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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That’s what I do with your speeding ticket, town of Blanding, Utah!

For those of you baffled by my cryptic cursive handwriting:

“Dear city of Blanding,

Enclosed is a check for the speeding ticket I received while driving through your lovely little town.

I just wanted to point out to you that I am paying the speeding ticket not because you threatened to send a warrant for my arrest, but because of the kindness the officer that pulled me over showed me. He was doing his job, and I did come into town faster than I should have. But he showed me kindness, politeness, professionalism, and when it was over, directed me to an excellent coffee shop.

There are many unpleasant experiences in life, getting a speeding ticket is vexing enough. I am grateful it turned into a kind exchange.

I hope Blanding uses the funds well.

And I wish you all a beautiful day.

Melissa”

The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest

I hear it all the time … “YOU truly live life to the fullest!”
Yeah, way to go, Roaming Bobcat! You are such an inspiration. Way to be free from society, jobs, obligations and Old World expectations, roaming by the will o’ the wisp in your valiant Catmobile, all smiles, gratitude and high vibrations.

Well, I’ll tell you what: I DO live life to the fullest. And it is not all you’ve cracked it to be…

2 days ago. My facebook status read “Sometimes, I feel so blessed, that my only hardship is humility.”
Last night. A friend offered I sleep in his driveway because I was cold, hopeless, and crying.

Crazy Free - new cover from Scott.

“Hi. I am doing a study on the homeless population in Sedona. May I ask you a few questions.”
The lady with the clipboard picked me first. Maybe because I was standing nearest the entrance at the Food Bank, waiting for my number to be called for a free bag of food to sustain me for the week. Maybe because of my three layers of down vests and jackets, the classic look of those of us without a heated space on cold winter nights. Or maybe it was my matted hair – she couldn’t guess of my choice to grow dread locks to celebrate my passage through menopause. Or something about my unhurried pace – letting mothers and people with jobs get ahead in line. I have nowhere else to be, and nothing else to do.
“I’m not homeless.” I told her. “I live in my truck, so I always have my home with me.”
She had a checkbox for that on her form. Vehicle dwellers count as homeless.
“No, I have no income.”, “No, I don’t have health insurance.” “No, I don’t pay taxes” “No, I don’t have electricity.” “No, I don’t use any substance, no drugs, no alcohol” … She had a checkbox for each of my answers.
“Well, I’m not your typical homeless person though,” I could hear the defensiveness in my voice. I mean, I live the way I live “by choice.”
She had a checkbox for that too.

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2 days ago, the Catmobile and I pulled into Slab City, California. The “City” appears on Google Maps as a small cluster of square blocks, complete with streets (Loners on Wheels Rd, Tank Rd, etc.) and neighborhoods (East Jesus, West Satan, etc.) But, in fact, it’s little more than a haphazard congregation of  “homeless” people of the wheeled kind, a mingling (not mixing) of nomadic hippie artists, air-conditioned northern sun-seekers, off-season disoriented burners, and Alexander Supertramp followers.


I fall slightly in all categories, but mostly in the latter.
The first time “Into the Wild” landed in my hands, I was a National Science Foundation Fellow with more annual grant money for my geophysics research than all the paychecks and under-the-table money I have earned combined in the 7 years since I threw caution to the wind and leaped into this strange life I now call my own. That book sparked something wild and unstoppable in me. I didn’t see the tragedy of a troubled young man’s untimely death; I read of a vibrant explorer with the balls to go for it, explore the edges, and follow only his own footsteps, to whatever end.

In time, I’ve become my own Alexander Supertramp. I’ve lived as I pleased, following nothing but my own wishes. I’ve run out of money, repeatedly – to a documented low of $2.62. I’ve slept in the dirt (as a thru-hiker) and on sidewalks (in Cuba). I’ve forgone showers and piled hundreds of thousands of miles on my odometer. I collected friends all over the country, with names as strange as Last on the Bus, the Big Elf, Grey Wolf, Weathercarrot, Quest or Rapunzel. Enough money has always appeared when needed, and not once did I use any one of my 4 college degrees. I taught yoga, posed as a nude model for art classes, worked as a Grand Canyon guide, painted buildings and houses, restored historical windows, dug trenches, shoveled pig and chicken shit, weeded organic gardens, trimmed marijuana, wrote a book about my adventures, and lived off the royalties for a while … and, I’ve had to borrow money, dumpster-dive (mostly for pies). I’ve sung Hare Krishna songs for a free meal, and occasionally relied on food banks and the kindness of strangers. Like Alexander, I joined the ranks of society’s misfits, roamed the desert southwest, and even moved to Alaska.

But our parallel stops there. Because his life stopped then, and mine hasn’t.

salvation mountains

Standing on top of Salvation Mountain, I sent Alexander Supertramp my love and gratitude for the inspiration. gratitude for all the adventures, the friends and the overwhelming freedom inherent to living life this way – our way! I then parked the Catmobile among my misfit peers, and basked in the glow of a gorgeous sunset from the comfort of my pillow. I felt like the Grand Winner of the Jackpot of Life, and fell asleep fully contented about everything in my world.

Alexander was older now. He was walking through the desert, but only I could see him. The rows of RVs had their generators going. That was in the world. So, the noise from the world was in my dream. I was relatively sure this was a dream. I could date Alexander since I could see him. He’d be my invisible boyfriend.
“You died just in time.” I told him. “If you had continued on, you’d have run out of steam, eventually.” He wasn’t listening, but he held my hand as we walked. “All that freedom, it’s exhausting after a while.” Still not listening. “It’s like having so many options paralyzes you, because how can you choose when everything is available?”
There was a banquet for a wedding. A table covered with delectable meals. All of which I had tasted already. He sat and ate.
“Alexander, I think I don’t want to be homeless anymore. I want a kitchen, and a bathtub, a garden to grow my own food, a room for my sewing machine, and a yoga studio nearby where I can teach, and a steady income to buy gear and pay for adventures.”
“Then stop.” He kissed my temple just before I drifted elsewhere, to another dream.

supertramp
skinny slit separatorThere were no restrooms anywhere in Slab City, and no bushes thick enough to hide behind, so I left before sunrise, at the urgent request of my bowels. Then I drove 2 hours and almost ran out of gas before finding both gas and a bathroom.

“Then stop.” he had said. Well, but, I can’t. Just like I can’t stop in Slab City if I need to poo. There’s this urge to always move on. A fear of missing out if I don’t. I can’t go back to where I was before I got on this journey, because, at this point, it’s so far ago and I’m such a different person that I wouldn’t even fit at all “back there.”
And, also, I don’t want to stop for the sake of stopping. I want to stop because I find a spot or situation that I deem worthy of stopping. I’m not just gonna pull in the middle of the desert and say “I stop here. Here’s just fine.”

And what if I did stop? There were towns along the way where I’ve considered stopping, like North Conway, NH or Sedona, AZ. Would I build a peaceful hole to call my own? Get a steady job? A job would bind my daily hours, and the assorted taxes, insurances and utilities would bind my income. So I’d have the money for adventures and gear, and no time to partake in them. The eternal dilemma … I think I’d just shrivel up under the weight of a life ill-fitted to my particular genetic makeup. In fact, I’ve tried to stop in each of these towns. It didn’t take.

When I finally pulled into Sedona, and caught my first glimpse of Thunder Mountain, tears welled up in my eyes. Tears of sadness. An overwhelming sense of stagnation washed over me. I was here again. I always returned here when I didn’t know where else to go. Why? Why always Sedona? Because it’s easy. Because I know I can camp out in the desert, and get my mail at friends’ addresses, and meet people for tea, and hike trails I’ve hiked a hundred times without having to buy a map or ask strangers. I have a “spot” here. Just having this “spot” made me feel stagnant. So, not only I can’t stop, but I can’t return too often either. A pretty dire case of wanderlust!

Then I drove through town – for the first time in over a year. My favorite yoga studio is now closed, as is my favorite coffee shop. Most of the pullouts in the desert now have “no camping” signs, and worse … there is a “camping” sign on my secret road, leading straight to my secret spot – “My” spot, where I have spent months, where I know each cat-claw bush, coyote song and firewood pile. There was a massive camp in “my” spot, with enough water to last an entire season.

So, here is where it stands. The Sedona I always return to no longer exists. It changed while I was gone. So, I can stay here and pretend it’s a new town. and I know I’d discover new “spots” and meet new people. I could even find work here – I have contacts- and save enough to hike the CDT – my next dream adventure.

Oooor … I could go somewhere else, someplace new. Anywhere. I can go anywhere at all. I can go soooo anywhere that I don’t even know where I’d go.

And THAT is the ugly truth about living life to the fullest. How do you define who you’d like to be when infinity represents the boundary of what you can create? How do you narrow it down? How do you remain content with your choices when you can just look over the fence and see the green grass of a small home with a kitchen and a bath? How do you ward off stagnation when movement becomes your norm? How do you reconcile growing your own organic vegetables when you are addicted to the view outside your 32 square foot window to always, always, always be different?

What would Alexander have done, if he hadn’t died?

desert

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P.S: So … I started writing this posted “The Ugly Truth about Living Life to the Fullest” intending to write about how, often, people think I live in a state of La La Land-happiness about how awesome my life is. And anyone on Facebook could easily think that, because I only post when I’m happy. The “Ugly Truth” I wanted to write about is that life comes with great joys and deep sadness, moments of despair and confusion, the whole gamut. The key to “living fully” is NOT to be happy all the time, it is to live everything that happens. Reject nothing, it’s all good … that’s what I came here today to write about, and then, my fingers wrote something else entirely. Probably something I needed to read myself, to know where I’m at. Live Blog Therapy, of sort.

And also, this morning, as the story was writing itself, I got an offer to go live in a cob house with a friend in Colorado. I’d still have the truck as a bedroom, but there would be a kitchen and bathroom, and a wood stove, and a room I could make into an office to finally record that audio book I started years ago. And it’s in a spot I’ve never visited before. So … ??? Stay tuned.

Thank you for reading! XOXOX

[drawing of the two ladies on the cliff by my friend N.Scott Driscoll as a potential new cover for Crazy Free]

 

 

 

 

 

The last frontiers: Alaska, menopause and ascension.

I’ve been shifting – transforming. I’ve known some process was at hand, but I didn’t know what I was shifting into. And I might still not know, but I will write about it anyway.

I came to Alaska because the thought of doing so caused me such joy that I knew it was right. It was a case of ultimate follow-your-bliss, with a potency similar to what propelled me to walk the PCT or write Crazy Free. Pure must-do.

I came, and now I am leaving again, with no regrets. The long meditative miles, the physical work at the ranch and the Alaska environment precipitated the shift. Or maybe the time simply had come. I’ve been told that, from the outside, my life looks like constant uprooting. It seems chaotic, unsettled, maybe even pointless. Am I lost? Looking for something? Drifting aimlessly from place to place?

“You drove all the way to Alaska, only to turn around. That makes no sense.”
Sense is not something I concern myself with. Only growth interests me.

This is really 3 posts in one, but I view them as inseparable. As within, so without. Alaska was a perfect backdrop for the life metamorphosis I have embarked upon, which is a stepping stone experience in my greater quest for higher consciousness.

Alaska

alaska1My two favorite things about Alaska are the trees and the people, for opposite reasons.

The trees here carry some of the gentlest energy of any forest I have been lucky to meet. I mistakenly interpreted their short stature as the result of logging when I first arrived. But the land is so vast, it was unlikely that all of it could have been logged. Then I learned of the growth limit imposed on their roots by the frozen ground of intense winters. Trees can only grow as tall as their roots will support – the same is true for humans. Such gentle trees adapted to such harsh conditions. I have enjoyed their company and learning about the medicine they offer, and I will miss them when I leave.

The people here are some of the hardiest I’ve met. If it’s needed, it must be designed, built, foraged, trapped, hunted, raised, grown or self-created somehow. Summer lasts three months. The rest of the year is a dark and cold game of survival in which humans and Nature are on equal footing. This common vulnerability breeds strength, community, respect and humility. When I first arrived, I saw a world of diesel fumes, barb wires, guns and dead beasts’ skins. But it only took meeting a few locals to realize my preconception-perception goggles were distorted.  The cycle of life is simply streamlined from birth to table, and it is entirely in plain view. There are no hidden massive production, transportation, packaging, marketing, shelving. There is also little waste. Resources are too scarce to waste. When a beast is killed, necessary food is provided. When trees are cut, a cabin is built. When a cabin is dismantled, all pieces are saved for the next project.

When I said hardy, I did not mean harsh. As anyone knows who has lived off-the-grid, the smaller the community, the tighter the bond. The size of Alaskans’ hearts are a match for the land. The mountains, tundra and all of wild Alaska are breath-taking. But the real gold here, I found, is the people. I learned a lot here, especially from Goose and Pinky, the caretakers at the ranch, and masters at dancing the fine line between adventure and homesteading. I will see them again. Alaska is only a few gorgeous thousand miles away. My little trail brother, Kristo the Lion, has found home here and will be staying. Another reason to come back and visit some day.

I always wanted to come to Alaska, and now I have. If I had landed here when I was 25 years old, I probably would have stayed. But my days of needing to prove myself have passed. I just know I could thrive here, and therefore I don’t need to choose to experience it, not even for one summer. There is only so much lifetime left and priorities of experiences must be made. Which brings me to the next topic …

Menopause

Woman-Goddess-Nut-by-Maya-CointreauI think it is reasonable to assume that I can and will live to 94 years old. Which makes this year, 2017, the exact middle of my life. When I look back at everything I have created so far for myself, I get stupidly teary-eyed with gratitude. But just when I thought I had finally reached my cruising speed and altitude, comfortable in my own skin and living my dream of a nomadic off-the-grid life, metamorphosis began again.

My favorite thing about menopause so far are the hot flashes. Seriously. The sensation is similar to drinking a good whiskey, except instead of a traceable warmth down the throat and into the belly, the heat radiates from any starting location in the body and expands until it fills it fully. I love to watch it spread, like the flow of a private inner hot spring. The covers fly off. And 5 minutes later, I’m scrambling to gather them back. Hot flashes make me giggle.

The other physical symptoms, I love less. I traded periods for monthly migraines, which prompted me to research natural medicine with a greater sense of urgency. My eye-sight acuity is now inconsistent, but my sense of smell is keener, which makes working on a hog ranch a real challenge. My brain gets cloudy. Some days, I’m just plain dumb. Functionally dumb – I can still read about and understand the intricacies of quantum physics, but I just can’t fathom how to put that pin in that hole that ties the whatchamacallit to the tractor, or remember where I put my glasses. My physical strength so far seems unaffected. “The old that is strong does not wither” (Bilbo Baggins). She might not wither, but neither is she thinner. I can walk, shovel or dig all day until my muscles are pumped and my core is solid. And still, the good bits sag and the middle thickens.

The greatest ride of this metamorphosis, however, is in my mind. All the moody moons of the past decades culminate now. And I cannot falter in my self-awareness or the thoughts take over and drive me nuts. All the stored repressed feelings, fear, guilt, shame, etc. are coming up, amplified. Menopause – isn’t that what happens to old people? Should I prepare myself for the crone stage of life? I’m probably too fat to be loved anyway. I should just be a spinster with a bun on my head and a cat on my lap in a rocking chair. I watch thoughts and feelings arise, and breathe through them until they move on. It helps me to think of it as a detoxification process. Whatever I see is no longer hidden. Like with a thru-hike pack shakedown, I get a chance to decide what I want to carry for the next leg of the journey, or not. It took 47 years to acquire and store all these internal dramas, so I expect the process might take a little while. But I’m on it – like a hawk.

I created most of the experiences of the first half of my life unconsciously. Given the same number of years forward, and now in full awareness, if I do this transition right, the second half of my life should be spectacular.

Ascension

Accessing_Higher_Levels_of_Consciousness__WOUNDS_David_Icke__GrEENZILLA__158215Ascension is a funny term with unfortunate religious connotations. I’m not physically ascending anywhere or leaving my physical body to become a “light being”. Like the trees, I am growing deeper roots so my canopy can reach higher. Higher what? Higher vibrational frequencies, higher levels of self-awareness, higher consciousness and clearer perception of how and why I create what I perceive to be reality.

It’s an ongoing growth journey. And each stage (an arbitrary division on a continuum) seems like an achievement. But I have long understood that enlightenment is a verb, not a destination. And anything I think, say or write, could be revealed as over-simplistic or inaccurate at the next stage. The climb itself is the sought-after experience, not the standing at the summit. Which is why I still use the term “ascension”.

While my body was exploring the rawness of Alaska, and my mind releasing the densest stored energies about and within me, a new knowing entered my consciousness. I felt it coming for a while. I’ve been feeling restless and unsettled. Then one morning, at 4 am, it revealed itself – “The mind that sees all paths, sees the map, and therefore no longer needs to choose a path.”

The understanding that came with it was visceral and wordless with ramifications extending to all experiences and connections past, present and future. The vantage point extended beyond (and including) the body, the self, the higher self to Source itself.  The timeless blue-print behind the script of reality and the scaffolding of beliefs through which stories are told about the script, are in my own handwriting. Like a beating heart, consciousness expands and contracts from self to Source and back again. Because it is more exciting “down here” and less chaotic “up there”. On the screen of my mind, the world is a perfect reflection of everything I am -everything that composes “me”- and vice versa – “my” experiences and “my” self (the experiencing part of consciousness) are locked in a chicken-and-egg dance, an Ouroboros meal. Why create reality? Absolutely everything is a choice of an experience, a keystone detail, the most important thing ever to exist. That’s why.

And, simultaneously, none of it matters … including this so-called ascension process. All of it is make-pretend. How awesome and freeing is that? No need to work so hard to manifest/create something better. It’s already perfect and inconsequential. “There is nowhere to go, nothing to see, no one to meet, nothing to read.” (Christopher Loren)

So, let’s just have fun with it. I get to be a middle-aged goddess. And I get to live in Alaska for another day or so, before the truck and I point south again, to Nelson, British Columbia, for the next adventure.

Some people take drugs for insights … I drive 3000 miles every month 🙂

May all your creating be delicious.
Thank you for sharing this experience with me.

XOX

Roaming Bobcat.