I’ve always let myself off the hook when it comes to anything physically challenging.  I was that kid in high school who absolutely dreaded PE class, especially when it meant running around the track.  I could frequently be seen pulled over to the side, tears in my eyes, complaining that I was going to throw up.  Not much has changed as an adult.  One or two times I’ve taken up exercise, but only to the point where that sensation appears, and then I usually back off and eventually quit. 

     There’s a strong sense of adventure in me, but I’ve handled it much the same way I’ve dealt with my physical exercise, as a good idea lacking in execution.  While trying new things and experiencing new places is intriguing, usually my desire to be comfortable wins out, and my adventure-seeking spirit doesn’t make it out the front door. 

     Yesterday was different.  I was determined to actually do it, to go on an adventure.  A friend and I set out with a destination in mind: Abiqua Falls.  I had read of it in a recent article naming it as one of the top 10 hikes in Oregon.  The directions just to find the trailhead sounded like an ordeal all their own and as we made our way, I was thankful we were in my friend’s truck and not my little sedan.

     Since this word adventure has been calling to me, I wanted the definition: “an unusual, exciting, typically hazardous, activity or experience; an exploration of unknown territory.”  So basically it’s about stretching, letting go, opening to the unexpected, and being willing to take it all in with joy.  While there are levels of hazardous, mostly I hear it saying in order to embrace life and the multitude of experiences available, we must first acknowledge at some point we will all die.  Until we fully accept that, our fear will have the power to hold us back.

     Once we turned off the main road, a decision was made to park at the first big clearing.  It seemed like a better idea to enjoy the rest of the way as a walk, rather than risk encountering another car on the narrow, gravel road.  That initial trek just to get to the trailhead turned out to be almost two miles.  Once we found the official path and headed into the trees, it quickly became evident that this was not going to be the easy hike I had planned for.  The trail, which was said to be about 1 ½ miles long, appeared to be small and head straight down.  Our unsure footing made its way through tumbling rock, over fallen pines and around live ones, and down slippery, steep slopes. Thank goodness for whoever had thought to attach ropes to the trees in order to assist others in the descent.  It did occur to me at one point that what goes down must come back up, but I quickly brushed that thought aside.  This seemed like the perfect moment to stay present and mindful, as the word “hazardous” kept firing in my ear!  As the descent leveled, a large babbling creek bed came into view, and the roar of a waterfall was not far in the distance.  As we moved along, the creek gradually widened and deepened.  It was surrounded on both sides with indescribable shades of lush green.  Now and then, tiny wild flowers sprang from the ground in random patterns, serving as nature’s finishing touch on an already glorious canvas.  Rounding the final bend revealed our breathtaking destination! 

     We were suddenly surrounded by a massive, half-circle canyon, from which plummeted an enormous waterfall, landing in an extensive pool at our feet.  I felt as if I had just stumbled into the most magnificent, sacred sanctuary where admiring the Divine was expected, but not required.  The palpable aliveness of God was in every water drop, stone, and body resting in amazement.  Standing here, in this place, “God in everyone and everything” was no longer a theory.  It was real.  I could feel it.

     There’s nothing like the power of nature to put our humanness into perspective.  The sheer grandeur left me speechless and tearful.  As I stood at the edge of the pool, shoes off, toes being numbed, I contemplated jumping in. The roar of the water tumbling and splashing was beckoning.  How incredible would it feel to leave my clothes on the rocks and dive in, if even for a moment?  Noticing the many others, and pondering that hike back feeling wet and cold, convinced me to be satisfied with merely soaking my feet.

     Immersing in nature helps me remember the beauty of life.  There’s an almost magical quality to water.  The movement of the ocean or the calm of a lake, both have the potential to simultaneously soothe and invigorate my soul.  The water’s mystical power lies in its determination to make a path.  Perhaps that is how we are meant to be living, with a gentle power, allowing nothing to hold us back.  Sometimes we trickle and sometimes we roar, but no matter what, we always find a way to keep moving.

     As we headed back, it seemed every rounded corner brought a fresh viewpoint of the beauty we’d already seen, but hadn’t yet been able to fully absorb.  About ¾ of the way up that roped path, I encountered that place in me where the physical challenge feels too hard and I desperately want to quit.  I offered to carry the backpack so my friend could carry me, but that didn’t seem like a truly viable option!  Slowly and carefully placing each foot as I made my way up, I tuned into my body.  Above the pounding of my heart, all I could hear were my thighs screaming “Are you kidding me???!”  Once my stomach joined in the revolt and started threatening to expel the snack I had just had, it was time to sit and rest.  I needed to confront this breaking point that had held me back for so long.  When every part of me wanted to quit, I usually did just that, quit.  “I can’t” had always seemed like a fact, but now I knew it was a choice.  As my friend patiently waited, probably unaware of my internal conflict, I made a new choice.  I can do this!  I will do this!  With a renewed sense of determination, I gathered all my strength, got to my feet, and finished the rocky ascent.  As I marveled in what I had just accomplished, the 2 mile hike back to the car seemed like a breeze.  We walked. We talked. We sipped water, and I did it all in awe: of life, of nature, of self.  In the past, how many times had I quit before I really knew what I was capable of?  How many times had I chosen to bypass an experience because of the fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it?  How many encounters of extraordinary beauty were out there waiting to be explored?

     I can’t think of a better way to spend a day: time with a loved one, soaking in the inexplicable beauty of nature, and stretching the boundaries of what I believe to be possible.  Adventure.  I’m ready for the next one!

     Sunday, as I finished a song and moved from the keyboard to the podium to give the talk, it hit me. I was living my dream! It wasn’t in an arena of 20,000. It was in a room of 40, but the numbers didn’t matter. The point was, an intention I had innocently stated so long ago, had become my reality.

     It was about 12 years ago when my mother-in-law took me to a large women’s convention in Portland. From the top of the nose-bleed section, I watched a woman come out on stage, sing a touching song, and then go on to speak about challenges in life and her experiences of bouncing back. I had goose bumps running through my body and internally I said, “I want to do that!” At the time, it was a ridiculous, impossible idea. I hadn’t sung or played the piano for many years and I felt I had nothing of value to share with others. But no matter, the intention had been claimed.

     The old cliché seems a good fit here: Be careful what you ask for because you just might get it! I imagine the whispers between my Higher Power and my soul may have sounded something like this: “Need some life challenges to speak of? Well, how about if we start to unravel your life, one choice at a time, until you find yourself with nothing. Maybe we’ll crack this façade you’ve got going on to the point of leaving you huddled in a corner, surrounded by tears, disappointment and loneliness. You’ll be unsure of who you are or why you are even on this planet. We’ll allow the choices to destroy whatever positive image you might have left, and leave you questioning your value as a wife, a mom, a daughter, and a person in general. Will that do? Ooh, yes! Maybe create a nice rich soil of life’s difficulties for you to dig in. You can use it to uncover your true self, learn to share from an authentic place, and build a platform from there. Of course we’ll also have to get your creative side going again, but we’ll do that in unexpected ways, through avenues you never could have imagined. Will that work?” Standing here now, reflecting on that possible soul conversation, I marvel at all I’ve been through and how far I’ve come. Yes Spirit, I think that plan did the trick!

     The fruits of our intentions and dreams have a way of sneaking up on us.  About four years ago, I stumbled upon a video of Sarah McLachlan and Carlos Santana playing together on stage. She had been invited to do her song Angel with him, unrehearsed. As I watched the musical dance happening between the two of them in that performance, my soul set another intention. “I want to do that!” The “that” was to embody the confidence to play and sing a song with such passion that I could allow room for someone else to sit in and improvise with me.  Together we could make something beautiful. Forgetting all about that intention, one day many months later, I was in the recording studio with my producer, who also happens to be a fabulous guitar player. We were rehearsing for a small fundraising concert we’d be doing. As I started to warm up and play Angel, he began improvising along with me. I was suddenly flooded with a feeling of realization, to the point that I abruptly stopped and turned to him. This was the moment I had dreamed of! We were not two famous artists on a stage in front of thousands of adoring fans, but that didn’t matter. I had gained enough confidence and we were creating some musical magic of our own.

     Nurturing dreams into existence is an interesting process. If I had set a specific five-year goal plan, I never could have envisioned anything as wonderful as I’m actually living now. There’s a flow to the process that gets stifled in rigid planning. If we get too set in our own ideas of how things will or are supposed to look, we can miss unexpected opportunities, ones that could take us even further than we ever dreamed possible. I’m learning to stay flexible and leave a little room for the Universe to work its wonders. Often times it’s not until we’ve reached another step or turned a corner that we are able to see all the current possibilities that weren’t even imaginable from where we stood before. I’ve discovered holding the vision isn’t about achieving a specific end result. It’s about embracing unused gifts, stretching the mind, and opening the heart. It’s about who we become in the process.

     One year ago, I was in New York City for a Publicity Summit, and as I attended the various events, it just wasn’t feeling like a good fit. I wondered why Spirit had nudged me to go at all. One night my accompanying friend treated me to an evening of Broadway, Carole King’s musical Beautiful. I didn’t know much about her life or music, but I got to know her as the story unfolded in front of me. At the end, Carole surprised everyone, even the cast, emerging from behind the curtains! In her words, it was the first time she had summoned the courage to see her own story played out on stage. She interacted with all of us, doing a song which extended the overall length of the show by another 45 minutes. It was a glorious moment that sent goosebumps down my spine, even still brings tears to my eyes. This was why I had been brought to New York, to see and experience this moment. For years, I’ve been imagining a musical show, one that would bring my recent difficulties and transformation to life. As a kid, my number one dream was to be on Broadway, and even after all I’d been through, that dream had gone dormant, but had not died.

     Last month I found myself standing on stage at the Elsinore, a local historic theatre that was designed to resemble the castle in “Hamlet”. It seats about 600 on the main level, and another 200 or so in the balconies. The beauty of its décor and ornamentation is breathtaking! Standing on the stage, I had a clear vision of every seat full, a black grand piano on stage, and me. Everything about that felt right. I was ready to take the leap, reserve a date, and begin the process. The theatre’s manager, who was giving me the tour, wasn’t quite in line with what was happening within me. This is common when it comes to our dreams. Others don’t or can’t always “feel” them or believe in them at the level we can. He was questioning whether this was the right place for me. Could I really sell enough tickets to fill at least the main level? I had no idea how, but standing there, I knew without a doubt, I COULD! I had a vision, and it was spectacular! I saw people entering the doors, finding their seats. I saw the lights dimming and the curtains opening. I heard the music. I saw the laughter. I felt the tears. And when the curtain had closed for the final time, I saw myself entering the beautiful, grand lobby. Hundreds of people were milling around, enjoying the reception that was there to thank them for their support. I was hugging old friends and greeting new ones, signing books and CDs, and marveling at the way our dreams come true. 

     In January when those curtains open and this next phase of my dream takes the stage and comes alive, I’ll know this for sure: I am not Carole King and I may not be on Broadway, but that doesn’t matter. I am thriving inside my own dreams, and that is enough.    

     Last week I joined a group of college freshmen and sophomores for dinner to celebrate my daughter’s 19th birthday.  As I sat at the table, watching them and listening to the various conversations, I was struck by how vibrant and alive they all were.  The talk was animated, the topics passionate, and the eyes bright.  They easily expressed opinions, laughter and affections. 

     As I spent the next day going in and out of the coed dorm making trips to the car, I noticed it again.  There was a palpable buzz of love and excitement meeting me in every doorway.  At one point as I washed my hands in the restroom, I studied the one staring back.  Am I really old enough to have a child in college?  How is it that even as I watch my reflection gradually morph, internally I still feel 18?  It could easily have been me moving out of that dorm, couldn’t it?  And honestly, sometimes I think when others see me out with my five kids, they must surely wonder if I am the nanny! 

     Am I the only parent that feels this way?  If you are chuckling right now, you either find me ridiculous, or you feel it too.  And if that’s true for most of us, then why is it that externally we gradually stop expressing that youthful exuberance?  How is it that we somehow manage to suppress all those spry qualities as time makes its way across our faces?  It’s so easy to become numb to life, dreading the days, biding our time.  We become complacent and bitter, closed off to all the world has yet to offer.  I reject the premise that as we get older, our best days are already behind us?  No matter the age, what if our best days are yet to come?

     So what does it take to keep that enthusiasm of “the world’s at my feet” mentality?  It starts with redefining what some of the markers of age really mean.  What if wrinkles of despair were marks of courage?  What if changing bodies were temples of wisdom instead of problems needing a lift and tuck?  What if the many footprints on the heart were remembered simply as moments of loving instead of experiences of pain?  What if challenges were an opportunity to grow instead of a justification for feeling defeated?  What if life were an adventure instead of an ordeal?  And what if death wasn’t something to be feared?

     Those youthful qualities still reside in each one of us, waiting for an opportunity to freely express.  Allow your face to contort in giggles, easily reach out to convey love, and light up with enthusiasm for who you are.  It’s fun to walk around feeling young and alive, and it’s contagious!

Several weeks ago, I made a commitment to myself:  I would become more dedicated in my writing of the blog, both for my own practice and as a way to regularly communicate with my fellow travelers.  After many false starts this week, it's become apparent...I got nothin! I've decided to go ahead and honor the commitment to myself anyway, and so this week's blog is simply an explanation as to why there is no blog!

I find that my best writing comes from that deeper place within.  A topic often pops into my mind, almost as if by some sort of universal magic, and then the words quickly make their way from my mind, through my heart and out of my finger tips onto the page.  This is the way my writing works.  It's how I wrote the book.  I even hesitate claiming that I'm doing the writing because most times it feels as if I am merely a vessel for the messages to write themselves through me.  If I try to write any other way, the words usually end up feeling and sounding forced and contrived. 

In the absence of a thought-provoking topic, I've decided to be gentle with myself.  I trust that even though some inspired insight hasn't made its way onto the page, there are many brewing inside of me and when the time is right, they will emerge.

As I relax into this trusting of the process, it occurs to me....perhaps a blog about no blog, is a blog afterall!

Do you want to be right or do you want to be loved?  Maybe you've heard that phrase before, and maybe you haven't. It came rushing into my mind recently while I was witnessing a conversation between two people. I was watching each of them dig in and deeply root themselves in their own opinion of how they had remembered a situation occurring earlier that morning. This quickly spiraled from a conversation into a he said/she said argument. Because each person was viewing their opinion as "the truth" of the matter, neither could allow the other's opinion to even be a valid possibility. The more they volleyed on whom was right, the more their faces contorted into anger and frustration. It was obvious neither felt heard. After much back and forth, one finally said "I don't want to argue about this" and then muttering under her breath, "but I'm right." It was at this point that the phrase playing in my mind tumbled unexpectedly out of my mouth, "Do you want to be right or do you want to be loved?"

Ouch! The moment of impact silenced all movement and speech, sending thought ripples around the table of, "I can't believe she just said that!" Well I couldn't believe it either, but like so many times we manage to unsuccessfully filter our mouths, it was too late. The harshness of the phrase had already landed. And then the shocking answer came, "I'd rather be right."

I pondered those happenings all day.  Can that really be true? Someone would rather be right than be loved? And then when I just couldn't seem to digest or understand that part, my mind turned to get a full understanding of what being right or being loved might mean.

Being loved is about feeling heard. It's about knowing that we are important and that what we have to say means something. When I have a need to be right, in order for that to happen, then the other has to be wrong. This creates an adversarial dynamic, not one conducive to feeling loved. To fully understand what that means, here are some synonyms for adversary: opponent, rival, enemy, antagonist, powerful words, none of which convey an ounce of love. An adversarial dynamic by nature contains a winner and a loser. In order for a healthy love to grow in any relationship, there must be a respect for the other person and their thoughts, a desire to understand who they are and why they think the way they do. When I need to be right, I am essentially discounting you.

I've been at the losing end of this many times before. Engaging with someone who always has to be right leaves no room for an honest interaction, and being constantly corrected wears away at one's self-esteem. At some point I stop sharing because I know the other person is not listening from a place of openness. They are instead listening for that moment when I say something "wrong" so they can swoop in and correct me, proving their rightness.  It's exhausting and these days I tire of those kinds of interactions very quickly.

I've also been the one who needed to be right. I didn't know at the time that meant I was, by default, making someone else wrong. I just knew I always had the answer. This doesn't just happen in bigger, more obvious conflicts and disagreements. It becomes a way of life, showing up in the smallest of instances. You say up, I say down. You say it's cold, I say it's only chilly. You say it's 12:00, I say no it's 12:03. I used to even go into others' houses and when using the bathroom, switch their toilet paper roll around because they had it on incorrectly! I thought I was being helpful, setting everyone straight and fixing things with certainty. Now I know differently. Though I've made much progress in this area, it's something I still remain mindful of. And given how quickly that phrase slipped out of my mouth earlier, prompting this writing, I still have some work to do! Typically, when I feel myself wanting to go there, I take a breath, pause, and wonder, "Does what I'm about to say really matter in the bigger scheme of life?" If not, I let it go.

Essentially, here's the bigger truth as I see it. Everything is perspective, and so it is possible that my opinions feel as much like the truth to me as yours do to you. Ultimately, it really doesn't matter if it's 12:00 or 12:03, if that shirt looks blue/green or teal, or if that thing happened on Wednesday evening or Wednesday night.  What matters is how people feel in your presence. The bigger question to ask is, "How important is this relationship to me?" If it's important, then proceed with caution! Be aware that your constant need to be right is eroding away at your connection with others. All of those criticisms and corrections which individually seem insignificant at the time, are building up and creating an argumentative energy around you. You may not realize it now, but there will come a time when people have had enough, and they'll no longer enjoy being in your company. When that time comes, you'll be left wondering, "What happened? Where did everyone go? Why don't I feel loved?" Likely, your methods of communication have unknowingly alienated everyone around you.

The good new is it's never too late to change our patterns of communication. So I ask again: Do you want to be right or do you want to be loved?

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