Epiphany #1: Christmas evening we're watching the new release of Pinnochio at the cinema on the edge of Piazza Cavour near our hotel. It's all in Italian, but knowing the story, we follow along, recognizing a few words and phrases here and there. Roberto Benigni plays Geppetto and I'm transported back to the version of the story I learned as a child. I don't even remember that it is an Italian story until it unfolds on the screen.
Surrounded by caring and kind Italian families both in the cinema and for the week we've been touring around, I get a sense of the warmth I experienced from my grandfather and on occasion my father. There's a tenderness about the interactions. Protective and caring. And then it dawns on me...
I'm in Rome.
I'm in Rome, Italy.
This is where my family is from. This is where their family is from. Generations of Italian families growing up with this warm, kind attention and affection. With this caring.
I can remember it from my grandparents. I can remember it whenever I see loving and caring families, but this is different. Because everyone looks a lot like me. A lot like I did as a child. A lot like I'm beginning to look as a mature adult.
This. This culture of warmth is what I remember in my earliest childhood memories. The togetherness. The food as love. The guidance. The looking up to my parents with awe and reverence.
They wanted this for us. They wanted to give us this container of compassionate caring. This is what they were trying to build in the American culture of their time and place. In northern California, specifically in the Sonoma and Napa valley region.
I well up with tears during the movie and by the time we exit, I'm holding back sobs. Important sobs. I'm feeling embarrassed, as I usually do when I can't control or name what's happening. I finally stammer to Jim, "I don't know what's happening, but I need to just sit and experience it until it passes."
Appreciation of my Italian heritage was rekindled, fostered and deepened as we wended our way through the north of Italy towards my family roots.
"...the poor are at the centre of the Gospel, which is the greatest thing we have; they are the privileged recipients of divine mercy. If we remove the poor from the Gospel, it no longer makes sense." ~ Papa Francesco (Pope Francis)
*Papa Francesco is the term used to refer to the current pope, Pope Francis.
I pulled into the familiar bustling village at Tuolomne Meadows. Here, tourists and backpackers of all levels converge to take advantage of the camping, park information, day hikes, store, grill and post office. It's a popular resupply spot for hikers on the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail. I grabbed a fifty-fifty softie ice cream cone and chatted with some hikers at the picnic tables under the tall conifers outside the grill. The day was spectacular--crisp and clear--but a young woman cautioned of the upcoming cold spell due that night that was to last for three days. As I headed out, I verified the expected temperatures with the weather report posted on the message board--lows in the mid to low twenties. Hmmm, last year I was there in July and hadn't really thought about the potential difference in the season.
After I picked up my back country permit, I took a leisurely walk around the flat meadows. I witnessed a large hawk on the ground near the creek bed tearing at the flesh of a small critter. I'm always conflicted when I see a feast --I'm sad for the critter but happy for those that get the meal. It's always a good reminder of the interconnectedness of everything.
I perused the store for any last minute items I could have forgotten or not known were even in existence, as is my wont, and headed up to the backpacker's campground. I loved this campground, as right next to it was the amphitheater where nightly ranger led programs around a big fire pit came to life. I was thoroughly impressed with last year's programs--I didn't recall being as fascinated when I was young, and certainly hadn't noticed that the rangers were deep ecologists. Had they changed or had I? Or both?
I'm appreciative of the fact that backpackers can camp the night before their wilderness permit starts so we can get a fresh start on our journey. It's also a great opportunity to make sure we have all the equipment we need and to test whether it's in good working order. Being in the back country is not the best time to discover that your stove or water purifier isn't working properly.
I pitched my tent and stashed unneeded supplies and equipment in the car. At least I thought they were unneeded for the night. I hadn't prepared for super cold weather--my gear was rated for three seasons--so I rifled through the car and found a bulky pair of wool gloves/mittens and grabbed my jammies I used at the Airbnb the night before. They were way too heavy to take with me on the hike--my pack was weighing in at about 36 pounds--but I'd at least have extra warmth and comfort for the first night.
After the engaging and entertaining campfire program that included poetry and song, I tucked myself in for the night. Clothed only in my base layers with a scarf around my neck, I climbed into my 30+ year old down sleeping bag. The bag was rated to 30 degrees, so I felt pretty confident I would stay warm through the night. Rarely do I have to 'mummy it up.' In fact I mostly use it as a blanket and sometimes in the wee hours of the morning I'll need to zip it up.
Anxiety is a necessary and important part of our body's survival system. It helps us think about and prepare for the future. It's the part of us that squirrels away resources for the winter and prepares for the worst.
But if bouts of anxiety either paralyze us and keep us from our daily activities, or occur so often we're plagued by them, then something may be amiss in our body's survival systems. It may be an important time to reach out for help.
From a mindfulness perspective, anxious thinking can be seen as another thing that brings us out of the present--most likely safe--moment. In fact, using our mindfulness practice can help assuage spiraling anxiety. With mindfulness we can also come to understand that anxiety really isn't about us, personally, it's a survival mechanism that happens on it's own.
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