From the very beginning this trip was all about Gratitude, including the absence of Gratitude it seems we must most go through to get there.
I wasn’t feeling very grateful in the time leading up to this and I was in desperate need of an attitude adjustment. After a few years in a marriage that kept getting jabbed in the stomach, the knockout punch finally came. It floored me horizontally and then completely turned my world upside down. The effect of this emptied my pockets, drained my heart, and filled my head up with years worth of accumulated emotional flotsam. Anger, bitterness, sadness, grief, loneliness, and despair were only slightly countered by an underlying sense of freedom at finally having some resolution to the uncertainty. This freedom spoke just loud enough and dared me to try her out for a whole month.
My Grace had been fading fast. I needed to stop watching all my money go to everyone besides me. Even though it appeared to be the worst possible time to leave with an ailing second studio and the mounting debt of divorce, I really had no other choice besides insanity. There would never be a perfect time other than now. Not knowing how everything would get done, I just had to let go and if it doesn’t get done, then so be it. So I paid as many bills as I could in advance, secured teachers to cover classes and help with the studio, and readied my car for travel. And then it happened….
A month off and required nowhere – My Grace Period. Somehow, everyone in my life that I am responsible for has given me the gift of getting to be only responsible for myself. Gratitude is wide AWAKE. It is becoming conscious of itself.
THE FRIDAY BEFORE
The trip is taking shape and the day before departure evolves fortuitously if not at least providing a little encouragement. One of my major concerns is how the hell am I going to pay for this trip and so the universe offers me a few signs.
I go to have a slow leak fixed in my left front tire, (so often it seems that my body has a similar injury to my car). This service is gratefully free since I had bought my tires there. Thank You! While I wait on the service and arrange all the various packings in my car, I notice that my tag had expired in April – and they never send me a tag renewal, probably because I move so often that the post office finally gave up. I should really get this taken care of before I drive across the country. So I head to the always-crowded Jefferson County DMV downtown. Astonishingly I have to wait only 15 minutes at the most! I do pay a whopping swollen sum for 2 stickers and a thin piece of aluminum but I have time now…. and time is money.
I’d had a facial and eyebrow wax a few days ago, (trade out – blessed) and so I figure to get my hair cut that I might feel ready for anything. And so I use a favor from a free yogini. I offer to pay and she says, “Thanks for the yoga” and I say “Mucho Gracias!”
While waiting on her to arrive, I slip over for lunch and enjoy some sushi. The food comes quick and as I most every time do, I bless my food thankful for it, the food of others, and the people and elements involved. I don’t know if maybe I linger a moment longer than usual but inevitably it results in being noticed. That person pays my bill and has the server let me know. I look around longingly enough that eventually this giving soul speaks up. I get to express my Gratitude in the most sincere way. He explains how rare it is to see someone bless their food in public and that when he does see it, he always pays the tab. Unexpected gifts like this are truly miraculous especially with their timing.
This is a really good day and telling of the trip to come. It continues as evening settles in I attend a friend’s birthday party and everyone there is a gift. They are offering me hugs, libations, places to stay, smiles and raw entertainment. It is a lively party complete with rooftop run-off, candies & concoctions, dancing, and some sing along action. The day ends at 2 am and I’m up at 5 am to be at the airport by 6. But who needs sleep with such an ensuing Grace Period?
Prelude: Life is the best yoga!
I am whizzed away to San Diego Airport and a shuttle bus takes me across the Mexican border to Rancho la Puerta or The Ranch. OMFG!!! (Oh My Feeling Gratitude). Insert pictures here.
Walking paths, grounds, and organic gardens.
I can’t even begin to describe the schedule of events without a full dissertation much less the lush grounds and organic gardens that made for the most delicious food – vegetarian except for cheese, dairy, and an option for fish. This is perfectly me. I did classes: pilates, meditation, yoga, feldencrais, crystal bowls, circuit classes, hydro fit in the pool, swam laps and took naps in hammocks and on lawns. I hiked every morning in the mountains where Indians used to live and die. I made friends and connections. My bodymind was just glowing with Gratitude that all this was happening – for free. I had made friends with a healer and teacher that worked and lived on the ranch who has a mother here in Birmingham. She would come and teach and take classes here and always said I had an open invitation to stay at the ranch. THANK YOU!
I meet a family while there who takes me in like their own. We meet by pure chance as the hostess for dinner seats me in the one remaining chair at a large round table. We get to know each other’s stories and share many laughs. They catch me every time they see me at dinner alone and we end up planning the morning hikes together. One of the daughters is attending Duke and immediately my heart and lungs start playing basketball against my stomach and liver. And then I think I feinted for a bit when she said that she will get me into a Duke basketball game in the student section this year! I’m telling you, I need a bigger word than Gratitude at this point. I must be in a dream.
We continue to hang and become minor partners in crime. We smuggle in some beer and tequila and watch the NBA playoffs. We bring more tequila to the one night that alcohol is actually served on the ranch at their wine bar. This certainly loosens up the conversation and makes everyone’s smile just a bit bigger for the evening. All the exercise and good eating we are doing only enhances our minor diversions and in the spirit of moderation, it is perfectly placed.
The weather is beautiful with cool nights and warm days and paradise becomes a reality here.
Back in Birmingham for Mother’s Day and dinner with the family including my sister and my niece and nephew. It seems appropriate that I see everyone one last time before heading off into the wild from which I may never return due to death or delight of my liberated soul. Mom insists on paying even though it is her day. My glow of gratefulness shines brighter still. Like any good mom, she is worried about her son financially and physically and wants to help in any way she can. I gave her, The Power of Now by Tolle as a must have for being in the present moment while her son embarks on a journey from which he may never return.
I sleep late Monday and get on the road to Asheville a little apprehensive that I don’t have a place to stay yet. I use my new app, AirB&B and end up at a newly cleared plot of land where the owners are renovating some older style classic version of a house on wheels. It looks like an old diner car of chrome. The land is just dirt, or now mud in some spots and it backs up to a row of houses, one of which keeps goats while the other keeps chickens and roosters. Sleeping that night I have moments many that are absent of Gratitude. I am not feelin it and without it, other lesser emotions are revealed. Doubt, worry, fear, self-judgment, sadness, and regret all show up for a potential pity party.
I go out that night that I might spend as little time there as possible and it only perpetuates what is already stirring within me. Being brave I sign up for an unexpected open mic night. By the time I get to play, I am humbled and awed at the really good players before me and their song writing abilities. I am experiencing worry doubt and fear instead of being inspired. And so I completely blow it. Everyone politely claps and says kind words afterwards but I know the reality and down a little further I go. I play chess with someone. I lose. Looking back I could mantra, ‘At least I tried!’ but I just left eventually, tired and equally dejected at having to go to camp in such conditions. And sure enough, I toss and turn all night unable to find good rest. The 4:00am Kundalini roosters do not help my cause.
I scoot out of there in the morning to meet a never met friend for coffee. She is moving to Birmingham and will be teaching at our studio. We chat about opportunities and Asheville and the weather. She thinks she can find me a place to stay. She does. I am sleeping in a bed at a clean house with huge friendly dogs and regular size friendly people. They are so laid back with a stranger staying in the house and they make me a smoothie before they leave in the morning. Thank you!! It is starting to flow again.
More accommodations come through for the next 3 nights at a house in Black Mountain. This is thanks to another very new friend that was visiting Birmingham from California and bending with TYC. I have a whole house to myself 2 mins from quaint and cozy downtown Black Mountain. I drink my house-made chai and coffee at The Drip. The Gratitude had come back full force with straight up blessings upon me! Life is a Tony-the-tiger type of Great. Or picture the Kool-Aid guy busting through the wall. That’s what I feel like.
The Asheville Breakdown – I hike up a river on rocks to a waterfall. I skinny-dip in cold mountain water. I drive the Blue Ridge Pkwy. I drink local beEr. (the E is a typo but looks much like a burp!) I play ping-pong and cornhole. I do yoga and get to see live music outdoors by a Birmingham band, St. Paul and the Broken Bones who are singing soul to my soul. I even find some redemption playing guitar on the streets with the local musicians with whom I feel more at ease. We sing and play and people drop money in my street friends’ guitar cases. The people walk away singing right along with us. But as one song says, “Said I dig you baby but I got to keep moving… on …keep moving on.” Time to leave this good energy green yoga mecca and head towards another one.
GO WEST YOUNG MAN!
My sites are on Nashville for a short first leg and I arrive easily in the early afternoon. I am camping on a lake and I stroll its banks and just lookout. It is all very peaceful and calm and yet there is an unmistakable loneliness to it as well. But these are my eyes looking out and being alone is something I’m having to learn all over again. I realize, that is why I’m out here – to face myself and find contentment (santosha) by witnessing the longing and redirecting that energy back inward.
And so alone I remain that night in Nashville even as I peruse the town indulging on local beer and chef specials. No music found me nor did I find music and so I sang in the car on my way back to the campground with only a trace of longing in my timbre.
I am on the road early after a much more restful camping experience. Kansas City is my aim through St. Louis – two 4 -5 hour drives that sound perfectly pleasant.
I Love St. Louis right off. Can’t tell you exactly why but the feel of the city on my skin was like home. The architecture, the layout, the parks and communities, the diversity and friendliness of people, a baseball game was starting – all these and more made me smile a grin of gratitude for the day unfolding. I went straight to the arch, (it’s kinda hard to miss) and snag a quick parking spot at a church. I prayed hard for no tickets and God was with me. Looking up at the arch makes my legs buckle with the feelings of height even though both feet are on firm ground. All I can think about is how cool of a water slide the arch would make!
I google vegetarian restaurants and it puts me in a hip strip on S. Grand St., as I would learn later from some friends that have not yet been introduced. I walk this strip and see every ethnic food choice I can imagine until I arrive at the Ethiopian place I am seeking. Trust me, it was hard to keep my focus while hungry and passing all these amazing temptations. I’m glad I did though because this food nourished my soul. It was truly the best food I’d had in years and I look back still stunned that I found this perfect sustenance. You can bet I blessed this food and felt blessed by it.
The novelty continued as I realized there was a play taking place right there in the restaurant. I was sitting by a curtain that the performers used to exit and enter the stage. Fake guns, costumes, and mustaches included. Afterwards, I struck up a conversation with 3 African men that were part of the U.S. military. We got into a deep conversation about war and peace and the religious motives that have perpetuated so much violence. We ultimately came to a concurrence of God being bigger than any religion. It all seemed so simple to us then…. If we just agree to focus on what all religions have in common then God the Interceptor will come before war.
I bid farewell to my new friends and scoot off towards Kansas City after picking up a double-dirty chai in my 20-year-old milkshake cup. That cup and I have been through so much that it is a friend of mine. It holds so much energy in its stainless steel that it has found its way back to me frequently. Thank you guides and guardian angels for bringing me here.
I make it to the K.C. campground merely minutes before they close for the night. Just another small miracle that says my timing is good. It was again situated on a lake; being near the water was becoming a strong theme on my trip. I slept that night with the rainfly off and enjoyed a light breeze with a million stars in site.
Not even a typical state line sign.
On the road again,’ (Willie) and up early, Colorado bound! I realize that most of the day will be taken up with Kansas. That is one long horizontal stretch with absolutely nothing of interest unless you favor 5 legged cows, the world largest prairie dog, or shopping for baby pigs. Or maybe you like corn and soybeans. Even the first half of Colorado is similarly bleak and desolate until the mountains pop up on the horizon posing as a beacon of hope and change for weary travelers.
I pause in Boulder like I have been at sea for months and was finally feeling land beneath my feet. I get my bearings and find a campsite Northwest in the rocky mountains. I set the GPS and check the old school paper map (which I like best) but this would prove to be a difficult and yet wonderful search for rest.
The sun sets as I head up winding mountain roads, running the course of the river that had long ago made its own road. GPS fails instantly and my map does not have the details of this mountain highway. I wind up and up curious if I am missing a sign or a turn in the increasing darkness. It’s been an hour already. With mounting trepidation I continue into the unknown. I am tiring and thinking I am going to have to sleep in my car. I began to scout out pull offs where it didn’t seem like too many rocks would fall and crush my car. And with no small miracle this time, I start to come down the backside of a mountain and my GPS lights up and chimes in to say, ‘Take your next left in 200 ft. Whew! Because I know I wasn’t about to venture or even see down Mary’s Lake Rd. 20 minutes later I see the sign for my campground and it says ‘Vacancy!’ My mind does a mountain Macarena mini dance around my spinal cord and flies out the top of my head. A deep exhale follows and it is unmistakably the feeling of Gratitude.
And still God was with me as I pull in and circle round in search of a place to call home.
After two times around a loop in the dark, a girl approaches my car and helps me. She is camping with her boyfriend and points me to another loop as this one is full. So the miracle is, and I shit you not, (because I am from Alabama), I get the last spot available! I mean, COME ON! The universe is affirming faith in the unknown, framing the fortitude of spirit, and making miracles through small possibilities. For me, it is confirming my Grace Period. Thank You.
My new friend invites me to come back and hang out after I make camp and so I do, now all of sudden not tired. It turns out that Adam and Danielle are in school studying metaphysics. They read me a broad swath of deeply inclusive philosophic ‘lesson plans’ that they will have to ‘comprehend’ before they can move on to the next. They are richly layered with yogic premise, speaking of the Kundalini energy at the base of the spine, seva (selfless service), breath meditation, and paralleling the yamas and niyamas. It was so nice to just sit and listen to it being read. I am receiving and I accept it fully without feeling any need to reciprocate. We meditate that night in the simple silence of new friends under the watch of great snow covered mountains. They give up one of their sleeping bags so I won’t be cold and I receive this humbly as well. Gratitude lights my way back through the dark.
I arrive to my new tent home at 11:11 pm; a time I seem to see twice a day and sometimes more. I know this number signifies so much beyond any personal connection. It is a time of growth and change, a recharging of the spirit, and a call to pay attention. I recognize and I keep my eyes wide.
Adam and Danielle live in St. Louis where I had just eaten such divine delights. New friends in a town I immediately liked. We catch site of each other in the morning and I lead them through their first Kundalini class. They love how it relates to their studies and how it leaves them peacefully altered. We exchange numbers and hugs and home they head.
That was Monday I arrived in Colorado, which makes for a tidy beginning, although honestly I would frequently forget what day of the week it was. After yoga with my new friends, I head into Boulder to get myself situated. I need supplies and a good shower. The following would become a common schedule for me: find a coffee shop, charge my phone, and plan my day with a little help from the Internet. Yoga studios would become my catharsis – a reset button for all the mental and physical shifts that were occurring.
From camp to town was a good 90-minute drive and while beautiful beyond belief, it is still ample time to spend in a car. As my body is adjusting, so too my mind is adapting from its normal business of work and responsibility. It’s been two weeks and my mind is still in half shock at all the free space it has for processing and downloading. Some part of it is in disbelief while another hemisphere is in full embrace of its newfound freedom.
Yoga takes on a new hue. I am anonymous and get to be a true student again. Not knowing the teacher or students, yoga becomes very meditative for me. My focus is tuned into my surroundings in a way only traveling can inspire. With the elevation, my breath is brand new, the energy of my fellow practitioners is practically palpable, while the teachers voice and delivery magnetize my attention. I sweat more than usual, possibly due to my body being use to sweating more frequently.
Every class is full with sometimes 3 classes going on at once at the same studio. The teachers are certainly good and some are just standard, but without being Alabama biased, I can honestly say we have some of the best teachers. As a studio owner, I’ve heard this multiple times about our city from other traveling yogis. We are truly blessed in our blossoming Birmingham yoga community.
Yet yoga in Boulder and Asheville is a way of life for most people. It’s not, ‘Do you do yoga’ but ‘Where do you do yoga?’ And so of course the yoga principles and mind-sets are reflected in the surrounding economy, evident in the restaurants and retail stores. A mass of people more awake will command a new standard of living and this is how the world can be changed consciously.
We pick back up on this first Tuesday in Boulder when I am getting settled in. I will share another story with full faith that you the reader and/or casual acquaintance would not be quick to judge or make assumptions. Due to it’s historical implications and its indication of a changing society, it should be told.
As it is now approved in Colorado, I purchase marijuana legally for the first time. If for no other reason, I wanted to support my belief that this plant should be legal and utilized to heal our depleted farm lands, make paper and clothing and a 1000 other things, eaten as a superfood (hempseed), and be made available for its many medicinal applications. That countless prescription drugs and chemical laden foods with appalling side effects are not only legal but advertised, it is an atrocity that marijuana would be slandered and criminalized. We are guinea pigs when it comes to all these newly introduced laboratory concoctions and we do not know their long-term effects whereas this weed has been around and sacredly used for millennia. I will step down from the inadvertent soapbox and let you infer that I had some very enjoyable hikes!
And it was fortuitous how it happened! I was looking at yoga studios on-line in the coffee shop on this first Tuesday and a most gorgeous girl is crowding my space as she waits for her beverage. So I ask her if she has a favorite yoga studio. Turns out she teaches yoga and her favorite studio to attend is in this very location a short walk away. Yoga Pod. I asked her if she teaches in town and she says she teaches in Denver mostly. Her job in Boulder is to sell weed. Well now! It’s my first day in town and not even seeking it, it finds me. She hooks me up with some free passes to yoga and a business card. Thank You!
As it went, I would spend a couple of days hiking the surrounding mountains of my campsite and go into town for my ritual yoga showers. Most of the hikes are on top of 3-8 ft of snow leftover from the recent winter. My legs get stronger as I learn to walk on the slick surfaces, putting my feet down and using every leg muscle I have to keep them there. I develop the agility to dance across a downhill or a softer patch of snow. I learn to laugh and go with the fall, as I would sometimes sink 3 ft. down in an instant. These hikes keep you on your toes as you can easily follow a errant set of footprints off the trail, or slide down a steep embankment with one wrong step, or fall through a snow bridge over one of the many temporary yet raging rivulets heading down the mountain. Every successful hike (they all are) brings the Gratitude back in the light of how beautiful the journey and destination both have been. You focus for your life on the trail, beauty all around, and then arrive at an expansive breath-taking mountain lake upon which you can unleash your mind with the full fervor of all its carnal cravings and collective confusions. The blankets of snow absorb it all with ease. The wild outdoors will listen without judgment and provide the freedom to come and go, stop or start, to dream face to face with reality itself.
A Mountain Inspiration – There’s an intersection in the mountains where radio waves meet in unique ways. I am listening to a listener supported radio out of Fort Collins and numerous times the music is spliced into some other song smooth like a DJ as the mountains redirect the radio signals. I am listening to funk and this jazz station barges in for a bass solo and then back to funk. I ponder what it would look like if you could see these wave fields mingling and the new creations they produce.
WINDING DOWN THE MOUNTAIN
My last night in CO, I get a hotel almost just for the novelty of it and to be closer in to town for the drive out. A bed, a shower, running water, walls – Wow! Nice be not so necessary. I turn on the TV because it is there and it feels alien and overly loud at every volume. And still I get into a movie eventually…Yet this is the trap that we all fall into. It’s easy, it’s considered normal, and its what we paid for so better use it.
I get a late start no matter my plush convenient dwellings, and drive across Kansas again just to confirm how boring it actually is. After camping again in KC I end up driving all the way to Asheville instead of Birmingham to pick up my Cali friend that was sort of stranded there and needed a ride back to Alabama. I figure, what’s a few more hours and what better way to reciprocate for having stayed at her house. She is grateful and I feel good for helping.
I arrive home late Saturday and do not go into work until Monday for the first time. I am consciously different in my approach to work. I do not rush or scramble nor do I multi-task much. I’ve learned something about my former frenzies and mad pushes to get it all done. We are never done while alive. Driving across the country for 20 days I put 4,920 miles on my car and it helped me to slow down and arrive on time in the right place safely. And so the same now with work, women, and whatever life throws my direction. I will get there. You will get there. We are all already there. I can confirm that life is the best yoga if yoga is a practice of discerning our facades from our depths. And to clarify, I refer to a life altered, like light through a prism we have to be deflected off our course to shed a new light and hue on our old ways.
This trip was inspired by heavy life events that were compounding and steering me towards a major burn out. Having already experienced this before and seeing how stress operates within my own body, I was wise enough to create a change before critical mass. And it was empowering to see catastrophe coming and calmly step aside and to realize that it’s never too far away to close my eyes for too long. This trip has made me an activist for time off to live and breathe freely. I don’t know how we go about shifting the engrained mindset of ourselves and our employers but we need more vacations – a period with which to remember our Grace. I would not advise waiting for your next major life event as a catapult but to do it when life is wonderful! Do it because your soul calls for it. All clichés apply here: seize the moment, the time is now, you only live once, if not now when, life is short – just do it!