weareallpilgrims

Camino de Santiago

Recognizing our true worth

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“When you have realized your true worth, you will be able to judge your faults sanely . . . and the faults of your neighbor will remain in shadow.” Dominican Saint Vincent

One of my favorite activities these days is to spend time thinking and pondering things that I probably did not do much of when I was working. It can be one of the “perks” of retirement. Terri and I certainly got to do this “in spades” walking the Camino de Santiago. LOTS OF TIME to do a lot of “thinking and pondering”. I dare say that thinking for long periods of time uninterrupted is a precious commodity these days. The world is a constant barrage of “stuff” coming at us and stimulating us with variety, novelty, action and movement. We are focusing our attention for only a few seconds at a time it seems before we are off to something else. It takes real effort, I am finding, to stop the madness and get off this train so we can “think and ponder” more deeply on things.

Take for example the quote at the top of this blog article. I recently took the time to actively ponder and let it sink in deeper into my mind and heart. Here are some of my thoughts I would like to share with your from my “ponderings”.

  • Recognizing our “true worth” to me means more than the worth of my accomplishments, it is about solid grounding of how much I am loved. This was something my parents gave me as a beautiful gift and we hopefully have done for our children and now for our grandchildren. For I believe this is the key to living a peace-filled life. To know you are loved. It all begins at this point. It is the greatest gift we can give to our children and grandchildren.
  • The second thought I had was how vital to our health (physical and spiritual) it is “to be able to judge our faults sanely“. As this quote points out, seeing the shortcomings of others begins with seeing our own limitations clearly. If we do not have that solid grounding of how much we are loved – “our true worth” within us it is very hard to see our faults, we become “blind” to them, and then we end up using our “hammer  of judgement” on others for their faults.  This is does help us to “be the best version of ourselves”.

I will close this blog article today with a quote that I believe I used in the past as well but it just seems to fit so perfectly with these “ponderings”:

“Everyone thinks of changing the world, no one thinks of changing themselves.” Leo Tolstoy

I pray you all feel how deeply your loved and communicate that as well to those you love!

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Let It Flow

This image was taken during a recent Spring hike to the most amazing waterfall of the North Fork of the Sauk river. The power of the water flowing down these falls was simply awe-inspiring. Here is a link to one of the videos I took of the falls.

North Fork Sauk

The reason for the title of this image came about when I was thinking about what this blog article and the importance of have a solid foundation of how we are loved and letting that perspective lead us to the gracefulness in accepting criticism and tact in giving it. To unblock those areas of our lives that are holding us back – to let the best of us flow out.

 

Sheep and Shepherds

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During our visit to Scotland and Ireland we got to up close and personal, so to speak, with sheep and shepherds. While we were in Ireland we got to walk through areas where they grazed freely and in Scotland we got meet a shepherd and had a wonderful demonstration of sheep dog herding. The image at the top of the at the top of this blog article is from a wonderful area we got to go in Ireland called, Glencolmcille, very remote and unchanged by time.

I really enjoyed the close up experience as it is certainly not something I experienced growing up in a city all my life. I recently learned an interesting fact about sheep, that almost made me laugh.

I read that they are not very powerful, hence unable to defend themselves effectively. Moreover, they are not very good at recognizing localities, which explains why they can so easily go astray. When lost, the sheep panics. It falls to the ground and bleats loudly in hopes that it will attract the shepherd.

Just a couple of thoughts came to my mind when I read that,

  • Sheep are smarter than men, it would seem, when it comes to getting lost and asking for help (we always think we know where at) and,
  • Sheep sure do need a good shepherd to help them survive

It is not the first observation though that I want to cover in this blog today. It is the second one. How important it is to have “good shepherds” in our lives for us to grow and survive and also how important it is to be a “good shepherd” for those in our lives that need us.

Taking care of our two grandchildren, two days a week, I certainly can identify with the sheep and good shepherd analogy. Some days when our precious little, Kay, (who has just turned 3 years old), has one of her “meltdowns”, it makes me think of the sheep that is lost and falls to the ground and bleats loudly for her “shepherd”. Oh, how important it is to be there for her to help her to use “her words”  to tell us what she is feeling. To help her “find herself again”. This is what “good shepherds” do for their sheep.

As I see it, there are a lot of folks out there (myself included by the way) that need “good shepherds” to help them find their way when they are lost and need a hand. We are all called to be those “good shepherds” for others. Let’s all take our responsibility seriously to be “good shepherds”!!

Blessing and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Endless Fields of Beauty

Going to the Skagit each Spring to enjoy the awe-inspiring beauty of the tulips never seems to disappoint. This year was not exception.

 

 

Gratitude and Envy

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” Envy will poke the eyes out of gratitude”

I was listening to a Jeff Cavins podcast on envy, the other day, and he used this quote that really got my attention. I thought it was a powerful reminder on the negative consequences in our lives when we are full of envy. Envy puts our focus on what we don’t have and not on what we have. Gratitude puts our focus on what we do have.

Gratitude for what we have, now that is definitely what we experienced in walking the Camino. The long walk helped us pull away from all the normal attachments and comforts of life and got you back to the basics. It allowed us time to reflect more our lives and the many gifts in our lives.

Terri and I recently took a course on aging that drew our attention, to studies done on the powerful relationship of health and well-being with gratitude. Being grateful is an opener to many locked up blessings. It is a great practice to start a gratitude journal. I know I did after taking this class.

Yet how easy it can be to “poke the eyes”  out of gratitude when we become envious. I saw this when I was working at Boeing. One co-worker envious of another due to a promotion they thought they should have got or a raise they felt they deserved over another.  Envy damages relationships, disrupts teams, and undermines organizational performance. Some people become so fixated on a rival that they lose their focus on their own performance. We will never be happy if we are filled with envy.  Envy eats our bones up as it focus on what we don’t have and makes us sad and unhappy and ungrateful.  Good luck for having a happy life if you spend your time on what you don’t have and envious of others.

Gratitude for what we have, now that is the key. For all is gift.

I know at times I struggle with envy of others (especially in my strong competitive and pridefulness around my sports teams). It is not attractive.

Let’s all take a long look at ourselves and get rid of those “envy eyes” that are keeping us from being truly grateful for all we have.

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Gratitude

Found this great quote on gratitude and used an photo from the Skyline Trail on Mt Rainier work with it.

Frozen and Flowing

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This past winter I have been blessed to go on several winter hikes to some frozen waterfalls and rivers. The photograph above was taken of Petticoat Falls a short bushwhack off the Suiattle River road.

I was going through some of my best photographs of the frozen waterfalls and the concept of something “frozen next to something flowing” came to my mind. This thought got me thinking about something I read in the book I mentioned in the last blog entry  about the restorative and healing power of nature in our lives.

This book points some scientific evidence regarding what is going on in our brain when we immerse ourselves in nature. It turns out that by taking time to get out into nature we rest the prefrontal cortex of our brain. This is part of our brain that does what I would call the  “heavy lifting”. It is responsible for decision-making and priorities and execution. By spending time outside in nature we give our prefrontal cortex time to relax and rest – to chill out – we “freeze” it.

The value of this, is what happens to the other portions of our brain, called the “default network”. It gets a chance “to flow”. To kick in. This is the part of our brain that gives us our most human experiences, our deep aesthetic sense, our ability to do the deep things that are unique to us. It is the part of the brain that produces empathy, creativity and heights of insight.

Walking the Camino de Santiago, provides you with lots and lots of time for “default brain network” thinking. It was so helpful for both Terri and I and to many of the pilgrims we walked with. It is amazing how restorative and healing it can be for us to have time like this. To give our “Prefrontal Cortex” a break from all that executive and tasked focus thinking – to freeze it and let our creative and deep thinking portion of our brains “to flow”.

I believe this is more important than ever as we are living in some very high paced and competitive times where every spare moment is filled up with activities, planning and organizing and executing tasks. Our prefrontal cortex is working overtime and needs rest. We need to put it on the “deep freeze” and let our default network of our brain take over more.

I will end this blog with a quote from the book I mentioned quite a bit during the Camino walk. It is called “Sabbath”. We need rest, guys. Get out in nature. Take time to rest your prefrontal cortex!

““And so we are given a commandment: Remember the Sabbath. Rest is an essential enzyme of life, as necessary as air. Without rest, we cannot sustain the energy needed to have life”

Blessing and all Good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Flowing and Free

This is a wonderful image taken on hike to Boulder Falls two weeks ago. It reflects the idea of a free flowing “default network brain” to me!

 

 

 

Forest Bathing

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When I retired from Boeing and having spent the majority of my working career indoors, I wanted to spend more of my days in retirement outdoors. The first thing I did when I retired was to join a weekly hiking club as my first step in trying to make sure I spent more time outdoors. Then our decision to walk the Camino de Santiago and spend 5 weeks walking across Spain, was significant jump start to my goal getting outdoors more! It was a very deep immersion into nature. We were “bathing in nature” so to speak.

I am reading a book called “The Nature Fix“, that provides insights into why nature makes us happier, healthier and more creative. Although I have not finished reading the book, I have found the book to be very captivating and really speaking to me. Here is a great quote I picked up that I love:

” The woods, the trees and the rocks give man the resonance he needs”

Resonance, that is what I feel when I am outside in the woods. The value of spending time in a forest as means of healing stress is something the government of Japan has been investing in since 2003. It is called “shinrin yoku” or “forest bathing“. The book goes into the some interesting research that has been done on how “forest therapy” works in reducing stress.

When I read this chapter of the book, it made so much sense to me. Sometimes things makes sense even when the science has not yet caught up with what your feeling. I guess I have know for years how immersion in nature has a healing effect on me. Now I know there is some good science to go along with those “forest baths” I love to take.

I am excited to get out hiking again this week to an old growth forest walk near Darrington. My hope for you is that you too find the time to get out in the forests, even if it is raining! It is so healthy for us!

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Quiet Forest Time

This forest panoramic was taken in the fall of 2013 during a visit to Traverse City, Michigan. The fall colors and the ease of walking through the forests was delightful. One of my favorite forest walk memories.

P.S. The photograph at the top of this blog is from near the end of our long walk across Spain. I was walking along the trail through a forest and saw this interesting lighting and bushwacked across several yards to get this image.

Love Is An Open Door

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As I mentioned to you in a post recently, my granddaughter, Katherine, has fallen in love with the movie “Frozen”. She loves the music from the movie and one of the songs she has me play for her, often, is called “Love Is An Open Door”. This song titled got me to thinking about the truth of this simple phrase and how important it is to be incorporated into our thinking and how we live our lives.

At Boeing, I was a first line manager, for quite a bit of career. One thing I really strove to live out was to have an “open door” policy (though for many years of my life as a manager I did not have an actual door to my office). The idea of an “open door”, though, remains the same regardless. Those that worked for me, always felt welcome to come in and talk to me. I truly tried hard to remain open to them. To “love” them by making it a priority to hear them (reference my last blog article). It was not easy to keep this policy at times but I can say I honestly tried to do this to the best I could.

One thing about walking the Camino, is the close quarters you often find yourself when you stay in the Albergues.  You are all in the same situation. You are all very tired and all you are looking for is a shower, some food and a good night’s rest. You let your hair down. You open yourself up and you just share your lives and times together. You keep an “open door” to others.

This principle of being open to others is truly an expression of “love”. How can we love others if our door is shut? How can we love others if our fears are driving us to the point where “we are not thinking straight”, are we not we “shutting the door of our mind” in this situation too? How can I love my family when my doors is closed to them because I am too busy to even truly listen to them? How can I love my country, if my head is filled with fears (anger, anxiety, hate) and I shut my door to anyone I don’t agree with? How will I ever understand those I do not agree with if I don’t open the door to at least try and understand what they are feeling and thinking at a deeper level? This is hard stuff. I am not saying it is easy in anyway but to really love others is not a feeling it is an action and it not easy to do in all situations.

I read about a survey that has been conducted every year for the last decade in America to measure our stress (think fears). This past January it took a significant statistical jump up from the slow decline it has seen since it was started in 2007. We are in a stressful time and there is a lot of fear but I say let’s not let those fear rule our lives.

To love means to be “available and ready to hear” others and this is not always easy to do as we find our minds filled with fears and we want to run away (distract ourselves) or fight (be angry and filled with hate at others we find we do not like).

Let’s keep the doors of love open!

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

The Balsamroot Speaks

I thought with Spring just around the corner I would put up a Spring flower photo up to get us in the mood for Spring. A great Spring hike is Icicle Ridge over near Leavenworth.

To Hear Someone

listeningThe Hebrew word for “Hear”, is “Shema”, it means something different than our English translation of the word. In Hebrew the word, “Hear”, it means something more like “doing”. It is a more active than to just hear someone. Hearing means doing.

This I found interesting and lead me to think how often I really don’t “hear” well. I am not very good at really “hearing someone”. You see by the Hebrew translation, it is something more active. It is doing.

To be a good listener is really does take action/doing something. It is not just hearing words but it is putting oneself into a doing/action position. First, I think it is important to take the effort to look at the person that it is talking to you. To turn and look them in the eye. To put down what you looking at and actually turn look at someone directly.

The next part of being a good listener is really hard, it is another action/doing step, it is setting aside my agenda or formulating my response as I am listening. It is a focusing action. To  focus on the person. To just simply, listen without judgemental thoughts. This is really quite difficult if we already have found that this person is someone we are in disagreement with.

The other important part of being a good listener is be actively involved and curious to understand each person’s situation. The action of being a curious listener, actively interested in trying to understand the other person, takes real effort.

I have been thinking about the issue of being a good listener. As a nation, I think we could do a lot better than we are doing right now. One way for us to draw closer together as a nation I believe is for us to begin to practice being better listeners. To actively try “to hear” each other.

One of the things that walking the  Camino did was it really “level set” us all to a similar situation. We were all doing the same routine each day, day after day. We could easily relate to each other’s situation. It was easier to relate and to “hear” each other.

I am working hard these days to be a better listener, to really hear someone. I dare say it is something we all could do better.

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Stilly Winter Landscape

I posted this image this past week on my Blue Skies Facebook page but thought it would be good for others that are not on Facebook to see it as well.

I love the Stillaguamish River and this winter I have had several opportunities to see in many different winter conditions. To make this final image I chose to use a number of creative techniques in the post processing but I think it really works well for this image.

 

 

The Music Of Heaven

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“There is the Music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing” (St. Hildegard of Bingen)

As many of you may know, I have been singing in our Church choir now for a number of years. I love to sing, even though truth be told, I am not a very strong singer (I need lots of help around me to help me stay on tune). One thing I have learned about singing is how it makes me feel. I lifts me up and my soul seems to take flight. I have discovered that, if I only just read the words of the songs we sing at Church, it would not be nearly as powerful and life giving as when we sing them as a choir together. The music is what lifts and makes those words soar in my heart and lifts me to places I could never go without it.

This quote also got me thinking how this also applies as well to the “Music of Heaven” seen all around us in nature. I realized that how if one only spent their time looking at photographs of nature, there would be a very limited understanding of nature. I try very hard in my photography to convey the amazing beauty of nature to the reader of my photographs. I know that they do help bring folks closer to seeing the beauty of what I have seen but there really is no substitute than to actually personally experience that amazing sunrise or sunset. To be present in nature to its raw beauty is to “sing” out its beauty. It lifts you up and you feel it’s real raw power to heal us and renew us.

Recently I have taken to taking video of the scenes of nature, in addition to the photographs. It seems to me that the videos are getting one a tiny bit closer to the experience of immersion in nature but still there is really no substitute for being there. If we really want to our spirits to soar, we need to “sing” out the beauty of nature by being present with all our senses to its amazing beauty.

As I write the blog today, it has been snowing and there is a fair amount of snow now across the city, covering everything in a beautiful white coat. No need to get in a car and drive to the mountains today to “sing” out the music of heaven. It is right outside our doors. Go and immerse yourselves its beauty! Sing out!

Blessings and all good,

John

Photograph of the Week

Well, I decided to depart this week from a photograph only and will offer to you something that might be closer to “singing out” natures song. Here are a few videos I have taken this year from different trips to the mountains to experience the frozen beauty of the waterfalls of our region as well as a special winter getaway trip to warm and sunny Santa Barbara. I have added music that our Holy Rosary Edmonds Catholic Church choir sang back in June 2016 to this as well.

Enjoy and immerse yourselves!

Sing Out Nature’s Beauty

 

Get Some Distance

 

20160628-st-helens-john-and-st-helensOur little granddaughter Kay, like so many children these days, is in love with the Disney movie, “Frozen”. She loves hearing the song, “Let It Go”. The following lyrics in this song caused me to think about how true it is that getting some distance can be a healthy medicine for us:

“It’s funny how some distance makes everything seem small and the fears that once controlled me can’t get to me at all” (lyrics from “Let it Go” by Idina Menzel)

Walking the Camino, Terri and I experienced the value of distance from our everyday life because it was a true breakaway experience. You get a new perspective when you separate yourself away. It is a healthy thing for us to do this, I believe. The distance gives us perspective for some reason. In this long walk I was able to see more clearly my life as a retired Boeing engineer. My 40 years of working at Boeing began to been seen from a distance. My fears of what a retired life was going be like, began to fade as I became more excited about being retired.

I know that for some folks there is a lot of fear and anxiety about what is going to happen next,  now that we have a new President in office. My recommendation for you is to put  “some distance” on it. How do you do that? How about spending some time away from your daily routine and turn off the news. If possible get out into nature and into some winter silence. I think it helps to get up high in the mountains, so you can look back down and see how things look different. Not sure why this all helps but my experience is that it does.

I will end this little blog today with a quote from Frank Borman of the Apollo 8 mission;

“The view of the Earth from the Moon fascinated me — a small disk, 240,000 miles away. It was hard to think that that little thing held so many problems, so many frustrations. Raging nationalistic interests, famines, wars, pestilence don’t show from that distance.”

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Week

Eagle Guardians of the Skagit

I posted this image I created from a photograph of three eagles sitting high in a tree near the town of Bow, in the Skagit Valley. I posted it on my Blue Skies Photography Facebook page but wanted to share if with those who did not see it there. It is one of my favorite images I created recently.

 

 

When It’s All Been Said And Done

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During our Camino walk and our recent trip to Scotland and Ireland, we visited a number of very old graveyards (The image above was created a photograph I captured from the Isle of Iona off the coast of Scotland). Maybe it was the combined effect of visiting of these ancient grave sites and a song I was listening to recently called “When It’s All Been Said And Done” that got me to a reflective mood about my own death. I was thinking on the importance of never taking any of our moments we have here for granted. We really do not have the much time here on earth.

“When it’s all been said and done, all my treasures will mean nothing” goes one of the verses of the song. The expression “there are U-Haul’s behind hearses” comes to mind for me. Here is a good reminder for me as I pile up more stuff and those things I think I can not live without. When it’s all been said and done, will they say I loved my family more than my stuff? Will they say I was a faithful and true husband, father, grandfather and friend? What will be remembered of me ,when all’s said and done?

This year I became aware of an international speaker, author and business consultant named Matthew Kelly from Sydney, Australia. He has dedicated his life to helping people and organizations “to become the best versions of themselves“.

This is what I want to strive for in 2017 and they years I have left. To become the best version of myself so when it’s all been said and done, I will have no regrets and my Savior will say, “Well done, John!”.

Blessings,

John

Photograph of the Week

Ancient Celtic Stones

The image was created from a photograph taken in the Glencolmcille region of Ireland (Northwest coast). The are a number of these very old marker stones in this area of Ireland. Glencolmcille has a very ancient past with farmers settling in this valley as far back as 3000BC.