The benefit of daily awe

I was reading the Saturday Wall Street Journal, and saw an article which told me that if  I experience one minute of awe in nature each day, it will make me happier, kinder and more compassionate**.

Today, as we drove down the mountain, we saw people ice climbing.  I screamed out loud “holy mother of god, pull over”.  I have never seen a person climbing up a frozen waterfall on the side of a mountain.  I asked my fiancé, “Why would they want to climb frozen water or ice- it could break off any minute.”  He said, “because they can”.…talk about awe!  I stood there and watched them repel down a frozen waterfall with such ease and grace. At any moment a piece could break off and they could slide down.  I looked up to see where they had tied off the rope, it was to a small aspen tree at the top that was leaning over with the tension of the rope.

Risks.  Something we crave,  something we avoid, something we assess in life.

Some people believe that we have acceptable time periods of our life to take risks.  It is o.k. to take risks in your teens, or your 20’s because that is what youth is for. We tell ourselves later in life that we have done all our crazy stuff, now we have it all together.  The truth is that risk is always something that is present at any age.

In my 30’s and 40’s I had everything.  I had a great career, a wonderful lake front home, a great couch that you could sink into and disappear.  I would read the Saturday paper for 3 hours.  It was a high back tufted couch which I had yearned for 3 years and it cost $6,000.

For years in Toronto, Canada I had dreampt of owning a lake front home and having a great career.  We moved out to Scugog lake area and bought a cottage that was “lifted up” so it could be a home.

I was a driven professional, ambitious.  Then my husband died at 44 years old— and everything was meaningless.   Suddenly the couch was meaningless, the panoramic view of the lake was meaningless.

Eight years later I have found more meaning, but the couch is long gone, sold to a single mother for $100 who left her abusive husband.  She deserved to have time reading the paper against the high back tufted curve of my designer couch.

Now I live in the mountains and have very few belongings…. but I have love, and great dogs.  It feels like family.

Life is full of risks and the p0tential for awe at any age.

** In a 2015 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that after gazing up at tall trees for just one minute participants in Berkeley California behaved more helpfully to others than people who looked at an unremarkable building.   The reason,  Momentary awe it suggests. The University of California Irvine psychologist Paul Piff, who co-authored the study  says “I think we can say pretty certainly that having a little bit of awe everyday in your life would make you happier, kinder and more compassionate”.

Your church?

Our favourite bakery is the french bakery on main street in Breckenridge.  My fiance gets the almond croissant.  It reminds me of Montreal, Canada.  I was living there in my 20’s. I would get a bol de cafe o’lait and a chocolate croissant.  I would sit there and smoke my Gauloise filterless cigarettes and pretend to be Simone de Bovoire in Paris while I wrote in my journal.

Well here in the mountains there is a little bit of France.  Excellent Baguette, incredible authentic crepes.   The pastry chef said that he could not find housing for him and his Newfoundlanders dog, so he lived in a tent when he first came to the mountains.   After four months in a tent he found a studio apt that would allow him and his dog.  What determination!  Living in a tent in the mountains to make his patissere dreams come true.

What would I be willing to do to make my dreams come true?

The song by Peter Tosh comes to mind, “get up, stand up”.

Am I willing to get up and do what it takes?

Some days I find I don’t go out because of the cold or the snow.

How can I reframe the winter to be something that is fantastic.

This is a place where people spend thousands of dollars to come here for a few days, to ski and be in this incredible scenery.

I have talked to many people who came for a year in their 20’s and still live here 12 years later.  I asked my accupuncturist what makes a girl from California stay here in the mountains?

She said most of California is so congested, in this mountain town, within 5-10 minutes she can be in the woods in the silence.

She calls the wilderness her “church”.

“Its most important to create a church within yourself, where you are the minister of the temple in your own soul”.  Paramahansa Yogananda

So what is your church?  What do you do in your life to bring about peace and silence?

I know my church is meditation and prayer.  I meditate and connect with divine love.  I pray to my ancestors. Each day I take one hour to open my heart to divine love and be still.

What do you do to create stillness in your life?

Life grief

 

Have you ever experienced any grumpiness or grief as life changes?

Have you ever gotten what you wanted and then found it wanting?

Whether it is a new job or a relationship,  you have reached your goal.

I believe as humans whenever we have any change, wanted or not we experience a levels of grief.  Even if it is a change that we have dreamed of.

Eckhart tole tells us “There are two ways of being unhappy. Not getting what you want is one. Getting what you want is the other”.  Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth.

I believe we all experience this grief to differing degrees. Is it acceptable to acknowledge this grief in change?

In America I can see this in a bigger way with the turnover in presidents.  There is a grieving of what is known and familiar, along with the excitement of the unknown.

Being a foreigner in America, I find I grieve small things that I took for granted in Canada.  Such as HP sauce that I had with my eggs in the morning, which is not available here. These small familiar things act as markers for home.

Even if home was sometimes predictable and boring.  I believe my mind wants to cling to the familiar to protect me, to keep me safe.

In the mountains of Colorado the scenary is unfamiliar-and I am unfamiliar. My identity is changing, and my ego wants to cling to the old me.

For years I prayed for love to find me, I asked my dead husband to help me.  Now my prayers have been answered and I am in a push-pull relationship with all the good that is coming into my life.  Being in a new relationship and living together is a big change after 8 years of living alone. When you live alone, sometimes the loneliness vibrates throughout your very being.

When I was living with my good friend Pauline, we each did our own thing.  We watched the news and ate dinner together, but that was the limit of the togetherness.  We always did our own thing.

In this new relationship we sleep together, we wake up together, we do things together.  We process our feelings together.  That is a lot of togetherness.  Currently I am not able to work, as I wait for my immigration to be processed for  residency. This gives me a lot of time at home.

I feel like there are two parts of me, the old grumpy widow who is stubborn and is used to doing her own thing, her own way.  The other part of me is the excited tender part of me that is so grateful to have love in my life.  To cuddle, to cook together, do yoga together.  I feel that the old self, and the new self are trying to cohabite but are in conflict, like difficult roommates.

There are times when I stay up until till 12 midnight when my fiancé goes to bed at about 930pm.  I stay up and watch British tv shows, and tell myself I am doing exactly what I want to do.  This feels like me time.

He has expressed an interest in going to bed together at the same time.

Why am I so resistant?

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?

A sheltered oasis

 

For the past 6 weeks I have not driven my car.  Instead I have walked the mountain town.  Shuttling on foot from yoga, to the coffee shop, to the grocery store, the dog park and back home .  One of our goals was to live somewhere where we could walk everyday.

During the week between Christmas and New Years there were 160,000 visitors in a town that has 4,500 permanent residents.  I was glad to walk everywhere as drivers were impatient and the traffic was bumper to bumper.  In this mountain town, the sidewalks remain clear and walkable due to hot water pipes running under the cement.  Quite brilliant.  It’s too bad Canadian cities have not done the same.

My favourite “date” with my fiancé is to get a soy caramel late, and take the 20 minute free ride in the gondola up the mountain.  It is so silent riding the gondola. We glide above forested wilderness. From the gondola we have seen moose, red foxes, and bears. There is marshland, and frozen water that has nothing but animal tracks. It is like a moving meditation in the wilderness with no effort exerted. All in the comfort of a glass cabin in the air.

Heading down the mountain range to the Denver airport is a trek.  We got the car warmed up after 6 weeks of sitting.  We dug it out three times as it was snowing constantly.  We left Breck and drove an hour at 35 mph, getting about 15 miles to Silverthorne.

The I-70 on-ramp was closed, and the Eisenhower tunnel was closed.  We were turned back.  Only then did it dawn on me how isolated we are in the mountains.  There is only one way down, and if that is too dangerous to pass you are turned back.  We took it for granted we would be able to get to the airport and travel down the mountain with ease.  This time we missed our flight.

A simple trip down the mountain becomes a two-day voyage due to the mercurial weather storms that blow through the mountains suddenly.

The next day we got through the pass, my ears popped 3x on the way down the mountains descending from 9000 ft to 5000 ft altitude.  There were two air masses interacting half way down the mountain that caused a pounding headache for us both.

As we descended, the wilderness of the mountains surrounded us. What a blissful bubble the town of Breckenridge is. Only 15 minutes outside the town there is no phone reception, no clear roads, no gas.  At any moment the visibility could be zero, with snow falling off the mountain cliff or an avalanche that shuts the highway.

Imagine being in this mountain town in the 1800’s gold mining halfway up the mountain. Imagine living in a rough wood cabin built from the surrounding trees with the snow blowing through the cracks in the walls creating a snow carpet onto the floor.  I watched a documentary called the Ladies of the mines. It depicted the life of women who were wives of the gold miners.  Their job was to cook, wash and educate the kids.  One woman’s diary from the time period said that “she felt free in the mountains to be the woman she wanted to be.” In one photo she is shooting a gun with her husband and wearing pants and a cowboy hat. Written accounts from the time talk about breaking with convention of what was expected of women at that time.  In this mountain town women rode horses, set up schools, took in the miners laundry, and had their own income.  One women referred to missing the mountains when she went back to normal society, as women led aimless lives “with calling cards and an invitation to tea”.

Were these 1800’s women feminists before the word was coined?  Were they bucking the traditional role of women at that time.

I guess that is why so many people come to the mountains, to reinvent themselves without conventional roles or expectations put on them.  Is that what I am doing here?

What would you do if you had no expectations put upon you? How would you re-invent yourself?

Gold mine of the heart

Fear, have you felt it? Have you interpreted it to mean you should stop what you are doing?  Or do you feel the fear and do it anyway?

Coming to the mountains for love, I have felt a lot of fear.  Mostly fear of making a mistake. Part of me wants the map for my life.*  The really scared part of me wants to know that my relationship will work out, that this is it!  We all know that there are no guarantees with love.  By leaving my home country for love, I have this hidden expectation that this should be worth it.

Having this expectation put demands on the situation, that really has nothing to do with the situation, or the other person, but has everything to do with fear.

I was researching the history of this area in the Colorado mountains.   During the Pikes Peak gold rush thousands of men came here, young and restless and hoping to come for a summer, then go home with a pocket full of gold.

Breckenridge was a town of men and some women in transition, who were adventurous, restless, and seeking an outcome that would make the sacrifices worth it.

Am I any different from these 19 century gold miners?

My gold is love, intimacy, connection, an expanded self, success in a career, and having a true life partner.

Dr. Barbara D’Angelis says “fear is a natural response to the new, and the unknown, the invisible.  Fear is an energy that keeps you alert and paying attention” .

I find this reassuring, that I’m growing.

If I listen to my fear long enough it immobilizes me, and stops me from moving forward.  My fear would have me stick to what is familiar, and would never make a change.  My fear wants to keep me in a holding pattern, in limbo. Focusing on my fear leads me to want to eat sugar, drink beer, and sleep; all behaviours that are avoiding taking responsibility for my life.

Its like driving with the parking brake on, or living your life with one foot on the brake, and one foot on the gas*.  What if I feel my fear, listen to its voice, but don’t let it dominate the discussion in the room?

What if I take my foot off the brake?

When I was 20 I leapt and was not fearful, I was fearless.  Is it possible we get more fearful as we get older?

What if I make friends with my fear?

Risking love again brings up huge fear.  Having lost my husband suddenly in a crash, has left me with parts of my heart that have walls up; parts of my heart that have been intentionally unplugged for 8 years, so that I would not feel the pain.

But Dr. Barbara D’Angelis says “we cannot selectively open”, meaning we don’t pick and choose who or what we open to.  I always believed I could shut down parts of my heart, and pick and choose whom I love, when I love.

I told myself when the time comes I can choose to love again.   But after years of practicing shut down I am like a vintage car that has been in storage for 8 years and needs an overhaul just to be driven again at any speed.  Hell, I might even need a new engine metaphorically speaking!

Whenever one of us embarks on the risks of love, are we all not leaving our home country; the place that is familiar,  to go to the unknown.  Is that not the role of love to get us to unknown territory within ourselves;  to expand us, to grow us? Are we not all prospectors of the heart?

*concepts explained by Dr. Barbara D’Angelis author of the bestselling Soul Shifts and the upcoming book The Choice for Love (out Feb. 14th).

The privaledged outsider

We emigrated to Canada from the UK on a Polish cruise ship in 1979 called the  stephan Batory.  We boarded it in Southampton England. It was when there was still Communism in Poland.  We crossed the Atlantic and sailed through the area where the Titanic sank, eventually landing in Montreal, Canada.  A highlight for me was seeing an iceberg.  The crew went out to the iceberg and cut out a huge chunk of ice and served baked Alaska on it in the dinning room.  The authentic polish food was incredibly delicious.  I remember my parents saying they gained 14lbs over the ten-day crossing.

Crossing the Atlantic was rough. At dinner we hung onto our plates of food, otherwise they would have slid down the table.  I have photos of my parents; my mum dressed in an evening gown, and my father in a tux hanging onto a pole on the dance floor because of the rough seas.

As a teenager,  I thought the boat ride was fantastic.  The waves in the pool slammed you against the side, as the water synchronized with the ocean tide.  I used to entertain myself in the bottom of the ship playing the grand piano, in the theatre below deck.

We arrived in Montreal, Canada where everyone spoke French.  Most of the Polish crew jumped ship and declared refugee status.  This left no crew to unload the cargo from the ship.  We  waited 12 hours for another crew to help us disembark, and go through immigration.

Coming to Canada was part of my father’s “mid life crisis” he and my mother were 42 years old. We arrived in Sudbury Ontario, Canada which was a small rough mining town in Northern Ontario.  At that time there was no internet, so my father’s only information on Canada was based on television.  In England we watched the tv show Grizzly Adams, and we believed that all Canadians lived in log cabins, and hunted for their meat.  Convinced we would encounter wild animals my father had us get three rabies shots,  to prepare for the wilderness.

We arrived in a very civilized suburb of Sudbury, Ontario, Canada and my father was all set to hunt and gather.  Except we were in a suburban middle class neighbourhood, where people bought their meat at the store.

This did not stop my father, he joined a powder rifle club, took archery, and made us practice archery and fencing on the driveway.  He got a hunting license and managed to kill a deer. He decided he was going to skin it on the driveway and learn to tan hides.  After all this is why he came to Canada to experience the wilderness. The fact that the suburban neighbours stared at the dead carcus skins-salted and drying on the driveway did not sway him. He was “the proud Canadian hunter”. If we were not obviously outsiders with our accent, the tanning hides certainly indicated difference.

As a kid I was used to being the “outsider” we were stationed in different countries every 2 years with the British Air Force.  Before coming to Canada we moved countries 14 times in 16 years.   I adopted the stance of being a witness in life.  Observing people and cultures, realizing that I am a guest, an outsider, that I clearly did not belong.  I believe I have internalized the “outsider stance”, the witness stance, into my psyche as a way of being, always holding back a little bit to observe rather than throw myself into life full force.

As an adult I find myself drawn to the outsiders in any culture or community.  I have spent the past 20 years in Canada, working for those individuals who do not fit in.  Who function on the periphery of society such as addicts, homeless, new immigrants and youth.  I have advocated for the underdog in many different situations.

I believe years of being the outsider in many cultures made “outsiders” familiar territory for me.

Meeting Love face to face

I am a 51-year-old woman who was widowed suddenly at 44, when my husband was killed in a crash on the way home from taking his mechanics exam.  After the severe shock and loss I resigned myself to being alone.  I started traveling and meditating, thinking that in traveling I could leave my grief behind.  Over the past 7 years since my husband’s death I have dated, but I had never let myself love someone, or be loved.  I was on emotional strike.  I was being emotionally loyal to my dead husband.  I never let anyone in.

On my 50th birthday I was asked out to lunch by a man online, who said all the right things to me but his words did not ring true.  Something felt not quite right.  But hey, it was my birthday and I thought it would be nice to be taken out for lunch.  We went to a lovely riverside town called Bobcaygen in Canada, we had fun laughing and chatting.  As we walked down the street arm in arm he said “well I bought you lunch, you owe me”.  I thought he was joking and I started laughing.  I asked what he thought I owed him.  He said “at least a blowjob”.  I laughed even harder, I could not believe he was serious.  Except he was.

After that wonderful experience I sat down and spoke directly to my dead husband.  I wrote a list of all the qualities that I deserved in a partner.  It was a very specific list.  I then lit a candle in front of my  husband’s picture, and read him the list.  I told him directly that I would be celibate for the rest of my life, rather than accept crumbs.  I told him that I expected these qualities in a partner.  I challenged my husband’s spirit to find such a person.  I burned the list, and surrendered my request to spirit and let go. The cynic within me thought “good luck with that”, as I did not believe such a man existed.

A few weeks later I was drawn to a spiritual development retreat at the Omega Centre in upper state NY.  That is where I met the man with ocean blue eyes.   He sat in front of me at the retreat with a friend.  I tapped him on the shoulder, and asked if we could work together.   We were put in groups of three and asked to share about our ability to receive in our life.   He shared at a deep emotional level with his eyes tearing up.  I was lost in his eyes.  One of the qualities on my list was a partner who could express themselves emotionally, rather than having to drag it out of them.  I was struck by his eyes and wrote in my notes “that I could swim in his eyes forever”.

I noticed he was with a woman, and I said to myself “forget  about him, this is not why you are here”.

Saturday night, I went to the Omega Centre cafe even though I was tired.  Something in me made me go.  I ran into the ocean blue eyed man again, and we sat and chatted until the cafe closed.  I told him about my husband dying suddenly, and he talked about his 35 year marriage ending.   He asked me if he could come back to my dorm room and keep chatting.  I told him I had to go and ask my angels.

I went to the bathroom and asked my angels, my wise self-what to do.  they said “ do not invite this man back to you room”.  I told a young staff woman in the bathroom that a guy wants to come back to my dorm room, and what did she think?  She said “well its a cold october night”.   I came back to the table  aid my angels said “no you cannot come to my room”.  He was disappointed but did not question my decision.

Sunday morning I went to yoga, hoping to see him.  He was not there. I went to breakfast and sat with 3 women who were in the retreat.  I told them I had met a man at this retreat, they all knew him, and they had known him for 5 months as part of this ongoing group.  They spoke about his big heart, and his willingness to work on himself.  They basically vetted him.  This was another of my requirements on my lists to my deceesed husband, that I would meet a man face to face, and through other women who knew him, and could vouch for him.

Sunday was the end of the retreat.   Before he left, he ran to the Omega bookstore and bought two wooden malas, one for me and one for him.  He said “now we will always be connected”. We kissed as the autumn leaves fell.  It was a sunny day, but it was also snowing lightly.  I distinctly remember the kiss in slow motion.  The sun on my cheek, the soft snow falling with the leaves.  And then he was gone.

We started to talk via Skype every night for hours.  We meditated together via Skype.   We talked about our relationships.  He had been married for 35 year and has been alone for 2 years. I shared memories of my dead husband every night.  For the first time I met a man who was not offended by my love for my deceased husband.  He honoured and embraced my love.  This kind man I met at the retreat begged to come and visit me in Canada.  After 2 months of talking I said yes, and we went on our first date in Toronto.

Flash forward 14 months, I find myself deeply in love, and in a foreign country.  I know my spirit husband sent me this man.  How do I know?  He has all the qualities on the list, that I had written to spirit.   I met him face to face, as I had requested in my list.  He  had an interest in growing spiritually,  he had no interest in the bar scene,  he is emotional and romantic, and still curious  about life.

It was as if spirit lined us both up, to be there at the exact right time.  Spirit put him right in front of me.

This experience has made me really trust more that spirit has my back.  That there is such a thing as divine timing.  My part is to be clear about how I want to feel in a relationship, and what qualities I want, but then I need to surrender the timing to spirit, to the divine.

 

Breathing at altitude

Coming out of surgery, the nurse shaking me awake to tell me to breathe, I guess I had stopped breathing. I have always been a shallow breather.  In the mountains there are quite a few cafe’s that offer beer, espresso and oxygen.  At the corner stores they sell Boost which is 150 puffs of oxygen in a can.  There is even an IV clinic that will hydrate you with a bag of fluids and oxygen at the same time.   My fiance is quite fit and has a huge lung capacity.  He has been quite an athlete in his life running triathlons and is an avid skier.

Here in the mountains he is struggling with breathing. He has decided to go to the IV clinic today called Vida-flo.  He was looked after by an emergency nurse, that also works at the IV hydration clinic.  She told him that altitude sickness only occurs above 8,600 ft. He got a bag of saline with B9, B12, B6, Zinc, Vit C, Zofran, famotidine, Glutathione, Vit D and Toradol for his headache.  All this was accompanied by oxygen for 45 minutes.  He says he feels great.  Only in America would they offer all your vitamins by IV for $50. If you went into an American emergency room for an IV and oxygen it would be hundreds of dollars. It makes me wonder how sir Edmond Hillary coped with the altitude when he climbed Everest?

I was interested in a more holistic approach to assist me in adjusting to the altitude.  We went to  a place called Viva Float which provides isolation float tanks filled with 1,000lbs of dissolved magnesium.  Floating weightless is supposed to do the following: Increases oxygen flow, Strengthens the immune system, Improves sleep, Eliminates fatigue and jet lag, Alleviates stress (mental and physical), and  alleviate problematic respiratory symptoms.  Sounds good. We arrived, got a tour and showered for 10 minutes with two cleansers before getting into the float tank.  You had a choice of red light, blue light, white light or blackout.

After floating in the dark for 60 minutes I felt completely relaxed, almost in a stoned state.  My skin felt buffed like I had ex-foliated everywhere.  I felt peaceful and content.  That night I slept for 12 hours, which I have not done in years and years.  My fiance struggled with the float tank, he had trouble breathing in the enclosed space and in the water.

I am surprised how well my body has adapted to altitude.  I have no trouble breathing perhaps because I am such a shallow breather that my body is used to less oxygen. Even as a baby I remember being in my mother’s womb and the doctors “turned me” because I was feet first.  We were living in Malaysia at the time, and health care was antiquated.  Now doctors never turn babies because of the health risks.   At the time of birth I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck 5 times, because of being turned.  I was blue at the time of birth.  My father said he put his fingers under the cords so I could breathe.  I remember misinterpreting his actions-that he was trying to kill me.

I came into this world almost dead and breathless.   There are some theories that your breath represents your trust in life.  Those who are shallow breathers don’t have a full trust in life or the world.

In my 20’s I learned conscious connected breath work.  This is  a way to deepen your breath and unearth stress and patterns. Conscious connected breath works on the principle that there is a direct connection between mental and physical well-being and the openness of the breathing. Relaxing and releasing the breath dissolves tension in both the body and the mind. It was a profound experience being coached in breath work.  I had flashbacks to the womb and also before being born.  Flying over my mother as a spirit and choosing her because she would provide the most lessons to me, and that I could bring her love that she so desperately needed at the time.  I felt vibrated in as a soul to my mother.

Wild Women

Wild adventurous spirit in the mountains

The woman here are not your average women.  They are strong, independent and push the boundaries.  Gloria Steinem’s new book My life on the road talks about the women and men she met traveling across America.  She should have come up here to this American mountain town.  The women are true adventurers As one local said “you think you are a tough man, there is always a tougher woman”.   He is right.

While swimming at the recreation centre just outside Breckenridge I met a “mountain woman” she is 20 years old and living in her car, throughout the winter.  She has a good job and earns $1,500 a week, and chooses to live in her car.  I asked her about her daily routine;  she said she drives around, goes to work.  She has a membership at the recreation centre, she works out and then does her shower.  She said she does not let herself shower, if she does not work out, that is her one rule, because she eats out every day.

I asked about what how she gets through the night?  She said she locks the doors and keeps the car running throughout the night. She has a Honda accord and it is great on gas. She spends about $300 a month living in her car.

It seems in this gorgeous mountain town there are more jobs than there is places to live. A bedroom in a shared house averages $1,000  if you can find one.  It seems there is an underground population working day jobs, living in cars, and heated garages.  I asked her why people would put up with that.  She said “just to be here, this is a magical place”.  The woman here are defiantly not the norm, and I admire them.

I think back to when I was 20.  I was doing what was expected, going to college to get a degree.  I would have been too scared to break out on my own, much less travel by myself and live in a car.  Only since my husband’s death 8 years ago,  did I decide that I was fed up with waiting for others to travel with.   I remember a time when I was planning a south american trip with a girlfriend, and she cancelled because of her partner.  I distinctly remember the feeling that I could wait the rest of my life for a travel companion, or I could break out on my own and just travel.   So I did, and I have been traveling alone ever since.

Part of me wishes I had this adventurous spirit at 20.  What would I have done if I had bucked expectations and gone on a wild adventure 30 years ago?