Spiritually Thriving by Choice

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Do you feel like you’re thriving – or just getting by? Are your days full of excitement and anticipation, or are your days just something to get through?

Basic skills of living close to nature are not very well known these days. Especially in the West, most people are accustomed to a lifestyle that makes it unnecessary to know these things. As long as the machines and systems of modern life continue to function, no problem. We should never need those primitive skills. I choose to believe this is not a false complacency.

Still, I’m grateful I learned some basic skills in the wilderness of Alaska. I lived there for many years with a subsistence lifestyle, and I don’t regret a moment of it.

If for no other reason, those frontier experiences are good for the sake of contrast. When you have a clear picture of what you don’t want, it’s much easier to focus your attention on what you do want.

Thriving While Learning Wilderness Skills

I lived for a while at a place called Mile 50 on the Seward Highway, which is near the top of a mountain pass on the Seward Peninsula of Alaska. The log cabin was built in the 30’s and was used for a while as a rest stop for the dog sled teams that carried the mail before the road was built. Even with the road there, it still feels very remote . . . and breathtakingly beautiful.

Our “backyard” featured two mountain peaks. The air was so clean and clear, it looked like you could reach out and touch them. At the bottom of the mountains, Canyon Creek created a deep gorge with two waterfalls cascading into it.

We lived in the middle of a national forest, so our closest neighbor was about a mile away — an old sourdough gold miner, living by himself on his claim. The next closest neighbor was a few miles down the road at Summit Lake.

In the summer, the trails were ablaze with wildflowers, exotic moss and ferns, and all kinds of beautiful growing things that I never bothered to identify. We would forage for some of our food – fiddlehead ferns, lambs quarters and wild mushrooms. I caught trout and in those days, and since I was still eating red meat, moose and caribou were an occasional part of our diet. Halibut and salmon were plentiful down the road in Seward, Kenai and Homer. The fresh seafood was delicious, and smoked salmon was our favorite treat. The natives call it squaw candy.

In the winter, we were covered in snow. Lots of snow . . . and for a long time! How much snow?

One fall, I left my camera in the car and didn’t remember where it was until we were well locked-in by winter. I was pretty sure I knew where the car was parked because of the barely distinguishable bump in the snow. I shoveled straight down six feet. When my shovel hit the top of the car, I realized I had to continue shoveling another four feet down to be able to open the door. When I finally got inside, I remember lying down in the back seat with pure white covering all the windows, and marveling at how much snow was above me.

We had books and our own home-grown music for entertainment. We had no phone, no TV, no electricity, no running water. Candles and kerosene lamps provided just enough light to read on those long, winter nights. It was not a hardship — it was a choice. The exhilaration of life in the wilderness, living that close to nature was the pay-off that greatly outweighed any inconvenience caused by the lack of creature comforts.

Our water came from a little tributary stream about a quarter of a mile from the cabin. In the winter, I would put on my cross-country skis and attach a sled to a harness that went around my waist. On the sled, I would strap on two empty five-gallon water cans and an axe. The axe was for chopping a hole in the ice so I could dip water into the cans. I had to go every day and re-open the hole in the ice, or the little stream would freeze solid. Sometimes, it would freeze solid anyway for a few days and we had to melt snow for water. That was really a hassle — and slow!

In our double-barrel wood stove, we burned four or five cords of wood every winter. I got pretty good at chopping wood. (Tip: Wait until it’s twenty below zero, because then all you have to do is aim and let the mall drop. The frozen wood flies apart easily.) When you are moving around chopping wood, twenty below is comfortable in a wool sweater. Any colder and your lungs start to ache from the frigid air.

Later, I homesteaded on Spruce Island, off the island of Kodiak, and built a cabin in that remote spot. My wife, Janey, and I also built a cabin together a few miles outside of Homer, Alaska and lived there for several years. Altogether, I called Alaska home for about fifteen years and don’t regret a moment of it.

This was a good life — many great life lessons and many valuable skills were learned. Besides learning to get by on next-to-nothing, we were thriving in a real back-to-the-land way. Life wasn’t always easy. But it was simple.

Any stress we might have experienced was easy to deal with. It was obvious where it was coming from, and it was apparent what needed to be done to remedy the situation and eliminate the stress.

For example, it’s early September and it’s snowing. We have only a small stack of firewood left over from last winter. That’s stressful. To fix it, we spent a week cutting, splitting and stacking wood. (Again!)

I realize this spartan lifestyle is very unusual in this day and age. But compared to our friends who chose to go even further into the wilderness, we lived in the lap of luxury.

Our friend, Cheri, was drawn to a life of self-sufficiency surrounded by the wonders of nature. She wanted to thrive by stretching her limits in the Alaskan bush. So, she and her husband, John, got in their canoe in a little village named Eagle and floated down the Yukon River for ten miles. When they found a nice spot, they pulled the canoe onto the shore, built a log cabin and lived there for ten years. They got along fine by living off the land and, like me, Cheri and John thrived in the wilderness.

That kind of lifestyle is not easy . . . but lived one day at a time, it’s not all that hard either. Sure, many hours every day were invested in basic chores — preparing food, hauling water, and chopping wood for the fire. But, there was always time for personal development — reading, writing, meditation, yoga and reflecting on the meaning of life and the part we play in it. There was a good, natural balance between what “must” be done and what “could” be done.

Beyond the Basics of Life

To thrive, we need more than just the basic necessities of life. We need more than food, clothing and shelter. We need time. We need time for ourselves. Time for reflection and contemplation. This quality time allows us to nurture ourselves at our deepest levels. It gives soul some breathing room and allows spirit to stretch its wings and fly.

Does your life provide for you in this way? Do you have time to stretch out regularly and take flights of fancy that nurture the depths of your being? Do you feel like you’re thriving – or just getting by? Are your days full of excitement and anticipation, or is your typical day just something you have to endure?

In that era of wilderness living, quality time was built into the lifestyle. In fact, that’s one of the main attractions of such a lifestyle — quality time for yourself goes with the territory. The hardships were manageable; the stresses were easily identified and dealt with – one at a time. The relationship between cause and effect was clear. And the rewards were plentiful.

Skills were learned and sharpened, personal values were forged, and lifetime friendships grew out of sharing something so unusual, vital and profound.

Recently, I was talking with my friend Cheri, of the Yukon River, reminiscing about some of our wilderness memories. We both value our experience in the wilds of Alaska, but neither of us miss it. It was good at the time, and then it was time to move on. We both learned valuable lessons that will serve us throughout our lifetimes.

We were talking about the stresses of modern life and how so many people seem to be content to just get by . . . rather than thriving. The stresses are prolific and often, we can’t even identify the source. For many, this kind of stressed-out thinking is all too familiar . . .

“Am I stressed out because the mortgage is due and the money is tight? Or is it because I’m drawn one way and my spouse is drawn another? Or is it because the people at work act like such jerks, or because the in-laws are such a hand-full? Am I stressed out because of this health issue, or because I’m still overweight? Or do I feel so frazzled because that broken thing over there still needs my immediate attention? I just don’t have time! Or, maybe the stress is because there’s still more month left at the end of the money. (Again!)”

It’s more complicated now. At one point in our conversation, Cheri realized that all too often, our attention and energies are consumed by the basic chores of everyday life. We are stuck in the first chakra with not enough energy left over with which to do anything else.

We paused for a moment, looked at each other, and realized the irony. Both of us lived through eras of basic wilderness experience that most people will never know.

And we thrived.

Compared to the modern stresses common in so many peoples’ lives, we realized our experience of arduous life in the wilderness was easier.

That’s right, it’ more predictable — not as stressful — it doesn’t wear you down and wear you out. Why not? Because even though so much energy is required for the daily chores, there’s still time to thrive. And, there’s a supportive, nurturing environment where it’s easy to thrive, blossom and grow. Deep down inside, that’s what we crave. We need a rich, rewarding life . . . beyond just getting by. We want to thrive.

Leveraging Sciences’ Bounty for Quality of Life

We don’t want to be consumed by the dreary details of living hand to mouth. As a race, we have come further than that. Now it’s time to thrive. Now that we know how to get by without starving or freezing, our attention can be directed toward personal development, spirituality and conscious living. We can learn to live inspired lives and build spiritual relationships that support mutual personal growth.

All our advances in science and technology are useless until we learn to harness them in our own lives in a way that enhances our quality of life. If our technical advances make our lives easier, and allow us more free time, that’s a good start.

It’s what we do with that time that makes all the difference in the world. Do we thrive and make ourselves freer by engaging in thoughts, emotions and activities that reduce our stress and enhance our peace of mind?

“It takes but one positive thought when given a chance to thrive to overpower an entire army of negative thoughts.” – Dr. Robert H. Schuller (b. 1926)

Or, do we dig ourselves in a little deeper by subscribing to (and succumbing to) the prevalent negative spin so common in the media? Bad news sells and everywhere you look, somebody wants to tell you all about their worst-case scenario. We can choose to tune into this negative world-view. Or, we can simply tune into something that is more positive, more nurturing, more beneficial to our commitment to personal development and conscious living. Just like tuning into a different station on the radio, we can simply change the channel.

Are we unconsciously driven by outside forces to perpetuate the treadmill syndrome? Do we need more? More toys? More stuff? (This idea is explored in detail in a previous article entitled, “The Trouble with TV.”)

“Our lives are stuffed full from cradle to grave,
With stuff we should buy, and stuff we should save.
But the stuff we take with us, we rarely put first.
Have you seen a luggage rack up on a hearse?”
- from the song, “Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff” by Tupelo Kenyon
(written in 1979 in Fairbanks, Alaska)

If we are convinced that these external trappings of success are the measure of our thriving, we have voluntarily slipped our hands into the golden handcuffs.

The more syndrome keeps us plugged into the system. We become aghast at our mounting stresses. We wonder what their true source is, and are befuddled about why there never seems to be any time left over for the things that are truly important.

Where’s the time for meditation and contemplation? Where’s the time for personal achievement in the areas of personal growth, inspiration and conscious living? Where’s the time for love? (Experiencing it and expressing it.)

Contrasting Experiences Focus Our Desires and Sharpen Our Resolve

I don’t view any of this as good or bad, right or wrong, necessary or unnecessary. We all have opportunities to experience contrast. We know what we want by experiencing what we don’t want. From that perspective, it’s all a part of the plan for on-going personal growth and expanding consciousness.

Whatever our outward circumstances are in the moment, these things too will pass. What is left is what you learned, your new preferences and how you feel about your experience. That’s what you take with you, once the details of any particular experience have come and gone.

As we go through the motions of life, eventually it becomes apparent that what we have to do to get by needs to be balanced with our deep longing to thrive spiritually. Our activities need to be undertaken consciously. Our choices need to be made deliberately – with full awareness of the potential consequences as well as the potential rewards.

Thriving in Different Directions

The idea of thriving can mean many different things. To some, who are currently consumed by pure, basic materialism, thriving is all about the numbers — the bank account, the bottom line. (That’s fine, if the cost is not too high.)

To those currently consumed by their inner world, thriving is all about ideas, ideals, and having all the time in the world to ponder the mysteries of spirit. (That’s fine too, if the cost is not too high.)

Either of these extremes has the potential to destroy. The materialist runs the risk of allowing all things spiritual to dry up and wither away for lack of attention to them. The idealist runs the risk of allowing his physical life to degenerate until he is of no use to anyone and must be taken care of by others.

As each individual wrestles with the question of how to thrive spiritually by choice, it is reflected on a global scale. This is a unique time in the history of mankind, when we have the opportunity to thrive . . . since so many of our basic needs are met relatively easily.

Each of us must find our own balance between these two extremes. They are both important. There’s no simple prescription that will work for everyone. But, by being aware of the importance and value of both, we can deliberately find our own style. We can prosper. We can balance what we have to do to live with what we need to do to thrive. It’s worth the effort to find the way to thrive rather than to merely get by.

While reading, did you choose to hear the relaxing instrumental music linked at the beginning of this article? To learn more about it, click here.

Listen FREE to the songs below . . . chosen to enhance the ideas in this article.

Related Songs
Way of the World
Life is so huge . . . so diverse . . . the possibilities are literally infinite. What’s the best way to sort it all out and carve out a little niche of our own?
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescX.html#Anchor1

Trash Our Treasures
People seem to have a history of awarding seemingly insignificant details with places of prominence in our lives, while ignoring or even destroying the most important aspects.
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescX.html#Anchor2

Time of Our Lives
Time is so fleeting, so elusive, it’s good to remember the importance and power of living right now.
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescHere.html#Anchor7

May You Have Joy
Have you ever felt a warm appreciation for someone in your life, and just wanted to wish them well?
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescX.html#anchor12

A Heartbeat in Eternity’s Highway
In the grand scheme of things, what’s the difference between a single moment and all of eternity? What’s the point of reference?
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescX.html#Anchor17

Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Stuff
About all the stuff you’ve been keeping that’s not good enough to actually use, but it’s way too good to throw away.
http://www.somemusicmatters.com/DescAnth.html#Anchor4

Songs by Tupelo

Related Links

Related Articles

Action and Satisfaction
A satisfying life includes time for doing balanced by time for being , embracing and celebrating all aspects of life. Being, doing, having . . . all these things are important ingredients of our package of life experience. Denying any aspect of it only serves to diminish our joy of living a full, inspired, and satisfying life.

Take Time for You
Don’t put yourself at the end of the list. You deserve to be first, at least some of the time. Don’t let your entire life slip by with everything else (and everyone else) getting preferential treatment over your most important priorities. Their needs are important, but yours are important too. Celebrate life by taking time for YOU!

Work – Just a Job or Visible Love
Do you love what you do and do what you love? Here’s a step-by-step method on how to put your passions to work and start living the life you were born to live.

The Six Mistakes of Man
We share the journey, even though each journey is unique. It’s encouraging to know others are also interested in the mysteries of life. It’s inspiring to see others dedicated to living life to the fullest, in spite of the fact that humanity has been making some of the same mistakes for centuries.

The Trouble with TV
Does TV enhance our life experience or get in the way of living our lives? Celebrate life with this refreshing perspective on the boob tube.

Your Passion as Your Compass
Allow your passions to stretch their wings and the direction of your life could surprise you – in a good way. Celebrate life with passion!

Articles by Tupelo

This is the end of the article entitled Spiritually Thriving by Choice published by Tupelo Kenyon on August 10, 2007 at 6:00 am | In Awareness, Courage, Manifestation, Passion, Productivity, Purpose - Copyright 2007 - All rights reserved worldwide.


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