Saturday, 12 September 2015

Great Smoky Mountains Getaway

Spring and summer have been a whirlwind, and autumn naturally inspires in me a desire for introspection. As the daylight shortens, I find myself asking: Where am I on my path? Am I clear where I'm headed? Before the busy fall semester kicks in, I decide to take a solo journey to the woods. I get more adventure than I bargain for...

Waterrock Knob

1 Sept. Tuesday Departed AVL just before 5pm. Remembered to check (and fill!) my oil, whew. Took the Parkway all the way to Cherokee, past my usual stops of Graveyard Fields and Black Balsam. Interesting how the views change with a further destination. A lovely drive! Quick stop at Waterrock Knob for an overlook.

Glamping ;)

I arrive at Wildwater's Yurt Village in Bryson City at 8pm and settle in. Wow! Secluded, quiet, overlooking the Nantahala gorge. I unpack and sit myself down on the porch to watch the light fade. 9:45 rolls around and I'm ready to head inside, only to discover that, although I practiced it, I've forgotten the door code.... Serious hmmm. I have no shoes, no headlamp, no phone, no glasses... Just a lighter and a box of tea lights. I light one and, crouching low to the ground, creep down the stone stairs and gravel path to the bathhouse, where there are supposed to be emergency numbers (but aren't) and anyway there is no phone. I peer in several other yurts and call out but hey, it looks like I have the entire yurt village to myself tonight!! Back to the yurt: I am clear that I must get back in and, after examining the mesh windows covering the yurt's lattice frame, with a vehemence that surprises me I yank and yank and YANK hard enough on the door to break in. No alarms! First thing I do is find the goddamn code and commit it to PERMANENT MEMORY... I am shaking. Is this what happens when I go off alone??

View from Charlie's Bunion

2 Sept. Wednesday On my hike to Charlie's Bunion I meet a mushroom hunter from Italy and a sweet couple from Mississippi who (erroneously) correct my pronunciation of Nantahala (yes, you do pronounce the "l" -- it's not Spanish). On my way "home" I pause at Ingles for some hard cider... And my car won't start. Sheesh.

I am reaching for my AAA card when a car pulls up next to me, drivers window next to mine. Turns out that this fella Matt had been a Wildwater rafting guide, and just moved to West Asheville! He's back in Bryson City returning the moving van. A friend of his will be shortly passing by Ingles, and can give me a ride back to the yurt village. Such luck! AAA arrives in record time (I'm not driving and thus have gotten started on the cider ;-) and soon I am back at the yurt. A few more ciders and I drift pleasantly off to sleep.

My new hammock!

3 Sept.Thursday My friend Pat (who recommended the amazing yurt) picks me up for a morning zipline. We picnic by the Nantahala river, then he drops me at my car, which has been diagnosed with a misalignment of the ignition lock cylinder. Meaning it works, I just have to turn the key REALLY HARD and it'll start. Eventually. I stop off for a swim at Deep Creek, then proceed to hike in, set up camp, and hang my food (this is bear country) just before dark.

Deep Creek Waterfall
Alum Arch Rock
Alum Cave Bluffs

4 Sept. Friday At 11am I start the Mount LeConte Trail, which passes Alum Cave Arch and Alum Cave Bluffs.

Mount LeConte
Clifftops @ Mount LeConte

A strenuous and steep 5-mile climb, at 2:15pm I discover a village flanking the Mount LeConte Lodge. Bustling with seasoned hikers, I chitchat with a few and am offered a bed for the night by a group with an extra reservation (if no one claims it they'll lose their right to reserve as many beds next year). Politely declining, at 4:30pm I take off back to my campsite -- and after 45 minutes (trailrunning, since I got a late start) I finally stop ignoring the voice in my head that's been asking, "Shouldn't you be seeing this marker already? and this one??" Yikes. Looks like I'll need that bed after all.

Bernie, me, John

I hike back up toward the lodge (in the rain) and arrive in time for a hot dinner, feeling graced by fortune. I'll be sharing a cabin with John and Bernie, whose company I enjoy the entire hike down the next morning (5 Sept. Saturday).

Tennant Mtn sunset

6 Sept. Sunday I decide to extend my forest adventure by heading to Black Balsam, my favorite spot in Pisgah National Forest. I hang my hammock in a quiet grove, and chill out until sunset... when the gravity of this solo retreat I've designed kicks in. Fatigue and a touch of lonely spark off a persistent spooked feeling, reinforced by the proliferation of warnings about bears. I discover the limits of my hammock (the slightest wind steals all warmth) and my intrepid independence: I am cold, fearful, and sad.

Parkway morning

At first light I am up and outta there. Thank god for the reassurance of beautiful mornings.


You know I am an optomist; I thrive on positivity. I no longer dread the turn of summer into autumn, appreciating the gifts of the season's maturation (blueberries, color) along with the impetus to shed the summer's friskiness for a condensing against the coming darkness... and admit to my lingering grief. It will be three years this Equinox that I witnessed my dad's passing, and that anniversary begs me to distinguish the meaning in my own time on Earth. This is when I hear Joni's voice in my head, when I go to the mountains to be cleansed and restored, and sometimes to ache.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Superattunement to What's Going On

Rick Rycroft/Associated Press Olga Kotelko competing in the Masters Games in 2009. She holds 26 world records.

I just read an astonishing article about a 94-year-old woman athlete -- who didn't take up track and field until she was 77. Attempts to define what's special about her that could help others retain and improve their fitness reveal it's not diet or genes that keep her from injury; it's interoception, a practiced attunement to the body that allows her to keep improving as she gets older!

This is what we're practicing in Constructive Rest: Taking time to pause, wait, observe, tune in. See what author Bruce Grierson says in What Makes Olga Run:

Many masters athletes pop anti-inflammatories like candy. Olga doesn’t. Anti-inflammatories mask pain so that athletes feel they can then push on, often into the damage zone. But if you’re alive to the first stirrings that there’s a problem—it may be a problem of technique, or a muscle imbalance, or just overuse—you can step away before you start shaving away the cartilage, creating more inflammation, compounding the problem, and eventually hobbling home on your new titanium knee (or rolling home with your new titanium hip). By stepping away and resting, she leaves the repair work to nature, which has had a few million years to get it right. “The body,” she says frequently, “is built to heal itself.”

When something starts to feel a bit off, Olga stops doing it. When she senses she’s being overtaxed, she withdraws from the tipping-point event. She doesn’t owe anybody anything— not some sponsor, not meet organizers, not fans. The buck stops with her. Her position reminds me of that of Kenyan Patrick Makau Musyoki, the world-record holder in the marathon (2:03:38). Like Olga, Makau is coachless. That way, “you can listen to your own body and take time to recover after training,” he told a reporter recently. “Sometimes a coach pushes too much.”

There is a name for this faculty of superattunement for what’s going on inside your body. It’s called interoception. To be interoceptive is like being introspective, but to sensations rather than emotions or thoughts.

Receptors throughout the body are continuously recording information. They track changes in cardiac output, hormonal and metabolic activity, even immune-system activation—the level to which we are “run-down.” There are receptors scattered all through the fascia—the network of connective tissue that wraps every organ and every muscle and connects to every ligament—and they are hair-trigger transmitters of “tensional strain” anywhere in the body.

All this information goes into the brain. And here differences between people emerge. Some of us are better than others at picking up those faint signals and dredging them into consciousness.

There are signs that Olga is adept at this. She says she can feel a cold coming on, and when she does she takes a baby aspirin to “get out in front of it.” She’s conscious of what to eat, and how much, and when. She has a great line of communication with her gut.

Killer attunement to your body’s signals is a fine thing to have if you’re an athlete—and not just because you can stop before you cause an injury. Studies have found that it actually boosts performance. Elite marathoners pay close attention to their internal landscape—breathing, heart rate, cadence, how the muscles feel—while nonelite marathoners do just the opposite: they try to distract themselves from the pain. Some evidence suggests that tuning in, rather than dropping out, could have other benefits, including healthy longevity.



Friday, 27 September 2013

Time Travel

I've had the fortune to be asked by a friend from freshman year of college to give an Alexander Technique presentation to his high school choir students. Visiting (any) high school is such a trip, isn't it?? I spent a half hour scoping the classroom and the kids before excusing myself to lay in the field and process all that such a visit foments (and to recover from an early morning's drive to Charlotte, NC). This friend and his wife are a high school music teacher and a manager for Verizon Wireless. I think back to other friends I knew from freshman year: an investment advisor, an engineer, an emergency room physician. I muse on the career paths I didn't take, wondering what led them their ways - and me, mine. What would an advisor have said to me at age 18? What was I good at, inclined toward, what sort of prospects did my parents and elders see for me? I didn't have a clue. I can understand why parents are often the ones who choose a mate and a career for their child... Hopefully they have a broader vision that allows them to offer helpful guidance. What might the Now me have said to that young me, in the way of advice or reassurance?

I guess I can kinda see some sense in the path I've taken (thus far!). I can understand how and why I was drawn to making pottery - I always enjoyed being crafty. I went above and beyond in Home Ec, buying additional project kits and sewing them by hand on the weekend. And delving into the world of craft, art, and technique led me to consider deeply the question of what Self to express; what showed up as important to me? What did I want to say, convey, contribute to the world? And then, of course, that led me to the How of all that, which is a graceful segue right into the work that enthralls me now, Alexander Technique.

As I sit outside my friend's suburban-development home, with tidy yards encircling a half-block long mowed grass commons, I imagine showing my 18-year-old self the details of her life at 40. This is the car you drive (old! quirky! loud! kinda cool!), the house you live in (what's with that crazy wild garden? Only one story?) here's the lineup of lovers you've had (no comment). What would she think of me? If anything I hope she'd find me calm, at peace with the choices I've made, though I imagine and can feel her confusion and apprehension.

Yet.... There's one aspect of me now I think she'd be astonished and thrilled about:

I dance.

Look through the eyes of this awkward, uncertain teenager. Years of being bookish have left her slumped and bespectacled. She hears she's "cute" but can't imagine hearing "hot." And then, she sees me dancing...

Tango! Swing! Balboa! Blues! For gods sake, is that striptease?!?

That's someone I can be excited to be. In the face of those concerns that I've somehow missed out on having the suburban lifestyle, the kids, the 9 to 5 routine, the apparent assurance of it all... The only thing I know for sure is, I'm going dancing.


Thursday, 19 September 2013

A Season for Grieving

Pocono Pines

Thursday was the Harvest Moon. It was also my deceased stepfather's birthday, and today is the year anniversary of my father's passing. A few days ago I visited the Highland Lake Inn, outside of Flat Rock. The early morning mist, the sky above the lake, the edge of autumn in the air reminded me so poignantly of this very time last year, when I was in the Poconos at my father's bedside. He picked a beautiful time to die. The day after he left I spent from dawn until dusk outside, walking the quiet neighborhoods and shuttered golf course near my brother's home, appreciating the incredible beauty of leaves changing, determined breezes tempered by still-warm sun. My dad spent his own youth visiting that area, later telling us stories of "Lutherland"* and showing us the remains of foundations from old buildings. The Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania are a more northern part of the mountain chain that frames my home in Asheville, NC. Perhaps the soothing I receive now from them comes from having spent my summers as a youth embraced by the northern brethren of pines, lakes, moss, and berry bushes.

Pinecrest Lake, Pocono Pines

The seasons this year have felt significantly different to me; I didn't mind a cool and overcast spring, and summer's end doesn't fill me with a familiar, yearning despair. I'm beginning to see the beauty in things ending, appreciating that final hurrah of brilliant color, strong sun, the apparent freshness of cooling air before it becomes downright cold.

Apple galette

That doesn't mean that sadness is a stranger to me. If anything it's flowing with more emphasis, but through a clearer channel. I wonder, dad and stepdad, what do you see? What would (do) you say to me? I am saying, I miss you. In honor of my dad I am making pies as I hold vigil; one of his last phone calls to me expressed his wish that I win first prize at a friend's annual pie contest. One of the last things he said to me was how much he loved my bread.

My dad, Andre

Funny how grief comes... and goes. Thank you crickets, for singing me to sleep; thank you sun, for rising without fail. To everything there is a season, and this one is for savoring ends.

My stepdad, Ted




Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The feeling of YES!!

Way back in May, my friend Libby sent me a link about an astrological occurrence, the rebirth of Venus. She asked me what energy I wanted to incubate over the next eight months, the time of Venus' brightening and rising. What vision did I wish to cultivate? What would I like to bring to fruition?

I found myself reaching for the feeling of YES: of absolute satisfaction, of accomplishment that I got it, I did it! This picture of me (at 25) captures it beautifully. My boyfriend at the time and I took a river trip on the Nantahala in western NC. We'd spent plenty of time in a canoe in the northeast, and weren't satisfied to navigate the final rapids on this particular trip just once--after the first time through, we portaged our boat back UPstream to run it again. So this picture captures a combination of thrill and assurance, a feeling of confidence, of power, while still in the midst of a challenge. But even more satisfying than the knowledge that I can navigate this turbulent bit is the knowledge that I have given myself the pleasure of success. I brought myself to this point of receiving this good feeling, of basking in a wave of well being. I love when I love myself this way...

For the past month I've been loving myself by going dancing. A lot. Four or five nights a week, I've been doing West Coast Swing, Tango, Lindy Hop, Blues, Burlesque. I love the challenge of learning new ways to move my body, inhabit space, respond to rhythm, listen to my lead. It's that same combination, of tapping into tools I have to stretch myself and discover new pieces, being delighted with what I find.

The only other thing that comes close to lifting my heart the same way is the view from Tennant Mountain on the Art Loeb trail where, as The Who put it so well, I can see for miles and miles... And everywhere my eyes come to rest, the answer is YES.

me and Alexis, Tennant Mt.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

Breadcrumbs...or, I don't know Who I Am

More than a month ago I posted a blog identifying the impossibility of knowing what's coming next. I've been feeling lately how impossible it is to know what I've left behind... not what I've lost, but the trail of breadcrumbs I dropped all along, that are now re-appearing in a transformed way.
The signs are getting bigger. I stopped making pottery seven years ago, and people still comment that they enjoy their daily coffee in a cup I made. Okay, cups are physical and practical, nice to hear that something I brought to life continues to have meaning and provide pleasure.
But signs of invisible imprints are now showing up. Ten days ago I attended another Alexander Technique conference (third one this year!). At the morning gathering I recognized two people who had taken a few lessons with me last summer. One is now in teacher training, and the other is also looking to train. Training is a big commitment -- three years -- and I feel a deep appreciation for whatever came through me that gave them both the insight of "hey, I want to do this, too!"

Later that week a friend awaiting knee surgery told me that applying a suggestion I'd offered a year ago on a steep mountain trail -- to let his eyes guide the movement forward, and trust his feet to find just the right footing -- is one of the few things that relieves his pain. Wow. Something I said is still helping. That's some kinda breadcrumb!!
Finally, yesterday I caught up with a friend from my days in California. It is quite a wake-up call to my sense of self to have a highly respected and successful San Francisco executive of an international company tell me that he learned from ME how to manage his money. He went from renting a teeny apartment and routinely overdrawing his bank account to owning a duplex in the City, in just four years. -- What ?!?! His testimonial confounds my own beliefs of not knowing enough about making and managing money.
So today, I am sitting with the insight that I have no idea the effect I have on people. There are times when I doubt my ability to be and offer what I dream of being and offering, and yet evidence to the contrary has been raining down on me. I am amazed to contemplate the reality that I can help someone else grow in ways I myself aspire to.
That perhaps other people know, more than I, Who I Am. And they're worth listening to.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Plunging in

I had the luxury of spending nearly all of yesterday with one of my favorite people, my friend Melanie. We went to Graveyard Fields on the Blue Ridge Parkway to hike and swim in the waterfalls. Although the morning was clear, it started drizzling not long after we arrived and had started toward Upper Falls. We ducked under a bridge and spent the better part of an hour watching the rain and singing (told you she's awesome!). Two new songs I learned have been going through my head all day, in addition to new ideas born of our conversations.
I shared with Melanie that I've been studying a 1923 book by F.M. Alexander, Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. F.M. proposes a "plan of education" that will "not only meet the needs of the human creature at the present stage of his evolution, but will also meet his future needs, as he passes from this present stage of subconscious guidance and control through the progressive evolutionary stages which lead to a higher and still higher state of civilization." A lofty proposition! But, ninety years after this book was published, his ideas are still cutting-edge.
F.M.'s main concern is with establishing a method of education that will enable us to keep learning, growing, expanding. He criticizes the division of mind and body, as well as methods (in education and physical fitness) that attempt to improve one without considering the other. He proposes that only a comprehensive approach to mind-body coordination, aiming for general rather than specific improvement, will enable us to evolve. The measure of success for any method of education or improvement is simply whether or not it continues to make us able to receive and assimilate new experiences.
F.M. describes four points to consider in measuring human advancement: 1) the degree to which we recognize that whatever errors or failings we perceive are the result of mistaken understanding on our own part; 2) our ability to thoughtfully consider a "new and expanding" idea, find it better than what we've been believing, and feel desire to step into the experiences that are associated with the new idea -- as well as the new self that can absorb these new experiences; 3) our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing environment in a way that benefits (and does not harm) us; and 4) being able to "hold in abeyance the fear of giving up [a] job, in whatever profession, trade, or calling this may be, and boldly to make the necessary change" if we have, in fact, realized that the old understanding does not serve us, and to adjust ourselves to accept and assimilate new knowledge while proceeding with our job.
I've been considering these points deeply. Can I hold my fear in abeyance as I examine the manifestations of my life, genuinely question the beliefs that led to those manifestations, wonder and get excited about what new experiences I might have -- and who I might be -- with other beliefs, and allow myself to adapt to new thoughts and changes in circumstance? Am I willing to give up what I think I know (about myself, about life), such that I am open to having new experiences -- and BEING the person who would have those new experiences?
As the rain diminished, Melanie and I hiked back toward the parking lot and continued on to Lower Falls. The rain had cleared everybody out, and we had the entire lovely scene to ourselves (for about 5 minutes!). Did I mention that there's been something like 15 inches of rain in the past month? Translation: lots of rain makes the water positively *i*c*y*. I'd dipped my feet in the river when we'd first arrived, and pronounced the water "shockingly cold". But something moved me... and I stood at the edge of the pool below the falls for several minutes, patiently contemplating the inevitable. (Do you know that endless moment of not-quite-yet, waiting for "now" to come upon you?)
I waited, and then it came. SPLASH!!! In I went and out I climbed, breathless and thrilled. Then in, again! Six times total. Trembling and exultant, I stretched my arms toward the falls in a wide-open Thank You.
What had me jump in? I turned my gaze to the sky and declared, I am WILLING to dive into the places I've been hesitant and afraid, the new experiences and new me that are outside my current beliefs. See me now, meet me: I surrender!