Reflecting

IMG_6499[1]Recently taken at the beautiful Bryce Canyon National Park just a couple hours from where I now live!

I didn’t intend to write a blog post today.  I actually haven’t been writing a whole lot lately, besides in my journal.  I just had a really intense moment as I hoofed it by foot over to the library this morning (I have been trying to do 1-2 days per week of no driving) and I got inspired.  The moment made me want to write it down as soon as possible before I forgot it.  I thought that this would be the perfect place to share it because I feel like someone out there needs to read it and I haven’t written a post in a while.

Lately I have been stressing out about many different things and it has no doubt been manifesting out into my physical reality.  Just lots of tough, dense, life darkness and yet on the other hand, I know that I have had so many blessings as well.  It’s just that, my monkey mind has been on full-swing and I haven’t been sticking with my meditation practice as strongly as I used to….it truly is amazing to see the difference which occurs when I don’t stick with it.  I don’t want to delve into too many of the details of what is going on in my life, but the best way to put it is that I am finally facing a ton of my crap that I can no longer run away from.

So, as I am walking to the library, with cars whizzing by me, loud sirens and car alarms going off…my mind was doing it’s wandering.  As it was wandering, it was playing out all of these different scenarios, such as “Ohhhh, maybe if I decide to take that path, that will create happiness and peace in my life, ohhhh maybe I shouldn’t have done that and then I wouldn’t have found myself in this situation, etc. etc. etc…” It was creating straight up novels based upon a future that hasn’t happened yet and the past that is no longer.  As the stories built up, the anxiety in my chest got stronger.

I turned the corner to head down the main street that gets me to the library.  Everything went quiet since it’s a residential street and it doesn’t have much traffic usually. All of a sudden, my anxiety dissipated and everything felt just like pure peace.  I looked over to my right and in someone’s house window was a message that simply stated “Enjoy the journey.”  All of my worries, all of my planning just dropped like a giant Jenga tower and again, I just felt the pure peace of the moment.  Not one minute later, I noticed a cemetery to the right of the house that I had never noticed before since I always drive to the library.

As I passed by all the tombstones, the wind gently pushed in the direction towards the library causing a chill up and down my spine. I started reading the messages on the tombstones, one in particular was a man that passed away in 2008, he was almost the exact same age as me. Further on, I kept noticing how unique and personal each tombstone was and how there were so many different ages, from a baby that had only lived a week to a man in his late 90s.  I started nearing towards the end and there was a sign that had a message on it, but it was bent and blocked by a big bush, so the only word that was visible on it was bright lettering that stated:

“NOW.”

It just seemed like a pretty clear message to me, as I was worrying the whole morning and night before. It can all end at any moment, truly, so to stay present with wherever you are is the most important.  I no longer want to dwell on past regrets as there isn’t anything that I can do regarding it, except to accept them as lessons.  I also don’t want to keep projecting a future that is yet to be, as Doris Day sang “whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see.”  While it’s good to do a little bit of planning, it’s also best to adjust to the flow and appreciate what is happening now.  I dunno, just a little musing for this Thursday morning, thanks for reading if ya have thus far.  Peace out!  🙂

Following the Heart; Adventure Part Dos.

image6The 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.

image1-4Signs…

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.

image2-2 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.

image2-3image1-5 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.

image5 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.

image4 Strokkur Geyser doing it’s thang!  It goes off every 5-10 minutes.image3-2 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 🙂

Synchronicity

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.

image3 (1)*Wahkeena Falls*

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.

image1 (3).JPG*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!!

image2 (1)*View from Lemmon’s Viewpoint on the way to Fairy Falls*