This time last year I had wrapped my day climb of Mt. Whitney and was preparing for the swim from Alcatraz to Crissy Field. Life was chaotic but not overwhelming, occasionally marred by interactions with The Genius or ludicrous events like T-Shirt Gate. I thought I was weeks away from being divorced, and would be weeks away from neatly tying up all the lose ends of dealing with adultery. I recall coming to the conclusion that my life from that point forth was going to be about the senses, to include intuition. But at the time I was focused on taste, smell, touch, seeing (with two eyes) and hearing. Basically, food, wine, encounters and adventurous athletic pursuits. Not necessarily in that order, and not an exhaustive list, but those four food groups were to be a constant presence in my pyramid of life.
On a drive through the hills of Marin visions of my future lured me west. Perhaps a cafe or restaurant that was open entirely to the outdoors, as if plucked from a cliff in Costa Rica, and now perched over Tomales Bay. We’d have fire pits and serve gourmet popcorn and farm-inspired cocktails. Maybe Mr. Delicious would help launch it. We’d nurture a gaggle of fans, treat them like members of a family, and create a place where a beautiful spirit could sink into a couch and satisfy all their senses.
Well, the ones that could be satisfied while clothed.
My inner restauranteur, encounter junkie and athlete would be tended to while I built a business that could be passed on to the dudes if they were game. If I did it right, I could save up some cash to buy an apartment in Buenos Aires where Tango, Malbec and some smokin’ hot man named Javier would be in charge of my sensory fulfillment.
…I love that girl. Eyes wide, brave, spirited, willing to push herself beyond where she had ventured in the past. Creator of What ifs? and I cans! Willing to be vulnerable and honest. She’s pretty cool. And a bit naive.
And now she shares space with a liberated me.
Fred and Frankie, of The Calmmune, committed to get lost with me for 18 miles of fun on Mt. Tam this week. Frankie had to bail. I’m certain it wasn’t because he was overly intimidated, but rather because he’s launching a cool new business. So Fred and I set off for his first summit of Mt. Tamalpais. Last July I took a breather from Tam for Whitney and the Bay, so I was not prepared for the chill and tree rain – fog that collects on branches and then gathers steam, and girth, as it rolls down and then off, landing on my nose, in my hair, on my hands so cold I could barely bend the fingers to open my water bottle. So I just tilted my head back and collected from the evergreens.
The first part of the Matt Davis Trail switchbacks its way through forest and ferns and moss covered rocks. Stairs shorten the trail and extend the burn. The first two miles are a tail kicker. At the perfect time, the forest falls away and the ocean shows off. On this day she was grey. One hundred shades of grey. Dove near the shore, two swaths of steel a mile out, heather in between, then silvery as she met the horizon. The sky mirrored her. Eventually they lost themselves in an embrace at the horizon. Even though I was hot and sweaty and my hands were freezing, I still felt like I was curled up on a window seat with a good book, nestled under a soft, knitted throw, glancing out at a sky that was about to puff out snow.
Fred was wowed.
So was I. Mt. Tam had never looked so gorgeous. Wet, rich, mysterious, alive; her energy was palpable, a presence that one would have to be dead to ignore. She revealed only what was needed to move forward ten paces. We stopped at Table Rock, climbing over banana slugs and tree limbs to stand cantilevered above Stinson Beach. Then continued up the switchbacks that comprise the lower third of her body. Our conversation didn’t pause and, like our hikes in the past, we went deep down with every foot of ascent.
Like many of us here at HGM, Fred is in full on self-excavation mode. Stepping out of his routines, embracing adventures and challenging himself to move beyond labels and expectations. In the past adventures may have been judged as too weird, or too frivolous, but now he embraces them as a key part of living life and the way he will hone in on, or reclaim, his path.
…Life is not supposed to be a slog. We really are supposed to be enjoying ourselves here…
Big questions occupy his mind. Mine, too. Through our discourse we try out answers on each other.
I felt safe expressing to him the changes that I was experiencing within. We laughed as I told him about my weekend of my purification, or the weekend of Preparing for the Convent. (I call it that in honor of my Mom. There was a time, after my father died, where we thought she was going to enter the convent. But that would have put a huge damper on her football Sundays so she politely declined the calling.) It’s remarkable to me because of the subtle way it unfolded, and the undemanding nature of such profound changes, for a human. As if I was possessed overnight by a spirit named Moonbeam and woke up in robes and scarves and doused in Patchouli.
I had fallen off the tobacco truck a few times since I came out of the smoker’s closet. But on July 4th I walked away for good. Then, on the 5th I bid farewell to Sauvignon Blanc and Cab Franc. Coffee followed the next morning. Chocolate held on for dear life until I melted it with love and wiped away the luscious residue. Instead of feeling edgy and deprived in the days that followed the Clean Sweep, I felt beautiful. Filled with joy. And naked. I wasn’t hiding in the smoke or behind a glass or under a square of dark chocolate infused with chile. My system felt settled, no longer processing the acidic brew I fed it upon waking each day. I left them behind as if I never knew they existed.
I told Fred that it felt like the first trimester of pregnancy when things that aren’t good for you or the baby taste like battery acid. I simply didn’t want to put those things in my body. But why? Cigarettes I get. But wine? Chocolate? Coffee?
They were a crutch. More accurately, I felt they were a wall between me and realizing my absolute potential. Especially inhibiting my spiritual growth. I became aware of the routines surrounding wine, coffee and chocolate. I lusted for a cup of coffee in the morning as if it were a perfect kiss from a magnificent man. A glass of wine at the end of the day was a celebration of survival. Chocolate melting on my tongue became my evening affection, the touch I wasn’t receiving from another person.
It wasn’t the substance that I was walking away from, it was the routine that was created around them.
That weekend I chose rituals over routines.
For fifteen years I intermittently forced myself to meditate. I understood the benefits, had realized the buzzy joy that followed a deep breath session, the sense of being connected to a hose that pumped serenity and peace and love and knowing. While in a group setting I could go for hours, alone 5 minutes was a challenge.
Now I crave it.
July 4th, a day when we celebrate freedom, became the day of my liberation from fear. I feared that I couldn’t keep it together without familiar routines. I felt that I could handle anything that came my way as long as I could look forward to a treat. Something that I enjoyed that would make me feel good. None of those things makes me feel as good as I do when I tone or chant or consciously and deeply breathe, exploring my soul and connecting to the Universe. Pouring a glass of wine, however, was so much easier than sitting on a pillow and omming as my mind refused to quiet down. But nowhere near as thrilling, ultimately.
Routines become traps for me. Over time they cut me off from pure pleasure and, most importantly, from growth. My hikes become routines, even as I observe the beauty and magic that unfolds around me. As I watched Fred scale Tam I noticed how he spotted little creatures hidden under brush and stopped to crack a small leaf in half and inhale its perfume while I focused on getting to the top. Not exceeding my typical climb time was my goal. Exhilarating scenes and magical moments were enjoyed, but I didn’t slow down for them. I’d snap a picture or take a moment to burn the scene into my memory and off I’d go, pondering them as I swiftly made my way up.
Planks on the picnic tables at the West Point Inn and a piece of fruit on the summit. Couple quick stretches and down I went. The joy I felt was from the accomplishment. The magical moments and encounters powered me on, entertained me as I did what I was there to do – work it out.
At the top of the mountain clouds parted to give Fred a tease of the view. The city was obscured, the ocean blanketed. Instead of being disappointed, he was pleased that so much was being hidden and just a small taste of what will eventually be seen revealed for him. Drawing out the process of indulgence and pleasure resonated with me.
Patience. The desire to wait. To let life unfold slowly. The knowing that bliss and merriment and rapture are more delicious when they are discovered rather than hunted down.
I found a place on the rocks to stretch out and eat my banana while Fred sat on the north side of the ranger tower. He got his bearings by looking at northern Marin and I became comfortable staring into nothingness, into fog. The need to understand this shift, this subtle but huge change in my being, became tempered. All in due time, I felt.
I trust that these beneficial moves will only increase my connection to myself and to my path.
As I made my way down the mountain I saw a vision of myself walking ahead with a thousand tentacles attached to my back. They were liquidy, sandy in color but translucent. My hands reached around and with my thumb and forefinger I broke the seal of the suction cup and lifted one after the other off my back. They floated to the Earth. It didn’t hurt as each seal was broken, and I didn’t break my pace, which was just the right speed for a long journey. I didn’t look back to see them fall or to see how many tentacles were still attached. Ahead was nothing but fog. No familiar markers to make me feel secure.
My sense of security comes from within. All routines of the past are being shed like skins that are only restricting my growth. My spirit grows beyond their ability to contain me.
As we made our way down the last set of switchbacks to the base of the mountain I saw a man ahead staring up at a tree. He was completely still, and even though Fred and I were speaking, he didn’t alter his gaze to witness our approach until we were 20 feet away. Our eyes met and he pointed up.
I looked up, expecting to see a bird, maybe an owl. Then I saw them. Three red-tailed hawks. Juveniles. Each on their own branch, forming a triangle. They were not more than 6 feet apart. I sat on the forest floor. Three people in silence honored the beauty of these birds by remaining still and in their presence for ten minutes until, one by one, they chose to fly away.
Red-tailed hawks are rich with symbolism and revered through out time as messengers, protectors and visionaries. They are members of the buteo family, or family of soaring hawks. According to their totem meaning, they teach one how to soar while remaining grounded. Their keen eyesight permits them to see long range, and rather than beat their wings and exhaust themselves to get to the horizon, they soar and glide to their destination. Their appearance may signify a rapid development of psychic awareness and the need to balance the senses to receive messages that lead us to our life’s primary purpose.
Not only that, they’re totally beautiful.
And clearly they know exactly when to show up to the party.