Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Reverberations--a new piece on 5280's website

With aching fingers and throbbing hands, I grip the small chisels, files, and rasps I need to carve the gentle curves of my ukulele’s neck. Then I sand the Acacia wood that makes up its body until it’s as smooth as a tumbled river rock. My body hurts from the intensity of building this miniature instrument...

Click here to read the full article of my reflections on how building a ukulele was a metaphor for the rebuilding of my hometown, Lyons Colorado, after the 500-year floods of 2013. Check out photos on my Facebook page by clicking here. And you can watch my YouTube video by clicking here (or watch it below).

Monday, September 29, 2014

Meditation Myth: Clearing Your Mind (Not!)

"There's no way I could ever meditate! I could never clear my mind." 

Dozens of people have said this to me over the past decade since I started meditating. If that was the goal of my meditation practice, I would have failed long ago. I find it impossible to clear my mind. At best I get a second or millisecond of a break from the incessant, mindless discussion that races along at warp speed in my brain. On really good days I might get 2 or 3 seconds of relief. 

My "goal" with my practice is not actually to clear my mind; it's just to (attempt to) calmly watch my mind at work. By watching my mind, I get to know the patterns of habituated thought and the recurrent negative energies. This gives me an edge in dealing with painful emotions and memories. If something painful arises, I recognize it and can acknowledge, "Oh here's that terrible feeling again." You'd be surprised at how simply acknowledging a deep emotion helps reduce its impact. 

As well, depending on how supported I feel that day, I then resort to one of two different meditation practices:
  1. Shamata: I focus lightly on my out breath. When thoughts arise I just say, "thinking" and let them pass by. Sometimes I say "thinking" hundreds of times in an hour :)
  2. Insight: I'm not actually sure this is what this is called because I've heard it called various names by various teachers in different sects of Buddhism. But basically when a specific, difficult thought arises, I just allow myself to experience how that feeling feels in my body. By this I mean I gauge how my body actually feels, physically. Are my palms sweating when I have this thought? Is my heart tightening up? Am I cringing? Then I just relax into that feeling. I don't try to figure anything out. I just feel it. It's sometimes super hard to do this, especially if the feeling is a powerful one from my past or in re: someone with whom I'm in a close relationship. 
After ten years of practice, I can actually sometimes practice shamata or insight meditation in everyday life (i.e. off the meditation cushion). Of course, I don't always remember the practices. When very strong emotions arise, or if I react negatively to something someone says to me, sometimes I revert back to my old, not so helpful habits. But, what I (and most of my long-time friends) have noticed is that I'm much more relaxed, nicer, more thoughtful, and more at ease than I was in my 20s and 30s. Granted, I've matured naturally as anyone whose entering her 40s would, but I credit my meditation practice for the most part. I used to have panic attacks, be a total spaz, and for years I was suicidal. Now I am just grateful to be alive. Every day holds something beautiful and sweet. Even when I'm in great pain, physically or emotionally, I still find something to be thankful for. 

Meditation doesn't necessarily lead to nirvana, at least not in my world. But if I have even just 1 more second of clear thinking and joy in my life each day, 15 to 30 minutes of daily meditation and the yearly 7-day retreats are totally worth the effort.


Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lizzy's Picks: Mountain Hardwear's Ghost Whisperer Down Hoody

Just for the hell of it, I'm reviewing gear that I LOVE. I've already reviewed Mountain Hardwear's Ghost Whisperer Down Hoody for a climbing blog, but today I'm revisiting this awesome piece of equipment because I've found a new use for it: fishing! 

I first received this jacket spring 2013. Since then I've really put it to the test. These are the things I dig about this jacket:

Water/Wet Snow Resistant: Just this morning I forgot my raincoat when I set out for a half-day fishing adventure to the Ceran St. Vrain Trail. It has been an unusually wet year in Colorado. It rains almost every day. In my mad dash to clean out the car and get on the road, I threw all my extra jackets in the house, including my raincoat. So when I arrived to the parking lot, a storm already impending, I was a bit bummed. But, luckily I had my Ghost Whisperer stuffed under the seat. Though not water proof, it's water resistant and kept me warm and dry through a steady hour-long heavy drizzle. Furthermore, while the snug hood has no draw strings, it fits really well and kept me warm and cozy (even while I waded in my sandals through the frigid water). I have also worn this jacket numerous times in the rain while biking around town, bouldering, and just hanging out. It's so badass... it always retains its loft, warmth, and keeps me dry. I have yet to wear it in a total downpour... it wasn't designed for that.

Earlier this year in March, I wore the Ghost Whisperer to Eldora Ski Resort for a very cold and snowy afternoon of snowboarding. It wouldn’t fit under my fairly tightly fitted Arc'Teryx Beta LT shell, so I put it on over the shell. Mountain Hardwear infuses the jacket’s Shield™ Down fibers with a permanent water repellency that “helps maintain insulating performance even when exposed to moisture.” Subsequently, despite being pelted with snow all day and tumbling down the slopes, my jacket stayed totally dry, maintained its loft, and, most importantly, kept me toasty.

Weight: Because Colorado is blessed with strange and wonderful days of semi-warmth and sunshine even in the middle of winter, I was able to climb at some unknown granite crags in the South St. Vrain Canyon just a few days before I went snowboarding in March. I, of course, took my Ghost Whisperer. Despite the sunshine and 40-degree temps, winter winds still rip down the canyon from Rocky Mountain National Park and frigid shade, even on the north side of the canyon, arrives by 3 p.m. So having a warm jacket is key. In light- to mid-winds, this jacket is bombproof. For freezing temps, gale force winds, and snowboarding, I will still couple it with a solid shell. But, I was plenty warm with two lightweight base layers and my Ghost Whisperer, even after the sun disappeared and temps dropped quickly to the 20s. Made of what Mountain Hardwear says is “the world’s only true 7 denier by 10 denier fabric,” the material is strong and light. It is woven at just one mill in the world. My biggest issue with this jacket is that unless it’s tucked away or tied down, it will blow away because it is about as light as a handful of tissues.

Warmth: This jacket is warmer than some of the heavier, beefier jackets I own. And it makes no sense when you look at or feel it. But the down used is of the highest quality (850 fill). Plus, the quilted construction means there are no thin spots because the down stays in place. I would take this jacket either with or without the hood. For snowboarding I could have done without the hood. The first time I boarded with it, I layered it underneath my larger Patagonia Super Alpine Jacket, and I found that when I turned my head too far to the left or the right, the hood didn’t move with me—especially when the Alpine Jacket’s hood was cinched down—and I ended up having a bit of trouble getting a full view of people on the slopes behind and to the side of me. I didn’t have this problem when I used the hood of my favorite vest—the OR Aria. I’m fairly certain this is because the Aria has draw cords that cinch it down, and the Ghost Whisperer, while insulated, fitted, and “low profile,” does not have draw cords. Regardless, for most occasions I prefer the hood for the added warmth it provides.

It's Sturdy!: So I haven’t worn this jacket yet in a real, Indian Creek offwidth, but I have worn the Ghost Whisperer in chimneys, through tunnels, and while generally exploring the wild, untrammeled granite blobs high on the hills of the South St. Vrain Canyon. Plus, this jacket weathered the massive Front Range floods, during which I camped, cleaned flood debris off trees (i.e. trees, branches, wire, metal tables, etc., wrapped around trees that still miraculously stand by the St. Vrain Rivers), and otherwise navigated the massive wreckage that was Lyons, Colo. In other words, this jacket and I survived in a disaster zone for three months, and I was more worn out than the jacket’s ripstop nylon. I did read a few other reviews, and some people reported more wear and tear after a year of hard use—probably due to the super lightweight nature of the jacket. I’ve had the jacket for a year, and it's still holding up just fabulously.

Other Cool Things:
  • The jacket packs into its own pocket, so you can clip it to your harness when climbing longer routes. 
  • It comes with or without a hood. 
  • It comes in jacket, vest, and parka form.
  • It has two front hand warmer pockets.
The Only Bummer: I tried to pro deal a small women's (because mine is a less shapely small men's), but they were out of the jacket in all colors! 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

When the Water Came to the Town

I recently published an article in the 2014 Planet Bluegrass Folks Fest program about the different ways the tragic Front Range floods inspired songwriters to be creative when writing songs. Here is an excerpt. You can read the full piece by clicking here.

We heard you were having a hard hard time
We heard you were feeling down
We're gonna come over and pick you up
There's a party on our side of town
-Cheers, by Carol & Arthur Lee

During the confusing aftermath of Colorado’s 500-year flood, singer/songwriter and Song School Instructor Arthur Lee Land and his songwriter wife Carol Lee evacuated along with most of the population of Lyons. Not knowing when they would be able to return, they took their RV. It broke down numerous times, they lost a bunch of gigs because they were so disassociated from the world after the trauma of the flood, and upon their return, discovered they lost their home of a year. 

It was while they were packed their house that Carol wrote the lyrics to their first post-flood song. “I was just so upset, so I sat down and wrote, ‘Sunshiny Days,’” Carol Lee says. “I felt so alone. ‘What were we going to do?” But not long after writing the song, says Lee, everything changed—they received funds from the Musician Relief Fund to pay for a storage unit, they found a place to park the RV, volunteers to help them move, and they reconnected with the community. 

“I feel like if I hadn’t sat down and got it all out, that I couldn’t have reconnected,” she explained. “It takes tremendous creativity to survive.” And that creativity translates to song writing for some.

“The flood cracked life open for us,” Arthur Lee Land explained. “I call it the no reverb vocal mix. Life is right in your face. You can’t be anywhere but present. It’s a powerful place for people. You have these intense emotional experiences that need to be expressed. They are inspirational because you’re compelled as an artist to get stuff out.” The byproduct of this, both songwriters agree, is how powerful and impactful these types of songs are for the people listening.

“There’s healing in sharing the songs, when the community is listening or dancing to a song,” Arthur added. The couple has had “massive” response to another flood song they wrote called, “Cheers.” 

“It’s uplifting, but it also acknowledges what people are going through and how bad we can feel,” Carol Lee explained. “But the last verse is about how the clouds are really clearing. People love it because it’s so what they need to hear.” 

Singer/songwriter and Song School Instructor Justin Roth is expressing the pain and helplessness he felt watching one of his favorite communities wash away on an ongoing basis. He wrote and now regularly performs his song, “Rise,” around the country.....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Drepung Monks from Loseling Monastery bring healing to Lyons & Planet Bluegrass

For the entire week of Song School and 24th Annual Folks Fest, Planet Bluegrass is hosting Tibetan Monks from the Drepung Loseling Monastery. The monks have frequented Planet Bluegrass events, including the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and past Folks Fests. This year is special because they are doing a variety of healing ceremonies dedicated to Lyons, as well as leading meditation classes for Song School students every morning.

I had the pleasure of chatting with two of the monks—Gala and Geshe Loden—this afternoon about the purpose of the various ceremonies. On Tuesday evening, they will be doing a Mandala Opening Ceremon. According to Gala, over the course of the next week eight of the 11 monks will spend 30 hours creating a mandala for healing the environment. Then Wednesday night, August 13, they will do a sacred smoke ceremony—called Sang-Sol in Tibetan—dedicated to healing the Lyons community (open to the public). Finally, they are doing a Mandala Closing Ceremony, which will take place Sunday.

According to Gala, “The Mandala is the map for enlightenment—the GPS for spiritual life. It contains all the instruction for how to reach the destination (enlightenment).” Mandalas are paintings of colored sand, which utilize five colors that represent the five elements: earth (yellow), water (green), fire (red), wind (white), and space (blue).

“The beauty of this depends on the millions of grains of sand of different colors,” Gala explained. “If you reflect back on life, you have millions involved to make your life beautiful.” The mandala is a representation of that, and much more. There’s emotional and physical involvement behind its creation. “When we engage in this long process of spiritual sacred art, there’s a lot of power and energy that goes into it. It benefits all sentient beings.” There’s also a lot of power in the tradition of destroying the mandala when it’s finished.

“It’s one of the most important teachings in Buddhism—that everything started with something, but it’s never going to last,” Gala explained. “It has its own expiration date, and it’s important for us to remember that impermanence in a constructive way.”

The traditional Sang-Sol ritual in Sandstone Park is another offering. “Sang” means to purify all negative energy, while “Sol” means to heal. According to Geshe Loden, the monks will burn incense and fragrant Pujas that will send clouds of white smoke to the sky, they will chant from a liturgical text, and use ritual music with traditional Tibetan instruments. The combination of these things is used to invoke the deities and the local protectors. “These are offerings… tools we use to invoke a spirit to create a spiritual ambiance. We don’t entertain just human beings, but also the spirit world!”

The ceremony will conclude with everyone gathering in a large semi-circle and in one grand celebratory gesture, praising virtuous and compassionate actions, collectively throwing handfuls of barley flour in the air, proclaiming loudly, “Ki Ki, So So, Lha Gya Lo!”

According to Gala, “We come not just to entertain, but mostly to bless and then resonate that blessing into individuals’ minds so they can live peacefully internally and externally.” The monks explained that they have various blessings and mandalas that they create for different reasons. Some communities have a lot of conflict, so the monks will do a Conflict Resolution blessing; while others might have many sick people, and so they’ll do the Medicine Buddha blessing.

“Last year you had a terrible flood, so this year we are doing an environment blessing,” Gala explained. “We want to revitalize the affected energy of nature and to rebalance the elements.”

The monks agreed that coming to major festivals like this was not only a great way to share their culture and offer healing ceremonies, but that just being in places like Lyons and Planet Bluegrass is, in itself, a positive, healing experience.


“You have the river flowing, natural sounds, and people are here with their full heart connected,” Gala added. Buddha nature, he added, is when people use activities like song and dance to bring joy to each other. “There is some connection between you and God and you and Buddha when you come together to make music. Festivals like this make people more connected with other human beings.”

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Stuff I'm working on...

I've just finished two articles, both reflections on the flood and how it affected my community. One is going to be published in 5280 this fall, and the other in the Lyons Folks Fest program. The 5280 piece is about building a ukulele at the RockyGrass Academy as a metaphor, of sorts, for the rebuilding of Lyons. It was a powerful experience both to be at Planet Bluegrass for it's "rebirth" and to be celebrating that with my community at the Planet. Building the uke was difficult, exhausting, and emotional. I'm so grateful for the experience. The second article is about how tragedy inspires creativity in songwriting. I interviewed various local singer/songwriters about the songs they've written and how the floods inspired those songs. Needless to say the past week was tough, as I revisited a lot of emotions that haven't been close to the surface lately. I cried a lot, and I reflected. Lyons is not back to normal yet, but we are sure fighting like hell as a community to make the best of a really terrible experience. And I love living in Lyons and being a part of this community because of that.

On another note, I've decided to look for full-time work in the field of writing/editing/communications. I have loved running my business, and I plan on continuing to edit the AMGA's GUIDE Bulletin, since it is one of the coolest publications I have had the privilege of editing. But I realized after the flood that I don't want to run or grow a business. I want to be more involved with the creative process--the nitty-gritty of writing, editing, public relations. That's the work I'm truly passionate about. And it will be all the better if I can be of service to a greater cause!

To check out some of the photos of the process of building my ukulele, please click here.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Product Review: Joshua Tree Skin Care Sunscreen


After writing various product reviews for Stonewear Designs and for other companies as part of my work with MountainGear.com, I've decided to continue the process. One caveat here: I'm not going to write reviews of products I don't like. I don't feel the need to spread negative energy about anything. I will, however, be honest in telling you the pros/cons about the items I do review. Mostly I'm just going to review things I love. What's to come: my favorite summer clothes & my favorite winter clothes. Today, I want to review my new favorite sun screen--Joshua Tree Skin Care's SPF15 sun screen with clear zinc.

I've always disliked sun screen in general. I put it on, and immediately I have an awful taste in my mouth that lasts for at least an hour. It's a chemically, nasty taste that doesn't go away even if you eat or drink something. So, when Dave Lawrence and Che Wentz came to Lyons for the Lyons Outdoor Games (they sponsored the event), and brought me a bunch of samples of their all natural sun screen, I was super stoked. It's definitely all natural. And I love it. I love it so much that I carry it with me everywhere. They have a bunch of different kinds (see them all by clicking here). My favorite is the item that is pictured, though I also like the Sun Stick (though not as much because it feels stickier than the lotion).

I love it mostly because I don't end up with that nasty taste in my mouth, but also because though it's made with zinc, it doesn't make your face white (or fluorescent green or pink :) I love it because when I put it on I feel like I'm also putting on moisturizing lotion. I don't feel like I have to wash my face immediately when I get home, and I can apply it over and over again without feeling like I'm poisoning myself.

The only downside to this sun screen is that you do have to apply it frequently in order to avoid sun burn. As the bottle says, "reapply liberally every 2 hours and after swimming or towel drying." So, if I'm out for a really long day of rock climbing, I have to resort to the other kinds of sun screen. Also, I think if you have children, you'll have to be super diligent about reapplying it on them really frequently. But, pretty much for everything else that I do besides long days rock climbing in the mountains, I will always have this lotion on hand.