Yes, I would like fries with that shit sandwich

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I sit staring out the living room window like a cat toward the road. My coffee cup warms my hands. I pray. I fill half a page in my journal. Not much to work through.

I set it down and head into my office to begin my day.

I feel content and serene today. Very peaceful. Very light. That’s a big improvement over the shit sandwich of separation I served myself back in October.

burro in petting zoo

Part of my drive to serve is a new volunteer gig with the Humane Society of the U.S.

The sea was angry in October, my friends. I was angry about Donald Trump. Angry about dating etiquette. Angry about those darned Phoenicians looking down on Tempe. Just angry. I wanted separation, rather than union, between myself and everyone else.

What went wrong? Working too much. Isolating at home all day. Dating the wrong women. I spent time focusing my dating intention during Meander 2015, but I found myself once again investing energy in women who weren’t right for me.

The anger subsided as I committed to daily exercise, less work and more service, coworking to break the isolation, and getting my mind right about women.

Now, there’s serenity and contentment. That’s fueled a drive to serve – to be a giver rather than a taker of spiritual energy – and a drive to create things like this blog post.

More than Serenity and Contentment

I know from past experience that the universe offers more than serenity and contentment. And, as I sit staring out the window, I miss the way it used to be.

I’m not talking about those Big Amazing Moments where I’ve been overwhelmed by wonder at beautiful sights and moving experiences. I’ve certainly had those – from one of my first big solo hikes at Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon, to an hour sitting among the bees buzzing around my flowering broccoli, to a cup of Fairytale hot chocolate on the foggy Mendocino coast.

No. Here I’m talking about Long Stretches of Spiritual Growth. These are times when I’ve chased a shit sandwich with deep commitment to my practice and been rewarded by spirit’s presence in my life.

I miss that. I miss being inspired.

When the nightmares returned after my ex moved out in 2010, I sat up in bed every night. I took inventory of my day and prayed by candlelight before retiring. If I woke from a nightmare, I relit the candles and repeated a safety affirmation again and again until I fell back to sleep. Eventually, the nightmares went away.

“God’s love is abundant. I’m protected at the level to which I am open.”

When my job at Bulbstorm was most challenging, I dedicated my mornings to preparing mentally for the day. I explored my character flaws and trigger points through daily Enneagram work. I scripted how I’d answer simple questions like How was your weekend?. I broke my isolation by stopping at each teammates’ desk on arrival. When, confused by stress, I perceived people turning against me, I’d return to my Enneagram work to identify the trigger and then sweat it out on a run along the canal.

“Jane is my teammate and wants what’s best for the team. We’re all in this together.”

When I had the big breakthroughs in my first Meander, they were preceded by weeks of disconnection from my smartphone and a regimented morning practice of prayer, spiritual reading, and journaling. When old pain or fear surfaced during long lonely hours on the trail or on the road, I rewired my thinking with specific affirmations.

“Past partners are in the past. My true partner will be waiting for me when I’m ready.”

Waiting for an Exclamation Point

As I stared out the window, I first thought that the Big Amazing Moments were unique from the Long Stretches of Spiritual Growth.

Upon further reflection, I think they’re inseparable. The Long Stretches are preceded by hard times and punctuated by Big Amazing Moments. And the punctuation tends to be an exclamation point.

My victory over my post-breakup nightmares in 2010 was punctuated by my Thanksgiving trip to Las Vegas to explore Red Rock (and see Roger Waters perform The Wall!). The worker bees in my garden inspired me after digging out of the low-points of my Bulbstorm days. The foggy Mendocino coast blew me away only after I recovered from the volatile first half of Meander 2013.

The funny thing is that it’s hard for me to recognize that I’m in a Long Stretch until it’s punctuated by a Big Amazing Moment.

It turns out that I’m in a Long Stretch now. Serenity. Contentment. Giving. Creativity. Duh! I just didn’t recognize the Long Stretch without the punctuation.

I leave for a three-night backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon on Tuesday. Big Amazing Moment booked.

Bring on the exclamation point!

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snow at Grand Canyon

Truly aimless: Three days without a smartphone

On Day 46 of this adventure, I saw two incredible things. First, I hiked to Susan Creek Falls which became one of my favorite waterfalls of the trip. Then, I watched salmon swimming up the rapids of the Umpqua River. How cool is that?!

Alas, I have no photos from Day 46. I was without camera after my smartphone went swimming in Medford.

If you think about it, that last sentence would have made no sense just 10 years ago. Back then, a phone was just a phone. Today, a phone is a camera … and myriad other essentials. It’s the Swiss army knife of consumer electronics, and three days without one revealed just how reliant this traveler is on one.

Salmon at Cabela's

I didn’t have a camera when I saw salmon swimming up the Umpqua. Thankfully, I found these dead ones mounted at Cabela’s.

No camera. The loss of my smartphone compounded the damage done when I drowned my digital camera in Mendocino. Most alarming to me was the threat to my Facebook photo-a-day effort. This caused me more stress than it should have, so Best Buy was one of my first stops in Eugene.

No internet. When I left the Umpqua River bound for Eugene, I realized that my host’s address was in my email. So, I had to stop at the library in Roseburg to look him up. Later, as I played tourist in Eugene, I was rudderless. How do you find a coffee shop with free wi-fi and a vegetarian breakfast burrito without Yelp?!

No phone and SMS. Instead of texting my host with my ETA as requested, I had to email him from the library. Not a big deal, as long as he checks email. Also, I check in daily with my folks so they know where I am and that I’m alive. This’ll come in handy if my arm gets wedged behind a rock in a remote canyon … but only if they’re expecting texts and don’t receive one within 127 hours.

No social media. What’s the point of being this funny if you don’t have Twitter? What’s the point of looking this good shirtless without Facebook?

No music. I’ve been in love with Spotify for over a year now, but didn’t pony up for the subscription-only mobile version until this trip. With Spotify, I didn’t think to bring CDs. Without Spotify, I was listening to myself think … a lot.

A peach in Oregon

No camera? No smarmy pics of me enjoying PNW peaches.

No map and GPS. I wrote directions to my host’s house on a little scrap of paper. With a utensil called a pen. Crazy! Did you know that written directions don’t reroute when you miss a turn? It took me 10 minutes to circle back on the I-5 to start over.

No notepad. Speaking of scraps of paper, I used a lot of them in Eugene. Even on sabbatical, I keep a ton of lists in Evernote. Little tasks and to-dos. Addresses for post cards. Things to journal about. Without a smartphone, I was relegated to weighing myself down with an actual notepad.

No answers to life’s little questions. Here are a few questions left unanswered sans smartphone: What time is it? How far did I just run? Should I get out of bed yet? No smartphone means no watch, no alarm clock, no stopwatch, no odometer, and no answers to some of the more trivial questions of my life.

So, that’s an overview of what I lost in the bathroom that morning. Oh, what, I didn’t mention that I dropped my phone in the toilet?

Well, before you get any unclean ideas about me, I’ve developed a bad habit of carrying expensive electronics in my hoodie pocket. That’s how I lost my digital camera in the tide pool in Mendocino. And that’s how I lost my smartphone in the toilet in Medford.

So, yeah, the phone fell out of my hoodie pocket while I was standing. Not that I’m above toilet tweeting …

Thankfully, I now have a camera and a phone. Check out a new photo every day on Facebook.

One dead duckling and my choice to be vegetarian

I crushed a duckling with my car yesterday. At least, I’m pretty sure I did.

Driving the two-lane freeway past Clear Lake on my way from Nevada City to Mendocino, the car in front of me swerved right.  The car in the opposite lane swerved left. Between them was a terrified duck. You could see her confusion as she was caught between the two vehicles.

Geese at Donner Lake.

Geese at Donner Lake.

No problem, I thought. The road wasn’t busy. As soon as I passed, she’d complete her trek.

I swerved right too. And that’s when I saw the trail of ducklings behind her. I tried to pass over them, but there were too many. A quick glance in my side mirror left me fairly confident that at least one had been killed.

I was devastated. My first impulse was to turn back. Clearly there’s nothing I could have done. I spent 30 minutes on the verge of tears. I calmed down as I wrote this blog post in my head. Hours later at the Mendocino Botanical Garden, I welled up and called a friend to discuss my feelings.

I know. I know. It’s just a duck.

It’s hard for me to think in those terms any more. Just an hour earlier, I saw two deer grazing in rolling yellow hills. The day before, I swam with geese in Donner Lake. At Yosemite, I pulled over to watch deer and marmots and a coyote and I swam with trout in the Tuolumne River. In Big Sur, I delighted as I watched the silhouette of a sea lion darting past in the blue-green surf.

These were all beautiful incarnations of life. Just as my duckling was. Just as much of our food is.

Coyote at Glacier Point.

Coyote at Glacier Point.

For me, vegetarianism is a personal moral choice. It is not a moral absolute. I do not judge meat eaters, just as I’d ask that vegans don’t judge my consumption of eggs and dairy. However, I do challenge those who eat meat to go kill an animal or at least watch an animal be killed.

Many of us are so far removed from our food sources that we’re incapable of making a conscious decision about our diets. Instead, we hide its animal nature by frying it, or cooking it well done, or covering it in seasoning or cheese or ranch. (And don’t get me started on KFC’s chilling “I ate the bone” campaign.)

Deer at Tuolumne Meadow.

Deer at Tuolumne Meadow.

My old coworker Casey is one of the most voracious carnivores I know. He’s also an avid hunter. He knows exactly what he’s doing. My parents have hunted and fished and raised animals throughout their lives. They’ve made a fully-informed choice to eat meat and that’s fine by me.

In 2011, Mark Zuckerberg recently made a yearlong pledge to only eat meat he personally killed. As he told Fortune, “I think many people forget that a living being has to die for you to eat meat. So my goal revolves around not letting myself forget that and being thankful for what I have.”

Bravo, Zuck.

I too have been close to the source of my food. I’ve wounded dove and then finished the job by removing their heads with my hands. I’ve had animals in my backyard one week and on my plate the next. For me, today, meat cannot be an option.

That said, tuna has been a bit of a staple on this trip. It’s an easy source of protein on the go. I have six cans of tuna in my car right now. The next time I meet a group of backpackers, I’m giving the cans to them. I’m finally fully forgoing fish to go all in with my vegetarianism.

The tuna are beautiful manifestations of life too. Just like my duckling.


Got a question about my trip? I’m compiling a mailbag to commemorate one month on the road. Leave your question in the comments!