Learning how to live in the present moment

April Buddha

This week I borrowed a unique documentary from my local library, Walk With Me, a contemplative journey which follows the steps of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, with rare insights into life within a monastic community. So begins Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis’ fascinating exploration of what it means to devote one’s life to mindfulness.

“With unprecedented access to the famous secluded monastery of Plum Village in the South West of France, Walk With Me captures the daily routine and rituals of monks and nuns on a quest to develop a deep sense of presence. It is an insightful rumination on the pursuit of happiness, living in the present and our attachment to material things – a welcome remedy to the stresses of city life and a world in turmoil.”  — Laure Bonville

What I found most fascinating about this immersion into monastic life is how similar it can be to life outside of cities, where life is luxuriously slow and overflowing with simple joys. The theme is crystal clear:

Be here now. There is no past, there is no future, just this moment…

One of the ways this short film has changed my life is in my desire to be more contemplative in each moment. For example when I first wake up I now love to look out at the birds outside my door. I find them to be the perfect topic for my first meditation of the day.

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Wild animals do not sit around thinking about their past or imagining their future, because if they focused much on that they would not survive for long. We were also once totally focused on the present moment. We had to be. But now we have the luxury of too much time, so we think about way too much stuff!

Luckily the mind can be trained over and over again. Today we can decide to stop all the concern and worry about everything else in the world, and focus on this moment before us, the only one we truly have.

“There is a fire inside. Sit down beside it. Watch the flames, the ancient, flickering dance of yourself.”    —  John MacEnulty

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The Ancient Ones & My Own Spirit Quest

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

Since we moved here on our three acres outside of any city or town, my spiritual quest has been to connect more deeply with this land and its history. I know mostly Ute Indians traversed the valley below us regularly to travel out east to Old Bent’s Fort to sell their furs and meet other life-minded nomadic tribes. I sometimes feel their presence.

Last night, when I was having trouble sleeping, I remembered a marvelous spiritual experience I had back when Mike and I were still searching for the perfect place to retire. Here you go:

“Conchas” Living by Laura Lee Carter, April 2008

My husband Mike and I are spending our vacations these days, exploring possible destinations to retire to, just in case we can ever afford it. This year we spent a few days on a road trip through northeastern New Mexico.

We were drawn to a series of lakes north of Tucumcari: Ute Lake, Conchas Lake and Santa Rosa Lake. These are all state parks with nice facilities and beautiful but ever shrinking reservoirs as the drought continues down there. Two nights were spent camping at Conchas Lake State Park.

Conchas

The first night felt like a spiritual awakening to me. Our tent was open at the top so I could see all the stars, and I don’t recall ever experiencing such amazing and overwhelming silence in my entire life. My personal account follows, written in the middle of the night:

In the perfect silence of a star-filled New Mexican night, I lie in my sleeping bag, contemplating the wonders of our universe. Yes, there are still places in America where one can marvel at the brilliant stars above, while getting lost in the silence of the surrounding wilderness.

Did a Native American woman lie in this exact same spot thinking similar thoughts many centuries before me? I feel so connected to the earth.

Living close to the earth increases my awareness of everything: the air temperature, the slightest breeze, the fragrances, the colors of the wildflowers and cacti, the occasional yelp of coyotes in the distance, the soaring hawks and vultures overhead. Time slows down.

The animal sounds serve to remind me that there was a time when we were simply prey to the many predators around us. We weren’t high-minded beings that thought that we had taken possession of the earth, but were instead just a potential meal to a hungry wolf or coyote nearby.

The homophonic nature of the Indian word “Conchas” and our word “conscious” were not lost on us. Mike’s Ojibwa family heritage may have been at play. We came to explore this land and also our own “conscious” minds, to learn about the ancient ones that inhabited this land long before us, to understand on a deeper level, the history of our earth.

Those that study the earth say that the present drought is probably another eleven year cycle, and the rains will return. But we must all wonder if man has impacted the earth’s natural cycles so gravely that they may be forever changed. We shall see.

After Conchas Lake, we headed northwest to the Jemez Pueblo area. I rarely use the word “awesome”, but I can’t imagine a better description of the deep red canyons of the Jemez Mountains. They are a unique and wonderful vision to behold!

Retirement Decisions: Urban versus Rural

Four years after our move to rural southern Colorado, I am remembering the difficulties I had making the final decision to give up city life for good. Here’s a piece I wrote five months after moving to Walsenburg and beginning construction on our new solar home:

Urban versus Rural: Decision Made!  November 23, 2014

My husband Mike and I have been in the process of transition into retirement in the past year.

320 w. 2nd St. Walsenburg July 2014

After five months living down south in a small rental in a very small town, we decided to go up north to visit family and friends this week.

What an eye-opening experience! I was absolutely SHOCKED to have this timely reminder of what life in the city feels like, and what it does to human beings.

Since we only have two stop lights in our entire new county, I had forgotten what it feels like to sit in traffic constantly. I experienced total culture shock, and Fort Collins felt like a foreign country to me.

I saw people everywhere waiting for something, a place to park, a place to sit in a restaurant, a chance to go through the next stop light, an opportunity to pay for their purchase. There was terrible traffic going through Denver in the middle of the day, constant noise, obvious air pollution we could even taste sometimes.

Do people really choose to live like this? I found city life so anxiety-producing and over-stimulating.

great Mike photo of snow and Spanish Peaks

It felt like such a relief to finally get back to tiny Walsenburg. The good news is I now know for certain that a city could never be my forever home. There is no doubt in my mind, I am so done with city life!

This essay and many more can be found in my Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Southern Colorado.

Why we moved to the country to retire

For some reason this spring I keep flashing back to four years ago when we were still living in suburbia in Fort Collins and preparing to move down here to build our solar home…

Here’s an excerpt from my Memoir of Retirement:

memoir of retirement 2016 large

I saw a stupid retirement TV commercial last night that really got me thinking. The question was:

Can you keep your lifestyle in retirement?  

Say what? It suddenly struck me that this may be the most important difference between those of us facing retirement in the next few years. I for one have NO intention of keeping this lifestyle. If we did, what would be the point of retirement?

My dream retirement involves escaping this lifestyle! I feel that I have become ‘metro-fied,’ and I’m now more than ready for a peaceful escape from my present lifestyle.

I have lived in metropolitan areas for most of my adult life, for access to good jobs. What I have observed is ever increasing crowding, pollution, traffic and aggressive behavior.

beginning to build on the slab comanche drive

Construction begins on our new solar home facing the Spanish Peaks!

What I now long for is a quieter more peaceful existence with just a few people per square mile, where we can enjoy a friendly, caring sense of community; a place where we can make new friends through our daily lives.

We know and accept that this will involve a major lifestyle change, and we are ready for that. No traffic sounds great to us in exchange for less shopping convenience. Valuing and having time for new relationships is what we seek, not more of the same overcrowding, air pollution and road rage.

As I sit in the constant traffic in Fort Collins or Denver these days, I can only think, “This is never going to get better!” People will continue moving here and traffic will keep increasing every year, and I do not want to spend one more precious moment of my life sitting in traffic.

We want out of this lifestyle, the sooner the better!

Postscript four years later…I WAS SO RIGHT ABOUT THIS!

 

De-metrofying your life: The strong connection between where we live and how we treat others

Sunflowers on a county road

After driving in the country, about half that time on county roads, for the past few years, I feel the need to report my findings are where you live and what it does to you.

friendly waveNow you need to understand, on the county road we take out to the highway from our home, most drivers coming the other way wave to us, even if they don’t know us personally. Even in small towns like La Veta, most are quite friendly. It took me a while to get used to this after living in cities my whole life. At first I didn’t know whether to wave back, because some wave and some don’t.

Then I thought, “Oh screw it. I’ll just going to wave at everybody, regardless.”

Yesterday we drove a few hours north to Denver and back for Christmas. I have become so accustomed to natural friendliness, that when an elderly man sitting in a truck stop looked at me for a second or two, I responded with, “Merry Christmas!” He looked shocked…

Then as we progressed north past Pueblo, attitudes on I-25 took an extreme downward trend, even on Christmas day. Down here, almost no one goes more than 5 MPH over the speed limit. Up there near Colorado Springs and Denver, drivers look at you with disgust if you aren’t going at least 10 over the speed limit.

fuck you from carAnd you can just feel the anger and frustration in the drivers around you. The change in attitude is palpable, and not anything I wish to spend any more years of my limited lifespan in contact with. Really, is this the best we can do for quality of life in the wonderful old USA?

Another fun fact. I had so much pain in my right knee before I left suburbia four years ago, I felt certain I would have to get some sort of surgery. Then I moved here and it rarely ever hurts. Why? Because I’m no longer sitting with my foot on the brake at stop lights. We only have two in our whole county and I can certainly avoid those!

cloudy Spanish Peaks with snow and garden

These are just a few aspects of city versus rural life that make me glad every day that I don’t live near cities anymore. I so rarely feel angry and my stress level is near zero most of the time. It took me a year or so to totally quit pre-worrying everything and just relax. That is why driving back up to metroland is so very illuminating and yet anxiety-producing at the same time…

This is a great example of what I now like to call “de-metrofying my life.” Ha, love it! Now I am clearly off-the-grid mentally.

Buying a Home in Rural Southern Colorado

paula's ranchette

I have always found real estate interesting. I suppose it’s a part of my natural nosiness. I like to see how others live and what they choose. Mike knows the construction trade inside and out. That’s why we went with a friend to look at a small property yesterday. She wanted to get our opinion on a darling little ranchette not too far away from us.

This property is relatively new, well-built, nicely detailed inside and landscaped, with great views of Greenhorn Mountain and the distant Sangre de Cristos.

Buying in rural markets is so different than cities. Be sure and check what the property’s access is to water, electricity, phone service, and what kind of heating and septic system it has. This cute little ranch on a few acres has a giant garage and studio space, fully fenced, but it does not have access to water on the property. Most city people can’t even imagine that! Water will have to be trucked in.

Sunflowers on a county road

The good news about properties down here? The cost is about one quarter of what they might cost up north, near any metro area. I can see this property being priced at $500,000 to $600,000 if it was anywhere near the Denver/Boulder metro area. Access to jobs is everything in real estate.

The realtor informed us that sellers here usually have to accept contingencies on sales. Their average time on the market is about one year. We see many come down here, buy a house on impulse, and then need to sell a year or two later. Yes it is amazingly beautiful here in the spring, summer and fall, but the winters are so WINDY and can seem very long with most city distractions (restaurants, shopping, etc.) at least an hour away.

The truth is, most have no idea how or if they will adjust to rural life. My advice? Make sure you like spending a lot of time alone or are on the same page completely with your life partner. You need to get along very well in these circumstances. Make sure you enjoy nature, things like bird watching, plants, hiking, biking and lots of silence. If you have little appreciation for clean air, morning silence, amazing sunrises and sunsets and a pristine natural setting, don’t buy a rural home, especially if you crave any sort of human-based distractions.

decking Comanche home with mountains in backgroun

Our house being built in 2014 -2015

memoir of retirement 2016Mike and I left suburbia in 2014, after living in cities for most of our lives.      We wanted to try out solar living with spectacular views of Sangre de Cristo mountains. We moved here to live close to nature, to try out passive solar living, and to build the kind of home we chose to live in for the rest of our lives. We came in search of a far more quiet, peaceful, healthy and inexpensive lifestyle than cities could offer us. We have received so much more…            Would you like to know how we ended up here? The ups and downs of our year-long building process? My fears in our first year here? Why we love it so much now?

Please send me an e-mail to order your own copy — Laura Lee:  MidlifeCrisisQueen@gmail.com