2014: moving towards the light…

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“We always do the best we can

by the light we have to see by”

–From The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron

I’ve never been much of one for New Year’s Resolutions.  It just seems to me that if a change needs to happen, why wait?  But the New Year can be a good time to reflect; to look back with gratitude for the blessings in life–the people and experiences that have made life richer.  It’s also a good time to look back at the things that could have gone differently and maybe cut yourself and others some slack for those all too human moments.

I have been blessed to come to know many wonderful people this year.  They are misfits, like myself…an eclectic bunch that inspire me, challenge me, encourage me and, in the words of one of those misfits, crack me open.  It’s a good thing to be cracked open.  Not an easy thing; a sometimes painful thing, but a necessary part of living life fully.  I remember a quote — I think it is credited to singer/songwriter David Wilcox:

Love is not to fill our hearts
after all
It is to
open them.

And if
in opening them
we find that they are
empty;

That’s homework

Yes…to be cracked open is to learn to live life fully…

I spent three days in the Texas Hill Country over Christmas.  It was a time of reflection and a time to look forward to what I want to do differently next year.  A time to look at what I need to let go of and what I need to move towards. 

I didn’t find all of the answers — that would be too easy, but I did find some clarity about some things.

–I want to live a creative life.  I never thought I would ever hear myself say that, but this nurturing of the creative child in me that I didn’t even know existed until recently has been an incredible gift.  I want to; no, I plan to do more of that in 2014 and beyond.

–I have always been a forgiving person; I don’t get my feelings hurt easily.  As a whole, I am a person who is inclined to give people the benefit of the doubt.  That’s problematic at times but given the alternative I choose to live my life that way.  That said, there are people in my life; people that I care for deeply, towards whom I have been carrying hurt and resentment without intending to or even really being aware of it.  Oh, there are legitimate reasons for that hurt but I realize that it is beyond time to let them go…to learn to trust again.  I realize that I have been waiting for them to fail so that I could be right.  That is neither fair nor loving nor the right thing to do.  So, I will let go of those hurts, one day at a time and move forward.  They are doing no one any good.

–There are many resentments that I hold on to that are really against myself.  As I forgive others it is time to forgive me…to cut myself some slack for being human just like everyone else.

I realize that I will do all of this imperfectly; that I will stumble and fall, pick myself up, take steps forward and steps backward.  I will cut myself slack about this too and trust that I am doing the best I can.  I will focus on the journey; the twists and turns; the overcast, cloudy days and the clear, sunlit days.  I will keep moving towards the light.

I am grateful for many things over this past year; for the people in my life who have helped to crack me open — I thank you.

Namaste…

Gratitude and plans gone awry..

The View of "The Pond" from the Summit of the East Trail at Lost Maples State Natural Area.

The View of “The Pond” from the Summit of the East Trail at Lost Maples State Natural Area.

My much anticipated trip to Lost Maples State Natural in Vanderpool, TX was this past week.  I wrote a blog last August about the healing that the solitude of this park in winter brings to me.  I headed out on Christmas Eve with plans to spend 5 glorious days and nights at this park that has come to be such a special place to me.  Pippin and I arrived about 2:00 p.m., set up camp and immediately went for a hike.  The sky was blue, the air was crisp and clean and the park had obviously benefited from the rains we have had over recent months.  While the vibrant color of fall had faded there was still the occasional burst of reds and oranges just beginning to turn to rust.  The rains had brought more green to the area than I had seen in many years.  Armed with my camera I planned to capture these images to take home with me when the trip was over.

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We hiked until nearly dark and headed back to camp just as the sun was setting.  I started a fire, cooked a steak and veggies and sat down in front of the fire to relax a bit.  The stars were shining brightly in a crystal clear sky.  It was heaven.  Then it was off to bed early with plans for a hike of the West Trail on Christmas Day. 

Despite the early bedtime I managed to sleep until after 9:30 the next morning; something that is nearly unheard of for me.  After breakfast I wrote my morning pages and it was nearly noon before Pippin and I headed out on our hike.  There were clouds coming in but it looked to be more overcast than rainy.  The hike was beautiful; the strenuous climb up to the top of the hills and then down into Mystic Canyon was worth every step and I stopped often to take pictures of plants, streams and breathtaking vistas. 

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All was going as planned as we approached a benign looking creek crossing about 4 miles into our hike.  The water wasn’t more than a few inches deep and trickled off in little falls to the right of the crossing.  As I stepped out I remembered thinking how smooth the creek bed was at that section; almost as though they had poured concrete to make it easier for the park maintenance crews to drive through.  I also noticed the thin layer of moss and slime growing just beneath the surface about the time both feet flew out from under me and I landed hard on my backside and rolled over onto my right shoulder (the one that was replaced about a year ago).  The water was too cold for me to lie there feeling sorry for myself for long so I managed to scramble up and make my way carefully to the other side of the creek.  Pippin, who’s leash was fastened to a nylon belt around my waist was staring at me with a stunned look on his face and (I’m sure) wondering what the heck had just happened.  We headed on our way and I was thankful for moisture wicking clothing.  By the time we got back to camp my clothes were mostly dry with the exception of my boots and socks as well as my jacket that had been fastened to the back of my backpack.

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So, after supper and some time by the fire it was off to bed early again.  The soreness from my fall and the cold that night made for very little sleep for me or for Pippin.  He was restless and I knew that when I could feel him shivering against me that it wasn’t just me thinking it was colder that night.   I confess that I was already rethinking my plans to stay until Sunday.

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The hike up from the campground to the trailhead of the East Trail goes by the beautiful day-use campground at Lost Maples.

The next day after breakfast we headed out for a hike of the East Trail.  After the hike from the campground we set out on the Maple Trail which runs parallel to the East Trail for almost a mile.  I have only seen pictures of the park decked out in full color but this short trail holds its own special beauty even in midwinter.   There are quaint little rocky stairways along the trail that just make it all the more lovely.

The scene of mishap #2 :-/

The scene of mishap #2 :-/

 Everything was going swimmingly until we got half way up one of those quaint little stairways and Pippin yinged and I yanged and the next thing I knew I tripped on a rock and went flying forward.  I must have put my left arm out to catch myself and managed to twist my left shoulder in ways that I’m pretty sure it was not meant to be twisted.  As pain surged down my arm my first thought was, “Well, that’s it; it’s time to pack it up and go home.”  I got up, brushed myself off and began to check out the damage.  Poor Pippin was wondering once again what had just happened.   My shoulder was still throbbing but as I began to gingerly move it around I decided that the desire to capture this trail with my camera was greater than the now subsiding pain so off we went.

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The Maple trail dumps out onto the East Trail and we enjoyed an amazing hike, taking in “Monkey Rock”, the steep and strenuous hike to the summit and the breathtaking views from the top.  We managed the somewhat treacherous hike back down without further incident and got some really fabulous photos to remember it all by.  It began to rain just as I finished packing the truck and began to drive away.  Seems like the universe was trying to tell me I had stayed long enough.

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I know that many of my friends think I’m nuts to want to go camping in the middle of the winter, by myself at Christmas time.  It’s hard for me to explain but it is a way for me to recharge my batteries, mentally, physically (yes, I mean that) and spiritually.  Despite the mishaps I drove away with a tremendous sense of gratitude for my time spent at this captivating place on the Sabinal River in the Texas Hill Country.  It won’t be the last time I make that trip for sure. 

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Namaste…

Pleading insanity…


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“Maybe we were always meant
To follow the threads forward,

Circle around and come back,
Untangle the knots.
And follow again.”
–From the poem “Following the Threads” by Carrie Newcomer

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.  Apparently that is a quote from Albert Einstein.  Smart guy that Albert.  I wish that I could say that this particular definition has never applied to me but I’d be lying.  In fact, I’m at a place in my life right now where I just need to plead insanity and be done with it. 

This brings up some questions for me.  How do we take responsibility for the fact that we have been guilty of repeating the same mistakes over and over without just beating ourselves up for it?  I don’t believe that shame is the way to change that behavior and yet it’s hard not to fall into that trap.  How do we move forward — head down a different path — the one without the gaping hole in it?

To be open; to fully live life is to subject yourself to hurt.  I have no desire to close myself off from that.  Well, at least not most of the time. I don’t believe that it’s possible to fully feel life’s joys if we’re busy trying to numb ourselves from the pain.  If you spend enough time in relationship with people you will let each  other down.  We’re all  just people after all; most of us just trying to do the best we can; but still we end up hurting each other.  It’s part of the human condition.  We’re all broken in some way.  Despite our best intentions we end up hurting those we care about.  I’m as guilty of that as the next person.  I guess that’s where grace comes in.  Acceptance and forgiveness, for myself and for others and continuing to try to untangle the knots.  So today, I’m grateful for grace and that’s the best I can come up with for now…

Namaste…

The journey into a creative life…

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The seed is a simple thing–
miracle that it remains
It is a faith in the harvest
I must find my way back to.”
Nathan Brown, 2013/2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma; from his poem “Foothold

I’ve been on a journey.  A journey inward; one of self-discovery.  The seeds were planted a few years ago but had been lying dormant until recently.  It is a good journey, one I have come to believe will be an important and life-changing journey.

It will come as no surprise to those who know me well that for most of my life I have not considered myself as a “creative” being.  For as long as I can remember I have scored much higher in favor of my ever-so-logical left brain on those right-brain/left-brain quizzes.   I’m good at math but struggle to draw a stick figure.  I prefer Sudoku every time over crossword puzzles.  I’m great at writing very professional business letters but write creatively?  No way…

I have sung most of my adult life.  A year ago I released a CD in memory of a dear friend as a benefit for an organization in Haiti that was near and dear to his heart.  The CD has been well received.  And still, I did not consider myself a “musician”.  Oh, I was (and still am) a pretty decent vocalist, but a musician?  It seemed fraudulent to call myself that when I knew so many incredibly talented singers, songwriters, guitarists…you name it.  I wouldn’t dare put myself in their league.

Some months ago I fell in with a bunch of misfit creative types on Facebook and my life started to change.  I began to blog; I began to take photographs and something even stranger happened–I began to see myself as one of them.  I found that just as I received inspiration from them they too, in turn were inspired by my offerings.  My blog began to have actual followers.  Not just friends of mine who were trying to be kind but total strangers who seemed to think that I had something to say.  My photographs began to be something I felt comfortable putting out there, even though I knew so many who took absolutely stunning images.  I got a new camera and started learning in earnest how to use it both technically and creatively. 

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A few weeks ago, after hearing a friend talk about her experiences, I began to read the book and work the program known as “The Artist’s Way“.  The Artist’s Way is a 12-week journey into discovering the link between our spiritual and creative selves.  It is an affirmation that we are all born to be creative.  The program is an answer to a yearning inside of me that has been growing for some time.  I wanted to be creative, I just didn’t know how to go about it.  I did not believe that I was wired that way.  The creative child within me was buried so deeply and so beaten down by my own internal critic that I didn’t believe she even existed.  Until now.

One of the cornerstones of The Artist’s Way is something called Morning Pages.  Three pages of long-hand, stream of consciousness writing every morning.  The thought terrified me.  What in the world was I going to write about?  I was told that it didn’t matter.  Just write.  Even if all you write about is that you can’t think of anything to write about.  That was pretty much how it went for the first few days.  Seriously?  Three pages?  Good grief, they seemed to look like a book.  Why did the lines on the pages have to be so narrow?  How was I going to manage this with my already jammed schedule?  What could I possibly find to write about day after day?  What was I going to do with Pippin while I was writing?  He would surely be pestering me to play. 

Something strange began to happen even before the first week was out.  I began to look forward to it.  I do find things to write about; things about this journey that I am on; conversations with God; arguments with my evil internal critic, who I have named “Fanny”.  Turns out Fanny is a liar and she’s actually starting to listen to me when I tell her to go away.  I’m actually beginning to believe that she’s been wrong all these years.  I AM creative.  Do I have work to do?  Can I improve on my creative handiwork?  Absolutely!  But I CAN learn; I have something to say with my art that is meaningful–not just for myself but for others.

One of the things that was an assignment for the first week of The Artist’s Way was to make use of affirmations.    The book has some suggestions:  “Creativity is the Creator’s will for me.”  “Through the use of my creativity, I serve God.”  “I am willing to be of service through my creativity.”  And this one, that really resonated:  “My creativity heals myself and others.”

I had a conversation the other day with a musician friend.  Someone who I admire both as a musician and as a human being.  We were talking a bit about The Artist’s Way and how it was working in my life.  He told me in our conversation that he had always found something healing about hearing me sing.  That statement from him further served to affirm this journey that I am on. 

This won’t be an easy journey.  I visualize it as a journey through an ancient forest.   One where the path is not laid out clearly in front of me.  There will be times when the trees will close in around me and it will seem that I have lost my way.  There will be times when I may travel in circles and the path will become rough and rocky.  Nevertheless, I believe that if I remain open and I am willing to trust, I will find places to rest along the way.  There will be green meadows in the midst of the forest with fragrant grass on which to lie and clear, cold streams of healing waters to drink from that will provide strength to move on. 

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I have much to be grateful for on this journey.  I am grateful to ALL of those who have encouraged me and have planted the seeds that have now sprouted and are beginning to grow.  It is a good and worthy journey and I thank you for joining me–I look forward to the adventure.

Namaste…

The search for an icon…

The Blue Rock Before

I went on an adventure this past Sunday; a search expedition of sorts.  My friends Billy and Dodee Crockett own a gorgeous place in the Texas Hill Country, Wimberley to be exact, called Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio.  It is their home, a state of the art commercial recording studio and the scene of arguably the best House Concert series in the country.  It is a place created to nurture the artist’s soul; a place of grace and a place that I feel blessed to be whenever I am there.

The icon of Blue Rock Studio is literally the Blue Rock; a huge piece of limestone standing ten feet tall and fourteen feet across in the middle of Lone Man Creek.  The house and studio look down on “the rock” from high above — at least they did.  Last Wednesday night fifteen inches of rain swept through Wimberley and swept the Blue Rock downstream and out of sight.  What do you do when your icon vanishes overnight?  When that thing that represents your hopes and dreams just disappears?  Surely something that big can’t just evaporate into thin air?

So Sunday afternoon a small group of us gathered to hike down to the creek and see if we could solve the mystery of where the Blue Rock had gone.  It was a gorgeous day with bright blue skies and just a hint of fall in the air as we began the descent, armed with cameras and our curiosity. 

The hike down is really more of a scramble.  There is no trail; the hill is steep and the footing iffy in places, especially after the storm, but we all managed to clamber down without incident.  Evidence of the storm was everywhere; trees uprooted and heaped up where the rising creek had left them; piles of rocks that had been sent rushing down stream with the flood waters; places where the steep banks had given way to come sliding down, leaving mounds of debris.

An hour or two of exploring up and down the creek brought us no clear answer.  There were a handful of large boulders, some looking like they could possibly be a piece of the beloved Blue Rock.  Lots of photos were taken to try to match to older photos of the rock.  Still, as we headed back up the hill the whereabouts of the Blue Rock still remained a mystery.  It didn’t seem likely that it could have been taken beyond the bend in the creek.  It’s possible that it could have been broken into several pieces or perhaps one of the large rocks we spent time climbing around on was indeed part of the original.

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At the end of our demanding climb up from the creek we sat down to share a meal and reminisce.  With two esteemed singer/songwriters among us in Billy Crockett and David Wilcox there had been talk of this adventure needing a song.  Sure enough as we ate David would occasionally scribble something down on a scrap of paper he had brought to the table.  Eventually he got up and went into the other room where his guitar was.  A short while later he came back and proceeded to play us a brilliant song to commemorate the significance of the Blue Rock.  It was a very special moment. 

I drove home that evening feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude for having been a part of that experience.  The storms of life can wreak havoc sometimes.  They can also bring beauty and a chance for new beginnings if we’re able to open our eyes to it.  As David Wilcox so eloquently put it “the rock” is not gone.  It may be further down the river but “it’s in the walls and in the spirit, in the soul and in the sound.”

Amen to that…

The Big Blue Rock” by David Wilcox

Infinite chances…

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I stopped to visit my friend Mark last Friday.  Some of you will remember Mark from my blog, “The Least of These” that I wrote a few months ago.  Mark greeted me with a huge smile.  “I’m getting off the streets on Monday”, he said.  “I have a place to stay at a sober house here in Austin.  All I have to do to stay is to pass a drug test and get a job.  Mobile Loaves and Fishes is going to give me work until I can find something permanent.”

He looked so excited…much less tired and sad than he usually did.  The light changed and I had to drive on before I got much more of the story from him.  He was there again Sunday morning and I told him that I hoped we would meet again under better circumstances.  He said he hoped he could stop back by someday and let people know how he was doing.  I drove away thinking, “From your lips to God’s ear”.  Then I said a small prayer…”Please, God…let it work this time”.

I’ve been driving by every day this week; it’s on my route from work to the bank.  Monday there was a girl who had taken Mark’s place.  She was so young; I wondered about her story–how she came to be where she is.  The week rolled by and every time I drove by that corner I said a little prayer for Mark.  Friday, as I approached the traffic light I saw a man accepting something from someone in a car that was waiting at the light.  I remember thinking, “Please God, don’t let that be Mark”.  But it was.  Once again, for whatever reason, Mark’s attempt to get off the street has failed.  This will be the 5th time in the few years that I’ve known him that he’s tried and failed to find a better life.  I drove away feeling such sadness.

I can’t fix Mark’s problems and I think I’m past getting angry with him for whatever it is that keeps him on the street.  I believe that God gives us infinite chances to start over; it’s up to us to make the most of those chances.  For whatever reason, Mark’s brokenness is keeping him from doing that.  My prayer is that someday he will have had enough…that somehow the will to get off the street will overcome that broken part that keeps him there.  Until then, and until there is no more homelessness in this world I pray that there will be enough compassion to see all the Marks through another day…

Namaste…

From the ashes…

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Pippin and I spent a glorious weekend at Bastrop State Park in Bastrop, TX.  The park was deeply affected by the Bastrop County Complex fires that began Labor Day weekend of 2011.  96% of the park was burned resulting in closure of the park until December of 2012.  Evidence of the fire is everywhere you look but there is also evidence of rebirth.  It was wonderful to see the park full of campers, despite the fact the toilets are portable ones and the showers are temporary structures.  New construction is everywhere.

Bastrop State Park 006Pippin and I arrived on a gray Friday afternoon.  A front was expected that night but the forecast for Saturday and Sunday looked to be perfect.  This was Pippin’s first camping trip but he settled right in and figured out his tie-out pretty quickly.  He kept watch as I unloaded the truck and set up camp.  We had time for a bit of hiking and exploring the grounds before dinner and then bed.  I was a bit concerned about how Pippin would behave in the tent but he figured out the ground rules (no pun intended) in short order.  The 50% chance of rain thankfully did not materialize but there were some pretty high winds.   The winds caused some of the burned tree branches to snap and come thudding to the ground–a bit disconcerting as I remembered taking pictures of some really tall, burned pines not to far from where my tent was pitched.  Pippin didn’t like the noise and tried to climb in bed with me a couple of times.  Okay, he actually tried to climb on top of me…he can be such a chicken at times!

Bastrop State Park 039By morning the skies were already clearing and Pippin and I set out on a hiking trip right after breakfast.  The air was cold and still windy but perfect for hiking.  Armed with my camera, water for the two of us and some snacks we set out on what was left of the Lost Pines Hiking Trail.  About half of the trail is still shut down and we managed to miss a turn or two and ended up way further out than intended.  Then the trail I took to get back to camp was only partially rebuilt so another detour resulted in a traveling 3 or 4 miles further than originally intended.  Nevertheless, the day was beautiful and the park, even with acre upon acre of burned pine forest had a special kind of beauty all its own.  I had fun experimenting with my camera and trying different shots. 

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Bastrop State Park 113Dinner that night was cooked over a fire built in the fire pit and tasted delicious; dessert consisted of tortillas warmed over the fire with Irish butter and St. Dalfour’s Strawberry Jam.  Yum!!!!  A cup of tea to sit by the fire was the perfect end to a glorious day.  The night was clear and chilly and the stars were shining brightly along with a huge moon.  I’m told that Friday night was the full moon known as the “Hunter’s Moon”. 

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Pippin and I slept in Sunday morning, not a hard thing to do after the long hike Saturday and the fact that it got down below 40 during the night.  It was cozy in that sleeping bag and I felt incredibly grateful for so much; the few days away, the near perfect weather, the beauty of a park in the midst of rebirth.  Topped off  by a delicious breakfast of eggs and more tortillas with butter and jam I began the process of breaking camp with a tremendous sense of peace.   It would be easy to look at the park and feel sadness but I believe there are seasons for all things.  There are so many that care and are working hard to see the park restored.  And that is as it should be…

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Namaste…