Sunday, September 29, 2013

Pedaling downhill

When I was a child, I lived on a hill in Colorado, but it wasn't just a hill - it was a gateway.

In that neighborhood, when you learned to ride a bike, halfway up a hill already, it wasn't long before you were riding both down and up hills.  I was surprisingly adventurous as a child, while sheltered too, a unique mix of a person even back then, a person who was and is me.  I gave a glimpse of this already in my rollercoaster post.

I'm not sure how long it took for me to realize that one could actually go very fast on that hill.  Climbing the hill was not easy.  I pedaled very, very hard, standing a bit as I pedaled, weaving back and forth, just to keep going.

At some point, I couldn't pedal at all.  I had to get off my bike and walk.  It was tempting to stop at that point, stop just part way.  I remember thinking sometimes "Maybe this is enough."  But I quickly learned after stopping a few times, it generally wasn't enough, so I learned to keep going, even if it was hard, walking my bike as high as I could go.

In this moment, I am there, at the top of the hill, a beautiful Colorado valley below, surrounded by mountains.  If I was wise (and I wasn't always), I would stop to catch my breath and appreciate the view, even if somewhat obscured by the houses.  But that wasn't the reward.  It was just the space to launch. 

And so I would start on my descent, a bit slowly at first since the hill was steep at the top, and I had to find a way to my balance.  This took practice.  I did this day after day.  The longer it took to find my balance, the less of a reward down below.  As soon as the wobbling stopped, I would start pedaling.  Not coasting, pedaling.  Pedaling not up hill, but down.  This too took practice, to know how fast to pedal, to know how much was too much and how little was too little, both in duration and rate of speed.  If you pedaled too fast, it was dangerous below.  If you pedaled too slow, it was pointless.

For some reason, I didn't worry about obstacles.  They didn't even cross my mind.  This is surprising since I wasn't always this person, this person on the hill, and I'm not always this person now.  Some people would say I'm never this person, and this story may surprise them.  That's why I'm remixing her today, remixing me, remembering who I am, pulling just enough forward, simply by remembering...

At some point, and I'm not quite sure when I knew it, it was time to stop pedaling.  If you did it too soon, that would lessen the impact.  If you did it too late, you had worked yourself out of the reward.  It was quite a narrow window.  Once you stopped pedaling, though it was possible, it was generally difficult to start pedaling again, as the transition could scuttle your balance, a very bad idea as the rate of speed increased.

There were no bike helmets.  No parental figure, my own or otherwise, yelled at me to stop.  I never crashed, not once, never on the hill.  If I had, I might have stopped altogether, forever (I sense that happened later, in a different way).  At one point, around the age of 12 or so, I did this almost every day in the summer, like a kind of meditation.  Nobody seemed to notice at all, as if I was invisible.

If I quiet my spirit and listen, if I quiet my spirit and feel, she is with me, this person, the person on the bike. The threshold - when it appeared - it was like breaking through a barrier, the speed of Light within reach.

The view from the top of the hill was nothing in comparison.  The freedom, the joy, the elation of flying - it was a glimpse of heaven.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Gift

"Then give to the world the best that you have,
And the best will come back to you." 
~ Madeline S. Bridges  
(Mary Ainge De Vere, b. 1840's) 

When I was very young, there was a poster on my wall depicting a beautiful waterfall and a bridge.  I'm quite certain it was Multnomah Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in the world, a place I would only much later come to know in this beautiful state I call home.

There was a quote on the poster, unattributed, words written upon my heart every single day, an excerpt from a poem by 19th century American poet Madeline S. Bridges, whose real name is Mary Ainge De Vere.  Every day, I was reminded to be the best I could possibly be, give the most I could possibly give:

"Give to the world the best that you have,
And the best will come back to you."

A picture I took of Multnomah Falls, Oregon on a winter day.
I kept the poster with me for many years.  It came with me to more than one college.  It was up on my first office wall.  It was up in various apartments.  And then for a while, worn and torn from several moves, it was simply rolled up in an attic, as I was just too sentimental to throw it away.  Eventually, I had to let it go, as it was simply a poster, never framed, and it couldn't last forever.  Yet even long after the poster was gone, the words came to me, echoing in my mind for half a lifetime.

On this day, a critically vital day, a day of birth and rebirth, the day I became a mother many years ago, Mary's words are with me once again.  She was not a particularly famous poet, yet her words, a simple, heartfelt expression, had an indelible impact on a life, my life, and no doubt others too.

Mary is not in Wikipedia (though perhaps she should be).  There is very little to be found on her life online.  From scant resources that do exist (accurate or not), it is said she was a life-long poet who lived in Brooklyn, New York, born in the 1840's, with poems published in periodicals in 1870 and 1890.  I'm really not sure when she wrote Life's Mirror, which I quote in its entirety below (with a caveat that what one finds online may not always be quoted precisely). 

Life's Mirror 
by Madeline S. Bridges 
(Mary Ainge De Vere)
There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave,
There are souls that are pure and true;
Then give to the world the best that you have,
And the best will come back to you.

Give love, and love to your life will flow,
A strength in your utmost need;
Have faith, and a score of hearts will show
Their faith in your work and deed.

Give truth, and your gift will be paid in kind,
And honor will honor meet;
And the smile which is sweet will surely find
A smile that is just as sweet.

Give sorrow and pity to those who mourn;
You will gather in flowers again
The scattered seeds from your thought outborne
Though the sowing seemed but vain.

For life is the mirror of king and slave,
'Tis just what we are and do;
Then give to the world the best that you have
And the best will come back to you.

The world is filled with brilliant writers most of us have never known, their voices from the heart.  Yet sometimes, in the most mysterious of ways, their words emerge to change a life, a Gift that keeps on giving the world its very best.

Friday, September 6, 2013

"Walking the Camino": A Journey into the Soul with Filmmaker Lydia B. Smith

Thousands of people descend each year upon a 500-mile path across Spain, retracing the steps pilgrims have walked for over 1200 years.  Called a “brilliant documentary” by Oscar winner Martin Sheen, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago follows six modern-day pilgrims as they journey on the trail and into the soul, discovering pathways to life-changing transformation along the way.  Walking the Camino begins an exclusive Portland, Oregon engagement tonight at the Hollywood Theatre, running daily through September 13.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to talk earlier this week with talented Oregon filmmaker Lydia B. Smith on The Frontier Beyond Fear radio program. The award-winning Walking the Camino is Lydia’s feature film debut as producer and director. The veteran documentary filmmaker lived in Barcelona for six years and walked the Camino herself in 2008. Over the past two decades, Lydia has produced in-depth specials for CNN and PBS, as well as her own educational shorts.

Lydia sees the openness of her own spiritual journey reflected in the Camino.  “I think the Camino is such a great metaphor for life and for spirituality in that each of us has to find our own way.  And it doesn’t mean that one way is right and another way is wrong.  It’s just each of us will find the path that speaks to us.”

According to Lydia, the approach to the Camino varies, with some pilgrims focused deeply on spirituality and others simply enjoying the beautiful countryside.  “It’s really about learning to listen to yourself and listen to your own guidance of what’s best for you, and that’s why I think it’s such a brilliant experience because that’s what we all need to do in life.  There’s nobody outside us that really knows what’s best for us.”

Lydia’s own experience walking the Camino set the stage for taking her creative pursuits to the next level. “I think what inspired me just in walking the Camino was just kind of reconnecting with myself and reconnecting with the truth of who I was.  And I think for so long I’ve kind of hidden or played myself as a little bit smaller than I am and not risen up into my true potential.”

Just as pilgrims experience a variety of challenges on the Camino, Lydia encountered her own hurdles translating her vision into a documentary. “I feel so grateful for the Camino and for the subject matter because it hasn’t been an easy road making this film, but the content of the film itself is what inspired me to keep going and encouraged me, and it’s really pretty neat the way that circle works.”

Lydia's experience of the Camino is a lifelong journey.  “Many people say this about pilgrimage, that the real pilgrimage actually starts once you get home, and for me that’s been very true.  My Camino continues today.  My Camino has been not just walking the path but making this film and getting this film out into the world.  And the real challenging part was definitely making the film - the walking part was easy comparatively.”

The demands of the Camino often lead to spontaneous acts of kindness along the way.  Pilgrims are also assisted by volunteers who donate two weeks of their time to help with everything from cooking to providing remedies for blistered feet.  Pilgrims often sleep in close quarters in hostels, where attempting to catch some sleep amidst the snores can be a challenge in itself.  “The local people are very supportive…There’s a lot of gratitude for the pilgrims…this has been going on for generations and generations…it’s sort of in the consciousness there.”

Lydia feels the Camino’s lingering effect is one of service to humanity.  “The best of us, the best of being human comes out.  And people are so much more loving and giving.  And my intention in making this film wasn’t that everybody go do the Camino, but it does seem to have that effect…once people do the Camino, they are more conscious and more geared towards service and helping others.”

Lydia’s intent was to create a “transformative experience” for viewers.  Rapid sell-outs have been common at the festivals where the film has played, with some viewers traveling to see the film again.  “This wasn’t my film.  It’s the Camino’s film.  And I really wanted me to get out of the way and let the Camino kind of put forth what was best for this film.  And so I really worked on a lot of trust, trusting we were going to meet the right people in the right time, in the right way.”

There is a possibility the Portland run may be extended if there is sufficient audience demand, but Lydia recommends buying tickets in advance.  Tonight’s premiere is nearing a sell-out.  Lydia, Oregon-based producer Sally Bentley and editor Beth Segal will actively engage the audience in a Q&A session after tonight’s showing.  Lydia will be available for Q&A after evening showings every night except Sunday.  On Sunday, there is a fundraiser to support the ongoing costs of bringing the film to theaters and festivals in diverse locations.

Lydia sees a special role for inspiring audiences with uplifting documentaries.  “Not everything has to have violence or has to be depressing…So many of the documentaries out these days are really important social issues, but you walk away feeling a little dejected and depressed about the state of things.  And there’s a place for those, but there’s also a place for films that will uplift you and inspire you to do something significant for yourself, for the world.”

Listen to the entire 60-minute interview with Lydia on The Frontier Beyond Fear.  Visit for all the latest information on the film and upcoming screenings.

Film trailer and photos included with the permission of Lydia B. Smith, copyrighted by Walking the Camino.