“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!
Life can throw curve balls at us, some days are tougher than others. We are all in need of healing as long as we are living in these bodies, in this world. I thought it would be fun to make a list of what has helped me in healing myself from the struggles life can seem to make. I would love if you added activities/actions that have helped you to heal your mind, body and soul in the “comments” section below. Hope you enjoy! 🙂
Never Underestimate the Healing Powers of…..
–Curling up under a blanket and getting lost in a book.
–Waking up in the morning and drinking a full glass of water.
–Getting a back massage from a friend.
–Finding a new park or neighborhood that you have never been to and going for a walk in it.
–Writing three full pages of whatever is on your mind and not stopping until you get to the third page.
–Savoring a warm cup of hot chocolate/tea/coffee, drinking each sip mindfully.
–Sitting for twenty minutes, doing nothing but focusing strictly on each in-breath and each out-breath.
–Volunteering in your community.
–Playing music with others.
–Cooking a meal that you have never cooked before.
–Running/jogging for twenty minutes without stopping.
–Writing down what you dreamt of the night before.
–Drawing a picture.
–Painting a picture.
–Photography (check out my photos from Freak Alley in Boise, Idaho if you have time: Freak Alley.)
–Writing a story.
–Catching up with a friend that lives near you over a bowl of steaming Vietnamese pho.
–Hugging others fully, with two arms and for longer than three seconds.
–Caring for a furry friend.
–Having life conversation with an elderly person.
–Having life conversation with a child.
–Watching a good movie.
–Traveling to a city that you have never been to before, alone.
–Listening to music.
–Being here, NOW, over and over remembering to come back to right here, right NOW.
–Playing a childhood recess game with your adult friends.
–Getting a new haircut.
–Going for a hike in nature.
–Skating (roller skating, roller blading, skateboarding.)
–Working in a garden.
–Sampling new beers or wines.
–Exploring a new city with friends.
–Walking alongside large bodies of water.
–Writing down three things that you are grateful for on a daily basis.
–Learning a new skill.
–Having a phone date with a friend far away.
–Kissing a good kisser.
–Going on spontaneous road trips/drives/car rides with music blasting out of the car speakers.
The Northern Lights as seen from Iceland. Photo Credit: Eyal Saiet
As promised from my previous post, I am going to blog about my adventures overseas that I was blessed with throughout the last half of December and first part of January. I am currently going on a third day of being cooped up inside after Portland’s worst snowstorm in decades, so it’s forcing me to finally write and I am loving that fact! Who would of thought that one of the things that I dread most (snow) would bring me to finally working on one of my prized passions (writing)? I will take it. 🙂
So after playing around in the Redwoods for a few days and volunteering at a meditation course for ten days, I headed back to Portland for a quick reorganization of my backpacks before flying overseas to Iceland. My friend Heather was gracious enough to let me crash at her place in Portland for the couple nights before my flight. The day I was to fly out of Portland I decided that it would be a good idea to go on a long run at my most favorite park in Portland, Mount Tabor. As soon as I left her house, my jogging shoes almost stepped on half a globe lying in the street. I kid you not, how synchronous is that? I took a picture of it for proof! I took it as a good indicator that I was on the correct path.
My flight to Reykjavik, Iceland was easygoing, I sat next to a sweet young couple that held hands the whole plane ride and excitedly told me about their plans to rent a car to drive around the whole country of Iceland for nine days of holiday. The 7 1/2 hour flight from Portland to Reykjavik went incredibly fast as I filled it up with movies, music, reading, and a couple meditation sessions. We had a smooth landing and arrived at around 8:00 in the morning. As I embarked on the one hour bus ride from the airport to the main Reykjavik bus hub I noticed that the sun wasn’t even close to coming out. It hit me that I arrived to a country that is notorious for short winter days and it happened to be December 21st, the shortest day of the year….yikes.
My sweet Air BNB host, Dia, picked me up from the bus terminal and navigated the snowy highways cautiously, she informed me that they hadn’t had any snow up until two days prior to my arrival. I felt as if I was back in my homeland of Minnesota, the dark day mixed in with the fresh powder of snow was all too familiar. After arriving at Dia’s house and stashing my stuff, the sun was just starting to come out, around 9:45am. Dia explained to me how to get into town from her place with the city bus that had a bus stop directly in front of her apartment. I had been up for almost 36 hours at that point, but I was so excited to explore that I definitely caught a second wind.
The city bus pulled up in front of Dia’s apartment pretty quick after I arrived, I greeted the driver and plopped down on the warm seat. Hearing all of the Icelandic language being spoken around me along with the grey glow of light peaking through the city bus windows had me pinching the back off my hand to question if I wasn’t just actually dreaming. To me, being sleep deprived upon entering a foreign land is one of the most surreal experiences ever. It was really nice being on the bus and taking in the brand new views without having to worry about driving in the massive amounts of snow.
A view of Reykjavik harbor in the distance
I got off the bus as soon as it entered the main Downtown area of Reykjavik. I marveled at the cute European shops and art murals lining the streets. After walking the streets and just taking in the new culture for about an hour, some hunger pangs hit me. I realized I hadn’t ate a full meal since lunchtime in Portland the day prior. My first stop was at an ATM which involved the ATM eating my Icelandic money back into the machine and there was no phone number anywhere listed on the machine. I went into my head and spiraled a bit thinking, “Damn, it’s colder than Minnesota here and Iceland stole my $80 and I don’t know why I decided to come to Iceland in December, am I crazy?!”
Upon the mini-freak out, I decided to anchor in at a little convenience store and munched on a unique Icelandic cheese panini. I wrote half a dozen post cards and watched the day-to-day workers and students passing by the front window. After eating and calming down a bit, I decided to venture back out into the city. I walked a lot for the rest of that day, getting lost a multitude of times and stopping in to warm up in stores every 20 minutes or so as it had been a while since I have had to deal with below freezing weather.
Anxiety hit me from time to time because it had been a while since I traveled a foreign country on my own. I tend to have a bit of the good ol’ A.D.D. too and sometimes forget that I need to be paying attention to landmarks and street signs since I didn’t have another set of eyes with me. At one point I got so in a trance taking pictures of the beautiful graffiti art that encompasses Reykjavik that I got lost, trying to find my bus stop. It just so happened that a blizzard decided to start at the same time. I didn’t end up bringing my warm winter jacket to Iceland because I knew I’d only be in Iceland 3 days and I didn’t want to trudge it around for the 2 ½ weeks that I’d be in Ireland.
The trippy artwork that inspired me to get lost in Reykjavik :).
I brought out my paper map of Reykjavik from my backpack and after looking at the street signs, it hit me that I was completely turned around. I asked a couple that walked past me in the desolate residential neighborhood I was in for directions and they informed me with broken English that they weren’t from Iceland either. I started to head down what seemed like the correct direction, only to be brought into an even more desolate residential area. The snow was coming down so hard and it was becoming hard to see. My clothes were completely cold and sopping wet. I realized that if I were to have another mini-freak out it wouldn’t help me to get drier or find my way out of being lost.
The neighborhood that I found myself lost in was eerily quiet, I could only here the soft patter of snow landing on the ground and parked cars around me. There wasn’t a store, person or car driving in sight. It felt slightly as if I was in a nightmare that I had created all on my own. Again, my inner child started freaking out in my head and that’s when it hit me that I was forgetting to breathe. I practice meditation not to escape life, but to utilize it as a tool for when difficult situations (such as the one I was in) arise. The breath centered me and I came back to the logical reasoning of heading back from the direction I came from before going further into the void. I came back upon the street where I initially realized I was lost and ran into a human angel that stopped, looked at my map and pointed me into the correct streets to get back to the bus stop.
The bus stop had a warm store near it that I got a hot espresso from and warmed up my bone-chilled body the best I could. I glanced at the clock in the store and it hit me that I had been up officially for 43 hours, instead of further exploring the city, I decided in my sleepless state of mind that would probably be best to head back to Dia’s place. And it’s good I did because I got lost two more times realizing that I had taken two of the wrong bus transfers to get back to Dia’s place. When I finally was on the right bus, my head kept nodding off as if I was a heroin junkie and I almost missed my stop because I was half asleep.
After sleeping for 12+ hours at Dia’s, I ended up sleeping through my alarm and missed catching the tour bus that I had signed up for the day prior that was to take off at 10:30 that morning to a few Icelandic nature spots at the famous Golden Circle. My mind went into spiral mode again “oh mannnnnnnnn, an ATM stole $80 from me, the food has been crazy expensive here, and now they’re probably going to make me pay for a second ticket because I was a slacker that slept through my alarm.” I came back to my breath yet again, “Chill Ilona! Chill! The girl that sold you the ticket yesterday was an absolute sweetheart and she will be a sweetheart about this situation too I’m sure.” I was completely correct on that accord, the girl was super kind again when I got to the tour bus location and she booked me onto the next bus without any extra fee.
Making peace with the bitter cold in front of Gullfoss waterfall.
The Golden Circle was beautiful and jaw-dropping despite the bitter cold. The tour consisted of Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser and Thingvellir National Park, but it was a speed version of it as we only had four hours of daylight, it made me crave thoughts of coming back to Iceland in summer months and driving around on my own. As we loaded back onto the bus to head back to Reykjavik, the stars looked amazing and the clouds had an other worldy color that for a split second I mistook for possible Northern Lights. I realized that I had only one last night in Iceland and it would be spent in the city, so my chances of seeing the Northern Lights, I was told by many, was slim to none. The tour bus driver informed us that some people come to Reykjavik for a whole week and never end up seeing the Northern Lights, it’s truly all about timing, clear skies, and luck.
Strokkur Geyser doing it’s thang! It goes off every 5-10 minutes. Thingvellir National Park, where you get to walk between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates! They are pulling apart at a rate of a few centimeters per year.
After the bus dropped us off, I walked the city streets unsure of what to do next or where to go, I stumbled upon a delicious Chinese buffet. As I settled in with my Icelandic beer and first mouth-watering plate, I turned my almost-dead phone on, I had just a little bit of battery juice left. I noticed a few messages from a fellow traveler that I met through an online traveling website and had been corresponding with the couple weeks leading up to my trip. He had rented a car and was just coming back from the countryside into the city and wondered if I’d like to go find some hot springs with him? PERFECT! What an excellent last idea for my last night in Iceland, I thought to myself. My new travel buddy, Eyal, arrived to the Chinese buffet at the speed of light and joined me for a drink. After we talked and gained a rapport, I realized I was with a cool human and we started our hot springs hunting.
The first hot springs that we were trying to get to didn’t end up existing, or if it did it exist, it didn’t want us to find it. The second hot springs we came about was in a first ring city right outside of Reykjavik and it turned out to be a foot-soaking hot springs. As we headed back to his car we both looked up and spotted green skies. Wait what? Green skies?!!?! The colors grew thicker and wider and stretched upon the sky as if it was an amusement park light show. It danced and changed length or size. Eyal broke out his camera and started taking time lapse photos. The wind chill was hitting our bones, but at that point the light show above our heads was so wild that I didn’t care if I got frost bite.
By the time the natural light show was over, we attempted to go to one last hot springs, only to find that there was no water in it. I was so completely elated that I got to see the Northern Lights that I was happy to head back to my air BNB without having a hot springs soak. Eyal and I agreed to drive to the airport together the next morning since we both had flights around the same time, only his was to Norway and mine was to Ireland. My host and her husband were home and they let Eyal crash their floor impromptu and Dia packed my backpack with chocolate from an Icelandic chocolate factory that she works at, it was a lovely last night in their home.
Stay tuned for the Ireland adventures on my next blog post! Thanks for reading 🙂
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*