Friday, May 22, 2009

Of Time Warps, Orgasmic Gasoline, and Gratitude

I am sitting in Schlow Library (pronounced slow, or sloe, and I do feel a bit the latter after all the bruising miles of driving ... ) here in State College, PA, home of my alma mater, Penn State. It's amazing to me that I graduated 3 decades ago; having only been back here once since then, in 1986, I'm seeing it all with new eyes, like an incoming freshman. And isn't that what Marcel Proust counseled?

    The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.

When I was enrolled at the college (long before I realized I'd always be a student ~ of life), it would feel like a time warp at term breaks, when I'd get in the car of whichever fellow student was heading to NJ and emerge, approximately 4.5 hours later, at my parents' door. My college self would recede to a pin dot as I adopted my daughter/sister persona, and resumed my role in my hometown. Two weeks later, the process would reverse. A car would swoop up, I'd enter the enclave, and emerge at Penn State feeling I was "home", with Paramus a distant memory. The experience had little to do with actual miles, and everything to do with the mind and heart.

Journeying East has been like this. I've experienced every emotion, from purple rage to fuchsia profusions of gratitude, hyperactivity to exhaustion. At one point I was so sure I'd made a horrible mistake buying the camper van and undertaking this trip that I tried to phone my folks in despair, only to be greeted by their answering machine. The answer I received was an echo from 1994, however, when I'd left my life in San Francisco on what would become an ongoing pilgrimage of awakening.

At that time, my first stop was Susun Weed's apprenticeship program in Woodstock, NY (yes, the same town made famous for the concert that took place near there in 1969, and the song Joni Mitchell penned about the experience.) At the time, my ambitious attempt to heal by working on Weed's farm 10+ hours a day was laughable; I could barely stand up or function. But I'd dissolved my old life fairly thoroughly, and had no idea what to do next. I tried to call my folks to come get me ~ but they were out of town. When you make a commitment, Spirit helps you honor it, no matter how challenging that may be.

Thus my assignment to rebirth myself from molten lava began. I left the farm after 3 days, and an incredible odyssey ensued; I discuss some of my story on my CD of the hero's journey, What You Need to Know Now: A Road Map for Personal Transformation. Much of it is also woven into the numerous articles I publish, my trio of eBooks, as well as my monthly What Shines newsletter.

When I phoned home this time (feeling very much an ET, for those of you old enough to get the analogy :-) and again got no answer, I immediately understood I needed to complete this next phase of my unfoldment to the best of my ability.

So here are a few field notes, concluding with Spirit's answer (no fair skipping ahead to the end!):

Spiritual Elder-ing: Back in 1995, Rabbi Zalman Schacter Shalomi wrote a breakthrough book, From Age-ing to Sage-ing, exploring the positive aspects of creating a purposeful life in maturity. More recently, Shirley MacLaine wrote Sage-ing While Age-ing, in a similar vein. I had a direct taste of this possibility when I had the opportunity to observe, up close and back-to-back, how two couples of the same vintage choose to live their lives.

The couple I bought the van from, in Texas, are 75 (him) and 72 (her) years old. They look their ages, have some health issues, and spend the majority of their time eating (not very healthful foods), watching TV, puttering about the house and yard, doing errands, going out to dinner, etc. Nothing at all wrong with this lifestyle, I hasten to add; it's how the vast majority of retirees live, and they've certainly earned their leisure after a lifetime of work and/or raising a family.

However, my first stop headed north was Anton Chico, NM, where a couple I know from my years in Santa Fe now dwell. A few miles from this tiny hamlet, in Tecolotito, Val and David Hutt, now 71 and 76, respectively, are launching an organic farm. They have each had multiple careers, raised three sons, and more than "paid their dues." Why are they creating Earth Echo Farm ~ with their own hard labor, from scratch ~ at this stage of their lives, when they could be relaxing somewhere? "I feel called to do this," Val told me simply. And David added, "Retirement? What's that?"

He dons a straw hat, long-sleeved shirt and pants, and heads out to tractor the fields by 7 am most mornings. Val joins him a bit later to work in the greenhouse they've built, where the produce they grow (now in the process of being certified organic) is already being eagerly purchased by the Santa Fe branch of Albuquerque-based La Montanita Co-op. And in the punishing heat and dust and dryness, they look and behave like much younger folks; I told Val she looks better now than she did when publishing The Aquarian (she's also a fine astrologer) back in the mid-90s. This is spiritual eldering: sage-ing that serves the collective. The Hutts are a true inspiration. To subscribe to their Field Notes from The Farm, send an email to:

Midwest Humor, or: What Exactly Will this Gas Do for Me? Former Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry, whose columns were so funny I'd almost choke from laughing, would frequently write, "I am not making this up ...", and that's true here: I did a double-take when, driving through Omaha, Nebraska looking for Whole Foods like a homing pigeon, I spied a gas station called "Kum and Go". The chain extends into Iowa, too; I'm not sure about Illinois. I imagine it's not only my warped mind that envisions getting your fuel there as a climactic experience!

Jet Propulsion: Then again, maybe the gas station only reflects the energy of driving through the Midwest, where gale force winds (I'm not exaggerating; trying to control the van on the freeway was like holding the reins on a bucking bronco!) are "normal". The people are the nicest and most helpful, though. I camped for two nights at Buffalo Bill's State Park in North Platte, NE, a historic site on a lake, then had the good fortune to meet a kind-hearted ranger in Neola, Iowa, who, when he heard my funds were at very low ebb, offered me a free spot, also on a lovely lake. If you pass through there, stop at Arrowhead Park and thank Dave (the head ranger), for being Amara's angel on May 19, 2009.

Also, Iowa was the only state I drove through to offer free wifi at all the rest stops along the interstate. The connection didn't always work, but I thought it was a very nice gift for travelers.

No, No, No to Ohio: In sharp contrast to the foregoing, my experience in Ohio was one of purple rage and black despair. Granted, I was quite overtired, having driven from Iowa straight through Illinois and Indiana, arriving at a Toledo truck stop at 11:30 pm (with the time change), the price of gas along Rte 80 astounding me, and having also learned that in Ohio, the freeway is not free: it's a toll road. My nighttime there was brief and bleak; the next day, trying to have the toll payment deferred (an easy experience in Colorado, btw, where I drove briefly on a toll road. They have a separate lane you can choose where they photograph your license plate, and send you a bill a month later, with ample time to pay. Great idea.) I had a very unpleasant exchange with the toll-taker, who called her supervisor over to "deal with" me. In the end I wrote them a check just to get on my way. Oh, and Ohio also offers Internet at its rest areas ~ for a fee. This state seems to nickel and dime a traveler at every turn, and I will do everything possible to avoid driving there in the future.

Welcome Home. I'm not quite to NJ, but at Penn State, which was home for four years. I knew if I stopped here for awhile to decompress, I'd have a wonderful experience; I'd set this intention, and also felt it in my heart. And Spirit delivered, in fuchsia. Here's what happened:

I arrived in town around 4 pm on Thursday, May 21, 2009 (hadn't planned to be here until Friday, but the previous day's burst of breakthrough driving delivered me a day "early". Or so I supposed ... ) First I followed the signs on campus for Visitor Parking permits, which were $4/day ~ if there was no on-campus event (which there usually is!) and they had space available. The friendly girl at the desk gave me maps and informed me there were two Wal-Marts nearby (Wal-Mart allows RV-ers to park for free in their lots, which is quite nice, and I did avail myself of this opportunity my first night on the road, after I'd left NM, in beautiful, green Colorado ~ but I did not come to Penn State to stay at a Wal-Mart! Plus, I was much too exhausted for parking lot noise). I drove back into town, sensing that, as usual for me, what I needed would manifest by more magical means.

When I went to school here, I did not have a car, so I was surprised by all the meters and parking garages. Knowing there had to be free parking further away from campus, I drove out toward the fraternities, and sure enough, there was a spot, under a shady tree. The sign said 2-hour parking without a permit, and it was 4:30 pm. I saw a woman entering a building just ahead, and called to her, asking if she knew whether it was OK to stay parked there after 6 o'clock. She was friendly, and within a minute I'd articulated my dream: a free place near campus to park through Monday night (this being Memorial Day weekend). She responded, "You're welcome to park in our lot after 5 pm Friday, until Tuesday morning. We'll be closed for the holiday." Andrea is the director of the Youth Services Center, so her word was gold. Now I had a place to sleep, even if I had to go to Wal-Mart the first night. I was filled with gratitude.

Walking a few paces further, I saw a sandwich board outside a church that read, "Community Cafe: free soup and bread dinner every Thursday from 5-6:45 pm". It was 4:45. This was amazing. I walked into the building and followed my nose to the delicious smells (I'd barely eaten the previous 2 days, due to the van's fridge not working in the heat, and funds needed for gas). I soon met Robyn and Steve, who listened to my frenetic tale with compassionate eyes. When I questioned whether the meal was just for homeless people, they assured me all were welcome.

The food was delicious, and then Robyn (who, it turns out, is the Director of Christian Education for St. Andrew's Episcopal Church) asked the Rector whether I might park my van in front of Trinity House, where he lives. It's a lovely, shaded spot in an alley, very safe and quiet. And it has electricity!

But the pièce de résistance is this: Robyn suggested I attend the service they were about to have at 7:30 pm. It would be a good way to meet the Rector, she said, and, wanting to express my gratitude for all they'd done for me, it seemed the least I might do. Not being Episcopalian, I had no idea why there'd be a service on Thursday.

When I took my seat in a pew, I picked up the program and nearly burst into tears. The program read: Ascension Day. May 21, 2009.

It's not about religion. It's about faith. They can be synonymous; often they are not. I knew this was a sign for me, and I keep welling up with gratitude today. That night, at the reception following the service, people wanted to know who I was and whether I was Episcopalian. I responded with the lyric from "Walking In Memphis": I am tonight! Robyn, Father Charles and the rest of the congregation truly exuded Christ's message of loving and serving one another, and I am profoundly honored and humbled to have been right on time to receive the manifold gifts. And I'm sure there are more to come.

Thank you for reading this very looooong missive of this lap of my life journey. I welcome your comments!

Much love,

1 comment:

jacquelyn said...

Oh, Amara, I am so pleased and happy for you with your arrival on the east coast. Bravo!! Mazel Tov! Good job, lassie.
Wow, if this was a journey of retrograde, just imagine DIRECT!!
I know my messages to keep you company on your way were long for your road weary eyes....I just did what I would have liked cuz I am never to tired to read mail. I just felt to be with you....and for more reasons I have discovered than to cheer and love you on,....
remember that I said that June 9 is the 100th anniversary of the first woman to drive across the country? No big deal now but yours was a unique journey of faith and trust.
Exactly 40 years ago this weekend my husband, 5 yr. old twins, babe in arms and myself continued on our 2 yr. oddyssey.....east to west across the country. This was the summer of man ON the moon, Woodstock, and for us, coming home, back to the land, in Oregon.
We have all come along way baby!!
Looking forward to continued adventures with the live your light mobile.
Blessings, love and light on this new moon day. Jacquie de Maya