Return To Cold Creek

Hike 1

I never know when I’m going to end up here.

I may get in my car thinking I’m going to pick up a few things at the store, or that I’m going to the post office. Today I laced up my shoes thinking I would go take a sedate little walk around the Great Wall of Los Angeles mural, but no. The mountains. Only the mountains would do.

When I first got my car, affectionately named Ed, I took him part way up there to give him a feel for what he would be in store for as my vehicle. That was the evening he told me his name and also informed me he wasn’t fond of how fast I liked to drive. This trip was my first time taking Ed all the way in to the area of the mountains I call my Living Room.

The mountains said, “Welcome home.”

I was nervous going all the way in. Nervous because I’d never taken Ed on that rutted dirt road before. Ed, who is a distinguished silver gentleman. I don’t think Ed has ever been taken mudwhomping before. Fortunately for him, and sadly for me, there was no water or mud to whomp in. The two places on the paved part of the road where the creek crosses were completely dry. No satisfying “SPLOOSH!” of the river as I drove over the road.

It was weird to be nervous there. Those mountains are usually the place I feel the most calm and the most myself. I parked Ed just outside of the “DO NOT TRESPASS” gate. The place I’d parked my second Honda so many times before. The first Honda I didn’t have to park there because when I had that first Honda there weren’t any barriers on the property. You could drive all the way in as far as you liked back then, but today I parked outside of the gate, and I was nervous.

The mountains said, “Welcome home.”

I ducked between the bars of the gate and started walking. It was quiet there, as always, but the sound of my own walking seemed to drown out everything else. My gosh I’m noisy when I walk. My pants, which were too long and are of that odd windbreaker type fabric, made noise as my thighs rubbed together and each time my foot hit the ground I could hear the hems drag. My shoes made the predictable “crunch, crunch” on the grainy dirt road, but I also noticed for the first time that my running shoes squeak. So as I walked along, this one small person in this great big place, I felt as stealth as a traveling circus calliope going at full steam announcing the “Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus of One” on the way down the trail.

“HEY! QUIET WILDERNESS! I’M HERE!”

The mountains quietly said, “Welcome home.”

The longer I walked, the more I felt embarrassed at how noisy I was. I kept stopping because I thought I heard something else, but… no, it was always just me.

I was also walking with this sense of urgency because I ended up getting there after 4pm and although it had been sunny and kinda hot in the Valley all day, by the time I made it up there it was getting overcast and already starting to get dark.

I went up there without an agenda, I thought, but as I parked my car before the gate barricade I realized, “I’ve got to go to where I left mom’s ashes.” I didn’t want to go, necessarily, but that was where I was going. That was what this trip was about.

Walking loud, walking nervous, I kept thinking about how I was now in the ecotone, that place on the edge between civilization and wilderness. I thought about that episode of “Six Feet Under” where the dude who dies in that episode is jogging in the hills and he gets attacked by a cougar. I nervously looked around for random cougars or coyotes that might pop out of the bushes without warning.

I thought about Joe Perry of Aerosmith’s autobiography, which I had just finished reading, and how he mentioned he loved the woods because there was the possibility of danger around every corner, and how he welcomed the excitement of that. Of course he always went into the woods with a dog and a gun. I had neither. I realized, in my spontaneity, I had neglected to bring a jacket, so it was just me, my noisy-ass pants, shoes, a thin t-shirt and my hair in a ponytail stuffed under a baseball hat.

“Grrrr! I am mountain woman! Fear me imagined predators of the wilderness!”

The last time I was up here I brought my mom’s ashes with me. I still have a video of scattering her ashes in the creek on my Blackberry. I forgot I’d taken it, but I was dinking around with my Blackberry one day and there it was. I never posted it anywhere and I still haven’t watched it all the way through, but… it’s there.

I walked the wide pathway until it narrowed and offered me the familiar high road / low road choice. I usually take the low road because it’s closer to the creek and this time I wanted to see if there was any water in the creek back there. I had a moment where I got excited, “I hear water!” I stopped. But no… “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh, whoosh…” pause …it’s the pants.

The last time I was there I brought mom’s ashes. When was that? Blackberry says… oh, of course! June 11, 2011. Her birthday. So it’s been three years and almost seven months since I was last in the mountains? Christ! How is that possible?

The place had changed. In June the creek was flowing and things were green. In June!

Walking the low road I was surprised to see a huge tree had fallen since the last time I was there. In fact, I think I shot a quick video of this tree the last time I was here.  Yes, here it is.

The tree, as it stood then, is the biggest one on the left.  It split right in half, as you can see here.

Split Tree

The tree fell directly on the road, so there won’t be any cars taking the low road for awhile. I wonder when it fell? And I wonder if the people who own the property have any intention of clearing it?

Fallen Tree

I walked under and through the fallen tree to get to the place where the creek runs. The creek bed was eroded with just a slimy little trickle moving through. Change, change, change. I want to say it’s sad, but it’s not sad, it just is. We’re in a drought. Trees fall, creeks dry up. Change happens.

Once I got past the creek the urgency was upon me like an angry little monkey biting me in the scalp. “Starting to get dark. Must get to the place where I left her ashes.”

It was beautifully silent, but I couldn’t hear the quiet. All I could hear were my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks. The hike is uphill all the way at this point. Not an incredibly steep hill, but an incline all the same. I moved faster trying to beat the setting sun. In addition to my noisy pants, my loud feet and my squeaky sneaks, now I was starting to huff and puff. “Wow, I’m really out of shape,” I think, but I pushed on.

My eyes were mainly on the rutted dirt road, but they still darted around looking for snakes. or coyotes, or cougars, or maybe Sasquatch! There were animal poops on the road that looked a little familiar. Was it possum poop? Possums don’t want to be hassled and neither did I. I could handle a peace loving possum should I see one.

Almost there, just around this bend…

I don’t know what I expected to see, after all, it’s been over three years, but I still looked around hoping to see the rocks I piled up and maybe the necklace I’d left.

I wondered if someone had taken the necklace. I wondered if there’s someone walking around wearing it now. But there was nothing. Rocks, yes, and the usual brush, but no trace of her left.

“Well,” I thought, “there it is then. She’s gone.”

I hadn’t realized how afraid I’d been to come back to this place until I was there. I know she’s gone, I knew she was gone, but coming back confirmed it. Change. Change to this holy place. Changes within me.

Maybe now I can reclaim the place for myself. I brought my mother up here because she wanted to be here and now she’s everywhere and nowhere. Once I brought her up here I didn’t want to come back. I didn’t want to come back in a month and find the stones toppled over and the necklace in the dirt. Better to wait years and know the mountain had taken care of her for me.

I took a few more photos while standing there. I think I captured the Face of God ridge in the far distance in this shot, but I’m not positive. I think so though.

Face of God

Standing there I noticed the trail going down into the valley is back. The last time I was there it was completely overgrown. As usual I didn’t see a single person while I was there, but I saw plenty of shoe tracks. People hike that narrow little trail. The first glimmer of enthusiasm for hiking there again came to me looking at that trail. But not now, not today.

It was getting dark. Time to go.

Heading back the same way I came was an easy downhill trot. No more huffing and puffing of the wheezy calliope. Because of the fallen tree, I had to take the high road back. They paved it with fresh asphalt! Who paves the road and yet doesn’t cut up the fallen tree? Who maintains this property? I’ve never seen anyone here, so I’m still not sure whose land I’ve been trespassing on for the past 38 years.

While walking on the high road I saw a trail I’d never seen before. Weirdly someone put up a couple of posts there like, “Hey! Look! A trail!” I was intrigued. I wanted to come back and find out where the trail goes. I felt like I was discovering something new about an old lover looking at the trail. She’s been holding back on me! How did I not know this trail was there? I must know her secrets!

Trail

I was still nervous on the walk out. I had no idea how much light I had left. By the time the “whoosh, whoosh!” of my pants had taken me almost to my car I heard a rattling sound that freaked me out. Not like a rattlesnake rattling, I never would have heard that over my noisy pants anyway, this was like someone shaking a bunch of coins in a tin can in a bush near me. I have NO IDEA what it was and I didn’t stick around to find out.

There was a panicky moment when I approached the gate and I couldn’t see Ed. His silver body blended in with the silvery sage he was parked near. I thought about what I would do if my car got towed. Fortunately, I saw him then and pushed that thought out of my mind.

Once behind the wheel of Ed, safely hugged by the interior, memories hung heavy from my previous visits. The rattlesnake I came on in the middle of the path when I was with D. that time, the time after that when I went hiking in my boots and the soles came off during the walk and then the last time, taking mom’s ashes up there.

I hadn’t realized I was hiking into the mountains to face my fears, but that’s what ended up happening. Once I was out I didn’t have the completely exhausted, blissed out feeling I usually get, but I was deeply relaxed and energized.

Nature heals. I’d forgotten.

On the way home I decided to swing by mom’s old house because I wanted to see how the buttermilk was holding up in the fridge. I’m planning to bake a vegetable pie and I needed to see if it had gone over to the dark side. Being at the house felt good, I noticed. It felt different. Lighter. Less sad. I dumped the buttermilk, put away the dishes that had been sitting in the drainer and decided to drag all the boxes of junk that had been sitting around in the living room back into mom’s bedroom.

The last time I was there I made the bed in my old room and spread a quilt on mom’s bed. So I went into both rooms and turned on the lights to survey my work. As I dragged boxes into mom’s bedroom the light went out. I said, “Mom, I need the light. I’m bringing boxes in here.” The light went back on and then, as I was standing there, it went back off and on again very quickly. It was like the light was being cute and teasing me. Mom.

When I left the place where I left her ashes I had said goodbye to her. This playing with the lights in her bedroom was like her saying hello to me. Not goodbye. Hello. A playful, happy, clear, “Hello!”

We made an agreement long before she got sick that if she could figure out how to communicate with me from the other side, she would do so. My caveat was, “But you can’t come back and scare me.” This didn’t scare me. It was funny. “Hello!” Mom learns how to play with electricity and says hello.

Sometimes you don’t notice thresholds you’ve crossed over until after you’ve gone through them. I think this threshold was something that was long overdue, but couldn’t be rushed.

But the mountains said, “Welcome home.”

And my mom said, “Hello!”

Mom

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Just For Today

Week 5

Week 5 of the Integrity Challenge

“Today you are you!  That is truer than true!  There is no one alive who is you-er than you!”
~ Dr. Seuss

Just for today I am gentle with myself and others.  I treat those around me with kindness and respect, and I extend the same courtesy to myself.

Just for today I listen with compassion.  I extend empathy, not sympathy.  I listen with my heart and let love fill in the gaps between the words.

Just for today I do something for the simple joy of doing it.  I let go of judgments, I let go of the attachment to results.

Just for today I do what’s in front of me.  I take my time, focusing on one task and seeing it through to completion.

Just for today I do not complain, instead I allow.  I accept what is and I resist nothing.

Just for today I befriend change.  I know my prayers are answered before they are even spoken.  I keep my eye single to see as God sees.

Just for today I bend with ease.  I learn from the trees as they flex while the wind tousles their leaves.

Just for today I embrace gratitude as a spiritual practice.  I give thanks for what I have and share my gifts with others.

Just for today I mindfully tend my own garden.  I let go of the idea that I need to fix anyone or anything, including myself.

Just for today I look at the earth dancing around the sun without my help… just for today!

I release anything that has come before this moment in time.  I relax into this day as a fresh new moment in God.   I set my intention afresh.  And so it is.  Amen.

My Word Is Law:  The Integrity Challenge” Event
A promise a week for 52 weeks

The challenge is to choose one promise a week and to honor yourself by seeing it through.  That’s it!

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Mysteries of the Super Moon

Kim Flyer

“The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath.”
~ Portia, “The Merchant of Venice”

“It’s a hard world for little things.”
~ Rachel Cooper, “The Night Of The Hunter”

The Integrity Challenge:  Week 4

I fielded a few curve balls this week.  Some that I saw coming and some that I had no clue about.  My promise to myself this week was to visit the new library at my old college and while I was there I crossed another promise off by also visiting an academic counselor to review my records.  So as far as my promises this week, I was done.

What also happened this week was that my cat, who is primarily an indoor cat because she’s blind and requires special care, took an unexpected stroll out of my yard and disappeared for a couple of days.  Needless to say, situations like this are where the rubber meets the road in spiritual practice.  The first day I did what I know how to do, I prayed and asked all those around me to do the same.  My prayer request was clear, “Come home, Kim!”  I prayed and I waited.

The second day was more challenging because human nature started kicking in and the storytelling machine cranked into high gear.  I started questioning why she would leave the yard when she hasn’t done so in years.  She’s 16 and has various physical challenges, maybe she wandered off to die like an old Eskimo voluntarily going out on the ice floe?  Then there was the neighbor I talked to who was convinced that she’d been eaten by a coyote.  (By the way, if you happen to be making a list about what not to say to a concerned pet owner when his or her pet goes missing, please feel free to appropriate that comment for your list.)

Well-meaning friends had suggestions about what I should do at a time like this.  All were practical, sensible things, and I did them all.  More stories about what could have happened to her were spun.  Other concerned friends stayed upbeat and positive knowing she would come home and we would be together again soon.

My spiritual practice and my (surprising!) sanity was a huge blessing in the midst of all this.  I listened to the stories I was hearing from others about what had happened to their lost pets,   and I was listening to the stories I was telling myself about what could have happened to her, but I stayed calm and maintained my equanimity.

Isn’t the mind an amazing thing?  When confronted with the unknown it works overtime to come up with answers rather than accepting the uncomfortable uncertainties it faces.  The blessing of a strong spiritual practice is the ability to shift into the witness consciousness and dwell in the mystery while maintaining a simultaneous awareness.  In plain terms, there’s no “spiritual bypass” going on, you feel what you feel, but there’s also the awareness that you can’t possibly know what’s going on in the bigger picture.  Faith invites us to rest in the unknown and to trust in the benevolence of the Universe.

As the clock ticked by and Kim was nowhere to be found I started feeling that I wasn’t doing enough, so in the second day I tackled the situation like a detective, knocking on doors, questioning more neighbors and leaving notes for those who I knew were home, but wouldn’t come to the door.  I got my big break when my next door neighbor, who has made it clear that he does not like cats, immediately responded by phone to the note I had taped on his door.

He told me he had seen her the day before in the morning and that she was walking very slowly headed south.  So I focused my neighborly investigation in that direction, and got more good news a few houses down that she had been seen truckin’ down the street on the second day as well.  This blew my mind because Kim can’t even find her food dish without directional help most days.

Amped up by this news, I looked under cars, I called her name, I talked to the neighborhood cats and dogs and told them to help her find her way back home.  I came home that evening and hit social media lost and found sites, I made up the flyer above and was just printing it out when I heard the welcome sound of her yelling at me from the back patio.

There she was, my little blind miracle cat, home safe and sound under her own steam.  She was dirty and thirsty, but looked essentially fine.  What had happened to her?  Where had she been?  Why had she gone away?  And how had she gotten home?

I have no idea.  I’m choosing to dwell in the mystery of it all.  I could make up a great story about it though, perhaps a blog post?  Hmmmm…

Week 4

My Word Is Law:  The Integrity Challenge” Event
A promise a week for 52 weeks

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The Power Of Intention

Week 3

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to the violence of our times.”
~ Thomas Merton

It’s Week 3, Yippee!

This week has me thinking about how powerful intentions are when they are fueled with the steady flame of commitment. That’s what integrity is all about. Stating our word and standing our ground.

There is almost something magical about the power of a promise within the context of this challenge for me. To stay focused on doing one thing a week that I know will bring me satisfaction opens up the field of Infinite possibilities in a whole new way.

In my experience, completing something that may have fallen far down to the bottom of the “To Do” list frees up so much fresh, new energy that I am not only finding myself more productive, but happier and more flexible and open as a person.

Being focused, doing one thing that’s important to me, also allows me to release judgment about whatever that “thing” is because it’s not about the task, it’s about the promise I’ve made to myself to do it.

So don’t be surprised if, after your promise is fulfilled, you suddenly have the urge to tackle other projects more challenging in scope that may take longer to complete.  Or maybe you find that even without realizing it several other promises on your list have magically been completed with little or no conscious effort on your part.

The real deal is that it isn’t magic, it’s the power of intention, so don’t hold back!  Speak your word!  Commit to it and stand behind it.  Your Word is Law.  Walk in that truth and honor your promise to yourself this week.

Stay inspired!
Christine

My Word Is Law:  The Integrity Challenge” Event
A promise a week for 52 weeks

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I Release & I Let Go!

Week 2

“Give me the discipline to get rid of the stuff that’s not important, the freedom to savor the stuff that gives me joy, and the patience not to worry about the stuff that’s messy but not hurting anybody.”
~ Vinita Hampton Wright

Week 2 of the Integrity Challenge is here and for me that means it’s time to let go of that which no longer serves in my life, literally!

As I began the first week of the challenge my microwave oven died in the midst of cooking a huge dish of eggplant Parmesan.  Rather than being upset about it, I saw it as a perfect demonstration of what this challenge is about for me.  It’s about standing behind all those things I’ve been saying I want to do, or I should be doing, but for whatever reason haven’t gotten around to doing – until NOW.

I know that eating stuff heated up in the microwave isn’t good for me, but it’s fast and convenient, so I’ve been mindlessly using one for years.  Well, that’s enough of that!

Last week my promise was to write out 51 more promises so I’d never be at a loss for something to do in any given week.  It just so happens that recycling e-waste was on my list, so I took that as a sign that the die had been cast.

This week I’ll be recycling my trusty old microwave, as well as some other broken household appliances, electronics and computer junk.  I have a feeling the weeding out process could take some time, but I’m going to just grab what I know I am ready to let go of now.  One of the key points in this challenge for me is, “Don’t over think it, just get it done.”

If this is a promise you would like to complete too, there are probably plenty of resources available in your area to help you safely recycle whatever you wish to let go of.  Here is a site I found that helped me narrow down where to go:  Earth 911

Speaking of what this challenge is all about, a friend posted in our Facebook group about what her week one challenge was going to be and it captured the essence of it all in a nutshell for me.  I asked her permission to re-post it here:

“My week 1 promise is to call the doctor Monday or Tuesday to make an appointment for the physical I’ve been needing to get for 3 years.  If it were for my husband or kids I’d be on it ASAP.  My promise encompasses the idea that I am as important.  I need to care for myself just as much.”

When I read that I had a Charlie Brown break-through moment of “THAT’S IT!”  This challenge is about honoring and caring for yourself with the same tenderness and love you extend to others.  You are important.  We are important!  You may not view it in this light, but I contend that self-care is a revolutionary act that contributes to world peace.  Don’t believe me?  Stick around, keep honoring yourself one promise at a time, and let’s talk in another couple of weeks or months.

So how did you do on your Week 1 challenge?  What’s on deck for you in Week 2?  Remember you can start to honor yourself and your Word at any time.  Why not start now?

Your friend with 60 Promises (and counting!),
Christine

My Word Is Law:  The Integrity Challenge” Event
A promise a week for 52 weeks

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Ready, Steady, Go!

Remember that old cliche’, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life”?  Well…

a)  It’s true and..
b)  Here it is!

Welcome to your life! And my life! And the One Life that we all share!

So Ready?  Set?…   “NO!  WAIT!  I’m not READY!”

Let’s talk about our old friend, and the first hurtle straight out of the gate:  RESISTANCE.  I received a few e-mails this week with a common theme, so let’s address this one head on:

“This sounds good and I really want to join the challenge, but my life is already so busy.  I have goals!  I have plans!  I have no time for this!”

First of all, I hear you, and you have several options here.  If you are feeling busy and stressed out, perhaps you can plan promises that emphasize self-care like making a point to take a warm bubble bath at the end of a long day that week.  Or maybe you want to treat yourself to a massage or a slow, relaxing walk?  What would be a special treat that you would enjoy and look forward to?

Or, if you would feel better about getting more stuff done, you can break down a larger goal that seems daunting into bite-sized pieces that you can realistically accomplish in a week.

This challenge isn’t about doing more, it’s about honoring exactly where you are right in this moment, having something to look forward to doing, and feeling good about getting it done.

For this week my challenge is to come up with 52 promises to drop in the hopper. I’ve been keeping a Word document open and adding to the list whenever I think of something that sounds good.

As I’m doing this I’m noticing common themes are coming up. Some of the promises are self-care related, some are more household “To Do” type items that keep falling by the wayside, and some of them involve stretching myself beyond my comfort zones socially or physically.

What items will you add to your list?  If you join the challenge via Facebook I’ve created a closed group there where we can share ideas and cheer each other on.

I look forward to walking this path with you!

Ready?  Let’s GO!

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The Integrity Challenge: The Basics

Integrity

Let’s break it down:

1) Set a strong Intention – Why are you doing this?

Example:
I am committed to keeping a promise a week to strengthen my awareness of my own Integrity.  I am doing this challenge in honor of my mother.

2) Write out your Promises.
You can make your first promise the first week to come up with 52 of them straight out of the gate,  or you can write them as you go, it’s your choice. Make sure you have enough to mix up for the first several weeks.

To help you  choose your promises, use the SMART acronym:

Specific – “I will clean out the hall closet” as opposed to, “I will clean the house.”
Measurable – I have a pretty small hall closet!
Assignable – I’m responsible for completing them, but I can ask for, or hire, help if I need to.
Realistic – Can I really get this done in a week?
Time-related – One promise a week for 52 weeks.

Note:  The “A” in SMART is Assignable, but it could also stand for Accountable.  Remember this challenge is for YOU.  When choosing your promises it’s great to work or play with others, but don’t make someone else’s schedule responsible for whether or not you complete your promise that week.

Example:
One of my promises to myself is to visit a labyrinth that I’ve not walked before.  My friend, Sarah loves labyrinths, so naturally I would love to invite her to join me that week.   So as part of my promise I can call and invite her to join me, but even if we can’t work out our schedules to go together, I will still plan to go.

Plan to succeed by choosing promises that are do-able, enjoyable and/or will give you a sense of accomplishment once you’ve completed them.

3) Chose a Promise per week.
Part of the challenge for me is to lean into trust.  Trusting myself, and trusting the Divine Right Order of the Universe.  So to strengthen that muscle and to make it more fun, I’m drawing a promise card at random from a bowl.

My rule for myself is that whatever I draw, I do, unless I already absolutely know I can’t swing it that week .  (i.e. my schedule is full or it requires funds that I don’t have that week.)  But if at all possible, I will do what I can to fulfill the first promise I draw.

What this challenge can be for you:

An opportunity to deepen in self-trust.
A way to discover what you really want in your life and what you are willing to commit to.
A chance to break down a larger goal that seems daunting into bite sized pieces that you can realistically accomplish in a week.
An opportunity to do nice things for yourself, for those you love or even for complete strangers.
A chance to have fun!

What this challenge isn’t:

Goal setting on steroids.
Yet another reason to beat yourself up.

Be gentle with yourself.  Don’t overthink it.  You don’t have to impress anyone but yourself.

The challenge is to choose one promise a week and to honor yourself by seeing it through.  That’s it!

The challenge starts this coming Sunday, August 17th.
My Word Is Law:  The Integrity Challenge

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