About 18 years ago I took a sabbatical from my position as a partner in a leading Upstate New York consulting engineering firm. I went on a NOLS trip. I decided to spend more time in Vermont where I taught skiing and guided mountain biking on weekends. I was always inspired in the mountains. I went there. I stayed there. Since that time, my world has continually been an exciting exploration of life, one discovery after another.
I met Jo and her two kids, Alex (8) and Natalie (4). Jo and I talked about living sustainably, about simplifying our lives, about living and sharing in a healthy manner. We traveled. We explored. We got married. We raised two wonderful kids. We took care of our homestead. I got involved in the ski business and was a resort leader in a new strengths-based teaching program. I got involved in adventure-based programming and team-building activities. I learned about timber framing and sustainable home design. I even taught math and health courses at a private middle-high school one year where both kids were students. I became more and more accustomed to change as the priorities of our kids became our priorities, and as I lived the Vermont can-do independent and interdependent lifestyle.
When the kids were in high school, we endured some very dark years. The effects of tragedy that had occurred in my wife’s previous life, before I met her, began to show their ugliness. For me, day-to-day life was more about survival and working hard to get through each day, focusing on my survival and the survival of my wife and my step-kids. I learned about post-traumatic stress through direct experience, both as a caregiver and also as an indirect sufferer of its ugly symptoms. Our years of learning, practicing, and teaching yoga became instrumental in our day-to-day practice of coping and just existing.
I became more and more spiritual as I grasped for meaning. I was alone from a human perspective, but as we reached out for spiritual support, I felt more and more connected. Things started to turn around. From this suffering came learning. Although I didn’t know it at the time, I was being prepared for my life’s work.
When the economy was hurting and my timber-frame design work was slow, I received a call to help facilitate a new program in New York for veterans with post-traumatic stress (PTSD). The person calling me had no idea of our past experiences other than that I could do team-building activities well. One program (and one person named Joel) led to 3 years of work with veterans with PTSD and other disabilities, and work with amazing civilians, some with disabilities and some without. I met some inspiring veterans. Joel. Mike. Michael. Michael. Ed. Peter. Jeanette. Joan. Will. Brian. Linda. Matt. Jonah. Bill. Leslie. The list goes on. I have met some inspiring disabled athletes and volunteer coaches. John. TC. Andrew. Ty. Andrew. Carson. Robin. Betsy. Paul. Hannah. We have become friends. We have dreamed about life, connecting with others, being in nature, learning to accept ourselves and practice living on a day-by-day basis. No judging. No attaching ourselves to outcomes. Just being compassionate and well-intended human beings.
One of the veterans Jo and I shared much time with was Eva, who came to some of our events as both a therapist and as a participant. We had some amazing experiences in New York, at our home in Vermont, and then travelling abroad. We talked about our sufferings. We talked about our paths of healing. We shared heart-felt experiences of spiritual connection and miracles and healing. We shared our lives and practiced healthy daily living…local organic food, meditation, yoga, exercise, discussion…
Since the time of our experiences with Eva one year ago, more and more magical experiences have unfolded… and at what seems to be an accelerating pace! We have learned to trust our intuitions. The heartfelt, spiritual, and healing experiences we shared together have become the guiding lights in each of our lives.
The three of us have struggled with the thought of building something together in one location. Eva’s home is on the West Coast. Our home is in the East. We learned to let things unfold. We knew that simple daily practices of healthy living would be at the core of any comprehensive program we initiated to help others heal and live better.
And unfold they have! All in the last year! A new nonprofit organization has been birthed by Eva on the West Coast- Warriors Live On, Inc. A new nonprofit organization has been birthed by Jo and me on the East Coast- Wild Mountain U, Inc. Eva continues to expand her work in the areas of mindfulness-based therapies in the San Diego area as she works to launch WLO programming. Jo and I have had door after door open for us at Stratton Mountain, Vermont, through our work to provide mindfulness-based yoga programs, outdoor education experiences, and health and wellness education and leadership at Stratton and with WMU. Stratton and WMU will partner for veteran-supporting and other programs. We will enlist the support of our many friends, many of whom have been our guiding lights. WLO and WMU will do some joint programs together or in support of one another. I plan to be intimately involved in the WLO mentoring programming. Jo and I are excited in the meantime as new and exciting opportunities unfold at Stratton Mountain.
And yes, I am a ski school manager again… at Stratton… my 40th season as a ski instructor / clinician or ski school manager / director.
I have also recently started this blog. It has been a way for me to reflect. It has been a way for me to share. It has been a way for me to move on from an identity as an architectural engineer to a health and wellness mentor. It has been a vehicle for me to share what I learn as I experience new things each day in my life and as I look back at how my path has brought me to this place… with new understanding… and with new perspectives. It has helped me realize my role at my age as a mentor.
So, 2012, to me, has been a year of miracles.
In my last decade and a half in Vermont, I have learned much. I have learned to let go of things I can’t control and to accept responsibility for things I can impact. I have learned to keep my eyes open to new discoveries and miracles. I have learned to keep my heart open to all… and accept all people as they are with dignity. Or at least try. I have learned what it feels like to love deeply, to be spiritual, and to trust my intuition. I have learned that even in tragedy, there are opportunities to learn and to see light. I have learned that it is through experiences with others that new insights are possible. I have learned the challenges of parenthood; I have experienced the magic and beauty of parenthood. I have learned that my path in life is sharing what I have learned with others, and learning to live in a manner that is to the benefit of all others. I have learned that we will all thrive in our collective lives and in our individual lives when we support each other, learn from each other, and work from a place of common ground. For me, that place of common ground starts with feelings of love and compassion for all, and a deep sense of belonging and connection.