One of our commitments, when we decided to make some changes in our lives that resulted in Nicky leaving full-time employment and our choosing to live in a tiny house, was to spend more time with family and friends and to let our spiritual lives come back into focus.
We have recently returned from a three week journey split between Colorado and Maine. Our original intention booking flights to Colorado last year was to attend teachings by the Dalai Lama in Boulder and also visit with friends in the area. Then he cancelled due to illness. We waited almost a year to use our plane tickets, hoping that he would reschedule, but our tickets’ lifespan was soon to expire so we decided to just do the friends part of the journey. (Ironically, two days after we booked our tickets the Dalai Lama announced he would be in Colorado exactly one month after we would!)
We started out our wonderful time with Julie Sullivan and George Whitten, Hope and Zeke (their working dogs), and their foreman Martha and apprentice Paul, who all practice sustainable cattle ranching in the San Luis Valley. Julie, Nicky, and I took side trips to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Joyful Journeys mineral hot springs pools, and spent a morning with a range plant specialist (more fun and exciting than it sounds!). It was a time to renew and deepen our selves, our souls, and our relationships. We spent tranquil time accompanied by the faces of mother cows, baby calves, and placid bulls just outside the panorama of windows that make up George and Julie’s main living space, which also reveals the encircling mountains: the Sangre de Cristos to the east and the San Juans to the west.
We luxuriated in the natural health food stores that seemed to regularly dot the landscape – particularly the one just twenty minutes away in the tiny, funky, California-like former mining town, now turned spiritual mecca, in Crestone, CO. It was a bit like turning back the hands of time to somewhere in the mid-sixties or early seventies – except that there was so much local, organic food: different brands of local kombucha to try, the best brand of agave nectar, raw-no- refined-sugar cacao bars, different local brands of almond milk…(you get the picture). At the small “normal” grocery store I was pulled to a standstill in the parking lot by the feel of the snow capped Sangre de Cristo mountains just above. There was something so alive about this town, and it seemed to be in the air itself.
Some locals might even call it prana – the Sanskrit word for life force or life energy. The three of us stood and talked until I was able to feel myself regrounded enough to drive. That’s what it’s like to be with friends who really know us. We have time to just be who we are. We headed back out the single way into town, retracing our way past ancient piñon and flowering apple trees.
On leaving Saguache, we drove along the valley floor, up over Poncha Pass and skirted the edge of Salida, within sight of numerous 14,000’ peaks, then through the red rock canyons along the Arkansas River where white water rafters appeared around every bend in the land. We were heading
towards Colorado Springs to meet up with our Tibetan teacher, Khen Rinpoche Lobsang Tsetan, who had just had knee surgery there and was recovering with great support from the local community. We got to see his photos of the dedication of the Tashi Lhunpo monastery for the missing Panchen Lama in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India, the construction of which he has overseen as abbot. Nicky and I received his blessing before leaving – an experience that never fails to bring me to tears. We both agree that being with Rinpoche often feels more like a remembering than a new experience.
We travelled across town to be with Claire Ratke, her partner Mark, and their two sweet children Amelia and Sawyer, and dogs Diesel and Lucy. So wonderful to be drenched in kid (once Amelia got over her shyness and Sawyer woke up!) and dog energy while travelling. We sure did miss our Shanti – who was having a great time with his doggie god parents, Neal and Larkspur, at summer camp! We also really feel sad sometimes about how so many of our great relationships are scattered around North America and even across the planet. All six of us ventured out to dinner at the Ola Juice Bar. A great, though short, reconnection.
We rendezvoused with our dear friend Tina Fields at a local contra dance in Denver on our way to her place in Boulder. She’s a contra caller so was excited to actually be able to dance for a change. I was seasick after half the first dance – and ended up happily sitting most of them out, but Nicky found her sea legs and we met some sweet folks. After the first half we set off for Tina’s new-for-her home with Chica la Fang, her Chihuahua mix. Boulder is a mecca for ones such as us. We reveled in being there, in being with Tina, in wandering the city in the midst of a festival, in eating free samples of cashew milk salted caramel ice cream, in doing a bit of our online work in Tina’s office at Naropa (if only all institutions of higher learning were so mindful of the energetic impacts of one’s surrounding! Big wide open spaces indoor and out, meditation rooms, water features, etc.), sharing an incredible
meal at Shine (where I got to imbibe in some of my absolute favorite comfort foods: dairy & gluten free mac & cheese, cauliflower mashers…). Oh and did I mention the “sips” and potions?! Yes, that is what I said: POTIONS on the menu. Incredible elixirs of herbs, roots, & spices infused with gemstone essences and sound frequencies. Like I said, our kind of place!
On our way to the airport to return to Maine we also stopped just briefly to visit a dear friend of Nicky’s with whom she grew up at summer camp. The heart connection here was also blazingly clear! As a bit of an outsider I could feel how important this common part of their lives was for each of them. How in reality they knew little of each other (as is true for kids) and yet also knew everything of importance. Sharing outlandish memories (you did what?!), news of children’s endeavors (well, on Amy’s side!), quietly discussing a mutual friend’s illness, and feeling truly seen and welcomed into this rich and engaged family scene where being active and in the body and connected to the natural world was all of primary importance. I got to see how the resonance of camp life extended thirty years into a future neither of them would have imagined as they paddled and swam and ran and sang and laughed their way from Camp Ak-O-Mak into today.
At the end of the trip we had the realization that whether cattle ranch or downtown home,
trailer park, or Boulder/Denver development – ALL were good. We could have happily lived in any one of them. What makes places special for us it the people, the land itself (which is always there) and the way of life – with our people. Puppy piles on the sofa with Tina and Chica La Fang; deep conversations with Julie and visits with the four Great Horned owl babies in the cottonwood tree along the driveway; meeting 92 year old dads or just-born cow babies; looking at old photos of a former life we never shared, but could still appreciate and learn from.
Then, returning to Maine, to be with family (sisters’ gathering in Steuben) and more of our chosen family (in the Belfast, Roque Bluffs, Lubec areas). It all added up to an experience that is beyond words (though I am trying mightily to use them here!).
During a recent meeting of our monthly spiritual threesome (originally gathered as a Spiritual Direction supervision group as part of Nicky’s Spiritual Direction program) here in Cape Breton, I was asked to explore more deeply what the outcomes I had garnered were from the experiences of this trip. As I rested back into my reflective self, I felt the melting of tears arising. In trying to describe what I was feeling, I found myself talking about how being with my sisters (and this would be true of my brother too if he had been there) is like – well, like I am amphibious – and most of the time now I spend on land. But being with my family is like reentering the watery environment. I am immersed in the flow of our family. And oh, how I miss this feeling!
I also spoke about what it is like to be with the friends we were visiting. It’s kind of like reconnecting with the cells of our larger collective body – so unlike most modern relationships. We know one another deeply. Ours are physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual relationships – they are whole being, across time relationships. We are comfortable with one another on every level. There is no gap in the reconnecting. It is (as I said above with Rinpoche) a remembering that goes cell deep. And we are oh so grateful for our larger selves (cells)!