In Praise of Moose

This past week I walked a portion of the Long Trail in Vermont.  For five days I backpacked with my cousin Tom from Lincoln Gap to the base of Camels Hump.

Nine years ago I took up backpacking in the mountains of my then home in Oregon.  For several years I packed with friends in the Eagle Cap Wilderness along the Idaho/Oregon border.  We climbed and camped at the 12,000 foot level.  I thought I knew what tough packing was like.

But the Long Trail is different.  The tallest peaks I climbed were in the 4000′ foot category.  But instead of the gradual switchbacks of a broad Oregon mountain this trail is essentially vertical.  Climbers scramble over glacial boulders and a twisted labyrinth of roots and stone.  Going down is no easier than up.

Photo of Tom on Long Trail

On the Long Trail you have to be mindful lest you fall. The Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn would likely praise the Long Trail. He’s all about being present to where you are:  ‘When you walk know you are walking’.

The Long Trail heightens your senses.  On one of the few relatively flat stretches I entered a mix of forest and wetlands.  Scattered along the trail were perfect piles of moose droppings.

Moose droppings or the colloquial ‘moose shit’ are perfectly round balls of one inch in diameter heaped in impressive piles along the trail.   Walking my senses were on alert looking for a moose in the flesh.

photo of moose crap

I didn’t see a moose.  Only the tell-tale sign that I was in the land of moose.  I know this  because I was not simply passing through.   I was fully present to my surroundings, my antenna was up my senses on alert.

Like the good Buddha Baptist that I am, I knew where I was.  I was on the Long Trail.  I was walking through the home of moose.

The Long Trail is not for the faint of heart.  It focuses ones attention.  It makes you feel fully alive.  The trail reminds you of where and who you are.

Be distracted at your own peril.

 

 

 

Living in Sabbath Time

The concept of the Sabbath in the Judeo-Christian tradition is rooted in the Genesis creation story. God created the heavens and the earth in six days and on the seventh day God rested and said ‘it is very good’. In the book of Exodus, Moses, God’s messenger, comes down the mountain with the Ten Commandments, one of those is the commandment to rest on the seventh day. This rest was not only for the landowner but also the servant, the slave and the animals. Every seventh year the land was to lie fallow so that the land could replenish itself. The idea was that people and the earth need time to rest, renew and reflect.

This was a particularly radical teaching during Biblical times when life was so hard. Most people were subsistence farmers and lived through bartering skills and resources to acquire a little money to purchase what you couldn’t make. It was a time intensive, physically and emotionally demanding process simply to survive. Into this pattern of surviving is instituted this commandment to rest. Implicit in this commandment is the acknowledgement that each person is a child of God and has inherent worth. Not only people, but animals and the earth itself need time to rest too.

Sabbath Time remains relevant. Billions of people in developing countries work in a subsistence economy simply to survive. A health ministry I work with in Nicaragua called AMOS, sends delegations from churches in North America to live, learn and serve in impoverished rural communities. I remember being awakened in a village called La Pimenta at 4 a.m.. You awoke to the crowing of roosters and hearing the sounds of women rising to build fires to cook as the men rose to go to the fields. The work was relentless before sunrise until the sun set. But on Sunday the pace slackened, meals still needed to be made but the pace was slower rooted in an ancient teaching to rest, renew and reflect.

In orthodox Judaism the Sabbath is a day for sexual intimacy. Time to be with one’s beloved. (This may make the Sabbath suddenly more interesting or more foreboding). My friend Rabbi Alison invites her community to begin Shabbat during the summer by gathering on a beach facing the ocean as the evening comes and the Sabbath begins. Each ritual a reminder that the Sabbath is different, special, set apart for a life-giving purpose.

In my Christian tradition, our concept of Sabbath is too often shoe horned into one hour for gathered worship then on with the day. This misses the point. Sabbath is not a prescribed hour but a 24 hour space to rest and renew. Whether you are religious or not, we all need Sabbath time. This is particularly true in developed nations with technology at our fingertips 24/7. It is so easy to become obsessed with the minutia of social media that we miss taking time to breathe, to savor.

When we live in Sabbath time, we slow down long enough to think and feel. Thich Nhat Hahn says it this way: ‘When I eat I know I’m eating. When I walk I know I’m walking’. Buddhists call this ‘practicing mindfulness’, a form of Sabbath keeping. As we live into a new year, I invite you to create your own Sabbath ritual. It may be rooted in a faith tradition or not. Regardless, we all need time to rest, renew and reflect. This is true whether we are a subsistence farmer in Nicaragua or a tech driven person living here in Beverly, Massachusetts. We each deserve time to catch our breath and even count our blessings. In an upcoming blog I’d like to explore ideas for creating rituals for rest and renewal. I’d like to hear your ideas too. Happy New Year and may we too live in Sabbath time.

Spirituality of Extreme Weather

I grew up in New England where extreme weather is the norm. We can have hot humid summers that rival an Ecuadorian rainforest. Heavy rains can so soak the earth that water seeps from basement walls and rises from basement floors.

Winter however is where New England often smacks you upside the head. I remember the blizzard of 1978 but nothing prepared us in the greater Boston area for 9 feet plus of snow, that accumulated from a series of blizzards in February and March of this year. It was epic and brutal.

Blizzard of 1978

I grew up in New England but for twenty years lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Willamette offers a generally moderate climate with occasional moments of weather related drama. For the most part it is a pleasant climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape flourishes and flowers emerge in late winter. In the valley there are generally two seasons, wet and dry.

Over a year ago I returned to New England and have lived through a full cycle of the four distinct seasons. For me this cycle has been a spiritual journey. There’s something about living through an extreme winter that encourages one to appreciate the spring and savor the summer even with its humidity. There’s something about being smacked upside the head by 6″ of water in my basement last October, that invites me to savor the warm, dry and beautiful days that accompany these initial days of Autumn.

While I will always love the beauty of Oregon I find that New England has attuned me to the weather and my surroundings in a deeper way. I find that a change in the weather is also bringing about a change in me.

I am more aware of the birds migrating south for the winter, more dialed in to the tides and the wind as I regularly launch my kayak in the ocean. Today I went for a long run because it was sunny and dry and I know the opportunity to do so is fleeting.

Monks and mystics teach that being awake is essential to be awakened by that great mystery we call God/Creator/Spirit. Being awake physically, emotionally and spiritually opens one up to lessons and gifts that otherwise might be missed.

Thich Nhat Hahn the Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to practice mindfulness. He offers a lovely mantra to be in the moment: ‘Breathing in I calm my spirit; breathing out I smile. (Inhale) Living in the moment; (exhale) this is the only moment.’

Living in New England helps me to live in the moment. Partly because I don’t know what the next moment (weather wise) will be. And, as I live in the moment I find there is much to be aware of and thankful for.

If I forget and begin to live in the past or the future, a Nor’easter storm off the ocean, a blizzard or a breathtakingly beautiful morning (as it was this morning) will grab me by the lapels and say ‘listen up and look around!’

3000 years ago a Hebrew prophet named Isaiah said, ‘Listen and your soul will love’. New England weather requires that we keep attuned to what is going on around us. And, if we are attuned enough, we may very well discover that something new and life-giving is being awakened within.

The Practice of Walking on the Earth

In our fast paced motorized society I invite you to join me in a counter cultural act: Take off your shoes, wiggle your toes in the grass or sand and walk.

Walking and walking barefoot in particular, has a way of heightening your senses and making you mindful of where you step. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk and mentor offers this: ‘The miracle is not to walk on water but on the earth.’ True. Walking slows us down and makes us aware of where we are. More than other modes of travel, walking invites us to experience what is immediately behind, around and in front.

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book ‘An Altar in the World’ writes:
‘Jesus walked a lot. If Jesus had driven a car it is difficult to imagine how that might have changed his impact. Walking gave him time to see things, like the milky eyes of the beggar sitting by the side of the read, or the round black eyes of sparrows sitting in their cages at the market.’

It is one thing to drive by a person in need, a very different experience to walk past.

My friend Joe walked the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. Only by walking do you get in touch with your own dreams and longings. Only by walking can you receive ‘trail magic’, gifts left by strangers such as a cold beer in a stream or a chocolate bar tied to a branch. Only by walking can a stranger become a friend as you listen to each others story.

This past Sunday several of us met in the woods to walk in silence. This was our Sabbath, to experience silence as we paused by a wetlands and listened to that which otherwise would have been masked by talk.

3000 years ago a prophet named Isaiah offered this gift: ‘Listen, and your soul will live.’ To walk in silence, barefoot or in shoes is a counter-cultural act. To do so is to receive gifts that otherwise would be lost to us. As Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us, to walk on the earth open, attentive, engaged

woman_walking_in_the_tao-resized-600

is a miracle.

Note: I lead mindful walks and contemplative paddle trips. Contact me for information on the next scheduled event. This summer 2015 the church I serve is hosting a study and sermon series based on Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the World. Go to church web site http://www.fbcbeverly.org for more info.

Snowshoeing on a Woo Hoo Day

Thich Nhat Hahn the Buddhist monk speaks about the practice of ‘mindfulness’. He says: “When I walk I know I am walking. When I eat I know I am eating. When I see I know I am seeing.” His words remind us to be fully present to what we are doing.

I recently heard a TED talk on the theme of anxiousness. Several presenters mentioned that as we multi-task in life our anxiety level rises in proportion to our busyness. Those who are least anxious are those who are able to live in the now, to be present to what is.

I was thinking about this a few days ago on a drop-dead gorgeous afternoon in Massachusetts. After a historic winter with over 8 feet of snow and numbing single digit temperatures, my wife and I went snowshoeing on a sunny Saturday and a balmy 30 degrees.

We went to a local state park whose trails were busy with cross-country skiers, snowshoeing and romping dogs. People greeted each other with: “Today is perfect!”

snowshoeing

After a long grey winter the days were warming, Spring was but a few weeks off and we

knew

that this snow which had seemed never-ending was to be enjoyed, even savored. As I walked in my snowshoes I tried to walk mindful of the beauty that was before me. I tried to be in the moment, pausing often to bask in the sun and enjoy the beauty of freshly fallen snow.

As I walked I knew I was walking. As I breathed I knew I was breathing. As I shouted:”Woo hoo!”I knew I was shouting.

Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.