands Trail: Part 3

A Slow Going Six Miles

Day 3: Friday July 21, 2017

We start on the trail this morning thinking we can knock out six fairly level miles, but these miles end up kicking our butt. Instead of flowing through the first few miles, like we did yesterday, at every mile we want to stop for a small break. Today is the day where the rigors of the trail really kick in, and we start to have trail fantasies. Trail fantasies are when you long for the comforts of our modern world. Incredibly vivid images form in your mind. Last year, my hike was more rigorous and austere, so my fantasies were many: very specific hot meals (like spaghetti), a shower, my bed, sex—that order was essential. This time, my first trail fantasy is for a shower. To keep pack weight down many backpackers only pack one item of clothing for each function. I have a pair of running shorts and a yoga shirt with a built in bra as my daytime wear and yoga pants and a comfy top for bedtime and camp wear, as well as a long sleeve layer for warmth. Needless to say, wearing and sweating in the same clothes for days with no shower creates quite a skank. I am a person that doesn’t mind getting dirty, but I do love to clean up afterwards. Going without a shower is one of my least favorite parts of backpacking. Kai relishes the opportunity to go days without being forced to bathe. Dirty is almost always an acceptable state for Kai. His first trail fantasy is about vegging out on Minecraft, uninterrupted, for a whole day and night.

On a backpacking adventure snacks are essential. It feels better not to eat heavy meals while on the trail, but backpackers can burn as many as three or four thousand calories a day, so frequent snacks are the ticket to getting all these calories in. Before setting out on our hike, we went to the Co-op and filled little snack size baggies with things like nuts, dried fruits, chocolate, sesame sticks, and granola. We supplemented this with packages of chocolate covered espresso beans and other packaged items. This was a great idea. It is so easy to get bored eating the same thing, so having so much variety, keeps things interesting and tasty. Everyday I ration out our snacks for the day and put them in the little top section of my pack, along with a light lunch. This way I do not have to open or dig into my pack during the day. Each day, we have a different dried fruit, a couple savory and salty snacks like sesame sticks or nuts, and some sweet treat like chocolate.

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Alleyways of Giant Boulders
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Capturing the perfect selfie is kind of difficult when your associate is as mischievous as Kai.

 

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This one is a keeper ❤
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Kai
The air is thick and muggy. I have a fine sheen of moisture on my body throughout the day. The trail is mostly level with minuscule inclines, but it is incredibly rocky—to the point where we feel each stone acutely. There is one point where we pass through alleyways of giant boulders. We see stunning vistas of the Laurel Highlands. And pass by an ancient graveyard. When we pass by a large group of day hikers, we can’t help but think, “wimps.” And when we see people stroll into camp by coming down from their cars at nearby roads, “cheaters.”

Kai and I have been getting along quite well on this trip. We get mildly edgy with each other when we are setting off in the morning, because we have different flows. I like to get up and go to take advantage of my morning energy. Kai likes to ease into his day a bit. But really, this morning edginess is hardly anything and dissipates quickly as we get into our hike. But Kai gets angry at me today. I said we would eat lunch at four miles in for the day, but at four miles, I push for one more. The map says that there is a parking lot just off the trail with a potable water spigot and picnic tables at five miles in for us. I want to make it to this spot for lunch. Kai tries to sit down and refuse to move at mile marker 20, but I just keep moving. I make it well ahead of him, before he decides to catch up to me. He is a hangry beast until I feed him at the next mile. We deal with our frustration by walking far away from each other. Kai rushes on ahead of me and makes it there first. At the picnic table Kai eats away his frustration, and is soothed by more water play at the spigot. The shelters are only a mile away, so I push us on, eager to be done for the day.

When we get into camp, I unpack the contents of our packs, setting or hanging each item on the hooks and shelf within the shelter. I “bathe,” get into my comfy camp clothes, and set up my bed. I do a session of yoga. Nothing active. Just gentle restorative poses to counteract the movements and tensions of backpacking. Cat-cow, supported bridge, puppy, forward folds, savasana, and any variations that feel good to by body. When we were browsing the Highland Market yesterday, I came across a display of natural beard balms in various scents. I picked up each scent and took a whiff. The sandalwood was so sweet and comforting that on a whim I bought it for myself. Tonight, I rub this beard balm into my tired feet and up my calves, over my sore shoulders and neck, to work out some of the tension. The combination of the scent, the yoga, and the rub down, after three days of hiking has me feeling deeply worn, but relaxed.

Kai’s ritual is to discard his pack on the shelter floor. He runs off to scope out everything and see if any goodies have been left behind. He usually finds something to excite him. Yesterday he found mini bottles of wine stored in the run (we just let them be). Tonight, he finds a newspaper with some comic strips he enjoys reading. Then he gets straight to collecting kindling and firewood and starting a fire–his favorite part. Last year, I was too tired to deal with fires, so I only had one on a night I shared it with two guys. This time, I have been getting a fire or two every night without having to do anything for it, thanks to Kai. This grove of shelters is a packed house. Two solo backpackers, a group of three backpackers, a trio of “cheaters”, a father and son set, a man with two wee daughter, and two dogs. We are curious as each new person or group who rolls in. We talk to the solo backpackers and trade tips, tricks, and advice. Kai sees that the dad with two daughter’s is struggling to start a fire, so he brings them some kindling to help out. When we see people at shelters we interact minimally, mostly keeping to ourselves.

Dinner is a fail. It fills our bellies, but is wholly unsatisfying. I try to cook angel hair pasta using the soak method, but it comes out with a strange gummy texture. The sauce, that came in a great little pouch, doesn’t have much flavor. The only part that works well are these little packets of fresh mozzarella balls that have managed to stay fresh for these past few days. Leftover s’mores act as redemption for such a pitiful dinner. Our dinner ritual is for Kai to start a fire at the outside fire pit closest to our shelter. I cook our dinner close to the fire. I carefully unpack and set up all the items I will need to make dinner, and place the fuel canister on the most level surface I can find. I screw the small backpacking stove (a burner with four fold out pot supports) into the fuel canister. Then I proceed to cook whatever is on the menu for the night. After dinner, I wash our dishes and pots with natural, unscented baby wipes. I have found this to be the most efficient way to clean them, because washing in streams is harmful for the environment and water is a chore to find and filter. Then, I carefully repack every item, nestling items together as compactly as possible. We burn our leftover food and any trash that is acceptable to burn. The shelters have bear proof trash cans for the rest of our waste. Dinner usually takes a while, and Kai and I enjoy this time of talking and relaxing.

After dinner we brush our teeth, using only small amounts of water. I hang our food between two opposing hooks on either side of the shelter. Bears are really rare on the Laurel Highlands Trail, but the mice have learned how to raid the food stashes of campers. This is one reason we cook and eat outside the shelter. I like to head to the shelter to write, and then, slowly fall asleep. Kai likes to linger at the fire, until he eventually gets tired and decides to start a second fire in the fireplace attached to the shelter. I do insist that Kai at least wipe down his muddy feet and legs before climbing into his sleeping bag. He does this reluctantly, or will say that he is too tired and request I do it for him. Sometimes I do, knowing his version of clean is not up to my standards. Sometimes I don’t, knowing he is capable of doing it himself. I also usually have Kai set up his own bedding and pack up his own pack in the morning. Learning to pack and unpack your backpack and set up camp everyday is an important part of backpacking. It is important that you pack your pack in such a way that your essential items don’t get wet, the heaviest weight is in the middle against your back, and everything fits. There is a bit of an art to it. Kai is impatient with this process. He would prefer to just push everything into his pack and have it done with, and not to deal with blowing up sleep pads and rolling and unrolling sleeping bags. Every morning he tries to shove everything in, only to get frustrated when everything doesn’t fit in his pack and it won’t zip up. Then he has to start again to pack it properly. He does start to get the importance of doing it right the first time, but he still just doesn’t want to deal with it, so every morning he gets irritable.

Tired, we sleep well tonight.