Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Compassion on the Hiking Trail

I have been playing “House” this week in Santa Fe, pretending I live here for five starry nights and six bright New Mexico-blue filled days. I brought the boys (8 and 9) out for Spring Break, taking on the 1300-mile drive alone as my husband is back in Dallas working. Due to the nature of my work at the museum, we aren’t together much, the boys and I, and this concentrated time has been precious and unparalleled. We will always have Santa Fe.

In my continuing study of compassion and lately self-compassion, I wanted to give us this time together in the spirit of good health inside and out. Our first stop was Whole Foods, where we filled the basket up with healthy, “whole” foods and made a pledge to cook at the house as much as possible. I am learning from Mark Hyman’s study of eating whole foods and healthy fats, and his books (Blood Sugar Solution, Ten-day Detox, Eat Fat, Get Thin) are the inspiration for our menus.

Our second pledge was to spend as much time as possible off-line and outside. The playground at the Fort Marcy Recreation Center has been our respite and our source of sunshine and all things local. The moms I met compassionately fortified me with dozens of ideas of where to find art and fun for kids in Santa Fe. The boys made new friends we would meet back at the park the next day. I sat for long big-sky hours reading Natalie Goldberg’s latest tome The Great Spring.  And yes, it is.

But it was on the hiking trail where I found real compassion lives: alongside whispering pines and knotty juniper. Real compassion is found where, not surprisingly we are happiest: on the trail. I first noticed the courtesy with which we happy hikers greeted each other, “hello” and “how’s it going” at every passing. We smiled at each other, sympaticos in this glorious human experience of the Bandelier National Monument in the springtime. We made eye contact and smiled often. Hikers stepped off of the trail for us, putting us before them. At the ladders a natural priority was given to those coming down, as it was clear safely descending 140 feet on wooden ladders was other’s first concern. It was beautiful.

I also observed patience amid the cool breezes and quick captures of a Mule Deer or two in the wilderness. It was the protocol that families and groups would each climb up into a cave dwelling to experience it together. The practice is to climb, peer, marvel, experience, imagine, capture with the iphone and then climb back out. This process took several minutes for each small group: complete with little toes seeking the next rung, cameras and coats, and newborn babies in backpacks (yes). The courtesy and patience expressed in that very long line in the sunshine was a marvel to experience. We talked to each other. We shared the union of joy and anticipation. We carefully stepped to one side for those bypassing the cave. It was peaceful and ordered. No one was in a hurry. We were already in the place we needed to be. We were present.

Generosity is also found in abundance on the hiking trails. A mother offered to take our photograph (post 140-foot climb) in the Alcove House. Families offered helping hands to each other as we met in craggy corners. As we crossed the river, one family offered to share a picnic.

On these hikes this week in the Jemez, Little Tesuque and Sangre de Christo ranges, I am learning that compassion lives where courtesy, patience, being present and generous are a natural and intuitive way of being.

What if life was like this? How could we be as happy as we are on the hiking trail, facing each bend with similar anticipation?

Whom will we meet?

What will we see?

Whom will we take care of and who will take care of us?

Compassion lives fully in this experience, the one where we are all experiencing something beautiful and new, challenging and awesome.

And isn’t that life?