Micro-date #9 – Sunset at Remic Rapids

I am enjoying this idea of what I have been calling “micro-dates”. Micro-dates are those dates that are shorter, smaller, and often more impulsive dates that I decide to do in the moment. My recent dates include the ones where I made my favourite tea and hung out on my back porch looking at the stars, and on another night, making myself a fancy dinner. In this instance of a micro-date, I had the craving to watch another sunset.

I love sunsets and sunrises and when I am on vacation I will often get up early in the morning to watch the sunrise. A favourite memory from a couple of summers was being at a friend’s cottage and I would wake at sunrise to head out for an early morning swim. Their cottage is in the middle of a fairly large island and there were not any other cottages located on, or near this small island. I would quietly slip out of bed and grab my towel as I headed down the stairs and out the door, around the outside of the cottage, and down to the edge of the water. There were always two options – one to dive into the water off the diving board, or the other to slide into the cool and yet warm water off the ladder. I almost always chose the ladder and after stripping down to my birthday suit, I would slide quietly into the still smooth water and begin moving through the water with a steady breast strong. I loved the stillness of the morning, the soft light of the sun rising over the hills at the edge of the lake. For the first half of the swim, I would be swimming into the gently rising sun, and on the second half returning to the ladder with the sun rising behind me.

For this micro-date, I had just made dinner on Easter Sunday and after enjoying the meal I was feeling the desire for some quiet time on my own. I wanted to see if I could catch the sunset on this spring evening. The weather was just slightly on the edge of being warm enough not to wear a jacket, but with the breeze that is often along the edge of the river, I brought a coat just in case. I thought that I would pick up a tea latte on my way down to watch the sunset, and I pulled up to the first Starbucks on my way. Sadly, the store was already closed for the day, or perhaps it had been closed all day since it was Easter Sunday. Feeling disappointed I carried on my way still hopeful of finding a coffee or tea shop open along the way. The next one was closed as well and even though I was beginning to believe that I wouldn’t find anything open, I spent another 20 minutes driving around looking for a drink to bring with me to enjoy by the river. I was feeling a bit thwarted in my efforts to get a drink treat and realized that I had an image in my head that I was chasing for my date. It felt funny to acknowledge that a date I had only decided to go on less than an hour ago had a whole story attached to it, as to what I imagined it “should” be.

I carried on down to the parking lot at Remic Rapids. I had chosen to go to the rapids because I had read a review somewhere that this was a lovely place to watch sunsets and when I pulled into the parking lot, there were a number of vehicles parked along the edge of the parking lot facing the river’s edge. About half of the cars had one to two people sitting in their cars, perhaps they were waiting for the sunsets themselves. I parked my car and spent some time walking along the river while I waited for the sun to set.

I enjoyed strolling along the shore of the Ottawa River watching the light play against the early spring grass, still brown after a long winter covered with snow. We had not yet had enough warmth during our days for the green shoots to make their way through. I came upon a tree full of leaves brown, dried, and curled tight clinging to the tips of its branches. I find trees like this intriguing because trees lose their leaves in order to conserve their energy to survive the winter and grow new leaves in the spring. I know these leaves will eventually give way to the new growth in a few weeks, but I wonder what happened for this tree to be clinging to its leaves. Did it think it still had time before the cold hit to release its burden and then ran out of time before the cold winds moved in?

The light started to shift and I stopped occasionally to admire the shadows of the changing and fading sun along with the trees. The early evening light cast an amber shadow and long grey shadows along the shore. I could feel my breath slow and the tensions of the past week finally fade away. The early evening was quiet with the few people who were out along the pathway content to wander in silence. The faint sounds of cars passing on the parkway a backdrop to the occasional honking of the geese nearby. and the slight roar of the rapids a little further up the river.

After about 20 minutes of wandering along the shores of the river, I wandered back closer to my car and the spot that I hoped would have the best views of a sunset. I watched the setting sun from different angles, across the mountains on the other side of the river and through the branches of different trees. At one point my camera captured the sun and its refracting rays splitting in two.

I think I prefer the sunsets along Britannia Park/Beach, but this is a lovely alternative and allowed me the opportunity to capture a different personality of the sunset along the Ottawa River.

As the sun dipped beyond the slight hills on the other side of the Ottawa River, I made my way back to my car to drive back home. I missed having the latte that I planned of buying on my way down to the park, but I enjoyed my wandering time along the shores and watching the sunset on my own. I enjoy these nature dates with myself.

Cost for this date – free

I rated this date 7/10

Slow Down

I knew this wasn’t going to be a linear process.

I’ve been reading through the book and working on the first chapter. But, I’ve read ahead and one of the chapters is entitled “slow down.” It was a message I think I needed to hear today.

I was rushing from one thing to another today. I was frustrated about all that I had to get done. Tomorrow is both garbage day and the day my cleaning ladies come.  Lots of tidying to be done after the teenager had been home alone all day. Garbage to get out. Work to do.  Busy. Busy. Busy.

That chronic feeling of always being on the go, of not being able to slow down, or feeling that way generates a stress response. That stress response fuels a fight or flight response and puts the alarm system of the brain on full alarm. There is not a feeling of being able to slow down and make good and thoughtful decisions.

In the book it suggests to practice a few things more slowly and to find out what’s good in THIS moment. All of this came rushing back to me as I was putting on the garbage, feeling rushed and busy and frantic. And then I looked up at the sky and saw the half moon and the clouds floating by.  In that moment, I stopped and paused and decided to practice that moment more slowly and focus on the food in that moment.

I had been mindless in the garbage. I paused and watched the clouds floating by. I took the time to appreciate the elegance of the clouds floating. All of a sudden I heard birds in the background, and chattering noises of squirrels. I became aware of the smells in the evening air, some musky, some sour, some sweet.  I heard the cars on the side streets and children in the distance. I paused and listened to the sound of breath moving in and out of my body. I felt the frenetic energy slip away.

I slowed down and finished my tidying feeling less busy and less stressed. Going slow and focusing on the beauty of the night shifted my whole energy of what remained of the night. 

Hiking as Mindfulness

Today I went for a hike in the Gatineaus (Quebec). I’m on holidays for a couple of weeks and I just wanted to be by myself in the woods for a bit.

I headed out of Ottawa and up to the National Capital Commission and Lac-Phillipe, the Lusk Cave Trail. I left my ipod behind and headed out on the 12 km trail with just my own thoughts. It was a cool day, a welcome relief from so many of the hot and humid days that we’ve had. The sky was largely overcast and there was (thankfully) not many people on the trails. I also planned my trip to be there as soon as the gate was opened for day visitors, so there weren’t even that many cars in the parking lot.

I headed out onto the trail. I soaked in my surroundings, taking time to just listen to the crunch of my hiking boots on the gravel.  For several minutes I focused my attention on how each foot step sounded on the gravel. As the texture of the path changed, so did the sound of my footsteps. I enjoyed the transition from gravel to sand, to the branch covered paths.

After a while, I let my attention move from my footsteps and take in all the sounds around me. The wind blowing gently on the tree tops.  I opened my ears to the chatter of the birds, and the sound of a flock of crows taking off in a cackling hurry. I let my senses fully opened and smelt the fresh air, the mud on the ground, the rotting of some of the dead foliage and trees. I soaked it in and connected those sensations deeply into my body.

For a little over four hours I hiked all on my own. I alternatively focused my attention on my surroundings, taking in the details of the forest and then on just letting my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. I enjoyed not numbing myself out with music as I typically do when I run or walk on the streets of my town. I enjoyed sometimes focusing on the exertion of my body up an incline, paying attention to my breathing, my muscles and the feeling of joy of making my body move.

At one point on the hike, a mother and daughter entered the trail from another path. They were chatting and wanted to talk to me. I really just wanted to sink into my own meditative hike.  After several efforts to separate myself from them by either trying to speed ahead of them, or stop and let them get far enough ahead of me, and somehow we kept bumping into one another over and over, I indicated to them that I appreciated their friendliness but I just wanted to be on my own for the hike. They were offended and told me that they were just trying to be friendly.  It was clear to me that it was hard for them to understand why I just wanted to be alone.  They were determined to ensure that I was not alone as if this could not possibly be what I wanted.

I decided to strike off onto another part of the trail, away from their need to connect with me because what I needed more than anything was to continue to connect with my inner thoughts and the awareness of the nature around me.

Fortunately for the remainder of my hike as I meandered down another path, I was left to myself.  It was easy to return my attention into my own body, into the awareness of the forest around me.

Returning to my car, I took a few moments on the park bench and closed my eyes. I practiced some deep breath and started at my head. Each breath I breathed in, I focused on a part of my body. The crown of my head, the tips of my ears, my cheekbones, my neck, my shoulders, and all the way down to my toes. I breathed in and out awareness of my body and its stillness. I breathed in and out contentment and joy at the time spent on the trail. I gathered my senses back into myself and just held that moment for a second longer.

When I got in the car and headed back to my friend’s house, I felt an amazing sense of calm and gratitude.  It was a powerful reminder of how much I depend on time alone and in the bush to re-calibrate and ground myself.

Starting with mindfulness

Leaving the workshop with a friend, I confined this awareness of how disconnected I had become from my body.  I relayed how much my body hurt and received a referral to a massage therapist (RMT).  I called the massage therapist immediately and got an appointment for a week later.  In the meantime I struggled to do the meditation on a daily basis. I managed 5 minutes instead of the suggested 10 minutes.  I told myself it was something better than nothing.

 My first appointment with the RMT – let’s call him J – was another eye opener of how much stress I was carrying in my body… and how much denial I was in about it.  His hands met nothing but resistance in my muscles. I was solid as a rock and not in a good way. My shoulder blades had so many knots in the overlaying muscles that they felt as bumpy as my spine.  He spent the entire hour just trying to get my back to release.  He recommended weekly appointments to just try and get the muscles to a state where they were not in a state of constant knots. A recommendation for meditation and yoga was also made.

I love a deep tissue massage and myofascial release. I can tolerate a great deal of pressure and it might have something to do with the fact that I am often so disconnected from my body.  I am also a predominantly a kinesthetic learner.  I believe it is because I am a kinesthetic learner, I hold emotions tightly in the tissues of my body – joy, sorrow, grief, laughter.  With all the tension I had been holding in my body – an accumulation of years of grief, loss, stress, uncertainty – the myofascial release during the massage released a torrent of grief into my consciousness.  All I wanted when I got home from the massage was a hot shower.

As soon as that water hit my skin, I burst into great body wrenching tears. I sobbed under that hot steaming water for almost half an hour.  I cried for a lost relationship from two years ago that I had been holding on to in some way. I cried out my frustration of everything that I was struggling with at work. I cried out the exhaustion of being a single 24/7 parent to a child with significant learning disabilities and some mild mental health struggles.  I cried until there was nothing less and climbed out of the shower.

I slept that night better than I had in months and months.  And I returned the following week for more massage.  I was learning to connect my body, my heart and my brain together again.  They had been out of synch for so long. 

In the beginning

About a year ago I signed up for a workshop called like “Mindfulness as a Leadership Practice”.  It signaled the “opportunity to learn the practice of mindfulness, the power of being present and open, working with creativity, challenges and fear in a positive and effective way.”  Mainly I was draw into the promise of working with uncertainty, complexity and negativity – three things that dominated my work environment, internally and externally. I thought I might walk away with a couple of tools I might use.

The environment was a beautiful retreat space in the middle of downtown Toronto. It was serine, and peaceful. There were meaningful conversations, humour and authentic discussions. I met some wonderful people and heard inspiring stories of people working with change.  I’m not sure why I was surprised with something entitled “mindfulness”, but there was also meditation. I didn’t practice meditation.  I doubted my brain (or my body) was still for more than 3 minutes at a time. That was about to change.

The leader of the group lead us through our first meditation.  I struggled to stay connected to the process,  having to tell myself several times that I was “thinking” as the stray thoughts popped constantly  into my head. “Thinking” was what we were supposed to say to “shoo” those thoughts away.  At the end of 10 minutes my body felt different as if something was released. I thought to myself that I could maybe do that on a daily basis. It wasn’t so bad.

And then we did more meditations.  By the end of the day, I think we had done 6 meditations in total. However, the thing about meditation is that it connects your brain into your body.  After the third meditation, I knew I did not want to be connected to my body. It was tired, so very tired. And it HURT. There was so much tension and tightness held all over my body that I had been shutting out as my brain and body ignored each other.  Meditating brought me into my body and created an awareness of how neglected it had been.  I could hardly hold it together to finish the meditations.

Leaving the workshop, I knew something in my life had to change. I started to do a few things differently.