Tag Archives: Mother Earth

Thanks, 2020! Personal Firsts, Bests, & Discoveries From A Year Like No Other

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the journey.” –Roy T. Bennett, A Light In The Heart

“The only way that we can live, is if we grow.  The only way that we can grow is if we change.  The only way that we can change is if we learn.  The only way we can learn is if we are exposed.  And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open.  Do it.  Throw yourself.” –C. JoyBell C. 

Hello friend,

I felt like a 90-year-old who couldn’t figure out how to get the remote control to play the movie.  I was on the phone with the Apple guy, stressed out and flummoxed, trying to learn how I could get my CDs to play in the new laptop I was considering buying.  “Why in the world wouldn’t it come with a disc drive?  How will I load all of my CDs into iTunes?  How will I burn the next album I rent from the library?  Surely I’m not alone here, am I, young genius person?  How else will I listen to my precious music????”  “Umm, well sir, you could just stream it.”  “Pay for music?  No way!  No….well, how would that work?”

Suspicious but intrigued by this sorcery he was explaining, I hung up the phone and called a couple of my friends who actually live in the modern world.  When one told me that he subscribes to Spotify Premium, I asked him how he plays all of his CDs that were the soundtrack of our many cross-country roadtrips a few decades ago (you know, when CDs were the newest, coolest technology).  “I sold them all on eBay,” he said, crushing my soul in one sentence.  How could you just dispose of those priceless archives of your life???  So, I called my other modern-yet-more-nostalgic friend.  She guided me through my fears, starting with a cost analysis: the cost of Apple Music for a month is the same as the cost of one CD.  But how do I get new albums when they are released?  I still need to buy them, right?  “They’re free.  They just show up on the release date.”  I didn’t believe her.  “Okay, name me a new album you would want?”  Indigo Girls: Look Long.  She looked it up: “Yep, it’s there.  I can listen to it right now if I want.  And anything else I want.  Anything.”

I was like a living, breathing version of the “Mind Blown” emoji.  I was stupefied by this new reality.  No CDs?  My whole world felt like it was coming apart.  But that stupor only lasted for a few minutes, the part when I was intellectualizing it all, thinking through plan options and credit card numbers.  After that, when I actually activated the free trial, well, then my whole world felt like it was opening up.  Wide!  All of this blessed inspiration was suddenly right at my fingertips.  I couldn’t get it in my ears fast enough.  Before the day was over, I had created several new playlists and downloaded hundreds of albums.  I was the proverbial kid in a candy store.  Honestly, as someone who is absolutely nutty about music, it felt like the discovery of a lifetime.  I was in Heaven!  Just so cool.

That day, lying on that hammock with my headphones on and my devices all aglow, with that music filling up my entire soul, was a total game-changer.  It was mid-2020—the height of the coronavirus pandemic, social unrest over racial injustice, and a crumbling economy—but all of those things that have become the year’s headlines suddenly had to share space in my heart and mind with something new and beautiful and, well, cool.  I don’t think a day has passed in the ensuing months that I haven’t been on Apple Music, granting myself that little space to both escape from this world and to be inspired to build a better one.  It is one of the things I will always remember 2020 for, and probably the one for which I will always be most grateful.

But it’s definitely not the only cool thing I learned or tried this year.  It’s not even the only eye-opener for me in the world of technology and media.  No, I got even further out of my old man mode when we finally cut the cable cord at my house.  My wife had been cursing the cable company for years.  I always watched the least amount of anything in my family, so I had no opinions.  However, when we got Netflix and Prime Video a couple years ago, I was intrigued by this streaming thing but just never found much time to watch anything.  When doing my cardio workouts in the gym, I always read books on my tablet.  However, when the gyms closed in March and my workouts moved home, watching Netflix as I rode the treadmill became my new thing.  I loved it.  Later, when we finally cut ties with the cable company and took on Hulu, Sling, Disney+, ESPN+, and Apple TV+, I was in the mode of wanting more material for my workout hours.  It was a revelation!  Bravo, streaming services!

There is really some wonderful stuff out there.  The artists are clearly in full bloom with all of these new outlets.  I have found that I love documentaries.  I have watched several good ones on different topics—from Bill Gates to Greta Thunberg–but find that I keep coming back to films that cover music and musicians, particularly those who were involved in the revolution of the 1960s.  I just finished two fascinating ones about The Band—Once Were Brothers and The Last Waltz—but have also been captivated by pieces about Keith Richards, the artists who lived in Los Angeles’s Laurel Canyon in the sixties, and Sam Cooke, among others.  I have dozens more on my watchlists.

Of the non-documentary things I have watched, a few of my favorites from this year are When They See Us, Schitt’s Creek, and The Trial Of The Chicago 7.  There are so many more that intrigue me, but I know my chances of getting to them are slim.  I am grateful for what I have seen, and grateful to 2020 for opening my eyes to so many wonderful works of art.

Whenever I watch a movie or TV show, though, it comes with a measure of guilt that I am ignoring the many brilliant books in the world.  I did, however, find one released this Autumn that has stayed with me in the weeks since I have finished it.  It is Greenlights, by the actor Matthew McConaughey.  I was drawn to it because I learned that, like me, he has kept journals for all of his adult life, and the book used many of the insights he gained in writing them over the years.  I have never been particularly drawn to McConaughey as an actor and so was otherwise skeptical going in, but I found myself captivated by his tales and the wisdom he drew from them.  It is my favorite literary discovery of this year.

While I doubt I will ever be anyone’s favorite literary discovery, I did have a Journal of You highlight this Summer, albeit coming not from something I wish I had to write about.  By many times over, more people than ever showed up to read and share my piece called “But I’m Not a Racist!” And Other Things We White Folks Need To Do Better.  It came on the heels of the George Floyd murder, as the protests were getting into full swing.  I certainly appreciated the positive feedback and was glad I could contribute to something so important.

I never know when something I write will resonate, but that moment in American history seemed to sweep so many of us up with it, and rightly so.  In addition to writing a couple of pieces on it, the George Floyd murder brought me to another significant first in my life: my first real protest.  I wasn’t in the throngs of people downtown getting teargassed or anything so dramatic, but I did bring my children to a local event where we got to lift our signs and our voices in a show of solidarity with our community against police violence and racial injustice.  It was moving for me and hopefully something of a precursor for more social activism, both for me in my later years and for my children for the rest of their long and precious lives.

I spent more of 2020 than any other year on the seat of a bicycle.  That seems a strange record, but it is true.  With fewer “play” options for my kids, we took so many more rides on the streets of our town.  I also got more into mountain biking at local trails; that was tremendously invigorating.  Then, as Fate would have it, I sustained an injury that would not allow me to walk, run, or play sports.  That would normally drive me to the nuthouse, but in a stroke of luck, I discovered that I was still able to ride a bicycle.  Early mornings in Summer and Autumn were spent pedaling out the miles on the quiet streets in the surrounding towns.  It was a delightful release to drink in that fresh air and still be able to sweat amidst my other physical limitations.  When the days shortened and chilled, I got myself an indoor bike to sweat away the Winter.  While I miss the fresh air and the lakes and trees, the workout is fantastic and much-needed.  Perhaps I won’t need the riding so much in other years when my body is more cooperative, but I am so grateful to have found it and made it a big part of my life.

Speaking of that fresh air and those lakes and trees, my last, best discovery of this year was about spending time outside and having more adventures.  Maybe this one qualifies more as a re-covery, since I have had it and lost it more than once in my many years on this planet.  I feel like the year has left me more committed than ever to design my remaining years around being outdoors and exploring the beauty of Mother Earth.  Most of my social media scrolling this year has been on the pages of National Parks and travel sites.  I don’t think a single day has gone by when I haven’t added to my itinerary and fantasies for my next trip to Glacier country in Northwest Montana, and I have plotted adventures all across the American West, from Utah’s “Mighty Five” parks to the Sierra Nevadas of California and the Cascade Range in the Northwest.  I have developed plans for overnights and weekends near home as well, with lots of hiking and sleeping in the pine-fresh air to the sounds of the forest and rippling streams.

Even as much of a Winter-hater as I am, my Christmas gifts this week included new snowshoes, trekking poles, fleeces, and a backpack (and I am even planning my next car and its necessary adventure accessories).  I am more determined than ever to be an active participant in the outdoor activities of every season.  Maybe I was coming to that anyway in my life’s evolution, or maybe 2020’s message of “Stay Home & Cover Your Breath” only served to stir up my natural resistance to being contained, or maybe it is some combination of the two.  In any case, I now know in a deeper place that being in Nature is one of my greatest inspirations and an absolutely necessary fuel to get me through the rest of the world’s obligations and nonsense.  It is both my escape and my spiritual home.  I am relieved to know that so clearly now.

I guess most discoveries and favorites are like that: something outside of us—music, books, blogs, bicycles, and mountain streams—lights up something inside of us.  They give our existence meaning and value.  They buoy us against the storms of Life and make historically bad years seem pretty darn good after all.  They are the source of our Gratitude and thus our Happiness.  I am deeply grateful that there are so many of these points of light in my life, no matter the year.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying I want to do 2020 all over again!  But I know that it brought me many gifts, and I refuse to look past them just because they arrived on the same train as COVID, racism, and political folly.  I am grateful for this year and the many new things I know and love because I lived through it.

How about you?  What are the coolest things you learned or tried in 2020?  Open up your journal and your spirit and expose what the light let in this year.  First, what new things did you learn?  If you had extra time in the house, did you pick up any home improvement skills (e.g. Marie Kondo organizing, carpentry, plumbing)?  How about personal improvement skills, like learning a language or a musical instrument?  Did you learn how to be a teacher?  Did you learn some new technology tricks, like how to Zoom?  Did anything blow your mind?  What did you try for the first time this year?  New foods?  New fitness routines?  Online grocery shopping?  Something outdoorsy?  Did you do anything social justice-related this year that you had never previously been so moved to do, like a protest or a sign in your yard?  How about with politics: did the extreme divisions among this year’s election issues and candidates spur you to participate in ways that you hadn’t before?  Were most of the new things you tried in 2020 related to things specific to this year—being on lockdown, COVID, Trump drama, etc.—or were they more random and could have happened any year?  Which of them will you continue with even when things return to whatever “normal” looks like to you?  Now to the Arts.  What musical styles or artists did you discover this year, whether they were new or just new to you?  What was the best thing you watched on television?  What were your favorite 2020 movies?  Books?  Did you try anything unique to get Art in unconventional ways, like attending a virtual theatre performance, concert, or museum tour?  What else did you love?  Did you have any personal bests this year?  Did you excel at anything at your work?  Did you improve upon a hobby or passion project?  Were you a better friend, sibling, parent, co-worker, or ally?  Did you find you were great at the self-care this year demanded?  Finally, what did you discover about yourself this year?  What issue or passion might you have had only a hint at before this year but now have a clear position on?  Do you have a core belief that has changed?  Do you know what you want to do more of (and less of) going forward?  Are you clear that there are some people in your life who you need to distance yourself from?  Are there others you would like to cultivate a deeper relationship with?  How have you grown in the last year?  Leave me a reply and let me know: What are the coolest things you have done and discovered in 2020?

Seek out the light,

William

P.S. If this resonated with you, please share it with your community.  Let’s chase the bright spots together!

P.P.S. If this way of reflection and introspection appeals to your way of being, consider buying my book Journal Of YOU: Uncovering The Beauty That Is Your Truth, at your favorite online retailers.  Namaste.

Reconnecting With Mother Earth

IMG_1128Hello friend,

“When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” –John Muir

I have been a bit pent-up lately. Stressed. Conflicted. Disconnected. Feeling the pinch of learning a lot of new things all at once while also running out of time to do all of the things that I feel are essential to my progress toward my dreams. I have spent too much time in my head and too much time in judgment of myself for not doing more and better every day. I have allowed my mind to leave the precious present and drift too long and too often into the future, plotting a million different scenarios for the months and years to come. The need to have it all figured out and be moving efficiently in the “right” direction toward my dreams has overtaken me a bit. Frankly, I have been in need of a break. A chance to pull back a bit, get my bearings again, and ground myself in the principles that mean the most to me. I have needed to refocus, to dial back into who I really am and what drives me. I have just needed to be reminded of all of the magnificent blessings in my life and the greater purpose behind it. I have needed clarity.

So today, I finally had a quiet couple of hours in my schedule. As busy as I have felt recently, it kind of shocked me that these hours existed. I could think of a zillion things that seemed like they “needed” to be done or “should” be done to catch up, keep up, or get ahead. Guilt and Conscience were tearing me in all different directions. But when noon rolled around and I finished my last appointment of the morning, that window in my schedule seemed to reach out to my soul and call to my restless mind. I knew what I had to. I needed to get outside. I needed to find water. 

I love to be outside. The feeling of fresh air on my skin and in my lungs is simultaneously so soothing and yet so invigorating. It simply brings life back into me. The more man-made stuff you can remove from the scene, the better I feel in my heart. I love being with the grass and the trees and the wildlife. Living in a metropolitan area, I rarely get to that cherished feeling of connectedness to Mother Earth that I used to find so easily and so often in my wandering days. Cross-country drives were the norm, with stops at national parks and forests always foremost on the itinerary. In those days and on those trips, bliss and contentment came easily to me. I was always keen to find the next spot that made me feel most certainly that I had united with The Divine.

And there was water. Yes, wherever I felt that Divine Unity most intensely, you could be quite certain that the prominent feature of the scene was water. Forests might be there. Mountains might be there. Spectacular sunsets, too. Perhaps beautiful birds or deer. Maybe even butterflies or fireflies. But always, always water.

A few times in my life I have considered where I might have my ashes scattered if I ever wanted a say in the matter. My mind instantly flies to my favorite locations, spots that have found me in a state of the deepest Peace and Gratitude and Connectedness to my Source. The shores of Avalanche Lake in Glacier Park. A rock in the middle of the roaring McDonald Creek in Glacier, whitewater pouring down the mountain on all sides of me. The shores of the Greek Islands on the Mediterranean Sea at sunset. The shores of the Pacific Ocean, any time of day. The end of the dock at Pelican Lake, sunset. The emotions just pour out of my system as these images flash across my mind in my slideshow of Peace.

Nature has that effect on me. It is so stark and simple in its manner, and yet so utterly powerful and majestic in its beauty and grace. It is dynamic but still so wonderfully, reassuringly constant. Unlike us humans, it has no pretense and no ego to maneuver around. It is transparent. And it is, quite simply, awesome.

That is why, when that little window appeared in my schedule, my pent-up, disconnected mind was achingly, automatically drawn away from my computer screen and out the door of my house, just down the road about a mile or so. I brought along my journal. This is what I had to say:

Alright, this is a good place to write from. I suppose I mean that physically and emotionally. I am floating in my kayak on the edge of Alimagnet Lake, tucked back in a quiet bay. Whenever the easy breeze rises up a bit, my evidence is the sound of a handful of leaves bouncing off the other branches as they float their way to the ground. Future generations of grasses and trees will use these decaying leaves as fertilizer in this beautiful, endless circle of Life. I feel that now. It is nice to be here. Even though the sky shows only the spectrum of grays, being here makes it feel as though it is still a lovely day. The water has a way of doing that. It brings a certain Peace to everything around it. If I had a pillow, I could fall asleep here. When I first got out on the water, I had to kind of convince myself that it was okay to not be doing homework or TJP or starting the next blog post, that I could have this time to just reconnect with the water and that Peace and Mother Earth. I had to give myself permission to float. It is tough for me to make quietude, inner Peace, and connection to Nature agenda items. Tangibles and measurables are easier to justify. This is so, so good for me, though. It has the soothing quality of a hot bath, but it resonates much deeper. It is the kind of place I could sit for hours in serenity and gratitude. Even as I sit here and try to simply be in this moment, it is a challenge to not egg myself into, “I need to do this more often!” Of course I should, but I don’t necessarily want that to be my focus now. That can be one of my takeaways at the end. Right now I just want to take in the ripple on the distant water and the easy floating leaves on the glassy water surrounding my kayak. I want to absorb the magic palette in the trees across the lake and the fluttering of the leaves in the trees behind me. I want to be the water. The magical, wise, constant water. So completely embodying Peace and Power simultaneously. Its effect envelopes me as I gaze and breathe, gaze and breathe. My heart floats like the falling leaf, blissful in the knowledge that it will be gently received by the water’s surface. There is fellowship here. Community. Unity. God. Plainly God. So I peek over at my muskrat friend on the floating tree, give him a “Namaste,” and silently thank him for sharing the world with me. I feel as though I am oozing Peace and Gratitude. I am liquid Bliss. It really is All God. Life is truly beautiful.

And with that, I am back! I feel like I know myself again. I have checked in with home base, gotten my lens prescription fixed, and am ready to re-enter the world. In reconnecting with Mother Earth, I have reconnected with me.

How about you? What grounds you? Open up your journal and explore the places—or people or activities—that center you when you have lost your way. Is it one place specifically, or does it work in any place that resembles your favorite (e.g., any waterfront will do)? Do you need to be alone to find that Unity and Peace, or can other people be present (or must they be)? Do you have to be still (e.g., sitting in meditation or floating in my kayak), or is activity required (e.g., swimming laps or playing basketball or taking a drive)? Is it more about engaging in something fully for you, or about disengaging? How do you define “Nature”? How often do you feel like you get there? How would it benefit you to find it more often? Is there one aspect of it—like the water for me—that centers you most? On a scale of one to ten, how grounded, peaceful, and clear-minded are you today? Would some time on the water make that number go up like it did for me? Leave me a reply and let me know: How do you get reconnected? 

Be boldly the one and only YOU,

William