Surrender was the theme that presented itself throughout the week. Allow and accept. Let it be. Let go.
Back in October, Constance wrote a great blog on the theme of “Surrender”, and it was succinct and straight to the point. I liked it.
My take on surrender is like a lazy windy old river. I will meander on.
At my last yoga class I taught Yin Yoga. Yin requires surrendering to the force of gravity to allow the muscle to relax so that it allows access to the deeper and denser connective-tissue. This is different to the traditional yoga classes which use more muscle to move into the pose and to hold the pose.
Then I recall my short-lived acting life at the “Imagined Life” studio. I wasn’t very good. I had the tendency to be in my head rather than my heart and my body. The teacher tried different techniques to help me drop my judgmental-analytical mind. One assignment I had was to play a mother, “Rita”, who has a fling with her son’s best friend. My resistance to the character was the problem. I was playing rather than being; and judging and not accepting – “That’s not me”; “I could never do that”. But once I allowed myself to fall under the spell of this woman’s imagined life, I became authentic.
Surrender also applies to my writing too. I had the best intention of writing every day of my blog week, especially as it is my last week before the start of the new year. But I was more concerned with product rather than process. I was pulling at ideas rather than letting them come to me. Forced writing is more applicable to “work” (like doing a user manual; writing software specifications; or a project proposal). Writing from the gut is organic and flowing.
This piece almost wrote itself one very late night (or early morning) and I was in a half-conscious state. The theme was inspired by the mythology of Demeter. Upon the discovery of her daughter Persephone’s disappearance, Demeter, as Mother Earth hailed drought upon the lands. The crops withered and the land was barren for a very long time. She could not be appeased, until she finally conceded to the fate of Persephone’s marriage to Hades upon Zeus’ persuasion. Upon Demeter’s surrender the land became fruitful again. But Persephone also had to descend back to the underworld for part of each year, and when she returned to earth then the corn crop would also return. Life needs this cycle of active and passive stages. This is Yin and Yang.
December 15th, 2018 is the 11th month anniversary of Bruno’s fatal accident. This past year I’ve had many times of being powerless to the weight of my grief. I felt like Demeter losing my light. And when I resisted being down, I felt more incapacitated because I wasn’t being authentic to my feeling. I was resisting the feeling of the pain. It’s like lightning struck down half of a whole tree. I just wanted to get the season of winter over and done with. But it doesn’t work that way. These things take time. When I decide to surrender and let go of my idea of being “okay”, and allow myself to stay in the dark cocoon of grief till it was ready to melt away then the tears flow; and it passes.
Forgiveness is also a form of surrender to my idea of being right or being granted justice. It’s not fair that Bruno died in the hands of a hit & run driver and that I’ve been robbed of my dreams with him. It’s wrong that this person is still at large. It’s unbelievable that I had to fight to get my green card status, because the INS didn’t believe my marriage to Bruno is real. The list can go on about how life is just – just – just blankety blank-blank. But at this moment, I choose to let it go. I surrender. I can forgive, because I must otherwise I can’t move forward to let spring and summer arise and bear fragrant flowers and sweet fruits into my life. I need air. I have to breathe again. Exhalation is surrender.
day three hundred and twenty-six 6, december 2018 3 days of rain already overflow gutters garbage & fallen fronds lantern fruits paint grey skies international-orange persimmons fatten seasons bright finger tips press firmly, imagining ripeness forgiving peace hope love
I needed a lifeline and a buoy to stay afloat and to anchor myself to another reality of some sort.
The therapist recalled that I stood out from the crowd because he saw that I was in a deep trance. I wondered perhaps if my consistent meditation practice is the reason for this ability to lapse into a different mode. I booked a private session to address the weight that I had been unable to unload without professional help. I was tailspinning into a depression over the loss of my husband Bruno Herve Commereuc in a motorcycle accident this past January. So we begin.
I am lying down comfortably with my eyes closed and listening attentively. My body is deeply relaxed. He suggests that I relinquish my analytical left brain and allow my superconscious to take care of everything. The superconscious knows everything – more than the left-brain modality which sorts, judges and focuses only on what’s at hand, while the right brain has the detailed roadmap to everything the subconscious has recorded.
I am aware that I take deep breaths now and again. I move my head to release the tension on my neck. My body is dead weight. My awareness is acute. I am tuned in to his every word and other noises in the room and beyond its doors and walls. I feel the movement and temperature of the surrounding air. I sense the modulation of his voice and the fine-tuning of my bodily states, mostly heavy and limp and my eyes feel stretched out. What a strange state of awareness – fully awake and yet, under the spell of a suggestive voice. I go down an elevator, then I walk down the stairs to a garden.
What is this garden? The sunlight is softly filtered perhaps by an early morning mist and there’s a tree in the middle. A pathway surrounds the tree and one by one, my loved ones from previous times appear. The first to appear is my dog, Chloe. Not far is my Beloved Bruno. He wears the shirt I gave him for Christmas in 2014. He loved that shirt. Then others appear one by one: my cousin Sonny, my father Andre, my elderly best friend Helen, Bruno’s father, Christian, whom I never met, Bruno’s friend Hiep, and Bruno’s surrogate mother at the farm in Brittany. Her name was Helen also. Then I see David and Valentine – the dog and cat under the fig tree. After a brief conversation with each one or just looking into each others’ faces, I stand back and watch both sides of our families and friends mingle. It is a garden party. I don’t really know what to say or ask them so the therapist suggests to me to ask Bruno what lessons he was supposed to teach me and what did he learn from me.
Bruno to me: “Take a bite out of life”. “Don’t live with regrets.”
What he learned from me: “Sweetness”, “Gentleness”, “Happiness in each others’ company”
This is just the beginning of the journey. Later I am drifting with a light energy to meet my spiritual guide. I know his face. It is also the spiritual guide of Paramahansa Yogananda. Now I understand why I had an affinity to Sri Yukestewar. He was in the pages of “Autobiography of a Yogi”. He was the brightest star in Paramahansa Yogananda’s life. And I find out now that he too was my karmic spiritual guide. He had saved me from poverty in the streets of India. I was an orphan begging at the railway station. I moved from homelessness to live in his orphanage where I was nourished with food and love. Then I grew up there and became part of its foundations to help other orphans survive and thrive.
After an hour of past life regresion I come back to 2018 in my body, in the same room where I entered the garden and later I turned towards the staircase that lead away from the garden. Upon leaving the garden I said to Bruno “I have to go”. This is quite the opposite of what had happened in January with his unexpected and sudden death. This time it is me saying to my Beloved I am going. I am leaving the realm of the superconscious to return to a shallower realm of the consciousness – the realm of problem-solving, questions (lots of it), judgements, loneliness and occasional breakthroughs to the underlying reality that we are all one. We are energy condensed into matter with a veil of separateness because of ego and free will.
I recognize that it would be hard to convince anyone of you readers about this visceral experience. What led me to this particular path of exploration? Why? And where to now? My deep interest in metaphysics is what attracted me to attend a workshop sponsored by the Edgar Cayce Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE) with the featured speaker Gregg Unterberger M.Ed, LPC. The topic was “Edgar Cayce on The Unseen Worlds – Past Lives, Future Lives, the Afterlife”. The timeliness of this workshop was a god-send for someone like me who needs to tether to another realm of truth for answers to questions that this day-to-day reality cannot provide so readily. That answers the What and Why. Where to now? I have a sense of hope, a lightness of being after being unburdened with the questions. At least, I had a chance to see and talk to my Beloved (even if perhaps it was in my imagination). But it was real. I know it. I am moving a little more forward and treading the earth a little lighter. That mountain of grief doesn’t appear so tall and unsurmountable. There is a path.
On this path I carry a book written by Gregg Unterberger. The book is titled “The Quickening”. In my own words it describes proven techniques for spiritual awakening based on scientific research and deep soul searching from an educated and compassionate healer. From my experience, it is the reality-shattering experiences such as a trauma that can jar a person into waking up from a recurring nightmare of flatlining to ennui or meaninglessness. I did recognize I needed help and so I reached out for it. I am grateful that I found this modality of help that is inline with my personal belief system.
On my desk are two books that have “Mindful” in the titles: “Mindful Meandering” by Laura Lee Fritz. It’s a workbook containing 132 original continuous-line quilting designs. The second book is “Mindful Reflections – Patterns of Hope” by Antoineta Edwards. It is a journal for reflection, growth and relaxation. Interestingly, both use quilt patterns and mindfulness concepts. A copy of the May issue of LA YOGA is close by. Inside is an article on a “Call for Education Around Mindful Communication”, by Adam Avin, a 14-year old who founded the Wuf Shanti Program. The theme of mindfulness abounds.
Antoineta attends my yoga classes at the library. She got interested in the classes because I teach mindfulness. She wrote a dedication in the journal I purchased, “Analyn, thank you for inspiring us to be mindful in our lives…”
After completing the first mindful exercise from her book I felt a sense of accomplishment without really doing anything. I followed the steps of reflecting on the quote, writing down what came to me, then followed with two writing exercises on what I like about Analyn and what I am grateful for. (It’s key in the exercise to write “I like <your name>”). The last step is to color in the quilt pattern. Optional is a final step to write an afterthought, like a celebratory thought.
Perhaps a lot is being accomplished in a state of doing nothing – in that mindful stillness. In allowing a pen in hand to meander and to color I achieved a state of relaxation and surrender – a natural state of equilibrium.
Laura Lee Fritz’ book is designed for quilt makers to use the 44+ meandering patterns. “Meandering” is a terminology in quilting to describe lines that do not intersect other lines. She notes at the end, “A word about art… Throughout history, quilts have represented people’s lives, often expressing a love of story as well as a love of color. It is sufficient to practice your craft in an expressive way, and follow the path of just ‘doing it’. You will begin to see the world with a greater attention to what it truly looks and feels like, and those observations will appear in your work. Now you are an artist.”
Meanwhile, Adam Avin says “As a 14-year old, I’m striving to live my life to the fullest. But it’s hard when…” and he lists the distractions of the discouraging news on the TV about danger and shootings. What can we do? he asks. “I think we can look at education.” Wuf Shanti program is a team that visits schools and children’s hospitals to teach how to practice yoga, meditation and positive thinking. “Yoga, meditation and mindfulness can improve the healing process, help us handle stress and have better interaction with others.”
A beginning exercise of mindfulness is to observe the breath. Tuning the attention to the breath, the seer can also watch how the mind wanders away from observing the breath. The seer reminds the mind to watch the breath. It is a continuous observation of the flow of the breath and the flow of the mind. In doing this exercise the practitioner begins to understand the nature of the mind – how the mind can move from one thought to another and another so easily like a gamboling goat on the side of a mountain.
What is the connection between the mindful books, the LA Yoga article and mindfulness exercise on the breath? I summarize it to a conversation I had with Alex, the owner of a motorcycle maintenance and repair shop on Pico Blvd. He’s a racer and also a mechanic, the kind of mechanic any motorcyclist would want to go to when you’re cruising and zooming along on two tires. Alex knows and has the feel for motorcycles and the rider. I venture to identify Alex as a mindful person. He’s the Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance. He’s the observer and the doer.
He specializes in motorcycling and as a seasoned racer, mechanic, entrepreneur and mentor – his education is a process that can be applied to other areas in life. Mindfulness is a process of revelation; and in peeling off layers to reveal the true nature of things there is also an accumulation of more light – an illumination that brings about clarity and a sense of peace. His process of accumulating a body of knowledge and work from years on the track, the shop, running a business and being an artist can be transposed to the “human condition”. The “human condition” is what is.
We came to the conclusion in our conversation over a bottle of Pacifica when the shop work had wound down, and my Suzuki was ready to go. The bike was scheduled for a fork job. The seals had been worn and rust had started to corrode the forks. He gave the bike extra TLC: he lowered the seat so that I don’t have to be on tippy toes; fixed a slow leak on the back tire, oiled the kick stand. I noticed he also polished my mirrors – a finishing touch like putting the sprig of mint on a strawberry parfait.
We talked about the education of police officers who are trained to shoot a person posing a threat. The example was a mentally imbalanced sixty-year old woman who is wielding a knife. If she moves to threaten a police officer then the officer is trained to shoot her once she’s within a defined perimeter – say 16 feet. It is baffling why the officer is not trained to contain the situation, rather than pull the trigger as the first line of defense. The officer could call for backups or at worst shoot to disarm the woman (say aim at the feet), rather than aim to kill. Then upon containment of the situation call on an expert to deal appropriately with the hysteria of the woman, and perhaps begin to understand the root cause of the problem instead of shutting off the possibilities of beginning to understand why she’s mentally imbalanced and carrying a knife.
“The main purpose of education should be to enable us, as John Dewey said, to come into the possession of all our powers, to help us grow as human beings, and to locate our potentialities so that we can better develop them” – interview with Norman Cousins from November/December 1984 posted on Mother Earth News.
A practice on mindfulness is a path that leads to seeing the possibilities and the potentialities within an individual. As an example, to control your breath as means to direct and extend the prana (life force) within you has a direct effect on the mind and anatomically the brain that secretes hormones that brings a sense of calmness and even euphoria. In a state of equanimity we can make better choices. Mindfulness is a practice. It is not medicine. It is exercising your free will to choose to attend and to be present to regularly practice mindfulness. There are other methods of practicing mindfulness and it need not be in a yoga studio.
“What is the eternal and ultimate problem of a free society? It is the problem of the individual who thinks that one man cannot possibly make a difference in the destiny of that society.” – Norman Cousins from his book “Human Options”.
Alex White is practicing mindfulness just being human and doing his work of calling. His mindful practice resolves to showing compassion to a fellow rider and being a steward of human kindness.
I express a deep gratitude to Alex who has helped me deal with all of the motorcycle work and dealing with the situation of Bruno’s fatal accident on his bike. Alex is a solution to the problem of a free society. He made a positive difference in my life and that will have domino effect that I can make a positive effect on others too.
When you’re seeking motorcycle advice, repair, maintenance, performance tuning and purchases of bikes and accessories go to MPS – Motorcycle Performance Services, located at 4150 W Pico Blvd 90019. Phone number: 323-939-2370. You’ll find Alex there and his sweet and friendly staff including the two gorgeous German Shepherds.
I am self-conscious in my new outfit, a widow of a tragic accident, but my self-awareness is still intact. I will shush the self-conscious one and let the self-aware wise woman on the hill write so that I can get on with the task of living authentically.
The last three and half months has been an inward and outward journey. I feel I’ve exploded and imploded at the same time. To make sense of death the way it came upon Bruno and our life is still beyond making sense to me. Maybe someone else has the answers so I talk to others who’ve been through this and I read a lot. I found a copy of “Further Along The Road Less Traveled” by psychiatrist and educator M. Scott Peck. The third chapter, “The Issue of Death and Meaning”, speaks how society has a tendency to turn away from the reality of death. He observed, “Of course, most people have very little taste for struggling with the idea of their death. They do not even want to think about it. They want to exclude it from their awareness thereby limiting their consciousness.”
Yesterday, Monday morning, I racked my head for what to blog about. I struggled with not writing from the shoes I’m wearing; one who has just lost a dear loved one, my husband. But nothing else has occupied my mind other than that loss. What can I contribute from my perspective? I asked myself. At this moment I can share that the pain, suffering and sorrow have expanded my consciousness. It is a loss of innocence, not unlike losing one’s virginity that opens a new dimension to living and dying. Losing sexual innocence is not just the ecstasy of a sexual relationship but the wholeness of losing oneself in a relationship – the whole gamut of sharing inner and outer space together with someone you’ve chosen and whose chosen you.
There was supreme joy in finding that special one, Bruno, who loved me for who I am and not what I am. His joie de vivre and compassion attracted all kinds of people and he accepted them all. We were enthralled by his burning bright flame till one day that light was snuffed out. The pain of the loss is confounded by the suffering of the suddenness and unexpected death; and deepened by a hit and run accident on his motorcycle, only five minutes away from home. All that is a tape that plays over and over. I get relief by meditating, gardening, eating, drinking and trying to get on with life again.
Death is a shadow on my shoulder, but I don’t carry it in a morbid sense. I appreciate the circle of support I’ve received from friends and family. I encounter loving and caring words and gestures from strangers whose heard about it, or with whom I’ve shared the news with directly.
In Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ book, “On Death and Dying” she identifies the stages a person who is dying can experience and these are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. These stages are also the same process that a person experiences in steps towards psychological or spiritual growth.
I cannot say it better than how M. Scott Peck ends the third chapter other than to quote him directly:
It is not an easy journey. The tentacles of narcissism are subtle and penetrating and have to be hacked away day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. Forty years after first recognizing my own narcissism, I am still hacking.
It is not an easy journey (he repeats), but what a worthwhile journey it is. Because the further we proceed in diminishing our narcissism, our self-centeredness and sense of self-importance the more we discover ourselves becoming not only less fearful of death, but also less fearful of life. And we become more loving. No longer burdened by the need to protect ourselves, we are able to lift our eyes off ourselves and to truly recognize others. And we begin to experience a sustained, underlying kind of happiness that we’ve never experienced before as we become progressively more self-forgetful and hence more able to remember God.
I hack away at the weeds daily, throughout the day and the night, hoping and hoping that light will pour in through the crack.
Upon Bruno’s sudden and unexpected accidental death on his Yamaha, the world changed in varying degrees. Like a Google Map I am faced with re-centering my life. It’s not our life as a married couple, but my singular life.
‘dBruno Hervé CommereucMy mom gives me a well meaning advice this morning. Remove his clothes from the drawers to make room for yours. I bit my lip and clamped off the Mt. Vesuvius inside of me. If you have an opinion just keep it to yourself I wanted to scream.
People say, “He’d want you to be happy. You have to move on.” My intellect gets it but my heart doesn’t. Better to keep your opinions for later because right now I only need your presence and not your judgments. Be one of my dogs and just sit with me. It’s times like this when there are no words.
As a writer I write to make sense of what’s happening. I want to write but I can’t. My heart is lead and every limb and joint is heavy too. I want him to linger. I want his scent to stay. I cut off the string from the lemon tree where he hung the wasp trap. I save the knot because no one will ever tie a knot like Bruno… the way he would truss a bird before it goes into the oven to feed the lonely hearts and the empty bellies.
There are no words to put order in the midst of chaos. I move like an automaton to survive. Yes I’ve got that. I can’t let the wall of dignity crack lest ‘I lose it.’ Maybe this is why people offer structures to align myself to: “Have you thought about what you’re going to do?” Please don’t ask me this question in a phone call in between errands. It hurts my feelings.
Words create order. A skilled writer and/or speaker can put disorder into order. A meteorologist can enlighten what’s happening in a hurricane. The eye of the storm is the calm surrounded by the vortex of violent forces that destroy what we believed as permanent. No matter how hard I tidy up, sweep the floor, dust the picture frames and put clean laundry in its proper place entropy will rule. It’s a matter of time. How long can I keep up this face of composure like Humpty Dumpty sitting on the wall?
The natural laws of the universe is held in place by a tension… Life is a delicate balance shadowed by that moment of “Time is up. Let’s go. Leave all else behind. You won’t be needing it. You’re a light traveller. You are light.”
On January 15, 2018, Bruno Hervé Commereuc was killed by a hit and run driver at the corner of 54th Street and Arlington in Los Angeles, California. The Los Angeles Police Department is asking for information to help in apprehending the driver of the grey Nissan 370Z (updated vehicle description from the flyer, below) who is still at large.
On my road trip to Idaho on the motorcycles with Bruno, we spent a night at a motel-RV park with a mini-mart, a bar and gas station. It was during this trip that I was kicking around the idea of ‘the edge’. What is it about? At Middlegate Station, a place to stop for weary travelers, I discovered a community that lives on the edge of the loneliest highway in America, Highway 50 in Nevada. The roadhouse sits on the junction of Highway 50 and Highway 361.
In this age of internet and commercial industry, Middlegate Station is remote. There were stretches of the road when we didn’t encounter another car for hours, except for transport trucks which were infrequent. With smaller gas tanks, we took every opportunity to fill up, not knowing where the next gas station will be open or operable. The map was only second best to word of mouth for reliable information.
We filled up at Gabbs and talked to the attendant who told us that the road is decent and recommended to gas up at Middlegate, because beyond that she didn’t know what’s opened. Gabbs is a small mining town that experienced a downturn when the magnesium mine closed. It was close to 3 pm when we rolled into Middlegate. Inside the bar, there were windows that faced northeast on the L of hwy 50 and hwy 361, and a young man grilled hamburger meat. At his feet was a toddler and further into the dark room, an older man behind the counter talking with two men who watched the TV with the volume at high.
We decided to refresh with some drinks before filling up the tanks. I ordered a dark beer and Bruno had white wine. It tasted good. We looked at the menu. “Freedom Fries”. I told Bruno to keep quiet so as not to give away his French accent. There were $1 dollar bills pinned, stapled and taped on every surface of the place, except for the table tops. The walls and ceiling were stained with tar from tobacco and grease. The little girl started to cry. The young man and older man, both with similar features, looked at each other. They communicated without words. Father and son spoke gently to the young baby, telling her gently that her mom will be back later.
I finished my beer and told Bruno I could have another one it tasted so good, and I wanted to know more about this place, these people. There was something special about them. Go ahead he said. But I wouldn’t be able to get back on the bike if I had another drink. I was exhausted after 2 days on the bike, and I wasn’t trained for these long hauls. Then I thought I knew what the pony express riders felt when they rode from station to station at break neck speeds while trying to avoid getting killed. My situation wasn’t as dire, but like them I was gloriously happy to come upon this haven. We decided to stay, ‘if they have room’ I said. The old man had watched us and listened to our conversation.
I asked if they had a room, and the old man said “Let me check.” I was surprised by his answer, because the place looked deserted except for the local people, and there were only a handful there. He checked his book, then said there is one room left. I wondered if he was kidding me. We took the room. He gave us the key and the direction across the courtyards towards the row of trailers that were subdivided into rooms. We finished our beers and moved the bikes closer to the trailer motel.
The room had a double bed and a single bed, a night table and lamp. The toilet and tub were clean. The space was cramped but the important thing was it was proudly clean and complete. There were towels and grooming paraphernalia. We unloaded the bike, put the gear on the single bed then headed back to the bar for food and more beverages. After that we played horseshoes at the pit. The proprietor, the old man, came to watch and made a friendly passing comment. Bruno beat my pants, though he’s never played the game before. Afterwards, we took a long nap and woke up at twilight.
Upon waking Bruno offered to get me something to drink at the bar. He left me inside the room, and I lounged and listened to the falling twilight. I heard voices and cars outside. Bruno walked in with the beer and he had ice for his white wine. His news was there were some new people that checked in. So they were busy after all. The old man had expected others, so we were lucky to get a room. Bruno urged me to get up to see the sunset. We walked around. The foothills were shadows upon the setting sun on the wild West. It was in the middle of nowhere. They have generators for electricity. What about water? Is there a well or do they have to bring that in?
We joined the others in the bar. Beer and wine flowed, a man played the guitar and sang Western songs. He did both really well too. The locals and the new comers had known each other from before. They had returned to film the 2nd half of the documentary ‘The Last Road House’.
In 2011, Ryan and Lisette Cheresson and their friends from New York were headed off to Burning Man. The convoy stopped at Middlegate Station for some rest and to refresh their supplies before they got back on the road. The couple were impressed by the people in this nowhere place which embodied strength and soul. It was a community that lived off the grid, and in 2013 they found out that the owners Freda and Russ Stevenson were struggling to maintain their livelihood. Their small community of people living in RVs and trailers relied on energy powered by a diesel generator. With this documentary their intention is to draw attention to the need of this community to have access to a clean source of energy. As the price of diesel had risen dramatically high, they want to help the community try to get funding for solar energy.
This was the edge living in the outback without any of the infrastructure that we take for granted. Yes, there was water for my showers at Middlegate, but at what cost? There was cold beer and hot food, but at what cost? I read someone’s critique about the hamburger served at Middlegate, and wondered if the person even considered the energy that brought that food on his plate in the middle of nowhere.
I experienced that edge during that 18 hour period. It was in the fierce grit of people who were hanging on to the remains of a lifestyle choice.
‘The state of Nevada ranks fourth in the nation for solar energy capacity. There are currently 84 companies in operation in Nevada that provide solar energy, but Fredda said the $750,000 start-up cost is way out of her price range. Fredda has applied for several grants to install a solar array at Middlegate, all of which have been denied. If you’re not on the grid and can’t put energy back into it, you don’t qualify. This puts people like Fredda in an impossible situation. “If you’re not on the grid,” she says, “you’re a second-class citizen.”’
The edge was in the gracious hospitality of the inhabitants to strangers in an inhospitable environment. The edge was the bond between father and son soothing the baby in her need and cry for her mother. The edge was the man singing with his one of a kind acoustic Gibson guitar. The edge was his deep gratitude and joy that Ryan remembered to bring him the proper tool to fix his guitar, because there wasn’t a luthier or Guitar Center nearby in any direction.
A conversation with the 22 year old, Maggie Urban-Weale, a journalism major and volunteer for the crew was a reminder of believing in something good and not expecting rewards. Later that evening, as we all walked to our respective rooms, we hung out under the moonlight and finished our drinks. We invited her in to play guitar, and she sang ‘Closing Time’. Speaking with the youngest of the crew members, I was reminded of hope and beauty. The young people of today want a better tomorrow, and they’re striving for it with this project.
“There are an estimated 200,000 people in America living off-grid. Many of these people, who lack access to municipal utilities like power or water, are the ranchers, miners, and truckers who keep America moving. Middlegate keeps those ranchers and truckers moving, and is one of the region’s only social hubs. Places like Middlegate are important not only for their historical value, but because of their significance in rural communities.”
“Artistically, we are interested in the juxtaposition of the old and the new—how new technology (such as solar) can help save historic places (like Middlegate). We’re also interested in the interplay between the rugged individualism that categorizes much of the rural West and their need for governmental assistance. As one academic told us, for the people of Middlegate to reach out and ask for help means that their situation is dire.” – http://www.lastroadhouse.com/
The seed I planted in my mind before leaving LA was to experience the open road to rediscover my edge. I felt I had lost it during the past few years in trying to survive living in a big city. I’m no longer surprised, but happily accept, when events endorse my faith that the universe will give you what you ask for though I may not know when or how it will manifest.
Homeward bound along the I395 we spent our last night of our vacation in Lone Pine, CA. The magnificent Mount Whitney, at 14,505 feet, is a beautiful backdrop to a “small town with lots of charm”. This town has grown to become a mecca for travelers, hikers and tourists since the Mt. Whitney trail was completed in 1904. I discover that I came here as a pilgrim. There was time when I looked at a mountain and I would imagine the traverse up, studying the contours and ridges to determine a way up to the top. When we passed through Lone Pine two weeks ago, I described to Bruno my feeling of loss – why wasn’t I surveying a trail to climb up? What a strange feeling to be aware of the loss, and then accepting the loss.
I haven’t hiked very much since I moved out here. My excuse was the heat and dryness of the mountain ranges in SoCal which I was not accustomed to, compared to British Columbia, where the forest and meadows are lush and the flowing creeks spray cool mountain waters. I had allowed this joy for the wilderness wither away as I embedded myself into the living of a desert city, yet a mosaic of cultures. The tiles of faces, languages and smells from the streets are both an invitation and assault on the senses. Which one to choose?
Riding, alone with my own thoughts, and only the wind to brush my jacket and pants, and whistling in my ears, I focused on the terrain. There’s always something to be prepared for: debris, crossing deer or elk, open cattle, falling rock, weather pattern changes, looking to see if Bruno is still behind me, the curve coming up, state patrol, the unwrapping scenery of mountains, valleys, basins and rock formations. This is a beautiful country. Every turn is breathtaking. As one local in Snohomish Valley described, ‘God couldn’t have painted a better picture’. Certainly, people are more apt to look at the bikes with its zig-zag of bungee chords to tie down whatever we deemed as ‘necessary’ for the journey. That too changed on a daily basis. We made trips to the post offices every few days to send back home the simple little treasures , souvenirs and dirty clothes we had accumulated.
The daily grind of the road didn’t wear me out, except for a fresh fatigue from the intake of conversations, scenery and preparing for the next day. I tried to meditate on ‘the edge’. How did ‘Stella Got Her Groove Back’? (I never saw the movie, but the title was apt for my situation.) How will I relearn to look at a mountain and have that joyful curiousity to climb it to the peak? It took miles and miles of riding alone and just letting things happen. Without expectations we chewed up the miles between LA and Hayden, and back down to LA again, doing a loop that closed again at Lone Pine. I don’t know how it happened, but it happened – not by design – but simply accepting what was present at the moment, and making choices and adjustments as needed.
The choice between forging ahead into unknown territory or staying one extra day to fix the bike; the choice to decline the offer of a shelter overnight from a stranger because of the rain and lateness of the day; the choice to accept a round of beer at the saloon from a traveler who cared to ask, ‘Where are you guys from?’. Regardless of the choices made, I see now that there is not a right or wrong. It’s a matter of accepting the results of the choices made. I’ve always pondered the quote from Miles Davis:
If you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that you play that determines if its’s good or bad.
– Miles Davis (1926 – 1991)
We rounded back to Lone Pine because we had determined we didn’t want to take the I5. I’ve traveled along this path many times before, and I had never seen the Sierra Nevada, so it seemed to be the natural choice to make. The first night into California we stopped at Susanville. The motel owner welcomed us with the ‘biker special’ at $50 for a simple and clean room stocked with a fridge and a microwave. By this time, we had learned to make nutritious and delicious meals using simple ingredients and cooking in the microwave. I was still masturbating my brain to figure out how to get my groove back, but I was fully absorbed in fullness of traveling and the ripening of the end of a trip. I had seen a lot of faces of the desert with its terrains and living and non-living habitats, such as the family living in Middlegate, Nevada running on a diesel generator and the beginnings of a solar energy. Certainly these inhabitants of the desert are pushing to maintain a type of life on the edge.
Black Rock Solar is solarizing one of our country’s historic roadhouses. It’s Middlegate Station, on the loneliest road in America – Highway 50 in Nevada.
If you’ve stopped in whilst bumping around in the desert, you were probably glad for the cold drink or ice cream sandwich to wash the dust from your lips. But cold in the Nevada desert doesn’t come cheap. Off the municipal electric grid and powered 24/7 by a diesel generator, Middlegate’s future is in doubt after years of rising fuel costs.
Middlegate’s owners – Fredda and Russ Stevenson – and Black Rock Solar have secured a State Office of Energy loan and are working to secure more funding for a larger array to keep Middlegate Station viable with the power of the sun.
The story above is the beginning of yet another blog I’d like to write about, as it is a story in itself. But it watered the seed of my initial inquiry about getting the edge back. One of the crew members, a bold and wise young woman, told me that you never really lose the edge because you always have the edge. It didn’t dawn upon me till today that it’s like the knife that loses its sharpness. A knife will always have an edge, but how it is used and maintained defines the kind of edge it has. Using its metal against ceramic or breaking open a coconut shell with the wrong type of knife will chip or dull the edge.
A journey is the process of letting the inner wisdom spring forth, and giving that joyful creation the environment it needs to self-acutalize. A journey into the desert just as prophets and gurus have practiced emptying oneself to transform was what I had been doing. I had an intention but I didn’t have the ‘know-how’, and was left without a choice but to accept – accept what I had become, and then re-orient myself to move towards where I want to be. There will be a re-learning to develop better habits to replace others which I have decided I need to out-grow. Like a river that meanders around the bends and creating oxbows as it matures, there is a wholeness in both edges of a knife. I’ve pierced sharply up a terrain and I’ve also shredded down loose scree from the top, and tumbled on my hands and knees; and bounded back up with a richer perspective.
My pilgrimage to Mount Whitney has just begun. I left Lone Pine yesterday with a map and couple of books about ascending Mt. Whitney, along with tips from a local guide in the adventure store. I feel the butterflies dancing in my belly and the perspiration on my palms thinking about the possibilities. I could try to hike in the winter geared in cramp ons and ice picks. That would be my first time, but it is a possibility that the guide described to me. Staying on the edge has many possibilities.
The signs of the road is a language in itself. After 3000 miles of tracking across Nevada, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and California I’ve decided that it’s a language which I had taken for granted. It was riding through Oregon’s highway 31 that I took notice of two signs which to me was an oxymoron. When leaving a small town the speed limit changes from 25 to 45 and upwards, and during this transformation there is a pair of road signs in this order.
1. ‘DO NOT PASS’
2. ‘PASS WITH CARE’
There is very little distance between these posts (maybe less than a few hundred yards). I decided to interpret the law as ‘Do not pass’, but if you’re going to break the law, well you better ‘Pass with care’. i.e. Make sure you don’t get caught.
I tried to find more information about this and found something in the internet was from Oregon’s Department of Transportation manual that describes the technical details of how to implement this law.
2. 2B-28 DO NOT PASS (R4-1) should be installed approximately 1000 feet in advance of the taper that begins the passing lane.
Minimum Size 36” x 48”
3. 2B-30 KEEP RIGHT EXCEPT TO PASS (R4-16) should be installed where the passing lane attains full width or at the beginning of the first skip stripe.
Minimum Size 36” x 48”
4. 2B-29 PASS WITH CARE (R4-2) may be installed in the two-lane section approximately 1000 feet beyond the end of the taper (if sight distance is adequate to permit passing).
And with that I have my aha moment. It is with these technicalities that we can sometimes become non-sensesical in our well-meaning intention.
I dug a little deeper and looked through the driver’s manual, and found multiple scenarios of when a driver should not pass:
Do not cross the center line to pass when:
You are in a no-passing zone, which is an area that is marked for no passing by a solid yellow line in your lane. A “DO NOT PASS” sign may also be posted. Do not attempt to pass a vehicle if you cannot safely return to your lane before entering a no-passing zone.
Your view of oncoming traffic is blocked because you are on a hill or in a curve.
You are approaching an intersection, railroad crossing, or other area where your view of oncoming traffic is limited.
You are at or in an intersection.
You are at or on a railroad crossing.
The vehicle ahead is stopped at a crosswalk to permit a pedestrian to cross
Well that was boring. I just think it takes common sense.
One of the most interesting signs along the open road was on I97 which I’ve traversed for the first time yesterday. It was the sign post for the 45th parallel. When I lived in Salem (and was working on a project of ODOT – ironically) I would take my little Toyota Tercel on the I5 to Portland and cross the 45th parallel frequently during my jaunts to meet with friends at one of the many local breweries.
(I didn’t stop to take a picture of me at the 45th parallel, but pretend that GMC truck is my red Suzuki SV650.)
One thing I’ve decided on (and I kinda knew this all along, but this trip has reinforced what I’m looking for in life now), is my enjoyment of the open and friendly nature of small town folks compared to bigger towns and cities. There’s a naïveté that comes from living in a small place where you know people by name, or at least by habit of seeing them, and extending that warm hospitality to strangers when they’re passing through your home.
Yesterday, one of the bikes had an electrical problem. We had to stop every hour to cool down the engine while traveling along I97 into the city of Bend. I was in Bend 20 years ago, and it was a smaller community to what it has currently grown into. I almost wish Bruno had a chance to experience it as it was then because today it feels like another large cosmopolitan city. The downtown core boasted nice restaurants, boutique shops and microbreweries along the river; and the city had its fair share of Subarus also. Definitely, Bend has come into its own as a world class destination. The State Patrol man who pulled me over for riding my bike between cars told me so. He was nice. He didn’t give me a ticket, but reminded me that though they practice lane sharing in Europe and California, this is not so in Oregon. After checking into a motel we found a place to eat with good food and wine. Despite the basic needs being met, we felt a little let down, because we missed the warmth of small town folks. We noticed that the restaurant was rather quick to move us along. In our minds, we thought maybe because we were tourists, and not the usual suspects who were repeat customers.
So, we spent a so-so night in Bend, and the next day decided to steer clear of bigger towns. We got as far as La Pine (30 plus miles south on the I97) where we filled up the tanks. I asked the gentleman who pumps the gas if he knew of a motorcycle mechanic between his town and the next big town. He recommended a place called Peak Performance. We rode around a little while and asked for directions from other people, and found the garage a mile down from the main drag. A large man with a beard was cleaning his fingernails with a knife. ‘What can I do ya for?’ he asked. We got off the bikes and Bruno explained that his fan wasn’t turning on and he was loosing coolant. The big man thought glanced at me then said, ‘It’s all her fault’. His words broke the ice and gave me relief. After he suggested some reasons as to the root cause of the problem, he said he’ll be right back. Within minutes he returned and told us to ride the motorcycles to the back where somebody was waiting to help us.
We talked with the mechanic who tinkered a bit, and feeling like we were in his hair, we asked if we could leave him with the bike for a couple of hours. Sure, he said. We told the owner our plan to stay the night in La Pine. He recommended a a simple and clean motel. Cool, that’s all we want. Before going, we asked for his name. Mark, he said. Later, we checked into ‘The Highlander’ where we dropped off some gear and got something to eat at the nearby Harvest Hut. In less than 2 hours we were back to check on the bike. The mechanic, Alan, said the problem was a loose wire and showed us the spot in case it happened again. When we asked how much for the repair, he said, ‘Well I didn’t really spend very much time on it. $20.’ Unbelievably cheap for the quick service and fixing the problem. We gave him $40, and he smiled such a wide grin. ‘Where are you folks staying?’ he asked. We gave him the answer, and he wished us well.
We all leave our impressions in this life in many forms, including sign posts. Certainly being earth friendly is a good thing all around, but more impacting is being heart friendly. It’s genuine goodness that does not mean to be a passing trend but a lasting legacy.
P.S. If you like wine and you’re passing through Lakeview, Oregon towards the California border, there’s a place called ‘Stringer’s Orchard’ in New Pine Creek. It’s a good stop before crossing into California for some wine tasting and homemade preserves. The winemaker specializes in wine and spirits from the wild plum, and the taste is very special in a good way.
I wanted to write this blog from a quiet place inside of me. After some reflection and some practice I believe that creativity comes from a quiet place, and the by-product of creativity is a creation.
Most times, I’m too busy with being busy that I’m hardly ever quiet, so there isn’t much creativity happening. It’s all noise, and that creation isn’t inspiring or useful to others – hardly anyway.
I had been mulling about creativity, creation and stillness in the past few days. Then I stumbled upon the whole kit and caboodle while preparing dinner last night. What I had been trying to understand is also something that Bruno experiences as a professional chef. He has worked for a lot of very good charcutiers. I asked, what makes one better than aother? He said, for example, he is different from one his former employers, Thierry, because Thierry was a perfectionist. Thierry had the ability to invent new products, because he’s not too concerned with productivity. Meanwhile, Bruno was able to create something new based on parameters he is given by a client. He admits that he didn’t invent what he’s created, but he’s able to reproduce someone else’s idea. I followed with the question, why can’t he create something new and original? He said he’s too busy with being productive. He needs to have time to be quiet to inspire creativity.
I’ve been wanting to give you something worthy of your time, and I didn’t want to rehash something that has been said before or a cliché about life. Though I wanted to remind myself that it’s good to just be still, like telling a child who fidgets to “be still.” Being busy without being rooted to a purpose dissipates energy, and can even lead to an unwanted residue of consequences. (I should have gone home before I deleted some report configuration from an environment which was firstly an embarrassing mistake, and also created more work in the end. The only salvation I grant on this occassion is a Miles Davis quote, “Do not fear mistakes – there are none. ”)
Here’s another analogy. A playwright friend of mine was auditioning actors for a new play. His comment at the end of the auditions was, “there was too much movement of arms and legs from some of the actors, and less focus on what’s being said.” I know what he meant, because when a person is embedded into a character there is a sense of stillness in their demeanor. Less is more. Like makeup, applying less brings out more of the essence rather than covering it up; and over-amplification of the action takes away from the subtext of the conversation.
On my office wall, across from my desk, is a picture of Martin Luther King from the TIME magazine cover (August 26th to September 2nd 2013 issue). There is a remarkable stillness in this image. I wonder what he was thinking, feeling and being. There’s a stillness there that draws me in closer that I put the words “Role model inspire to aspire” beneath the picture.