34,000 Feet

We walked ten miles yesterday down not a quite desolate road in Wyoming, the three of us with our backpacks and a camera that was way too fancy around here parts. We got stopped by a police officer, saw a dead cat, and several barking guard dogs of various shades and colors. But we also saw horses that approached us from many meters away (sorry, no apples), dogs that wanted to play more than guard, and the sweet sunset light basking the mountain valley in which we walked.

Mountains are everywhere.

In the ridges and peaks and valleys of tree bark

The slanted angle of a fence

The pebbles of a stream

This is Wyoming country, and it is where I’ve been staying for the past few days. I knew that this journey would be important for me, but I’m trying to wrap my head around the significance of it all. To say that Wyoming is life-changing would not do the experience justice, to say that it is life-shifting may come closer. Even before the moment in which I landed, the Grand Tetons greeted me with their indifferent yet majestic peaks–the entire 32-seater airplane in which we flew awakening with sudden gasps of delight at the extreme elevation on the right window side. A nice red-headed girl took some pictures for me on my phone; this started a chain reaction where the left sided passengers were suddenly asking the right sided passengers to help them capture a memory that they admittedly did not witness for themselves.

And then there was the landing; the elk antler statue, the look of the mountains through the windows of an otherwise barren airport that did not feel the need for frills. The only added touch of modernity may have very well been the Uber/Lyft ride signs at the two lane pickup in front of the airport, which reminded me more of the pickup lanes at my elementary school than anything for jet passengers. There was Sam, too, in all her smiling love–and the silence in which we embraced each other, like old friends. Very, very old friends.

As we went through the mountain pass, my black pen exploded all over my journal; leading to a split second of dismay but also a flash of insight that I had not thought of before. That ink blot which tarnished my otherwise pristine travel journal (though already filled with some scratched out poems in the ride to Dulles) caused something else to spill in my brain. So suddenly I was bubbling with creativity; suddenly the black smear became the snow on the mountains; my pen now more like a paintbrush in which I could see the world. Jiggling my pen this way and that, I drew the mountains that I had already come to love.

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I belong with the mountains.

There was Christian too. We embraced like old friends though we had only met each other in that moment; silence was the rule for the first day of the retreat and so we had only our eyes to accept each other. I thought back to my childhood and when I couldn’t understand the words being spoken, and all of a sudden I was yet a small child in a strange but familiar world.

I walked through the snow that day, in bare feet. To say it was cold and frightening would be an understatement.

We ate. Broke bread, except not bread, because we were supposed to be eating differently at our time here. So it was spaghetti squash, made with a certain amount of uncertainty and love. I debated (silently?) in my head whether I wanted to give Christian a gift–a sketch of him, meditating with agitation, after his healing session with Sam out in the woods.

I decided to wait.

At some point Sam gestured to me that the top room was mine, or maybe it was in a note, I cannot remember. I did remember the note that fell out of the book she had left on the passenger side of the seat. A gift that I didn’t know was a gift at the time. And a note written on it rules that I probably could have considered a decade earlier in my life:

No alarm clocks

Sleep when I get tired

Leave when I want to leave

Say stuff when I want to say it or stay silent if I want that

Technology only at a designated time, preferably before dark

A rough paraphrase but good enough; certainly different from the lifestyle that I have led for a long time. Not understanding breaks and self-care is something that everyone talks about and I am no exception to the rule that things can get out of control if I don’t pay attention to my body.

I don’t remember much of day two, except the most aesthetically pleasing whiskey and salad dressing store I’ve ever seen in my entire life (because it is probably the only whiskey store I’ve seen in my entire life).

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Not sure if #FlatJean is supposed to be decidedly irreverent in this way…
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But I’m gonna put #FlatJean in expensive whiskey

Animal glass figurines decidedly more vibrant than the taxidermy animals in the same shop.

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And a butcher shop that I wished was across the street from me back home.

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I’ve been introduced to epsom bath salts, coconut oil with cupping, dry brushing, and simply a good ol’ bodywork stuff. Nothing far off but still unfamiliar to me in a world that rewards grinding, both of your bones and muscles and joints but also your mind.

I’ve been letting Sam get her hands on me a lot more; working out the various energies in my body that I can’t quite comprehend. It’s like my body understands itself better than I can understand it, even though I’m living within the body.

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Samantha Faulhaber 

Somewhere along the line something opened up inside of me, though I’m not sure I like what I found inside. Perhaps I’m not giving myself enough credit like I always tend to do (and ironically, I am doing right now with these words). It’s surprising and gratifying to know that there are hidden gifts inside of me (and inside of everyone?!?) that I did not know before.

Like when the bartender (transported from Maine) said “holy s**t” when I gave him a sketch of the bar that we sat and had wings at.

Like when the horses decided that I was friendly.

Like when I recognized a special moment that Christian was having, sketched it, so now he has that image for life.

Like when I found out purple, my favorite color, stood for intuition.

Like when I faced an invasion of privacy from that police officer and did not crumble with fear.

Like when I admitted I was f**king scared.

There have been so many wonderful moments. Small moments that I cannot comprehend, like only seeing a small piece of a constellation in the sky. I am ready to do more growing and loving in the few days ahead, and I am excited to see what is to come.

Cruising Altitude: A Poem

Cruising Altitude: Thirty-Four Thousand Feet

We sit, our seatbelts buckled

In two neat rows

And as two lovers hold hands across the aisle

I sit as a witness of their holy matrimony.

They were preparing to rise from the earth

Together.

And in that moment, I saw life in their hands.

Fingers forming a raft in the narrow strait between waves of people

Flesh touching in the quiet alley of a sleepy but sad romantic road

The kind covered in cobblestones that would stumble your feet.

And the caress of fingertips in the empty aisle of an organic hipster store–

A quiet respite from the throngs of hungry and prying eyes.

I saw their soul clasped together

In moments where the darkness fell

Into the hallowed earth and birthed a constellation of galaxies

Stretching far, far into the abyss above.

And at cruising altitude, they finally let go

Two hearts sitting next to each other

Content and safe in the knowledge

Of being up in the air.

 

 

Skiing Kicked My Butt and I Can’t Stop Writing About It As a Result

Skiing killed my ego yesterday. It also killed my knees, my muscles, and any sense of pride I had going into this activity. I believed that I could, very much arrogantly so, stroll onto the ski slopes and be a prodigy about things.

Laugh now.

Because I’m laughing with you.

It’s hilarious that I thought I could come in and dominate. It’s also hilarious that I will be in the group of many people who blog about skiing for the first time, but probably won’t think about it much for the rest of the year.

Here are a few things I learned while skiing:

  1. Skis are heavy. Ski boots are heavier.
  2. Tiny kids hurt all not-so-tiny egos.
  3. Edging is darn near impossible.
  4. Wear a smaller shoe size next time.
  5. Tell your ski instructor if you’re not comfortable with something.
  6. In fact, communicate early and often.
  7. Ego is best thrown over the side of the mountain, preferably never to be seen again.
  8. Going up the mountain is easy. Going down is hard.
  9. Getting up after falling down is difficult, but necessary.
  10. Falling isn’t failure.
  11. Fast doesn’t mean anything if you lack control.
  12. I finally understand why chapstick is a necessary invention.
  13. The sun will burn you up and it will do so in the most subtle way. Dehydration is real, people.
  14. Sometimes, when I’m going down the mountain, I can only focus on the people who are “better” than me. I don’t see all the people “behind” me. But we are all people on the mountain.
  15. I want to get better at skiing.
  16. Now I understand why the white belts I teach seem incompetent in everything because in skiing you are forced to move your body in a way that has not been done before. And it’s HARD.

 

 

Learning How to Descend a Mountain: Skiing as a Metaphor for Life

Climbing is easy.

Looking upwards at the sky.

Descending is hard.

The Ego is the Enemy is the book I’m reading now, recommended by my friend Sam several months ago and one that I’m ready for now. This is not a book review because I haven’t finished reading the book yet, and it is something I believe that every person can think about reading if they want to at some point in the future.

What I’m here to do is to download all of my thoughts from skiing yesterday. First, skiing is hard. Second, skiing as a beginner destroys your ego. Skiing is like jiu jitsu because it looks easy, you can learn a little bit of it, but it is incredibly hard and actually impossible to master. This much I suspect whether it is day one or day one thousand on the slopes. The turning is incredibly counterintuitive, and you have to accept that you will go faster before you can slow down. You have to stay on edge; adjust your weight; move in certain ways, in order to adapt to the ever-shifting terrain.

There’s a life lesson in there somewhere.

The haiku above describes what my experience of skiing is, and indeed, of life. I think that there were certain challenges to me that I didn’t expect, not with all my balance and mobility work in the months leading up to this trip, or with my other fears around people in positions of power. And the entire time my ski instructor was telling me not to be frustrated, I kept on denying that was true, only to accept it finally that I had hit yet another rock bottom in terms of how I felt with regards to my ability to do well.

I always want success to come early and often. I am impatient; people describe me as ambitious. I used to feel somewhat flattered when they told me this, but I think ambition left unchecked and unmanaged can drive me to depths that I did not think I would be able to handle.

I was arrogant, yes, coming into the day of skiing, and I love it. I love it because I exercised confidence and a desire to protect myself and was promptly taught the lesson that I am human like everyone else; that is, I cannot fight certain laws of the universe like gravity. And probably the idea that expectations are only ideas that cannot be made into reality, or can become so only at a great cost. In this sense, skiing was a hard lesson for me, to remind me that I’m a beginner, but that I can also improve. Skiing for the first time yesterday awoke and then promptly crushed the achiever in me, because honestly, it can be hard to achieve anything when it’s only your first day, or year. Or maybe, some would say, your first lifetime.

I am unimportant and important at the same time when I stand next to the mountain. And when I sit on the chair lift and climb it, I feel like I can be above it, even if for a brief moment. But it is the act of descending down that mountain, of having both the freedom and the fear that comes with that freedom overtake me, is something that I have experienced over and over again. And I learn each time. I get better. Descending the mountain will always have a rush of adrenaline course through me, and I will always have to pay attention to my judgment. But part of what my ski instructor said is that you must practice and you must feel. You must keep your head up, your eyes forward, and your chin up if you expect to see what is in front of you at all.

In all of my aspirations and in all of my sorrow, I know that the terrain is ever shifting and limitless. There will always be new mountains to conquer and valleys in which I will fall.

 

Thoughts Before a Summit Climb

I’m here in Colorado and the scene is beautiful with snow capped trees and roofs. We are staying in a lodge with a buffalo theme, which I suppose is appropriate because the buffalo like snow. I think. I’m not sure, I think I saw that in a Yellowstone picture once.

We come to these vacations to escape our thoughts but we are just as connected as we were to our old ways of life. I think to truly let go, I have to let go of my need for control of the situation. Accept that I’m stressed out when I’m around family, and I love it. Stop trying to get other people to say “I love it” at the end of a thought; some of them aren’t ready or don’t want to. And while it does cause my ego to die a little inside, I know that it means there is more space for my heart to grow.

I forgot what I was going to write about shortly after my meditation today, but I think it had to do with the concept of sitting. So much of traveling yesterday could have been waiting to be somewhere else; indeed, I had a wave of panic ride over me when I realized that I needed to be in the airport terminal for a few more hours before my ride arrived. But then I realized that I was happy to be where I was; that I could compose poetry even in my head and do other creative things, even though I initially felt stuck.

Late night Denver shift

Mop away the travel dirt

Last flight out tonight

There is a certain sort of peace that I want to tap into constantly when I know that I’m living in the deep down. When I live here, it doesn’t matter what I believe is in turmoil, or where I go, or what I am doing, but there is a sort of deep down that is undisturbed. It’s perhaps in that sense I heard the advice of that retiring law firm partner to be “writing the waves,” because when I’m writing and creating, I feel profoundly at peace. Tapping into the deep down means I don’t care about what happens to me, but I can love what happens to me.

There are so many thoughts I want to say but part of me feels fuzzy inside, like I’m trying to flip between two different channels in my mind. Yet I know that underneath all that, I may be the television itself (it’s a funny trick motivational speakers like to use), and then all of a sudden there is simultaneously both nothing and a lot to do. There’s energy to what I want to accomplish but there’s a force that holds me back. It is that sort of equilibrium and chaos that I find so beautiful.

Elevation change

Feel your heart pound and sing

Summit climb at last