Cuidad Perdida or Bust

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

Mules passing me on the chalk trail.

I seriously thought I was going to collapse. Hills should not be this high or this steep. Three hours up? In 35 degree C  heat? With no shade? Come on!

The rest of our small group had shown us their backs a while ago. I’d already guzzled most of the water by the time the trail turned to white chalk dust, reflecting the heat back into my beet red face. Dust poofed into the air at every step, sticking to my sweat and coating my heaving lungs. And yet, there seemed no end. Up, up, eternally up.

Earlier that afternoon, we started the three day hike into Ciudad Perdida, a “lost city” in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains. It had been a wonderful day. Meeting our hiking crew that morning and driving out to El Mamey, the town with such a bloody history it was nicknamed El Machete, where we would start our hike. The peaceful little village that greeted us did not live up to its past reputation, thankfully. We’d seen a massive iguana (or I think it was an iguana – it was a huge lizard in a tree, anyway) and the two snow capped peaks in the Sierra Nevadas, the two biggest mountains in the world at sea level. Incredibly impressive!

The hike itself started out easy-peasy, with gentle uphills and the occasional downhill. It was hot, that was for certain, but it was also shaded. The surroundings were beautiful and exotic, creeks bubbled past, strange fruit hung on trees, and the flowers… oh, the flowers! They’d drive me to poetry if I wasn’t careful.

Anyway, it all seemed amazing, even for a little while after the gentle slope turned into a not so gentle slope. Then the shade vanished, the sun got hotter (I swear), we hit the chalk dust – and the hike became a trudge.

Brad stayed with me, encouraging me and dutifully offering to carry my pack every once in a while. No way, I thought. I’d rather die, right here, right now. I may be suffering the ego-beating of being agonizingly slow, but to have someone carry my pack? No way, dude.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

Just a random awesome flower in the jungle.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to carry it?”

“Yeah (gasp) I’m sure (gasp, stumble).”

Trudge, trudge, trudge.

“Here, let me take your hand.”

“Aw, you’re so (gasp) romantic.”

“Uh, yeah.”

Pulls me up the hill.

“You know, I can carry your pack for you.”

“Grrr.”

Waits one minute.

“Do you want me to?”

“I’m (gasp, pant) fine.”

“Okay, just let me know.”

Washing off the dust

Washing off the dust

Well, I must admit, the time did come, and then I had the added pleasure of seeing him carrying both our packs up the last of that massive hill without even breathing hard, as I panted and wheezed alongside.

But you know what? That was an amazing day. I loved the challenge and the exertion and the heat and the wiping of dusty sweat out of my eyes and the chalk breathing – and later that day, washing said dust/chalk off in the river while getting nibbled on by little vampire fish.

That hill was a profoundly satisfying experience. I may not have conquered it in style or even reach the top with my own pack on my own back, but conquer it I did. And that makes me happy.

 

Being an Inspiration

So, I did my part in Colombia to inspire people. I had a panic attack.

We’d been working a tough schedule. Mornings at PARE (a home devoted to helping people get off the streets) doing English lessons and teaching the residents skills that they could use to make money. It was loud, high energy, and fun – and for a major introvert like me, incredibly bombarding. Add to that, the facts that I’m deaf in one ear and can’t hear anything said on my right side, and that I knew so little Spanish that I was afraid to say the little I knew, because the response would then be in Spanish and I wouldn’t understand a word said – if I even heard it… and well, I was stressed. During the afternoons, we either planned or put on events at El Redil del Sur, a Christian church in Sabaneta, and I had to hear and talk to even more people. All day. Every day.

To add to the upheaval, I kept expecting those closest to me (the team I was working with) to be mad at me! I know it sound crazy, but really it’s not so crazy as it sounds, because in my day-to-day life, my special-needs daughter has rage issues and is almost constantly angry, usually at me. Her anger has dominated my daily life for years now. What I didn’t realize until I went to Colombia was how much it has affected me.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Brad and me, later that day in Botero Square, Medellin.

Still, no matter how much I expected it, no one got mad at me there. I don’t even think they felt frustrated with me, though they certainly had a right to be. Every time I noticed myself closing down emotionally, I’d remind myself that no one was mad, that they actually even seemed to like me. I’d be fine for an hour or a day or whatever, and then it would sneak it again, and I’d start feeling like a miserable burden to the people I worked with, like any moment they were going to snap and say something mean… Surely they’re mad at me now. Nope. Okay, but what about now? Sorry, no evidence of that. But what about now? And on and on it went.

And then Sunday came. The first church service that day was very spiritual and I felt so open… and then when the service was over, it’s like all my doubts and fears of the proceeding week zoomed into that open space, and wouldn’t leave. I held myself together only a few minutes into the second service, and then for the first time ever, I had a panic attack. To make things worse, I had to leave the service during a relatively quiet time and I was sitting at the front, so of course a lot of people noticed. Though the panic attack was as scary as I’ve heard they can be, it couldn’t stop my feelings of embarrassment or humiliation. If I could’ve chosen anywhere else to have my episode, I would’ve done it. But, well… it was simply not to be.

Brad stayed with me the whole time of the attack, and eventually, I could breathe normally again. Ages later, the tears stopped. I tried to slink out of church unnoticed, and mostly succeeded. Either that or most people were giving me the gift of averting their eyes (I suspect that’s the case, actually). The rest of the day was awesome and rejuvenating, and I was able to start up again on Monday morning with no outward residual effect. But underneath, I still felt ashamed of my meltdown. I blamed myself for being both weak and an idiot. That is, until the day we left Sabaneta.

We had a last lunch together, and were sharing our thoughts on the trip, on what was a success and what might be better next time, and right at the end, Jairo, the pastor at El Redil, said something that completely changed my outlook. He said that one of the things that really impacted the people in his church during our visit was how supportive and gentle Brad was with me when I was upset. Many people saw it, he said (and I thought, “oh great!”), and they were deeply moved by Brad’s kind and loving response.

And all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so bad about my meltdown. I had made a difference. I’d helped to inspire. I might have done it by crying and hyperventilating, but if I hadn’t done that, Brad wouldn’t have had a reason to show me such kindness in front of so many people. Yes, at the time it was terribly embarrassing and frightening, but to have that painful experience inspire others on the value of kindness and gentleness? I’m glad it happened. What more can I say?

Life + + +

Jardin SquareThe wind sways the tree tops in a silver sky, and I find I’m mesmerized by their stark northern dance. So different from what I was seeing just a few days ago. I was in Colombia, soaking in the heat, sights, sounds, and smells of a culture that is very different from my own – and very attractive. I can see why writers and other artists gravitate to South America. It is place alive with passion! Everything is less reserved than in the north: the people, the vegetation, the colours, the streets, the churches… Life on overdrive!

The night we arrived in Sabaneta, a neighbourhood in Medellin, I saw my first example of this. We stayed in an apartment with a local woman, Adriana, who was very hospitable, welcoming, and kind. From her fifth story apartment balcony, we watched the street as night descended and saw groups of adults sitting in their plastic chairs in circles on the sidewalks, talking, gesturing, and laughing. Happy, loud music floated up to our balcony. Teens hung out in small groups, joking and teasing each other. Younger kids played with a skateboard, taking turns, running, shrieking with joy, and quickly moving to the side whenever a car honked to signal they needed to drive past. A searchlight swayed back and forth in the sky, and later in the night, the fast paced music and sky was regularly punctuated with fireworks. What was the celebration? Nothing, our host told us. It was just a normal Saturday night in the neighbourhood, hanging out with friends and family in a multi-generational gathering.

As the next weeks passed, I became even more impressed by the values of the people there. Family and friends not only seemed far more important than ego and influence, but those things hardly seemed to be in the running. The people were very accepting of us foreigners too, though I must admit, at first I found the expressive welcomes a bit intimidating. It felt weird to feel so welcome – until it began to feel good.

I learned a lot of things in Colombia: things about the culture, about the plant and animal life, about the history of an amazing country. Just as importantly, I learned to a much deeper extent the value of an open heart, and once again, I was reminded of how our cultures, both societal and familial, shape us. I also learned things about my own life that I just wasn’t seeing clearly before, because my perception was wrapped in my own personal convention, built up over years, or in some cases, a lifetime.

The picture here is one of the few available to me, since one of our bags went missing somewhere in the Mexico City airport and our camera was inside. Until it’s found (if it’s ever found) this photo will have to do. It’s not even of Sabaneta, but the square in a small town outside of Medellin, called Jardin.

We may not have come home with all of our luggage, but honestly, I came home with something far more valuable. A fresh perspective. And a very strong desire to move to South America!

The Importance of Purple Hair

AvatarThis is my avatar on a site I share with writing friends. A while back, I changed my hair from brown to purple, just having fun, and then the jokes started about the power of the hair. Well, this week the purple hair feels limp and faded. “Bad” stuff has happened, but because of my commitment to live as if all things are possible, I did my best to embrace the experience.

My theory for this choice: if I fully feel my sadness instead of trying to force it into becoming happiness, and feel the loss and betrayal instead of trying to deny it, then I’ll move through the emotional shock faster. This meant no hiding from the sadness, no making futile efforts to make things appear better than they are, no pretending that the situation isn’t serious, plus accepting that my relationship with someone I love may never recover. It was (is) hard. I felt old and tired, beaten and dejected, like a big lump sluffing around. Believe me, it was uglier than it even sounds.

However, by yesterday morning, it seemed like I may have chosen wisely. I felt lighter and slightly more energized than the days before. I was still really sad, but still, life seemed a touch sunnier.

Then today, after encouragement from my husband and friends, I went for a walk in the rain – and had an epiphany. This is it:

When things get tough like this, I need to remember to set my own value and not react to the value others put on me. I need to treat myself kindly and take care of myself psychologically, spiritually, and physically, to keep myself strong during challenging times. Just as important, I need to do if for the right reason. If I try to patch up my psyche just so I can be of further use to others, I’ll always be weaker than if I do it out of self respect and self care.

And finally, I need to remember that I may never have a good relationship with this person – because she chooses her own value and her own life path. She may never accept me. Her choices are hers, mine are mine, and our individual value is not determined by anyone but ourselves. While it really hurts to think she may never want me in her life, her choice is not a statement on who I am.

Since I choose my own value, I’ll try to see myself honestly as I work to be my best self – and maintain that bright, shiny purple hair, of course – even when things get tough. Fingers crossed.

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I am living this year with the view that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE. What this year may include: growth in living without past resentments and programing, overcoming fears, achieving career goals, developing stronger, more loving relationships, and acting with more open kindness (click here to read an amazing true story of kindness). You have just read my Week 7.  Thank you!

Week Six

First of all, my apologies and thank you to those who let me know you were unable to comment on my blog posts. The problem is now fixed (I think). 🙂

Second, so many of my thoughts, perceptions, and long held beliefs seem to be in motion right now. If you can bear the rambling, here’s a snapshot of my last two weeks.

braceletpileIt all started with a bracelet for Christmas like the ones in the photo. My inspiring words are: “Make It So”. I thought over the next few days, why did I choose that saying? Other than the fact that it’s cool because of Captain Picard, of course. Anyway, I couldn’t seem to answer the question, or the ones that followed. How much of what I experience in life is me “making things so”? How much is others making things so? What should that balance ultimately be?

From there, I moved on to wondering if life is not as much about making things so, as it is about making the most of what is so. Not passivity, but complete faith; what is here, is good or for my good. In that case, it isn’t me making it so. It’s the unifying force, God, the universe, the Great Spirit – I can’t list all the names here but you know who I mean. While I mused on active faith, the idea of “making it so” myself seemed not only limiting, but even somewhat tacky.

Then I watched the movie “Pawn Sacrifice”, a movie about Bobby Fischer. One line at the end stuck to my psyche like glue: when Bobby Fischer (played by Tobey Maguire) says, “chess is a game of unlimited options, but there’s only one right move.” Whoa! I thought, but my thoughts didn’t obey. Off they went… Is that true of life as well? Is there only one right move in each unique situation? And if so, how do I discern which one move out of unlimited options?

Then, a day later, after a conversation about personal responsibility with a very smart woman: what am I actually responsible for when it comes to other people? And if I am responsible for others, how much responsibility do I have? How do I judge how much to give and how much to keep back so all benefit the most? Gut feeling? A theology? Advice from others? And another biggie with responsibility: how do I see true need in others and not be fooled into feeding their pathologies, or mine for that matter? My head was really hurting by then.

And then something happened. All the thoughts pulled together into something bigger than all of them, something I can barely put into words at this point. In fact, I’m hoping that the act of writing it here makes it clearer in my own mind.  The thought was…

I don’t need to worry about making anything so, nor do I need to make the most of whatever comes my way. Searching for that one right move among unlimited options is a waste of energy. Responsibility to ourselves and others in every situation can’t be covered by any rules.

Yet, at the same time, the opposite is true too. I can make it so. I can make the best of what life gives me. I can find that one right move and accept the perfect amount of responsibility. And the best thing is I can do them all by doing one thing – by living as powerfully as I can in each moment. By powerfully, I don’t mean the power of the ego; I mean a much deeper power, the power of the heart, the power of my inner guidance, the part of me that’s connected to spirit.

Because I’m basically a normal person (or at least as normal as a human can get), and I feel this inner guidance in myself, I believe that everyone who desires a meaningful life also has that inborn sense of what their every moment calls for. I also believe that we all naturally follow that voice to an extent, and when we don’t, we feel disappointed in ourselves. And no wonder. We can be so much. Examples abound of those who followed their guidance to greatness. They’re the giants among us. The ones who inspire us, the ones we go to to seek wisdom and understanding. They are the leaders and heroes that we never forget, though some lived thousands of years ago.

But I too have the capacity of living powerfully, in every moment. You do too. We all do – but I’m not going to speak for anyone else here. What I need to learn to do: stop worrying about the details. Keep connected. Live powerfully. Every moment that I do that, the world is a tiny bit better. Every moment I stand up and live by the code written in my heart, I am a success.

It’s that simple – and that hard.

Fun and Mind Games

Mind GameI don’t normally find myself blocked from writing, so the last couple of days have been good for me. Haha! From a certain point of view, anyway.

I’m trying to write the opening of the new novel I’ve been outlining. Though I haven’t completely finished the timeline, I do think it’s time to write something. Just a modest start, and honestly, it doesn’t even have to be at the beginning. A page, a paragraph or two. It’s not like I expect much. But it hasn’t been happening.

And I know why.

I have people looking over my shoulder. Not literally of course. Only Cedar, my collie, is here, a vision of perfect relaxation as she snoozes on the floor. However, every time I sit down to write my first words in this novel, I feel every critique partner it will have, every publisher that I hope gives the novel a chance, and every possible reader looking over my shoulder and saying “This sucks!”

Being somewhat logical, my next question is: Why am I assuming the publisher and readers will be negative? The critique group will be – or at least I hope so, since that’s their job – but why am I imagining them all disliking it with such force?

No reason but my own far too persistent insecurities.

So, I’m going to keep telling myself that if I write something I love, someone else will love it too. I’m going to visualize that it’ll even be fun to write, that the characters will practically leap off the page, that they’ll be heartwarming and engaging, that the story will be exciting and appealing to more than just me.

So yes, writing is fun! If I make it that way. The cost? The sometimes huge effort it takes to push aside doubts and fears and disgruntled, pessimistic, judgmental  imaginary editors.

Believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities. Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy. ~Norman Vincent Peale

Epiphanies in the Night

Medellin, Columbia

Medellin, Columbia

A number of weeks ago, I promised a blog post outlining what I learned in Texas, and then I procrastinated. It’s not like I didn’t think about writing the post; I did, often. I also knew what I wanted to write.

The words came to me in the middle of the night after being in Dallas for about two weeks. I woke at 3 a.m., suddenly and completely, with an epiphany in my head. I grabbed my journal and wrote on what I hoped was an untouched page in the darkness. It was, and the words I wrote were mostly legible.

So why haven’t I put them here?

It’s not time. The epiphany is too fresh to share, too new in my life – so instead of telling you what I realized that night, I’m going to tell you how it has changed my life so far:

1. I am going to Columbia to teach English and do other social awareness projects for three weeks in 2016. Teaching: way, way, way out of my comfort zone!

2. I am in the process of becoming a member of the Sooke Sailing Coop. No, I don’t know how to sail. Yet.

3. I started a Facebook page for my writer persona. I know I should have done it long ago but it just seemed such a big step. Now it’s done. You can link to it here if you’re interested.

4. I have two new script ideas. Yes, TWO!

5. I have committed to doing what it takes to break in to screenwriting. If this means traveling to Hollywood and meeting with producers, agents, or managers, I will do it. I’ve accepted and embraced this necessity, which for reclusive me is a very big thing.

Obviously, Texas was a game changer for me, and a testament to one thing I believe: don’t back off from change because it’s usually a good thing. Not that I won’t be doubting how good it is in Columbia when I’m standing in front of a bunch of people, wishing I was somewhere – anywhere – else.  🙂

Creating Gold

poolTravel seems to be on my mind lately. I don’t mean the how of travel, or the when, or the where. It’s not even the why, though that comes the closest.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.” — Martin Buber

That kind of travel. The destinations that we don’t know we’ll reach, that we don’t even know exist, because in some way the only reason they exist is because we’re there, and something happens, some strange reaction. Pure alchemy between the physical place and who we are in that moment, that illuminates new places in our thoughts and attitudes and world view. By the time we leave, we are forever changed. Wiser even, or simply more aware of our ignorance. Or both. Usually both.

I just got back from Texas where I experienced a faux-move. I helped my daughter and her wonderful family transplant their lives to an apartment in Dallas – and not just any boring apartment either. It’s a huge complex, with lounges everywhere and BBQ’s all over the place. A gym, a pool (complete with fountains), a games room, a business center, and to top it all off, the world’s most amazing coffee machine. Like, ever!

As soon as the moving was done, I settled into resort living, fiddled with a novel outline, and enjoyed the amenities – a lot! Total indulgence: not what anyone would call a spiritual undertaking. I embraced being pampered (especially by that amazing coffee machine!).

And the alchemy happened anyway.

Since a lot happened beside that pool in Dallas, I’ll leave the rest for future posts, but before I go, I want to leave you a link to another traveler, someone who is much more adventurous than I.

Mars One pulled “Miss Miral” out her door and set her on a crazy path. I’ve followed her adventures for a while because I know her personally, but now she’s entering the web arena. Do me (and yourself) a big favor and follow her blog at https://eowynmiral.wordpress.com/. 🙂  She has two posts up now, and both are amazing!

And I’d love to hear your travel epiphanies, if you are so inclined! Start a conversation?