About Living a Life

Today is the 13th, and final, post for my Pacific Crest Trail writing project. As of April 27, 2016, it will be exactly one year since I started walking north at the US/Mexico border trying to reach Canada on foot. When I started this blog project about my PCT experience, I didn’t know exactly where I was heading with it. And, maybe today I’m still a little unsure, feeling exposed and strange about having shared so much with the World Wide Web but I feel confident that it is what I was supposed to do.

Recently, I have spent time reading back through my Facebook posts from last summer, my blog posts, and my trail journals, continuing to wrap my brain around my growth and journey on the PCT. In this re-reading and listening I have noticed a pattern for living a life that I shared at the beginning of this project and am realizing its powerful presence throughout the narrative of my life. In my first post I shared this section from the Mary Oliver poem, Sometimes:

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

This is what I want to focus on today . . . these three very important instructions.

Pay Attention:

A couple years ago, my spiritual director suggested I try a practice of each day taking time to answer the questions, “Where did I notice God’s presence today” and “What am I thankful for today?” When I intentionally look for God in my day, when I take time to pay attention to others and look for the “Imago Dei” or image of God in them, when I pay attention to what is going on inside of myself, I notice God’s love, creativity, grace, and presence all around.

God is present . . . All. The. Time. This is something I believe but sometimes forget in the midst of daily life happening. Over and over again on the trail and now back at home, I have been reminded of this truth. I have been reminded that paying attention–practicing awareness and being present to what is going on in and around us in each moment–is the first step to recognizing the Divine Presence in our lives. We must take the time to pay attention.

Paying attention helps me stay grounded. Paying attention shows me how to care for creation–others, the earth, and myself. Paying attention helps me find joy and reverence in each day. Paying attention reveals how God is at work in the world, offering me hope when I am pulled towards fear and despair. Paying attention and answering the question “Where did I notice God’s presence today” is what leads us into being able to live out the second instruction.

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Sunrise summit of Mt. Whitney. Astonishing.

Be Astonished:

When I am present, when I truly pay attention and notice God’s presence, I can’t help but be astonished. This instruction goes hand in hand with the second question my spiritual director had me answer, “What am I thankful for today?” Practice gratitude, be amazed, find beauty, say thank you. Don’t let life go by without letting that feeling of astonishment and amazement wash over you. Let yourself feel it. Even in the hard, messy, yucky moments of life, eventually–eventually somewhere down the road sometime–I think we will find something we are grateful for and astonishes us.

The third quote I memorized on the PCT comes from theologian and writer, Frederick Buechner. From the time I memorized the quote, I said it each following day as I hiked, a constant reminder to notice how precious each day is:

In the entire history of the universe, let alone your own history, there has never been another day just like today. Today is the point to which all your yesterdays have been leading since the hour of your birth. It is the point from which all your tomorrows will proceed until the hour of your death. If you were aware of how precious today is, you could hardly live through it. Unless you are aware of how precious it is, you can hardly be said to be living at all.

Pay attention and be astonished, friends, because this day, today, is the moment all things have lead to and all will proceed from.

Tell About It:

This is the tricky part, the part where we get a little reluctant, nervous, and closed off. I’m not talking about sharing a post on Facebook that showcases how cool our life may be or what we want others to see. I’m talking about your honest story, the narrative that you are co-authoring with God, the story that you have been given to live and share.

In an earlier post I shared that I had asked different people in my life to send me on the PCT with quotes, scripture, songs, etc. to memorize along the way. I had also asked this group of people to share any other thoughts they felt led to offer or suggestions of things for me to process. My brother, Luke, gave me a couple of the more difficult. One was a verse and the second was this question:

“What would the world miss if you didn’t share your story?”

Seriously? Luke . . . have we talked about how hard this question was for me to answer?

I’m in my mid-thirties, quitting jobs, with a messy sometimes confusing spirituality, trying to very intentionally navigate life with a bunch of dreams that may or may not happen. What would the world be missing if I didn’t share my story? I had no freaking clue.

But I stuck with it. I thought about the question over a few weeks; even shed a few tears of frustration over it because life was looking quite different than I ever thought it would (still awesome for sure, but different).

As I hiked and spent time with other thru hikers, sharing bits of my life with them, I realized more and more what the world would miss if I didn’t share my story and what the world would miss if none of us shared our stories: Perspective, hope, courage, and solidarity.

When someone tells me his or her life story it is a sacred moment. When someone trusts me with their doubts and questions, shares how they have overcome, makes me laugh over an embarrassing moment, brings me joy in telling me about their passion for something, I receive a new way of looking at things. I receive hope that I, too, can overcome, pursue abundant life and have the courage to be honest about the good and the hard things in my life.

Most importantly, this instruction to “Tell About It” is vital because when we share our narratives with each other we hear these two words, “Me, too.” I think this is one of the most powerful things we can say to each other as we seek to live authentic, whole, and love and grace filled lives. “Me, too” tells us we are not alone, someone understands, and we aren’t the only one.

As I have shared blog posts of my learning and growth on the PCT I have heard “Me, too” almost weekly. This doesn’t mean that I had anything new or mind-blowing to say, in fact, all of it is something that someone before me has written about, talked about, made into a movie, etc. It means we are craving honest and authentic encounters with people who are on a similar journey, encounters that remind us we are connected. Even if we have heard it before, there are moments when we need to hear it again or it speaks to us in new ways. In his book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, Rob Bell writes about this connection that happens as we share our stories:

This is one of the reasons we watch movies, attend recovery groups, read memoirs, and sit around campfires telling stories long after the fire has dwindled down to a few glowing embers. It’s written in the Psalms that “deep calls to deep,” which is what happens when you get a glimpse of what someone else has gone through or is currently in the throes of and you find yourself inextricably, mysteriously linked with that person because you have been reminded again of our common humanity and its singular source, the subsurface unity of all things that is ever before us in countless manifestations but require eyes wide open to see it burst into view . . . when we talk about God, we’re talking about the very straightforward affirmation that everything has a singular, common source and is infinitely, endlessly, deeply connected. We are involved, all of us. And it all matters, and it’s all connected.

Deep calls to deep. Telling about it reminds us “of our common humanity and its singular source.” Whether it happens in movie, book, campfire, living room, hiking, blog, or around the dinner table form, when you have done the mindful work of paying attention and experienced the gratitude of being astonished, I hope you find the courage to tell about it.

Moving Forward:

Life never seems to be what I expect. It’s so much more. It looks extremely different than what I would have planned for myself when I was younger but as I pay attention to how things unfold I am continually grateful for the life I have been given to live and share with others. I believe that we have the opportunity to co-author our lives with God. There is the intricacy of who we are created by God to be, there are things that happen to us, there are choices we make–all of these things direct our paths.326773185608664

I chose to finally pursue the PCT because I wasn’t sure what else to do at that moment in my life. Now that I’ve been home and off the trail for almost a year things have not magically come together perfectly or always made sense. In fact, there is still a lot of ambiguity about what is down the road. But through these lessons from the trail and listening to themes of my life the past few months, I am learning to be more present, to embrace the space in which I find myself, and be faithful in whatever circumstances to pursue the trail I am given to walk. As thru hikers say on the trail, “Hike your own hike.”

There is so much impatience in me, such a tendency to want answers now. To be on the other side of hard things now. To overcome now. It is in the paying attention, in being present, embracing, and being faithful in the circumstances, that I notice the slow work of God in my life and am able to rest in the unknown, recognizing and savoring life happening now, and be astonished.

My friend, Erin, shared this prayer of Teilhard of Chardin with me last week. I think it sums up so well what I’m learning on this journey:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don’t try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

As you hike your own hike, may you be reminded to trust in this slow work of God. As you pay attention to life happening in and around you, may you be astonished by what you notice. And, in telling your story, may you know the deep connection of someone responding with, “Me, too.”

I’ll leave you with this. My friend, Sara, sent me letters on the trail. What a fun surprise to get to a trail town and have a letter at the post office when I picked up my resupply packages! One letter got lost along the way and I didn’t receive it until I was home in September. Included in her letter was this prayer from The Book of Common Prayer. I’m kind of glad the letter got lost because the prayer was exactly what I needed when I got home. I’ve read it almost daily since I received it.

Lord, help me now to unclutter my life, to organize myself in the direction of simplicity. Lord, teach me to listen to my heart; teach me to welcome change instead of fearing it. Lord, I give you these stirrings inside of me. I give you my discontent. I give you my restlessness. I give you my doubt. I give you my despair. I give you all the longings I hold inside. Help me to listen to these signs of change, of growth; help me to listen seriously and follow where they lead through the breathtaking empty space of an open trail.

Much love, friends. Thanks for reading. #PCTami out.

19 Monument 4x6

About A Quiet Center

A number of people have asked me if I was lonely while hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. This question usually comes directly after they find out I hiked the trail solo. The “lonely” question is often followed by a comment about how they don’t think they could do something like that alone.

I’m a strong extrovert, as in the first time I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator personality inventory I was on the extreme end of the extrovert/introvert spectrum. As I have gotten older and re-taken the assessment I have swung a little closer towards the middle but still . . . Extrovert! Thru hiking the PCT did mean I would be by myself a majority of the time so I, too, had my concerns about getting lonely!

I am also the queen of filling my schedule with activity, people, work, and more. I sometimes don’t recognize my limits and exhaustion until it is too late. In college it took getting both mono and pneumonia at the same time during my sophomore year to slow me down. Thru hiking the PCT meant I only had one thing on my schedule to do . . . One!

And to top it off, besides the extroverted-ness and pushing the schedule limits, I grew up in the U.S., in a culture where I was taught to compete, win, be the best, climb the ladder, succeed–maybe some of you learned these same things? When I listen to the world around me, I find myself measuring my worth by my work, involvement, and achievements and finding my identity in “doing.” Quitting my job and leaving behind my involvement in things meant I was eliminating much of the identity trap into which I so often fall.

I was definitely curious about how this was going to go on the trail. One of my biggest concerns was wondering what it was going to be like to be alone in my head . . . All. Day. Long.  No noise to tune out my voice, no people to verbally process with, no Netflix to binge watch and distract me, and no busy schedule to make me feel productive and useful.

It was just me–sweaty, smelly, unemployed, hiker trash (hiker trash is a term of endearment on the trail).

And, “just me,” as I was reminded on the trail, is enough.

It was in the solitude of the trail that I slowly made my way back to the center of my soul. To a place where being is more important than doing, where listening is not something I avoid, where my drive and achievements are not needed. The solitude of the trail helped bring me to a quiet place where I had the space to think, process, ask questions, listen for answers, make decisions, and find clarity. I noticed the boredom in my day resulting in creativity and open dialogue, with both myself and God. In this quiet center I found my emotions were free to be purely felt in the moment instead of pushed aside, jaded by cynicism, or controlled to please the people around me.

Most importantly, in this quiet center I was reminded of where my worth lies. I believe I am not only created by but I am loved deeply by God. This is not a love that operates within a set of rules but a love that has no rules or boundaries or restrictions. This love requires nothing of me. My worth and identity lie in the simple, yet profound, truth of this love.

In a world of constant activity, people pleasing and striving, I am pulled away from this truth of my worth and identity. I learn to wear the many labels that are put on me and live out of my false self–an identity that comes from forgetting who I am at my core. I feel I must earn love instead of resting in the truth of God’s love. I seek to gain approval instead of remembering the gift of freedom God offers me. Over the course of my life, I have become increasingly aware of how my life looks and feels when I am living this way–out of my false self –and how it affects my spirituality, my self-confidence, and living at peace. As I have learned to be aware of these pieces of who I am, I have sought to find healthier rhythms of operating.

It was in the solitude of the trail that I was reminded of these truths. And, I was reminded that having a rhythm of solitude in my life is essential to not only living out of my true self, but it is essential to how I care for others, interact with my community, and seek to be an agent of change in the world. In his book, Show Me The Way, Henri Nouwen writes,

In solitude we can listen to the voice of him who spoke to us before we could speak a word, who healed us before we could make any gesture to help, who set us free long before we could free others, and who loved us long before we could give love to anyone. It is in this solitude that we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts. In solitude we discover that our life is not a possession to be defended, but a gift to be shared. It’s there we recognize that the healing words we speak are not just our own, but are given to us; that the love we can express is part of a greater love; and that the new life we bring forth is not a property to cling to, but a gift to be received. In solitude we discover that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.

This, friends, speaks to the utmost importance of solitude as we live in a world that needs the help, love, healing words, freedom, and gift of life that God offers to others through you and me.

I was recently listening to a podcast by Rob Bell called “Letting the Land Lie Fallow”. Bell talks about the rhythm of rest that is built into creation. In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, there is a law called “Shmita.” This is a six and one rhythm of working the soil for six years and then allowing the land to lie fallow during the seventh year, similar to the creation story of God resting on the seventh day. This allowed not only the soil to be replenished but also for people to rest, as well. This is one of the things that connected to me as I listened:

There are rhythms built into creation. Rhythms built into the soil. There is a rhythm that your body wants, and your heart and your soul and your mind want to live by. And if you don’t honor those rhythms things start to unravel . . . when we don’t give our bodies, our minds, our hearts, our souls, our brains, when we don’t give them the rest they need to be restored and refreshed then they can’t give us what they need to give us and things begin to breakdown.

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Learning the art of the siesta in the desert section of the PCT. This afternoon rhythm meant finding a shady spot and resting during the hottest part of the day . . . and made me stop when I would have kept pushing.

When I started the PCT, I was coming off an almost two year stretch without good rhythms of rest. Things were beginning to unravel and breakdown. Compare that with the stark contrast of my experience of solitude on the PCT and the health and vitality that came from prioritizing rest, Sabbath, and a quiet center.

Have you seen the movie, “Hook,” with Robin Williams? I promise this is going somewhere . . . stay with me. Williams plays a grown up Peter Pan who has come back to Neverland to find his children. He’s been away for awhile and isn’t quite sure of the whole scene. The “Lost Boys” aren’t sure of this grown up Peter Pan either. There is a point in the movie, after Peter has been back in Neverland for a while, where one of the “Lost Boys” takes Peter’s face in his hands and starts manipulating the skin–stretching it and looking deeply–until he finally finds Peter Pan in a forced smile. “Oh, there you are, Peter!” he says. If you haven’t seen it here’s a short clip of the scene (watch out . . . tear jerker).

I had a moment similar to this on the trail. Not with a kid stretching the skin on my face (weird!) but a moment when I said (yes, I actually said it aloud), “Oh, there you are, Tami!” A moment when the solitude had done its work, when I saw a glimpse of my true self again, when I decided to listen to the voice telling me I am deeply loved and that my worth is not the same as my usefulness.

So, was I lonely on the trail? Sure, sometimes. And, there were still distractions, still the tendency to compete, and still people and activity to fill my time. But the solitude was not lonely, nor did I miss the chaos of a busy schedule. I embraced the opportunity and discovered that solitude is not the same as being alone . . . solitude means being fully present with myself. One of my favorite authors, and fellow Quaker, Parker Palmer speaks to this in his book, A Hidden Wholeness, “Solitude does not necessarily mean living apart from others; rather, it means never living apart from one’s self. It is not about the absence of other people — it is about being fully present to ourselves, whether or not we are with others.”

I don’t know about you but it is tough to incorporate a rhythm of solitude into my life–to be fully present with myself. I had quite a bit of space to slowly ease back into life at home when I came off the trail. Now that I’m working more, I’m noticing my tendency, before cutting anything else out, to eliminate my solitude, or quiet space, on days that are busier.

Obviously, we have to work. There are bills to pay, people to care for, and daily life to live. Things will be busy sometimes. But if we don’t have a quiet center and take time to step back, if we ignore the craving of our body, soul, heart, and mind for rest, then we run the risk of unravel. We run the risk of listening to voices telling us we are worth only our usefulness rather than hearing the One who created us telling us we are deeply loved. We run the risk of living a life that is not our own.

What does it look like for you to incorporate a rhythm of Sabbath, solitude, and rest into your life? How do you get back to your quiet center? Are there regular practices you engage in that keep this in the forefront? For me a few of these practices are:

  • Saying no–to activity, involvement, and people–as hard as that is sometimes. As my friend, Jeff, would say, “Say yes with caution and no with confidence.”
  • Pursuing things that align with my vocation and calling instead of every opportunity that comes my way.
  • Turning my phone and computer off at certain points throughout my day and week.
  • Having specific disciplines I practice for certain periods of time.

And, on some level, we just have to choose to make space for rhythms into our life. As simple (or hard) as that sounds, intentional choice is the first step to a quiet center.

May you discover the gifts that come from incorporating a rhythm of rest and solitude into your life–a clear mind to listen, a heart to love others well, an openness to the truth of God’s love and care for you, a deep knowing of where your worth lies–may you discover these gifts and the freedom to live out of these truths.

A Little Extra:

As I was writing this post I kept thinking of books that have shaped my awareness and practice of solitude, and also helped me understand my inner life, the nature of my true self/false self, and how to move then from a quiet center to a place of outward expression and service. I wanted to share a few with you for future reading:

Out of Solitude by Henri Nouwen: This is a tiny little book that I used to have my student staff read at the beginning of an academic year. It’s a gem!

Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen: This is a book of daily readings that I have used during the Lent season the past few years. Simple, profound reminders.

Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer: By one of my favorite authors, and fellow Quaker, I first read this book in college and have read it almost annually since.

A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J. Palmer: Again, PJP, coming through with an incredible read about living an undivided life.

Sabbath by Wayne Muller: I used this book in an elective I taught at the university where I worked. I love that Muller writes about the theology of Sabbath but also includes simple, tangible ideas for practicing Sabbath rest.

Just a few of my favorites . . . Enjoy!