A Little Practice

Practice

noun

  1. the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.
  2. the customary, habitual, or expected procedure or way of doing of something.

verb

  1. perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.
  2. carry out or perform (a particular activity, method, or custom) habitually or regularly.

It’s approximately seven miles on a paved road from town to our land. The road winds it’s way around the hulking block of McClure Mountain, in whose shadow lies the town of Twisp. We seem to drive this road everyday, following the Methow River downstream, which is just a part of rural living these days. Driving the same road can be boring, habitual, something to ignore. Our bodies seem to do the driving while our brains wander aimlessly. Mindless. But it can also be a chance to re-engage, to pay attention and to be mindful. The ever-present possibility of a deer running out in the road should make us pay attention, if nothing else. And yet it is all too easy to be lost in my thoughts as I drive this stretch of known road.

When I was growing up in rural upstate New York in the 1980s and 1990s, people waved to each other on rural roads. This was certainly true on our road which was not properly paved until much later. I remember watching my dad wave at neighbors and seeing them wave back. Sometimes it was a full wave, emanating friendliness in its fullness, while other times it was simply raising the hand or a couple of fingers in habitual movement. I vividly remember old man Donny Driscoll, who lived down the road from us, in his white Ford pick up truck driving basically down the middle of the road, two hands on the top of the wheel. He was pretty near-sighted as I recall his coke-bottle thick glasses. He just raised his index finger, nothing more and nothing less.

You always waved on our road, that’s just the way it was. On other roads, however, the rules of engagement were a bit different. Perhaps you waved at everyone, if you were particularly friendly. You always waved at tractors. And if you were driving a pickup truck, you waved at other pickup trucks. Such was the culture, at that time, on the back roads and byways of upstate New York.

Since moving here to rural North-Central Washington, I have re-engaged with this practice. As I drive the seven miles to and from town, I wave at everyone I meet, and I do it for two reasons. First, I want to cultivate rural friendliness and neighborliness, which I do not want to see go away in our country. It is a simple way to connect with each other, like saying hi in the post office. Secondly, I do it as a practice of both mindfulness and connection.

Doing this everyday gives me the chance to see my own mind, my own preferences and my own prejudices more clearly. Because I try to wave at everyone, I notice more astutely when I do and do not wave. When I don’t wave at someone, I realize that my mind has been wandering. I am lost in thought and this practice helps me to return to the present, to what I am actually doing. Driving and being neighborly.

I also notice who I do and do not want to wave at, which shows me the subtle and, I have to say, idiotic, judgments I make based on the car that someone is driving. Do I wave at that big-ass redneck looking truck? Do I greet the all-too wealthy looking BMW-driving liberal city slicker? You betcha I do! I get to see my prejudices and how quickly I make distinctions and then let them go with the wave of a hand. Yes, I get to say, this car too I will wave at. This person too, regardless of my opinion, I connect with ever so briefly as we zoom past each other. Getting to practice with myself in this way, everyday, is an important way to see myself more clearly and to let go of it with a kindly gesture. Some days I just go through the motions while others I am more kindly.

What I am realizing is that simple acts, like waving on rural roads brings me more fully into this very real and present moment. It shows me where I am dividing the world apart and where I am reconnecting it in its natural wholeness. Awareness and present-mindedness are cultivated and most importantly practiced. Over and over and over again, the never ending practice of being human.


by David LaFever

Beautiful Questions

The soul lives contented

by listening,

if it wants to change

into the beauty of

terrifying shapes,

it tries to speak.

excerpt from David Whyte “The Souls Lies Contented”

If your life is anything like mine, you have your good days and your bad days, great days and so-so days. There are moments so miraculous that you wish they would last forever and some so mundane that you hardly notice there passing. As a parent the highs are often really high and the lows full of despair. Having children seems to be the ultimate in vulnerability. I am often besieged with the insecurity of wondering if I am doing the right thing for my children followed by moments of pure bliss with a depth to love that I did not know was possible.

Last night as my older daughter was falling asleep I heard her say, “Mama, what are some of the things that you think are most magical?” And with a wisp of a pause she said, “Waterfalls, art, and paintings.” And then she said some others things, including “our family.” To say that I am overjoyed by my daughter thinking that our family is magical is a gross understatement. My heart melted at these words, not only because of the sentiment but also because she is asking such beautiful questions.

The philosopher and poet David Whyte said that what is needed in our world is to sculpt a more beautiful mind. How do we do that? He said that we do that by asking beautiful questions.

So, dear reader, what do you think are some of the things that are magical? Do you see magic in the extraordinary and the sublime, or ordinary and everyday? Is there really a difference between the two?

While we seem to always look for answers and to find comfort in them, most important of all is to just ask the beautiful questions. What is my life and what do I want it to be? What do I think is magical and where do I see it? What are the beautiful questions?


By David LaFever

Presence

*I must begin with a warning: this post includes a discussion of our bathroom, yet again. I don’t know why this seems to be a theme for me right now but if this bothers you, be forewarned and don’t read on.


There are many wonderful things about living in a tiny home – closeness to one another, simplicity, less stuff, being outdoors often, and sustainability to name a few – and there are some annoying things too – bumping into each other, quick to clutter, lack of indoor space to be alone. One of the positive things about living in a tiny home is having a bath house that is separate from our living space. The irony is that separation is actually promoting connection and here is how.

Several months ago now, my younger daughter, Juniper, who just turned five a few days ago, told me that she likes going #2 more than #1. Slightly surprised, I asked her why, and she replied, “because we get to talk.” I smiled, and said, “yeah, you are right.” And she still feels this way. So do I.

So why is this important and why does she appreciate it? This very natural of human processes allows us to have time and space together to talk or just quietly be with one another. If we lived in a “normal” house, with indoor plumbing, then I would be more likely to just ask her to call me when she needed help, and off I would go to do all of the “important” adult things that I think I have to be doing all the time. What are these anyway?

But because we have a bathroom that is separate from our house, I go with her to do her business and then I just hang out. Sometimes we talk, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we just think, and sometimes we think about nothing at all. The magical part is that with nowhere to go and with nothing else to do, I can relax and just be with my daughter, and in that ordinariness is the most magical thing of all. Presence.


by David LaFever

Simple Delight

Someone once said that the “best things in life are free,” but I think it is the simple things in life that are free. Free from money, perhaps, but more importantly free from want, free from worry, freely given, and free for the taking because it’s not taking when it is freely given.

We have now been living in a valley tucked into the North Cascades for the last two winters. It is snowy here and can be rather cold (the lowest recorded temperature in Washington, – 48 degrees F, was recorded here.) We live simply – in a school bus converted into a tiny home, no running water (it would freeze beneath the bus this time of year), and a stand-alone bathhouse (uninsulated right now) behind the bus. Since we have lived in the bus, it has dropped to perhaps -10 degrees F or so, and just a few days ago it was -8. Squeaky-snow, nose freezing, lungs hurting kind of cold.

Have you ever sat on a toilet seat in an unheated, uninsulated bathroom in the morning when it is that cold? Well, I have, and I was thinking that it wasn’t that bad. And what’s the big deal? Typical myopic response from someone who pees standing up.

It has also been said that “love conquers all.” Perhaps even stupidity? Maybe it was love or simply sympathy for my wife that finally got me to cut a hole out of a scrap of rigid foam insulation that has been just laying around and to put it on top of the toilet seat. This took me literally five minutes or less and it has been ABSOLUTELY REVOLUTIONARY! I am shocked and delighted by how warm it feels and I now can feel how cold the toilet seat used to feel. Funny how it can be retroactive like that. I still pee outside always, but I sometimes just go in there to feel how warm the foam feels. It is amazing stuff!

The lesson here folks – if there is something that is simple and that you have been meaning to do for a long time, do it! And keep your life simple because then the small acts seem wondrous. And they are!


by David LaFever

Three for Winter

Mule deer, winter silhouette.

White-Eyes

BY MARY OLIVER

In winter 
    all the singing is in 
         the tops of the trees 
             where the wind-bird 

with its white eyes 
    shoves and pushes 
         among the branches. 
             Like any of us 

he wants to go to sleep, 
    but he’s restless— 
         he has an idea, 
             and slowly it unfolds 

from under his beating wings 
    as long as he stays awake. 
         But his big, round music, after all, 
             is too breathy to last. 

So, it’s over. 
    In the pine-crown 
         he makes his nest, 
             he’s done all he can. 

I don’t know the name of this bird, 
    I only imagine his glittering beak 
         tucked in a white wing 
             while the clouds— 

which he has summoned 
    from the north— 
         which he has taught 
             to be mild, and silent— 

thicken, and begin to fall 
    into the world below 
         like stars, or the feathers 
               of some unimaginable bird 

that loves us, 
    that is asleep now, and silent— 
         that has turned itself 
             into snow.


Pine Tree Tops

by Gary Snyder

in the blue night

frost haze, the sky glows

with the moon

pine tree tops

bend snow-blue, fade

into sky, frost, starlight.

the creak of boots.

rabbit tracks, deer tracks,

what do we know.


Tilicho Lake

by David Whyte

In this high place
it is as simple as this,
leave everything you know behind.

Step toward the cold surface,
say the old prayer of rough love
and open both arms.

Those who come with empty hands
will stare into the lake astonished,
there, in the cold light
reflecting pure snow

the true shape of your own face


Skiing to the sun

Team “Snow Flowers” at the inaugural Ski to Sun Marathon.

This past Saturday, I skied as part of a team in the inaugural Ski to Sun Relay. This event, put on by Methow Trails, is the new winter version of the long running (pun intended) Sunflower Marathon, held each year here in the Methow Valley. Both can be accomplished as a single or team relay marathon (42 kilometers, so just shy of a true marathon). Our team consisted of me (far left), my wife (middle), our oldest daughter, and our good friends John (left, argyle sweater – yes he skied in that) and Mara (far right). It was a fun event and a beautiful day to ski.

Coming across the finish line at Sun Mountain.

by David LaFever

Reflecting Pure Light

It was 6 degrees when I woke up this morning. I slipped quietly out of a warm bed, put on my down jacket, grabbed gloves and a hat, crammed my feet into winter boots and stepped outside. My nose instantly hurt as did breathing. The moon, crescent-shaped, was still hanging in the southern sky and the sun had not yet risen above the eastern ridge. Snow-covered peaks glowed in first light as if some internal energy were emanating forth.

I stepped into the yurt, bowing to enter the low threshold. My breath was frosty in the cold air. I settled onto my zafu, a small, round black meditation cushion, and wrapped myself in a green, down sleeping bag. I pulled it up over my back and settled my body and breath.

Thirty minutes or so later, I exited the yurt, bowing into the now brilliant light of the rising sun. Snow-flowers, small crystals that form on top of snow, had blossomed during the night, seeming to emanate from the cold itself. They were now radiating brilliance and sparkling with pure light. It was as if they had captured the twinkling of the stars and were now sharing that beauty with the daytime world. I looked closely at these crystals, squatting to get a closer look. Each rose up, erect off the snow’s surface like a tiny sail or fern frond, and seemed to reflect every other one in a beginningless and endless dance of sparkling delight. I wondered, if I could only look closely enough, could see the entire world reflected in each one?


By David LaFever