Searching for the spirit of Christmas

The last couple of years I have searched for the spirit of Christmas. I began writing this post two to three weeks before Christmas. I went back to it off and on. most of the time I sat idly in front of my computer, fingers poised over the keyboard as if waiting for a spontaneous rain of thought to begin to move them.

When I was younger, the spirit of Christmas meant something very different from what it does for me today. I suspect this is similar to what many others think. We have grown into such a materialistic society. I know that means that I don’t have to jump on that bandwagon. It is difficult as much of the advertising begins months before this season.  When I was a child, Christmas meant gifts, fun, food and more importantly spending quality time with family. Christmas also revolved around endless discussions with friends about what we hoped to get and the day after Christmas was when the competition for who got the best gift began. These comparisons were often emotionally painful.

cookies

My wife and I decided not to purchase anything for each other. I, being the guy asked several times if she really meant what she had said. I didn’t want to get caught up in “Don’t get me anything for Christmas” and then when I don’t, I look like the schmuck.

Materially, my wife and I are pretty simple individuals. We choose experiences, spending time with each other and surprising each other throughout the year with small tokens of our thoughts for each other.

Our gifts this year were spending time with each other and with family. The icing on the cake as it was, was watching our soon to be 3-year-old grandson open his gifts.

Chase1

 

It’s early and I am still searching for the meaning, the spirit of Christmas. It is actually the day after Christmas and I just returned home from a very early run in temperatures which are sure to make any normal person think twice about leaving the house for anything, let alone a run. The Christmas tree remains lit in the darkened living room, the house quiet with the exception of the fountain pen I am using gliding across the pages of my journal. Beneath the tree remains the material trappings of Christmas. As I start at the tree, I try to find some meaning in the lights and the ornaments. My heart, worn and tired from always giving reminds me that the meaning of Christmas remains elusive.

mom & dad

I continue to write because I know writing always helps to clear away the noise. The smell of a freshly brewed cup of coffee and a freshly inked fountain pen help me as I continue this search for the meaning of Christmas.

I find the road, as I grow older is not always a straight line. I also admit I can be a slow learner. Chasing childhood memories of the simple pleasures cause me to struggle to see the path which I am on. When I was younger I found myself despising this fact. It was the destination and now it has become more about the path and what I notice along the way. I am able to see because I allow myself to see the gifts which are bestowed upon me along the path. They can be difficult to see because they are not wrapped nicely in bright paper and with a bow. There is no name written on the gift denoting it is for me. It is my willingness to look inside which tells me this is a gift. I find it easier to accept the often relentless pace of change and accept the inevitability of change as part of my life.

 

hands

Long ago I stopped comparing myself and my life to others. My father remains the master of pointing out the fact that when you think your life is terrible, a simple look around serves as a good reminder that this is not always true. This definition, in and of itself is subjective and serves if we maintain it as truth to allow us to grow more disillusioned, angrier and ultimately, less happy.

My children, now grown and having their own lives still gather with us to celebrate dates on the calendar which we have identified with some level of importance. For this, I am grateful. It is times such as these that remind me of the importance of understanding those things which bring a smile to our faces. For me, my gift this Christmas was being with my family and sitting back, with a smile watching. Christmas, as I write is now two days old. Retailers will tell you there are now just 363 shopping days until Christmas visits us again.

Chase

As I write these words having come inside from a run where I found myself fighting to stay warm against the 6-degree temperatures. I am in my element, the element of silence. It is silence which allows me to witness the gifts around me and to know, that regardless of what happens, I am blessed to have this time on earth. “Waking up this morning” as Thich Nhat Hahn says, “I smile knowing there are 24 brand new hours before me. I vow to live fully in each moment, and look at beings with eyes of compassion.”

The spirit of Christmas, was right in front of me the whole time. It is encompassed in the photo of my parents, the hands of my mother as she passes around chocolates, more worried about the happiness of others; it is in the photos of my grandson both as he looks toward me and as he smiles playing with his favorite gift of the night. It is sitting back and enjoying the chaos of family and the time spent with loved ones.

Advertisements

Early morning run

Early morning run. The sound of my running shoes as they mingle with the frozen snow the only sound. My breath forming a cloud as it leaves my nose and mouth seem to hang in the air before dissipating.

The temperature is 15 degrees. The wind-chill dropped the temperature to a “real feel” of 0.

I rounded a turn and headed east. A gust of wind blown directly into my face stealing my breath but at the same time reminding me I am alive.

For others, life has been fleeting. They have entered and left this earth bothered by the trauma of one kind or another; alcoholism, drug addiction, and other issues, often beyond their control. I now look for the magic in each moment. At times this is a difficult task despite the magic being directly in front of me. I have allowed myself to be distracted and not witnessed the gifts which may be hidden from my view.

As I grow older, I look for these moments and cherish the good health which, at this point has been bestowed upon me. My mother, like her mother, have suffered fromsunset macular degeneration. I am sure this “gift” will be lurking around the corner for me like a receding hairline. Until that time arrives and as long as my vision remains intact, I will continue to enjoy reading, making photographs and witnessing the beauty, which, despite being in plain sight, remains hidden from view for many.

I am a Therapist

I am a therapist.

I have worked more than three decades to get where I am today.

The work I have done has allowed me to remain on this path which has helped me to achieve success and happiness so I can help others find the same degree of success and happiness.

I have worked hard to overcome difficulties in my own life to achieve the happiness in my life which I have come to enjoy.

People come to me for therapy and have unrealistic expectations.

People expect me to make changes for them. This is NOT the way this process works.

Change in the lives of others is not my responsibility. It is the responsibility of the individual seeking change.

I am simply a guide. I am the person who you approach asking for direction and support.

I am that person who you want to be open and honest with you when you ask that I provide feedback and support.

I am not that person if you are not looking for honest feedback. If you are looking for someone to lie to you about the problems which you experience in life as a result of decisions which you make, I am not that person. What you need, what you want is a friend. Most of us have had friends who tell us what we want to hear. This is NOT a friend. A friend, a true friend will provide us with honest feedback. We are lucky to have walked a path in life with at least one true friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will hold a mirror to you and help you see the flaws in the process.

I am that person you hire when you realize you need more than a friend.

I am that person when you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you search for honesty. I am that person who will help you identify and find the path which you desire to make the changes which you decide need to be made to achieve the happiness for which you have been searching.

Our life, your life is one in which we have the opportunity to either stop reading or to make the changes we desire to make to come to a happier ending.

I am that person.

In the Shadow of the Mountains

Roadway in autumn forest

I rose this morning, the floor cold to my bare feet.
Golden daylight falls through the barren branches of the stand of white birch trees.
As I stare through the stand of trees, I see the silhouette of one of the Adirondack ranges standing majestically.

Hot black coffee.
Alone with my thoughts,
As I stare out the window.

Things are simpler here.
I can just be…
There is no judgment, no expectations, no goals,
No fears.

There is no one to please, no one to help.
The quiet solitude of leaves as they dance on the breeze.

Black Friday

I slept well last night until I rose at 2:30 AM to use the bathroom. I looked out the window and wandered back to bed. Sleep did not find me as easily as it did when I first retreated to bed. Thoughts on my daughter’s predicament danced through my head. After tossing for the next 30-minutes  and focusing on my breathing, sleep finally found me again.

I rose, showered, made coffee and drove with Marissa and Chase to the Buffalo Science Museum. We spent the next four hours looking at many of the exhibits and watching Chase partake in all of the hands-on activities. It’s always rewarding to watch him play. Even when my kids were small I found more joy in watching their exploration of their surroundings. Watching Marrisa engage with him also brought a smile of joy.

I kept my distance and at times found myself sitting by myself, by choice. Thoughts of her predicament and trying to manage my thoughts regarding her life decisions kept me occupied sometimes staring blankly into space. I wonder about her decisions and hope medication and counseling will assist her. My role as a social worker causes me to struggle because like the relationship with my clients, I also cannot fix her problems. Watching her encourage Chase helped bring me back.

We returned home and I sat outside with a cigar enjoying the solitude.

Temperatures today reached 51 degrees which is unseasonably warm for November 24th. I become lost in thought about all of the things for which I am thankful. It is 5:40 PM. Daylight is fading fast, but before it leaves, there is a reminder of the beauty which graced us today. Fading sunlight backlights the clouds with brilliant oranges, which, as they continue to fade change to bright pink.

sunset

I could not think of a better way to spend “Black Friday.”

Namaste

The morning run

A little over one year ago I felt a pain in my knee which forced me to stop running. For a while, it was even difficult to walk.

I began running again in 2009, after having taken several years away from this sport. For me, running had become drudgery. I had forgotten why I was running.

I was never a competitor, against others. I had competed against myself. My runs became more about running faster times. It was in this competition that I had lost my desire to run.

territoryrun_vth_h

I have always been my worst enemy, allowing the thoughts and comments of others to populate and rent space within my head. The worst part is I allowed the rental property to go unchecked for a long period of time. The renters took advantage of my absence and they completely trashed the property. When I finally admitted that it was my absence which leads to the state of disrepair, I felt too sad to do anything about it. Sadness turned into depression and depression lead to inaction. The property went unsold and was eventually taken from the market. This injury, really the first since I began running when I was 16 allowed the same process; the same cycle of degradation to happen all over again.

Several times I watched and rewatched the video “Motivation for Your Morning” from the Territory Run Company.

I fell in love with this company when I first found them on the net. Check them out. If your runs are more spiritual in nature, I think you’ll really like this company.

Anyway, as I watched the video, I began to recall what I love about running and more specifically the morning run. The feeling which arose as I watched this video, the feeling which always seems to return to me when I let go of the need to identify as a particular type of runner was beginning to make its way into that property which had for the last 15 months become dilapidated after so many months of neglect. It felt like a warm summer night sitting on my front porch and in the distance I hear the sound of music as it escapes through the speakers of a car and its open windows. The sound, as it gets nearer becomes a song which I recall with a smile. It reminds me of simpler times and of memories of runs gone by, both good and not so good. I am reminded of the time when I waited by the window for a summer rain to cease or at least abate enough, in my thoughts that it would prove to be a comfortable run. knowing this would not happen, I laced up my running shoes and completed a quick three miler with all the enjoyment of a small child opening gifts Christmas morning. It was running times such as these which allowed the weight of the world to be left behind. My thoughts instead became filled with joy as I stopped on the crest of a local bridge and waited for the sun to rise beckoning a new day; a day like a wet lump of clay on a potters wheel, which could be made by me in any form.

I also began rereading the thoughts of George Sheehan in a book which was one of the most important to me since I was 15 or 16. That book is “Running and Being.” First published in 1978. My copy remains held together with several pieces of scotch tape. I still recall making this purchase at the long-defunct Walden Bookstore. George wrote, “I am a noonday runner.” I, on the other hand, have always been a morning runner. This has been and continues to be, as an Introvert the time of day which I covet. I covet this time of day not only for the solitude which it brings but today, I run at this hour because quite frankly, I am safer during this hour. George wrote, “The best most of us can do is to be a poet an hour a day. Take an hour away from being a serious adult and become serious beginners. Take an hour away from what Shelley called a life of error, ignorance, and strife, and introduce love and beauty and delight.”

One of my favorite quote from George Sheehan’s book is this one. “I am a lonely figure when I run the roads. People wonder how far I have come, how far I have to go. They see me alone and friendless on a journey that has no visible beginning or end. I appear isolated and vulnerable, a homeless creature. It is all they can do to keep from stopping the car and asking if they can take me wherever I’m going.
I know this because I feel it myself. When I see the runner I have much the same thoughts. No matter how often I run the roads myself, I am struck by how solitary my fellow runner appears. The sight of a runner at dusk or in inclement weather makes me glad to be safe and warm in my car and headed for home. And at those times, I wonder how I can go out there myself, how I can leave the comfort and warmth and that feeling of intimacy and belonging, to do this distracted thing.
But when finally I am there, I realize it is not comfort and warmth I am leaving, not intimacy and belonging I am giving up, but the loneliness that pursues me this day and every day. I know that the real loneliness, the real isolation, the real vulnerability, begins long before I put on my running shoes.”

I have attached a link to the video I mentioned earlier. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

//content.jwplatform.com/players/mDLR0SCD-vTGW2TdI.html

The Adirondacks

I left Friday morning. My company for this trip to the Adirondacks is, as per usual my friend John Burroughs. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I need to get up to the Adirondacks at least twice every year. The peace and solitude which I find in the mountains is the peace I need to recharge my batteries. I run into few people. My cell phone does not work and I am reliant on the solitude which this time alone offers me.

After a 20-minute drive from Indian Lake to Long Lake, I stopped at the Long Lake Diner for breakfast. Where else can you have an amazing breakfast of toast, omelet, freshly made home fries, coffee and a to-go coffee for less than $10?
diner

After breakfast, I drove to Tupper Lake and then on to Saranac Lake taking in the sights as I drove slowly through each town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later I arrived at the Village of Lake Placid. I usually bypass this area unless I am with someone who has never been. Instead, I stopped by the Olympic Training Center and ski jumpstopped by the ski jumps. The weather was so beautiful it made sense to take the elevator to the top to the 120 meter (394′) jump. The panoramic views are always amazing and when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, it is even more beautiful.

panorama

The next stop on the round trip is Whiteface Mountain. Unfortunately, at this late time of year, the  Veterans Memorial Highway to the summit is closed. It is closed during the winter because frankly, it’s just too unsafe to drive when it is covered with snow.  At its steepest, the grade reaches 8%. It was snowing at Whiteface just two weeks earlier.

As one approaches the base of the mountain one is met with another of the beautiful wonders of the Adirondacks., the Ausable River. I love to fly fish and find myself enamored with the peace of the cast. I watched this fisherman almost 30-minutes, lost in the silence which is fly fishing. On occasion, I’ll take my fly rod out and practice my cast.fisherman

“But I early learned that from almost any stream in a trout country the true angler could take trout and that the great secret was this, that, whatever bait you used, worm, grasshopper, grub, or fly, there was one thing you must always put upon your hook, namely, your heart: when you bait your hook with your heart the fish always bite; they will jump clear from the water after it; they will dispute with each other over it; it is a morsel they love above everything else. With such bait, I have seen the born angler (my grandfather was one) take a noble string of trout from the most unpromising waters, and on the most unpromising day.” – John Burroughs

waterfallsLast stop of the day was over to the Ausable Chasm. This is one of those areas when I would stop regardless of the time of year to bask in the beauty. If one keeps one’s eyes open, one can see many different things.

My planning this year suffered. The leaves were not only past peak but many of the trees had already shed their leaves in preparation for their winter slumber. There were, if one was to look, trees which held onto their leaves as if waiting for my arrival. “How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” – John Burroughs

ausable fall“The longer I live, the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.” – John Burroughsausable fall1
One of my favorite quotes from “The Art of Seeing Things” is this quote from Mr. Burroughs. “Love sharpens the eye, the ear, the touch; it quickens the feet, it steadies the hand, it arms against the wet and the cold. What we love to do, that we do well. To know is not all; it is only half. To love is the other half.” ― John Burroughs