Dead Calm

Waves breaking on Paradise Beach at LEsterre Bay with an old fishing boat on the shore and the turqoise sea and Sandy Island sand bar beyond, Grenada

Sandy Island sand bar beyond, Grenada: By robertharding.com

Today, I send into your meditation the plateau. Many a dieter knows the feeling. Early efforts in their weight loss program brought swift and great results, but deeper into the discipline of eating and exercising they hit a plateau and they feel as if their progress has stagnated. They lose faith and “fall off the wagon” so to speak, believing their set goal is now unattainable.

Meditators can do this, too. Make a commitment to daily sitting, have incredible experiences at the start, see great results, but then after a time it just feels routine. As if we sit day in and day out and we feel like we’re making no meaningful progress.

We remind ourselves that there are no goals in meditation or seeking. It’s not about chasing the butterfly but remaining still that it might alight upon our hand instead and other such notions of stillness. Lovely thoughts, of course, but when we see ourselves engaging in behaviors we’d hoped meditation would’ve rid us of, such as, easy impatience or irritation, we can feel we’ve hit some weird peace plateau. We’re calmer, more peaceful, but there’s a boundary of some sort we can’t get past. We find ourselves still with self-critical thoughts or battling a vague sense of unworthiness.

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Sailboat in a dead calm: from Meditationroom.org

We start looking for other strategies, believing meditation has taken us as far as we can go. Or we come to believe this is just as good as it gets, maybe.

Plateaus offer us two very powerful opportunities. The first is the state of adjustment. We see plateaus as stagnation, when really they are points of adjusting to our newer self. Just like hiking a mountain where the legs dearly love straightaways where they can recoup before the next climb, plateaus offer us the same thing. A chance to regroup and adjust to this newer version of us that has been evolving within our practice.

And too, as losing weight too fast can cause huge setbacks, we need time to adjust to new states of being. Spots on the path where we can integrate all that we’ve absorbed in our practice, before moving on. These periods of integration and adjustment help us advance our practice. It’s those, seemingly uneventful, straightaways that allow us to garner new energy for the next leg of our spiritual journey.

Second, plateaus frequently have important gifts we have yet to see. The wind has vacated our sails and we sit in calm water, because there is something here. Something important for us to grasp, learn, take in, and/or understand in some fashion. This dead calm in the midst of our journey is a gift. The plateau has a deep and meaningful purpose. There is a gem of understanding waiting for us to become mindful to that is right in front of us. Now is the time to double down and really sink into our practice.

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From Pinterest

Rarely is what we’re needing to observe hard to find. Usually, it’s staring us right in the face; requiring little more than true mindfulness. What are we thinking about day to day, minute to minute? What emotions are lingering either clearly like a constant irritation or quieter, behind our general thinking, like sorrow? How are we behaving? How do we treat ourselves and others? What are our complaints really about? What worries hold sway?

If we spend time mindfully watching ourselves in the same detached way we sit, we will often find nuggets of awareness that have become as Story Water’s refers to as ‘wallpaper’. Stuff we’ve been thinking, feeling, doing for so long it’s simply become wallpaper in our lives. Things we tolerate within ourselves that aren’t serving us at all. To see them, we often need to be stuck in one spot, until we stop seeing the spot we’re in as familiar and begin to see it with new eyes.

The plateau is here for us to stop moving, intentionally, and look more deeply at what is before us. It is not a block to progress, but rather a powerful indicator of a place we’ve brought ourselves to, to see, hear, feel, and heal something vital within us. The plateau is part of our progress, not outside of it.

So if we’ve lost our wind and the sails hang still, we need to take a deep breath. Put in check the seductive desire to complain about where we are. Take a seat and recommit to the journey we so wisely stepped onto however many moons ago. Either give ourselves permission, time and space to integrate all that we’ve developed within, to this point, or get curious and alert and look around. There are likely pearls of wisdom and understanding falling all about our feet. The moment we are in now, has everything we seek and will move us forward when the timing is right and the wind’s steady.

If you enjoyed this piece, I would be delighted if you checked out my book using this link or the link above. Namaste…

Bare Feet

Bare Feet: Photo by Noelle

Bare Feet: Photo by Noelle

I remember Wayne Dyer speaking of walking on grass in bare feet whenever he couldn’t sleep. He traveled so much that he’d learned to do this whenever it was possible and found he slept well, with little jet lag. He believed the body finds rhythm when it touches, intimately, the earth.

Sleep, for this menopausal woman, is an art form I am determined to master. So sandals in hand I stepped onto the grass. The sprinkler system had run earlier and the grounds were all wet. The water was cold, but the air warm enough it wasn’t unpleasant. I began walking the lawn planning on a tour or two before donning my shoes and finishing my walk. I found the cool, soft feeling of the grass so pleasant though, that I lingered.

After a time, I stepped out onto the cement sidewalk, and then the hard-packed dirt and scrub grass of the further path. Each sensation registered in my feet with acute awareness. Seeds stuck to my soles, some hard and older, many soft and fuzzy. I felt the ragged edge of a stone and the cushioned step of a bed of dandelions. A burr in my little toe stopped me short and was remedied just as quickly. Without shoes each step registered clearly in my mind. The weight and length of each stride became a mantra of sorts. Surfaces were rough or soft, warm or cold, hard or permeable and the impression of each experience kept me keenly aware of where I was. Not merely lost in thought, but lost in sensation.

I walked without shoes for almost an hour.

When I was a child I spent all summer free of shoes. My soles would be tough as shoe leather by summer’s end. I traveled woods and lakes, streams and bogs. I loved adventures that involved climbing trees and hopping stones. Huck Finn had nothin’ on this tom boy knee-deep in lake muck looking to catch a painted turtle. As I walked I thought a lot about her, skin tanned, shins scabbed and dirt under every single fingernail.

After a day in front of computers, breathing canned air and pondering life under fluorescent, I find she is a welcome visitor to my mind and my feet. She pushes out a sterility that has settled in on the shirt tail of professional attire, heels and security badges. The walk has turned from an exercise in sleeping to one of being awake.

If anyone’s interested I slept seven hours straight. Thank you, Wayne….

Already Here

Mohegan's Bluff, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

Mohegan’s Bluff, Block Island: Photo by Noelle

Allow yourself to think today as if your life is already what you want it to be. Watch what happens when you do not succumb to your own stories of limitation.

Namaste and Happy Thursday, Noelle

Apex

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Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

This is how magic happens.

I had signed up for a night hike with the Sierra Club at Apex with a friend. At the last minute the friend couldn’t come, but I decided to still go. I checked my info and arrived at the Heritage Club parking lot at 6:15 and then waited. When no one appeared I realized something was wrong. I went back to the Sierra site which confirmed date and time, but when I called the organizer she said it had been arranged through meetup.com and they’d changed the time to Sunday night. I never got the notice. So there I was with my nifty head lamp, hiking boots with duct tape on my heels and nothing else to do on a Saturday night. I decided to be bold and go on the hike anyway.

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Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

All my previous night adventures had been in open space and parks near or in town. Wildlife would certainly be present, but lions and bears much less likely. Apex would most definitely afford the possibilities of such encounters and the prospects left me terrified and exhilarated at the same time. I stood at the entrance for a minute assuring myself I was ready for this and headed off.

I passed the last stragglers coming down from earlier hikes leaving the trails mostly empty, except for a single trio. Clearly they’d been smoking weed and laughing like that caterpillar was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. None had proper gear on and they all reminded me of my former self. They became confused as which side of the trail to stand on to allow me to pass, so they kept darting from one side to the other trying to get all three to one side, which lit their laughter up like a Christmas tree. I laughed with them. Who needs weed? You just need three young weed smokers, the memory of your former ridiculous self and it all becomes a wondrous joke.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

With so few hikers or bikers the thickets were alive with movement. Rabbits, moles, voles and mice scurried beneath the foliage as I approached. The sky above my head was thriving with dragonflies dashing about catching bugs, riding the warm gusts traveling up the valley from town. As sunset moved into night, wildflowers that I thought were gone this late in the summer were fully open all over the hillsides. The cooler night temps seduced them out of hiding and graced my view with lavenders, fresh whites and rich yellows.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

I have hiked Apex before so knew the trail. Up the valley, through the forest, over the high glens and back down the other side of the valley to connect with the lower trail to the lot. I came upon several bridges that crossed streams and waterfalls I’ve crossed before, but in the dark they got me thinking of the old children’s story, “Billy Goat’s Gruff”. I pondered the trolls gnashing their teeth hoping for dinner. Though the sky was light, the creek beds had now fallen more into dark and the prospects of a snotty-nosed creature underneath suddenly seemed very real.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

I passed out of the valley into the Enchanted Forest that was anything but Enchanted in the dark. Weird screeches from birds I’d not heard before assaulted me once beneath the canopy. Several wails of animals whose lives were cut short pierced the darkness, startling my step. A pale sky could only be seen in rare patches, but instead of offering comfort, they seemed apparitions of ghosts floating above me. Water trickling came as a sick seeping to my ears rather than the lovely babble of daylight hours. The cute scurries of furry beasts in the thickets now set my nerves on edge. Hansel and Gretel came to mind only to be replaced quickly by the Blair Witch Project and I wondered often about turning back. In the dark a bear could be in front of me and I would hardly see it. Turning on my headlamp felt like a beacon to the nefarious and so I trudged on in the dark. Often I looked back along the trail, fearful of something following me only to have my eyes trick me on what was there. Clearly, I was spooking myself in the worst way. My step picked up faster and faster as I climbed quickly to the open, high glens.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

At the far end as the wood gave way I found myself furtively casting about for large game. The forest had left me edgy and my luck didn’t feel quite so true. My bold steps of earlier were now constantly shifting to look about me.  All I saw were deer who were as surprised to see me, as if I’d just walked into my neighbor’s living room. The deer eating so casually encouraged me that no larger beasts were about and I stopped to drink, orient myself and draw my courage back out of my belly where it appeared to be hiding under my liver.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

It was then I came upon the most spectacular patch of yellow wild flowers. I stopped to gaze on them and take some photos. When I looked up the sky had grown much darker it seemed. It was as if the light of the flowers had sucked out the rest of the day into their bloom. Even my eyes could see little after gazing upon them. I wondered at their magic and though the night seemed darker by their brilliance, I felt lighter and safer as I turned for home.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

The trail headed now due east and with a more steadfast step I began my decent. Having survived my own fears in the forest I once again felt bold and outrageous to be out on the hillside in the dark. I turned on my new and nifty headlamp, but this obliterated any view outside the scope of the light. Though likely foolish I turned it off. A twisted ankle would’ve been fateful for sure, but I felt more a raccoon with eyes meant for the night and trusted my feet to find their way. There may be a fool’s power in that happy, downward step when one feels they’ve escaped greater mishap, but I was seized by it all the same. I’d made it through the forest and crossed the fields without trouble. The golden wildflowers assured me my way home would be clear.

The moon rose over Green Mountain as I came close to the end. I watched the city sparkle and felt the cool mountain air at my back. I find I feel the adventurer again, courageous and true. All weakness and fear now left in the dust. The golden flowers must have sucked it all up with the light.

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Apex Park: Photo by Noelle

Lakefront Easy

Lakefront at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lakefront at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Exhausted from almost eleven straight days of work I headed off to Chatfield. The three-day weekend promised at the end of the work run was now upon me, but the vestiges of long days dragged at my heels. The lake seemed the perfect place to begin my unraveling and as hoped, on a Friday after school had started, it was comparatively empty. With the exception of a few people I had the entire lake walk to myself. My gratitude for this would be hard to express.

Lakefront path at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lakefront path at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lately, I have found being deeply present with others in my work, almost easier, but then my need for silence and less stimulation when I leave work has grown with it. I needed the trails to myself, which in an urban metropolis isn’t easy to find. I wonder at times if this is what all our country’s rage is about. All the easy frustration, road rage and disconnection. We all need more silence. More peace. Less bells and whistles. Less demands on our time and attention. We are overstimulated to the point of chronic irritation. I slowed my step to sync my mind with meditative awareness.

Flooding throughout the spring has left the trails still disrupted. Some areas remained washed out while others were littered with logs. The start of the hike was hot with little wind and I remained close to the shore. Millions of dead leaves, now mere carcasses of their former selves, covered the sand. Each a curious art form in their rotting down to skeletal state.

Sections of the wood were immersed in sand, clearly demonstrating how high the waters had come off the lake. In some places the beach and wood were now almost one. Huge trees had been ripped from their moorings and now laid humbled upon the beach. My feet sunk down as I walked among the trunks listening to the buzz of cicadas. This is their last hurrah. Fall will nip our heels sooner than the dead heat would ever give away.


As I walk I must weave in and out of the woods or traverse huge mud flats and shallow inlets trying to find the original path or one now made up. Walkways have washed out from all the lake flooding and I slug through in sandals, delighted to be wet. There was a time when I would dress in such tight gear to not be touched by the elements or get too dirty. I laugh just to write this, as the thought of not allowing my feet to get wet seems insane to me now. I walk in hiking sandals that have plenty of holes for water to rush in and I donned them just so. I stand in a stream and let it cleanse me of hours of busyness and demand.
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I see how the small ways in which I blocked myself off have been eroded and washed away like these flooded inlets. I am permeable, I am porous, I am wearing away my former self as the wind bleaches the exposed roots of these lakeside trees.

Lake trail at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Lake trail at Chatfield State Park: Photo by Noelle

Soldier On

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

They were quite beautiful against the bright yellow wildflowers. I thought I’d capture them on camera and see if I could bring their brilliance to life on my blog. They’re Colorado Soldier Beetles and they were everywhere. Covering every yellow bush I could see. I came close and began taking pictures. I noticed they seemed to be on top of each other. I stopped taking pictures and looked more closely. Every single beetle I could see was actually a pair. The bushes were covered in copulating beetles.

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

I laughed till my belly shook. I laughed so loud it echoed off the foothills as I sat in the middle of that field with mating Soldier beetles.

“Pardonnez mon intrusion, mes amis. Continuer!”

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

Colorado Soldier Beetles: Photo by Noelle

Blue Heron

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The day proved long, as Monday’s can often feel. A late afternoon rain had cooled everything down and I left to walk the marsh and smell the clean air. I traveled sans electronics choosing to hear cicadas, starlings, and gossipy red-wings rather than risk a phone call or hear a song I’d heard many times before on the iPod. It’s curious how silence has slipped into me. Over the last year a hunger for quiet has grown up in me more fertile and prosperous than dandelions. I love music and dance often in my home, but the days of ear buds and sounds other than nature along my trails seem more past than present these days.

Movement atop the tall stand of trees to the west caught my eye and reminds me why I came out this evening. I won’t say I regretted my lack of camera as he began his circling decent onto the pond, but my hand reflexively traveled to my pocket looking for something to capture his flight. Without any gear to speak of I was left with nothing but my awareness to capture the moment and that, in the end, was my good fortune. He circled twice before landing on the far side, adjusting his wings briefly before slowly strolling through the reeds to the water’s edge. They are, in every sense, magnificent birds. Large with bold markings and yet they move as Buddhist monks on a walking meditation – slow, deliberate, thoughtful. I slow to share in his mindfulness while watching his head turn slightly to catch the sight of fish below the surface. He sees far more in that water than I and so I bow as I pass, one sort of master to another.

The day’s chaos has already floated off and I am struck by what an extraordinary life I lead. I walk in beauty with funds to meet my needs, food in my belly, good use for my hands and time to ponder what has been given me. As often happens when I give my strain to the twilight air, I have been set right by a heron with the grace of flight and sunset water.