Courage is the mastery of fear

Morning rituals help me center myself for each new day. Since moving out into the southern Colorado foothills with few neighbors, I feel privileged to be able to view an unobstructed sunrise every morning as a part of that ritual.

Often I think, “It won’t be amazing today” and then I turn around in my bed and see something like this.

Living here has made me even more grateful for my life and that it has led to this place full of love and acceptance. It has also led to some tough physical challenges for me. The simple act of breathing has become more and more difficult. I can no longer live without supplemental oxygen. For a while we wondered if it was lung cancer.

There is nothing like the ‘c’ word to make you sit up and take notice, and the challenges of simply breathing every day naturally call my attention to my own mortality. Many years ago I was a follower of Stephen Levine, a well-known poet, author and teacher best known for his work with those with life-threatening illnesses. For over twenty-five years, Stephen and Ondra Levine provided emotional and spiritual support to those who were dying and their caregivers. I highly recommend his books to you. I went to hear him speak in Boulder once for an all day event. That was the beginning of my own internal conversation about my own death. I still enjoy listening to his meditation called:

“Take each breath as if it were your last”

I used to feel so afraid of death. Then my experience of moving quickly in and out of consciousness with a traumatic brain injury provided some strange reassurance. Death is simply the final loss of consciousness. Death is inevitable and really quite simple. I accept it now, and try to love each day that I have left to be alive.

I need to imagine myself in the future doing what I love. For me, now, that is a radical act of courage.

Walsenburg and La Veta Colorado, Living Between Two Very Different Worlds

For the past five years, just over 40 million Americans moved each year, or about 13 percent of us. Most moves are local, either within the same county or within the same state. Within-county moves accounted for 65 percent of all moves in 2019, while moves between counties in the same state accounted for 17 percent, according to the federal government’s Current Population Survey (CPS) data.

We moved from one of the northern most counties of Colorado (Larimer) to one 50 miles from the New Mexico border in 2014. Larimer County’s population has grown over 30,000 residents since then, while Huerfano County may have gained 200 residents. The only reason Huerfano has not lost residents since 2014, when it reached less than 6,400, is the beauty of the rural areas west of Walsenburg.

When we moved here from a nice suburb of Fort Collins, I experienced extreme culture shock, and most of the residents we talked to could not believe we had chosen to leave Fort Collins for here. I gravitated to hanging out in La Veta even though we lived in Walsenburg while having our solar home built in the foothills, halfway between La Veta and Walsenburg. I did not find Walsenburg residents particularly friendly to outsiders, and La Veta people seemed a little more welcoming. I later learned that most long-term residents here don’t like newcomers and don’t think they’ll stay, so they choose not to invest in friendships with them. I’m sure you see the self-perpetuating prophecy in this. La Veta was not super friendly either, but at least I did meet some nice people there.

Six years later, I continue to try and understand this area and its resistance to newcomers and new businesses. At first it really bothered me, especially when our next door neighbor offered friendship at first and then decided to hate us within six months for no apparent reason. After a few years I didn’t care as much because we were so happy in our solar perch with phenomenal views in every direction. As of today I only have one close, local friend and she is wonderful.

We have had to adjust to many differences between city and rural life, but being able to order almost anything on the Internet has made all the difference! I would say if you are very independent of mind and truly celebrate natural silence and beauty you may end up loving it here. However, trade offs must be made. None of our restaurants are stellar and most are closed down now. No pizza deliveries here! You need to like cooking and have a few different avocations than city people, avocations like hiking, camping, gardening, photography and the arts.

As far as the differences between Walsenburg and La Veta go, Walsenburg has one of the highest crime rates per thousand in the U.S.

“The 2016 crime rate in Walsenburg, CO is 628 (City-Data.com crime index), which is 2.3 times higher than the U.S. average. It was higher than in 98.0% U.S. cities.”

Just about everyone I have met there has been robbed. I cannot find a crime rate for La Veta, but it’s very low. The main difference you will find in Huerfano County is that land prices east of La Veta average around $5,000/acre or less, and those in the higher mountains can be well above $50,000/acre.

Springtime view from our solar perch!

The apparent draw to this area, including ourselves, is that you can still find inexpensive rural land with tremendous views for reasonable prices. Just remember there are very few decent jobs here and most of this county is above 7,000 feet, which can challenge the breathing of many lowlanders.

Want to learn more about moving here? I kept a journal of this process:

Why we decided to move here after first checking out Ecuador (!)

The difficulties of renovating our old home and leaving our old life behind.

The culture shock of very small town living.

Building a passive solar home in a rural area,

and so many other challenges & adjustments to be made when you choose living rural.

Check it out here:

A Memoir of Retirement: From Suburbia to Solar in Southern Colorado

Mindfulness & Higher Levels of Consciousness

To continue my train of thought from my last post, I choose to believe that we humans are uniquely supplied with a brain and conscience so that we might go beyond our reptilian or primal brain. Yes, we must maintain our innate and automatic self-preserving behavior patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. But I know we can be so much more!

A part of my learning at Naropa University in Boulder, was the study of higher levels of consciousness, most notably with Ken Wilber. There I learned of the research into what can happen in the human mind when we are able to shut off the constant thinking, wondering and worrying, reaching beyond this primal state of mind.

Buddhist monks have shown us that we can achieve an infinitely expanded true self through deep meditation. This is in accordance with Buddhist philosophy, which focuses on being liberated from one’s insignificant self consciousness to attain a higher state of being, thereby reaching an “infinitely expanded true self”.

The Buddha taught that consciousness is “like a stream of water” with different layers or levels. Mind consciousness is the first level, using up most of our energy. Mind consciousness is our “working” brain that makes judgments and plans; it is the part of our consciousness that worries and analyzes. The brain is only two percent of the body’s weight, but it consumes twenty percent of the body’s energy. So using mind consciousness is very expensive. Thinking, worrying, and planning take a lot of energy.

We can economize this energy by training our mind consciousness in the habit of mindfulness. Mindfulness keeps us in the present moment and allows our mind consciousness to relax and let go of the energy of worrying about the past or predicting the future.– Lion’s Roar

As strange as it may seem, my own trauma brain injury in 2008, helped me to access this higher level of consciousness more easily. Partially because I don’t have the energy to think and worry as much as I used to, I can simply slip into a state of mindfulness as I choose. Call it what you will, this is a great relief! I tire quickly with too much interaction or “thinking” and then I give up and just live in the present.

I have also found living close to nature to be quite mind liberating. City life kept me in a constant, often unconscious, state of anxiety and vigilance. It took me a few years of living away from cities and most other people to relax that vigilant mind state and just be here now. Sometimes I may still feel sudden city anxiety, but I quickly recognize it as not needed and let it go.

To learn more about all of this, I can highly recommend the Buddhist magazine Lion’s Roar and this particular article called: “The Four Layers of Consciousness”

How many parents miss out on knowing their adult children well?

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately…

I see now that my own parents never bothered to get to know me as an adult. Perhaps they thought mistakenly that they knew me as their child, even though they barely knew me through adolescence. And the sad part is, now it is too late.

I know now that my Dad, who died this past March, did not know me at all. He thought I was not-so-smart, a very bad planner and certainly not ambitious. As it turns out his idea of ambition and mine were just quite different. Most unfortunately, my Dad, the well-known Colorado botanist, never appreciated my interest and skill with native plants. Mike overheard him comment in….

… my beginner garden back in March of 2018, “This is just going to be a bunch of weeds!”

He thought I had no idea what a native plant was, or how to grow them. Little did he know that I was already planning with Mike the terraced hardscaping of this slanted slope, and what would grow best here in terms of water needs, critters, etc. Yes, a few of my experiments have not worked out, but overall…

I am quite proud of the product of Mike, John Carter and my own burgeoning efforts! (June 2019)

And as far as my other ambitions go, I have always refused to see myself as a loser. My brother John and I are the first Carter generation of what I now call “spiritual seekers.” Making lots of money and receiving accolades from many was never in the plan.

Finding eventual spiritual peace with Self, others & nature was the plan.

Mom and me in 1985

This past Christmas with my mother was a revelation to me. As she slowly recedes into dementia, I now see she will never “know” me either. I am still her “little Laura Lee,” her youngest daughter. She loves to look at pictures of us together when I was a baby, her last one.

This leaves me wondering how often it is that parents invest the time to truly know how their kids turned out. Is it a fear that their children didn’t turn out so well, that keeps them from asking? Are they afraid it will seem too intrusive, like an invasion of privacy? Or do they just prefer not knowing.

Please don’t assume that you already know your child completely and stifle your impulse to truly know them on a deeper level while you are still around. Don’t assume you know them intimately. Ask them open ended questions like:

“What are you searching for in your life? What means the most to you right now?”

Winter Solstice 2020

Tomorrow, Monday the 21st will be the darkest day of our year. This is the day with the fewest hours of daylight, marking the start of astronomical winter. After this solstice, days will begin getting longer and nights shorter as spring approaches.

The word solstice is derived from the Latin word sol (“sun”) and sistere (“to stand still”), because at the solstices, the Sun appears to stand still. The seasonal movement of the Sun’s daily path (as seen from Earth) pauses at a northern or southern limit before reversing direction.

The Winter Solstice in Human History

The winter solstice was a special moment in the annual cycle for most ancient cultures back to the neolithic. Astronomical events were often used to guide activities, such as the sowing of crops and the monitoring of winter food reserves. Many cultural mythologies and traditions are derived from this.

This is attested to by physical remains in the layouts of some ancient archaeological sites, such as Stonehenge in England and ceremonial structures in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon. The primary axis of these monuments seem to have been carefully aligned on a sight-line pointing to the winter solstice sunrise and the winter solstice sunset at Stonehenge.

In the midst of gathering darkness, light becomes ever more valued…

The winter solstice was immensely important, because the Ancient ones were economically dependent on monitoring the progress of the seasons. Starvation was common during the first months of the winter, January to April (northern hemisphere) or July to October (southern hemisphere), also known as “the famine months.” In temperate climates, the midwinter festival was the last feast, before deep winter began. Most domestic animals were slaughtered because they could not be fed during the winter, so it was the only time of year when a plentiful supply of fresh meat was available. The majority of wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready to drink at this time.

For me, this Winter Solstice has even more meaning, following one of the worst years in American history. This Solstice gives me hope that next year will be so much better in so many important ways! 🙂

Photos of building passive solar in Colorado in the winter: Deck the roof, not the halls!

My intuition told me to go back and look at some previous photos from six years ago, when we were building our passive solar home in the foothills of southern Colorado. Sure enough, December 17th six years ago was the day we put decking on our roof.

Unless you’ve built something yourself, you may not appreciate the idea of “drying in” your structure, but this is major, especially in the middle of winter in Colorado.

I remember when we drove up here, there were workmen all over the top of our house in very cold weather, working their asses off! Our contractor brought all his friends over to work on a Saturday to get this done. What was amazing was how comfortable they all seemed up on that roof! A snow storm came in later that day…

But the roof got covered and we were halfway to being dried in.

We got so excited about the smallest progress back then, after taking five months just to get approval from the county and our slab poured properly for passive solar heating! They forgot the insulation for the slab at first, but Mike got on them for that!

The windows came next! It was finally looking & feeling like a home!

But there were still a million more details to work out…

but we got her done and moved in on the first of August 2015.

Then we rested while staring out at our spectacular view, for months, none stop! We cannot get enough of this even years later. The silence is magnificent!

Surprise! I’m looking forward to Christmas!

This is the time of year I usually post my “I’m beginning to dread a lot about Christmas” post. Once those ubiquitous commercials begin, I start complaining. But this year feels different. I’m anxious to get our tree cut (from our own land!) and decorated, and I’ve ordered just a few small, special gifts online. I wonder why…

I think it’s because of the tough past few years. I know I was too depressed last Christmas to decorate the tree. My health has been a constant concern for a few years now. When you’ve been consistently healthy for most of your life up until around age 60, and then you keep having serious new ailments turn up, it’s disconcerting to say the least. The one I fought the hardest was going on fulltime oxygen. I simply could not believe it, and I also didn’t want to! It’s terribly cumbersome, expensive and irritating. Try fixing dinner while trailing around an O2 tube. But I did somehow adjust after a couple bad falls and much difficult breathing convinced me.

Funny how illness may help one appreciate things in whole new ways. When you are no longer so certain that you will be here for Christmas next year, you see things differently. Now I want to enjoy every little detail. Oxygen tube or not, I want to be present for every moment now.

“Make yourself useful!” A post for overly responsible boomers

Two themes have been competing in my brain for decades:

Do we need to “make ourselves useful” all the time? Or is it OK to simply relax and enjoy our lives?

Let me begin by acknowledging that I was brainwashed as a child that everything we do should be “useful.” Laziness was not allowed, and laziness was very broadly defined. Pursuits like games, art, music, cinema, anything that was simply pleasurable and not academically motivated was a waste of time. Productivity was key, but only certain types of productivity. Now I find some of these same strict definitions among my fellow Boomers, who are having trouble getting comfortable with aging, illness and retirement.

First of all, I have studied the psychology of American boomers for years. One conclusion I came to is that we have been identified unfairly as an extremely self-centered and irresponsible generation. The boomers I know are now taking care of their parents if they are still alive, environmentally aware and responsible, and feel a strong need to feel useful in this world. That flower child, druggy image does not stick. Perhaps we are more self-aware than our parents, and more aware of our impact on this planet, but totally irresponsible, no.

Speaking for myself, I grapple daily with guilt over my own idleness even though I also struggle with hypoxia and the long-term affects of a traumatic brain injury. Besides the usual, “Why me?” questions, I feel lazy if I cannot complete at least a few household chores every day. Guilt feels like a permanent companion to my illnesses. Luckily my husband Mike is the direct opposite of my inner critic. He encourages me to feel good about simply still being here, and helps me make the most of it. He keeps our vehicles and home running smoothly…

while encouraging me to focus on hobbies that give me pleasure like photography,

gardening,

cooking and writing this blog.

Mike also understands my struggle with every day guilt, partially because he was not raised that way. He believes that retirement should be joyful and guilt-free. He believes we earned it “after slaving away our entire working life!” I can learn a lot from him.

What it looks & feels like to be SNOWED IN in the Colorado Foothills west of Walsenburg

As many of you already know, I am pretty obsessed with weather watching! I have been reporting daily precipitation to COCORAHS and the Weather Service since the Fort Collins Spring Creek flood in July 1997.

But last night was a lifetime record for me!

This morning I looked out at 23 inches of snow, and it’s still coming down!

Mike went out at 7 AM to measure it for me…

and get our overflowing rain gauge. Yep, 1.23 inches of precipitation!

Yep, it’s really 25 inches total!

Needless to say, Rasta and I have decided to stay in today…

The storm is over and the Juncos are HUNGRY!

Doo doo doo lookin’ out my back door

Today I’m Going To Love My Life!

I’ve been overwhelmed lately with the idiocy we call American politics. We all go somewhere different to get our “news” and then we spout whatever misinformation we hear wherever. It sounds to me like we have too much free time and too many sources of information and misinformation, and the Internet is responsible for most of this. On top of that we have the worst wildfires in American history and hurricanes coming on shore like never before.

What I hate to see is all of the hatefulness that Trump has succeeded in spreading throughout our country, one that in fact we all love and want to be better. Most of us just want a better country with less death and destruction. Can we all agree on that at least?

To combat this anxiety and hatefulness I am pulling way back from watching the news. In addition, I have been trying a new affirmation out. Every morning when I wake up the first thing I see is my little sign across the room that says:

Today I’m going to love my life!

I find that when I focus this way, I truly have so many reasons to love my life. Politics do not need to consume us. Consider the fact that you are alive in a wonderful country at a glorious time in history. One of my favorite quotes from the 17th century was that “life was nasty, short and brutal.”

Today many Americans have the opportunity to live long, happy and healthy lives. Sure some of us cannot breathe without the assistance of supplementary O2 (like me!) but at least we can access those resources. We have the benefits of science helping us to improve our lives and the lives of others. LUCKY US!

I don’t know about you, but when I look around me, I find so many reasons to love my life. I feel so much gratitude for it all! I feel I have had the proper circumstances to get a good education and then make the kind of choices that have made my life great. Self-improvement has been so important to me, as well as learning that blaming and shaming others for my own faults is toxic. Self -responsibility has been key for me to create the kind of life I can love.

To tell the truth, I never would have imagined that I would end up here in this safe and beautiful (but smoky today!) place with a life I can love.

I can only wish you all the same success.