I know that taking my daily walk when I first wake up in the morning is the very best thing for me. Its tempting to start my day more slowly, making a cup of tea, reading for a bit, listening to the morning news, all things I enjoy, but when I don't just get up, put on my shoes and walk out the door, I can spend the rest of my day just trying to fit it in.
Once out there, I wonder what all the resistance was about. This week, I have been walking on the headlands that surrounds the town of Mendocino. It is breathtakingly beautiful and at that early morning hour, I pretty much have it all to myself. Just a few steps down the path and I'm breathing in the day more deeply than I would have if I was sitting at home, sipping my tea. I'm walking for exercise so I try to keep up a good pace. I have to keep my eye on the path as I'm nursing one bad knee but I'm surrounded by the sounds of the ocean, the waves crashing on the shore, and the roar on the rocky beach as the water rushes back to join the ocean once more. Thoughts pass in and out of my mind. Most often I let them go and return to the sounds that surround me. The steady rhythm created by the waves begins to sound like the breath of the ocean itself. Its great deep inhale followed by an equally powerful exhale soon has me feeling held by something so much larger than myself. Without effort, it puts my concerns in new perspective.
Some of my morning thoughts aren't so easily excused. They return again and again, asking me to spend more time with them. Those thoughts, I hold on to for awhile, rolling them around in my mind, like the waves rolling the pebbles on the shore. Some good usually comes from this tumbling. Some new insight or some deeper understanding is always welcomed. This morning I found myself in a more thoughtful, and contemplative mood. This week the tides have been very low, exposing places underneath the sea that aren't usually visible. This morning the birds were making a ruckus, delighted I'm sure, to find a whole new selection of food newly exposed on the rocky shore. I couldn't help seeing my own life in that newly exposed territory. I'm moving through a radical transition as I end eleven and a half years of being the main caregiver for my elderly parents. They lived with me for seven years and then moved into the local assisted living facility fifteen minutes from my house. My father died four years ago so just my mom remains. Her facility just closed its doors, evicting all the old ones. It was the only assisted living facility on the coast so my mother, at age ninety-eight, moved nearer to my brother and my sister. It is a big change for both of us.
For me, it brings new freedom but it is all a bit disorienting. Like the birds exploring the newly exposed shoreline, I find a vast expanse of new possibility in my life. There is a whole new influx of time available to me. Time that would have been spent driving to medical appointments, running errands, making phone calls, visiting mom at The Lodge, or taking her out to lunch or for a drive, is now mine to do whatever I'd like with. Care giving kept my life moving at a dizzying speed. Now that scurrying about has all come to a screeching halt. In this lull, I am taking a moment to find my footing before I start moving forward again. While I wait for what is yet to come, I'm taking time to gather the inner strength that will help me find my new direction. I'm eating well, walking, reading, writing, doing art, playing the piano and paying particular attention to my dreams. Years ago, just before my parents moved in with me, I was on vacation with a friend. She commented that with my new situation, she thought my life was going to be lived more externally for awhile. I didn't believe her, feeling as grounded as I do in my inner life, but it did turn out that there was more than a grain of truth in what she had said. It makes me happy now, as my time opens up again, that those aspects of my inner life that have been pushed off to the side for awhile, are rushing back in. And they are rushing in, with the urgency of an incoming tide, happy to land themselves on my shore once again. Friends who have witnessed my life over these last years, as the care giving became more challenging, are relieved for me that it is over. They are more than ready for me to leave it behind me and return to "my own life." But I question if it is possible to make any kind of return to who I was before. These years have changed me. I never did feel that I had stepped away from "my own life" in order to care for my parents. Of course, I took a different path than I might have otherwise taken, but it was my life I was choosing. Those years of care giving were definitely ripe with life lessons, lessons that struck to the core of my being. I walk away with gifts that will serve me and there were shadow experiences that I hope I learn from. I am curious how my changes will look as I go forward, but right now there is a lot to reflect on, a lot to integrate. It is an enormous opportunity to see more deeply into who I really am. I was nearing the end of my walk when I looked up and out to sea. I saw water spray up from what I thought was a rock but it looked a bit strange. I kept my eye out there and soon realized that what I thought was a rock was the back of a whale! It was just off the rocks and moving slowly, staying very much near the surface. Then I saw that there were more. They were traveling close together. I couldn't be sure but as I watched, it seemed it was a small pod with maybe two adults and two or three babies. They were so close, I could hear the sound of their spray when they let loose and once I even heard a vocalization. I was stunned and stood watching until they moved further north and further away. I turned to walk on cloaked in gratitude and filled with wonder. That sighting felt like a blessing. I've lived in Mendocino for nearly forty years and have never seen whales that close to the shore. With the tide being so low, the ocean was nearly silent or I would never have been able to hear their spray or that vocalization. What luck that I was there at just that moment on this particular morning, open and receptive. A sighting like this always shocks me out of my little human existence. Getting a glimpse, close up, of wild creatures puts me instantly in touch with my own wild nature. Life looks different from that perspective. So many things become possible. I don't know what I would do without the natural world surrounding me as it does here in Mendocino. I don't know how I would gain perspective, comfort myself or come to any understanding of how it is that I belong to it all.
When I invited my parents to come live with me in Mendocino, I thought they would live out their lives here. I wanted to involve myself closely in their final years. But aside from what I wanted to offer, I knew Mendocino itself would offer its incredible natural beauty to enhance whatever time remained for them. My parents and I came to live very different lives but the one unifying force in my family has been the love of nature. It was a gift my parents gave me as a very young girl. I wanted to return that gift to them at the end of their lives. So we made a home here together in the redwood forest and we spent a lot of time down by the ocean in the eleven years they lived here. My father died at the age of 94. I'm grateful to have so many memories of our time together. The memories are grounded in the natural world around me. In fact, this morning just before I saw the whales, I had walked by the big log where my father rested on his daily walks on the headlands. My mother now lives in the suburbs. When I call her in the evenings she is watching the sunset over the shopping mall across the street from her new assisted living facility. She tells me how much she enjoys sitting in her room in the evening and watching the breeze move through the trees in the parking lot outside of her window. She has nature inside of her and that is what she sees. Standing on the cliff watching the whales, I realized that there were four or five whales in that pod. There were four of us in my family when I was growing up, my mother, my father, my brother and I. Later, the year my brother went off to college, my sister was born, a late in life child to my parents. So we were four and then we were five. I watched those five whales head north as if I was watching my own family, heading to new shores.
As I took in the incredible beauty of that moment, I found myself thinking how Mendocino goes on offering its beauty only this morning, I am the only one here to see it. My father has moved on, my mother has moved away. At 98 she will certainly move on before too long herself. Living with my elderly parents I come away with much less denial about my own aging and the inevitability of the end of my own life. It is foremost in my awareness that someday I too will be gone. But today I am here, still breathing, still able to walk, still able to see, hear, speak, still able to be present for the incredible gifts the world offers to me in each and every moment. I am immensely grateful.
Expressive Arts Experience For You
It is wonderful to live or be on vacation in a beautiful place but the beauty of nature is everywhere. Find a spot that calls to you. Put your life on hold for a little while and just stay there receiving the gift that nature always gives. Pay attention to your thoughts. Which ones just need to be left behind as you return to the present moment. Are there any that are calling to you for further contemplation? Learn to distinguish between the two. We all need quiet moments to sort some things out. Give yourself those moments. When you return home write in your journal, put some color on paper, make or listen to music that relates to your experience. Nature inspires art! Let it tell the story of how you are feeling right now.