The early morning sun gently prods me as I snuggle in bed relishing thoughts of the day ahead. The pure, delicate air of the gentle morning whispers through the open window above my head. I slip from the warm covers slowly, for my body still aches slightly from a passing flu. Not one to be kept still by life’s nuisances, I brew a pot of dark coffee as I wipe the scratchiness from my eyes. Opening the back door, I peer into the garden. A rusty-breasted robin flits by into the bower of trees; all else is still. My mind quiets for a moment as I pull my robe in tightly. The smell of coffee, rich and chocolaty, spirals about me as I return to the kitchen. I smile at the words inscribed on my favorite mug: “Life is Good! Do What you like, like what you do!” A grin on my face, I pour in hot, dark coffee followed by cream and a touch of vanilla. I stir in a light dusting of cinnamon as I hum softly. Raising the cup to my lips, I savor a long, warm sip. In the cool of the morning, the first taste always seems to be the most luscious. The house is quiet, but pup knows I am awake. I can almost feel him rumbling for his breakfast. This precious day is on its way.
A splendid morning walk and household meanderings behind me, it is time for Sunday morning yoga. The studio is filled with familiar faces; achy muscles and all, I am glad I came. Midstream, the instructor invites me to assist him with class; my body is grateful for the respite. It is a delight to work with my fellow students, and I am at peace. My feet glide over the hardwood floor as I move from mat to mat, a gentle touch here, a slight adjustment there. It is a joy. There is peace in this room; even amid the striving and movement, there is exquisite peace. As I talk with fellow students after class ends, I feel the warm connection between us. The ache in my own muscles has eased.
Pup in the passenger seat, I drive the winding road home to retrieve strawberries and dark chocolate truffles. Moments later, I am off again with a wide smile on my face, for it’s not a lunch that beckons me, but a hike I’ve organized that will take us up through Spring Lake and Annadel Park. I laugh at finding that I’ve become slightly lost–as I nearly always do–in the twists and turns of streets, yet I manage to be on time. I am thrilled to see the lovely faces that await me; they belong to members of a women’s group I host once a week. We chat, munching on plump berries and chocolates, as we await any stragglers. This isn’t any ordinary hike.
Just a few weeks back, the topic of one of our meetings had turned to the importance of maintaining inner balance amidst life rigors. I had offered my thoughts on the benefits of moving into nature to avoid the pitfalls of an incessantly spinning mind. In describing a gorgeous, if sometimes difficult, hike leading up to Lake Illsanjo, the room quieted. It was a novel idea for some, the concept of allowing nature to draw oneself away from a running mind and into the body and the spirit. I described the wonder of focusing on the self, quieting the anxious mind, through connecting with nature. I explained how each rock, footstep, and muddy surface allow the body and spirit to find balance together; the racing mind stops its incessant chatter as each careful step becomes the center of attention, the focus of life. One of the group members, a raven-hair hoyden, buoyantly requested that we hike the trail together. And so, the idea of our women’s outing, a hike of delving into balance, was formed.
Now, the first trail appears before us. It is a gentle slope, and the branches of the mighty oaks hang above us, their graceful, stalwart limbs arched against the pale blue sky. We are an intriguing crew of assorted ages, shapes, and sizes, yet each woman is of light heart and eager spirit. And then they spy the first slope downward. It is muddy and steep, with few rocks to offer support. No one turns back, and we laugh that mud and slippery ground can’t hold us back. We move through gentle woods, and it is the lovely hoyden who spies three deer. As we pause among the velvety moss and towering trees, we are delighted. We move forward, chattering of life, of family, of loss, and of love.
Just for the moment I lead the way, and I am inwardly smiling at what waits ahead. Although I had forewarned them all, the spillway can be an imposing sight. Coming around the bend over a bevy of peach-hued rocks, the women pause as they see it rise before them. Conversation halts momentarily; a flutter of worry fills the air. Two of the women are undaunted, and the join me in prodding the others forward. It is all about listening, it is all about timing, it is all about balance. I pause and remind the group, “Go at your own pace. Stop when you need to. Listen to your body. Pay attention to what nature tells you. Get out of your mind and into your body.” We move on, laughter and chatter–and occasional bouts of quiet– filling the small, steep canyon.
I know all too well that one’s racing thoughts have no place on this spillway. No matter the time of year, the topography changes. The first time I spied the spillway, my own heart had fallen; I didn’t believe I could make it to the top. Yet I did, and with each step I felt ever so slightly more sure of myself, ever so slightly more at ease. Each subsequent hike left me smiling more intensely, for the boulders no longer intimidated me. My mind had let go of the fear. Quietly reflecting, I realize that it wasn’t but three weeks prior to this hike that I had sprinted gracefully up the spillway and down again, barely out of breath. The spillway that had at first appeared a formidable foe had become a great teacher and a friend.
Today, this hike is a gift to me and to the beautiful women who are my companions. As we share this precious time together, I can see that even those who were faint of heart were coming to trust more soundly in their own beings. They had left anxieties and worries far behind, and they stood strong in their joy and delight. Such journeys, great and small, have a miraculous way of instilling seeds of confidence and inner faith. As we gather at the top, peering into the glistening waters of Lake Illsanjo, we cheer the success of our climb. We cheer friendship, courage, and the wonder of small victories. We cheer love, and we cheer life. We celebrate all that we are.
Of course, we don’t take the easy way down. Instead, we traverse the rocks that had held our feet steady on the upward journey. Each woman ventures downhill, trusting that she has the innate skill and knowledge to safely find her way. The cautious fear turns into steady awareness. Those who are lighter of foot watch silently watch over others; it is a sight to behold and a joy to be present. As we work our way down, a cool breeze descends. Light gray clouds move in steadily to cool the sun’s rays, but–for now–there is no rain.
Back at our cars, not a scratch among us, we nibble luscious strawberries and chocolates. It is delicious to be in the company of those of like mind and like spirit. It is so wondrous to hike the spillway of life within such great willingness and such magical love. Life, indeed, is good…so very, very good.