I believe that starting from the time you are in the womb, until a few days or weeks after birth, a child has very little concept of feeling separate from anything around them. They have an innate identity which comes from a place of primal emotions as well as whatever necessary knowledge or wisdom they retained from prior life-times. This is the baseline from which we all start our lives, the rest is learned from the experiences we have moving forward.
How one identifies themselves is a collective mashup of beliefs a person acquires starting at a very young age and continually evolving throughout their lives. Initially these beliefs are put upon them by parents or whomever is around them from birth to the age of reason (The age at which a child is held capable of discerning right from wrong). One of the basic precepts of life on Earth is that there must be a sense of separation in order to truly experience what it is to be human. Creating a self identity is important in order to create a separation between the self and everything else. This, in-turn, helps you become an individual with your own life, goals and purpose. These attributes help you navigate relationships, become part of a community and feel like there is a sense of belonging somewhere in the world.
In Sean Webb’s book “Mind Hacking Happiness Vol 1”, he talks about the concept of a “Self Map” that we all have. This Self Map is constructed throughout your lifetime from both positive and negative experiences. If you can imagine a target or an image of concentric rings and at the center of this target is what you would consider your “Self”, or who you are as a person and what are the most important things you need to survive. This would include the basics like food, water, shelter, clothing. If any of these things become threatened, you would likely do whatever you could to protect those things in order to survive. As you move out from that center point, each ring signifies beliefs you have that have different levels of importance to you. The closer the ring is to the center the more important the belief is to you. So for example, the next ring closest to the center could be beliefs such as, “I am a good person”, “I am open minded”, “I love my family”, and so on. A ring mid-way out on the target might be something like, “I am a good softball coach” or “I am a good driver”. And on the other rings you might believe, “I like pepperoni pizza”.
As you live your life and you have interactions with others (whom have their own self maps), they will undoubtedly express their thoughts and opinions about the world directly from the framework of their Self Map. When you experience the beliefs of others, the mind will take that information, compare it to your self map, and then create the necessary emotional response to it. This process is automatic and comes from the part of your brain (the Limbic system) that has the responsibility to keep you alive. In the initial course of human brain development, the Limbic system was on line and necessary to keep you safe from threats of the environment (like lions, tigers and bears – oh my!). As time moved on and humans evolved, the threat levels from the environment changed and become less due to how we evolved intellectually. However, the Limbic system stayed in tact and it still doing its job to protect us.
Each time an experience you have is matched up with an “item or entry” on your self map, the mind will decide the level of threat that experience has to your survival. The emotional response to those threats, generally speaking, has a direct affect on your level of happiness and contentment. The more “items” on your self map, the more likely you are not going to be content in who you really are. For example, if you are a die hard Minnesota Vikings fan and you happen to be at a bar watching a football game against the Green Bay Packers, you might hear someone talking down about the Vikings. As you listen to the person, the mind matches that with your “identity” as a person who is a Vikings fan. If your belief as a fan is closer to the center of your self map, the higher your emotional response will be to the “threat”. In effect, the degradation of the Vikings is also a degradation of who you believe yourself to be.
When you consider the concept of self identity, and you compare it to the suffering of the world, I would contend that much of the distress is caused by feeling that our identities are being threatened. The up-side to this issue is that we can change our minds and choose a different response to what we experience. Choosing a different response is the path to mind mastery. Mind mastery is a path to contentment and happiness.
Mind mastery, as described in Sean Webb’s book, is growing awareness through the practices of mindfulness. As you experience various emotional “events” (like a demeaning comment about the Vikings), you can consider why you are feeling the way you do about that comment. Are you mad, are you uncomfortable, are you irritated? Then you can consider, what belief you have on your self map that may feel threatened by this comment. Once you’ve identified that (I am a diehard Viking fan because my dad was and my grandfather before that, so I am too), then you get to decide how important that belief really is to you. Once you have decided this, you can choose how you want to respond. You can also choose if you want to move that belief of being a Vikings fan out further on your self map or even off the map completely. The further out or off the map, the less emotional effect any comment related to the Vikings will have on you. This is mind mastery.
I have discovered through my healing practices that I have a primary negative core belief. This belief was created over years of various experiences. I had very little guidance trying to figure out how to navigate my life and feeling like the choices I’ve made, the ideas I have, or the way that I think meant nothing to or disappointed someone else. Having this belief sitting at the core of my own mind became a primary point on my own self map. This core belief is what fuels the protection of my Limbic system. Each experience I have is matched up to verifying whether that experience validates or invalidates my negative core belief. When it does validate it, the emotional state I fall into is depression. Likewise, if someone has an expectation of me to meet some sort of goal or know a bit of information, or to be able to process a large amount of new information, this also validates my core belief because I don’t believe in myself or what I’m capable of. This then causes me a huge amount of anxiety.
Much of the suffering I’ve had in my life through anxiety and depression can be traced directly back to how I see myself as a person and the value I place on myself. For many years now, the Universe has been showing me that I needed to look into mind mastery as a way to improve my life, but I discounted this. I didn’t believe that mind mastery would have any affect on my quality of life. I didn’t believe that there was anything that could truly change what I perceived as the “truth” of my own worth as a human being. I now know that in the past I wasn’t ready to make the choices I needed to, in order to make the necessary changes. I had to have more emotional and physical proof that I had to experience even more pain and suffering to really push me over the edge.
The proof that finally convinced me was when my sensitivities to the world became more acute and clear as I became older. Even though I’ve known that I am a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) for a few years, I never really considered how sensitive I really am to the world around me. Once I realized that some of the emotions I was feeling were not my own, I begun to understand that it was possible to know if what I was feeling was mine or not. Knowing I could determine this, I realized finally that I could choose how I wanted to feel about anything. About this time, the Universe was showing me videos with Sean Webb who was talking about mind hacking and I knew this was just another reminder that I needed to really dig into this.
As I got deeper into understanding that many of the emotions I felt were really a symptom or effect of some other external stimulus. I started to notice that I can be emotionally effected by the words people speak, the food I eat, the person I’m with (in person or even remote), or the building I’m in among countless other external factors. I realized if these external factors could effect my emotions, I could take my power back and choose how I wanted to respond to those factors. The responsibility was my own to make these changes and that has made all the difference to my overall emotional state.
I have found that implementing some simple mindfulness practices in my life is crucial to mind mastery. Practices such as mediation, auto-writing or journaling, nature walks, breathwork, etc are all good practices that can be implemented easily into your life. Mastery of any kind is not realized from a one-and-done sort of methodology. It’s an ongoing practice that can take years to perfect. This may sound daunting, but from my experience in using these practices for a few short months, it has already paid off with big benefits.
If you are struggling with emotional upheaval, you may want to consider how your mind really works, and if you are sensitive, some of what you are feeling may be from an external source. Being content in your life is a birthright. It is worth the process of discovery to uncover the true source(s) of your emotional challenges. Don’t give up. You are so amazing and the world needs you to shine your true self in order for it to be complete.
It had been months since I started connecting with the other side of the veil. I had experienced some powerful training on how realities are constructed and that we did indeed share space with other realms. We are but one of 12 races that exist here on Earth. Some of the others being Atlantean, Fairy, Dwarf and Elfin to name a few. These beings are much older races than Humans and have made an agreement not to interfere in our evolution, but that does not mean they don’t interact at all. To connect with any of these races takes time and patience. You must express your desire to connect with them verbally and it’s very important that you honor and respect them. They do not see the world as we do and adhere very strictly to their own traditions and ways. To dishonor them would bring upon much misfortune in your life. While they may not directly harm you, they can make life very challenging.
As part of my training and practice to connect with other races, I had to focus my efforts on two or three at the most. I decided to connect with the Dwarf and Fairy races as these were ones that excited me most. One particular part of my training taught us that the best times to connect was early morning or late at night when where are not fully awake, but also not asleep. In parallel with our reality and that of the other races, there is a veil that separates us that we cannot see beyond with our conscious mind. However, we can take advantage of these “in between times” to connect. To be in this slightly unconscious state allows us to unlock a part of the world beyond our conscious mind.
Every night before going to sleep, I would give thanks about my connection to the Universe and the All that is. I gave thanks for the abundance in my life and for many opportunities to grow mentally and spiritually. I practiced being subtly aware of my level of connection as I drifted toward the unconscious world I stepped into each night. I remember one evening in early summer I had decided to go to bed early after doing some outside work and was really exhausted. I showered and took special care to energetically and mentally project my desires for connection with whichever race that wanted to make contact. After crawling into bed, I clearly declared that I would only accept positive experiences that came to me for my highest good.
I was lying on my left side drifting closer and closer to my dream world. I could feel my body becoming heavier and heavier. All the tension was releasing, and I was washed over by peace and contentment. As I usually do before sleeping, I decided to roll onto my right side which I find to be the most comfortable. When I moved, I could feel as if there were some small individual points of pressure on the side of my right leg. Whatever was “standing” on my leg lost its balance and I could feel several of them fall onto the bed. My conscious mind decided to stay calm in the “in between” place and observe my leg and the surrounding blankets. I didn’t not see a thing, but I immediately got the sense that what I had experienced was having some small beings (likely dwarves) standing together on my leg observing me. It must have caught them off guard when I rolled over which I found slightly amusing to say the least. I thanked them for visiting me and within a few seconds, I fell into a deep sleep.
Early the next morning, I came slowly out of my dream state. I had learned from practice to keep my eyes closed and to stay relaxed in order to take advantage of any possible connections I could make. As I lay there, I could feel the warm rays of the sun streaming through the window onto my body. Within a few seconds I had the sense that I was not alone in my room. I decided to open my eyes slightly, but I could see nothing in the room, so I closed them again and remained very still. Then I heard it. It was a throaty breath similar to a horse clearing its snout, but with a much deeper resonance. Part of me tensed, but I caught ahold of that fear and set it aside. I knew that I had commanded only safe experiences, so I continued to lay perfectly still. Then just as if on cue, I could feel the left corner of the foot of my bed start to sink as if being pushed down to the floor. Following that was a similar sensation on the right side. I had the sense that whatever it was, it was climbing on the bed with me! Just as you would expect any four-legged creature, the subsequent pressure and movement on my bed was clearly something that had four legs and was very, very large.
The creature continued to step onto the bed and on both sides of me as it moved directly toward the head of the bed. Then, strangely enough, the being moved right over my head and behind me! If having this experience wasn’t weird enough, what’s even stranger was that there was a wall behind my head! After it had moved completely over and behind me, I could feel it turn around and sit down with a great heavy breath directly behind my head on whatever was there. I held very still and just listened and drifted in my semi-conscious state. And then, I fell into another deep sleep! I awoke some time later feeling very refreshed and excited about my experiences with dwarfs and unexpectedly by a dragon. These creatures had heard my desire and joined me in the midst of the veil and outside of my known reality.
You may not realize this but there is much more to the world around us than what our 5 senses can perceive. You may not realize that you share this world with many other races. You may not realize that what you think is a person walking down the street may not even be a human at all. Consider spending some of your own time in the midst of the veil and be sure you do it with respect and curiosity. You may just get visited in unexpected ways.
It was October 8th, 2007 and a typical fall Monday in Minnesota. I was working a technology job downtown Minneapolis where spent my mostly unremarkable days solving technical issues. I recall my mind being focused on my tasks at hand when my personal mobile phone rang. I was a bit surprised because I didn’t usually get personal calls during the day, so I was a bit startled. I grabbed my phone and quickly pressed the accept button and said, “Hello, this is Dwight.” There was a pause and I could hear the hiss of the phone line, but no one spoke. My heart knew there was something deeply wrong and I could feel the my stomach churn. A few seconds later I heard, “Dwight, this is Steve.” I was very surprised to hear my brother-in-law’s voice as I rarely ever received a call from him. This heightened my senses even more. I said, “Hello Steve, what’s going on?” There was another pause and the hissing from the phone line filled my ear with foreboding. “It’s your dad.”, Steve continued, “He was killed.”
In that moment, I felt as if I was jerked out of my body, floating slightly above and behind my back. I recall forcing myself to breath and stay connected to my arm and to the phone in my hand. “What happened?”, I asked calmly. “He was killed in a car accident just north of town.”, he said. I was having trouble thinking or speaking, but I managed to say, “Thanks for calling and telling me. I’ll be coming as soon as I can.” I ended the call and stared at my phone. Everything I did next was done mostly from muscle memory and a will to do what needed to be done to notify my employer that I had to leave. Mechanically, I closed out of all my software applications and shut down my computer. I recall having trouble standing and walking as everything around me seemed very surreal and distorted. It was as if everything was moving in slow motion and each step I took didn’t feel like I was even touching the ground.
I managed to tell my boss about what happened and that I was leaving. He didn’t hesitate to tell me not to worry about a thing, and to just go. I felt a bit relieved in that moment because I don’t think I could have managed to do anything. I grabbed my coat and lunch and walked slowly out of the offices and took the elevator to the ground floor. When I reached the outside of the building, I stood on the sidewalk and stared across the street. I had an urge to collapse to the ground as breathing become a conscious effort. I realized in that moment that I needed to get home, but I wasn’t sure how. I had commuted part way into the city from Buffalo to a park-n-ride lot, and then I took a Metro-Transit bus from there to downtown. Since this bus only ran a couple times in the morning and late afternoon, I didn’t have an easy way of getting back to my car.
Running on mostly auto-pilot, I wandered down 2nd Avenue trying to make sense of what was happening. How was I going to get home? I was confused, but there was a part of my brain that kept me moving and taking care of my immediate needs. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a yellow taxi parked along the street. Not thinking, I immediately wandered toward the cab and opened the back door asking, “Are you available?” The driver turned and said, “Absolutely, where do you need to go?” I hesitated because I had no idea if a cab driver would take me out to the west suburbs to my car. I finally said, “I need a lift to Plymouth, do you go that far?” “Yes I do.”, said the driver. “Hop in and I’ll get you there right away.”
I sank into the back seat of the car taking another gulp of air and gave the driver rough directions on where I needed to go, to get him started. “I have no address, so I’ll have to give you directions. Is that okay?”, I said as my voice was beginning to waver and the words were harder to speak. I noticed that he glanced up to see me in his rear view mirror. He looked closely, and I had a sense that he knew there was something serious happening to me.
We drove in silence. This was the first time I allowed myself to relax a bit and let the news of what happened to my dad sink in. I could feel the waves of emotions flow up from my chest and to my throat as I took deep breaths to allow the feelings to flow and for my tears to fall. I didn’t have any real thoughts in my mind, only the knowing that my father was gone and I never again would be able to touch him. I sat in the back of this cab, driving west down Hwy 394, but I had no real sense that we were even moving. It was as if the entire universe existed in the back of this cab and I was in the center of it. I recall forcing myself to look out the front window occasionally and focus on giving him directions to my car.
I made it to my car and realized that I had not contacted my wife to tell her the news. I fumbled with my phone trying to decide how to contact her at the hospital where she worked. I managed to dial the general number and the operator was gracious and quickly located her. She answered the phone with her normal friendly “Hello! What’s up?”. “Hey.”, I paused to breath, “I have bad news. My dad was killed in a car accident.” “What!”, she replied. “My dad is dead. I just got to my car and I’m on my home.” I continued. “Should you be driving? Oh my God are you okay to drive!?” she said. “I have to be. I’ll be okay. I’ll take it slow.”, I managed to connect more words together. “Okay”, she said, “I’ll see how I can meet you at home.” I ended the call and just stared at the steering wheel. “How am I going to do this.“, I thought. I had to intentionally walk through all of the things necessary to drive the car. Seat belt on – check. Keys. Where are my keys? Turn the key, press the brake, put it in gear. I continued down the checklist of things. Each step was an effort, to not only remember how to do something I’d done thousands of times in my life, but also to remember to breath. I have to keep breathing – check.
The rest of my memories of driving home are spotty. I’d driven this same road for years and I felt as if I was running on complete auto-pilot. I only recall a few of the cross-roads until eventually, I pulled into the driveway of my home. The world still felt out of focus. It was as if I was completely submerged in water, seeing the world distorted and heavy with its weight pushing in on me from all sides. I took a deep breath and once again recounted what it would take to get out of my car and walk into my house. What was I going to tell my kids? What did I need to do next? I decided I needed to breath.
Do we make ourselves blind so we don’t see the color of our skin? We could still hear and know the dialect, the language. We would still judge.
Do we also make ourselves deaf? We could still taste, touch and smell and categories would be established to separate us.
Do we remove all the senses and become living vegetables with only our minds to interact within ourselves? Our own thoughts would betray us, leave us utterly trapped in our minds with no way to connect.
Do we stop living, abandon our corporeal self and free the spirit, the very essence of who we are?
Is that what it will take to know that you and I are really the same?
It will happen eventually and you will know the truth regardless.
But why wait?!
Why not know the truth of how we are but reflections of each other in the shards of life.
The truth is here and now:
In seeing the beauty of our skin,
The rhythm of our voices,
The tender kiss as we taste our lovers,
The touch of our hands as we walk together,
The sweet smell of our bodies as we are together in work and sex.
These all satisfy my senses, but it is my heart that knows you. My heart knows the truth. We are the same.
~ Dwight Raatz, Originally written on July 19, 2013
I could feel the anxiety rising in my body with my heart beating so hard it felt like it would burst through my chest. My hands gripped the armrests of the chair as I swiveled my head scanning the room for threats. My thoughts began to race as I looked into each person’s face for clues. Could it be the big guy with a beard sitting alone at the table staring at his beer? Or maybe the woman in booth with her back to me. She kept jerking her head left and right as she spoke with her hands and arms to the person sitting across from her. I looked at the body language for any hint of a person who was about to stand up and start causing maximum damage. But all I could see were couples and families enjoying their evening out.
The day had started out so completely normal and mundane. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in June and my wife, Melissa, and I were wrapping up a full day of yard work at our duplex in South Minneapolis. I had worked up quite the appetite and was looking forward to relaxing with a meal and some good conversation. As I was putting the last of the tools in the shed, I saw Melissa walking toward me big smile on her face.
“We really got a lot accomplished today didn’t we?”
“Yes, indeed!”, I said. “How about we get out of here and walk down to Matt’s Bar for a Jucy-Lucy and fries?”
“I think that sounds great!”, she said.
The walk was enjoyable as we observed our neighbors in various stages of their own Saturday projects. We navigated the alleys and sidewalks while we took in the beautiful flower gardens and landscapes along the way.
“Beautiful day today.”, she said.
“Yes indeed it is. I hope it is so beautiful, that most people will be at the lakes and not going to Matt’s tonight.”, I said with a wink. “ It seems like there’s always a line down the block waiting to get in.”
As we neared the bar, we were surprised there was no one standing outside. Usually there is a line reaching partway down the block. Once we reached to bar, I grabbed the door so we could step inside only to be stopped cold by the backup of people waiting for a table. This is not surprising because Matt’s Bar is a bit of a legend in the city and the self-proclaimed originator of the Jucy-Lucy hamburger. The Jucy-Lucy is a 1/2 lb hamburger that is stuffed with cheese and fried on a griddle behind the bar. The burger is legendary for not only the taste, but also the good possibility of 2nd degree cheese burns if you are not careful taking that first bite.
When we finally made it to our table Melissa paused for me to choose my seat. While I enjoy a good burger, being in an overly crowded space can be a bit daunting for me because I’m an empath. Being an empath basically this means that I can experience the feelings and emotions of people around me as if they were happening to me. I can also see and feel volumes of information from a person’s body language. I’ve learned to manage some of these experiences by positioning myself to easily observe the space around me.
At first it seemed like a safe location. We were seated in a booth at the back of the bar within a few feet of the emergency exit door. The room was crowded but I had a good view in general. The feelings of rising anxiety and fear are familiar and I could sense that it was becoming more intense by the second. I knew the feeling wasn’t mine but I couldn’t ignore the panic and vibration that was building in my chest and legs. I glanced at Melissa and noticed a look on her face as she watched me. She said, “Are you okay? What’s wrong?. Why are you breathing so fast? Your legs bouncing so much it’s shaking the table!”
I said in a hushed but urgent tone, “I think we need to get out of here. There is something bad about to happen. I’m feeling really scared, like I want to run as fast as I can.”
She understood the kind of messages I get sometimes. The premonitions, feelings and visions that would guide me away from danger or knowing the right way to turn when we are lost in a parking ramp looking for our car. It was only a month earlier when returning home from a vacation on the metro-train, when I could feel someone on the train watching us. When we got off at our stop, the man walked parallel to us down the platform and slightly behind us. As I looked, I could see that he was watching us and adjusting his walking speed to trail us closely. I grabbed my wife’s hand and said, “We have someone following us. Don’t look back.” We quickened our pace and switched to the other side of the street. In looking back, I saw the man stop at the entrance of a nearby bar and stare at us for a long time before opening the door and ducking inside.
This time it was different. The feeling of urgency was so intense, I could barely sit still. My eyes continued to look for clues from each person’s face, or in the tone of their voice. In the distance I heard glass breaking near the bar. I jerked my head in that direction only to see the aftermath of a patron having crashed into a waiter carrying a full tray of dishes. That wasn’t it, the feeling persisted and got stronger.
Melissa said suddenly, “I think I know what’s going on. There is a couple sitting right behind you that appear to be arguing. It looks like the woman is in a lot of stress, she’s very animated!” I turned slightly to catch a glimpse of the people behind me. I saw a woman and man likely in their mid-thirties seated at a small table. The man had a military style hair cut and the shirt he was wearing was stretched tight over his bulging muscles that vibrated under the fabric. He had both of his hands with the palms down on the table top. He was not moving or speaking and looked directly at the woman.
The woman I saw was quite the contrast to the man. She was less than half his size, with very skinny arms and body. She was dressed casually with a white blouse and jeans and hair done up in a bun. While the man appeared to be calm, she was nothing but this. She was not yelling. As a matter of fact, I could hardly make out her hushed tones, but I could see that she was speaking very fast and with a powerful intent. She frantically moved her arms and pointed at the man occasionally poking him in the chest with a disgusted look on her face. All the while, the man never moved or spoke. His face and body was slightly turned away from me but I could feel that the majority of the intense emotions were rushing off from him like ocean waves being pushed by a strong wind. The woman kept up her tirade toward the man, occasionally poking him in the chest. The intensity on her face was so extreme you could see a vein in her forehead bulging as her eyes narrowed and spittle flew from her lips.
I looked back at Melissa and said, “This isn’t going to be pretty.” And just then I heard a loud scream from behind me, but it sounded like a man’s voice. I swung around in my seat to see an unbelievable site. The table they were sitting at was tipped over and the man was lying on the floor covering his face with his arms pleading with the woman, “Please don’t hurt me. I won’t do it again!” The woman stood over him holding one of the bar chairs over her head ready to strike. Before I knew what was happening, a woman from the next table leaped up and grabbed the chair. She brought her knee up and pushed it directly into the gut of the angry woman causing her to topple back onto the table behind her knocking the wind out of her.
In that moment, the bar had gone completely silent. The man on the floor laid on his side bawling his eyes out and shook uncontrollably. The woman who had come to his rescue bent down and patted him on the arm and quietly told him he was going to be alright. A couple of guys from her table stood up and grabbed the woman lying on the tables and escorted her out of the bar as she muttered and groaned.
The man slowly stood up and with the help of the woman and I could see his red eyes and tear drenched cheeks. Then something amazing happened. The other patrons had righted the table and the man sat down. Several people near him gave him a pat on the back and told him he was going to be okay. They told him he was alright by them and he didn’t need to be with a person that didn’t appreciate him.
In a few more minutes the bar noise had returned to it’s former levels and everyone turned back to their meals and conversation. I noticed the woman who had helped him was now sitting at his table holding his hands and smiling. The man looked very shaken but an occasional smile crept across his face as he relaxed. I could sense the huge amount of energy I once felt dissipate into a faint mist.
I turned back to Melissa and breathed a sigh of relief. I now knew where the urgency was coming from. This wasn’t the relaxing evening I thought we would be having after a hard day’s work, but we were able to salvage the remaining time we had at Matt’s. We enjoyed the Jucy-Lucy burgers and fries delivered steaming hot at our table only minutes later.
As the Great Wheel turns and time moves forward into Fall, I’m reminded of many traditions I’ve experienced over my lifetime. In my childhood years, the winding down of Summer into Fall was a marker of life slowing down into the important activities of reaping what we had sown.
In growing up on a farm, Fall was the time where harvest was nearing its end and we made the ground ready for winter. We began to tend to all of the various aspects of our property by doing maintenance on buildings, mending fences and arranging our equipment to be stored. This time of slowing down and gathering our crops often meant coming together with neighbors and family to help. There was more time spent together as life seems to condense more and more as the temperature drops toward the long winter ahead.
When I consider life slowing down from Spring toward Winter, I’m reminded of the parallels of my life and that of people who have come before me. The Spring is a time of birth and renewal. Summer is about growth, learning and expanding. Fall is about reaping the harvest or seeing and experiencing the benefits of all your hard work, and the ending of a cycle toward death. And finally, there is Winter. Winter is about reflection on the prior year, resting and healing. It’s also about planning toward the coming year and preparing for new life to come in the Spring.
In the Christian traditions it is known as All Hollow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead.
In the traditions of the various peoples and religions, Fall was often in alignment with honoring the dead. In the Christian traditions it is known as All Hollow’s Eve (Halloween), All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead. In the Pagan traditions it is known as Samhain. And the Druids called it Calan Gaeaf. Some of those traditions also considered Fall the end of their year.
In my research and some of my own personal experiences, I’ve found that Fall really does feel like the completion of a cycle, or in a way it could be considered a kind of death. While this can feel very depressing, it is a natural cycle that is part of life on this planet and something we should honor.
The beginning of October is also a very emotionally turbulent time for me. It is especially turbulent because three significant events happened on October 8th. On this date in 1936, my mother Alice Marie Wagner was born. On this date in 1966, my wife Melissa Anne Strack was born. And on this date in 2007, my father Marvin Dale Raatz was killed in a car accident. It’s is a difficult time because there is a part of me that wants to celebrate the birth of two very significant women in my life and another part of me that still mourns the tragic death of my father. I try to look at his passing by celebrating his life, and in doing so attempt to merge my feelings together between birth and death. But how am I ever going to be able to reconcile my emotions around these polar opposites? Perhaps there is no way to reconcile the feelings. Perhaps it’s better to honor them both equally.
In the spirit of the traditions of the Ages, for the month of October I am honoring my ancestors. I am honoring my Father, my paternal and maternal grandparents and all who came before them in my lineage. I am also honoring those in my life who have come before me that are not of my bloodline. I believe that part of who I am today can be traced back to not only the genetics of my lineage, but I also others who have touch my life in very specific and lasting ways. While I believe that I came into this life with my own personality, goals and innate abilities, these things are inextricably woven into all that has happened before me. Much like the Butterfly Effect, all of the major and seemingly minute actions of the life, the Universe and Everything (before I was born) has come together to create a completely unique person. In that vain, I honor all of life that has come before me to this day.
Until the moment that I draw my last breath, it is important for me to remember that my own actions in this life not only shape my own experience, but also that of countless others.
Until the moment that I draw my last breath, it is important for me to remember that my own actions in this life not only shape my own experience, but also that of countless others. Just as the flap of a butterfly’s wings can contribute to a hurricane’s creation, I have a responsibility to live my life honorably. I must remember that my actions matter to those that are close to me and to the person I pass in the street. This perspective is a game changer which moves me outside of my own head-games in into a role of power and influence. It is in the act of honoring my ancestors that I am reminded of the importance of my life and actions for those who come after me.
I recently stumbled across the song “Creep” by Radiohead and boy can I relate. I’ve often felt completely out of place in this world, feeling lost and frozen. My overactive mind spins the webs of connections between past experiences, relationships, decisions and perceived future to create a story that feels so real. It feels like this story makes sense, that I’m a weirdo and a creep. All of the “facts” seem undeniable and irrefutable so why even argue with it? Why not just accept the fact that life sucks and figure out a way to just step out of it?
I thought about the “stepping out” option many times over the decades and the main thought, the main reason I’ve always stayed around was because of my family and what I know it would do to them if I made that choice. This has kept me alive up to this point. The reason is sound and workable, but even that reasoning has limits and loses its power over time. The mind will find a way to rationalize why it really doesn’t matter to my family either. Where does this leave me? Am I out of excuses?
I’m writing this because I want you to know that I’ve thought all of these thoughts, I’ve created all of the scenarios of why I don’t belong here, I’ve imagined all the reasons why no one really cares. And finally here is what I’ve discovered. All of the shit I’ve been making up and believing is a big fucking lie! The world I’ve imagined is just that, an imaginary, twisted, false, narrow minded, nightmare.
Now, for those of you who are feeling pretty shitty about yourself or your life, I want you to know you are currently under a spell. Yes, you read that right, you are under a spell that was cast by you and by many in your life, and you know not of what you are thinking. Your mind is been hacked by the repetition of negative thoughts, experiences and the environment of doom and gloom news, movies and other media. It’s all just a bad dream that has no basis in what is really true. If you only knew a small fraction of who you really are, you would laugh about the ridiculous notion of what your mind has cooked up! You are much largerand much more significantthan your human mind can even fathom, and that my friends is the really shitty part of growing up in the human mindset we’ve been lead to believe is true or real.
Hush now baby, baby, don’t you cry. Mama’s gonna make all your nightmares come true. Mama’s gonna put all her fears into you. Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing. She won’t let you fly, but she might let you sing. Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm. Ooh baby, ooh baby, ooh baby, Of course mama’s gonna help build the wall. – Mother by Pink Floyd
What if I told you that everything you know is not what you might think it is? Much like the movie The Matrix, we live in a made up construct that has rules that we (I mean everyone) have developed over time. These rules include language, social structure, traditions, what we can wear after Labor Day, etc. If you think about it, when you were first born, just out of the womb what did you really know? Some say we know everything we need to know. Some say we are just an empty shell waiting to have knowledge poured into us by our parents and teachers. I don’t really know whose right, but I do know that we can breath, blink our eyes, cry when we are in pain, and we learn through our experiences. You’ve likely heard of stories of people being found in remote jungles or forests that have thrived quite well without the modern day structures of language or drive through coffee shops. Even so, they have developed a structure to live within. Even though it may not have been “given” to them by others, it does still exist to them. The difference between the person in the remote jungle and someone growing up in south Minneapolis is that the person in the jungle is more likely living as close to a true version of who they really are.
What you might consider as real is really just a dream. Your perspectivehas been trained to see the world around you inside of a framework that you’ve created over time. There is nothing inherently wrong with this idea, but the important thing to remember is that you created it and you can also change it. This means that whatever shitty life you feel like you’ve been given or fell into, you have complete control over what you think about it and how you react/respond to it every day.
I’m reminded of a storyof a man who had a job working in a toll-booth (obviously years ago) and every day, people would see this man dancing inside this small booth all while doing this job. One day a woman was so curious that when she stopped to pay her toll fee, she asked him, “Why are you dancing?”, and the man replied, “I’m having a party. One day, I’m going to be a dancer and my bosses are just paying for my training.” This story has always stuck with me over the years because it’s a lesson in how we can decide how to look at and see our own circumstances. We can decide how we are going to view them and how we are going to feel about them as well.
There are a few ways to look at how you view your life. One of them is the scientific perspective that over time with repetitive thoughts and emotions, your mind creates a common pathway for the “energy” of your thoughts to travel and come to a normal endpoint or reaction. This is known in the scientific realm as Neuroplasticity, which is “The brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. It allows nerve cells in the brain to adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in their environment”. From this perspective, it only makes sense that if you repeatedly think or are exposed to negative thoughts or beliefs, the brain will simply follow suite and create the necessary pathways to accommodate this thought process.
Consider this, when humans were first walking the earth trying to figure things out, our brains began to develop from a more primitive (survival) method to our current human abilities. We learned to create and express ourselves all while still holding on to some of those primitive survival modes. This primitive “mode” is sometimes called the “reptilian brain”. The whole purpose of the “reptilian brain” is to survive and to avoid harm. So when you are exposed to a trauma or threat of some kind, that part of your brain builds the necessary pathways to make sure if you ever get into that or any similar situation, you would be ready. This sense of “readiness” puts us into a fight or flight mode, which served us well for thousands if not millions of years. Now, fast forward to modern day man where our traumas are a whole different level of threat to us. Most of them are not life or death level concerns; however, that part of your brain doesn’t know any difference between the threat of a saber toothed tiger and the bully at school who is relentless about making your life a living hell! Even so, the reaction and purpose of this is the same, to keep you alive and prevent you from harm.
The good news is that with our new super fancy brain, we now have something we didn’t have before: awareness. Awareness allows us to supersede the reptile mind and make a different choice. It allows us to decide to train our minds and brains to create new neural pathways simply by choosing and practicing. There are likely many methods to do this, and some of them are through guided mediations, daily journalling, affirmations, daily positive mindful rituals, etc. Choose what is best for you and give it at least two months to create a new “habit” in your mind. I read recentlythat it takes 66 days to fully create a new habit, so get going!
Another way to consider your “life view” is from the perspective of generational trauma (including past lives and current familial lineage). You may have even heard of the idea of coming into this life with a particular plan, a purpose that you wish to experience or even having a karmic debt to pay. I believe that karmic energy is always seeking balance and if you’ve experienced trauma (or if you created the trauma) in your life. This can create an imbalance that needs to be rectified in this life or in a future one. All of this is just another path that gives you the opportunity to grow and expand beyond the narrow, or possibly ignorant, view of life you had before.
In my own experiences, it’s those times when the Universe has presented a situation (giving me the opportunity to step up and grow) where I’ve run away from the opportunity because I was too afraid. What I’m learning is that the fear I’m holding on to is directly related to one or more experiences in my life where I felt un-safe or like I was not enough. As I grow older, the events where I experience anxiety are becoming not only more frequent, but also from things that are less and less dramatic. I’ve been doing work around this phenomenon by working with a coach, reading about various strategies around my own anxiety and keeping an open mind about all the possible reasons I feel the way I do. I believe people who feel this same way have been “trained” to cover up the pain by using some sort of coping mechanism like prescription medication, recreational drugs, meditation, sex, alcohol, etc. Basically utilizing external means to cope with the anxiety rather than to discover its true source. I have used several of these methods over the years only to be in the same place I was before. But you know, that is just part of my journey. I had to go through each of those things in order to grow in my own awareness around my issues.
I’ve learned that my anxiety is not about me being broken or not enough. My anxiety is simply a “language” of my physical and mental bodies trying to tell me that something needs to change. When I’m out of alignment with my true path or purpose, the Universe has a way of sending you little (or not so subtle) messages to help you course correct. It’s really up to you to listen to what you are feeling and then dig into the source to find the best path to healing.
Sometimes the feeling of anxiety isn’t from trauma. In my case one of the big things I found was that my body was overloaded with Candida which was causing and manifesting other kinds of chronic illnesses including respiratory, joint pain, depression, gut issues, mental focus, etc. I learned to listen to my body and then take the necessary steps to resolve as much of these issues as I could with alternative methods. Many of the steps I took had to do with adjusting my diet and discovering what my body needs or does not want.
Some other steps I took included working with a personal coach and healer who helped me develop daily practices including gratitude, forgiveness, self love and setting boundaries. The healer was trained in several modalities that helped remove “stuck energy”, allowing my body and spirit to be released in order to heal. This was a really important step to help me feel lighter and more focused.
Another avenue I’m working on is learning more about my own past lives and how they are connected to the anxiety I feel now. It was fascinating to learn that in a past life where my father was highly abusive to me. He found every opportunity to belittle everything I did and make me feel unsafe. In that same session I saw how I began to treat my own son in a very similar way. This showed me how the pattern is just handed down, generation after generation, lifetime after lifetime. The cool part of the session was when my coach had me imagine what my father’s life was like. Why was he so unhappy and mean? I saw a vision of him also being physically abused by his father. This perspective allowed me to have empathy for him and to open my heart to send him love and forgiveness. In this simple act of forgiveness, I felt a great weight lifted from my own heart. I felt that some of the lost power from this generational trauma was reclaimed to me!
It’s interesting to see how these practices and experience are directly in alignment with developing new healthy neural pathways I mentioned earlier. It’s important to harness the power of the human mind and body to truly know what needs to be changed. We are discovering every day through our advancements in science that many of the old traditions (where some people find them “whoo whoo”) actually have truth backing them up by science. Don’t you think that’s pretty cool!?
At this point you many be wondering why I’m telling you all of this and what does it have to do with you and your issues? I’m telling you this because I think it’s a powerful way we can collectively grow beyond the negative cycle we find ourselves in. Not everything I said in this piece is going to resonate with you. Heck some of it my even piss you off, but that’s okay. My purpose of sharing this is to plant a seed. I hope to create an opening for a slightly different perspective on your life and your purpose. I believe that down deep, we all know what we love to do and what we are passionate about. We’ve just gotten stuck in the limiting beliefs that were handed down to us in one way or another. You have the power to break the spell you’ve been living under. Perhaps you will help free some of the other people in your life to wake up to who they truly are and what their truth really is. When you take your power back, you have the opportunity and duty to help others gain their own power.
I invite you to step back from whatever belief system you have and just for a moment, consider one of the perspectives I’ve presented above. Try it on for awhile to see what you might discover for yourself and about the world around you. I’ve found that traveling and putting myself into the world of others has really helped me shift my perspective on many things. You can do the same right here and now and not even leave your neighborhood.
The other day Melissa and I came home after a day out shopping and doing errands. After parking the car we started gathering our things and Melissa went into the house carrying the first load. It took some time for me to arrange what I needed to haul in but then I headed for the house as well. Upon getting to our door, I turned the knob and found that the door was locked! Realizing that I did not have my keys, I managed to use my elbow to push the doorbell to our apartment. In a couple minutes, Melissa pulled open the door apologizing and said, “Oh sorry! Force of habit!”.
The “force of habit” got me thinking. How many of us do things habitually every day without even thinking about them? I’d guess that there is a high percentage of things we do that are mostly “muscle memory” or habitual actions. Habits aren’t necessarily bad or abnormal, and I say that they are good things if the habits are healthy. Habits enable us to function very effectively in many situations all while allowing our minds to contemplate and resolve other more pressing issues. I believe that these cognitive abilities are part of why we has humans have been so adaptive in surviving on this planet.
In thinking deeper about the “force of habit”, I started to consider some of my own emotional habits. I thought about how many times I’ve slipped into anxiety about a situation and I have really no idea why I ended up there. Or when I find myself in a sort of dissociative state where I’m replaying something that happened until I’m in a full blown state of depression. These things seem to happen to me even without much intent or proper cause. What if these two states of emotion are more about being a habit and less about being mentally or physically ill?
As I’ve been growing in my awarenesses around my depression and anxiety, I’ve been noticing that their cause isn’t just from once single source. I’m finding evidence that mine has been related to physical stresses, emotional trauma, energetic sensitivity and even past life events that have carried forward. I’m realizing that working through the issues of these emotions is not necessarily solved by doing one thing. I believe we all need to be open to all possibilities that may be a source of whatever we are struggling with in our lives.
In doing a very quick and informal Google search on creating habits, it says that it can take about 2 months to create a habit. While this might be true for some things, I believe that a habit can start as soon as you decide it should exist. Granted it might be a bit bumpy at first, but I think it can be done rather quickly if sufficient intent is placed on the habit. I think the human mind is so powerful that once we decide something and fully commit with a clear vision, we will implement this change almost immediately in our lives.
Recently I committed to myself that I wanted to evolve my habit of anxiety into a healthy state by the time I turn 54 years old (coming in May 2019). What I found is that this simple act of seeing the Vision or end point, Deciding, and then Committing (VDC) to it, everything starts to shift into accomplishing that goal. I’ve found that articles I read, people who talked with me, and communications I receive, all started to move me in that direction. The other part of the VDC is connecting it to honoring yourself. If you honor yourself through committing to the goal, then your chances of reaching it multiply rapidly in your favor.
The “habit force” is just another tool in your arsenal that you can now use and leverage to fulfill whatever dream or goal you have. Consider it’s power and how it can help you, but remember what Stan Lee said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” Use it wisely my friends.
For the past few years my wife Melissa and I have travelled during the Christmas holiday week. It has been a convenient time since it is a bit slower for both of us as clients are busy with their own holiday events. This year we decide to venture to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.
It is intriguing and fascinating traveling in countries where language is a barrier in communication. It seems that when we are in familiar surroundings we
can oftentimes become lazy and complacent with our communication. This can lead to being more disconnected from the people your communicating with and ultimately becoming isolated within your own “world”. When you are faced with a language barrier, you can’t help but being totally present with the other person. You have to be thinking in each moment how you can best express yourself so that you will be understood. This might involve a combination of using some of the local language you’ve picked up, facial expressions, body language and of course smiling. Lots of smiling :-).
Traveling has really been a great teacher for the practice of being present, but you don’t have to travel to get this experience. You can “travel” down the street to the local diner or even just going to the grocery store can provide you with opportunities to engage with people who may have some kind of communication barrier with you. Those barriers could be physical, intellectual, learned (like language), or even in emotions or beliefs. Opportunities to be present with others, what they need, and how you might be able to assist are all around us every day.
We booked an AirBnb that was a shared space rather than having the whole apartment or house to ourselves. I was intrigued by this as it reminded me of some hostiles I’ve stayed in and the host sounded like a lot of fun when we initially reached out to ask some questions. In my past travel experiences living in a shared space, I’ve always met amazing people from all around our beautiful planet, and I hoped this trip would be no exception.
One of the things I’ve come to expect with traveling is the unexpected and I try my best at rolling with any issues that come my way. Traveling is always a challenge, even in the best of circumstances. While this all sounds very wise and easy, it really isn’t that way for me. If you know me at all, you know that anxiety has been an ever present part of my life for years and I’ve done a lot of work around expanding beyond this limitation. Traveling, as you may know, can make you a bit anxious at least at some level. For me, it usually starts a few days before the trip and continues in varying levels until at least a few hours after arrival, once I know I’m safe at my destination. For this trip the anxiety dropped off almost immediately after landing. We had arranged with our host to have a taxi waiting for us and sure enough, after we made it through the gauntlet of transportation and tour experience “opportunities”, we found our driver outside holding a sign with my name on it! We were greeted with a smile and immediate assistance with anything we had to carry. Then as if that wasn’t enough, our host was even there by chance and stopped to talk with us about our next steps in getting to her condo!
Getting to know our housemates was one of the best experiences of our trip. We met people who were currently or originally from Russia, Great Britain, France, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Andorra, Switzerland and Spain. And this was just who we met and lived with for a few days! I loved to hear stories of their lives, their goals and dreams, and what they have experienced in their own travels. There is a kind of kindred spirit that develops among travelers that spend even a short amount of time together that can live in you for a long time. The effort you spend on getting to know that person living next door, down the block or on the other side of the planet can change your life and make the world a much better place.
Our AirBnb host was amazing at giving us ideas about areas near the condo that were interesting to visit. Some of them were beaches,restaurants, tours and hiking locations. One of the places we decided to travel to on our own was Macao Beach and to Montaña Redonda mountain. We decided to go on an adventure of our own and explore these places. On previous trips we’ve talked about renting a little motor-scooter and use that to get us around rather than renting a car or using a taxi. So we thought it would be a brilliant idea to rent a scooter for this trip so we headed out from our condo in search of a motorbike. Little did we know what we had in store for us emotionally or physically.
If you’ve ever been to Punta Cana, you will see motorcycle taxis everywhere. They are kind of like vultures buzzing around the unsuspecting prey. If you stop walking too long they will converge and pester you to give you a ride somewhere. “No problem mister. No problem, I will take you.”, they repeat. It can be dizzying at times to stay focused and repeat back, “No gracias!”. But this time we had an especially persistent guy on a motorbike stop and ask what we needed. We tried several times to avoid him but he stayed on us. Finally we said we were walking to find a scooter rental place. He lit up and told us to hop on and he would take us. “No problem. I will take you. Free taxi. No problem.”, he repeated. Finally I looked at Melissa and said, what the heck, should we do it? She said, “Sure, let’s do it!” Much to my surprise we hopped on this tiny motorcycle with three adults and off we went!
It was a bumpy ride, but in a few minutes we were at a little cycle rental place and cigar rolling shop. Don’t ask me how these two things go together, but on this day they did. The taxi driver quickly introduced us to the shop owners and he also began doing a bit of translating for us.
“No problem. I will take you. Free taxi. No problem.”
At first it felt good to have someone helping us, but this however went away quickly. The rental fee was a bit more than what we were told to expect by our host and we didn’t have the exact pesos to pay so we needed to exchange some US dollars. We agreed to make the exchange and I handed over a $50 bill.
One of the men took the bill and walked toward a local shop. The taxi driver told us he was getting it exchanged, however he was gone a lot longer than I would have expected. This was the point where my anxiety started to kick in. I thought, we were just taken for 50 bucks and there wasn’t a thing I can do about it. The taxi driver then walked toward the same shop and we just stood watching. A few minute later, they came back holding several bills of the local currency. In the meantime I had done some quick calculations and knew about what I should be getting back. Then the driver started standing closer and talking quickly about the exchange rate and how the shop needed to take some for the exchange. But when I looked at the amount I knew it wasn’t even close to the right amount. I said loudly, I want all of the money back first, then we can rent the motorbike. The taxi driver said something to the guy who did the exchange and then he pulled out of his pocket 350 pesos of our money and handed it over. I gave the money to Melissa and asked her to count it as I couldn’t focus with my anxiety rising quickly. The taxi driver persisted and got closer to me and talked even faster. My mind was swimming with anxiety and anger at this point, but I felt a bit better once she said the amount worked out to be correct.
Feeling a bit more in control with all the money, and hearing the man say, “No problem. You want to rent right? What’s the matter? No problem.” Finally I looked at Melissa and asked, do you still want to do this? She nodded her head and I said okay to the man. Quickly they took the money I gave them for the rental and the taxi driver actually reached over and pulled 200 pesos directly out of my hand saying something like, “And this is for my time.” Free taxi, but I guess no free translation services!
Wanting to get out there as soon as possible, we collected our helmets and found the bike we were to use. Unfortunately, my anxiety was in full blowout mode at this point and I could hardly speak. I waved Melissa to get on the back, gave her some initial instructions on how to be a passenger on the bike and off we went. I don’t remember much of the next 20 or 30 minutes other than stopping to check my directions (thank god for the local SIM card in my phone and being able to use Google maps to navigate!). The road, the drone of the motorbike and the amazingly beautiful landscape passing around us was soothing and meditative. I was focused on our goal to get the Montaña Redonda as our first stop and about an hour and a half later we arrived at our destination. The bike’s tachometer worked, but not the speedometer or trip-meter, so it was a bit challenging to get a sense of how far we had travelled. In checking the maps later, it looks like we traveled about 45 miles. Let me tell you, two people on a small scooter for that kind of distance is not advisable in any way. Take my word for it, rent a car or at the very least two motorbikes!
“To the west we saw a lush valley with more hills, mountains and trees as far as you could see. It was simply beautiful. ”
We were advised by our AirBnb host that the hike up the mountain would cost five dollars each to access, but what she didn’t tell us is that you had to pay rent to park your motorbike and they would relentlessly hound you to pay them in excess of $40 to get a ride to the top! This being confusing, we once again relied on our host for confirmation and advice. She suggested paying the $5 and just start walking and likely someone would come along and pick us up for maybe 100 pesos ($2.00). So off we started walking and sure enough in about 10 minutes a huge truck came lumbering up the washed out, rocky and very steep road. When we stood aside to let it pass and it stopped and the man asked if we wanted a ride. We asked how much and he said, “No problem, no charge, get in.”. Well, fool me once is what I was thinking about this offer, but he persisted and started to open the cab door. We said okay, but decided to ride in the back of the truck. The man shrugged his shoulders and we climbed in the back for what had to be one of the roughest and brutal rides I’ve ever experienced! We should have ridden in the cab because sitting in the very back of a huge rocking truck causes one to be launched up in the air and jostled around relentlessly for what seemed like forever!
In reaching the top, we felt elated to have reached our goal. We got out and offered the man 200 pesos for his trouble, which seemed to surprise him and he looked very grateful. My anxiety was subsiding and the natural surroundings really helped me to calm down quite a lot. We spent about an hour at the top taking photos of the surrounding landscapes. There were lagoons to the east of us and further out we could see the ocean. To the west we saw a lush valley with more hills, mountains and trees as far as you could see. It was simply beautiful. There were little shops at the top, a small cafe and some cool swings you could ride which made you feel like you were swinging out into the vastness of the sky.
We even saw some people with broomsticks that would put them between their legs and then jump while someone took their picture hoping to look like they were flying!
When it was time to go, we caught another ride to the bottom of the mountain with some locals in a small club-cab pickup. This ride was much smoother as we were able to sit inside and listen to the man and women in the cab talking amongst themselves. It was curious not to understand a word of their conversation but also to know that what they were talking about was likely no different that what you and I would chat about in the same situation. We gratefully payed the man 200 pesos for the ride and then found our motorbike waiting for us. Since our time was getting short, we decided not to journey further on to Miches to see the beach we had heard about there. We did decide to head back and stop at Macao Beach on the way to have lunch. Our timing needed to be fairly precise as we did not want to be riding a small motorbike on a busy highway at night, so off we went!
Did I mention that riding on this road would be like riding on a two-lane state highway anywhere in the US, except this road was in perfect condition and you were almost completely alone on the road 90% of the time. We were surrounded by the beauty of the rolling hills, mountains and rivers and we felt grateful to be heading home back to somewhat familiar territory. We had been on the road for about 10 minutes when I started to notice the motorbike making some strange noises. I glanced down at the instruments and the gas gauge showed it to be a bit over half full and nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then slowly, the motor was running slower and slower and Melissa said, “What’s wrong?” and I said, “I have no idea, but we are coasting!”. We slowed to a stop on the side of the road and started to assess the situation. We looked all over the bike and could not find a gas cap, but figured it must be under the seat. We poke and prodded around every edge and side and underneath and found no switch or lever to let us open the seat cover. We stood there completely confused and quite speechless.
Just when we were going to have to decide what to do next, a man driving a small motorcycle came driving down the road going the opposite way. We looked up at him but I did not expect him to stop. He apparently had glanced at Melissa and she waived to him and sure enough he slowed down and turned around to where we were stopped. This man looked like a 30’s something professional of some kind.
I only say this because his clothes were a kind of business casual and he wore small plastic bags around each of his shoes (I assumed in order to keep the bugs off) and bound at the ankles. This man spoke zero english so we spent the next ten minutes or more using body language, pointing and trying in earnest to pick out any words we could from what he was saying.
Strangely, he pointed to us and to the bike and at first I thought he was telling us that we needed to push the bike. I assumed at this point he was going to help us and we’d have to push it and follow him, but he insisted that we sit on the bike and then, for some reason, he would stick his foot out in front of him. It looked he wanted us to get on and put our feet up, but this made no sense. Confused, we simply decided to do what he said and get on our bike and put our feet up.
The next thing we knew, he drove up behind us on his motorcycle, stuck his foot out and started pushing us!! I was incredibly shocked that anyone could even do this on a motorcycle, but off we went! Luckily the road was sloping down hill and even the small dirt path off the highway was sloping in our favor (and his). He pushed us for about 5 minutes until we arrived at a very small village where we got off the bike and started pushing (since the road was now going up hill). He kept pointing and saying, “Mecánico, Mecánico”. We looked up the road and started pushing the bike toward where he was pointing. The man yelled at a few other people and they all began to walk by us and pointing to a small home on the side of the village’s main road. When we stopped we could see what appeared to be a birthday party happening for what looked like two twin girls. There were decorations all over the front of the home with Minnie Mouse posters and happy birthday banners with a big number “4” on it. The girls were all dressed up in pink, white and black and the family was eating boiled crab. They looked extremely happy from what I remember.
I messaged our AirBnb host letting her know what was happening and she said were on quite the adventure and that Dominican’s can fix anything! We watched as people gathered around us and the mecánico figured out how to open the seat of the motorbike and verify that we were indeed out of gas. About then, a young girl perhaps 12 years old walked up and asked us in clear English if she could help. This girl’s english sounded like she could have been from Minnesota or many other cities from the US. She seemed pretty relaxed as she ate her crab and translated to us what was happening. She said the man was getting some gas for us and also where we could find the closest gas station on our way back home.
They were able to spare about a 1/2 gallon of gas and when I asked how much I owed, all they asked for was some money to cover the gas. I turned to the man who had rescued us off the road and tried to give him some money, but he refused. When I pressed him to please take it, he looked at me with compassion and smiled his appreciation for me asking, but refused again. I was overcome by emotions and I reached out and shook his hand and repeated, “Gracias, Gracias, Gracias”. I held myself together long enough for us to turn the motorbike around and head back to the highway before I began allowing all the emotion out by crying and taking deep breaths. We drove for another fifteen minutes or so before we had to take a detour off the main road to find the town of “Las Lagunas de Nisibon”, where we found the Texaco gas station and filled up to the very top!
“I held myself together long enough for us to turn the motorbike around and head back to the highway before I began allowing all the emotion out by crying and taking deep breaths.”
After getting back on the road, we both were feeling better and more confident. We drove for another 20 minutes until we saw the turn off to go to Macao Beach. The beach was a bit off the highway and we had to drive through a small village and out through some open areas until we reached the ocean. The beach was stunning but very windy that day. As we were walking the beach looking for a place to have our lunch, we ran across our housemates who had spent the day at the beach and were just leaving. They suggested that we walk around to the far end of the beach were the wind wasn’t so strong. It was a nice area to observe people playing in the water and we witnessed a photographer taking pictures of what appeared to be a young couple’s wedding vacation photos.
Since it was getting late in the afternoon and we wanted to be home before it was dark, we headed back to the motorbike and observed groups of people in various degrees of celebration. Some were local families at the beach, some were groups having some kind of tour experience, some where couples on vacation and there were also singles just hanging out. It was interesting to think about how in each case we were all in the same exact place, but we were all having very different experiences and will take away vastly different memories. I was especially delighted by a couple young entrepreneurs hanging out where people came off the beach to leave. When they saw that we were trying to clean sand off our feet to put our shoes back on, they rush over to us with little brushes and started to sweep off the sand from our feet. They were laughing and having fun but I also knew this was one of the ways they made money for themselves and likely their family. It was funny, after I handed one the boys 200 pesos (thinking they would split it) the one boy said, “What about me?”. I pointed at the other boy with the money and that boy said (with laughing smile), “No you didn’t work.” and started running away laughing with the other chasing him.
As we got closer to Bravaro the highway became a four lane road (think interstate highway), and the traffic was really building. We had observed many other motorbikes riding on the shoulders so I did the same. As we drove we saw a large vehicle stopped along the road on the shoulder, blocking our path. I started to slow down and was looking in my mirror to see the cars looming behind me in the full lane. I glanced ahead calculating the distance I had and the chances I’d make it off the shoulder in time to miss the vehicle and not get run over by the following traffic. To add to my challenge, there was a pavement ledge between the shoulder and main highway lane that I needed to “jump” in order to go around the car ahead. The time came and I made the turn to jump the curb and the small motor bike tires grabbed onto the ledge and jerked the motorbike to the left and I immediately tried to compensate and not crash. In the next few seconds, I’m not really sure how we survived. The bike jerked from left to right several times as we went onto the lane, then back to the shoulder before we swung around the parked vehicle and narrowly missed it! I mean really, can this trip get any more stressful, holy crap!
As the sun was lowering on the horizon, we rode bumper to tire to bumper on the streets of Bravaro snaking our way back to our condo. When we finally arrived home and approached the gated entrance the security guy jumped out and waved us to drive in and park. I was amazed because, how did he even know who we were, but he smiled and showed us in and where to park the motorbike. As this point were were tired but feeling okay. When we walked through the apartment door, we saw many of our housemates hanging out in the living room all smiling at our arrival. They had heard from our host of some of our adventure and we filled them in on the rest. Their reactions shocked me because I really felt like I’d been raked over the coals that day and was shot. They listened to our story and smiled and said things like, “Wow, you really had an adventure you’ll remember.” or, “You guys are so brave and amazing!”. I was momentarily speechless at their pride for us and how they viewed the same events in a more positive way. As we walked back to our room and cleaned up for the evening, I reset my thinking of the entire day and decided that we are really amazing, and that despite the challenges we did it anyway.
After everything that had happened and being completely out my comfort zone and out of my element, I survived. I was completely bare and vulnerable in multiple situations that day. We were bullied by the motor-taxi driver, nearly had some of our cash stolen by the rental guy, rented a motorbike with no instructions on operation or who to contact if we had issues, drove a very small motorbike almost 100 miles round trip, road up a washed out road to the top of a mountain, ran out of gas, and nearly crashed our motorbike avoiding a car on the side of the road. Any one of these things are challenging, but having them all happen in the same day is insane!
When we ran out of gas we were completely helpless and at the mercy and compassion of one man and his small village. I had no choice but to let go of my control. Keep in mind that this is not an easy thing for me to do and honestly, I’m not sure if I could have learned this on my own in any other way. I now believe this day was hand crafted by the Universe to help me grow and to show me that I can let go and be safe; that being bullied or taken advantage of doesn’t mean I’m weak; and being vulnerable to life can be a blessing. I’d been repeatedly shown compassion by many people and all I needed to do was trust and accept. These were all powerful lessons that I will take with me on our next adventure. 🙂
Next year, in June, my niece is going to get married. I’ve been reading on her social media account about all of the stresses she’s been going through to plan the wedding in addition to holding down a full time job and studying for her master’s classes. By all accounts, she is doing a lot and has every right to be stressed. I know I would. Then I got to thinking about it a bit more from a larger perspective. What if the whole thing was super easy? What if the wedding planning was done by someone else? What if the going to school was effortless? What if money was no object and working was really unnecessary? Would it all mean the same to my niece in the end? Isn’t it the struggle that gives it all meaning and a deeper understanding of yourself and others who have done this same thing before you?
When you think about any event you have gone through in your life. Perhaps it was getting your first car, having your first kiss, graduating from school, having a baby or maybe even retiring from 30 years of working. These events or rites of passage give you an experience you can now use to not only have more wisdom, but also to be able to relate to others. It can also give you a sense of belonging. I think about this often when I observe my son and his wife struggling as they begin their married life and raising their young boys. I think, yep, been there done that (with a knowing look on my face). This knowledge and wisdom help me feel like I belong to a group of parents and grandparents that have gone before me. I can now have a perspective on life that they have and, I hope, that my son and daughter-in-law may someday have as well.
I think it’s been said that humans, by nature, are social beings and we thrive better in groups by feeling connected. Studies have even shown that if babies are not held our touched, they will get very sick and sometimes just give up on life. We want to belong in any way we can. Through our experiences we can not only belong, but we can also gauge how successful we are in our life. We can use the comparisons of our experiences to know how to feel about ourselves. Are we normal? Are we doing things correctly? Do we fit in or not? Even if we think we don’t fit it in, that in and of itself is a form of belonging. We then belong to a group of outliers or rebels. Belonging makes us feel safe in the midst of what can feel like a very chaotic world.
It’s also been said that life is a struggle. I’ve often thought of this statement as negative or not looking at the bright side. But now I’m not sure I agree with that perspective. I think that most of the “bright sides” that you can think of are really are born out of struggle. Sometimes the struggle is your own and sometimes the struggle has been done on the part others. I think it’s important to honor the process of the struggle and those that have gone through it. I also think it’s equally important that we move on from the struggle. It’s important to acknowledge that it has given us wisdom and to enjoy the of the fruits of our labor. Some people will forget this critical part of the process and get stuck in reliving the struggle and perhaps even feeling like a victim of it.
I challenge you to step back on your life for a moment and see all that you have accomplished. Take note of your struggles and your victories and then take a long, slow, deep breath and know you have made it. Now, when you see others struggling similarly, you can show sympathy for them. Better yet, have compassion for them and offer them your help. This is how we awaken to who we truly are as human beings. This is how we evolve and grown in this life together.
Dwight J. Raatz
(a.k.a. Suffering to Belong)