I am pondering the word independence today, on a personal level. What exactly does it mean to be independent, and is it something to strive toward?
Last night I participated in a relational practice called T-Group: where the focus is on noticing present-moment experience, owning that experience, and then expressing it in a small group container. It’s a rich, illuminating, often uncomfortable, but frequently nourishing practice. When done well, it celebrates and acknowledges our impact on each other and gives one permission to make explicit the more hidden and unrevealed aspects of our relational field (attraction/frustration/judgment/care/appreciation/etc/etc.)
In both groups I participated in last night, the group’s attention fell on me at different moments – and a collective noticing that 𝐾𝑒𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑖𝑠 ℎ𝑜𝑙𝑑𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑠𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑡ℎ𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑏𝑎𝑐𝑘 was expressed. In one group, a friend described how she notices wearing a shell when interacting with me, that in her experience, is her meeting my protectors and walls. Another person expressed 𝑎 𝑑𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑟𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑠𝑒𝑒 𝐾𝑒𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑐𝑟𝑎𝑐𝑘𝑒𝑑 𝑜𝑝𝑒𝑛.
After reflecting on these moments and 𝑚𝑎𝑛𝑦 like them in the past, what arises in me is the reminder of the importance of the subtle, nuanced calibration of dependence/independence in relationship. And the necessity of fine-tuning the needle between being impactable and sovereign. When questioned and prodded last night, I felt several contradictory feelings. First, some shame around a story I have that I overprotect myself, keep my cards close, and don’t reveal for fear of being vulnerable and powerless. Then there is the other side of me that experiences those interactions with anger and frustration, coming from the part that feels annoyed that someone cannot accept that I’m sovereign and independent and doesn’t react to everything said or done in my vicinity.
AND I know the answer lies somewhere in the middle.
It feels really f’ing good when someone deeply sees and notices me and our relational space attunes me to more fundamental aspects of my being. It also feels good not to be expected to be anything other than what I am at any given moment.
Time to get outside and into the creek (with a friend ).
What is your relationship to the polarity of dependence & independence?
This year, June 20th marks the summer solstice and June 21st marks the final day of my 5-month journey with chemotherapy. This has been a long voyage, and while my healing will continue for much longer, this feels like an auspicious time to celebrate a transition: individually for me, but also collectively and planetarily for all of us.
To honor this moment, I invite you all to join me for a synchronized meditation this Saturday.
The exact moment of the solstice is 3:43 PM MST, therefore the meditation will be from 3:20 PM – 4:10 PM MST. I will also sit a second time to allow my friends in Asia to participate from 7:00 PM – 7:50 PM MST.
I included a time zone converter below. Even if you are only able to join for five minutes, please take this opportunity to celebrate your own light as you also celebrate the end of treatment with me.
What is the meaning of the Summer Solstice?
What is special about the solstice? It marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer. The solstice is a peak, a climax, a completion, and a beginning all at once. This year it also nearly coincides with a new moon and solar eclipse (only visible in Africa), which have their own powerful influences on us.
Many ancient civilizations dedicated rituals and festivals to the summer solstice. They intuited and realized the significance of this moment. While there are external and astronomical aspects associated with this day, for those spiritually inclined it represents an opportunity for an inner transition.
The Summer Solstice is aligned with the element of fire, passion, will and drive. This is the time to seek right action, to choose to walk in alignment with your beliefs. Now is the time for you to look at the grander scope of your life and spiritual path and take note of what is out of alignment. What doesn’t serve you? What things do you tell yourself or others that are not in line with what you preach? What things do not serve your personal and spiritual growth?
There is also a slow side to the summer solstice – it reminds us of the importance of patience:
There is the slow, sure rhythm of time that events will enter into our lives if we let them. We can’t hurry things, but if we just relax and let go, things will reach their fullness without effort or the striving of ego on our part. The seeds of spring have been planted, we’ve labored over them all spring-now it’s time to let nature take its course.
And finally, there is our relationship with the element of fire. The sun is, literally, all fire. And for nearly 24 hours a day, the northern hemisphere is soaking up all that fierce, intense, electrifying, invigorating, exhilarating energy.
That means there is an absolute abundance of that rich fire energy available for you and me to soak up as well. We can use that energy to inspire up, to uplift us, to energize us. To light our fires and to allow us to embrace our light and share it with others.
How to Participate
Find somewhere to sit quietly without distractions. This can even be done in bed (as you’ll see it’s very late/early in many time zones). Meditate however you wish, connecting first to yourself, then to each other, eventually to the entire planet. No special technique is needed. If you are a regular meditator, choose whatever method helps you connect with your heart and to expand your awareness as wide as possible.
This will not be a guided meditation – we will all simply sit at home in silence at our own pace, absent technology.
Join one or both of these two meditations on Saturday, June 20th (the first one is more potent as it is the exact time of the solstice).
Clicking the link one will take you to an app that will determine the time in your location.
𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟏
𝟑:𝟐𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟒:𝟏𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Asia)
𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟐
𝟕:𝟎𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟕:𝟓𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Europe and Asia)
This weekend I will be fasting from the Internet and social media, so I will not be online until Monday. I wish everyone a beautiful solstice, meditation, and weekend.
I am sitting cross-legged before an odd altar – a hawks feather, animal bones, a meteorite, a power stick and a wooden Buddha. I’m dirty, sore, sunburned, and very hungry. I have been fasting for 3 days on the top of this lonely mountain. Sitting quietly at 12,500 feet in arguably the remotest part of Colorado. No trail took me to where I am now. It is just an hour before my solar return- the moment the sun returns to the same exact location in the sky as the moment of my birth. Not just any solar return. This is will complete my 40th trip around the sun. Before I cross that threshold, let’s discuss how this all began.
In ancient cultures throughout the world, Quests were used as doorways to enter spiritual realms. A Quest could take the form of a retreat into nature, a Vision Quest, or a pilgrimage. These extraordinary journeys often revealed sacred visions, personal direction and life purpose to those who pursued them. Western culture has no modern equivalent- so I decided to craft my own quest to seek the ream of mystery and spirit beyond the senses.
Originally I considered a 7-day and 7-night quest, but when an opportunity arose to join a men’s retreat in the days leading up to my birthday, I settled on 4 days and 3 nights, as an extension of the group retreat. I will write separately about the men’s retreat- but for now, know that I departed from that group of men virile, inspired, and open-hearted.
I drive away from the retreat center, send a final text to my sister informing her of my plans shortly before I lose signal. I park my car at 2 in the afternoon at the trailhead. I gather my belongings. It feels odd to fill a backpack for 4 days without a morsel of food. Everything ready, I sign in at the trailhead register. Only 12 entries over the past 2 years. I will be alone, no doubt about it.
I walk excitedly towards the place I had pinpointed in advance, researching between topographic and google maps. I expected about 5 miles of walking and 2,000 feet of elevation gain. I walk for a while, my new boots feeling good on the ground. My mind racing from an encounter with a beautiful woman just hours earlier… I hear Chris, my retreat leader, in my head saying – the first tool in uncovering your purpose is to eliminate distractions! Slowly the physicality of the uphill hike with a heavy pack takes over and I return to my breath and the beauty of the surroundings: wildflowers, running streams, snow-laden peaks.
I decide to sit down – I watch a large moose across the meadow, unnoticed for a while. Eventually she catches my eye and jots into the distance. She pauses, looks up, as if to show me something. I follow her gaze upwards. I spy two beautiful rock outcroppings on top of a distant mountain. Something clicks. That is where I must go. Vision quests are all about paying attention to signs – not necessarily planning every detail but trusting your inner compass can be guided by the natural world.
I check my map. A 12,600 foot peak, no trail, and steep terrain leading to its summit. I make a plan, step off the trail and start walking. No coincidence that the men’s retreat was called Ascending the Sacred Mountain. I pass a pile of bones from a recent kill. Another sign. I stow the sacrum, pelvis and a leg bone in my pack. I keep walking ahead…Its getting late, exhaustion is setting in. I can no longer see the top, I’m somewhat lost and disoriented in a forest of deadfall. Should I just stay here? A voice in my head propels me upward. As sunset nears, the trees thin, a herd of elk greet my arrival above tree line. Alpenglow shines in all directions as my destination is reached.
I set my pack down. Its late, I’m exhausted and I decide to just lie down. Reaching for my water, I realize it is all gone. One small but important detail before I fully settle down. I vaguely remember a patch of snow as I first glanced at this peak – I set out in search, luckily discovering it a few hundred feet downhill. Filling my bottles with the snowmelt, I make my way back up, and fall blissfully asleep in the silent dark.
Drop, drop, drop… rain falls, accelerating in intensity. I should have known better – the weather can change up here in a moments notice. I scramble to erect my rain tarp amidst the gusty winds – with an odd combination of stakes, rocks and trekking poles it will work for the night.
In the morning I proceed to officially create my Sacred Circle, a detailed process that I will refer you to the books I used to support my process. It involves setting up a series of rocks and sticks in the cardinal directions, ritually opening and closing the circle, invoking the spirits of the cardinal directions and a few other details. Maybe now is a good place for a disclaimer: If anyone is generally interested in this kind of process, its highly recommended to do your first quest supported by others, not to just strike off alone like I did… Two great resources that supported my Vision Quest are the following books:
Both can help you understand more of the details and guide you to sources that offer supported Vision Quests…
Now the rest of the time up there started to get interesting- as I reflect on those days – there existed an overlapping mix of subtlety, exquisite detail, and magic. I can continue to write about the details of the outer journey – as in when my sleeping bag was caught by a wind gust and launched over 60 feet in the air, nearly getting stuck on a rock, well out of reach…. but these were minor compared to the inner details that were unfolding.
I examined my life. I looked at my fears and attachments. I offered gratitude, I called for a vision.
I stretched, I meditated, I journaled, I slept, I waited out rain storms.
My friend Peter, mentioned earlier, had suddenly passed away 10 days earlier in a traffic accident in Bali. His inspiration and presence were with me often– he being one of the few people I know who would have also done something as crazy as this. I felt close to him and as if I was supporting his passage with my own process – in addition to offering this quest to all beings, I specifically offered it to Peter.
The second day the hunger really started to set in, and I felt as if I was hallucinating that afternoon. I was called out of my circle for a short period to explore the rock formation around me. I observed the exquisite details of the ancient lichen surviving on stone, I collected what appeared to be a fragment of a meteorite, I stumbled in the awe and beauty of the majesty that was around me, in me, through me. Seeking something from the sky for my altar, I as if by magic a large feather floats from the sky and lands at my feet.
I find myself on a delicate rock outcropping, a few exposed 4th class moves to a seat sitting high over a precipice. I sit on this ledge for hours. It seems the totally of my first 40 years were coming to meet me right then and there. The pains, the joys, the loves, the heart breaks, all of my relationships, all of my missteps, all of my successes, all of my guides and allies and enemies. Right there on that rock. By any imaginable standard I would have appeared mad- sunburned and dirty, screaming and shaking my fists and stick into the air, then laughing hysterically, then crying with gratitude to all and everything. Over, and over and over… darkness approached and I made my way back to my circle. Two coyotes, as if waiting for me to leave, ascended the rocks and howled into the evening sky.
The third day I didn’t leave my circle, sitting, sitting, lying, stretching, counting the hours until my solar return meditation.
And now I’m back to the beginning. Its 3:43 on July 23rd, and I complete my 40th year. I meditate another hour to appreciate the power of the hiatus. Did the vision come? Was it too obvious or too subtle to see? Time will tell. A few days later I am still processing insights and moments of reflection from those days.
I planned to spend that final evening in an all-night vigil of sorts – I remember Peter telling me about the Death Lodge practice on the last night of his quest. Where the aspirant builds a circle of stones too narrow to lie down within, and commits to remaining awake until dawn and not moving outside the circle. One spends the night envisioning ones own death and inviting in all of one’s fears and all of ones relationships into that space.
After my solar return meditation, there was a clear feeling that it was time to go. I underestimated the physical exertion of climbing to high altitude and fasting for 3 days. My death lodge will have to wait. I packed up my things and prepared to head back down the trail-less mountainside.
Before leaving, I glanced around in all directions, thanking this mountain and its spirits for hosting me, and inviting me into its womb. What had I offered in return? My mind went to the most prized item in my possession. My yak tooth mala (beads) that I purchased in Nepal 10 years ago and that have accompanied me everywhere since… I slip them off my wrist, offer them to the mountain, turn around and start walking.
An hour after leaving the summit, a dark and ferocious storm rolled in. I had to take cover from hail for a while – at one point I looked back up to see the rock I camped next to being struck directly by several bolts of lightening. I am glad I trusted my intuition.
Absolutely depleted, as darkness envelops the landscape, I put one foot in front of the other until I return to the trailhead and my car.
Yesterday I joined my friend Jason for a quick after-work rock climb in Boulder Canyon. We met at 6:30, hurrying to a crag near the road to try to beat the fast-approaching 7:45 sunset. Dancing around poison ivy on our way up the short and steep approach to the base of the climb, we quickly got ready and up I went. It was my first time on lead in almost a year and a half. As I inched up the nearly vertical wall, I noticed the bodily memory slowly returning – shifting my weight slightly to clip a draw, crimping my fingers to gain a better hold and feeling the quality of the rock to evaluate its friction. What was not returning so quickly was my physical stamina and mental fortitude, often finding myself out of breath and a little scared at potential 15-20 foot falls. That will return as I continue to climb and get strong.
After we both climbed the route, we took a minute to appreciate the last moments of the day, as nightfall descended on the canyon. We had a beautiful view in every direction, the sound of Boulder Creek heard below us. The air was crisp, clean, nurturing. Jason made a comment to the likes of “I love being here”, and I couldn’t agree more.
It was May of 2011 the last time I truly lived in Boulder – I’ve had remarkable experiences in this time – but this is one of the things I missed most. Spending time with a good friend, having access to such incredible nature. Resting in and enjoying that somewhat indescribable moment of joy after completing a challenging climb and taking a moment to enjoy the splendor of the surroundings. Climbing for me is much more than a sport – it’s an element of my spiritual practice. Pushing myself to the edge, getting to intimately know my body and its abilities, finding the elusive ‘no-mind’ as I move up a wall knowing a moment of inattention could result in my death or a nasty injury.
I’m finding incredible peace in my first two weeks back in Boulder. An ease might be the best way to describe it, an ease I had misplaced for a bit.