A Letter to my Daughter, Part IV

My dearest Zoe, today is a very happy day for me. I just talked to your therapist at the hospital, and found out that you are, for certain, being released tomorrow. This makes me overjoyed. I have missed you so badly and now, after almost two weeks, you will be coming home, if only for a little while. After that you will be flying to Oregon to spend the break with your mom, and I am sure she will be overjoyed to see you as well.

Your mom told me that you have really been questioning what it was that woke me up. Both you and I believe it was some spirit that roused me from sleep, something that was markedly larger than either of us. She says you are more open to Christianity even, which is a major shift. I have to admit, even I, someone who has been really uncomfortable with it, am willing to have a more open heart about it. But we will open that door later. For now, I just want to get you home and work on making life more beautiful for you.

I stated in my last letter that it was a mistake in moving here to Utah, but after talking to some friends on Facebook, I realize that I should clarify what I meant. It was not a mistake in the bigger picture. This is a better place for us in so many ways: Weather, schools, family-oriented lifestyle, financial opportunities, etc. What I meant is that it was a mistake to bring an already depressed child so far from what she knew. And even that, I realize today, was not necessarily a mistake. I should have just been more aware of the difficulties it would present.

I know how difficult this move has been. Moving to a state where you didn’t know anyone, where the people have much different values than we do, would be difficult for anyone, but for someone already struggling with the massive changes of a thirteen-year old girl, it made for a very troubling transition.

But we have to be patient. Already so many good things have happened to us here. The friends we have made, the jobs we now have, and what the future holds are all very positive, and would not have happened back in Oregon. It takes time to transition, and we have only been here for a little over four months. More time is needed.

I believe we can really make it work here, and I think it can be a good place for you as well. We just have to be more proactive about what you are going through. We need to be more honest with each other about how we are feeling. No more being a people-pleaser for you! You have to tell us what you are feeling, no matter how dark or painful those feelings might be. That is the only way we can get through this.

(I wrote this at the end of December. I am going to leave it as it is and start a new, final letter to Zoe to transition to where we stand now.)

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A Letter to my Daughter, Part III

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My beloved Zoe Lynn, We have some many things I would like for us to do together before our time is through. There are rocks and mountains to climb, rivers to kayak and swim in, ideas, hopes and dreams to discuss. I want to be there to comfort you when you go through your first heartache, I want to be there when you graduate from high school and college (although whether or not you choose to further your education is, of course, completely up to you.) Someday you may have children of your own, and I look forward to being a grandfather — as long as that doesn’t happen too soon.

Life can be hard, it can be cruel and capricious, yet there is so much magic, wonder, love and hope as well. My sincerest hope is that you can return to seeing this more positive aspect of existence. I know how hard it can be to see that side when you are depressed — I know that only too well. I also have been hospitalized because I was despondent, as you know, but I kept myself alive because I knew how much my death would hurt the people who loved me. I believe that now you know this as well.

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The last letter finished with you and your mom moving to Portland. She had quit her job as a nurse to return to school for acupuncture. This would prove to be the catalyst for your downward spiral. Of course, it was only part of a combination of factors that made for a potent recipe for depression. The move, you and I seeing each other less, a new school and city, your mom being really busy and not having as much time for you, plus the new addition of hormones, all of these contributed to your sorrow. But I believe that the thing that pushed you over the edge was you and your mom’s roommate, J.

She called you a slut(even though you are a virgin). She told you you were ugly and that no boy would ever want you. She insulted and dragged you down. Then she would lie about it to your mom and say you were making things up. I didn’t know any of this was happening until it was almost too late.

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I found out about this when you called me one night in May, revealing to me that you were struggling with bad depression. You told me about the situation and your mom and I agreed that I should come get you and bring you back to Southern Oregon for some extra time. However, it wasn’t until I called your school — to let them know you would be missing school for a few days — that I was informed that you were posting suicidal thoughts on Instagram. When your school counselor sent me the links to these posts I was beyond horrified.

I was in the last few weeks of my college career at Umpqua Community College, and I remember waiting for Brook to come pick me up so we could get you in Portland. I was like a caged, wounded animal, pacing ceaselessly, unable to concentrate on anything except coming to get you. I was so scared. Brook too was frightened, and she drove like woman possessed on the drive north.

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When I picked you up from school, I had already made up my mind that it was time for you to come live with me. I was ready to get a lawyer or go before a judge, anything I needed to do to keep you with me and keep you safe. I sure as hell wasn’t going to let you return to that house and be around that woman. You didn’t react well to the news, and neither did your mom.

Thankfully, Brook was able to calm things down between your mother and I and a short time after bringing you to live with us, we went to mediation where it was agreed that not only were you going to live with us in Roseburg for the rest of the school year, but that you would also be coming to live with us when we moved to Utah at the end of the summer. I really felt the change would be good for you.

I was wrong.

End Part III

A new era of training

With my failure on Hood still eating at my soul, I have become very resolved to get my physical and mental condition in better shape than I ever have. In a sense, I was both blessed and cursed when I was a little younger, since I could basically go months without doing any kind of exercise, then get off the couch (metaphorically speaking) and go climb a mountain. At 42, I am discovering that I can no longer do that, and it certainly isn’t going to get any easier as I age.

I had been doing these five-mile walks from my house to Whistler’s Bend park and back, and I felt like I was in decent shape from doing them, but after Hood I realized that I needed to make them tougher, so I have walking with my backpack on, starting with about twenty pounds and gradually adding more weight. I am now carrying around 30 pounds. But even my walks are not nearly grueling enough to get myself in the shape I need to be in, so last Monday I went to the North Bank Habitat Management Area, a nearly 7000-acre park that is only ten miles from my house.

(The map below shows the area of the NBHMA)

I did a loop that is about 9.5 miles long, with cumulative elevation gains and losses that are probably over 2000 feet. Basically, it is a mini mountain-climb. I love going there. On Monday I saw more raptors (around 20) than people (zero). I am quite fortunate that this amazing park is so close to my house. I am going to go there again today. My goal is to do that loop at least once a week, but preferably two times each week. Combining that with my five-mile power walk three times a week, plus a new series of core exercises I am doing, and I will be in great shape. I am already getting there.

In a couple of weeks I plan on doing an even bigger loop at the North Bank Ranch (as it is known locally). By connecting trails, I ought to be able to do a fifteen-mile loop that will have cumulative elevation gains of closer to 3000′. Once I am in good enough shape to do that, then I will make it a weekly hike.

This is going to be great year in the mountains.

Beginning A New Journey

Borobudur Sunrise copyright (c) 2012 Prayudi Hartono using a Creative Commons License.

Borobudur Sunrise copyright (c) 2012 Prayudi Hartono using a Creative Commons License.

“We sit together, the mountain and me, until only the mountain remains” — Li Po.

I have been conditioning almost every day since the new year, taking regular 5-mile walks to the park and back, with two sizable hills to overcome along the way. While I walk I sometimes listen to lectures by The Teaching Company, and yesterday I listened to a couple of lectures on Buddhism. Doing so inspired me to really commit myself to the Buddhist path.

Buddha Entwined Copyright (c) 2012 Echiner 1 using a Creative Commons License

Buddha Entwined Copyright (c) 2012 Echiner 1 using a Creative Commons License

I have been reading about and adapting my life to Buddhist philosophy for about twenty years now, mostly on an intellectual level, but never fully committing myself to it. I don’t meditate much, I only occasionally pick up a book on Buddhism, and yet I know it is the one ‘religion’ for me. I believe in compassion. I believe that much of the world is based on human illusion and misunderstanding. Buddhism effects me on a soulful level that nothing else does. Nonetheless, I have still been reluctant to commit myself.

I realized as I walked and listened to the lectures that there is much about the act of mountaineering that gives it a commonality with Buddhism. It requires the practitioner to be fully immersed in the present moment, it requires courage, it requires dedication and commitment. In some ways one could say that alpinism is a form of walking meditation. So it dawned on me that I could somehow merge the two, Buddhism and Mountaineering, and perhaps write a book about my experiences.

I made the decision as I walked. I would become a full Buddhist, rather than a semi-Buddhist.

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Truthfully, I don’t know what this entails exactly, except that I will immerse myself more fully into Buddhist literature and — most importantly — begin a practice of meditation. My walks, in a sense, can be a form of meditation, although for now I will still continue to listen to lectures for the most part. Yet meditation must become a regular part of my practice.

How will this effect my climbing, my adventuring? I don’t believe it will hinder anything, in fact, I believe that there is a rich mine of untapped Buddhist ideals behind my risky adventures. After all, one of the principles of Buddhism is the study of our own mortality, and that is, in a sense, what drives many of us to take up these higher-risk sports. By facing death, we feel our own lives more keenly. I have always found that for me, going kayaking, rock-climbing or mountaineering has a much larger element of spirituality than plain-old fun. A lot of people do these things because they are fun, and that is it, but for me, stepping onto a mountain or crag or paddling down a river is much more about seeking unity with the universe. When I am paddling well, I flow with the river as if I am part of it, when I climb well, I am essentially doing a form of vertical yoga.

Yoga In The Mountains Copyright (c) 2012 Lulumon Athletica using a Creative Commons license.

Yoga In The Mountains Copyright (c) 2012 Lulumon Athletica using a Creative Commons license.

I am seeking something larger than myself, yet I am also trying to understand myself in the deepest way possible. Hopefully this new direction will allow me to expand that quest, and I truly believe it will.

The path awaits. It is time to enter upon it.

 

The ever-changing dynamics of life

A month ago I was standing on top of South Sister, the third highest mountain in Oregon. I had been ill for the previous few days and really had to push through the 5.5 miles and roughly 5000 feet of elevation gain in order to reach the summit. Unfortunately, I also made myself sick pretty bad and ended up missing a good chunk of school over the next week. I have some regrets over this. I should have just made myself go, but I wimped out and got myself way behind in my classes, and if I hadn’t done that, then I would not have had to withdraw from my classes like I did just a few days ago.

I am, at the present time, no longer in school.

A week and a half ago, I started having seizures, just little ones mind you, but nevertheless disconcerting and disturbing. I would be talking to someone and suddenly just not be able to see them anymore, they would just vanish before my eyes, I would no longer be able to see or hear them from anywhere from a second to five seconds, but when I come out of it, I am disoriented, faint and dizzy. I started having them anywhere from five to twenty of them a day. I ended up going to the hospital, spending the night and getting a whole battery of tests to make sure my heart and my circulatory system was operating properly. They could find nothing wrong with me (of course, they did not test for epilepsy or anything, just the really serious stuff like heart attacks and strokes.)

I have been finding it difficult to focus — something I have always struggled with — and reading especially seems difficult right now, and I ended up missing another week of school because I am struggling so badly to keep focused. Once that happened, I knew I was going to have to withdraw from school, which I did this last Friday. I am now on academic suspension, and I should be able to work my way back into school if I can get these damned seizures under control.

So what does this all mean for my outdoor life? Not really sure yet. There is a possibility that all of this is occurring because of the medication I have been taking for pain, and if that is the case, then I should stop having them as I slowly withdraw from the drug (this is not a medication you can just up and quit, so powerful is its physical dependence.) Yet if it is the drug, then that means that my chronic pain will also be coming back, not really something I am looking forward to.

But what if it isn’t the meds? Then what? Well, if I have somehow developed a form of epilepsy (I have a niece who was recently diagnosed with it, so there is some precedence for it) then that will definitely alter my climbing and my more extreme adventures in the future. Definitely will change my ability to do technical rock climbs and mountaineering. So I am really hoping it is the meds.

However, this also means that I will have more time to blog, at least for a little while.

There are so many unanswered questions in my life right now.

The experience of Zen in climbing.

Dragon Bell by Tiberius Dinu.

I first felt the spiritual side of climbing on my very first mountain climb. Mt Thielsen (aka Lightning Rod of the Cascades and originally known as Hischokwolas), which is for the most part nothing more than a steep hike, but becomes quite vertical on its final eighty foot pitch, and it is a bonafide rock climb to reach the tiny, precipitous summit. Many people elect to use a rope for this last section, but on this day (and also on every subsequent climb I have made on Thielsen), we would be forgoing the use of rope. I remember standing at the base of the summit pinnacle, staring up at the final pitch which was swarming with climbers, and feeling tremendously nervous at attempting the climb. I talked to some experienced climbers who were leading the climb for the Mazamas, and they reassured me that I was capable of completing the ascent. They also told me to grab a hold of their rope if I needed to.

After gathering my courage, I set out. What I experienced in the short time it took me to climb up to the summit was unlike anything I had ever experienced before, and it would change my life forever. Time stood still. Conscious thought fell away. I became aware of only a few things: where my hands and feet were, and where they were going to go next. Nothing else existed. I was utterly absorbed in the moment. I was completely focused, which for me was a huge, huge deal. Focus has never been my strongest asset, and what I discovered on that climb was that for me to really have that kind of mindless concentration, I need to be at least somewhat scared.

The summit pinnacle of Mt. Thielsen. The climb goes up the left side.

I topped out on Mt. Thielsen, feeling elated but still painfully aware that the climb was far from over. I was standing on a table-sized summit with a no-joke 4000 foot drop on the north, and smaller but still fearsome cliffs on every other side, and after just a few minutes, I decided I needed to climb back down, and the down-climb took me to an even greater state of focus. Once back down, however, a huge sense of elation swept over me, and it would last for over a week after the climb. Probably due to having Asperger’s syndrome, I have always been painfully self-aware, completely locked in my head, and climbing the mountain took me outside of myself for the first time. I finally knew what freedom was, and I was hooked. Before that day, the idea of climbing a mountain was something that seemed like an interesting novelty, something to try because it seemed like a cool thing to do. After that climb, I knew that this would become a way of life for me, a path to follow, a calling.

I experienced that feeling of Zen, again and again, even on easier mountains that did not have technical aspects to them. Just the act of grinding out long miles up steep slopes would put me into that state, maybe not as intensely, but the repetitive motion of one foot in front of the other, over and over again, also can put me into a semi-meditative state. It is what high-level athletes often call ‘the zone’. I feel so fortunate to have found something that just automatically allows me to go there, and that is why I yearn to climb as often as I can.

I experience much of the same state when kayaking. Taking on a huge standing wave or running a six-foot drop transports me outside of myself and yet brings me more deeply inside at the same time. Which is why I have become almost as obsessive about river running as I am about climbing.

In my perfect world, I would climb a mountain on a weekly basis, I would kayak, rock climb and hike on nearly a daily basis, just to find that joy and freedom more often. It is a form of moving meditation, and for me, that is the perfect type of meditation.

Today I will leave you with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful little book The Long Road Turns To Joy: “When we practice walking meditation, we arrive in each moment. Our true home is in the present moment. When we enter the present moment deeply, our regrets and sorrows disappear, and we discover life with all its wonders. Breathing in, we say to ourselves, “I have arrived.” Breathing out, we say, “I am home.” When we do this, we overcome dispersion and dwell peacefully in the present moment, which is the only moment for us to be alive.”

Namaste.

Myanmar, Pindaya: 8000 Buddhas cave by Rene Drouyer

Some thoughts about writing

While those few of you who read my blogs are aware that I am in school trying to get my degree in journalism, a lot of you probably don’t realize that for most of my life, since I was ten years old, I have had an aspiration to be a fiction writer. In fact, I have written far more fiction than non, and it is still my strong desire to see my fiction published.

Several years ago I started working on my fiction after a more than ten year layoff, in fact, I quit my job at While Away Books in order to pursue this dream. All went well as far as production went, I wrote over four hundred pages and ten stories or so, and I was surprised at how much I had improved since the last time I had written a story. I guess age and maturity helps.

As well as the production aspect of my writing went, I still discovered that I has the same blocks sending my work to a publisher. I really have this big, scary wall that has always been a major obstacle for me. I am deathly afraid to…succeed. It’s funny, I don’t give a shit about rejection, I am used to it and it doesn’t even phase me. When I think about my work actually taking off and having some success, I feel terrified. I am not certain why. Once, many years ago, a counselor told me that he thought that I had learned to be a ‘successful failure’ in my life, and while that may sound terrible and insulting, it is, in fact, the truth. We can learn to be comfortable in almost any situation, even ones that outwardly don’t seem could be remotely comfortable.

In any case, before I really had much of a chance to overcome this obstacle, both my computers died, and that was that. I do not write longhand, I find it really difficult to sustain, partially because of the pain in my hands caused by writing, but also, I can keep up with my thoughts so much better when I type, simply because I type so much faster. And maybe it is the Aspie in me, but I really like the feel of typing.

So now I have a computer again, my stories are back on, and I am beginning to work on them again. I have been bookmarking on-line horror sites to send my work to. I think that over the course of the next two weeks I will send a story off. It is just so much easier to do now. In the past, you had to print out your stories, doing it in just the right way, sending off queries and it was generally a lot more complicated. Now, you do still have to send off queries to some places, but with the ease of sending things electronically, I believe for me this is a good thing. It is less overwhelming.

I am determined to do it now. I believe the quality of my work speaks for itself. I am less afraid of success now, something that climbing has taught me a lot about. So I am going to re-write the stories I already have written and begin work on the hundred-plus ideas I have written down in my ‘little black book’, and I am going to start flooding the market with my work. I am forty now, getting close to forty one, and it is far past time I put away my fears of success and just freaking fulfilled what has long felt like my destiny: To be a successful writer.

That is all there is to it.Image