So, what IS the highest art of living? …

“The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner.” – Tibetan proverb.

Mmmh. Does that make the lowest art the art of living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner?

If so, then I’m afraid that’s exactly what I’ve been up to.

I guess, first I need to define “ordinary”.
Ordinary – a life that resembles that most commonly lived by the majority of people in one’s culture and society. In my case, I associate “ordinary” with working a 9-5, getting a paycheck, having an immobile home, with flush toilets, and a stove that requires neither denatured alcohol nor lighter. In an ordinary life, people wake up, get dressed, commute to work, spend the day on tasks possibly unrelated to their felt or imagined life-purpose, then maybe fit in some exercise for an hour or so after work, connect with friends, eat a meal, fall asleep, repeat.

(Please note that I count among my friends many who fit this description, yet each shine in a precise, unique way as to never EVER make their lives any less remarkable or fascinating than that of my other friends’, the wildlings, the transients, the roamers. But for the sake of labels and description, let’s use this definition for now.)

For the past 5, 6, or maybe 7 years, I have lived an “extraordinary” life.
Extraordinary – The opposite. No 9-5, no paycheck, no shower, flush toilets or kitchen, unless provided by providence, no schedule, dress-code, lunch breaks, coworkers, boss, time-sheets, no place to which to return at night, because home was with me all along.

Recently, after roaming the reds, tans and browns of the southwest desert for a few months, I began to crave green, as I often do this time of year.
I have that extra bit of hematite in my pineal gland, the same kind that launches flocks of wild geese across the globe. Twice a year, migration knocks on my mind’s door.
And when it does, I can think of little else.
So, I flew north. As they do.
Green meant New Hampshire this year.
New Hampshire meant driving 3,000 miles.
3,000 miles meant the complete bottom end of my saved funds.

Now, I could have, and have in the past, just tighten my belt, followed my whims and expected a miracle. This has been my M.O. for all of my extraordinary years. But this time, something was different. It wasn’t the fact that I got here fasting (and dropped about 10 Lbs) so that I’d have enough cash for fuel to even get here. I’ve written that particular story-line in my life often, and always with a happy ending. It wasn’t the fact that the Catmobile is approaching 280,000 miles and can barely break 35 mph uphill. My love needs love of the mechanical kind. Again, a familiar story-line, harbinger of miracles. It wasn’t, either, the pressure to conform, the need for security, or anything of that sort. I wasn’t tired of roaming, or confused or shameful about my lifestyle. No, none of these … my extraordinary had just become my ordinary, and I needed to shake things up.

So, I did something out of my ordinary – I got two jobs, and parked the Catmobile in a stationary spot. A spot where I have access to friends, a lawn, flush toilets, a shower, a shelf on a fridge and a 4-burner stove (and also, of course, mountains, rivers, woods, etc). Oh my!

I get to be a barista and a yoga instructor for the summer (at least). I am loving waking up in the morning and knowing exactly what I’m doing – I’m going to work. Yay! Normally, I sit on my tailgate for a while in the morning, pondering what, out of an infinity of possibilities, I should do with my wild and wonderful life for that day. Oh, the freedom of not having to decide or even think. I wake up with an alarm, at the same time every day – not when I feel like it or when the sun has made the truck too warm to continue sleeping, but at a precise number on the wheel of human arbitrarily segmented time. I then get to walk through the woods for 35 minutes. That’s my commute. I have to keep a fast pace or I’ll be late. If I’m late to clock in, even by a few minutes, a notice dings on the manager’s phone – because technology now allows such things to exist. Because I work for kind people, it isn’t an issue, but still, if I’m going to have a 9-5, I intend to do it well.
The next 8 hours of my life are not mine to ponder or manage. I make smoothies and fresh pressed juices for health-conscious, wealth-comfortable people. I create espressos, lattes, mochas, iced and steamed, and practice my budding latte foam art. I arrange health food on the shelves and ensure the cooler of iced teas and kombucha is fronted – which literally means bringing all the bottles to the front, in an OCD fashion. When the flow of customers allows it, I retire to the back parking lot with a plate of food from the selection we serve, for 30 minutes exactly. There is a beautiful field we call Narnia and a small beach by the Saco river down a dirt road from where I sit, but it would take about 15 minutes to walk to the river, so 30 minutes there and back, my entire lunch break. So instead, I just sit in the parking lot, in the sun, often with friends, who are also co-workers, and enjoy it. I have a boss. He tells me I’m doing a good job. I get a paycheck. It’s not a big paycheck – it’s not like guiding Grand Canyon or trimming 650 Lbs of marijuana. And because it’s a legal job, I have to give some of it to Uncle Sam. But, it’s a regular influx. And I don’t wonder what miracle will feed me next, because I know there’ll be a paycheck. And that is relaxingly nice, for a change..

So,
I can live and hike in the most mind-bogglingly beautiful desert and barely notice, because my child-like awe for the world is filtered through half-closed eyelids, weighed by personal existential quandaries.
And/Or
I can make each latte, each smoothie the best I’ve ever made, with exact proportions and an extra dose of love with each added scoop of pea protein or spirulina, and align each kombucha bottle with precision, and feel as alive as I have in my most epic moments.

Was I living an extraordinary life in an ordinary manner? Am I now living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. What is the measure of one’s life’s normality? And does it even matter? What story do I create for and about myself when I meander the world or rush through the woods to clock on time?

Do I bring any added value to the world when I live one way rather than the other? Does it matter to the world what I do? Does it matter to the woods? Do trees find me less extraordinary because they suspect my destination? By a tree’s standard, am I more ordinary when I act like a wildling? Isn’t that what all the creatures of the woods do? Don’t they also just wake up when they do, look for food, and wander? If the paycheck allows me to buy a bag of nut I share with a squirrel, do squirrels find me extraordinary?

On the day when I had my interview and was hired as a barista, I walked across the parking lot – the same one where I have lunch now – back to the Catmobile. Right there on the ground, as though left for me, a humbly muddy piece of paper with an ancient-scroll-like handwriting caught my eye.  “The highest art is the art of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary manner. – Tibetan proverb” it said. I thought it was so fitting for the occasion that I pinned in on the inside wall of my bedroom, in the back of the truck. But with each passing work day, the less I feel this is right.

If the trees and squirrels don’t care what I do, and I don’t care what humans thinks about what I do, then the judgment is solely internal, a direct reflection of conditioning, a learned reaction to the perception of “ordinary” vs. “extraordinary”. And suddenly, both loose all meaning.

All lives are ordinary, all lives are extraordinary, and the amount to which we are able to love our lives, beyond any labels, I think THAT is the highest art of living.

Isn’t it?

 

witaker
(My daily commute to work. 🙂 )

 

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My 32 square foot bedroom – Circa 2018

Bed of truck (bedroom)- 6X4 = 24 sq ft
Behind the seats in the cab – 2X4 – 8 sq ft
Total leaving space – 32 sq ft
Years living in the truck – 7 yrs
Years full time – 5 yrs
Desire to move back indoor – 0%
Van-dwelling envy – 15% (having an indoor cooking space is mightily nice).

Putting it out there, I’m looking for a roaming partner. Male, bearded, able to withstand 360 degree Shakti energy, with Van setup for cooking and chilling – please send photos of van. 😀

Here’s mine.

Part 1 – the stuff.
IMG_4161
The belly of the beast. And now, for my next trick … I shall fit a large two-car-garagefull of treasures into the truck. Harry Potter style. If you don’t know what I mean, you really should pick up a Harry Potter book, seriously!

IMG_4162Blank canvas. Almost … 6X4 truck bed outfitted with Vision high ceiling cap, 6 climbing bolts (3 on each sides, to hang recording microphone, sunglasses, or whatever), and metal wire shelves (installed by Richard for the cost of a Thai food meal.)

IMG_4163Bed support constructed of heavy construction plywood. A gift from Jimmy James. Custom-made for my truck.

IMG_4164Side shelves, design of my own, leftover from the original design where the bed was sunken in between, as opposed to flush with the windows are it is now – thinner plywood sheet cut and joined with piano hinges – fit even with the new bed base.

IMG_4169Magical bed on top of waterproof barrier. The bed is composed of an Ikea Sultan firm mattress and 1.5 inches of memory foams – and yes, there are memories in that foam. No, not like that … you dirty minds. Covered by a sage-colored jersey cotton super soft and posh stretched-to-fit sheet. Yummy sleeping. (for detail views of the mattress setup, see the 2016 step by step, it’s the same.)

 

IMG_4166
Before Jimmy James, very little treasures were able to come with me, or if they did, they were packed in bins I had to lift up and down, and stash outside when I slept. Now, I have 2 6X2 drawers under the bed. What goes in there changes to fit my need. Here, on the left, I have compressed winter clothes and a few backpacks in the back,  the “pharmacy” (natural supplements) in the middle, and stove and condiments in the front. On the right I have ice climbing gear in the back (I always have my ice climbing gear – even in the desert – I don’t claim to make sense.) Pantry in front, with a full rack of spices and an impressive selection of teas.

These slide under. It take a little muscle, but I don’t mind.

IMG_4170A few extra crates fit perfectly on the side of the bed. The little wood chest in the back holds my tee-shirts and underwear. The middle back crate usually holds live plants I love and water every day, but in this picture I had a place to keep them, so I used it for extra books and clothes. The front middle crate holds cooking gear, and the one closest to the door holds the Ninja and Monster, both 1 gallon glass water bottles I love love love, some paper towel and my pee cup, for those nights when I really don’t feel like getting up.

IMG_4174So, there you go … home sweet home. On the top shelves are my books, my clothes and a box with toothbrush, toothpaste and my little friend the wolf. I also have curtains for the windows, for when I sleep in town. Now that my bed is even with the window I get to see the world as the first sight when I open my eyes. I really like the new setup. I can’t imagine how I’ll improve on it … maybe lighter drawers.

Before 2016: (for comparison)

20160611_101218_Richtone(HDR)

Always better, always better.

XOX.

The roaming bobcat.

I think I just panicked … as told to my Dad.

Here’s (slightly edited) bits from my correspondence with my Dad about what went down since I last posted here:

[…] Sorry it took me so long to answer. The past month has been a little rocky. But it was all me that rocked the boat. Jim flows on life calmly, unless he gets excited about an adventure or an opportunity to build something.

This one didn’t start like my other relationships. My other relationships started in flurries of lust and googoo-love-eyes. This one was easy, familiar, natural. It felt like a long-term relationship that accidentally started in the middle of a happily-ever-after story. I settled in the feeling that I had found “my one”. And of course, I wasn’t going to leave without “my one”, so we agreed that when the wind of migration called me south for the winter, he would make the journey with me.

We drew plans to modify the truck to accommodate two people, and I contacted Benny of Earth Tours in Sedona to see if he’d have work for me. He did. Benny had just acquired a 15-passenger van for the Grand Canyon trips. Not only I could guide, I would also train the other guides about the geology of Grand Canyon. Everything looked good ahead, so Jim grabbed a few thick boards and within two hours had completely transformed my back-of-the-truck home.

20161017_162548

The modifications were a work of art, but the reality that I was about to share my 32 square-foot home with another suddenly hit. I think I just panicked. You know I love and I need my personal space. That’s why I’ve been living alone in the desert all this time. Suddenly, everything about Jim was wrong. I turned into a chronic complainer. He listened and tried to help, but *everything* about him was suddenly unacceptable.

Meanwhile, the country was voting for Trump and everybody else was going crazy too. People’s fear came to the surface, people’s hatred came to the surface. It’s still going on now, but I think people are calming down a little bit, now that the first shock and disbelief has passed. In the end, what doesn’t break us, makes us stronger. I see people being now more committed to peace and loving and accepting each other than before. I don’t know what will happen with this country, but I think we will stand tall in our integrity. If people are racists and have nazy-tendencies, I would rather know about them than have it hidden.

So, the same process went on for me, internally. If I have fears about intimacy, about sharing my space, about my needs being not met, I want to know about it. Once I realized all the fears that were coming up were just that, fears – not reality – Jim and I sat down and discussed how we each felt about this journey. I believe he will honor my need for space, but for him, this is the trip of a lifetime. He has never been anywhere. He’s always wanted to see oceans, volcanoes, caves, deserts, but by the draw of life, was not able to. And here I show up, ready to take him away. It almost feels like fate or destiny – but I believe in neither fate nor destiny. I believe in choosing our path and knowing you can’t go wrong, because regardless, you’ll have an adventure, and you’ll learn things. If I go back to the desert alone, it’s the same thing I’ve done for the past 4 years. If I go with Jim … I get to learn something and grow.

So, we leave right after thanksgiving together. I hope to have a lot of guiding work from January to June. Jim is a carpenter and a master builder – he creates homes with natural material, like traditional log cabins or hand-made brick houses. I’m not worried about him. He’ll find himself a project. My only lingering concern is that we’ll have one vehicle for two people, only one of whom knows how to drive a manual, so far. But I can let the Little Crazy in my head continue to rock the boat with its fear-mongering or I can choose to trust and love instead, and just go for it.

20161019_132257

“Shadows coming forward and forefront to be experienced and released is an integral part of the evolution process. Love will prevail. There is no other long term choice. So feel your fears and honor them. Fears will lock into your survival mechanism. It’s just how they operate. But we are not dying. We are not even doomed. We are growing, clarifying, self-defining in contrast. In fact, we might just have been gifted an exceptionally potent catalyst. We’ve chosen a shortcut, a kick in the pants of status-quo comfort. Strap on your seatbelt. Fast growth could be a hell of a ride. It’ll be worth it. Mark my words.” 

Written on the morning after the election, in my journal, to myself on the topic of my relationship. Then I heard the global news. As inside so without. 

Tinderized

It’s time to tell you this story. I was sitting on it because I’m superstitious and didn’t want to jinx the Magic. But with the Facebook photos of the truck being converted to a two-person sleeper and of cabins in the colorful northeastern woods, anybody who’d care has already figured out that this Bobcat’s on a whole different kind of adventure than her usual.

It starts with a dream, so let’s back up a bit …

Previously, on the Roaming Bobcat … I was released from the hospital with a mystery. The doctors had found no obvious cause for the belly pain that diverted me from my AT thru-hike. As Western doctors – even well-intentionned ones – are known to do, I was released with a laundry list of catastrophic potentialities – cancer, ulcer, tumor, etc – my asymptomatic mystery still could carry, and a busy schedule of ongoing medical tests I would need. A week and a half after my release, I dreamt of my Grandpa Henri. Henri died when I was 14 years old, but I never met him, and I only know what he looked like from one small photo my Grandpa Alex gave me.

I approached Henri’s casket in the dream. The family was gathered around, but nobody I knew. He opened his eyes and looked straight at me. Was this normal behavior? Maybe just some leftover nerves. Nobody moved. He sat up suddenly, pale as death, and the family ran. With both eyes still fixed on me, he swung his stiff legs over the casket and stood up.
“You can’t get up.” I told him, “You’re dead, remember? You died of cancer a while back.”
He didn’t care. He jumped out of the casket and skipped on down the corridor.
“Henri! You’re dead!” He finally turned around to acknowledge me. His face was young and fresh, full of vitality. “I chose to die back then because nothing could be done. But now there are alternative, holistic, earth-based medicines. This is a good time to wake up.”

I woke up with a knot in my throat. Was this a message? Was it saying that the pain in my belly is cancer? A flash of fear ran the length of my spine. I breathed thought it and sat with my own mortality. Relax! Henri is right, there are alternatives. I decided then that if I had cancer, I would not follow the western path of radiation and chemo. I would follow the earth-plant-holistic path. And if I failed? Then I’d die. And that was fine. In that moment, I felt such gratitude for my life thus far. It has been exceptional by my own standards. The best life I could have ever wished for. I’d want to know that my truck was in good hands and that the story in my book  lived on. Other than that, I felt perfectly fulfilled, content and at peace with what was and has been.

So it was with surprise and confused fascination that I watched myself roll over to my phone, download the Tinder app and create a profile.

tinder_fire

I don’t remember the first man that was presented. Jimmy James was the second. He looked kind, handsome, and could do a handstand. I “liked” him. In the following hour, I swiped “no” to at least 300 undoubtedly wonderful men. I “liked” two others, not out of interest, but because I felt I should at least have three eggs in this basket. But the other two eggs never hatched.

I understand that it is customary to exchange Tinder messages for a while, then move on to personal texts, eventually a phone call, and way down the line, finally a meeting face-to-face, once compatibility and sanity have been fully checked and vested. Ugh! Who has time for that? My Tinder flame’s truck had just landed in the shop, his wallet was just stolen, and his phone had just fallen and shattered. It seemed to me the man needed a break from a bad luck streak, so after a few texts, I drove to Maine to pick up Jimmy James.

First impressions – A tall man, a peaceful demeanor, long white dreads, torn jeans, bare feet, a joyous gait, an army bag topped by a rolled wool blanket.
“Great! I just drove an hour to pick up a homeless hippy”, I though, but instead I said “Hey, here you are!” as genuinely as I could fake.
“Yay, here I am.” He walked to my truck as though he always had and naturally placed his belongings in the back with mine.
“Where are we going?” I assumed he had a plan, since we were in his town.
“I don’t know. I hadn’t thought any further than this meeting right now. We can go anywhere.”

As I turned the key in the ignition, I sensed an adventure had begun, one beyond the miles we might cover that day. The calm joy of that man in the cab of my truck – Certainty, solid ground, landmark, and a launching pad for a rocket ship combined. Suddenly all other adventures were canceled. THIS needed to be explored. And what was this? I’m not sure yet. But it’s that thing that makes you take your shoes off – unless you’re already barefoot – and run through fields in the sun, and laugh, and dance, and blow milkweed puffs in the wind. It changes the flow of time and reorganizes your life like the advanced stages of a Tetris game. It’s that thing you didn’t know you were missing in your “perfectly fulfilled, content and at peace with what was and has been” life. It makes it not okay to die. Not at all.

And it gets worse.
This one comes with two more – a two year old and a four year old. A man and two boys to steal my heart and deconstruct my well-oiled solo roaming life.

So, this is the end of this post, but the beginning of what could be my biggest adventure yet. There will be more stories. I have already climbed a physical and metaphorical mountain with the boys. Now the Cat-mobile is being converted to fit two people. Our sights are to the southwest for the winter. We have known each other a little over a month, have no money, and will be confined to a 32 square feet home for the foreseeable future.

You think I’m scared? You damn right I am. But …

“There is nothing more pathetic than caution when headlong might save a life, even, possibly, your own.”
~ Mary Oliver, Felicity:Poems.
 

 

milkweed

 

AT D-01. Pre-partum

Last minute inventory. Gear is packed. Check. Truck has a home for 5 months. Check. Bobcat is ready … question mark.

I don’t actually have a choice. The thought of not walking the trail makes me much too sad to even consider. But, this is definitively a different trail, and I am definitively a different person.

When I say I’m a “different person”, I don’t mean the gentle meme version with the inspirational quote about embracing change and one’s natural evolution. No, this past week I went through a complete alien takeover. The alien who occupied my body was a freaked out basket case. Suddenly, I was afraid of encountering bears, of getting Giardia from unfiltered water, of running out of money, of being lonely out in the woods, of sleeping on hard, cold ground, and of feeling trapped in the green tunnel for months. My foot started to hurt, the tip of my pole bent, my headlamp disappeared, I couldn’t get a ride to Katahdin. I cried a few times and hid in my truck in the woods. Total dismantling of the Bobcat I know. Where was the superhero cape wearing fearless woman of the PCT, the one who talks to bear and filters water by loving it?

The new moon has come and gone. I survived the wave of doubts. Not sure what that was all about. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe I was PMSing. Maybe the sudden contrast between the desert southwest and all this New England green threw me off. Or maybe the AT was sizing me up. It sent its thought-form ambassadors ahead to run through my mind every possible horror scenario to see if I’d shrivel away. Meet the guardian at the gate, the first selective round before being granted the privilege of walking the trail.

I’m glad I freaked out. I needed to be certain. Decisions made in the desert need not always be upheld in the forest, and I am committed to following my heart even when it changes its mind. If I had discovered that I no longer wanted to walk, I would have postponed or canceled without qualms. But through the fears, doubts and obstacles, my AT dream remains. I passed the first test and was rewarded with my first bundle of trail magic, all delivered within a 24 hour period. The moment I said “Yes, I’m walking this trail, no matter what. Even if I have to beg, hitchhike, fast, hunt and limp.”the sky opened up and fireflies filled it. I have a ride to Katahdin, an unexpected rise in book sales royalties, new tips for my poles, a gift of a new headlamp and some Arnica for my foot. All will be well after all.

I start the AT where others finish. My first carry will be my heaviest and longest of the whole trail. 8 days through the hardest and most remote section – the 100 mile Wilderness. I feel like I’m stepping in complete unknown once again. Man oh man. Excited, scared, psyched, nervous, rapidly cycling on repeat.

I suppose it wouldn’t be as fun if it wasn’t scary. Right?

Next post will be from the trail …

 

 

 

 

Freedom, according to the Bobcat

Freedom

Freedom just is
It doesn’t ponder, wonder or agonize over its own existence
It doesn’t care if you believe in it or not
It has no preference about what color you paint it, what attire you make it wear, or what box you cram it in
Freedom just is

But, if you choose to adopt it
Then it becomes your responsibility
To protect it with all your might
From rampant fears
Entrapment, stagnation and mundanity
To feed it clean air, fresh water and wide open spaces
To write songs, stories and poetry
To incite others
To adopt it as well

And so forth
Until the world is taken over

from Lake of Dreams

Namaste

One of my favorite parts of teaching yoga happens right after Savasana.
Students are just coming out of complete release, complete dissolution of mind and body, and slowly getting ready to reintegrate the rest of the day and of their life – hopefully changed.
This is the part where whatever gift they have acquired as a result of their practice in my class can be pocketed for later use, or to be regifted – even better.
My task, as teacher, is to help them fit it in their pocket, and I have a little litany to help with that. I have observed my little litany evolve over the past ten months of its own accord.
I am very fond of its current version, so I will share it with you here.

Bring your hands together in front of your heart
Deep breath in
and out slowly

Inhale, place your hands on your brow, your third eye area
We give gratitude for clarity of sight
knowing what our path is
And walking it confidently
Even, if it is just one step at a time. 

Exhale, place your hands to your throat area
We give gratitude for clarity of expression
Knowing our authentic self
And being that person in the world
Recognized, and celebrated as such

Inhale, place your hands back to your heart
Find your own, individual gratitude,
Whatever YOU have to be so amazingly grateful for
Bring an image into your mind if it helps

Exhale, slowly let go of the image
but keep the feeling in your heart

I am grateful for you today
Thank you for coming to class
Namaste

That’s it. Though, sometimes, instead, I recite the first several paragraphs of Dr. Seuss’ “Oh the Places You’ll Go!”, and I feel that my students leave with even more wisdom in their pocket.

XO – I am grateful for you, thank you for reading. Namaste.

A dream: Out of body inceptions

Around 6 am this morning, Minou – the cat of the house – came back from his hunt to finish the night with me. He jumped on the bed, stepped across my body and curled up in the space between my arm and my ribs. He then started kneeding me, with claws. I meant to move my arm to either get myself out of arm’s way or to make the cat go away, but realized I could not move my physical body at all. “I’m having Rigor Mortis – I actually meant Sleep Paralysis – that’s the first step in out of body experiences. I wonder if I’ll hear the buzzing too.” Sure enough, buzzing in my ears, almost immediately.

Then I was in an hotel room, laying on the bed in the same position except the cat was my friend Alan sitting at the foot of the bed. I sat up and we moved to the kitchen. His body was very old, but his spirit inside was still the 37 year old I know. I petted his head as though he were the cat. His skull was covered in aging spots and his hair was falling off in patches. I was still very fond of him. And I was also still very tired. I curled up on his knee and fell asleep, and he began petting my head. I was aware in my sleep (level 2) that something was not quite right, so I tried to wake myself out of it by modifying my breathing – I do that sometimes when I want to wake up; it usually works – but I couldn’t wake up and I still couldn’t move. I was paralyzed in level 2 as well.

Then I was in the same hotel room, except everything was very white and bright. The walls, ceiling and all the furniture in the room were white. Alan and I were dressed in white. But, still I couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right – in fact, it was very wrong and my intuition told me I needed to get out of there, now! I once again modified my breathing to wake up out of level 3, and I almost succeeded. I was aware in level 3 of the hotel room in level 2, where Alan was still petting my head, but I couldn’t break back through all the way.

“Looks like we’re stuck here for a while, but we need to get out of this room.” I told Alan in the white room. I said “Come on” and ran to the door, then through the door.

Alan and I were standing in the corridor and I was shocked. “I’m not physical! I can walk through matter here!!” I looked at my hands. “Look!” I swiped my hand through the wall and the door, and felt nothing. I turned to look around. The corridor was about a hundred feet long, ten feet wide and thirty feet high, completely white as well. White doors lined one side all the way to the end, where a white door closed off the corridor. The other side was all large glass windows. I figured we must have been pretty high up because all I could see was blue sky out of the window. There were massive elaborate chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, like mobiles made from thousands of suspended pieces of mirror about a square inch each. But, still, I felt something very wrong was going on. I was in danger. This was not a hotel, it was an institution and I was there against my will.

Then something moved behind the door at the end of the corridor, and I made a run for it to save myself. I ran straight at the window, but as I got closer time slowed down. I was running in slow motion and I could see Alan was as well. I jumped up into and across one of the chandeliers. Time slowed so much that I had time to think “I wonder if the windows are especially designed to contain non-physical entities? I wonder if I’ll crash against the window or simply pass through it? And if I pass through it, I wonder how high up I’ll be? And will I be able to fly? And what is below?” My shoulder finally reached the glass, which shattered in a million fragments. The action stopped. I was suspended in the blue sky surrounded by a million pieces of broken glass mixed in with the mirrors from the chandelier, all glittering in the sunlight. I had no thought, no sensation, no breath.

Then the action reengaged to full normal speed and I landed on my feet in a garden. The garden was at the foot of a massive square white building with two shattered windows far, far up. I knew Alan had made it to the garden, but I couldn’t see him yet.

The garden was a large field. In a rough oval shape were tiny plots of fenced land – about 6 by 3 feet in size – every ten feet of so. To each garden was a guardian. The guardians were slaves, tied to each plot and forced to grow food for the inmates of the hotel/institution. They could never leave. They slept in tiny shacks on the back side of each plot, too small to actually fit a human body at rest. Their cheeks were sunken; their clothes were tattered. Some were raising chickens, but most were responsible for a single crop of vegetables. I decided to visit each one in turn to see if I could figure out where I was and what was going on.

I knew I didn’t need to walk because I was not physical, so I could think myself in a different location and instantly be there. But, because I didn’t want to be caught, I thought myself a chicken in a different location, then I was a chicken in that location. The only problem was that I still had my PCT cape on, and I couldn’t think myself without it, so I appeared by each plot as a chicken with a cape – which was just as conspicuous as if I were to walk around as myself.

The main attendant was coming and suddenly all the gardeners had a flurry of activity. He walked over to the chicken plot for an inspection, so I thought myself in a place where I would be out of his sight, but could see him. I knew him. He was one of my former bosses, and not an easy one to work for. I could also see that Alan was walking straight towards him. Bad news.

I thought myself across the field, grabbed Alan’s hand and thought us both by the door of the building, then immediately in the reception hall, in front of the concierge’s desk. “Hi, we’d like a room please?” The concierge turned to grab one of the keys on the wall behind him. He seemed haughty and European. The entire hall had that feel, with big leather sofas under draped burgundy throws, a thick hunter green carpet and lingering smell of expensive cigars. I had no desire to stay there. I felt it was urgent and imperative that we hide in our room. I thought ourselves in the stairs of the hotel, and we were instantly there – a high floor.

Then it dawned on me that this is how I had gotten there in the first place. This was the beginning of the dream in level 2 I was living. I just had started out of sequence. But I knew we’d get into that hotel room, and I’d pet his head, and I’d fall asleep on his lap, and then the loop would start again. Unless I could get out. Right then, Minou, the cat in level 1 decided to leave my arm, walk across my leg and land on my foot. I tried to move to either make room for him or kick him off the bed – because I felt he might have been facilitating what was going on -, but still I couldn’t move. This time, I didn’t fight it, I went back in, and all was dark, and I was asleep.

white-corridor

————–

That’s what happened.
Maybe I’ll write down the one from the night before when I have a chance. Much shorter, just as loopy!
No, I don’t do drugs.

How did you get so happy?

A few days ago, a dear friend of mine, who is going through some “stuff”, asked me how I got myself out of unhappiness. It’s hard to remember unhappiness when you are firmly grounded in happiness. I mean, true happiness, the one that lives inside and is not subject to circumstances. I sat on her question for a bit and tried to recall the exact steps that first led me to where I am. There is a myriad of small changes that happens when switching from unhappy-world-view to happy-world-view – entire libraries worth- but these were my first steps, in order:

0. Be miserable

I think that was my true first step. As long as life was hum-drum, comfortable or pleasant, I had no impetus for change. Because I had the strange ability to pep-talk myself with positive affirmations, I had to get pretty damn unhappy before real alchemy could occur. But, I did get there. A set of events and a relationship knocked me off my comfy ways. In the throes of a self-inflicted tragedy, I realized that the only element in the situation I could change was me. I then had to admit that I had no clue how. Smarts, strength or will power cannot clear misery. I had to become vulnerable and surrender to the misery rather then fight it with gimmicks, distractions or “composure”. I let my known world crumble away. Tabula raza. Back to knowing nothing. That’s where true change started. That part was the worst, and it felt endless, even though it really only lasted a few months.

1. Spy the monkey brain

Next, I identified the source of my misery. It wasn’t any situation or person or lacking in anything. No, it was my own thoughts. We have what Buddhists call a “monkey brain”: Incessant thoughts run through our minds every waking moment of the day, and with each an associated set of emotions. My next step was to notice my monkey brain. If I could notice it from an observer perspective, then clearly “I” was an entity outside of those thoughts. For a while, I just practiced watching my thoughts and the emotional reactions they triggered. I still felt victimized, miserable, sad, angry, outraged, etc. but I also saw the direct correlation between my thoughts and my emotions. If somebody did something “to me” when I was 7 and I was still feeling anger, resentment or hurt, the source of the pain I felt as a grown woman must have been in me, because that person, event and situation were since long gone.  Realizing it’s all an inside job helped me stay focused on myself rather than dissipate my energy in pointless blaming.

2. Drop the baggage, it’s not yours

The more I observed my thoughts, the more I began questioning them. “You’re difficult.”, “You don’t deserve it.”, “You can’t.”, “Your nose is too long.”, “You have to work hard to pay your bills.” Who was saying all this in my head??? What voice did those thoughts have? Where had I heard them before? As an observer, I discovered that most of my thoughts were actually not mine. They were thoughts I had borrowed from others – usually influential people like parents, teachers, partners, friends. Some were “common knowledge” in the society in which I grew up. This wasn’t about blaming others for my thoughts, but simply realizing they were not mine, and dropping them. This was a very unsettling part of the process for me. If I couldn’t trust anything in my own head, what could I trust? I was in limbo between worlds for a few months. But, whenever I wasn’t freaking  out with thoughts that I couldn’t trust my thoughts, I actually began to feel lighter.

3. Catch snowballs

Once I had my monkey brain under scrutiny for a while, I was able to zoom out from the individual internal dialogues/thoughts to the overarching themes/stories of my life. There are recurring themes in our thoughts. Any thought that start with “I am …”, ” I always …”, “I never …” are keys to the story we believe and tell about ourselves. I realized the story was composed of thoughts, and the thoughts were not to be trusted, so the story was just that – a story, not reality. The tricky part – and I learned this later, not when I was in the midst of getting my world dismantled – is that life has a feedback mechanism built in that validates whatever story we believe about ourselves, thereby making it look like reality. If I say “I always have bad luck.”, whether through selective perception, the law of attraction, manifestation or the will of a higher-power(the mechanism is the same regardless of our story for it) I will have bad luck, and therefore continue saying I have bad luck, which will bring more bad luck. So the trick is to see the snowball effect and stop feeding it.

4. Write your own definition

Getting out of my old story felt very freeing. I didn’t have to be any way I thought I was anymore, which really opened up opportunities. But, although I felt happier, I also felt rudderless. After everything I knew had been dismantled, I had no idea who I was, what I was doing, or if there was any point to anything. Rather than panicking, I wrote a new definition for myself. At the time, I was nowhere near feeling like I was that person, but that is who I really wished I could be. This is what I wrote:

I am grateful to have chosen to be a free-spirited woman,
a whole, complex, beautiful free-spirited woman,
driven by passions,
grounded in self-awareness and love of the Earth,
committed to the protection of said Earth,
its systems and wild places and creatures.

That’s it. I wrote it carefully, but I wrote it only once. I didn’t have to repeat it everyday like a positive affirmation. I just planted the seed and continued observing and questioning my thoughts, like pulling weeds in a garden.

Another aspect of scripting my own story was how I related to events in my life. I realized that events are just events. They are never personal. We weave stories and attach emotions to them. I began scripting stories with positive or at least compassionate twists for events in my daily life. In painful interpersonal interactions, I tried to imagine the other party’s story. It didn’t matter if their story didn’t match mine. Their reality was as real to them as mine was to me. If somebody was mean, I’d see their pain. If events were happy, I harnessed gratitude. If they weren’t, I still harnessed gratitude for the lessons given and the opportunity to grow.

This part of the process required a lot of mental discipline, and I remember being exhausted all the time. I felt there was no way I could keep it up indefinitely. But, eventually, it became second nature. Now I find silver linings before the negative emotions kick in, or very shortly after.

5. Keep at it

At some point, I realized that there was no end to this process. When I started, I figured I was “going through something”. I figured once I reached happiness on the other side, I’d be home free. And in a way, I am: I am free to continue growing. Whenever I feel like I’ve reached that buzz of happiness and all is well in the world, I find a way to trip myself and uncover a whole new layer of the growth onion. At first I was frustrated by this – I created stories about how I had come so far and learned so much and yet still wallowed in the same old painful places. Then I started over. I watched the thoughts, I found he source, I saw the story, I changed the story.

And so forth …

I’ve been at it for four years now, and it really only gets more fascinating with time. Now, I’m almost more interested in the process itself than in using the process to get out of sad/depressed/angry feelings. I understand that happiness IS our natural state. The goal is not to acquire happiness, but to clear the mud that hides it. Then eventually, the goal is not to clear the mud, but enjoy it for the experience it is, knowing that the happiness is still there, at the core, forever.

So, that’s how I started. I had lots of help on the way. I met teachers when I needed them, read books that influenced my thoughts (for the better), met others on similar paths. I pondered and questioned until my head hurt. I started down paths that just died out. I had to simplify my life, sort out friends, learn to trust my heart, follow my joy, surrender my fears, etc. Although on the outside it might seem that I have been traveling, playing, working and writing. The adventure of awakening/growing has actually been my primary activity since the first step. Everything else has been accessory –  like the stage for the play, not the play itself.

I am sure there are as many paths as there are people. I really enjoy mine, but I don’t claim it is better in any way. I can only tell my own story. If it helps others, that’s wonderful; If it doesn’t, well, I still like it.

May you find your own happiness.
XO – Roaming Bobcat.

P.S: There is a good book coming out soon on the topic. You should read it: Crazyfreebook.com 🙂

Path to happiness

 

 

 

Life without money – Lessons from the early days

… Previously, on the Roaming Bobcat:
The Bobcat, in a daring move of blind faith quits her job at Ragged Mountain. It is down to 4 yoga classes a week (averaging less than $10 a class) and one occasional nude modeling job ($50 for two hours, once a week, when available). The motivating ideas were that all needs are always covered by the Universe and that all one has to do to receive Its bountiful abundance is to follow the path of highest joy and greatest excitement.

Yep! The first week was rough, and the only real bounty was in the abundance of lessons.

First, I had to learn to watch my language. 

“I’ve quit my job so I’m pretty broke right now.” “I can’t afford it.” even “I’m broke now but I’m sure it’ll get better.” or “I’m waiting for opportunities with an open mind.” are dangerous statements.
The Universe only knows “yes”, so when I tell the story of my life this way, I’m creating more being broke, not-being-able-to-afford-it and waiting situations.

Once I realized I was attracting the wrong kind of story to myself, I switched to facts “I have left Ragged Mountain, and I currently have $26 in my account.” That’s a fact, a platonic observation; it creates nothing but more observation of a changing reality.

Even more efficient is this: “I love teaching yoga in this room. The people at the Local Grocer next door spoil me with free juices and day old scones. I love where I live and have the most awesome roommates.” All facts, but these are facts that fill my heart with gratitude, and therefore  attract more gratitude-inducing situations.

You may or may not believe in the law of attraction in the spiritual sense. But, I think you’ll agree that looking at silver linings does bring more light into one’s life than staring at the dark clouds.

Next, I learned about ego sabotage.

Our creative self (that part I call the Higher Self) is intrinsically fearless. It knows that all is well, always, exactly as it is, because everything that happens is for our greatest growth which is for the greatest good. But our experiential self (that part I call the ego), is a little bit blind down here in the earth trenches. In the Power of Now, Eckart Tolle describes the ego as a part of ourselves we need to transcend to truly live in the present now, which is the only space-time that actually exists. He’s probably right, but the trenches is where stories are born, and I loooove the stories. I don’t want to transcend my ego, she/he’s the part of me that gets to play and try and fall and learn. If I don’t transcend it, however, I have to appease it. The ego will sabotage a plan for which he/she was not consulted and with which he/she is not comfortable. She/he needs to be tamed and pacified. A business deal needs to be agreed upon.

“Look, I am going to quit my job, but don’t be scared, I have a backup plan.”
“What’s the plan?”
“I’ll borrow money from Shannon if my situation gets too dire.”
“You’ve got $26 left and your rent of $250 is due in a week. It’s dire now.”
“But, in a week I have time to earn/manifest the rest.”
“With what? Yoga? Modeling? Looking through trash cans?”
I had no answer, so I just shrugged and figured I’d show him/her that all is well, eventually.

The very next day, my truck shell was leaking so badly that I had to call someone about it. $100 for the repair, and if we pulled the bed liner out, then it’d be more. Well, I still had my last paycheck from Ragged Mountain to deposit for $119. When I got to the bank, I discovered I was not at $26, but red and under. A charge of $99 from Amazon Prime for an annual fee I knew nothing about, had no recollection of ever signing up for, and most certainly couldn’t afford had been charged, causing $60 in overdraft fees. Ego Sabotage! I had unconsciously created a reality to smack me back to “reason”.

Then, I relearned to believe in magic – again!

I left the bank with my mind in a swirl. I observed panic setting it. I had failed again. I couldn’t quit my job and simply follow my heart, see? There were consequences! Whether through what people call “real life events” or ego sabotage, I was down, smacked and under.
I drove home wide-eyed. Was I to find another job I didn’t love? Was I to hold my stance and say, “no, I will only follow my heart, damn it. I don’t care if I go broke!” Oh, but I did care. I had rent to pay, food to buy, and to add insult to injury, my fuel light came on right then.

Yes, I did notice that my odometer read 198,944 just then, and that the license plate in front of me read something-444 and that that morning I had woken up randomly at 4:44 am. I had seen so many in the past few days that I looked it up. “444 – Angels are all around you. Just ask and you shall receive.” “Where?” I said! “Where are these angels and how can they help? There is no money in angelic realm. They don’t pay rent. They don’t need food!”

I hereby raise my right hand and swear that the events I’m about to relate are true and non-exaggerated through the filter of grandiose storytelling:
I was still upset when I reached home. I immediately called the  Amazon Prime customer service number.
“Hi, my name is Angel. How can I help you today?”
“Your name is Angel!?”
“Yes, M’am, it is.”
I started crying “I need to speak with an Angel! I lost my job (okay, I lied to the angel), I had $26 left in my account (that was true), and this charge came in for $99 I don’t know for what and I was charged $60 in overdraft fees because of it and I don’t know how I am going to pay rent or buy groceries and I don’t know what I’m supposed to do! (all true, though I sounded pretty dramatic about it all – probably more than the situation warranted).
“It’s alright, don’t worry.” The Angel said gently, “I can reverse the charge. In fact I’ll do it right now … There, it’s all back in your account. You might have signed up for it on accident, but our system is not set up yet to send reminder warnings about the upcoming charge. I’m happy to reverse the charge for you. Does that help?”
“Yes, a little bit. But what about the overdraft fees?”
“I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do about those, unfortunately. You will have to speak to the bank about those, but I’m sure it will all work out.”
She really did sound like an angel. I thanked her for her kindness and patience and called the bank.
“Hi, this is Angela, how may I help you?” – seriously!!

Because I was in good standing, the overdraft fee could be canceled, but only partially. I took the part that could not be canceled as the fee for that lesson.
So, that brought my account to $6.00. At least, I was out of the red.

Then, I had to learn to receive gracefully.

Oh, this one was a potent, important lesson. I have been on the giving end so often that I had taken it for granted that this was my position in life. I had never considered how difficult it would be on the other end. I call the other end “receiving” now because I have grown, but a few weeks ago, I called it “taking”.

“You are okay taking money from people!!?” one of my ex-coworker said disapprovingly when I shared that my backup plan was to borrow money from a friend.

Society conditions us to believe that it is morally wrong to accept help. If you are not self-sufficient, you are a mooch, a burden, a lesser-being.

Even worse, if you are a happy person following your heart – i.e. having fun with life – then you are not deserving of help. We are raised with stories like the Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper.

IN a field one summer’s day a Grasshopper was hopping about, chirping and singing to its heart’s content. An Ant passed by, bearing along with great toil an ear of corn he was taking to the nest.

  “Why not come and chat with me,” said the Grasshopper, “instead of toiling and moiling in that way?”

“I am helping to lay up food for the winter,” said the Ant, “and recommend you to do the same.”

“Why bother about winter?” said the Grasshopper; “we have got plenty of food at present.” But the Ant went on its way and continued its toil. When the winter came the Grasshopper had no food, and found itself dying of hunger, while it saw the ants distributing every day corn and grain from the stores they had collected in the summer. Then the Grasshopper knew:

“IT IS BEST TO PREPARE FOR THE DAYS OF NECESSITY.”

Well, I say, Grasshoppers unite!! What kind of society only values toiling and moiling? Is there no benefit to the community in the songs and joy of a grasshopper?  I say toiling and moiling is the easy way out, but it takes guts to choose the path of joy.

Luckily, Shannon agreed with my views. Just when I was down and under, sunk by the self-sabotage of my frazzled ego, $300 magically appeared in my bank account. That sum came with a lecture, but the lecture was nothing like that of the ant or other real people I have known. Shannon’s lecture spoke of friendship, true friendship, the kind that picks you up when you are down and applauds your flight when you are up. “You can’t always be on the giving end.” She said, “If you want abundance to flow, you have to be able to receive gracefully, and give others the opportunity to experience giving.”

The next day, I found a man who could fix the leak in my shell for $30 – In fact he fixed my entire shell, windows, outside seals and rusted locks for $60. A friend gave me gas money in exchange for a ride. I gathered enough fresh organic veggies to last the week by working on a farm. Two of my yoga students tipped me in addition to the regular fees, and today, I won a whole stack of superfood powders with a raffle ticket (which I got for free). The more I receive gracefully, the more magic comes my way.

What an exciting incarnation! So much to learn down here in the delicious earth trenches. I leave you here, before this story gets too long. Next week, if I have time to write, I’ll tell you about abundance, and how I learned that it has nothing to do with money.

 

cornucopia thanksgiving cornu copiae or horn of plenty is a symbol of abundance

 

XO – Mel.
Thank you for visiting. 🙂