Panama

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I recently took a long overdue and much needed vacation.  Over the years I have taken time off from work, but always in the form of a staycation.  You see, I have become quite the homebody, often preferring to tuck away in the comfort and security of my home of 20-plus years rather than exploring the world.  Much of my choice to enjoy a staycation over a real vacation has often been financially motivated–as a single mother it often was simply not in the budget to travel outside my state.  Another factor is simple energy.  Working full time (plus!) at a very demanding job, then coming home at night to be mother and father didn’t leave much else in the way of gumption to dream about traveling, much less actually doing it.   Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change anything about the last 19 years,  but now that my son is grown, I find that my time and energy is freed to focus on how I would like to finish this journey called life.

So, recently I took that leap and, with a dear friend of mine (who also was long overdue for a vacation!) we traveled to Bocas del Toro, Panama.   Bocas is an archipelago off the Caribbean coast of Panama, near the border with Costa Rica.   Odd and really off the grid choice for my first vacation in a long time?  Definitely.  When I told people where I was going, I was often met with blank stares and that “Oh..” you say when you really don’t know what to say.   After all, I wasn’t taking it safe; I was going to travel through the rainforests of Costa Rica on my way to a place that most people have never heard of.  What was I thinking?

As the day neared to depart on this adventure, I admit that I was nervous.  I was a novice traveller, journeying with a fellow novice traveller to Central America on a trip that we had planned completely on our own.   We flew into San Jose’, Costa Rica, and boarded a shuttle for the six hour drive to Puerto Viejo where we stayed the night in the middle of a jungle (bats, geckos, howler monkeys and all!) before heading to the Panamanian border the next morning.

I can honestly say that from the moment we landed in Costa Rica, I was completely at ease.  Traveling to a not-so-touristy destination is exactly what I needed.  We and our four fellow shuttle mates formed a unique bond on the 6 hour trip across Costa Rica to Puerto Viejo. Sharing laughs and a common experience with complete strangers was, in a way, comforting.  Crossing the border into Panama via the Sixaola Bridge (on foot), we were assisted by Luis, who helped us navigate customs on both sides of the border.

Upon arriving at our final destination on Isla Caranero (after a 30 minute water taxi ride from Almirante to Bocas Town), we were met at our over-the-water Inn by the caretaker, who spoke little English.   I fell in love with the Inn’s resident dog (who ended up greeting me with a smile and happy tail wags every morning when I went downstairs for coffee).   Our rooms were simple, yet comfortable.   Once settled, I knew that this was the best decision I had made in a long time.

Bocas del Toro is not fancy, and admittedly not for everyone.  It is rustic and some would say, primitive.   There are places that are poverty stricken, with people living in shacks on stilts, and children running around with no shoes.   But it was insanely beautiful, simple and genuine.    Sitting in a restaurant, or walking down the street, you don’t see people fixated on their phones.  People don’t rush.  You can sit in a restaurant for hours after you finish your meal without fear of being shoo’d away.  Sitting and talking replace watching TV.  People are friendly and actually smile and say hello (or hola!) as they pass by.  The goal of each day is to live life at a pace such that it can be enjoyed and savored.

Of the many things that this trip taught me is that I want to travel.  I want to see and experience places outside of my cocoon.  There are so many cultures and ways of living that can only enrich and bring meaning to life.  At its’ core, our journey is not about how much money we make, or what titles or things we acquire.  It is about experiencing what this world has to offer, its’ people, its’ cultures, its’ community.

As our vacation ended and we were on the water taxi back to Almirante, tears filled my eyes.  A piece of my heart was staying in Bocas, and as the taxi motored across the water, I was already longing to return.  I will be back, perhaps to stay, to this place where I truly felt like myself, like the person I was born to be.

 

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Celebrating the Connections

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Recently I had the privilege and honor of being inducted along with my girl’s basketball teammates into my high school athletic hall of fame. Now you may be thinking “what’s the big deal?” and, frankly, a part of me felt the same way going into this event.   But now, having seen my teammates from nearly 40 years ago, and heard the speeches of the other inductees, the importance of this event in my life has been profound.

I have been overwhelmed lately by feelings of isolation. Isolated because I’m single. Isolated because of my job that consumes so much of my time and energy.  Isolated because, well, sometimes I just need to be alone and away from the busyness of life. It’s not a bad thing to be alone, and one can often find renewal in solitude and quiet. But when isolation leads to the destruction of connections to loved ones and to those who are and have been a part of our lives, it can deeply affect one’s feelings of connection to the universe.  A sense of purpose can be lost.

The decades that have elapsed since the last basket was made have in no way destroyed the memories of that time.   Seeing my former teammates for the first time in many years could have been awkward. We have all gone our separate ways, and most do not keep in touch, except through Facebook, but even then what do we really have in common? Our lives are vastly different now than they were when we were teenagers.   Yes, seeing them could have been awkward, but it wasn’t. We hugged, talked, cried and laughed as though those decades that had passed were mere minutes.   The shared experiences that we lived through as teenagers created lifelong connections that lay dormant in my memory until I stepped through the door to the auditorium.

Reflecting on my emotions of that evening, I realized that we are forever connected to those who cross our path. Separation by time, distance or even death does not destroy the connection. The connection lies in our memories and, more importantly, in our hearts.   If we simply allow them to come forth, we can celebrate them for how they have enriched our lives.

 

 

Beauty Survives the Storm

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Over the past several days, northern California has been pummeled with heavy rain and wind. Streets are littered with tree branches and other remnants of vegetation unable to withstand the battering winds. Swollen creeks and overloaded storm drains leave behind mud and debris. All in all, it’s been a mess, however much needed in our parched State.

During a short break between storms, I ventured outside to breathe in some fresh, rain-washed air and to survey the damage to my back yard. After what seemed like non-stop rain and winds for the past several days, the first thing I noticed was the stillness. Not even a breath of wind stirred the rain-soaked earth and what remained of the bare trees. Taking in this wonderful stillness, amidst the dormancy of winter, I observed a single brilliant rose, perfectly formed, still holding the raindrops that had doused its petals.   A rose, still beautiful, even after the storm.

Redwoods in the Forest

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In fully taking advantage of my holiday time off from my 9 to 5, the other day I went for a solo hike at Big Basin, a redwood forest only several miles from Silicon Valley.  Every time I visit Big Basin, I am struck by the presence of a divinely beautiful forest located only a short drive from the center of the technological world.

Solo hikes are a great way to meditate on the move, so to speak.   Being completely alone on the trails in a heavily wooded forest (save for the occasional fellow hiker to say ‘hello’ to) provides me the time to think about nothing but the beauty that surrounds me.  As I started my hike, I stopped for a moment to breathe in the cool, damp, mossy air, filling my lungs completely with it.  I took a moment to just look up, and look in, thankful for how fortunate I am to be in this place, at this time.  I took the time to be enveloped in the silence that only a forest can bring.

Along my hike, I paid particular notice to the enormous redwoods all around.   Oftentimes grouped in threes or fours, these mammoth trees form cathedrals that simply take your breath away.  Standing in one such redwood cathedral, looking up to the heavens to which they seemed to touch, I thought about everything these trees had seen in their hundreds-year old lives.  From a small sapling, they had experienced the warm California sun, enjoyed a stunning view over the Pacific Ocean, endured torrential rains and hurricane force winds, and still, they stand, majestic and divine and more beautiful than words can describe.

These trees whisper their tales of endurance and perseverance, and they are all the more magnificent because of it.  They  were created not only to endure, but to thrive.

Much like these resplendent gifts of nature, humankind is also created to grow in beauty and strength.  Each storm, much like each sun-kissed day, is designed to not only fortify us, but to remind us of our gloriousness.  If we take the time to really see ourselves, and those around us, focusing not only on the triumphs but also the struggles, we will be awestruck by radiance and beauty much like we are awestruck by the redwoods in the forest.

 

Attracting Good

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Wisdom traditions teach that we attract what we put out into the Universe.   I have, in the past, been somewhat skeptical of the Law of Attraction, simply because it never seemed to really work for me.   I consider myself a good person, with generally no malice or ill will toward people.   I help those in need.  I am honest and hardworking.   Still, it didn’t seem as though I was receiving the blessings or abundance that the Universe promised.

On the other side of the coin, I know people who have done wrong, and seem to come out smelling like a rose.   A woman has an affair with her best friend’s husband, breaks up his family, but by all appearances is happy and in love with that man as they plan their future together. Another cheats his employer and comes out financially secure.  It’s not that bad things happen in my life.  Believe me, I recognize that I am not perfect, and still am blessed beyond measure.  It just seems that sometimes, it appears that cheaters do prosper, and those who strive to be honest, and do right by themselves and those around them, get left behind.

What I have come to realize, however, is that my path is my path, just as your path is yours. The mistresses, cheaters and liars of the world have their path. Those who live a life of goodness, honesty and giving have their path. I have learned that when our paths cross, it is up to me to forgive them, help them if I can, and send them on their way with a blessing, all the while remaining on my path. The Universe will deal with them as the Universe will, just as the Universe will deal with me as It will.

When we focus on the paths of others, we miss out on the beauty of our own.

It is not our responsibility to judge others’ actions. We may be hurt or betrayed by them, but that hurt and betrayal need not define who we are, nor should it distract us from who we are. Good has come to us. Good will continue to come to us. We just have to stay on the course of our true, good self.

 

The Kindness of Strangers

The other day, I was on my way to work.  The morning had been the same as virtually every other weekday morning–got up early, worked out, ate breakfast, prayed and then got ready and headed off to work (I know, I do a LOT before 9:00 a.m.!).  As I was driving, I experienced a fleeting, yet overwhelming feeling that something special was going to happen this day.  No matter how hard I prayed, I just couldn’t seem to get this feeling back, because it felt so good.  I thanked God for His blessing and continued on my way.

As I was stopped at the light near my office, I absent-mindedly was looking around at my surroundings.  At this particular stop light, there are bus stops on either side of the street, and I often watch the people waiting for their transportation to wherever they are going.  I sometimes watch these people and say prayers for them; sometimes I am just watching them with no particular thought in my head.  This day was different, however.  I began watching an Asian woman, likely in her mid-50’s or so, walking toward the bus stop on the other side of the street.  She was blind and was using a cane to navigate her way down the sidewalk.  She moved slowly, and somewhat tentatively as she came upon a large electrical box adjacent to the sidewalk.  As she approached it, it appeared as though she would walk right into it, but her cane alerted her to its’ existence and she started slowly making her way to a clear path.

Suddenly, I observed a young Hispanic gentleman, maybe around 30 years old, walk up to her and say something to her.  She smiled broadly, grabbed his arm and he led her, slowly and safely, to the bus stop 50 feet away.  That fleeting feeling that I experienced earlier came back in a rush, and tears instantly came to my eyes. I had just witnessed a very simple, yet profound, act of kindness.  This young man, who had been waiting at the bus stop down the way, didn’t have to walk the 50 feet to help this woman.  This woman, who no doubt does not allow her blindness to prevent her from getting out and about, didn’t ask for his help, but willingly and with a big smile on her face gladly received it.  This incredible, blessed act of kindness will forever link these two strangers, as well as myself, who was fortunate and blessed enough to have witnessed it.

The light turned green and after blessing these two and thanking God for allowing me to witness this, I had to continue on to work, but I knew that I had experienced God in a very close and personal way that morning.  I went into my office with such a feeling of lightness, peace and joy that cannot be put into words.  Whenever the pressures of the workday reared their head (and at my job, that happens often), I thought back to that display of kindness and was brought back to that place of incredible peace and joy.  To this day, when I replay the image of that encounter in my mind, my eyes still well up with gratitude.  Sometimes, it’s the kindness of strangers toward each other that is the greatest gift.   I was simply a fortunate by-stander in this display, but was profoundly and forever impacted by it.  For that, God, I express my deepest gratitude.

 

I like being alone..

Horacio Jones wrote:  “I like being alone.  I have control over my own shit.  Therefore, in order to win me over, your presence has to feel better than my solitude.  You’re not competing with another person, you are competing with my comfort zones.”

I like being alone.  Not entirely, however, for the reasons stated in the above quote.  In solitude, I can spend time with God, which, I have come to realize, is THE most important, joyful, peaceful and loving time I can ever spend on this earth.  In this regard, Horacio Jones got it right:  “your presence has to feel better than my solitude.”  If spending a night out with friends, or constantly having another person in my ‘space’ feels better to me than spending time with God, then my priorities are out of whack.

These past two weeks for me have been a tale of two extremes.  Last week, I spent the week busy and hurried, in preparation for hosting a Christmas dinner for my entire family.   Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the purpose in the preparations.  I also immensely enjoyed spending time with my family.  But once it was over, I was glad to have my peace and quiet-my solitude-back.

This week of the impending New Year has swung to the opposite extreme.  My son has been away snowboarding with his father, and I have had the house, and my time, completely and utterly alone.  No commitments, no preparations to make, no expectations on my time.  And this week has been insanely blissful.  Much time has been spent in prayer and reflection on the exit of yet another year and the beginning of a new one.  This week has brought unparalleled relaxation and renewal–just what the doctor, or I believe in my case, God–ordered.  I have enjoyed the solitude of these days.  I have enjoyed running the occasional errand, with no stress attached, and with my heart open to whatever the day may bring.  I have taken drives to nowhere and discovered beautiful places in the Bay Area that I have never seen.  This is the way that life should be lived.  I think I may have just come up with my resolution for 2016!  How wonderful!