Grackle & Sun

Archive for the tag “spirituality”

Transitional Winds

bryce canyon

Although I come from the West, and left a bit of my soul there to guide me home, I grew up in the old, worn down mountains of the Missouri Ozarks.  It is a land that is very changeable.  A land that like Crowded House sang about, can often have four seasons in one day.  It is now December, and although last week we saw temperatures in the 20s, yesterday was almost 70 degrees.  It will do this back and forth well unto January, when winter will finally decide to settle in for a month or so.

The weather here has never fit the model of the seasons that I was taught in school as a child—each season having its 3 months at the prescribed regularly occurring times.  Winter from December to February; Spring from March to May; Summer from June to August; Autumn from September to November.  No, our temperatures rise and fall on the thermometer with a mercurial playfulness that makes gardening, planning picnics, and even dressing a daily guessing game.

There is one thing that can be counted on like clockwork, however, and that is the wind.  I am an air sign, not that I believe in that kind of thing.  Mostly.  Even so, I have always had an affinity for all things air and a natural inclination for observing the moods of the wind.  One such observance is that which I call ‘Transitional Winds’, that is, the winds that blow the out the old and blow in the new.  This is something that I have experienced since I was a child.  They occur at specific times of year when the seasons are changing, and while it sounds a little woo-woo, it is a very real, observable, tangible phenomenon.  The wind becomes different.  It used to bother me, make me restless and unsettled.  That’s how I knew when they were coming—I’d get all jumpy in my solar plexus, and the hair would raise on the back of my neck.  I had a lot of cultural superstition and a mighty religious lens to work around back then.  The lens was not my own, but nonetheless made it hard to make peace with what spoke to me.  Things are much different now.

It also happens that as these Transitional Winds keep the wheel of the seasonal cycle shifting, they also typically coincide with major shifts in my life.  Maybe it’s coincidence.  Maybe it’s my brain seeking patterns where there are none.  Or maybe it is as I see it.  Either way, it is how I live it.  And this year’s autumnal Traditional Winds were no exception.  The thing about Transitional Winds is that you can either fight them and get blown to shit, or you can allow them to bring needed change in your life and use the time to examine and reevaluate what gets stirred up.  The only way to grow is to change.  All things are impermanent.  Transitional Winds remind us to shake up the spirit, to blow the cobwebs off the soul, turn things upside down, and get to work.

Early Morning Upside Down (triptych 1)

The most major change recently is that following my daughter’s decision to leave homeschooling so that she might attend a new charter Arts Academy, my son, out of the blue, decided in mid-October to do the same.  My kids are artsy, and they wanted both a new experience and to have the opportunities that a school with daily multi-discipline arts instruction could provide.  So, I went from living a decade of unschooling and progressive, child-led learning philosophy and education to having kids in public school (gasp!) and me looking for a day job in the span of one week.  Whoa.    And though I struggled with it for a good minute, seeing both of my kids doing well in said school, despite my continued disillusionment and disagreement with the American Educational System, has been very reassuring and rewarding.  Realizing that I am now free to pursue interests that I’d put on hold is also ridiculously exciting in a quiet, can’t-quite-say-it-all-out-loud kind of way.    As wonderful as homeschooling was, it was a tremendous responsibility—one that I must admit to bearing with difficulty at times.  Like every worthwhile thing in life, it was not always  cuddly puppies and sparkly rainbows.   I had to learn my unschooling mantra very quickly:  Observe, Reflect, Adjust.  It was a challenge to give two completely different kids with two completely different learning styles everything that they needed each day.  I did my best.  My degree and certification in Elementary Education was, contrary to what most people thought, often more of a hindrance than a help.  I had a lot to unlearn and relearn properly, you see.  Homeschooling was, however, a fantastic journey and one I’d do again in a heartbeat.  I think the Chickpeas would, too.

It seems that I am looking down the barrel of finding a new job, potentially a new career, and I’m totally stoked.  I’d feel conflicted about it, but the Chickpeas are happy with their choice, and that, it seems, was the key to my new-found liberation.  It is an amazing double truth of motherhood—from the moment your first child quickens in your womb, one full part of your brain is always on them, dedicated to their health, safety, and well-being; and when your children are happy, you can be happy, too.  Knowing that they are where they want to be—even if it was not where I imagined in a million years they would be—feels really good.  Not being solely responsible for their educations feels good, too.  I feel lighter than I have in years. Happy to just be Mom.

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So what is next?  Well, for a decade I’ve said that I would never go back to teaching.  And I meant it.  I have no desire to teach in a regular school setting, because we’ve got two very different philosophies of education, how children learn, and what is in their best interest.  Trying to fit in that system would require lying to myself and everyone else in ways that I do not find acceptable—which is to say, at all.  But I do love teaching.  Rather, I love helping to facilitate and guide learning.  There’s a difference.   I don’t want to waste a perfectly good degree—one that can give me a steady job (that is NOT waiting tables), a meaningful career, be a positive influence on the lives of children, and someday help us to retire.  So I started thinking about under what circumstances I would feel good about returning to the profession of teaching, and immediately I thought of the different types of “alternative”, progressive models of schools out there:  Reggio Emilia, Sudbury, free skool, and Montessori  to name a few.  I had studied, albeit briefly, a few of these different philosophies and methods when I was at University, but soon found that while my degree required that I know they exist, it did not require that I learn how to pursue working within those models.  In practice, it was actually discouraged, which is sad because I felt a real spark for these models even as a green teacher-in-training.   Now I have been revisiting these models with a different kind of experience under my belt, and I have a steadily growing realization that this is the direction I need to take.  As it turns out, my decade as an unschooler (which is its own story) probably taught me more about education, how children really learn, and the true role of a teacher than I ever learned in my degree program.   As I am relearning the tenets of these models, I’m realizing that I pretty much unknowingly gave my kids a Reggio Emilia and Montessori inspired education for the last ten years.   That makes me smile.

There aren’t very many “progressive” schools where I live here in the good ole Heartland, but that is sloooooowly changing.  I was very happy to find that there are several Montessori training centers right here.  I’m not only looking into adding a Montessori certification to my credentials, but I’ve been interviewing with a couple schools for assistant positions (all Montessori teachers have to start out as assistants).  I’m really excited about the potential for working within a school environment that is harmonious with my beliefs about education and child development.  Keep your fingers crossed.  Good things are happening.  Now I have the challenge of being patient, waiting for others’ decisions and seeing what opportunities pan out.

On other fronts, I’ve been spending a lot of time considering my new passion for natural dyeing and how to better integrate it with other aspects of my life that are similar—native gardening, sustainability, simplicity… I find myself wanting to more fully settle into these practices and flesh them out not only individually, but also to suss out how they can work together.  I’ve recently been inspired by the projects of others who are working to be more sustainable in their use of fiber and textiles—right down to the clothes they wear and what they’ll use for crafting.  I’ve got a lot incubating in my head about that.  I’ve also been following my usually dip into wintertime introspection and examining how I am living out my beliefs in my daily life.  There’s been more sussing out on a spiritual level about the connection between soulwork, physicality, and how one can be an atheist and a pagan-daoist-stoic all at the same time.  I finally made peace with the fact that I’ve known for decades what my path is, I just had to accept that it doesn’t have words, titles, labels, or names.  It is not tidy, but it is real, and my goal now is to find a voice for what I do, so that it can be outside my head, too.  Talking about things like ‘Transitional Winds’ is a start.   I’m thinking ahead to what the New Year is going to bring with an optimism that I haven’t felt in a while.  I feel firmly in my skin and happy to encounter new adventures.

Here’s to Transitional Winds and the lessons they bring.

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Beginner’s Mind: Lessons from Laird Hamilton

Books have a way of finding me.  Maybe it’s just my constant state of curiousity that causes me to notice them.  Maybe its the serendipity that follows me like my shadow.  In our lives, there are threads that get tugged and retugged, pulling us in a definite direction as we skip (or tumble or crawl) down life’s path.  I get a lot tugs at my local library, usually as I wander aimlessly down the aisles, my head tilted sideways like a bird, letting my eyes focus and unfocus on the spines and titles as I walk past.  Now and then, a particular book will appear sharply in my view.  It is always just what I need.

One day last year, I found my way to one such book.  I would say that it was an unlikely match—the type of book, that is—but given that I was born in California, land of sun and surf, and have spent every day since my family moved from there yearning to go back to my home, perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise.  Perhaps it was just the power of my pining that led me to that shelf, the one where I saw this book:

I stood staring at it, knowing that I had to pick it up, but not having a clue why.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always thought that surfing was cool.  How can you not?  It’s brilliant.  But why would I read a book about it?  I’m a landlocked 30-something mother of two.  I knit.  I don’t surf.  Hell, I didn’t even know who Laird Hamilton was.   But for all that, I was compelled.  I checked out the book, took it home, started reading, and couldn’t put it down.

This post isn’t meant to be a review, although the book is awesome, and I highly recommend it.   The point is that something in this book really resonated with me.   In the book, Laird talks about the importance of being a beginner and being ok with being bad at something.  He talks about how learning new skills and activities keeps the body and mind in shape.  How it fuels the spirit.  In a sense, Laird, with his infectiously blissed outlook on life, uses surfing (and standup paddling and mountain climbing and everything else) as a model for explaining the beginner’s mind in a way that I not only understood, but immediately felt joyous about implementing in my life.  This is something that years of studying Buddhism never accomplished.   Chalk that up as another point for ecstatic earthiness.  Trying to tame the monkey mind by beating it over the head with hours of stillness and meditation has never worked for me.  A friend once told me, “Move the ass, and the mind will follow.”  Truer words, my friends, truer words.  The way I figure, if Laird Hamilton, a world-class big wave surfer, is ok with being an awkward newbie in his pursuit of learning new things, I can be, too.   Liberation.

So, I read the book in one big gulp, and I tucked away the lessons inside, where they burned like a little fire in my heart of hearts.  I, too, want to be a force of nature!  I, too, want to spend my days under the sun, playing, working, keeping my mind and body nimble by challenging myself to do new things.   It’s easy to get fired up, isn’t it?  But contrary to popular belief, the greatest challenges in life are not the big ones—where the lessons are huge and obvious.  No, it’s the day after the lesson is learned that is the hardest.  And the week after.  And the month after.  Why?  Because it’s really easy to slip into old habits, to get lazy.  It’s like when you have a Really Important Dream… and then you fall back asleep, you lose the details.  We sleepwalk in the tedium of daily life—work, bills, drama, stress—and when we sleepwalk, it’s easy to forget that we have a fire burning in our heart of hearts.  Sleepwalkers cannot tend their inner fires.  It is epically sad to live this way, with nothing to fuel us, nothing to feed our souls.   Which is why we need the Laird Hamiltons of the world to remind us to throw a log on.

Well, I think I’ve found another passion that I’m willing to be a beginner for:  kayaking.

My dad’s had an old Klepper folding sea kayak for years, packed away.  A few years ago he started working on it, making it seaworthy again.  I’ve been fascinated by this process—watching him recraft parts for the boat by hand, resewing seams, sanding and varnishing wood, doing mysterious things with vinyl glue.  I think I was secretly as excited about it as he was.  Then last year he found another used Klepper for sale, which he bought… and gave to me.  Whoa, I was surprised.   This was a gift that carried weight, you know what I mean?  The kind of gift that must be taken seriously.  Because on the outside, a boat is just a boat.  But if you look again, you see that it is archetypal in its symbolism.  It is a vessel, a craft, a means of transportation.   The lines of a boat are something that we, as humans, know innately.  It is almost as familiar to us as the ocean itself.  Suddenly, I possessed something that not only could move me literally, physically, but spiritually, as well.  It felt powerful, meaningful.  And it needed a lot of work.

My dad did some of the repairs before he gave it to me—sewed some seams, replaced some hardware.   We worked on it together the weekend he gave it to me.  We repaired the Hypalon skin where it had been worn through.  We waterproofed areas that had been damaged from use and age (this boat dates to the early 70’s).  He showed me how it all gets put together and what still needed to be done to the boat to make it last.  Then I packed it up in the car and took it home.

And it sat in the garage.  And sat.  And sat .  For months.  I told myself that it was because I didn’t have time to work on it or that the weather wasn’t right—first too cold, then too hot for being outside sanding crossframes and varnishing wood.   But the truth is, this whole time I’ve been thinking, I don’t know shit about kayaks, what am I doing?  I’ve been afraid of jacking up an awesome gift.  Of doing it ALL WRONG.  Of not belonging in the kayaking circle of the universe.   I was so unable to believe in my own abilities to learn something new, something that would be physically challenging, that I let the inertia of doubt take hold.  Then I remembered what Laird said about the importance of being a beginner.  I thought about the fact that it would be far, far worse to let a gift like a freaking sea kayak sit in my garage unused due to fear than to give it a go and make mistakes and be an awkward dork.  And I calmed the hell down.

So we planned a camping trip with my parents at Clearwater Lake last weekend—the perfect motivation to get my ass in gear.  Husband is totally psyched about the kayak, too.  He really wants to work on her and to paddle, and I am happy for both his help and his general awesomeness about everything.  I am excited that this is something that we can do together, as we both feel that we never have enough time together.  This kayaking thing has very quickly become pretty important to us both.

Which means that work must be done.  We completed the first step:  adding keel strips to the Hypalon.  There were lots of places that were worn down to bare canvas on the hull, and my dad and I repaired those.  He suggested a simple fix of using Gorilla tape to put extra protection on the keel.  This would be my first solo task, my first foray into being an amateur boat fixer.  Ok.  It’s just tape.  I could do this.  But first we had to put the boat together.  Have you ever seen all the parts to a folding kayak?  That’s some serious German engineering.

A Klepper folding kayak (mine is an Aerius II) consists of a collapsible wooden frame which gets put together in two sections (bow and stern) and inserted into both the bow and stern ends of the skin before being snapped together to join the two halves.  Then sponsons that run along each side of the boat are inflated to make the skin taut.  And Bob’s your uncle.  You have a seaworthy vessel.  Well, Bob is my uncle.

Bow and stern being put together: keel boards, gunwales, crossframes (ribs) and rods.

Hypalon hull folded next to partially assembled frame.

Boat almost completely assembled—the seats and seat backs are laying next to it in the grass.  Yeah, those things that look like clipboards are the seats.  Very efficient, those Klepper designers.  No comfy seats for you!  Lol.

She’s beautiful.

The frames could use a little sanding and revarnishing, and I’ve already thought of some modifications I’d like to make for both comfort and touring practicality.  But she is ready for the water.  No excuses.  Time to paddle.

Setting up my Klepper, my dad’s Klepper and the Folbot at Clearwater Lake.

Out on the very green water. My son likes to paddle, too.

As it turned out, we cancelled the camping trip in favour of doing a day trip paddling on the lake.  It was way too hot—104 degrees!  Really ridiculously hot.  But we all wanted to paddle.  And once we were on the lake, it was actually quite pleasant.  The Klepper handled well.  She won’t turn on a dime, but she’s very stable as a sea kayak should be.  I don’t have a sailing kit for her, but I’m hoping to add that some time in the future.  My dad sails his Klepper, and it’s pretty awesome.  Later I paddled with my dad in his boat, and we saw dozens of blue herons out on the water.  And I realized that I intensely dislike the noise of loud motorboats.  When you’re in your groove, paddling silently through the water, listening to the birds and the insects and the rippling waves, and a speed boat cruises by, it really jacks up the atmosphere.   On the upside, I like the wakes.  ;)

Husband was a rockstar, and totally hossed out both putting together and packing away the boats in the heat.  I had a case of the vapors at one point, but managed to bully through.  I’ve never drank so much water in such a short period of time.  I am really looking forward to the weather becoming more humane.

Husband and I are already working out a plan for kayaking regularly.  We’ve also set a goal for ourselves—next year we want to paddle the MR340.  Daunting?  Yes.  Doable?  I think so.  We’ll have to bust our asses getting ready, but that is the point.  We’re both pushing 40, and neither one of us wants to age by way of complacency.  I believe firmly that we can remain fit and healthy and energetic as long as we keep moving and keep challenging ourselves.   So, thank you, Laird Hamilton.   You’ve taught me an important lesson.  I will revel in my beginnerness.  I will play and have fun and live passionately according to my true nature, as a force of nature.  Awkward or not, I will learn mad skillz and do awesome things.

Edit:  Just found this gem.  Laird and Gabby on TEDMED.

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