What Space Are You In?

Do you ever notice if you are having a new experience with yourself? Are you aware you are having an experience with yourself?

I am having a new experience with myself. Suddenly, I find I don’t have much to say. I notice less chatter inside of my head. I notice I don’t have much to feel. The presence inside feels smooth, almost void of conflict. It kind of feels like death. But, really it’s just a foreign state of less inner conflict and disturbance and more inner silence.

 

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The Devil’s Kettle, Northern Minnesota

Sometimes, in this unfamiliar state I watch myself try and create drama and conflict within me. Sometimes, I question the silence. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s depression or sadness. But I know those states and that is not what this is. This state is not peaceful. It is not joyful. It is not sad. It just is.

The silence allows me to notice life outside of me, people mostly. I watch the drama people bring onto themselves. Then I watch them blame others or their environments. I think some of us don’t feel alive unless there’s drama and conflict. I think many of us fear the silence. I want to say to the people— you are creating this chaos and you don’t have to. This is the lesson to be learned.

But, how?

The Sufi poet Rumi said, “Work. Keep digging your well. Don’t think about getting off from work. Water is there somewhere.” I have dug my well in many ways. I dug through journaling, through reading, through therapy, through processing out loud, through walks in the woods, through crying my eyes out, through running in the streets not knowing where to run, through fighting, and most recently through a yoga and meditation practice I learned from a guru. In my digging I hit rock, branches and mud. I got hit, kicked, pummeled, bruised and I thought, broken. I also hit some clear spots, and rested. I cannot say I have hit water yet or if I am even close. What I can say is the current space is dark, unfamiliar, quiet and still. And for the first time in an unfamiliar space, I am unafraid. Instead I am slightly curious and mostly present.

Your how comes with desire. You must want to find the water. You must want liberation more than you want drama. You must keep digging even when it’s hard. You must keep working even when you think you’re not getting anywhere. You must want to be free more than anything else. And then, you’ll come to a space that feels different than all the others. You’ll wonder where you are, but you won’t be afraid. The space will be clear. Vacant, but oddly alive without any more limitations, without any more rocks to hit or stones to throw or vines to be caught in. You’ll be suspended in this space. I don’t know where you’ll go next, but water is there somewhere.

 

The Soul Reporter.

 

 

 

 

 

Rock Water Self

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Outside the lake home window I watch the water meet the rock. The water swirls around it. It sweeps on top of it. At times, it crashes right into it and whatever the water does, the rock remains strong, still, stable, unmoved. There’s a lesson here, I think. Can I be like that rock when the waves come crashing in? Can I be like the water, swirling around the rock? Can I ebb and flow and also remain steady and secure? Can I be both the rock and the water?

What if the water resisted the rock? Would the water flow? What if the rock resisted the water? Would the rock be shaped? Resistance of any kind would halt the movement and freedom of the water and would cease to shape and mold the rock. How stagnant do I become in my resistance? How do I miss the caress of the water? If the water does not crash upon me how will I be changed? How will I grow?

As I watch the dance between rock and water, non-resistance becomes the goal.

Let’s Not be Stress this Holiday. Let’s be Truth.

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I have a Christmas wish: can we please stop saying this time of year is stressful? Beyond the holiday, can we also please stop saying everything is so stressful? Most of us say this now- but is it helping? Isn’t it just a catch-all phrase that now doesn’t really mean anything?

What are we really saying when we say this? Are we really saying we need a rest? That we really don’t like what we spend our energy on? That our family dynamics (especially during holidays) makes us scared or resentful or not heard and seen? Or are we just trying to fit in with all the other stressful people and we actually feel good?

Whatever it is, let’s get to the nitty gritty of it and speak honestly and stop saying everything is so stressful. We are what we think, you know, so let’s not be stress. Let’s be truth.

Side note: after posting this on FB someone in-boxed me share the truth of what is going on  with them. This is the point of my post- to have us saying what is, not use blanket terms or just say something that we all say. It isn’t to make anyone feel what they are experiencing isn’t stressful. 2016 was rough for many of us. This is just a request for us to dig deeper. To seek the truth and share it, if so inclined. Share your truth here if you’d like.

The Soul Reporter

Seeking the Warmth

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Today was a sad and contemplative day. It was also a little stressful. My computer was acting funny so instead of doing homework as planned I went to the Mac store. Fortunatley my old 2007 is still going to get me through for a while. I had my bike in the car so I went to a lake, but I couldn’t yank my bike from the back.  I was getting pissed, which means I am going to break something and make it worse. Instead I took a deep breath and took off the front wheel. When I finally got it out of the car and the wheel back on my anticipated quiet ride was infilatrated by something that went clickety, click from somemthing I probably broke.

Six miles of clickety-click I put the bike back in my car. I grabbed the blanket from my backseat and walked to a massive tree by the lake. I stretched out my blanket, bunched up my sweatshirt for a pillow, put my hands on my belly and moved my face toward the soon-to-be-setting sun. And there it was— something familiar—warmth. In the warmth of the sun, my body cooled. Whatever I was irritated by calmed. What I’d been angry about vanished. But, there were tears. This warmth I was feeling— I determined is love.

There was a man and his dog sitting on the bench nearby. I didn’t pay him too much attention until he got up and started walking toward me. At first I was uncomfortable. I would have rather been left alone. But, he stopped and asked, “Are you doing alright,” as if we were old, dear friends. I didn’t answer truthfully, of course. I said, “Yes, I’m doing alright.” He replied, “Well unfortnatley for me my bike tire is flat.” I empathized and we agreed on what a beautiful day it was (despite his flat tire and my tears). Then, he was gone. My previous tears turned to sobs. I sat there until it passed.

When I get home, after I dinner I opened up to where I left off in Glennon Doyle Melton’s book, Love Warrior. She is talking about drinking whiskey. She says, “The whiskey warmth starts in my mouth, travels down my throat, pools in my belly, and now my insides are also wrapped in a blanket, hushed, quieted, rocked gently to sleep.” I realize I had the very same experience as Glennon, but not with whiskey, with the sun, and that man. How often does someone ask us geunuinely, are we alright? I think we are all seeking the warmth.

I recall all the warm spots I have found. I found it with my dad as a kid when I’d stay at his house and drink warm tea and sit down next to the big heater that blew out warm air. I found it snuggling up to my husband on a cold, winter’s night. I found it when my dad rubbed my temples when I was young girl with a headache. I found it in the smiling eyes of my aunt when I walked through her front door. I found it in books. I even found it with my mother (who I often don’t feel nutured by) when I was sick and she snuggled me up in a blanket on the couch and handed me her famous pb & j with the big chunks of butter. I found it at the sunny spot by the lake. I found it in the question of a stranger.

Once I find it my insides are quieted. My mind is calm. I know I am loved. I am restored.

The Soul Reporter

The Month of September

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Once, many years ago, while going through a particularly difficult time I got this idea in my head I would die on September 16 (0f that particular year). I was reminded of this today, September 16, on my walk. Suddenly, I smelled something foul. I looked to my right and there was a dead racoon in the grass. Several steps later, once I arrived in the woods near my house, a dead squirrel on the path. The bodies were still fresh. Was this a sign?

I thought: death is all around us. I remembered all the death that has surrounded my family and myself since December. On December 11, just as my kids and I were about to watch A Christmas Story, my dad called. He was not himself. He said, Mary Lou died. Mary Lou was my step-mother. Then, in January my husband’s last grandmother passed away. It snowed in April when Price died alone in his elevator. June took Uncle Mel and then, his wife, my beloved Aunt on September 6.

September 6 is now shared with September 24, my father’s birthday, when my best friend from Kindergarten died in a car accident when she was only 27 years old. Along with September 11 and September 29. On September 29th, 2011 I was driving my white Toyota Matrix on a Los Angeles freeway. My mother and 11-year old daughter were in the backseat, my 19-year old daughter in the front seat with me. We were listening to Enya and playing the alphabet game. Suddenly, a large truck with glaring headlights was in my rear view mirror. Before I could finish my sentence about what I saw, that large truck hit my car. The car flew and flipped through the air several times until it finally landed on its side. I remember wondering, am I going to die?

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The Toyota Matrix

I have told and written this story many times, and this year, five years later, I notice the story no longer holds the emotions and trauma it once had.  Now, what seems to be unfolding are the lessons and awakenings from that day that changed everything. Death is all around us.

But, what does this mean exactly? And, is it death or just change? Here’s what is becoming clear for me— life. I think I have been so afraid of death and that impending shoe drop (in my case a tow truck that comes out of nowhere) that life has been cumbersome. I noticed this heaviness after I returned from my aunt’s funeral. Prior to her funeral, I sat with her for four days while she went through the process of death, of change. I had never been this close to the death of another human being or for so long.

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Me and Aunt Flo

Before I entered her home, I was afraid of what I might see. But, all my fear went away when she opened her eyes and smiled at me (and my dad and daughter). All I felt was love. I knew I loved her, but those four days I felt my love for her. I was able to tell her she mattered. This experience is invaluable to me now.  But there is a physical, mental and emotional price, at least for me, when going through something like this. That price felt heavy. It felt exhausted. It felt sad.

After the car accident, I carried heavy, exhausted and sad for nearly 5 years.

I feel lighter now. Life is becoming more clear, but not because I have figured anything out. But because I’m not taking it all so seriously and maybe because the desire to live life finally outweighs the fear of living life. I am moving, once again, toward curiosity, beauty, wonder and listening. Listening, as I did on my walk today, that I needed to get grounded. This looked like me stopping in the middle of the forest doing tree pose and volcano breath. This means committing to creating a life that will match my desire to stay in harmony with my higher self and nature, and not the day-to-day grind of this current culture.

I also intend to move more toward what my aunt taught me—love. And, believe me, I am a newbie to love. It’s always been inside of me, but it’s the emotion or state of being that I resist the most. At the least, it makes me feel awkward. At the most, it frightens me as if I might be swallowed by it. But, while my aunt was in  hospice I had a new experience with love. As I stroked her hair, held her hand and kissed her forehead as I said goodbye and I love you, love comforted me.

Love is a comfort, not a burden I need to protect myself from. So yes, death, the unexpected, change surrounds us—not to stop us or scare us or burden us, although it can, but to notice it, wonder about it, learn from it and let it guide us to more clarity of life, comfort of love and truth of being.

The Soul Reporter

Going Against My Grain

What is my grain, currently? Currently, I am afraid. I hold back. I let myself off the hook, and rather easily. I can work hardGrain as a mother, as a daughter, as a wife, as someone who takes care of her home, as someone who works with myself toward greater growth and transformation. I have even shown I can work hard at being a middle-aged student. But—I don’t work hard at my desires—my desires to become a published writer, to be a business owner with any one of my good ideas. I also don’t work hard at making my overweight body healthier even though I have high blood pressure and thyroid issues. I guess we all have our weak spots. Here are mine.

 

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The issue is I could get by with only working in the places I am strong, until now. Now, I face a body that has to get healthier or it will only continue its decline. Now, I face another fork in the road—follow my desires that are still very much alive inside of me or not. Both choices, right now, terrify me. All week I have faced myself in these weak places and mostly, I’ve been resentful. I resent the inertia I have created. It’s a tangled mess of weakness, fear, anxiety and doubt. It’s a place that has been accumulating for 20+years. It’s a place I have been avoiding for at least that long, and have always known is there.

 

Grain2On the bright side, yesterday, on a walk in one of my sacred spaces I could actually feel myself aligning with my desires. I know it’s time to walk through the tangled mess, fight and claw and probably love my way through until I stop for a moment and realize: I’m through. And, I’m through with doubting my abilities. I’m through with questioning the desires of my soul. I’m through worrying if my actions make a difference or not or where they may or may not take me. I’m through with anxiety clouding my intuition and instincts that move my desires forward. But, I’m not through yet. I’m still here, doubting, questioning, worrying—and still, moving forward anyway.

 

Namaste,

The Soul Reporter

The 5-Mile Hike

A month ago, with spring break approaching I booked a 3-night stay at a resort on Minnesota’s North Shore. At least once a year I go on retreat, alone. Usually I stay at a small cabin in the woods—rugged, no television or amenities. This year I wanted a bit more luxury. I wanted the option of staying in bed all day on a comfy, king size bed, with the fireplace on, watching satellite television. I also wanted the option of stepping into a whirlpool bath, full of bubbles and lit candles. I brought 4 books, 2 magazines, my laptop and iPad. I also brought my homework just in case and the notes of my memoir that I’ve been working on and thinking about for ten years. The difference with this retreat, I didn’t care if I even opened my backpack with all of those options inside. As I said, staying in bed was also an option.

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However, yesterday I decided it would be nice to hike. I drove to mile marker 43.5 along the Superior Hiking Trail. I parked at a wayside. I wore my knee-length, down North Face jacket; my green, rubber, ankle-high rain boots and my cross-body leather purse. I also had a scarf and hat to match. On the brochure from the resort, the hike was listed as 5 miles. After, crossing the bridge at 2.5 miles, it read I would be led back to the wayside. How difficult can 5 miles be? That’s like walking Lake Nokomis two times around. It turns out 5 miles on a hiking trail is equivalent to about 20 miles on a paved trail around a lake, at least in my estimation.

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I was met with many obstacles upon the trail. The first being a couple on the path that I kept trying to avoid, which was difficult because they kept stopping. The first stop was to set down their backpacks and strip off their oversized coats, rolling them neatly into their backpacks and putting on a lighter coat. I decided to follow suit. But, I had no backpack so I folded up my bulky winter coat and hung it over my purse. Their second stop was to take a drink of water and eat a snack. I had no water. I had no snack so I sat on a tree stump and watched the waterfall. Their third stop was to tie their hiking shoes. I had rubber rain boots. Fourth stop—kiss on the bridge (that wasn’t the one to cross over to head back as I hoped it was). My husband hates to hike so we will never kiss on a bridge if it’s on a hiking trail. And finally, their last stop at the actual bridge, which was the half-way point, at a camping site, where I watched them unload their gear. This, is where I started to worry. Should I be camping out? Is the hike back not possible without an overnight stay? As much as I tried to avoid the couple I was now afraid to leave them behind.

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I checked my phone. Up until this point I had no signal, but now I had two bars. I sent my husband a text informing him of my location. You know, just in case I don’t make it. Because you see, prior to this I was really struggling. On the trail to the bridge was mud, lots of mud. And ice. My rubber boots are not made for ice. There were steep slopes up and down filled with ice and mud. I had to find other ways around, if possible. Sometimes this wasn’t possible because to my right was a ridge and then the river and to my left trees and brush and prickly branches. At one point, I took a tumble, and cursed loudly.

So I wrote: Ok so if you don’t hear from me I’m on the split rock superior hiking trail. First signal I’ve had and it’s full of mud and ice and I’m not prepared for that. Then another text to say, I am still only half way. I’m the stupidest person I know. He replies: Are you going forward? I say, Have to. It’s too bad to turn around. I’ve already fallen. Then he says, I wish you well with that. Better person than me.

Wish you well with that….? I could break a leg or twist my ankle next time I fall.  I’ve seen animal prints I hope are domestic dogs and not wolves or bears. I have no water or food. I don’t know how long it will take for me to get back. I don’t know if the trail back is full of mud and ice. I don’t even know if I am following the right trail. And, that couple I wished would go away are now behind me, camping for christ sake. And, I’m telling him my location in case any of this happens. And, he says, I wish you well with that.

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At this point, I never thought the trail would end. Four hours had gone by. There was no end in sight. All I wanted was to get back to the resort for my $5 smoothie before they stopped selling them at 4pm. I wanted the hot tub and the cozy bed. I cursed the path and then cursed myself for taking myself out on yet another stupid adventure where I don’t feel prepared. Where I get swindled by my own mind to have an experience, where all I do is realize I just want to be at home, relaxing. Where I understand I really don’t want to work so hard. I don’t want to be challenged by miles of mud and ice and rocks and tree roots and a husband that doesn’t get it. Then, I began to hear traffic from Highway 61. I was up high enough I could see glimpses of Lake Superior. Signs, I knew, I was going in the right direction.

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Did, I even feel relieved or heroic upon retuning to my car….? No. As soon as my tired, aging, aching body got into my car the experience was already becoming a distant memory. I was in the moment of now being in my car, in pain. I’ve gone most my life holding onto experiences and making them mean something. But, do they? I’ve also made sure I learned something. But did I with this experience? If I did, I learned I am not as tolerant or interested in being challenged as I think I should be. Or maybe I am just tired of being challenged and just want to relax and take it easy for a while. Maybe I just went for a damn hike- and as with most things it wasn’t what I thought it might be. End of story. And, I have the boots to prove it.

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The Soul Reporter

I am

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The surface is ice and does not move- much like the way I’ve become. Yet beneath, the water keeps moving. It maintains it’s aliveness- much like I am.

It has been a while since I have posted on this blog. There hasn’t been much time for reflection and for writing much more than school papers. I decided to go back to college in the fall for social work. I also work and maintain the other responsibilities I have had most of my life: kids, home, relationships. But— I had two weeks off for the holidays and I have a month off from school. It took a week or more, but soon the Voice Inside was heard.

This didn’t just happen, however. I had to ask to hear it again. I had to desire the chaos in my head to dissipate a bit and I had to take a walk. I went right to the Mississippi River. Immediately I noticed the ice that formed. The lack of movement- the complete lack of moment frightened me. It seemed like death. But then, beyond the ice, a patch of moving water could be seen. This brought hope and became a metaphor for what I’ve noticed about myself, but could not be fully seen in the busyness of my life—on the surface I seem unchanged—that I am not growing. That a certain kind of death has snuck in and I have become stagnant and at times, icy. But even when this seems true, underneath life still flows. There is an aliveness that exists that is never stagnant or stuck. There is a presence that is fearless in the face of pain and suffering and love and life and doesn’t ice over and become numb.

There is more I could write, but this is a good start to warm the waters I suppose,

The Soul Reporter.

Happy 2015. May we all have many more moments where we see what is beneath the surface.

The Shire in the Woods

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My kids call me a hobbit. So it’s appropriate I’m spending a few of my days during spring break at a retreat center called, Shire in the Woods. It was once called The Dwelling in the Woods and from 2006 or so to 2010, I visited the “hobbit hole” called The Loft, once or twice a year. It is a small, cozy cabin complete with kitchen, wood stove, screened in porch, 1/2 bath, and a small spiral staircase up to the loft/bedroom—all surrounded by woods and trails. It’s intention: to get away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives.

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In those years between 2006-2010, I would enter The Loft and sigh a relief of suddenly being alone with myself. It was a relief to be away from the needs and wants of my family. It was a relief to feel and know myself again. This time there was no relief. Although it was nice to see The Loft again after several years, I was somewhat dreading being with myself. It hasn’t happened since the last time I was here in 2010—and a lot has happened since then.

One thing is I no longer need to get away from my family like I once thought I did. I have worked through enough of my “stuff” and I love being with them—no longer feeling resentment that I can’t be myself with them. And so alone on a Thursday night, fire burning in the wood stove, a cup of hot tea next to me, I find myself texting them just to see what they are doing, almost wishing I was with them watching Parenthood on the couch. But, I’m here and although I feel a little foreign to myself after all these years, I’m hanging with me anyway.

So far I made myself lunch and dinner, using only the toaster oven provided. I took a two hour nap. I have written a a couple of articles, including this one. And, I went snowshoeing. Yes, I went snowshoeing in April on my spring break. I am in northern Minnesota and it still looks like February in these parts.

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After lunch, I stood in The Loft over-thinking the possibility of snowshoeing—Is it cold? Will the snow hit my face? Will I get lost? Stranded? What if there are bears or wolves? Then, I just moved. Put on the snow pants I have never worn, that unfortunately were a bit too tight in the gut, wrapped a scarf around my neck three times, put on my pink hat, my green jacket, which quite frankly I am sick of wearing and ready to store away, and then my boots. I grabbed the orange vest provided by the staff so I wouldn’t get shot by hunters (even tho it is no longer hunting season) and a ring full of bells for that wolf or bear (as if that might scare them off). I went outside The Loft, struggled to put on my snowshoes with my tight snowpants and hit the trail.

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The snow was hitting my face and I wasn’t cold, but sweating. Not only were there no bears, wolves or hunters there wasn’t even a bird or a squirrel. I was the only one in these woods, which didn’t stop me from looking around for someone watching me when I kept falling in the snow.

You see, it was a bit deceiving out there. It seemed I was walking on solid ground, but then I would notice large, deep crevices in the snow. I soon discovered these were snowshoe prints from previous snowshoers sinking into the snow. I had joined their club and made my own prints in the snow. One of which I took a picture of, where not only did I sink into 2-3 feet of snow but fell hands and face first. That’s when I looked to see if anyone saw me because if they did I would be so embarrassed because obvioulsy I am perfect and I should never fail and fall.

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I even got so paranoid about someone seeing me I had the stupidest thought—what if there are cameras out here and someone is getting a real good laugh. Because not only did I continue to fall and my snowshoes kept getting stuck and coming off, I was shouting the F bomb all through the woods. At one point I sat down in the hole in which I sank and almost cried. I was becoming exhausted by this journey and it wasn’t even a long one—or that serious. It reminded me of the journey of the past few years, those years between 2010 and now. A journey I keep being exhausted by—but there was a song playing in my head that stopped those tears from falling down my snow covered cheeks. Shake it Out by Florence + The Machine. 

Shake it out Nikki. 

I got up, fell several more times but in place of exhaustion was determination to just get up, shake it out and keep going.

Tonight, 6-12 inches of new snow is going to fall and cover all traces of my falling and getting up. Such is life…

Goodnight Day One.

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Good Morning Day Two.

I wake up feeling happy, serene. I am relaxed with myself. This is a pleasant surprise. I made some cereal, eggs and toast. Cleaned up a bit and got dressed. My big outing—walking to the main lodge to pay my bill. After I paid though, I kept walking. Here she goes again….but this time with no snowshoes. At first I intended to take the longer way back to The Loft, but I had remembered a beaver pond off one of the trails I wanted to see in the winter time. I mean spring time.

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This (above) is what it looks like in winter time. I realized after the journey there it wasn’t about seeing this. That was just an idea in my mind that pushed me forward, like some conquest I had to conquer. Turns out I did more than my share to conquer this goal. I ended up walking much further down a path than I had to. Walking through the snow is similar to walking in sand—it’s a workout. At least for me who hasn’t moved much this long winter. I could not find the path that lead to the beaver pond, but then saw a map posted helpfully on one of the trees. I missed the turn off completely.

I headed back the way I came and found the path toward the beaver pond. And guess what, it was filled with those sink hole land mines again. At least this time I wasn’t losing my snow shoes, but I was soaking my sweatpants in the snow that went almost to my hips. Remember I am a hobbit so I am practically being swallowed by snow.

I was also getting exhausted—again. And this time there was no song in my head from Florence + The Machine—I cried. Hugged the birch tree beside me and cried. I bet no one has ever cried holding this birch tree before. Is anyone looking? My heart was beating so fast. I was standing at the beaver pond realizing some other force pushed me here because I knew it wasn’t for the view, even when I set forth toward it. It was about regaining my strength. Pushing my heart again against life and for life.

I am not sharing what the past few years of my life entailed, but I will share that I set out on another kind of journey and I expected not only the view, but the journey to be spectacular. It wasn’t. In fact many times it was horrifying. I have been exhausted, standing and sitting similar to what I have done on both of these days where I’ve ventured out on the snow packed trails, hesitating.  Should I go? Or should I stay? Should I go to that beaver pond? Or just head back? Even while on the trail, epseciallly at the birch tree I stood for a very long time—hesitating—not feeling like I could head back. I’ve been doing this with life. Do I dare venture out again and risk being disappointed, exhausted and scared out of my mind? Or could I have a new experience?

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In all this questioning and over-thinking, I just move. It just happens. Apparently, some inkling of hope there are new possibilities. That the past in in the past.

I stepped inside the same steps that got me to the pond. It made it easier in dealing with those sink holes. I continued on with my steps and my tears, allowing myself to cry out the disappointment and exhaustion of the past few years. It was all in place to gather strength, to transform my view, to shed me of what’s not needed—as are all my steps now.

Goodnight Day Two.

 

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Good Morning Day Three.

Today I leave The Loft. Much of the snow that fell has melted in the sun that says, Spring! I look forward to seeing my family. My husband will have dinner made. We will all watch a movie and have good conversation.

Before I leave, sitting at the familiar round table in The Loft, eating buttery eggs, cottage cheese and raspberries I accept what I’ve made a significant flaw, a “flaw,” which has shown itself on this short retreat. My hesitation about life, my caution and slow way of moving forward—perhaps a stubbornness or fear or laziness. I accept how long it takes me to move. I accept it often takes a lot to get me to move. I get it. I accept it.

I have cleaned The Loft, leavning it fresh for the next guest. I am pressing publish on this post. Time to leave. Goodbye Shire in the Woods. Until we meet again….

The Soul Reporter.