The Refuge We May Find in Beauty

The words I read in the headline burn my eyes. I click the “x” in the right corner of the browser, closing the news article, feeling full of its toxicity, disgusted and saddened, ashamed at the level of political discourse in my country has sunk to- between candidates yes, but also between one another.

I log into Facebook and send a little note of love to a dear friend, and before I know it, I’m caught up in the quicksand action of scrolling through my newsfeed…again the toxicity of the posts I read feels tangible. So many people sharing the next obscene and ridiculous thing that has been said, and possibly done. So much expression of outrage. So much conflict and argument. So much talking and declaration, so little listening and asking.

I log out of my account and close my computer.

I sit for a moment quietly, taking a few deep breaths with my eyes closed. My eyes continue to burn as I rest them, the words and images plastered across the various articles, screaming for attention, pop up in the darkness of my mind, continuing their torment.

Dishes from breakfast beckon for cleaning and I have work to do, so up I go. I turn on my NPR One app to catch the morning newscast. Why? I’m not sure…a small part of me wants to further engage with the drama, perhaps?

Why are we so easily addicted to the things that do not truly nourish us?

The newscast offers up what I expect it to…and suddenly a stream of horrifying reports is flowing abrasively into my ears while I scrub off the remains of egg from my frying pan.

After several minutes my heart can no longer bare it, and begs for retreat. My ears feel overwhelmed by all the junk I’ve just consumed, like a guilty child who’s eaten too many sweets and now has an awful tummy ache. If only my ears could vomit all of that poison back up and release it from my body.

We are so much larger than this…I know we are.

The overwhelm of my senses is collectively gathering and I feel physically heavier as each moment passes.

I suddenly pause, and realize I’m starving for beauty, gasping for sustenance, aching for kindness.

I grab my jacket and step outside into the pouring rain, heading toward the forest that leads down to the river. Fresh apple blossoms greet me along the way, splashing their obvious beauty across my view, demanding I take pause to study their delicate, delicious and brief existence.

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I let the beauty of the forest fully embrace my eyes, soaking up every inch and detail of the vibrant green mosses and delicately dripping leaves. The spring (yes, it’s spring in Chile!) rains have been falling heavily for hours, and the leaves shimmer and shine brightly, reflecting the bright white sky above.

My eyes no longer burn.

I pause beside a thick tree trunk, suddenly lost in its web and variety of mosses and ferns that have claimed residency on its living, growing, breathing real estate.

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The green vibrance of the freshly-born leaves hanging from the trees invoke a sense of wonder. Each day their hue changes ever-so-slightly as they age from their spring birth into their midlife summer.

But now they catch the freshly falling rain with a full and delicate vulnerability. The rain splashes upon their new skin and they bounce under its weight; and they are resilient, these bold little leaves are not discouraged by the constancy of this heavy spring shower. They continuously reach upward, toward the sunshine they know resides behind the clouds.

Perhaps we can be as resilient as these bold little leaves, we can continue to reach toward the sunshine in the midst of this heavy downpour.

Before moving on I close my eyes and turn my face to the sky. The rain falls freely, delighting my skin with its fresh and delicate kisses. Each raindrop laughs as it collides with the leaves above, sliding down onto my skin, rolling onward from the clouds to the thirsty soil. I revel in the joyful journey of these little drops of water.

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I smile quietly and continue to follow the path toward the river, breathing deep the smells that the rain has encouraged forth. It’s so wonderful that rain produces such lovely smells in wild places.

How lucky are we for that? Very, I think.

And how delicate the smells are, they’re unnameable and unseeable, like fairies ducking beneath the leaves and emerging quickly and elegantly here and there, only to disappear again when another wishes to tickle our noses with delightful scents.

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Just down the hill I reach the spring where an underground creek gushes forth in crisp, pure form, traveling with great intention to join the Liracura river that runs along the property.

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The sounds of the forest pour into my ears- the gurgling rush of the water mixes sweetly with the pitter-patter of the heavy raindrops falling onto the fresh spring leaves. Various birds sing to one another and their calls mix with the lonely call of our dear rooster who seems to have lost his hens.

My ears seem to froth with gratitude for such lovely offerings, and I sit quietly, simply soaking in the beautiful sounds that surround me.

I dip my hand into the water, it’s icy cold and as I splash it on my face it takes my breath away. I cup the fresh water in my hands and take several deep sips. The cold, clean water washes its way down my throat, into my body, caressing my organs and my cells, sharing its vibrance with me.

My body, my senses, my heart no longer feel heavy, or full of the abrasive things I consumed earlier.

The world is a mess. And it’s also overflowing with beauty.

All too often we’re not conscious of what we’re consuming, nor are we aware of how the things we consume impact us. These delicate bodies of ours, they are strong, and powerful, and resilient, and yet they are affected by all things we consume. We often use the term “You are what you eat”- but we are also, in many ways, what we consume in these other forms as well. We are what we hear, what we see, what we smell, what we taste, what we feel. Perhaps that’s why we feel such exhaustion and repulsion from an overload of negative and disheartening things…our bodies and our hearts are crying out to keep this out, it is poisoning us.

And yet we are incredibly resilient, how quickly we are rejuvenated when we consume things that inspire us, that lift our hearts, that delight our taste buds and sooth our ears.

Food is not the only thing that nourishes our body. All of our senses are attuned to receive from our environment, and if we aren’t aware of what we are exposing them to, we risk losing ourselves amidst the toxic and damaging realities of our world. In order to find the creativity, the curiosity, and the resilience we need if we are to overcome these negative realities, we must offer all of our senses nourishment.

So where might we find this nourishment?

We find it in beauty.

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I wholeheartedly believe in the undeniable power of beauty. I offer refuge to myself, by choosing to engage with beauty when I need regeneration. Despite the undeniable chaos and darkness we are exposed to all across the TV and computer screens, despite all of the products for sale that have done incredible damage to the environments and communities where they were made and discarded, despite the availability of foods that are full of toxic pesticides, chemicals and hormones that have damaged our soils and polluted our waters, despite the outrage we are witnessing and probably feeling in our communities about social injustice and corporate and political corruption- despite all of this we have beauty awaiting us at every turn.

It’s waiting for us, waiting to offer us the replenishment we need so desperately so that we can carry on.

We can all be more mindful about what we consume. I believe in being an informed citizen, and in participating in our society in order to move collectively toward a more positive and regenerative existence on this planet. And I believe in being a wholesome person, who listens to the needs of her body, who seeks inspiration and opportunities to serve in a positive way, who knows that she was not made to carry the weight of the world and therefore there are times I must retreat from it. When I must retreat into it.

And when I retreat, I retreat to beauty.

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Nourish yourself. In the midst of all the embattled dialogue on our screens and public stages, take time to listen to beautiful music; make a colorful meal with fresh ingredients that is so beautiful to look at you can hardly dare to disturb it with your fork; step outside and breathe in the fresh spring rain, or the crisp fall air- both will be swollen with the life of leaves- breathe in that life. Walk up to a tree and get lost in its trunk for a few moments, oh what wonders await us when we look closely at the bark of a tree! Embrace a friend or a loved one with gratitude and appreciation. Beauty is all around us, the ways in which we may uncover it are truly endless!

So, how might you take refuge in beauty? What simple beauties invoke a sense of wonder and joy in you?

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The Art of Embracing Uncertainty

My heart delights when I adventure into the unknown.

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Away we go, toward another horizon leading to the unknown

It’s enticing, the sense of adventure and the stories that I will live to tell. The people who will come across my path, inevitably linking me to another part of my journey and perhaps an entirely new chapter of my life.

 As Paulo Coelho says, “What makes life interesting is the unknown. It is the risks that we take every single moment of our day, every single day.”

There is something innate within us that craves this unknown, while also seeking a sense of security and safety. It’s such a dichotomy, such a wild and provocative thing to examine, to wonder at and to learn to dance with.

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We often feel most alive when we step into the unknown

 

I’ve taken up this act of living with a sense of uncertainty, of consciously carrying a level of uncertainty with me as a companion to my soul. For years I adventured with the idea that my ultimate destination was a sense of security…and yet recently I’ve seen this destination fall away entirely and make room for some degree of uncertainty to live comfortably within me.

The mystery of life is the unknown, the uncertainty of it all, and rather than spending time and energy trying to figure it out, I’ve decided to embrace it as a friend and listen to what it has to teach me. I’ve acknowledged that it’s going to be with me all the days of my life anyway, and rather than being afraid of it I may as well delight in its company.

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A mix of courage, heart, and trusting the unknown brought me here

Earlier this year Ale and I rode our horses nearly 1000 kilometers across Patagonia.

Rather than following my initial reflex of thoroughly pre-planning this expedition, I surveyed what it would take for us to cover our essential bases, and otherwise left the journey entirely open to unfold however it wished.

When we began our journey, we’d never been to Patagonia before and we didn’t even have horses. Our friends drove us from our home in Pucón to Puerto Montt and left us with our two dogs on the dock leading to the ferry. We waived goodbye to them, and waived goodbye to the last aspect of our trip that we’d actually planned. From now on we would be dancing entirely with fate- stepping fully into the embrace of uncertainty.

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Embracing uncertainty is not always easy, or comfortable, in fact it rarely is. It brings with it, as can be expected, many unexpected things. Looking back on how our journey unfolded, I can’t help but smile, because in hindsight it really does seem kind of fantastical and even crazy by some accounts. And yet, it happened so fluidly, it was such a wholesome journey, such a grand adventure and such an awe-inspiring experience, I wouldn’t trade the uncertainty we baked into it for anything. And I couldn’t have planned a better adventure in my wildest dreams.

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Deep in the heart of Patagonia

When we stepped off the boat carrying our excessively heavy packs, full of our backcountry gear, horse equipment and dog food, we had no comforts awaiting us. We didn’t even know how we would get to Villa O’Higgins, some 1200+ kilometers to the south. We were certain we’d get there though, and once we did, we were certain we’d find the horses we needed to ride home. Don’t ask me why, all I can tell you is we knew it with all our hearts, even as we began walking south along the Carretera Austral, our thumbs out and our hearts open.

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That first day we walked for miles. And then it began, the rides came. In quick succession we found ourselves with our feet propped up in the back of a pickup truck, the wind blowing our hair back, our puppies tongues hanging out happily and the mountains of Patagonia blowing by. For six days we were carried across Patagonia by the kindness of strangers- catching hitches each morning with ease and making our way steadily across the region.

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When we arrived in Villa O’Higgins it was time to buy our horses. Scratch that, it was time to find our horses. Just as we had been certain we would get to Villa O’Higgins, we were certain we’d find the right horses, but in reality we had no control over making this happen. We were in an incredibly remote part of the world where people use everything they owned- and horses are a vital part of the lifestyle here. Folks weren’t just selling horses off, and before we would find our faithful equine companions we would have to spend time getting to know the families living in the region, and give them the chance to get to know us. When we walked out of town three weeks later with two of our three horses, we had uncertainty to thank for the tears of gratitude and hugs we received from the friends we had made.

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The morning we left our adopted Patagonian family at Los Nires in Villa O’Higgins

We walked out of Villa O’Higgins, our horses and dogs walking beside us. We ventured up into the mountains where we’d been told we could find another horse. Nothing was certain, the horse might not be healthy, he might not be trained, the gaucho who owned him might not want to sell him for what we were willing to pay. The only thing we knew was that we could keep walking if we had to, and if we had to walk all the way to Cochrane with only two horses we would. But we had a feeling our third horse was waiting for us up in the mountains.

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Into the mountains we go

It turned out he was, and he would prove to be our boldest, strongest and bravest horse of all.

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The great Picante, our third horse found deep in the mountains of Patagonia

The first month of our ride we spent traversing the eastern mountain ranges of Patagonia, riding north from Villa O’Higgins to Cochrane following an old unmarked pioneer route. Because the trail was unmarked, it was incredibly challenging to find our way. There was a trail, sometimes, but we would often lose it as it disappeared across lakes or rivers or we would mistaken the tracks of wild horses or herds of cattle and follow them for hours before we knew we were off trail.

I have never, in my entire life, been so uncertain of where exactly I was in the world. I’ve always enjoyed wandering into the unknown, but I’ve also always had a way to find exactly where it was I’d wandered to. This particular section of the trail was incredibly challenging because even though we were never technically lost, we lost our way so many times that we would lose entire days backtracking and route finding. What we expected to take 13 days ended up taking 24 days. We had to ration our food. We had to send reassuring messages to our families using our emergency GPS tracker so that they didn’t call in the army to come find us.

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Following rivers to the glaciers they are born from deep in Patagonia

We found our way though. And we kept finding our way for several more months as we steadily continued north. We ducked and swerved mishaps as needed, we cared for our horses and our dogs, connected with locals and learned to find comfort in the simplest joys that embraced us daily. I felt the elements of Patagonia taking hold of each cell in my body, I felt the songs of the wind begin to live in my ears, the kiss of the rain felt familiar on my skin, I felt the endless pristine beauty of it take hold of my heart and squeeze it ever-so-gently. The constancy of the ever-changing sky and weather became a reliable companion, as did the uncertainty of what each new day would hold.

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Everything about this ride took longer than expected, but brought with it such unexpected beauty and laughter and joy, if anything it made the length of time entirely insignificant when compared to the depth of living we did in that time.

And that, perhaps, is my most favorite thing about carrying uncertainty around with me as a companion. It reminds me of the depth at which I can live my life when I allow a bit of mystery to weave itself into my story.

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We don’t have to always be the heavy handed narrator of our lives- when we let go of the need to see exactly what lies far beyond the horizon of our future, and instead get busy with the moment before us, when we fill our arms and minds and attention with this moment here, the uncertainty of what lies ahead is no longer frightening or overwhelming. Quite contrarily it’s enticingly exciting.

My what wonders have come from adventuring into the unknown…and my what wonders await as we continue toward the next horizon, embracing the uncertainty that adventures along with us.

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A Simple Act of Kindness

Plump, swollen, frustrated tears formed around the edge of my eyes and rolled down my cheeks. I sat beside the riverbed, the misty rain beginning to chill my bones, feeling utterly defeated as I held our broken water filter in my mosquito-bitten hands. I had been trying to get the pump to work for nearly twenty minutes, all to no avail. I pushed myself up, wiped the mud from my knees and headed back to our campsite.

What had already been a tough day filled with steep elevation gains, constant rain and sadistic mosquitos that could fly in the rain and bite through rain gear, was now made a whole lot worse by the realization that our primary method of water purification was broken; and the nearest road crossing was a 4 day walk from where we were. Crap.

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Yet another very wet day on the Appalachian Trail

Ale and I had been on the Appalachian Trail for 9 days, we were just beginning our 5 month journey walking on foot from Maine all the way to Georgia. Prior to this “little” adventure of ours, neither of us had really done any backpacking; we’d both done a good bit of camping before, but nothing like this. Everyday seemed to hold a new lesson about what it would take to live on the trail.

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Simple lessons learned on the trail: best technique for climbing over fallen trees

I guess you could say the mountains were “testing” us, giving us a run for our money, proving whether or not we had the wear-with-all to walk the entire 2,189 miles to Georgia. Blisters were forming on our feet and I had them appearing ominously on my collar bones, right where my 45lb overloaded backpack sat rubbing heavily. An overloaded backpack filled with everything EXCEPT a back-up water purification method…Crap.

When our water filter stopped working, we were in the middle of a remote  stretch of trail called the 100 Mile Wilderness, which is essentially 100 miles of trail with zero road access; so once you go in, it’s totally up to you to get yourself out. It’s pretty much the worst place on the entire Appalachian Trail to have a critical piece of gear, like a water filter, fail.

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Taking in the vast, expansive section of the 100 Mile Wilderness

Ale and I surveyed our options and decided to boil all of our drinking water for the next few days rather than risk a bought of giardia. We would be cutting it close, but if we took care we should have just enough fuel to get us to Monson, the first town at the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness where our first re-supply box awaited us.

The next two days were brutal. Each morning we pulled ourselves from our warm, dry sleeping bags only to be greeted by cold, damp clothing that never dried in the wet night air. The mountains battered us with steep ascents to cold, windy summits followed by slippery, knee-jarring descents. At the base of the mountains, we were met by swollen, freezing, fast-flowing rivers that had to be crossed carrying our packs overhead, soaking us to the bone. All the while the mosquitos tortured our psyche, swarming our heads and attacking any exposed flesh.

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Ale going “all in” to cross the swollen rivers and find the trail. He came back to carry my pack across, as I was afraid if I slipped it would pull me under and I’d drown

I was jolted awake on the morning of the third day sans-water filter by a terrible dream that ended with us running out of fuel. I looked around the dark and quiet lean-to, reassured that it was just a dream. We were 19 miles from Monson, about 2 days of hiking (at this point we didn’t have our “trail legs” and hiking 11 miles in one day was a pretty big deal). I pulled out our camp stove and fired it up, pouring in water to boil.

Just as the water began to boil I heard the distinct sound of the canister emptying it’s last bit of fuel and *poof* we suddenly had no way of purifying our water or cooking the rest of our food.

Once again Ale and I surveyed our options as we gulped down our half-cooked mac and cheese. After nearly a week of soaking rains the likelihood of finding any wood dry enough to start a fire was low to none. Neither of us had much drinking water left, I had maybe half a canteen and Ale had half his Camelbak. Aside from Nutri-grain bars and trail mix, the only food we had left required cooking for eating. It looked as though we would have to try to push out the last 19 miles in one day with no water.

We left camp with a sense of urgency, climbing up Mount Barren, quickly soaking in the views and moving on. The sky was finally clear and the sun was warm, a nice change from the rain, but not really helping with the thirst. We hiked onward for hours, soon running entirely out of water.

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Taking that very last sip of water

My mouth was parched as we hiked along, sweat beading up on my brow. As we came around a bend in the trail, we saw two hikers ahead of us, walking along the river. They didn’t have any backpacks, and appeared to have just hiked a short distance to check out the trail. Ale ran ahead to ask if they had any water they could spare.

Now- mind you, we are looking pretty worn and torn by now. Neither of us have had a proper shower in 12 days, we smell…simply awful. Our clothes are covered in dirt and sweat. By most accounts we probably looked a little bit crazy, suddenly emerging from the woods. However, none of that seemed to phase Jake and Gram. Without missing a beat they immediately invited us to follow them back to their campsite nearby where they had bottles of water in ice filled coolers.

Ice. Filled. Coolers. I never thought I would looks so forward to hearing those three words. But after two days drinking boiled/hot water and hours of hiking without a sip of anything, this suddenly seemed like a dream.

We followed Jake and Gram back to their campsite where we met their four other friends- Matt, Russ, Loney and Chad. All six of them had been best friends growing up, and even though they had families now and lived all over the country, once a year they had an annual guys weekend out in the woods.

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Ale and the guys

Before we had even finished introductions I had an ice cold bottle of water in one hand and a double stacked cheeseburger in the other. As we guzzled our water and inhaled our cheeseburgers, they peppered us with questions about what on earth we were doing and how we’d ended up in our current situation.  As I finished my burger, without missing a beat, they passed me another and replaced my empty water bottle with a beer.

Not only did the guys maintain a consistent flow of food and beverages along with their questions and endless jokes, but they offered to drop us in Greenville on their way back to civilization that afternoon. I was overwhelmed by their kindness, their unhesitating willingness to help and their genuine openheartedness.

As we jumped in the back of the truck bed and pulled away from the trail, the wind whipped my hair and I closed my eyes, smiling, relishing in the speed at which we could suddenly move. We’d moved so slowly for the past 12 days, to suddenly be cruising at 80MPH down the dirt logging road was exhilarating to say the least. I let out a belly laugh and watched as the forest zipped by with dizzying speed.

As promised, the guys drove us to Greenville where we were finally able to buy water treatment that would hold us over until we fixed our water filter. We offered them money for gas, which they refused, and instead they offered take us all the way to Monson (a good 20 minutes out of their way) so that we could resupply food. Their selfless generosity flowed like a swift moving river, and it lifted us up and carried us onward, momentarily allowing us to lay back and simply rest.

When we reached Monson, they wished us luck on the rest of our crazy adventure, shaking their heads and laughing as they piled back into their pickup trucks to head home to their families. Ale and I shouldered our heavy backpacks and walked toward the nearest hostel where we would sleep in a bed for the first time in nearly two weeks. My feet ached, my muscles ached, my blisters threatened to pop and my bug bites itched- but all I could feel was the lightness of my dancing heart, so thankful for the simple act of kindness from a few random strangers. For the next 2070 or so miles, this lightness would remain with me in many ways, carried forward by the kindness of many more strangers, and would play an essential part of my journey toward Georgia.

Our capacity to be kind to one another is truly remarkable and one of our greatest treasures. We all share this capacity, regardless of race, religion, gender or ethnicity. Throughout our lives, opportunities to offer simple acts of kindness often arise out of nowhere. Our lives intertwine unexpectedly in the most essential of moments. Each time we cross paths with someone, each time we have a conversation or share a random encounter, we have the opportunity to choose kindness. And when we do, we can only imagine how far that simple act of kindness may travel…

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Live to the Point of Tears

Three months ago I was wiggling my fingers and toes as I rocked back and forth in the saddle, willing my body to maintain whatever heat it could generate to keep my extremities from going numb. I pulled my wool hat a bit lower and tugged on the hood of my jacket to keep the cold rain out of my face. I held my reins in my right hand, my thin gloves soaked all the way through, the tips of my fingers poking out of the holes; I tucked my left hand under the saddle pad, feeling the warmth of Picante’s thick coat, still dry beneath his saddle.

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Picante resting as we traverse a deep mountain valley in the middle of Patagonia

It had been raining for three days straight. Our equipment was soaked. Our tent was soaked. The dogs and horses were soaked. Our boots and socks were soaked. Dampness seemed to be creeping into my bones, the days of wet travel through Patagonia were wearing on us.

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Another rainy day of riding

Ale turned in his saddle, calling back to me- “How’re you doing?”

“Freezing, I’ve lost feeling in my toes again, do you mind if we get down and walk for a while?”

Ale nodded and we pulled the horses off to the side of the dirt road. I loosened Picante’s girth, hung his stirrups over his saddle and gave him a hug. He lowered his head, his ears pointed forward and he curiously nuzzled my back. Check and Curi Cuyen ran up behind me, tails wagging, searching for some explanation for our dismount. I gave them both a quick pat before rubbing my hands together and stepping forward to follow Ale and the other horses. The rain continued to fall heavily, and we continued our long journey north.

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Together we walk

After an hour of walking, the blood was sufficiently flowing in our bodies again and the feeling of cold limbs was replaced with the feeling of hungry stomachs. Luckily we found a brief escape from the freezing rain in a small refugio on the side of the road. We let the horses graze in the rain as I quickly pulled out our Jet Boil stove, a cup of instant mashed potatoes, a carton of cooked vegetables and a can of tuna. The dogs curl up beside our backpacks and slept as we cooked.

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A welcome refuge on a cold rainy day

I paced around the refugio, trying to stay warm, grateful for the roof and walls that were momentarily blocking the wind and rain. This place felt like a little paradise after days of riding and walking outside in the elements. The water quickly came to a boil; I combined the ingredients, adding a dash of merken, a pinch of salt and a healthy dose of oregano. We feasted quickly as cars sped by, splashing cold puddles on our feet.

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Happiness is shelter and warm food on a cold day

The warm food disappeared just as quickly as it had cooked, our bodies seemed to be in a constant state of hunger as so much energy was required to simply stay warm. There were no leftovers when it came to meals on the trail.

We loaded the chiwas (packhorse packs) back on Zalig, bridled Aysén and Picante, pulled on our wet backpacks and climbed back into the saddles. The rain had turned into a drizzle and the clouds seemed to dissolve into fog, drifting in between the mountain ridges. Maybe, if we were lucky, it would stop raining by nightfall. Maybe, if we weren’t so lucky, it would rain everyday for the rest of the week. Either way, onward we rode.

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Rain or shine, we travel on.

About a year ago, I was listening to one of my favorite poets giving a talk about the depth at which we must be willing to dive, in order to fully embrace the lives we are given. During his talk, he mentioned the famous quote by Albert Camus- that we must “Live to the point of tears.”

Those words grabbed hold of me in that moment, they captivated me in a manner that made my heart beat a little faster. That was it- those words captured the essence of what I was seeking. Living to the point of tears felt like an invitation to pursue the grand adventures that visit us in our dreams, that give us such stunning experiences while we live them that we could cry with delight and gratitude.

I wrote down in my journal that I wanted to live to the point of tears- that this was my intention as I moved forward with this grand adventure called life, and I believed that my adventure on horseback in Patagonia would allow me to do just that.

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Standing in awe as I look out into the expansive wildness of southern Patagonia

In some ways, that’s exactly what it is. Our ride across Patagonia was an unbelievable dance with the rawest forms of being present that I’ve ever experienced. We witnessed wild places that were so beautiful they did invoke tears. We faced hardships that resulted in tears of frustration and tears of overwhelming gratitude when relief was realized. We met strangers who embraced us as friends, and were overwhelmed by the gratitude that flooded our hearts after they showered us with simple things such as homemade bread, sharing a warm stove together, and giving us their undivided attention.

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Waving farewell to Don Patricio, a deaf gaucho who opened his simple home to us late one evening after we’d ridden for hours into the night in search of water for the horses

Embracing grand adventures that demand a larger experience of living is important- but I’ve found it’s not entirely the essence of this whole “living to the point of tears” business.

What I’ve realized since finishing our ride, and returning to the “day-to-day” post-adventure living, is that the wholesome act of living in the present and acknowledging the simple things that bring us joy, continuously nurtures a deeper appreciation for life in general. When we find gratitude in our moment-to-moment existence, we may find ourselves living with the same fullness that we experience in those “bucket list” pursuits.

The inspiration for this post was a simple moment that happened a few days ago. After dinner, I poured the leftover curry into a recycled pickle jar and strolled over to the refrigerator. As I held the door open, scanning for a spot to stuff the jar, I suddenly felt goosebumps and tears well up. I leaned back, shaking my head with a smile.

My refrigerator is so full, practically overflowing, and it suddenly took my breath away. Fresh vegetables spilled out from the bottom drawer and lower shelves; a chicken sat on the middle shelf defrosting; on the door there were a dozen eggs of varying shapes and sizes, homemade cheese and butter – all bought the day before from the neighbors down the road. We don’t have a huge refrigerator, but as I looked at it’s contents and tried to squeeze in leftovers from our last meal, I was overtaken by a wave of gratitude by the abundance before me.

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Acknowledging the abundance of our community

There I was, staring at a refrigerator full of food, on the verge of tears.

These days I could cry with joy each time I step into a hot shower, or put on a lovely smelling lavender lotion. The waves of gratitude are palpable. Each morning I awake and I look out my front door and see our horses grazing, the joy bubbles up in my heart and I’m again on the verge of tears of gratitude. I notice more moments in the day that delight me- the moment the sunlight dapples the forest with shimmery gold, the hay we have neatly stacked to feed the horses for a month, the way the sun bursts through the clouds on a rainy afternoon, the warmth of the house when I come inside after working outside all day with the horses. I take a moment to simply close my eyes and smile, so thankful for this roof, these walls, and this wood heating our little home as winter settles into the mountains of southern Chile.

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Crisp early winter sunrises with the river and volcano in our backyard

“Live to the point of tears.”

Looking back, I didn’t actually think that living to the point of tears would be so literal. But it actually is. Not to say I’m walking around all day crying (don’t start worrying), but the fierceness of the joy that overwhelms me when I acknowledge this underlying gratitude- for incredibly small things- it brings me just to the point of tears, quite literally.

I do experience a heightened sense of gratitude for hot showers and a warm house on a cold rainy day, for a full refrigerator and left overs after being able to eat to my heart’s content. To be sure, that heightened sense of gratitude is easily invoked thanks to all those cold rainy days we endured riding across Patagonia.

But, what I’m continuing to discover is that living to the point of tears is actually a way of being that we can carry with us through our daily lives. It can elevate us in moments of everyday hardship and uncertainty by allowing a constant celebration and acknowledgement of the small things we can easily be grateful for.

After all, life is not always a grand adventure- and in fact, the small, quiet moments make up much more of our lives than the risky bold adventures do. With each breath we take, with each new day, we have the opportunity to wholeheartedly live to the point of tears.

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Life after the grand adventure continues to invoke incredible moments of gratitude

So, what inspires a deep sense of gratitude in you, one so powerful it may just bring you to the verge of tears, followed by an outburst of joyful laughter?

 

In the Presence of Abundance

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The air is brisk; I can see my breath as I climb the steep slope in the dawn light. The moon sits quietly above the glacier, lingering with the last few stars in an otherwise empty sky. Curi Cuyen trots in front of me, pausing every few steps to look back at me before carrying on her endless search for that unsuspecting bird. I’m tickled with excitement as I climb higher and higher, the vastness of the valley unfolding before me, the mountains and peaks, the glaciers and rivers that had silently hidden behind the thick, cold fog yesterday now sit vibrantly exposed.

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I climb to the top of the rocky slope that sits high above our camp. Curi and I trot along the ridge, all the way to the tip where two large, flat rocks form a nearly perfect chair- setting quite the stage to watch the world wake up. I drop down, sitting cross legged with my camera and journal by my side. Slowly I pull my hat further down to cover my ears, the chill of the morning shadows creeps down my neck. Curi curls up in my lap and I’m immediately warmer thanks to her furry little body.

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I take a moment to sit with my eyes closed, feeling the stillness of the morning. I feel the absence of the wind, the absence of the wet, cold rain, the absence of the pelting sleet.

Generally speaking, Patagonia is not a quiet place- between the ferocious wind and the roaring rivers, there’s almost a constant symphony of powerful sounds weaving their way through these wild places.

But this morning, high up in these mountains, up above the mouths of the rivers, beyond the glaciers from where they are born, tucked in between the tops of the peaks where the wind cannot travel- here I find stillness. And this stillness fills each and every molecule- it is vast and grand, as large as this wild place I look out upon.

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I sit in the shadows of the mountains and watch the slow, sultry entrance of the majestic sun. Even this has a stillness to it. The sunbeams creep forth, constantly in motion and yet seemingly motionless. I turn my head and it has inched its way further while I was looking the other way. I’m reminded that there is always an abundance of light, despite the length of the night, the light always returns. As the first sunbeams reach beyond the highest mountain ridge and the warmth of the morning sun rushes over me, a smile rises with my temperature. Sunshine. Oh how wonderful to feel warm sunshine.

IMG_212525 days.

It has been 25 days since I’ve had a hot shower.

25 days since I’ve had any contact with friends or family via telephone or internet. 25 days sans email or Facebook, sans Instagram likes or BBC news updates.

24 1/2 days since I was certain I knew where we were going and how to get there.

20 days since I relinquished control and discarded expectations of this journey and instead decided to focus only on the demands of my present existence.

19 days since I’ve felt full after a meal, since we’ve been rationing our food, uncertain of how many more days it would take us to emerge from these mountains, how many more days we would spend deep in the belly of this Patagonia wilderness.

And yet here I sit, so full of a simple abundance. So full of this stillness, so full of the abundance of sunshine, the abundance of clean water, the abundance of light, the abundance of fresh air and the abundance of love for my little family of husband, horses and dogs. I’m full of the abundance of strength and resilience that I have found within me. I sit, overwhelmed, as I have been so many times before, by the abundant beauty of this earth that we are blessed to walk upon.

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I climb down from the mountain, down into the valley where the sunshine is now flooding across our campsite, drying the dew on our tent, bathing our horses in its warmth. Ale is walking up to each horse, hugging them, brushing them and checking their hooves. I catch my breath and feel another tickle in my chest. This is our home! This is our life! This is our story!

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I stroll up to our grazing horses, our faithful companions and adventure partners who have carried us across rivers, glaciers, through sheer mountain passes and rocky canyons. I hug each one, thankful for their willingness to carry us through this adventure, their willingness to endure the ferocious winds, the cold hail and rain, to endure our uncertainty and our endless desire to explore and continue onward.

Ale and I pull our damp sleeping bag and soaking wet sheepskins out of the tent and lay them across the rocks. We unpack every single piece of gear- most of it damp from the days of relentless mountain storms- and lay them in the sunshine.

All of these things have our stories wrapped up in them. I love every single thing that I handle, placing them gently in the sunshine so that they too can indulge in the abundance of warmth.

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I peel off my clothing, most of which hasn’t been changed in nearly a week, my skin feeling the cool air and warm sunshine for the first time in a long time. Each piece of clothing is handled with gratitude, as it has kept me warm and dry through the most rugged terrain I’ve ever ventured into. I adore the bright colors of our belongings as they lay strewn across the rocks, the patterns and layers- each item serving a simple but essential purpose. These clothes are our companions, just as our horses and dogs are, and they play a vital part in this story.

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I set up my little kitchen on a semi-flat rock, pulling out our fuel, stove and cookware. I collect water from the glacial stream and set about to cooking breakfast- measuring a cup of dehydrated mashed potatoes. I add what’s left of our salt, a heavy dash of oregano and merken. Even though we’ve been eating this mixture for weeks, it’s somehow incredibly delicious as we dig into breakfast in the abundant sunshine this morning. I put another cup of potatoes aside for lunch and pack up the rest of our food, it isn’t much, but it’s enough.

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I splash in the shallow river that’s gushing from a nearby glacier, gasping at the coldness, laughing at the freshness, smiling from the glee of feeling clean for the first time in weeks. I dry myself in the sunshine, standing naked on top of a cold boulder with my arms outstretched like a bird drying her feathers. The sunshine wraps itself around me and I’m blanketed in its soft warmth. These are seemingly small things- this abundance of water, of sunshine, of time in a beautiful place- but they are so precious, so essential, and inspire overwhelming gratitude in this moment.

As our things and ourselves dry, we slowly begin the process of breaking down camp, repacking all of our belongings, saddling our horses and loading everything onto our packhorse. We take our time, deliberately enjoying the pace of this day. As we put everything away, I feel grounded in a reassurance that we have all we need on this journey- on this adventure through Patagonia but also this adventure through life. It’s a simple moment acknowledging the abundance that we carry with us no matter where we are.

We begin to follow the unmarked path along the stream, uncertainty hovering above us as to whether or not we are on the right trail. Yet we are also accompanied by a confidence that no matter what lies ahead, we have all we need- and we are always in the presence of abundance as long as we take time to acknowledge it.

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Beyond the Boundaries of Imagination

My heart beat rapidly as I looked upward and stared at the belly of the massive condor flying directly above us, diving and swooping and soaring up and over the edges of the surrounding peaks of Patagonia. It was a magnificent creature, looking prehistoric. Although I’d seen condors in other parts of Chile, I had never been so close and the sheer size of it was overwhelming, and we were overcome with a distinct sense that this was his territory, we were in his kingdom now.

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As we continued climbing Alejandro snapped photos in quick succession and I kept a wary eye on Curi Cuyen, who I imagined must look like a delicious morsel to the large dinosaur-like birds circling above us. The wind picked up, tugging at the flaps of my hat and drying the sweat forming on my brow. I pulled out my vest as the air cooled the higher we climbed. 360 degree views of jagged snow-covered peaks and numerous hanging glaciers surrounded us. Jewel-toned lakes dotted the valleys below. The blue sky was crisply dotted with fast moving puffy white clouds. A wide smile spread across my face, this place, like this trip, was so beyond my imagination.

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Majestic Patagonia

Our dreams are born from our imagination. They are carefully nurtured within the boundaries of our minds- the have edges and lines, distinct colors and shapes. These boundaries and lines are necessary for the dream to be constructed, they are necessary for us to fully grasp the idea of the dream, and the possibilities it could lead to. However, there comes a time when we must deconstruct the dream, we must erase some of those edges and lines to let the universe in.

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When this dream of riding horses across Patagonia was born, it began very simply- a basic image- us sitting on the backs of our horses, staring at the jagged snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia. The grass of the meadow where we sat reached our knees and was tinted golden in the warm sunlight. A soft breeze blew across the valley, invoking the sound of a million tiny whispers as the grasses bowed in it’s presence. Exactly where we were, or how we would get there was not yet exposed- there was only this image, and this feeling of weightlessness.

When we decided we were actually going to make this happen, we began the process of constructing the boundaries of the dream. How would we pay for it? Where would we buy the horses? What would we do with them after the ride? What would we share about our journey, was there a larger purpose? How would we set our route? Where would we buy the equipment for our horses? How would we travel to southern Patagonia in a very remote region with our dogs?

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We didn’t originally plan to hitchhike the Carretera Austral, but by doing so we opened ourselves entirely to the kindness of strangers- and they showed up without delay

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The unfolding of this adventure has felt a bit like this hike up Volcán Chaitén (our first adventure in Patagonia just before we began hitchhiking south)- stunning moments of beauty awaited each immediate step. And even though we couldn’t see exactly where the path was leading, we knew we were heading in the right direction. 

Our imagination began to construct possible ideas and solutions to answer all of those questions. At the same time we prioritized what questions actually needed immediate answers and what could wait until we were in a more appropriate place to find (or simply receive) the answers. Here and there we erased lines and boundaries, we left questions unanswered and options wide open. In a delicate manner we focused our energy on preparing for anything, rather than preparing for everything.

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One of those “pinch me” moments hiking along the Carretera Austral with our pups

What began as an image of a guy and a girl sitting on the backs of their horses staring at the snowy mountain ranges of Patagonia has evolved into these life experiences that keep defying the boundaries of my imagination. Never in my life have I imagined I would hitchhike 1200 kilometers across Patagonia with our dogs. I couldn’t have written into this script unfolding in my mind the countless characters we’ve encountered already who are continuously connecting us to our next destinations. Heading over to the local radio station in a tiny remote town in southern Patagonia to announce that we wanted to buy three horses and two saddles…nope can’t say I planned that. Nor could I have fathomed I would eat one of the best sandwiches I’ve tasted here in Chile on the porch of this bus as the sun lit up the breathtaking Cerro Castillo for our viewing pleasure.

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Just stopping for a quick bite mid-hitch on the Carretera…no big deal

So here I am- writing this post from the southern tip of the Carretera Austral, in the tiny town of Villa O’Higgins where we’ve set up base camp in search for our horses. We’ve been traveling across Patagonia for nearly a month, and the answers to all those hows and all those questions are still unfolding. We’re not rushing though, we’re not trying to manage this with a forceful hand. If we’ve learned anything down here in Patagonia it’s that everything will unfold in the time that it’s meant to; in the meantime patience and enjoyment of the present moment trumps all. That is, after all, how we managed to get here in the first place.

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Check, Curi and I overlooking Villa O’Higgins, our temporary base camp while we find our horses for the ride north

We’re spending the next two and a half months riding our horses 1800 kilometers across Patagonia. We’re not following a set route or a strict path; rather we’re weaving our way through the backcountry and trails that aren’t marked on maps but are instead held in the minds and hearts of the people and communities who’ve lived throughout this region before any roads existed. Once again, just as we did in order to get to our first destination (Villa O’Higgins), we’re opening ourselves up to the kindness of strangers and intentionally seeking their participation in this journey. We’re leaving edges and lines undrawn so that they can contribute and weave their stories into our own.

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When we finally arrived in Villa O’Higgins and found this statue in the town square, I knew we’d chosen the right place to find our horses and begin this adventure!

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Don’t let your dreams be dreams. 

The last little bit of this dream, kind of a dream within a dream, is tying my work into this adventure. When we left San Francisco, I always had the intention of finding a way to tie together my passion for wild places and outdoor adventure with my passion for sustainability and ethical supply chains. In many ways this dream is still in motion, still in transition from idea to reality, but it’s already begun to evolve and I’ve decided to bring it into this ride in order to give it a path forward. Again it’s a bit like that climb up Volcán Chaitén, I can’t quite see where the trail is leading, but the beauty of the path forward is continuously unfolding with each step I take, and I know I’m heading in the right direction.

When I first began working as a manufacturing manager overseeing production in factories across China, I had no idea where that work would lead me. At that moment in time it was so beyond my imagination that those experiences would ever connect with my other life passions, or even inspire them, and yet here I am, redefining the work I can’t not do.

In addition to sharing stories about our adventures on the trail, I’ll be writing stories about the things we carry with us, and the life that we give these things. Through creative storytelling, I hope to inspire curiosity about product life cycles, invoke reflection on the life we give the things we own, and motivate creative thinking about how the life of these things can continue beyond a landfill. I’ve got some ideas about how I’ll continue this work after the ride, but I’ve erased some lines and boundaries here as well, so that something can evolve that truly exceeds the boundaries of my imagination.

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I would love for you to follow along on our adventures across Patagonia, and my husband and I created a website to document our travels. I’ll continue to post stories of our adventures on this blog, but you can find more stories on our other site that will carry three main themes- adventure (sharing adventure stories as they unfold), simplicity (celebrating the simple things that inspire gratitude) and curiosity (stories of the things we carry with us, the lives they lead and the role they play in our life on the trail). Here’s a link to our website: www.abriendocamino.net – here you can find our blog, photos, profiles, and a bunch of resources to help inspire curious consumerism (check them out here!).

We’ve got a Facebook page where we are sharing great articles on solutions to move toward zero-waste economies and conservation and will also post trail updates, blog posts and photos.

Lastly, this is an adventure through one of the most stunning places in the world. All the photos in this post were shot on our way south- you can see more of this beautiful corner of the world by following our Instagram @abriendo.caminos

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For me, watching this all unfold as it has, it’s a beautiful reminder that we can’t let our dreams live only within the boundaries of our minds, we can’t delay bringing them into our reality until they are “perfect” and all the hows have been answered; instead we must let them grow wings on their own, we must let them evolve in ways that defy the constructs of our reality and instead let the universe influence their growth and development as well. If you have any doubts, let them go; if you need any reassurance that the world is waiting for you to step off the ledge, the world is waiting to celebrate your boldness, believe me it is.

The Quiet Urgency of Life

It’s a quiet moment. Dawn.

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We sit on the side of the bridge, the dawn light casts pink hues across the three volcanos on our right. The river rushes swiftly below us. Slowly, silently, several birds float across the sky.

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The wind is cold. My fingers are frozen as I fumble with my camera lens. I pull my hood up and huddle close to the ground, half-knocked down by a flurry of puppy kisses as Curi rushes over to jump in my lap.

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I turn around, the nearly full moon glows brightly at the other end of the river. It’s a stunning morning, with none but one cloud in the entire sky. I zoom in, trying to capture the face of the sleepy moon as she begins to retire for the day.

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The wind picks up, playing with my hair, whirling it around my face.

“It’s happening, here it comes!”

I turn my back on the setting moon, readying to welcome the rising sun. We all face east, looking up the river to the mountain-lined horizon. Warm golden light suddenly races down the mountains, rushing across the volcanos and forests.

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I find myself holding my breath as the rays of the sun pull themselves just above the horizon, casting dramatic beams of light and shadows all at once. My heart beats a little faster with excitement of the beauty I know is about to unfold.

I exhale and the beams stretch forth beyond the curve of the earth.

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Quickly, the sun pulls itself fully above the horizon filling the entire valley with sunbeams. We bathe quietly in the morning light, feeling it’s warmth wrap itself around us, warming our frozen noses.

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And just like that, a new day begins; and with it, it brings opportunity to experience something amazing.

“Somebody ought to tell us, right at the start of our lives, that we are dying. Then we might live life to the limit every minute of every day. Do it, I say, whatever you want to do, do it now.”- Michael Landon

We come into this world like the rising sun; one moment we’re not here, and the next we are. Our life exists in the course of the day, as we age we climb across the sky, our light extending to all within our reach, slowly we descend until the furthest curve of the earth is reached and once again we disappear. Some of us have lives the last like the long days of summer; others are brief, rising and setting with the winter solstice of the most northern reaches of the planet. The one thing we all share is that we will rise, but we will also set.

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Acknowledging this ignites a quiet urgency of life.

This year I lost four people of sincere significance in my life. Two whom I knew and loved very closely, and two whom I didn’t know so personally, but deeply respected and drew insurmountable inspiration from. All four of them died at a moment those of us left living would describe as “far too soon”; and yet, they all accomplished and created so much beauty in their brief moment in the sky. They all emitted intense beams of light; they all lived with intention and passion. This is how they will be remembered.

“We all act as if we aren’t going to die, or our loved ones aren’t going to die. And how do you act like you are going to die and your loved ones are going to die, without being overwhelmed by it or made smaller by it, but are made larger by it, and more privileged.”- David Whyte

We’re all going to die one day, and yet life will continue anyway. Life will go on. That’s the cycle of life in all aspects of nature. It’s the ultimate duality of existence. The awareness that we will die is uncomfortable, so we distract ourselves from this reality by planning for the future. But the moment we take ourselves out of the present, it is another moment of our precious life lost.

Personally, I struggle with this duality. I struggle with the desire for long term security, for assurances that everything will be okay, for a fail-safe plan just in case my leap into the unknown takes me somewhere frightening.

And yet, it’s that urgency of life that pulls me back; it grounds me in the present. In an odd way it gives me roots and gives me wings all at once. It urges me to wake up at an uncomfortable hour to witness another sunrise- simply because of how that sight will make me feel as the sunbeams break the horizon. The urgency of life keeps me from worrying about being able to afford buying a home “some day”, or stressing out about how to define success in my professional life. It’s the urgency of life that pushes me to break trails, to color outside of the lines, to embrace and celebrate the unconventional. The urgency of life is what inspires me to seek experiences that will take my breath away, experiences that constantly remind me what a gift my life is and that I better not take it for granted because in the end, it’s all I’ve got.

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How are we made larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die, and our loved ones will die? To do this, I believe we must lean into life. We embrace it with love and we honor it.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you must climb more mountains, or have more adventures. For me, personally, it does- but that’s because I draw so much joy from these actions. This is why I am building a life where I can fill more moments with these things I know make my heart sing. For you, perhaps it is writing music, or painting, or building homes. Maybe it’s spending more time with your kids or your partner, or exploring new countries.

Whatever it is that you love doing, whatever it is that makes your heart overflow with gratitude- that’s what you lean into. That’s how we make ourselves larger and more privileged by the acknowledgement that one day we will die. We take this day that we have before us and we fill it with life.

We never know where we come into this world- on what latitude and longitude, how much time we’ll have as we move across the sky. All we know is that each new dawn brings with it the prospect of something wonderful happening, it brings with it the opportunity for us to live our lives in a way that expands us beyond the horizon, in a manner that keeps pace with the quiet urgency of life.

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