Cultivating Untrammeled Joy

“Joy is a meeting place, of deep intentionality and of self forgetting, the bodily alchemy of what lies inside us in communion with what formerly seemed outside, but is now neither, but become a living frontier, a voice speaking between us and the world.”- David Whyte

Untrammeled joy is the best way I can describe how I feel when I’m in the presence of horses.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

It’s also how I feel when I get to share their presence with others.

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Photo: María Prieto

“The horses are like a smile, like a contagious smile.” My husband, Ale, once said as we were reflecting on what it’s like to ride our horses out into the community. And it’s true, there is some essential form of presence that they invoke in people, igniting ripples of untrammeled joy that might even be felt against the will of the person feeling it – due to its inexplicability.

This, in our experience, is particularly prevalent with children.

 

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Photo: María Prieto

During our long ride across Patagonia, we were approached constantly by children in the streets- wriggling in their parents arms as we rode by, pointing and squealing “caballito, caballito!” Passing cars would slow down, roll down their windows, and children would thrust their hands out into the open air, hoping to bury outstretched fingers in the fury necks. Often parents would the car pull over on the side of the road, so the children to could come up to the horses and touch them. Smiles spread outwardly and inwardly, and as we rode through town it was as though we left a wake of smiles behind us. Where ever we travel, our horses seem to naturally invoke a presence of openheartedness.

We noticed this, and decided that when we got home, we would nurture that openheartedness in our community, somehow.

When we returned to Pucón after our long ride and suddenly found ourselves to be the owners of seven horses, we felt this deep intentionality to cultivate connection between people in our community and the horses. At the time we didn’t know exactly how we could do it, but there was such a draw to share the abundance we felt by their presence, that we decided to set up a small workshop to introduce some of the children in our community to a few of the horses.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

We didn’t just want to give pony rides though, we wanted to cultivate connection and teach the children how to begin a heart-based conversation with horses. Our idea was that by introducing them to horses through the heart- we could plant a seed of heart connection that could potentially influence how community members interacted with horses, and with one another.

Our neighbor generously offered their round pen to host the workshop and parents supported us as spotters and horse handlers. Instead of charging a set rate for the workshop, we decided to offer it based on a donation of abundance- we encouraged neighbors to offer whatever they felt they had an abundance of in exchange for us hosting the workshop.

The day of the workshop the winter rains paused their downpours and we were gifted with gorgeous sunshine. Once everyone was gathered on the sheepskins that had traveled with us all across Patagonia, I began to describe the journeys that Picante and Pichi had adventured through in order to be here with the children.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

With wide eyes they listened as I described how Picante had crossed freezing cold rivers and treacherous mountain terrain, and how Pichi had walked in the deep sand along the ocean day after day, carrying a surfboard on her back. We were pretty lucky to be in the presence of such incredible horses.

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Photo: Heather Hillier

I then introduced them to a very special, magic way to connect with horses- with our breath and through our hearts.

All of the children closed their eyes, placed their hands on their hearts, and we took several deep breaths through our heart space. We collectively gave thanks to Picante, for his courage that brought him across the mountains and rivers, expressing gratitude for his friendliness and for his bravery in crossing so many bridges to get here. As we breathed through our hearts together, we gave thanks to Pichi for her happy persona, for her tireless energy as she walked through the sand all of those kilometers, for her curiosity and her calm presence.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

In the few moments we breathed gratitude through our hearts, I could visibly see both of the  horses and the children sink deeper into a state of calm.

The children then took turns greeting the horses with a soft breath in their nose and open palms that patiently allowed inspection from curious noses. It was incredibly simple, and yet so stunningly beautiful to witness each child reach out to the horses with a heartfelt connection of appreciation and story.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

The children took turns riding around the round pen, and then thanked their horse for his/her presence with a hug or a stroke on the neck. The air was thick with curiosity, love, attention and appreciation. My heart was overflowing with gratitude for the abundance we were able to share.

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

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Photo: Alejandro Matos

As morning wound into afternoon and the children scurried off to play in the field, we unsaddled the horses, leaving them to graze while the adults gathered for a potluck lunch in the sunshine. The quality of connection, conversation, delicious food and wholehearted presence was palpable. On a small table, all of the abundance offerings were awaiting us- a jar of organic  quinoa, fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and cheese, 10,000 pesos and amazing cards of thanks drawn by all of the children.

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The children brought them to me one by one, filling me arms with everything to the point that they were overflowing- then they all hugged me at once and I could not contain the joy emanating from my being.

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Untrammeled joy.

“To feel a full and untrammeled joy is to have become fully generous; to allow our selves to be joyful is to have walked through the doorway of fear, the dropping away of the anxious worried self felt like a thankful death itself, a disappearance, a giving away, overheard in the laughter of friendship, the vulnerability of happiness felt suddenly as a strength, a solace and a source, the claiming of our place in the living conversation, the sheer privilege of being in the presence of the ocean, the sense of having danced to the music, in the rain, under the sky or with a well loved, familiar face – I was here and you were here and together we made a world.”- David Whyte

I don’t think I ever imagined I would step into a work that invoked within me such a deep level of joy. Working in partnership with the horses feels like an ever-deepening gift. I was always passionate about the various types of work I’ve done over the years, but the joy I experience when I’m supporting these wholehearted connections between horses and people…it steals my breath a bit. And as I move closer to this becoming my life’s work, I realize more and more how essential it is to ask ourselves, what invokes within me untrammeled joy? What ignites my soul and overwhelms my being with sheer gratitude for my very existence?

Why are those questions not on our college entrance exams? Or listed as essay questions on the SAT? Why aren’t we more diligently nurturing societies that encourage people to cultivate a life that invokes untrammeled joy?

Both Ale and I believe in the innate capacity horses have to awaken, heal and empower the human spirit, and we’ve committed to build an organization that cultivates this connection between people, nature and horses. We wanted to ensure we were honoring the wisdom and wellbeing of our herd. That’s what ultimately inspired us to build a company offering authentic learning journeys that will integrate Equine Facilitated Learning and Coaching, wilderness education, personal development and adventure.

In order to do this work from a place of integrity to take it to a deeper level, I felt I needed a broader foundation of how to support people in their personal development as they experience the healing power and wisdom of horses. As a result, I’ve decided to enroll in a year long apprenticeship program to gain my Equine Facilitated Learning & Coaching Certification. When we said yes to the horses more than a year ago, I knew we were saying yes to something that was bigger than us. I also knew if we wanted to create something bigger than the two of us, we couldn’t do it alone. This certification is just part of the vision we are building, but it’s a big part, and I need support in order to accomplish it.

Just as this workshop that we hosted in our little community was inspired by and initiated from a place of abundance, this wholehearted request for support is wrapped in a spirit of reciprocity, and I wish for folks to give if they can do so from a place of abundance. In the spirit of reciprocity, I’ve set up an Abundance Exchange filled with offerings of stories, photographs, and authentic experiences in exchange for financial support.

You can follow this link to learn more about the vision we are bringing to Chile and to donate, if you are feeling you have the financial abundance to do so.

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If you feel this work and the vision we hope to bring into the world might resonate with your friends, family or broader networks, please spread the word and share the link (https://www.gofundme.com/horsesempowerhumans) and help cultivate openhearted connections between people, horses and nature- with quite a bit of untrammeled joy along the way.

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Photo: Lindsay Fitzgerald

 

The Road Ahead

I think we reached the old road today. We won’t know until morning, but it looks as though we have.

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I’m so ready for a hot shower, to send the family a message that all is well, and to eat something, anything, everything- other than rice and potatoes and tuna.

There’s a chance we’ll get there tomorrow, the gauchos said it was an 8 hour ride from the start of the road, but we’ll just have to see. Everything has taken so much longer than they said it would.

I no longer speculate about where I’ll be when, it’s not worth the energy.

I’ll get where I’m going whenever I do. It’s as simple as that.

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The next morning the dawn light tickles my nose, and draws me from our broken tent. The frost has formed a heavy crust atop the rain fly and all of our gear, I pull on every last layer of clothing I have and quietly slip outside into the wild morning. Pink stripes splash across the mountainous horizon as my eyes adjust to the darkness. I check the horses, happily munching away on the abundant pasture, then I hike up to the suspected road.

We’ve followed the wrong path before, countless times before. That was what had taken us so long to do this traverse, the constant process of finding and losing, and finding our way again. Two steps forward, three steps back. It was like this dance with the unknown, where we were given just enough clues to keep moving forward, and yet never entirely confident we were going the right way.

If this was, in fact, the road, then somehow we’d made it across the wild mountains, somehow we’d managed to find our way along the unmarked trail that the pioneers had used so many years ago, somehow our persistence and relentless belief had brought us to the place where we’d intended to arrive.

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Where we’ve arrived, there is no more room for self-doubt. It is, quite simply, no longer an option. Self-doubt has been exposed entirely along this journey, its frivolous carelessness with my energy, its persistent exhaustion of my attention. I’ve cast it away, and in its absence I suddenly have found a deep, resounding earth-entrenched awareness of self-trust. Without a doubt, beyond any rhyme or reason, I believe entirely in the guidance of my gut, my heart, my soul, and in the destination that calls me onward. Even when I cannot entirely grasp that destination, I can feel it grasp me. And I’m overwhelmingly certain that I can manage all that unfolds before me as I continue finding my way toward it.

It’s not a frivolous trust or belief that I’m on the easy road, void of discomfort, where I will not encounter hardship. Quite the opposite- it’s a bold acknowledgement that hardship will embrace me, just as joy and beauty and laughter does, and through it I will be continuously confronted with the simple choice- do I trust, or do I fear. And as long as I remain aware that I have a choice- I can rise above my fear and continue onward.

68 kilometers and two days later we finally arrived in town. Our last evening before societal re-entry, we found a magic place to camp where the mountains jutted out from the horizon and the sound of the rushing river lulled us to sleep as our horses grazed in the evening. The road had been relentlessly hot and dusty and we were exhausted. We pitched a simple tarp, too tired to put up our broken tent, and fell asleep with our heads among the moss and meadow grass.

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Where is it that we begin to answer the calls of self-doubt? When is it that we begin listening to all the noise outside of us, rather than engage in conversation with our inner-selves? What would it look like for us to build communities, businesses, schools and governments that made space for this type of inner-dialogue? These are the questions that visit me now, as I realize how many moments self-doubt stole away from me, and I relish in the fierce strength this embodiment of self-trust brings on.

Somewhere along the way we’re told that there’s a magic formula out there for happiness and success, and if we just abide by the rules set forth by others, we can achieve “it all”. But I call bullshit. The universe has far too great a sense of humor to allow such restrictions of formulas. Self-doubt comes into play like a jester, playing tricks on us and making us feel foolish, but it is just a player among the crowd barraging us with their noise; it does not speak to us from our intuitive core.

We all have a stunning capacity for self-trust; and with the acknowledgement and commitment to this self-trust, we step into a way of living that is incredibly resilient.

It reminds me of something I realized while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail- as my body became more conditioned from the great distances I walked each day, I could climb mountains with greater ease. That’s not to say the muscles in my legs didn’t burn, nor did it mean I could climb a steep mountain without breathing heavily. Even after 2000+ miles of walking, my muscles still burned on an inclined slope, yet my recovery time shortened significantly. The momentary discomfort of the climb never went away, but the length of time that discomfort lingered diminished over time. It was, after all, momentary- temporary, always ebbing and flowing- like everything in life. And I could always, always, continue onward.

I suppose what it all comes back to is settling into a state of wonder and curiosity about the road that lies ahead, even if it’s cloaked in uncertainty. As I take a moment to reflect back on this year, and all the years I’ve lived prior to it, I feel that I’ve been undergoing this vast conditioning to grow comfortable with the fact that I will get where I’m going, whenever I do. That no matter what comes my way, I will always have the choice to trust. And, by choosing to trust, I’m allowing myself to enjoy the hell out of the ride along the way.

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Sunset on the evening before we arrived in town. We’d been rationing our food for nearly three weeks and had been dancing all along the way with the uncertainty if we would ever get out of those mountains. In this photo, we knew exactly where we were, that we’d made it to where we had meant to arrive, and that we would have full bellies in the morning. Even with the destination clear, we relished in the beauty of the crazy view behind us.

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 Most Delicate Dance

It’s a delicate dance, the act of acknowledging a dream, envisioning it, pouring loving energy into it, allowing it to grow and expand and be guided by intention and intuition. At the same time to roll up your sleeves, show up for the heavy lifting when there is heavy lifting to be done, and make time to do something each day that brings your dream closer to reality. To plant your dream and give it roots on this earth, while also giving it wings. To embrace this delicate act of trust and effort simultaneously. It’s likely the most delicate dance I’ve ever attempted, and my latest dream that I’m dancing into reality has taken the most effort to remain balanced and open through it’s evolution.

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Hatching up dreams on tops of mountains

We exist in this dynamic state of being, in an incredibly dynamic world. We need to believe in the power and beauty of our dreams, we need to be able to visualize them to the point of almost being able to reach out and grasp them. Yet, on the other hand, we cannot grow attached to this dream, we cannot set expectations for how it may come into reality, we cannot latch the dependence of our happiness to the realization of this dream. We must somehow manage the belief that our dream will happen, and it will be amazing, with the realization that it may not happen, and even if it doesn’t, life will still be amazing. Delicate? I’d say so.

I’m by no means a master of this dance. Seeing as this is the most conscious I’ve ever been of its existence, I’m a beginner at best. Still, I’ve chosen to approach this dance the way I approach dancing in real life- I feel the beat of the music and I move to it, I don’t worry too much about learning the steps. I don’t care if others think I look ridiculous, I move with the music, with my partner, and I laugh and twirl and enjoy. For me, when I’m dancing, if I put all my focus on memorizing steps, I overthink things, I lose my rhythm, I make one misstep and then another and another until I am so discouraged I stop laughing, I stop enjoying, I stop dancing. And I LOVE to dance.

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I love to dance, and luckily I married a man who might love dancing even more than me!

That’s not to say learning some basic steps doesn’t help. When I was a little girl my mom enrolled me in ballet and tap dance. I did gymnastics and taught myself to trick ride while galloping my horse bareback across our fields. My parents are musicians, so I also grew up with music in my house. I learned to read music at a very young age and was blessed to be able to study piano, clarinet and violin before finally settling on the cello. Balance and rhythm have come pretty naturally to me. All of that music and body movement of my youth has definitely supported me in my rebellious dance techniques that throw caution to the wind. So, even though I can’t salsa to save my life, my husband and I often receive congratulations from perfect strangers whenever (and wherever) we start dancing.

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People tend to enjoy watching us dance with wild abandon; probably because we so enjoy it too

 

I’m taking a similar approach as I cultivate this latest dream of inspiring curiosity about where the things we buy come from while riding horseback across Patagonia. Now, I think it’s safe to say that this type of dream probably doesn’t come with an instruction manual. In fact, I think most dreams don’t come with an instruction manual, and if they do, you should be suspicious of them- or at least of that manual. Throw it out the window. You already have all you need to know within you, you just have to take the time to ask.

As I dance this dream into reality, there are a few steps I’ve learned along the way that are helping me. My teachers?

Past life experiences- most of which I wasn’t even aware were dreams in the first place. Shifting my work away from something that contributes to the degradation of the planet and society, toward something that contributes to solutions that improve the impacts of business on society and the planet. Walking for five months, through 14 states, carrying everything I needed on my back. Moving to foreign countries with little or no contacts or “conventional opportunities” and finding friends, adventure and grand stories awaiting me. Finding the love of my life in this crazy world, and building an adventurous life with him. Looking forward to each day the way I used to look forward to the weekends. Wholeheartedly feeling alive and present most of the time, rather than only during an hour of meditation or yoga.

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Sunrise hikes don’t have to wait until the weekend, this magic happens every single day, we just need to choose to be present in order to witness them

All of these experiences, as well as many others, are constant teachers for me; and they hold within them the secrets of this dance I’m currently dancing. They give me the beat, the rhythm, the flow. They give me my foundation from which I can draw confidence while rebelliously throwing the rules out the window.

We’re now in the midst of the final prep for our journey across Patagonia on horseback. A lot of things remain open and unknown, and on one hand that could be stressful because if feels unfinished. On the other hand that aspect is incredibly exciting as it means there is still so much opportunity for unexpected and wonderful things to happen. I’ve given this dream a lot of attention, a lot of time on the dance floor. We’re spinning and twirling and I’m getting ready to let go, to throw my hands in the air, tilt my head back and just set it free.

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Ready to gallop off into the horizon

Perhaps this dream will achieve all that I’ve imagined, and perhaps bringing it forth and realizing it will make things happen well beyond my imagination. Maybe only part of this dream will actually be realized, and other aspects will fall away. The point is, I have no way of knowing exactly how it will unfold. And I can’t control it anyway, so it doesn’t really matter.

All I know for sure, is that I want to contribute to the world in a positive way. I want to take risks that push boundaries- professionally and personally- and move us toward positive solutions. I want to face my fears and answer the calls of my wild heart. I know, at the very least, that I can do these things by pursuing this dream. I’m not getting too caught up on the other confines of a pre-defined “success”. Let the success of this journey define itself as it evolves. And it will. Because no matter what, it will be amazing. No matter what.

That last bit has me smiling as I remember a favorite quote of mine. These words are great to keep in mind as you play with the idea of bringing forth your own dream, as you learn the steps of your own delicate dance required to take it from a dream to a reality. As you balance the delicate embrace of trust and effort, of intention without expectation.

“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”~Albert Einstein

No matter what, everything is a miracle. Now, go dance your heart out!

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Welcome Home

Home

My many “homes” in the last 18 months- San Francisco apartments, tiny tents, two person+1 dog hammocks, and Pucon properties owned by others (just to name a few)

The customs agent looked down at my passport, turning the pages until he reached the last one. After a year of constant travel and daily border crossings from Hong Kong to China, I had effectively filled my entire passport with stamps and needed to add pages while I was in the States for the next three weeks. I looked up at him, somewhat disheveled from the 13 hour flight and the jet lag that was my constant travel companion. He smiled at me, stamped my passport and handed it back to me.

“Welcome home.”

Home. There have been a few chapters in my life where the concept of home seemed to be an elusive idea, playing hide and seek with me as I bounced around the world living out of a backpack or a suitcase. Chapters spent literally flying around the world every three weeks, living in hotels, airports and temporary bases- finding homes wherever I happened to be. Chapters spent climbing mountains and crossing rivers for five months, living out of a backpack, carrying my home on my back. Chapters spent in that in-between travel mode that was a mix of couch surfing, country-hopping, friend and family visits and constant movement for weeks on end. And chapters like this last year, spent living on the road, on the trails, and care-taking the homes of others here in Chile. It has been a chapter where home was not a destination, but instead a creative venture- one of pure flexibility and freedom, and one that constantly challenged the traditional idea of the word.

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Finding myself at home in the air, on the road, or on the trail!

Personally, I don’t consider myself a nomad, even though I probably travel more than the average person. I have never thought of myself as one of those people who can constantly be on the road and on the go. I like home-making sometimes. I LOVE to cook, and I love to host and celebrate friends and family in our home. I love to have the things that give me comfort available. And I am one of those weird people who actually enjoys cleaning and organizing, so I adore those cold rainy days that motivate me to sweep up the house, light some candles and pick some fresh rain-soaked flowers for the kitchen- ideally from my own garden. I love sharing in the abundance that having a home allows.

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Cooking in my house kitchen and cooking in my road/trail kitchen- I’m happy as long as I’m cooking 🙂

On the other side of the coin, there is an invigorating freedom that comes with releasing yourself from the responsibility of home and taking to the “road” (or sky, or trail) and living light for a while. I equate this way of life to something that one of my favorite poets, David Whyte, discusses when he talks about how essential it is to “go hungry” at least once a day, to say no to everything that is not a yes, so that when you finally dig in, when you finally say yes, it is such an incredible experience you are overwhelmed with gratitude for it. Regardless of its simplicity or complexity, the experience is, in and of itself, a reminder of what it is to live.

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Backyards with sweeping city views are sweet, but so is having remote tiny towns or endless wilderness out the back door (or tent door).

There are two key things I always look forward to when giving up my home to explore and adventure into the unknown.

First- the discomfort that comes when you let go of the comforts of your home. It is in this space of discomfort that I experience so much growth, it is here that I face my fears so fiercely, as if my life depends on it, becomes it often does. Letting go of the trappings of your home makes you seriously appreciate the bare necessity. To this day, I cannot tell you how deeply I appreciate every single time I stand in a shower and feel hot water come out of the faucet. Before I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, where I had to endure cold splash baths in icy ponds and otherwise go without showering for a whole week at a time, I never gave that hot water a second thought. Now, even seven years after my hike, the appreciation for this simple thing is still so intense.

When I start to crave this discomfort, that is usually when I realize it is time for a shift, it is time to let go of something in order to make space for something else. And often I need to let go of something big, in order to allow for something bigger to arrive.

Home Ritual

The comforts of home can take many shapes and forms

Second- the physical act of letting go of what I do not need in order to be comfortably mobile for any extended period of time. I like to refer to it as “living lean”. You cut away the excess, you purge your closets and your cabinets, minimize your belongings to the bare essentials and the things you love so deeply you would run into a burning building to save them. The rest you let go of. And afterward, you actually feel physically lighter. It’s like this invisible weight that you were never aware of is taken away- and it feels amazing.

As thru-hikers, we called this “pairing down”- and it was an essential lesson during our hike. When we first started, Ale and my packs were so incredibly heavy. We quickly learned the lighter your pack, the less physical pain and suffering. It’s funny how this lesson can be applied to the way we choose to fill our homes with “stuff” we may not need or have the money to pay for- the less of that we have, the less credit card debt we have, and therefore the less stress (i.e. pain and suffering) we have to manage. There is a higher level of consciousness of the physical things we consume, and with that comes a confrontation of why we consume them, and if we really need to in the first place.

Pairing Down

Ale and I cut the weight of our packs in half while thru-hiking. The photo top left is Ale’s pack at the start of the trail, the one on the right top is midway through after serious pairing down. We also paired down heavily when we moved to Chile. The Uhaul on the left was filled with all of our belongings when we moved to San Francisco 6 years ago. The photo on the right, is us driving our 1998 Subaru Forester here in Chile, with all of our belongings packed in the back (we moved to Chile with 6 bags total).

I am not suggesting that everyone out there must abandon their home, sell their belongings and hit the road in order to really appreciate life. That isn’t the point. The point, is that there is humility, beauty and strength awaiting us all when we actively participate in some form of letting go of what makes us comfortable in order to embrace what makes us uncomfortable. Whether that is choosing to do one thing each day that scares you, making more space in your home by giving away or selling the things you no longer need or love, or simply giving yourself time away from the clutter of your daily existence.

Today, I write this post from my kitchen table. After 18 months on the road, having roughly 27 different places that could be described as “temporary homes” in six different countries, we once again have a home in the traditional sense. On this day one year ago, Ale and I got on a plane and flew to Chile with hearts and minds wide open, and the idea of home a distant intention. The focus at that moment was embracing the discomfort and pairing down to travel with ease.

Mission accomplished. Our focus and intentions shift as we once again retreat to the comforts and responsibilities of this home. Although I don’t have any intention to start filling this place with more stuff, it sure feels good to take all of my belongings out of their weary and worn packs and finally have a place of belonging. It feels good to have a consistent space for creative ritual, to have a place to do yoga each morning that overlooks the mountains and trees filled with hummingbirds. I am filled with gratitude to retreat to a mattress each night after a tough day of climbing mountains, instead of my thin Thermarest. Oh, and how I adore having a kitchen again, where I can cook up lovely things to share with my husband and visitors. Best of all, we have space to host friends and family comfortably, something I longed for while living in our tiny one bedroom in SF, and couldn’t even imagine as we lived on the road these past 18 months.

The culmination of all our experiences here, all our travels, and now having a place of our own once again, all of it has been instrumental in building this feeling of home here in Chile. And it feels good to be home.

Road Home

So, on that note, who’s coming to visit?

She Thought She Could, So She Did

I dropped down to my knees, slowly rocking backward so that I could finally sit and take the weight off my aching legs. The hot water of the shower washed away the week’s worth of dirt that had gathered with every mile covered. My mind was blank, the throbbing feeling in my legs encompassing all thought. I looked at my legs, these strong, powerful legs that had carried me more than a thousand miles to reach the point where I now sat. I appreciated the hell out of these legs, the freedom they gave me, the journey they allowed me to partake in. A quiet smile spread across my face in the poorly lit shower, as I sat on the floor and thought about this day that was coming to a close, the epic task that I had decided to tackle, and how far I had come since the day I first stepped foot on the Appalachian Trail.

90 days. Exactly 90 days prior, three months in total, Ale and I had climbed Mount Katahdin in Maine on our first day as Appalachian Trail thru-hikers. That climb kicked our asses. We were both so exhausted after the ten mile ascent and descent that we fell asleep in our tent after a light feast of fruit snacks, too tired to even fathom the energy to cook dinner.

The next morning we awoke to aching bodies and heavy packs. We struggled to walk a total of eight miles that second day. The first week it felt as though we were moving at the pace of inch worms, and an entire day of exhaustive effort that took everything we had, hardly seemed to make a dent in the 2,180 miles in front of us. Our emotions were taxed, our bodies exhausted, our minds gasping for a productive way to pass the time when all we had to fill it was walking. The thought of reaching Springer Mountain in Georgia, the terminus of the trail, just seemed so impossibly far away.

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The early days on the trail when 10 miles in one day was no easy feat.

Flash forward to this moment, this night that I am smiling to myself sitting on a shower floor of some random hostel in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. This day I was reflecting on began early, before the sun broke the horizon.

My alarm went off abruptly at 4:00am. I sat up in the hammock immediately, my heart jumping into my throat with anticipation for the day. I heard rustling from the other hammocks as the rest of our crew began to pull themselves from sleep. I clicked on my headlamp, nudged Mango (the trail name Ale went by as a thru-hiker), telling him it was time, and dropped my legs over the side of our hammock. Everyone got ready quietly, packing up camp quickly. My pack felt so light in comparison to most days. In preparation we had all rationed our food so that we would only had enough to get through the next 16 hours- a meager effort to save ourselves from having to carry more weight than we absolutely needed.

What were we about to attempt? On the trail, it’s a little thing called the Four State Challenge where you hike across the borders of four sates- crossing from Pennsylvania, through the entire state of Maryland and West Virginia, and end in Virginia- all in one day, covering a total of 42.9 miles.

We began in the dark with a swift pace, headlights bobbing along the forest path, the dead leaves, dry from the summer draught, crunched beneath our feet as we cruised along silently. After five miles, we took a break to drink water and eat a power bar. The day before, we had all decided it would be best to manage our energy this way, hiking hard in five mile increments, then breaking for 20 minutes to replenish energy. We maintained this technique for the entire day, and I think it was essential for us to actually pull it off. The trail took us through towns, through developed parks, though nature preserves and wild woods.

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Taking a moment to rest and enjoy the sunshine during our Four State Challenge

The sun shone strong, the sky was blue and the breeze was light. It was a beautiful day. All along the way we passed shelters that looked enticing with valley views and campfire pits, but pushed on anyway. As the evening rolled in, the air turned cooler, and I felt as though we were literally walking into fall when we reached West Virginia. A grey fog rolled in and the wind picked up. We pushed onward, the miles melting beneath our strong legs and wild hearts.

After about 14 hours of hiking at the strong pace, I could feel the exhaustion of my muscles settling in. Keeping the Cliff Bars down at that point was a struggle as I began to battle nausea. The weight of my pack pulled heavily on my shoulders and hips. My feet ached as though they were weighed down by bags of sand tied to my ankles. Every incline felt like a steep mountain, regardless of the pitch.

We hiked the last few miles under cover of darkness, just has we had begun. My mind raced wildly as I stumbled along, ticking off the remaining miles- it took more mental effort than I had imagined it would. Cubby and Spoon had hiked ahead, keeping a faster pace than us; but Mango, Santana and I took our last twenty minute break together. We swapped coping advice, shared in the collective exhaustion we felt- but we also shared in quiet celebration of how far we had come, and how little we had left in front of us.

42.9 miles, in 16 hours and 37 minutes. After 90 days of walking, we were able to walk 42.9 miles in 16 1/2 hours. Only 90 days prior, it had taken us 12 hours to walk 10 miles. The accomplishment I felt was stunning. I was overwhelmed by my own strength, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. I hadn’t even realized how far I had come, figuratively speaking, until that moment in Harper’s Ferry.

Just as I had 90 days earlier, I fell asleep that night without being able to muster the strength to cook dinner. I awoke with a smile, and a greater understanding of what I was actually able to accomplish, what I could do, if I just decided to do it. And even as I hobbled on sore legs, the rain pouring down on us as we made our way to breakfast, I had never felt so strong, or smiled so wide.

Last week I published my website- and in doing so I finally managed to bring together several of my life passions and establish, publicly, the intention of the work that I do. The journey that I’ve taken to get here was filled with plenty of ups and downs, there were calculated breaks and regenerative moments, plenty of moments of uncertainty where I questioned if I could actually do this, but as I hit publish, as I began to share it, I suddenly was overwhelmed again with the realization of how strong I am- of what I can do if I just decide to do it.

With that, I wish you a most beautiful day. Take some time and acknowledge a moment in your life when you surprised yourself with your own ability, with your power and your strength. Love that moment, hold it close, celebrate it, share it to inspire others. Who knows what unbelievable beauty will unfold as a result of you.

Oh- and if you are curious, you can check out what I do when I’m not posting here at my new website- www.gretamatos.com

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Constantly seeking new challenges that will take me places beyond my own imagination

So, what do you do?

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Me posing with Volcan Villarica after an invigorating climb on a crisp, beautiful July day.

“Oh you live in Chile? Wow, so, what do you do there?”

“Well, mostly I climb mountains and surf.” I say with a smile and a little laugh. I laugh because this response inevitably always draws a quizzical look and a flurry of follow up questions. I smile because this simple little statement is a true reflection of how I’ve been spending most of my time lately, which was my intention when I closed the last chapter and began writing this one.

By now when someone hears that I live in Chile, they typically first assume that I am here for my job. That is why I stopped telling people what I do for a living when they ask me what I do in Chile. I didn’t come here for my work, I came here for my life. Their next assumption is usually that we moved here for family- also not accurate since neither my husband or I have any family here. I get it, I’m in my thirties, most people don’t just up and move to a remote part of the world for reasons other than work and family, but I also kind of love the fact that we did.

I remember the pangs of fear that crept in when I initially decided to quit my job and move to Chile, fear about answering that question, “what do you do,” as so much of my identity had felt tied to my work. I remember thinking about how I should update my Linkedin profile, how I could validate my credibility as a capable and successful professional without the title that went with my role. Even with those questions and doubts causing concern, the greater concern for me was that I would spend the majority of my life in an office, in front of a computer screen, finding time to do the things that brought me the most joy only around the edges of my life, not within the focus. I didn’t only want to experience joy in the edges, I wanted it to be flowing constantly.

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Pre-surf yoga always helps me clear my mind and connect with my intention before heading into the waves.

It’s funny how we subscribe to society’s definition of success, and learn to build our goals and dreams about achieving it through that lens, rather than the lens of our own souls. It is a practice to refrain from pursuing success in this manner, it is a practice to go within, to listen, to understand what ignites joy within you, what makes that feeling of love and gratitude just overflow to the point of uncontrollable giggling and mile-wide smiles. I don’t think this is a struggle, but I do think it is a practice. But when we engage in this practice, oh wow. Wow what unbelievable beauty can unfold!

In the past month, I have hiked through the backcountry of the incredible and ancient snow-dusted araucaria forests of southern Chile, climbed to summits where I had 360 degree views of wild landscapes filled with volcanos, waterfalls, lakes and a huge variety of forests. I have explored the southern coast in search of clean surf breaks, perfect for a cold but sunny winter surf session. I have spent days meandering down dirt roads, deep into unknown territory with my favorite person on the planet, laughing and finding magic places that only we know about, where we can someday bring our loved ones to share. I have put skis on and skinned up a smoking volcano, overlooking massive jewel-toned lakes with craggy mountains on the horizon, then turned around and skied down, back home in time to make a fire, do laundry and cook up a feast. I have also put in a good bit of time working on some exciting consulting projects, logged the necessary hours on my computer, all the while feeling creatively energized. As much as I love the work that I do, I still relish in the fact that I can step out my back door and huff and puff my way up a mountain that will totally have me giggling with childlike glee when I reach the top. This is my bliss, and now that I have it within arm’s reach, I try to embrace it daily, on some level.

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With this as your backyard, it is hard to justify spending a day inside in front of a computer screen 😉

So, when someone asks me what I do, my gut reaction is no longer to tell them about my work. Although I love my work deeply, it no longer feels as though it is the most important part of my identity. Instead, I want to share what I actually do, what makes my heart sing, what invigorates me and reminds me that THIS is living, and I should be doing what makes me feel most alive as much as possible while I am able to.

How would you answer the question “what do you do,” if you were referring to how you spend the majority of your time? Does your answer excite you? Does it make you smile and laugh? If not, what would it take for you to pull joy from the edges of your life to the focus?