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Open Your Eyes

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I took a walk/jog here at Chestnut Ridge for the first time a few weeks ago. The park is just 13 minutes from my house, but until then was completely unknown to me. Sometimes things are right there waiting for you when you begin to open your eyes and see the beauty of the world. I dream of traveling the world as I  follow Instagram travelers to see places I have never been, but hope to go to one day. But I can’t sit around making excuses for what I am not seeing right here around me. This day was a perfect example of the hidden gems that are nestled within my reach.

I can get so caught up in things I can’t do or what I can’t afford right now that it becomes a pattern of self-pity and makes me feel defeated. But when I turn that down a little and see what I do have and what is possible right now, I get excited. I picked up a book of all the metro parks in the area and I looked through. Some parks I have been to thousands of times and I still love them, but there are more to discover, more paths to walk and more trails to explore. So, I decided that I am going to see the world and I am going to begin right here in little, but beautiful Ohio and see what all I can see. I am going to work my way out from the center of my world and see how far I can go. What right have I do be upset about not seeing the other side of the world, when I haven’t seen everything in the place I am so privileged to have been born?

We imprison ourselves with thought patterns at times and feel trapped by circumstance. It’s easy to envy others, feel jealous of what seems like easy freedom and fortune. But once we observe our thoughts and see the pitfalls of that thinking pattern that can bring us down, we can start to avoid those mental traps and quicksand moments that tend to pull us down so quickly. No, I am not a victim and I won’t hang out with that mentality. That sort of thinking is a very tangled web, a labyrinth and a trap. I have to catch myself when I go to that place, turn around and find my way out as quickly as possible. It’s not always easy. I wake up at 5 with a zest for life and end up in the dark dungeon of depression by 2. But I find my way back over and over. I think it gets easier to climb out of that abyss as I learn the way and see the steps, the rope, and the worn down trails I have left from last time. It gets easier.

The map to your inner maze is freely available, the key is in your hand and the walls are ready to come down. So, take a deep breath and begin again. Below is a picture I took that same day. I was so full of gratitude for having found this place and there it was practically in my own backyard all along.

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Panorama shot with my phone. Chestnut Ridge -Carol, Ohio

Taste Your Food

I stopped to pick some blackberries just bursting with juice and warm from the sun.

I had just finished mowing the lawn and the sun was shining beautifully on the yard. I could smell the fresh cut grass and see the bugs and flowers living around me in these tiny little worlds, some of which I have planted. I stopped to pick some blackberries just bursting with juice and warm from the sun. I grabbed a bowl and picked them all. I was covered in sweat and grass, a few scratches from the tree I had trimmed, but I  washed these warm berries, toasted half a slice of wholesome bread, spread on peanut butter, layered it with the fresh berries, then drizzled it with local wildflower honey. I took my sandwich back outside, sat on my lounge chair and enjoyed every last bite. This was a slice of heaven in my own backyard. I took a picture to remind myself how good it tasted and how important is to taste my food and enjoy the moment.

 

food

Say yes to new things!

I left rejuvenated, sort of baptized by the waters. I felt happy. I still feel happy thinking about that moment; –it’s a place I can escape to in my mind now.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried kayaking. It was amazing. I loved the feeling of being in the water, but staying mostly dry while paddling down the creek. My son and I rented a couple single kayaks at (http://www.trapperjohnscanoeing.com/) Trapper John’s in Grove City, Ohio spending about $30 total for the hour and a half excursion down a section of State and National Scenic Big Darby Creek. We mainly had the creek to ourselves as we paddled and floated along the beautiful and serene course. I saw little turtle families sun bathing on branches and rocks, listened to birds chirp and watched my nearly full-grown-teenage-son paddle and float and learn to steer his boat. We didn’t talk much except to warn of low water ahead. At one point he yelled to me to catch his shoe floating my way. The creek water was very low in spots so at times you had to step out and push the boat through the shallow waters. I understood the advice of strapped on shoes instead of flip-flops at several points along the way, but we avoided the loss of any shoes.

Leaving our phones back in the car meant no photo opportunities, no text messages, no Snap Chatting, no phone ringing and no distraction from the nature that was all around us completely encompassing our whole bodies and spirits with no effort on our part–we only needed to be present to benefit. Bursting with green foliage the banks gave way to trees that reached up to form a canopy that we traveled through. My mind drifted back to early settlers and how brave they had to be in the new world. I took long deep breaths as I floated along looking up at the blue skies and fragmented sunlight shining through the branches highlighting different scenes of the woods, the creek and our boats as we quietly paddled along.

I left rejuvenated, sort of baptized by the waters. I felt happy. I still feel happy thinking about that moment; –it’s a place I can escape to in my mind now.

A few nights ago my friend Ann asked me to come up and kayak after work. It was a beautiful day and we would have a couple hours before sunset. My first instinct is to think of a reason why I can’t. But I tried my best to dismiss those pesky thoughts and I said yes. I felt the same return to nature, but this time I brought my phone so I could capture a few shots of my new love of being out on the water. We talked and caught up like old friends do as we marveled at the beauty and enjoyed our kayaking into the sunset moment. Now, I have two experiences of kayaking that I can return to in my mind when I need a bit of peace.

The trip with Ann was a different spot in a cove of Hoover Reservoir in Westerville, Ohio. She lives in walking distance of the entryway with a little ramp for kayaks and small motorboats. The cove is a no-wake zone, so the waters felt safe and calm the whole time. I would say that overall kayaking is very easy and the benefits of being out on the water outweigh the minimal amount of effort it takes to paddle. It’s an activity you can approach with a huge amount of effort I am sure and obtain a great workout from, or you can just take it easy and go at a leisurely pace. It’s like riding a bike in that way there are several degrees of difficulty and starting at the easiest level is usually the best way to ease into a new activity.

 

Overall my lesson was clear from both days of kayaking: Say yes to new things!

 

kayaking

Follow Your Yellow Brick Road

This evidence of the universe conspiring to help you is all around if you pay close enough attention.

“When a person really desires something, all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream,” said the alchemist, echoing the words of the old king. (Coelho)

Yellow-brick-road

Whenever I start making choices that agree with my higher self or the intentions that I have in my mind, there seems to appear a walkway almost like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. If you keep following that road there are bound to be some encounters with your flying monkeys and wicked witches, but you just keep following that road and help is all around you. I was running on the path a couple weeks ago, I was hot and struggling to jog when I saw this lady walking, I had passed her earlier and then I turned around so I am now passing her again this time face to face. I took my ear bud out and I was walking now, I said, “Wow, it’s a lot hotter out here than I thought.” She looked me in the eye and held eye contact and with a heart-warming smile she said, “I’m proud of you.” I smiled back and kept walking down the path feeling like God had spoken through this woman, she looked straight into my soul it seemed. I suddenly felt proud of myself and picked up my pace to a trot and made it home feeling renewed. I felt like it was about more than just my commitment to exercise that day it was like a blanket statement for all the work I am doing and the path I am trying to walk on a larger scale. The experience didn’t make sense, I didn’t know this lady, nor could I remember having seen her before and I have not seen her since. This is a path that runs along the main road outside of my neighborhood. Was that person some form of God, an angel or a mere mortal? I don’t know, and really it doesn’t matter but for that one part of the yellow brick road I had my Glenda moment and I am sure there will be more help along the way.

My practice is to pay attention to the unseen current of energy that sort of picks you up and lets you float every once in a while when you are heading in the right direction. This evidence of the universe conspiring to help you is all around if you pay close enough attention. It’s a book you find, a picture you come across, an old letter you read, a friend that calls, a movie you watch, a show you see, a party you attend, a job you find, a meal you cook, a yoga class you take, a trail you walk, a moment you take, a dream you remember, an ice cream cone you taste, a fragrance you smell, a sunset you see, a river you cross, a mountain you climb or whatever pops up along the yellow brick road you are following. Literally and figuratively the universe is with you, inside you and all around you. Once you believe in yourself, there is nothing that can stop you, not even the Wicked Witch her self.

Slow it down -cook, chew, enjoy

Fast food is a problem and perhaps that’s because we are so detached from the cooking, the source, and the enjoyment.

What if we slow it down a little? What if we think in the grocery store, hang out in the produce section, and see what’s new and fresh? What if we think about our next meal and plan it and cook it slowly while we think about the flavors and the ingredients? What if we sit down and savor each bite? What if we bake some cookies from scratch? What will it look like if we change the thought pattern about making food? (Michael Pollan has a documentary called Cooked, and it’s based on his book by the same name.) Here’s a link to view a preview of his Netflix series. He learns how to cook, bake and take time to enjoy the process as he explains the origin of cooking and really examines where we are right now as a food obsessed culture.

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The truth is so glaringly obvious that it’s hard not to see it when it comes to food. Fast food is a problem and perhaps that’s because we are so detached from the cooking, the source, and the enjoyment.  For example, I slam a burrito in the car (my food drug of choice) on the way to wherever I must be getting to and then I don’t feel full or satisfied, but that’s ok because there will be a snack bar, food truck and coffee bar every step of the way I am most likely going. Let’s say anywhere there will be people, even a soccer game that last less than an hour, will be met with food that Madeline’s mom packed in a cooler stuffed with enough to feed the pack for 3 months should a disaster strike the soccer field and leave everyone stranded. And who wants to go out for pizza after the game we just grazed our way through? Don’t worry about being hungry there will be more food at the next place and when I get home I will still be hungry because I haven’t really eaten any actual food all day. So, I open the fridge and look for something, I don’t know what I want, just something that is fast and delicious before I head to bed. It’s silly.

I’m saying it doesn’t have to be this way and of course I am not the first person to rant about it. But one thing leads to another and I am just observing my own habits and seeing that once I slow down and slice some vegetables and cook some meat I feel good about the meal I eat. I like to cook, but I have to stay home to do it and that’s the trick. Staying home for a couple hours and thinking about it, caring about the meal and the process is something that is ancient and instinctual for humans. Perhaps we have backed away from the ritual that made a meal sacred and something very spiritual and essential has been lost. And maybe that is why most meals are not filling the void that we have mindlessly created.

My practice for today will be to search for something sacred in the food I am eating and preparing. I want to enjoy the flavors and savor the moments that I am eating and see if I can get back to my ancestral roots of honoring the source of life that makes the meal possible. I might start saying Grace again, why not be thankful for every meal?

Breaking a Habit, But Building a New One

 

 

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Peace of Mind

I have worked really hard on breaking habits so I feel like somewhat of a professional. So far here is what I’ve learned.

  • My positive reward 100% has to outweigh the punishment of not getting what I want.
  • My old habits need to be replaced with a new habits to fill the void.
  • I need to set goals, –little ones, big ones and way up in the sky ones!
  • I need to allow for mistakes, setbacks and obstacles.
  • I need to be excited about the new things I am learning.

It’s a great big world out there and there are so many ways to fill your time. One habit I quit was Facebook and guess what? There are other websites on the internet! I have found other apps to fill my time that don’t send me on an emotional roller coaster of endless searching, judging, and gossipy pathways as Facebook did for me. I would spend an hour looking at people’s pictures, someone’s new life and sometimes I would feel jealous of the facade of happiness, or feel better about myself peering into what seems like a crazy mess of someone’s life and so on. There are healthy ways to be on Facebook, but for me it was not making me feel good. So, I deleted my account and I am happy to be free from it.  I replaced that with an app called Duolingo to learn Spanish. You can spend a little bit of time each day learning a new language for free! It’s fun and I find the practice to be a bit like meditation because I am just lost in the new language.

I am also on Instagram where I mostly follow travel, photography, inspirational quotes and some comedians. I feel like these things make me feel good and help to expand my horizons in terms of world sight seeing. I will travel to some of these places in the future, but for now I can only see them through the lens of people all over the world. I also share my pictures of natural landscape.

Another habit I quit was drinking, a much larger beast to tame, but one that has given me more rewards than I ever could have imagined. I replaced drinking with walking and exercise and it’s paying off. I am rounding the base to 40 this year and I want to be in the best shape of my life by November. I am feeling confident that I will get there. I have set little goals of jogging for 1 minute up to where I am now of 17 minutes as my longest jog time. I’m not setting any world records but I am making progress. The positive rewards for getting in shape are long-term so it’s important to set up other rewards for yourself too. I bought a new pair of running shoes at my 90 days without drinking. I link all my goals together sometimes. I can practice Spanish while walking on the treadmill or stretching on the floor.

Meditation is another tool for relaxation that I have used to replace my evening drinking. Here I found an app called Insight Timer that is free also to download to a phone or tablet. This app has thousands of options for guided meditations, sleeping, sound therapy, binural beats, chanting, chimes, bells -whatever your jam this app probably has something you will like. Of course you can go to YouTube or search Google for whatever meditation you seek and it’s there. We have the world at our finger tips now so technology is a good thing.

I watched part of an interview with Dan Rather and Kid Rock of all people. But he was talking about addiction and his battles with it. He said, “I figure if you can’t put something down, then you best not pick that shit up.” And really that statement sums it up. That attachment feeling with anything is a bad habit, so breaking it is probably a good idea.

 

A Spiritual Quest

With greater knowledge and reading my horizons expanded and the world felt huge and unknown to me.

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Sunset in Ohio

“Mortals are helplessly tied like cattle by the rope of latent and residual desires born of their karmic footprints. The rope can be cut only if we use the God-given knife of intellect that animals do not have. A tiger is controlled by the instinct to kill and is helpless in this regard. Human beings are endowed with intellect and power to reason by which they can slowly cut the rope. We fail to use our power of reasoning and intellect due to ignorance. One’s enemy is none other than the other side of oneself. Sometimes intellect is taken away by the trick of divine illusory energy (Maya) before the dawn of fate-born adversity. One must use intellect, the precious divine gift to human beings, to analyze the situation. There is no other way to get out of the vicious circle of Maya.” –Bhagavad-Gita

 

I am on a spiritual quest. I have believed and prayed to God my whole life. The way I pray has changed a myriad of times. When I was little I prayed in Catholic school to the old man with a beard guarding the pearly gates of Heaven. I was sure I would never be good enough to enter or win the heaven prize, but I tried. Being good for God was a tricky task with him being the all-knowing Being that he was told to me to be. I prayed in my journals with “Dear God” prayers and I would begin with gratitude and then sort of list out my problems and the things I needed help with in my life. I had issues with my mom and dad and the ever-present dark cloud of money problems lingering around. I wanted God to fix it and I thought if I prayed hard enough I would win like the lottery (odd are about the same as it turned out). But I went to mass at school and on some weekends when my family was able to pull it together enough to roll in and sit and try not to laugh, but laugh anyways and feel guilty for it later.

But as I grew up and learned about the world of religions and the history of ancient philosophy for the Hindu, Buddhist, Tao, Muslim, and Jewish people I lost my way. I was confused as to why all the stories had the same theme the same common stories and lessons to learn; yet the world was at war over religion. I was shocked at the similarities when I read the story of Gilgamesh and compared it to the Noah story.

Here are 5 texts that came before the Bible:

http://www.ancientfacts.net/5-holy-books-predate-bible/

Egyptian Book of the Dead

Unfortunately, the Book of the Dead didn’t reach us in its entirety. From what we know of it, it was made up of several texts, written on papyrus and objects. In the most general terms, The Book of the Dead was a book of spells – both religious and magical. The theme of Death and the Afterlife was one of the most prominent ones in the texts. The Book of the Dead is believed to have influenced The Ten Commandments given to Moses – it reads exactly like them, except in the Negative Registry. For example, The Book of the Dead says, “I have not stolen”, whereas the corresponding Commandment is “Thou shall not steal”. The first text of the Egyptian Book of the Dead can be traced back to as early as 3150 BC.

The Epic of Gilgamesh

The Story of the Great Flood, the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, and many other Biblical stories are believed to be strongly influenced by this Epic Poem from Mesopotamia. The Epic of Gilgamesh is said to be written circa 2100 BC. It tells the story of King Gilgamesh and Enkidu, a man created by the gods to free Gilgamesh’s people from his oppression. The Epic of Gilgamesh predates Homer’s Odyssey and is believed to have heavily influenced the work.

Institution of Amenemope

This particular Egyptian work is believed to have close ties with the Book of Proverbs and was written sometime between 1300-1075 BC – a few centuries after The Book of the Dead. Unfortunately, very little of the work from that period has survived and to date, there aren’t any coherent translations available.

 The Rigveda of Hinduism

The Rigveda is a collection of Hindu hymns that is considered to be one of the four Vedas – sacred canonical texts of Hinduism. The Rigveda is believed to have been created between 1500 and 1200 BC, although allegedly it was recorded in oral form only back then. The Rigveda is believed to have been written down for the first time around the early Middle Ages. Nonetheless, it is one of the oldest religious texts written in an Indo-European language. It is also the only text on the list that’s still in use – the hymns are dedicated to various deities and phenomena.

 The Zoroastrian Texts

Zoroastrian Texts depict one of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions practiced in Iran around 600BC-650CE. The religion is believed to have influenced many of other world religions, including Christianity. For example, the story of creating the world in seven days is told in Avesta – one of the texts that predate The Bible. Several parallels can also be traced between another text called the Gathas of Zarathushtra Yasna and the Book of Isaiah. Zoroastrianism is also responsible for the angels and demons hierarchy and notions of Heaven and Hell.

 

 

With greater knowledge and reading my horizons expanded and the world felt huge and unknown to me. The stories I had learned from the Bible were not original stories, they were most likely influenced or borrowed from other ancient texts and religions. This was very unsettling to me. The quiet little nook of Catholicism was nothing like I thought. There was darkness in the history of religion, exclusion, secrecy, crime and a whole bunch of sin, as I understood it. So, I quit going to church and I began to search for answers. Who am I when it comes to God and is there a God, as I had believed? I took a class called Religions of the World, read the Bhagavad-Gita, and searched for enlightenment with books on Buddhism and spirituality. The answers I found were common, the path, the way, the source, the higher power, God, the Light, and then what seems to be an infinite list of names for God many different ones per each religion.

It gets confusing when you are searching for answers and trying to find an external match for what’s internal. The answer I have so far landed on is just that, God is internal not something I need to go looking for outside of myself. When I quiet my mind and listen, God is found there. When I walk in the woods and observe the natural world all around me, God is there but interconnected with what’s inside of me. I feel like consciousness links us all together in one source of energy that is life and as we live this human experience we transcend a bit higher each times until we achieve the ultimate body-less state of eternity. Could I be wrong? Of course. Could I be right? Of course. No one knows, but what I feel in my heart is that learning to love on earth is the greatest task and the ultimate message. Love one another. It’s so simple, yet we’ve muddied it up so much that people want to back away from religion and God and all the wrong messages that have been associated with it. If we can maybe relearn what our word for God means, be it love, higher power, divine, Om, what have you, then we can begin to love the message again and find prayer and ritual and reverence again. Surrendering to Love only means that we join forces with the energy flow of life and lay down our battle gear as we learn to love.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.”

–Dalai Lama