In May of 2014, I had the privilege of returning to one of our country’s greatest natural treasures…the Pacific Coast. My specific destination was the diverse and captivating San Francisco bay area. For so very long had wished to return to this city and to the forrest situated just to the north. Thirty years earlier, in this magnificent area, I had experienced, for the first time, the majesty of the great coastal redwoods. John Muir, for whom these particular woods were named, was quoted as saying, “This is the best tree-lovers monument that could possibly be found in all the forests of the world.”
In advance of this much anticipated trip, I wondered often if the experience would feel the same to me as my first visit. Would these woods once again inspire within me a deepsense of awe and wonder? Would I truly feel again the very connection of life amidst this extraordinary setting? And … would the drive required to get there still scare the wits out of me, as it had previously?! Understandably, I found myself both extremely excited and more than a wee bit nervous.
During the early 20th century, most of the two million acres of old growth forest in northern California were cut down. In a relatively short amount of time, the logging industry stripped the land of innumerous, immense trees that were hundreds of years old. Muir Woods, however, was spared this devastation due to the fact that accessing the area had been deemed too treacherous.
Being a true lover of the forest, of course, I had wanted to see this highly esteemed area. But getting there, in the mid-eighties, had proven to be a frightening challenge. Taking heed to this day is even advocated on the current government sponsored website which warns that “the roads to Muir Woods are very narrow and winding.” But, at the time, there was no website to warn my traveling companion and I. And the original narrow and winding road ran along extremely steep cliffs where guard rails, at best, were sparse and seemingly ineffective.
Imagine then, if you will, me as a much younger woman driving in a unfamiliar rental car along these precarious cliffs. My driving experience up until that point had been on the relatively flat roads of Florida. But I was not to be deterred – either by my fear or the impatient drivers behind me as I made my way very slowly toward the forest. Even my travel companion had to be asked to stop yelling out of fright so that I could more fully focus on our safety. Fortunately, in an inspired moment, we decided to create a large, hand written sign which we cleverly taped to the rear window of the car.
Please be patient. We are from Florida.
While the line of cars behind us remained long, at least the incessant honking had stopped. Plus, the honest and direct message made us both smile! Of course, we did eventually arrive safely, much to our relief and everyone else behind us.
Muir Woods, true to its namesake’s promise, was extraordinarily beautiful! I was touched by the grandeur far beyond even my own vivid expectations. The hushed silence in this ethereal sanctuary transcended any experiences I had ever known before.
Now, 30 years later, I was returning. Would the forest still have as much power and splendor as it had before? And … would the road required to get there still be as harrowing? My hope was that the decades of life that had transpired since my first visit would bring with them maturity in the presence of fear and still allow a childlike sense of awe as I stood amidst the colossal redwoods.
I am delighted to say that the road to Muir Woods, while still fraught with obvious danger, did not solicit the same level of fear in me as it had before. Was it because I knew that the destination would be worth the commitment required to get there? Having made this expedition in before, I believe that I was able, this time, to more fully appreciate the rewards that waited just ahead. I walked in toward the path noting the speckled light that shone down through the tall trees. The radiant beauty was still truly captivating and so immensely good for my soul.
I equate this pilgrimage to Muir Woods with the journeys we all make in our lives – both inwardly and outwardly. How often do we feel daunted by what lies ahead or even by what lies within? Yet, when we risk proceeding through the unknown and perhaps even the precarious, we can often discover amazing wonders. We may feel unsure and need to move with great caution. We may even be discouraged by those who witness and judge our seemingly slow progress. Yet, truly great rewards can be reaped when we have the courage to venture forth into the world, as well as, our own inner woods – through meditation, mindfulness and still being. By bravely navigating our own roads to wisdom, we will have access to tranquility, grace and beauty. The wonders to be discovered may well feel like the mighty trees of Muir Woods. So, enjoy the journeys of this life, my friend, even if, at times, the road seems scary and unfamiliar. For within each of us stands a presence that is tall and strong, resilient and majestic worth discovering.
Gentle Reflection II
The Rhythm of the Sea by Mary Hayes
During one of my recent birthday celebrations, I had the delightful opportunity to spend time with dear friends in South Florida. Together, we drove down to the Keys in order to go snorkeling. Prior to this time, I had snorkeled only once in a very small Central Florida spring. So, I did not yet know the extraordinary experience that was awaiting me in the ocean. For, during those inspired moments below, I was to feel deeply humbled and extremely honored. I share with you here of few of the highlights and insights that I gleaned during this journey below.
On the day of this great adventure, my friends and I set off in a big boat near the John Pennekamp State Park. The boat, filled with all kinds of seafaring folks, ferried us out to the edge of the coral reef. We were given safety instructions, as well as, snorkeling tips while being outfitted with our gear. Excitement grew within me as I had truly waited for this one moment for a very long time. And yet, I still had no idea what I was about to witness as I flopped awkwardly yet eagerly overboard.
To my great surprise, the coral reef was nothing like I had imagined. I found this living moving spectacle to be other worldly, serene and breathtakingly beautiful. And, because of this, I had to remind myself, as a novice snorkeler, to keep breathing!!
Somehow I had always pictured coral to be short and stubby, growing together in one massive, monotone clump. The startling splendor of what I actually saw took me aback! For the coral varied greatly in size, shape and color. Tall, tubular coral swayed with fluid elegance, while large, lacy fan-shaped coral appeared to wave to the many other life forms. And, oh my, the colors! Celadon greens, muted mustards, light cocoa browns and a stunning range of purples painted the canvas of this living landscape.
There were also so many fish of varying sizes and patterns moving with ease among the coral. I saw multitudes of tiny fish, a few round fish and colors of all kinds including fish that seemed to glow with a luminescent shimmer. And, much to my relief, no immensely large fish appeared, as had been my unspoken fear. Only small to medium size fish filled the scene - swimming solo, moving in schools and even playing hide and seek among the coral.
But what touched me so deeply was the gentle rhythm of these separate underwater elements. For the fish and the coral swayed collectively in a unified movement as the ocean undulated with currents. Without effort or resistance these life forms gave way to the tempo of the sea. What an inspiring sight to experience. I could not help but wonder how this would help all of us - the people of the land. By letting the silent rhythm of Life move through and around us, could we also be a gentle, harmoniously part of that which so wisely steers the sea? We could even forgo “swimming upstream,” and instead embrace a life going quite literally “with the flow.”
So, as the whistle sounded signaling us all to return to the boat, I reluctantly swam in that direction. I was so tempted to linger longer with my newfound, peaceful finned-friends. But, climb on board I did and return to land with my people with much gratitude and a true change in perspective. And, to this day, I still carry a more harmonious sense of life within me as a reflection of my time in the coral reef just off Key Largo.
Gentle Reflection III
Puddles in the Parking Lot by Mary Hayes
Many of us well know the intensity of a late afternoon Florida rain storm. These storms, when they come through, can be very impressive!
Last summer, I needed to go quickly into the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items for a dinner meeting. The parking lot, not unusually so, was filled with cars. I was forced, therefore, to park at the furthest point from the store’s entrance. Strong rain was pouring down and waiting for it to pass was not a viable option. The choice that I did have, however, was how best to navigate my passage across the parking lot. Fortunately, I keep an umbrella in my car.
The real challenge was how to save my shoes from ruin. I could wear them, of course, and do my best to avoid the many puddles that had already formed. That would be the responsible and acceptable thing to do. Or, I could carry them and just enjoy the splish splash of water on my feet. This would mean risking dirty toes and possibly a cut if there were any broken glass. But, I knew the store well, and the surface was typically kept quite clean.
The bigger risk that I actually feared was the scrutiny and criticism of those watching a “grown woman in business clothes” looking so ridiculous! I sought the source of my inner wisdom and decided that my “YES!” was to hold my shoes, purse and umbrella, and run carefully towards the door. Thus, the rain, rather than diminishing my joy, quite honestly added to my delight and the little jaunt toward the door proved to be such fun!
Those brief moments in the rain showered me with long lasting joy. But what surprised me the most was the response of those who witnessed my ‘silly’ little decision to be barefoot. The onlookers, far from staring harshly or with judgmental glares, smiled in amusement as they shared in my harmless bit of fun! I was even waved on and encouraged! No one said “no” to my decision. In fact, it brought many smiles and even laughter as they saw me not dodging the rain but celebrating it!
Courage is sometimes required in order for us to live in what I call our “YES!” Often we are so concerned about what others will think. Yet, joy is contagious and most often others will celebrate with us when we allow ourselves the freedom to more fully experience the gift of this amazing life! When our spirit shines through, not only are we blessed, but we also bless those around us. Our simplest choices can inspire and uplift far beyond the more obvious.
Let us choose to enjoy our lives, all the while accepting that it will not be perfect. Let’s Express Our YES! a little more each day and witness the amazing results in and around our world.