“I am so incredibly grateful that you and your car got us from Portland to this trailhead safely,” my friend Mary stated.
And now it was my turn...”I am so incredibly grateful that I have a refrigerator and cupboard stocked full of healthy foods.”
Another steep part of the hike was upon us, we both went back into the solitude of our minds until we reached flat land again.
“I am so grateful for the household that I live in,” Mary said.
“I am so grateful that I have my health to be able to do this awesome hike,” I said.
My friend Mary and I have been on many hikes throughout the Pacific Northwest together since I started hanging out with her almost three years ago. A few weeks ago we ventured on a hike and came up with a new way of hiking. Each time we came upon a new incline to hike up, we had to each think of something near and dear to our heart that we were grateful for and then once we reached flat land again, we’d share with each other what we were thinking. We did it in some back lands behind Silver Falls in Silverton, Oregon. The trail had many inclinations and there were no other souls around. I felt so light and as if my body was buzzing throughout the hike.
I have always known the power of gratitude as I have seen it work wonders in others’ lives and my own. Meditation has helped me to further integrate into the wonderful energy of gratitude. By being so completely present in the moment, everything seems like a miracle. Of course, the monkey mind comes back quite often (dang it, I’m still human!) But for the most part, ever since starting my meditation practice half a decade ago, everything…a spoonful of delicious soup, resting my body on a comfortable bed, or having a meaningful conversation with a dear friend have all become moments of gold.
A couple different spiritual teachers that I have been listening to lately have inspired me to start a new daily practice, I made up my own term for it, I call it “3 and 3.” It’s super easy, doesn’t take a lot of time and is incredibly powerful. I either do it at night or in the morning when I’m having my coffee. Basically, I list three things in which I am grateful for, but honestly it’s more than just listing them…I actually try to really feel how deep my gratitude is for them. Then I list three intentions that I have for that day (or if I’m doing this at night, I list three intentions for the next day.) I have found this to be a very powerful practice because more often than not I reach almost all of those intentions that day.
If that seems like a lot of extra activity to your already packed world, maybe just try to do it for the week. So before the week starts, list three things you intend to get done that week and three things that you are in gratitude of from the last week. I have found that actually writing them out, with pen and paper really seems to make it happen. Do whatever works for you yo, I just hope you do give it a shot and see for yourself!
I woke up today with intentions to get all of my “adult” stuff in order. There are certain forms that I need to fill out, emails that I need to respond to, and passwords that I need to remember. Then it hit me that all of the paperwork that I need to do is in my car which is miles away from where I am and a record breaking snowstorm that hit Portland two days ago literally has me snowed in. My egoic mind was very displeased with this “but you have to do that paperwork now, if you don’t get all of that in order now, your world will come crashing down.” I laughed out loud when I heard that one and then a more gentle feeling came over me. The knots in my stomach released and a soft voice said “write.”
I haven’t touched my blog in months and it has been painful not doing so. Every time that I leave my writing hanging, it feels as if there is a gaping hole in my soul. I journal pretty consistently which helps, but there is something about blogging that fulfills that feeling of emptiness that ensues every time I drift away from it for months. So here I am, showing up to it and it is feeling great so far.
The last month and a half has been filled with many adventures that I have been blessed with. My heart called me to a few different places that I didn’t think I would ever actually get around to going to. In this was: The Redwoods of Northern California, volunteering at a 10-day meditation retreat, Iceland, Ireland, New York, New Jersey, New York once more and then back to home sweet Portland, Oregon. All along the way trying to come back to the breath at every moment, despite how uncomfortable it felt at times to be completely out of routine and not knowing where I was going next.
The Redwoods of Northern California was a welcome bliss after having worked for the last year in Portland and taking classes simultaneously. I packed up my car, jetted down south from Portland and arrived at the cutest little Air BNB in Crescent City. My first full day was spent at Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park hiking the beautiful Boy Scout Tree Trail, a 5.6 mile jaunt through peaceful and quiet Redwoods. I found the most perfect tree to sit in and meditate halfway through the hike. Afterwards I opened my eyes to pinch myself and double check to see if I was dreaming up this amazing solitude in the trees, but the pain of the pinch reminded me that this was indeed the material world.
Two full days were spent hiking different trails in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, and Tolowa Dunes State Park. I also had a brief stop into the city of Arcata where I picked up some delicious coffee and some new thrift store threads for the coming winter months. Between Crescent City and Arcata, as I was speeding along Highway 101, I came across a herd of wild elk that were peacefully gazing to the side of the highway, reminding me to slow down and enjoy the journey. I had never seen anything like it, it was pure beauty with the sun setting behind them.
After giving a gigantic hug to my Crescent City, amazing Air BNB host, it was back to the road again to embark on a four hour drive to where a 10-day meditation retreat was awaiting me. I arrived to the location a bit earlier than everyone else, I set my giant backpack down in the quiet home where us volunteers would sleep. I had initially signed up to sit the course as a student and not volunteer at it, but I had a sudden inspiration to change my registration to volunteer instead one week prior. Even though I knew that the next 10 days was going to be a lot of strenuous work, mentally and physically, I had the feeling that I was exactly where I needed to be.
This would be my third time at a 10-day silent retreat, my second time as a volunteer. After sitting quietly and meditating with my fellow bodhisattvas the next morning after my arrival, down to the kitchen we went to unload the first delivery of fresh produce. We started cooking up the meal that the students would get upon their arrival. Having had worked the kitchen at that location the year before, everything came back to me with ease and I was able to assist the new volunteers instead of standing around looking confused as I had the first day I ever started.
It was intense work as I had remembered before, waking up between 4:30 and 5:30am to get breakfast ready for the students and being on our feet for the whole day besides the three group meditation sits that we sat in with the students. Despite the madness that can go on in the kitchen, my practice was always in effect at every moment, always coming back to my breath and centering myself. We started to get into a groove in the kitchen, with all of us volunteers seemingly floating through all the tasks that needed to get done. Hiccups came up, of course, but the fact that every single volunteer there had sat a 10-day meditation retreat created an empathy in the kitchen like no other.
Halfway through the meditation course, the course female manager/assistant to the meditation teacher fell and had a concussion. This threw things of course, quite literally as I was catapulted into the position never having done it before. All of sudden, instead of sitting up front meditating with my fellow volunteers in from of 70 pairs of eyes, I was to keep track of 32 of those 70 pairs of eyes. Anytime a female meditator cried, made significant noise or walked out of the building I was to open my eyes and get direction from the female meditation teacher on how to comfort the meditator or track down where they went.
“A new female manager halfway into a 10-day silent meditation course, there really is no other worse thing that I can think of to happen. Every student is such in a difficult spot, I really can’t think of a more challenging situation occurring than this” the kitchen female manager stated to me as I walked into the kitchen on my first “official” day of being the female students manager. I took a deep breath and realized that my meditation practice had prepped me for that exact kind of situation to arise. And from that moment forward I stayed present with every single situation that arose, including assisting with five ladies over the next few days that made the difficult decision to leave the 10-day retreat early. I was constantly on my feet and always alert during the group meditation to make sure I wasn’t missing any direction from the meditation teacher.
Before I knew it, the last morning of the meditation retreat arrived and I decided to go AWOL as soon as the last group meditation was over. When the ladies at the retreat were able to talk on the previous day, I graciously accepted a few compliments from them, but I decided I wanted to take off before any more compliments could be said. It hit me that I completely followed my heart correctly with that retreat, coming in to volunteer instead of being a student was exactly what was needed. In the spirit of modesty though, I didn’t want to hear any more compliments.
Into the foggy clouds I went back up to Portland where I reorganized my backpacks and tied up a few loose ends before taking a flight out to Reykjavik, Iceland. The flight was booked rather impulsively months prior when a friend invited me to travel with her and her husband throughout Ireland, Reykjavik was a relatively cheap stop-over flight to Ireland. Reykjavik had been on my radar for a while as some friends had recently told me about how amazing it was and it was a quick stop over flight before Ireland. I figured that it would be great to have some solo travel before joining them.
Cutting this short and will make a part two about Iceland and Ireland, so I hope that you stay tuned :)!
I planned on doing a solo, dinner hike this evening after I got out of work. It is quite lovely that even though I don’t get home from work past 6pm, I still have three hours to get a good hike in at the Columbia River Gorge, with the sunset not happening until a little past 9pm. As I took the train home from work, I had my head buried in my Smart Phone investigating a new sunset hike in the Gorge that I haven’t tried yet. I decided on Latourell Falls, a beautiful waterfall hike that I have done in years past, but have never done at sunset.
After I got home to my apartment from work, I rushed things. I dropped out of my scrubs into hiking threads, whipped up a quick dinner on the stove and tossed it into a plastic container. I grabbed my headlamp, water bottle, notebook, pen, pack and rushed out the door. I cruised along I-84, took the exit to the historic highway and must have took a wrong turn because after driving for miles, Latourell Falls didn’t show up, but the Wahkeena Falls trail head did. I didn’t fight it, I turned my vehicle into the lot. It was nearing 8pm and I was hungry, drooling as I thought about the stove cooked meal still steaming in the plastic container I packed away.
As I walked up the beginning of the trailhead, my ego still fought the fact that we weren’t walking up the Latourell Falls trailhead. “But this hike is laaaaaammmmeeee, it is half the hike that Latourell is and there are tourists every where….look!” My ego whined, but I didn’t acknowledge it, I just kept walking up hill. Wahkeena Falls showed up in my vision ten minutes later. I sat down on a bench kitty-corner to it, pulled out my newest book about lucid dreaming (given to me as a birthday present recently 😊) along with my stove cooked dinner and chilled out on the bench, smiling hello at a few passersby that walked by waving at me.
I filled my tummy up, read a few pages of my book, and then continued on. I decided that I would follow the trail past Wahkeena Falls for at least half an hour, so that I could get a full hour-long hike in. It turned out that twenty minutes past Wahkeena, one of my favorite view points was up ahead, I didn’t remember the name of it. I just remembered it vividly from when a friend and I meditated on a couple large boulders by it a few years prior, with rain pouring down on us. I then realized that I wasn’t too far from another set of falls because I remembered that my friend and I were embarking on a hike to Fairy Falls on that day that we meditated. My ego started to get happy that we would do a longer hike than just Wahkeena Falls.
*The majestic Fairy Falls*
After reaching the majestic Fairy Falls, on my way back down, I kept thinking “I need to write down the name of that viewpoint that is on the way to these falls.” Earlier on I had noticed that there was a plaque on one of the boulders that my friend and I had meditated on years ago, but I had never read it. I just felt that it would be something good to know, especially when my fellow kindred hiker-co-worker would inevitably ask me where my most recent hike was. Also, on the way back from Fairy Falls, my monkey-mind was all over the place and a thought came to me about how when I was five years old, I announced that when I grew up, I wanted to be either a “writer or a teacher.”
That particular thought came to me because pretty soon I will be taking TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) courses in Portland and there have been lots of worries in my mind about how it will manifest…such as which country I will end up in? I thought about how when I was a kid, I truly did know my soul path…as writing is something I have always done, pretty much daily since I was able to figure out how to put a pen to paper. This teaching thing though, this will be coming to fruition, but not in the typical teaching way that I would have envisioned. My monkey-mind went to all sorts of thoughts, lots of fears came up…about relocating to a whole new country to teach and what not, but then a thought popped into my mind, it hit my mind so abruptly that it was as if it wasn’t my own.
“Yeah, but Ilona! If you are passionate about something, you will do it regardless of fear or danger–think about firefighters for an example–they do it all the time!!”
And then I got back to the viewpoint. The sunset had the sky looking as if it were on fire. I sat on the same boulder that I sat on with my friend in years prior. I decided to meditate there again. A few minutes into meditating, it felt as if I were surrounded in light, I felt so peaceful and at one with all of the sounds around me. I opened my eyes, jumped off of the boulder and sat in front of it to finally read the plaque in front of it that I never read years prior.
“In memory of Keith L. Lemmons. Firefighter, who lost his life fighting fire August 1983. As a native Oregonian, he was proud of the beauty of his state and was dedicated to the protection and preservation of this area for future generations.”
Chills ran up and down my body. Many argue on the subject of signs and synchronicities. Many chalk it up to coincidences, but the “woo-woo” in me can’t help but to think there is something more. We are all SO MUCH MORE CONNECTED THAN WE THINK> what do you say? I want to hear your stories on synchronicities, if you have some….please do share!!
*View from Lemmon’s Viewpoint on the way to Fairy Falls*