tree, cypress, monterey cypress, golden gate park, san francisco, life lessons, growth, personal development, entrepreneur, uncertainty, maps

The Tops of Tree’s

This morning a friend and I went hunting on foot for a tower, the famous Sutro Tower in San Francisco to be exact. Despite being 100% socked in by fog, it was easy to find as we had our phones, and as such, a map of our walking path. We meandered up through a rare city forest, finding some sour blackberries and a bit of calm with each step. It was a nice little morning adventure made even better by the comfort of a good friend, and of course, that map.

Tonight, as the sun was setting, I set out on foot again for a different type of tower, a tree actually. This time I left the phone and the map at home, relying solely on a memory of a tree that my friends and I climbed a year prior (pictured here). I was getting ready to leave for dinner, with a nice dress and boots on, when I heard the call of this tree. It’s a familiar call, one I ignore more and more as I age, to simply wander and play. As I meandered around the expansive Golden Gate park wondering which way to go, I slowed down a bit from my normal pace. So slow in fact that I eventually heard something familiar in the far distance, the sound of batting practice. That tree was near the baseball fields, I recalled. Off to the fields I went and there, with rays of sunlight streaming through, was the tall and twisted cypress standing by itself on the edge of those fields.

I’m in the tree now writing all this, in fact. My boots are directly below me on the ground as I let my bare feet take me as high as my fearful adult mind would allow. I needed this. Needed to feel the bark solidly under my feet, a stark contrast to the uncertainty I’ve felt over the past few months. I’m so high I can see the tops of other trees and that’s where I am in my life right now, at a place higher than I’ve ever been and I’m scared to move. In the past I’ve always taken a running leap from these places, landing quickly on the other side, soaring past any fears and doubts or unknowns. Recently though, I’ve come to realize that I haven’t really learned much by running and leaping towards whatever finish line I’ve been seeking. So, here I am, wanting to do things differently but not really knowing how. Feeling all the fears and doubts that come with being in this place figuratively and literally (I am at the top of a tall tree, barefoot and in a dress no less). Certain there are parts of me exposed that would make some of those baseball players rather happy if they were to look my way.

Being in this playfully contemplative state, I start to wonder, does this tree, that I so eagerly climbed up, plot and plan as vigorously as I do when it wants to grow? I don’t think so. In fact, as I look further at the nature of this magnificent thing, I realize all it seems to be doing is following the rays of the sun. It’s roots are firmly planted in the ground so that it’s branches can fan out all around for people to climb, birds to land, and squirrels to jump on. It just grows, steadily, spiraling up. There’s no map it follows. No real destination. It just grows, slowly and surely and it will continue to do so for a couple hundred more years. Quite possibly this is my lesson here, to grow as a tree; get rooted in what’s necessary then steadily branch out towards the sun, one ray at a time. No comfort of a map or running leap needed. That seems to be what’s working for this very large and very beautiful tree. With that conclusion, it seems all I have to figure out now is how to climb down without making the moon come out.

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Wild Dream Walks, Nicole Huguenin, Stacy Ryan, Dany Yeats, Friendship, Dreams

You Can’t Put A Price Tag on Friendship

My friend, Stacy Ryan, an aspiring and inspiring writer, surprised me with a visit last spring along with our dear friend Dana. Subsequently she wrote the following piece about Denver, dreams, and friendship.

Although the story is a glimpse into my personal life it really captures the underlying principle of friendship that guides what we do at Wild Dream Walks. It’s a balance, much like Stacy writes, between having friends who see the world as it is and having others imagining what it could be, with us. That’s the power of our community. People, sometimes even strangers, who offer a listening ear to someone setting out on a big journey, or helping each other get stuff done at a work session for entrepreneurs and creatives, or one of us leading a wish workshop for our elders. We gift our listening ears, our helpful hands and steady steps towards what the world could be all the while keeping each other grounded in what our day-to-day realities are. It’s almost as if having these varied types of friendships provides us with an opportunity to move freely between our thoughts, our hearts desires and our daily actions with ease.  Thanks Stacy, for capturing this moment of time and, even more, for your continued friendship.

Denver: Mile-High in the Sky Hopes

It may have been mile-high hysteria, but this warm-blooded California girl loved the aesthetics that snow gave the urban Denver landscape. As I walked in my heavy snow boots, I tried to keep up with Dana’s long-legged strides and Nicole’s enthusiastic ones. I mostly eavesdropped on their conversation, talking only when I felt it was needed, because I preferred listening to these two women wax optimistic. I can say this of their conversation: if Nicole saw pink snow around us thanks to her rose-colored glasses than Dana regarded the snow as potential water.

Nicole possesses a wanderer’s spirit, with a destination being more of a suggestion than a requirement. That’s appropriate because Nicole walks quite a bit. Through her organization Wild Dream Walks, she guides people to living their best life by joining them on walks and discussing their aspirations and goals. In an effort not to put a price tag on people’s dreams or the services that she provides, Nicole jumped into the “gift economy” where capital (payment) can be anything from cash, gift cards, meals, or even just helping Nicole find new opportunities. It’s the 21st-century version of being a hippie but with much more social networking.  

Dana is a mother of three kids, all under nine, with a part-time job and a husband who travels quite a bit. Like me, Dana aspires for something to define her interests other than her kids, hoping one day to provide fitness and nutrition help to clients. Dana is the type who thinks cranberries are an excellent substitute for chocolate while I think the best substitution for chocolate is raw sugar. Dana is a goal-oriented kind of gal; her to-do list actually gets marked as done while mine keeps migrating to the next week (for instance, I still need to order my college cap and gown). But with each class she takes for nutrition and each person that comes to her for fitness tips, Dana steadily continues towards her aspirations.

Dana and I landed in Denver the night after a storm had hit and the snow stayed on the ground for most of the weekend. Blades of grass and buds of daffodils extended through the new snow, creating a world where spring tried to rear it’s head and winter smacked it back down. I was able to see the grass and flowers because the three of us walked everywhere we went as Nicole decided a long time ago that the expense of a car didn’t fit into her lifestyle. A funny thing happens when you become a person who walks everywhere instead of driving. Time seems to slow down, passing only as quickly as your footsteps. But more than that, it’s almost more conducive to talk while strolling. Cars insulate a conversation to only its occupants.  When walking, ambient sounds, the natural and the manufactured environment, and even fellow pedestrians become part of the conversation as well.

So as we three friends walked, the conversation ebbed and flowed with our silences filled with the sound of our boots crunching the snow and ice on the sidewalk. Nicole suggested that we should head over to the Denver Botanic Garden.  After viewing the tropical plants and the greenhouse complete with orchids waiting for planting in warmer weather, the three of us wandered out to the koi pond. “I was always curious about what happens to the fish during the winter,” Nicole told us as we peered down into the water at the swimming gold, black, and white figures below. “It turns out, the fish will secure themselves in the sediment and go into a sort of hibernation until it warms up again.” How smart of them, I thought.

We left the botanic garden, heading out through the surrounding neighborhood. Almost every home had Adirondack chairs and BBQ’s on their patios or their front lawns, each covered with snow and optimism of warmer days.  
Wild Dream Walks, Dreams, Friendship, Spring, Winter, Stacy Ryan, Nicole Huguenin, Dana Yeats
As I walked all over Denver with Nicole and Dana, it occurred to me that Nicole represents spring to her walking companions. They come to her because they realize something in their lives is missing or has stalled and just bouncing an idea off a stranger (or new friend) helps them feel grounded and ready for the next step. Whether or not she is there to untie the knot that has them stuck or to be the sounding board to help rephrase or rework their ideas, Nicole is there like a blade of grass is peeking through the snow.

On the other hand, Dana will remind you that the blade of grass was there because you planted it before the snow fell. The rewards came because you did the hard work before the long, winter months. Whether she is touting healthy eating or discussing the benefits of practicing yoga, Dana is always about putting the work in to see the results. She is the eternal ant to my grasshopper.  

Both Dana and Nicole want the same things for the people in their lives: achievement of their goals. But while Nicole’s approach is one of a dreamer, Dana is one of a planner. Combined, they give me a sense of realistic optimism. Whether through long strides or excited little ones, the final destination feels that much closer with friends like them.

You can follow Stacy at her blog or twitter.

Second Annual Love Walk 2016

This years Love Walk didn’t begin at 11am on Valentine’s Day as was planned. Rather the seeds for this second annual walk were planted one year and two weeks earlier as I watched a super bowl commercial regale viewers with promises of free food if they participated in an act of kindness, like calling their mom while in line or hugging the cashier. I found myself thinking that this was a nice gesture but couldn’t shake an internal feeling that this worldwide company, along with many other corporations, had found a way to capitalize on kindness resulting in love, something priceless to me, becoming a commodity. This feeling, coupled with a recent personal event in my love life, made my heart hurt. I remember having internal screams of expletives and outwardly showing signs of cynicism about everything, from football to my own friends for days on end. I could feel those old curmudgeon workers that we all have inside of us laying down the brick for the inevitable wall that was to be built around my heart. Only, I didn’t want to be angry and cynical, all that had ever gotten me in the past was more anger and more cynicism. I wanted to find a way to open my heart more and see where that took me. I guess I could have seen a therapist or a life coach, gone to a yoga class, or meditated, doing any of those would have helped to ease the pain, but something else was calling my heart. It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about my friends, my family, my neighbors, my communities having a place to practice love, as the priceless thing that I knew it was. In a sense, these very personal feelings were calling me to serve something bigger than myself and my heartache. It was in this turmoil that the idea for a special kind of walk emerged, a walk that allowed anyone who wanted to practice loving others, specifically strangers, with no strings attached, to do so.

Love walk

Fast forward to eleven am on Valentines day of this year, 2016. The invitations for the 2nd Annual Love Walk: No Strings Attached had gone out and about 20 people showed up, each with a different gift to give on one of Denver’s busiest pedestrian streets, the 16th Street Mall. From 12 year olds to well over 70 year olds we took off to give out hugs, smiles, and high fives along with candies, guitar and flute serenades, roses, and love notes to anyone who crossed our path. More than half of the walkers had never done anything like this before. There was some apprehension in approaching strangers at first but once folks got the hang of it they learned how to offer their candy or their hugs without needing it to be accepted. Although that rarely happened as most recipients were surprised and happy to accept our gifts, some so much so that they joined us for a few blocks of the two mile walk.

love walk 2016

As our steps became stronger our smiles deepened, touching different parts of each of our hearts. Around one particular corner I spotted a young child that had already been tagged with a cut out heart from one of the walkers at the head of the pack. The young child’s smile and her moms smile were so big that it seemed every one of us wanted to stop and  give them more hugs and chocolates and such. I later found out that the walker who had tagged her with the heart had also given the mom $50. This particular walker had taken an hour bus ride to get to our walk and on that bus ride had found a $50 bill. She recalled pondering all the things she could spend it on for herself but then something in her told her that this particular $50 was to go to someone else that day. She decided to hand it out to the person she thought needed it the most on our walk. At one point she approached a man, a fellow that looked to be homeless, and asked if he could use the money. He turned her down and said, “I don’t but my wife sure could use it, she’s around the corner. This would make her very happy as we’ve been struggling and she’s not too happy with me right now”. So she walked a few steps further and found this mom and her child around the corner looking upset. She gently walked up and handed her the heart with the money. The mom began to cry as they exchanged a hug. I suppose it’s a moment that both women will never forget. It’s these types of moments, and the subsequent showering of gifts upon this mom and her child, that are priceless. This, and all the other moments that went undocumented that day served to open hearts, if even for a moment, by taking at least one brick off the walls we create for ourselves to protect us from heartache. At least that’s what it did and continues to do for me.

A Web Of Walking

A fellow friend and walker, many miles and oceans away, that I’ve never met in person sent me a little note upon hearing that I was to embark on a walking pilgrimage. It said,

“When you walk your own heart’s path, you inspire countless others to walk their own too, thank you.”

So simple and yet it struck a hearts cord with me, as this is exactly what I’ve been experimenting with in creating Wild Dream Walks. With each walk, each event, each call to service, we are finding ways for us all to bring what our hearts know to be true to the world, together. In every hug given and smile shared I see hope, in every walk I watch utter strangers connect in micro-moments of love and friendship, and in each act of service I see everyday people become the leaders they didn’t know they were.

And, over the past 4 months I’ve been personally experimenting with running Wild Dream Walks as my full-time gig within the gift economy (although many of us call it a gift ecology because of it’s ties to nature). In the past four months I’ve personally walked with close to 1000 people, and per my iphone’s data collection, around 130 miles, and, something I don’t tell many, gifted most of my time to many individuals and organizations who have big dreams of a more deeply connected world. The journey has been as much internal as external. As my small team and I have worked to design Wild Dream Walks into one that spreads love, joy and friendship organically, I’ve also had to work personally on my own giving and receiving of love, joy and friendship. I’ve learned a lot, collected many data points, pushed edges I didn’t even know I had, sped up too the point of almost burning my house down, and sat for many hours under trees in shear gratitude that St. Francis of Assisi was right, in giving I actually have received more than I ever could have imagined.

Offering

Statue at Denver Botanic Gardens. “One can’t know themselves until they wait, until they listen.”

When I started this grand experiment on January 1st, I told myself and those that asked, “If by January 20th I don’t know how to pay my February house payment then I’ll go to plan B and apply for a job at Trader Joe’s“.  That day came and went, as did February 20th, March 20th and tomorrow April 20th. There have been less than a handful of day’s where my bank account has gone down to $15 and I thought I would have to choose between getting a meal or putting gas in my car, but you know, that happened when I had what most people call a real job too. Not only that, I never ended up having to choose, as suddenly a friend, and sometimes even a stranger, would offer a meal or a ride. The path has been one of many serendipities and I’ve always had every one of my needs met, monetarily and spiritually. Learning to trust this new way of being has been the biggest learning lesson in this experiment and this is at the crux of the month long pilgrimage I am about to embark upon.

Beginnings
A month or so ago I felt my heart call, something I would have never listened to just three short years ago. I sat with the call for many days, feeling the need to keep it secret, until I had figured out all my plans. Only, this notion of figuring it all out before sharing it, is much like keeping your birthday wish a secret when you blow out the candles, it doesn’t work and is an action in direct conflict with what we practice on every single Dream Walk. As many in the Dream Walk collective have learned, and even I have to relearn at times, when you share a dream, any dream, with someone you are actually exercising your muscles of courage, hope, connection, and creativity, and even empathy, which make those things that much stronger when your heart calls you into action with a dream, big or small. So I began to share this call to walk with friends and strangers alike, knowing that the dream would shift as I shared it and reflecting on people’s reactions to help understand what my heart really wanted from this experience. Over a months time I shared several versions, first that I would be walking from Ft. Collins to Pueblo Colorado, then, extending it another 200 miles to Chimayo, New Mexico. Finally, getting to what the pilgrimage is now, that of creating a base camp in Chimayo and launching out and returning in 31 different directions from May 1-31st, 2015. This latter way creating a walking web, rather than a straight line, and connecting me to one place deeply rather than many places shortly. As I shared my dream with the world I realized that walking 409 miles was not something I wanted to do right now, that the physical nature and design of a straight line walk would distract me from the spiritual questions I was wanting to ask myself at the height of my current life experiments. Those questions being,

  • Do I need my backup plans anymore or shall I continue down the path of Giftivism with no exit strategy?
  • What have I learned and how will that lead to what is next, personally and organizationally?
  • How can I open my heart even more, how best can I serve?
  • And, the ever eternal question, who am I and who am I to be, going forward?

I may come back with answers, I may not. I might even come back with more questions. However, the second I chose to ponder these questions in silence and solace, sans technology, from one distinct location, my heart felt peace. I also know that I am not used to silence, that I gather energy from connection. So I’ve been asking myself how I could stay connected while still staying true to my very unusual request of walking with nature as my friend. True to form, the answer came from my 6 year old niece who asked if I would write to her while I was away. This little butterfly of a child does not take no for an answer, so I’ve started to gather stationary, envelopes and stamps. Not only that I’ve given this letter writing option to many people that have asked how they can follow me during my journey, including an entire class of 2nd graders, here in Denver. The word “following” was asked in the form of blogging and Facebooking, I see this as proof to the infiltration of technology in creating connection and turning it into transaction. I will not be blogging or posting to Facebook, in fact I will only be turning my cell phone on once a week to check-in with my parents. I will lovingly write you a letter if you forward me your address via this form. I’ll also be creating other ways of connecting, however I’m going to leave that up to the present moment while weaving a web of love in and around Chimayo.

Nothing is Everything

I’d also like to pause for a moment to say thank you for the outpouring of support for what my logical brain thinks is a month of doing nothing (yet, my heart know’s better as nothing actually meaning everything in this instance). From borrowed items such as a camping stove to gifts such as a tree hammock, to anonymous notes and gifts from fellow pilgrims I am, once again, overflowing with gratitude for the support of my family, walking & dreaming communities, noble friends, and many strangers. I’m also grateful for those pilgrims that have come before me, some that I know through their words and others I know personally, Thoreau, Peace Pilgrim, Nipun & Guri, and Jonathon to name just a few. My noble friend was right, following your heart’s path has allowed me to follow my own, thank you. I must also send thanks to the Dream Walk community, that grows daily, especially to Lynn, Dawn, Lisa, Lisa, Sarah, William, Amy, and Natalie. Some will be leading our weekly and monthly Dream Walks in Denver while the others continue to walk the path of their dreams and in so doing, pave a path for others.

With many smiles and thoughts of love,

Nicole

Here’s the form to creatively stay connected. It will  be checked up until April 27th: