The Guest House

When learning to live a life of learning, I am reminded that each experience that I have, each person that I meet, and each feeling that I embrace are my teachers – my guides. Some show me the way to go, some show me the way not to go. Each is here to help me see my way more clearly – if I pay attention.

I am reminded of this Rumi poem:

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

(Mewlana Jalaluddin Rumi (Born 1207); Translation by Coleman Barks)

CHAPTER FOUR: What I’m Supposed to Do

The first 19 years of my life was the first chapter: growing up in a safe, friendly neighborhood in Burnt Hills, New York; figuring out who I was and what I was supposed to do; being a student, a good student; being a son, a good son. It was during those summers that I played a lot of baseball, spent mornings and many afternoons swimming at the community pool, and gazing at the stars at night. I learned to ski – and started to teach skiing when I was 16 and my basketball coach told me I’d have to decide between basketball and skiing. I started riding my bicycle wherever I wanted to go around town. I graduated from high school in the top ten of my class, being recognized for exemplary citizenship. On the outside, I was a good guy – quiet, kind and respectful. On the inside, I felt different, alone. I was indeed ridiculed for being too nice. I wasn’t into crowds or parties. I didn’t smoke, drink alcohol or try drugs. I felt relaxed when I was outside in nature, usually skiing down snowy hillsides at Hickory Ski Center or camping in the Adirondacks with my father. I decided to pursue my academic talents in math, science, and art, and pursue college education in engineering and architecture.

The second 19-year chapter was focused on my pursuit of a successful professional career in engineering and architecture. Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering, summa cum laude, Union College – graduating first in class amongst engineering majors, third in class overall. Master of Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – publishing technical papers and receiving awards for work as a research assistant on snow loads on buildings. I began my career in Saratoga Springs, NY, as a design engineer on architectural and engineering projects before being hired by Ryan-Biggs Associates in Troy, NY. Here, I spent the balance of my second chapter progressing from design engineer to project engineer to project manager to company partner. I managed the structural work for new hospitals and college buildings and commercial buildings and schools and parking structures. I oversaw the renovation of numerous older and historic buildings. I became the President of the upstate chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. And I became the leader of culture-changing internal programs within my company to improve teamwork, quality of services, and sustainable design practices. I developed and mentored an excellent team of young consulting engineers.

During this second chapter, I also became a full-certified ski instructor and began a long career in the snowsports industry. I progressed from ski instructor to ski school director at Hickory Ski Center, 11 years. I taught one season at Pico before moving over to Mount Snow in Vermont. I would continue to teach at Mount Snow for the balance of this chapter – my professional life was relatively stable: engineering work most of the time, teaching skiing during winter weekends.

I got married… and divorced… during this chapter.

I designed and built a geothermal-heated home on a hilltop.

It was also during this second chapter that I became an endurance bicyclist. I rode my bike one day close to 200 miles from my home in New York to the coast of Massachusetts. And I made the same trip a couple more times expanding the route further into Vermont and New Hampshire. I competed in a half-dozen Olympic-distance triathlons, many of them in the Bud Light Triathlon series, and competed in an ultra-marathon 24-hour cycling time trial.

I finally took a real vacation near the end of this chapter in 1992 and rode my bicycle around the south island of New Zealand. Here, my spirit for adventure was born. A couple years later, I decided to take a leave-of-absence from my engineering company and enrolled in a National Outdoor Leadership School program in Outdoor Education in the Cascade Mountains of Washington. I knew there was something more that I was supposed to do.

Chapter Three, the next 19 years, began during this year away from my engineering career. I had been focused on a career that started when I decided in high school that I wanted to help people through the solving of society’s environmental and building development issues, but I realized then that my career had evolved years down the road detached from these original visions. The NOLS trip reconnected me with the Earth and the stars and my natural Self, with the satisfaction of working closely with a team of like-minded, outdoor-oriented people, and with my desire to lead an adventurous and learning-focused life. It was at this same time that I met Jo and her two kids, Alex (8) and Natalie (4). Together with my NOLS experience, meeting Jo, Alex and Natalie changed my life. I moved to Vermont. I was no longer alone. I felt connected. I felt at home. I found yoga.

My professional career during these 19 years took a back seat to the demands of being a husband and a step-father. I pursued work on my own as a consulting engineer and timber-frame home designer. I successfully designed dozens and dozens of beautiful timber-framed homes. I called my business Gaia Structures. I received an advanced certificate in sustainable design from the Boston Architectural College during the inaugural years of the green building movement. I also moved between roles as a regional ski clinician, a ski school manager, an adaptive sports coach and trainer, a ski school director and a manager of other mountain sports services, and a middle-high school teacher! I designed ground-breaking facilities for new learn-to ski and ride programs. I developed innovative strengths-based teaching programs and wellness-focused therapeutic recreation programs. I worked at Mount Snow, Bromley, Stratton, Snowbird UT, and the Adaptive Sports Foundation in Windham NY. I coordinated programs for the Wounded Warrior Project and co-founded Warriors Live On. I found my passion in working with those struggling through the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and leading outdoor wellness programs, being a mentor and a coach and a teacher. But, it all happened during this chapter without any planning or foresight. I learned to let go of the way I had thought my life should be, and started to trust in walking through the doors that opened. I learned to pay attention to what matters… being kind, loving, and wholehearted… again.

Of course, this third chapter evolved only because of the deep struggles we faced as a family, enduring ourselves through the symptoms of post-traumatic stress and the difficulties of negotiating our way through seriously-dark and deeply-private times. I moved from one career priority to another often without real explanation based on our family needs, our survival. But I eventually learned to have faith in a higher power, a higher Self, and a more natural way of living. New doors always opened when I paid attention. The gift of the darkness was the light that was eventually shining more brightly from within. We just had to seek it and see it. The practice of yoga became our vehicle. And all of those previous years of dedicated work and worldly vision, beginning with the youthful years of parental love, support, and safe community, had prepared me for this Chapter Three. Through this chapter, without pre-planning or goal-setting, I became deeply aware of the Oneness in present-moment life and of the connections with previous-time experiences, ancestry and history. And I started to feel again my nature to be kind, to be nice, and to be loving. I learned that indeed, there was something more that I was supposed to do… and in many respects, I had already been doing it… all along.

So, a couple of years ago, I started to immerse myself in yoga. As a teacher and as a learner. As a coach and as a practitioner. Letting go of previous identities, challenges and accomplishments. Letting go of being attached to future expectations. I am living more and more as my natural Self, the Self I have always been, finding ways to live in this world in a way that matters to me, my family, my community, and this Earth. Finding ways to be of service, quietly and respectfully. Finding ways to express my devotion to the idea of Oneness, being wholehearted, and being compassionate and loving. Being open to the idea of expressing the true me… the me I am really supposed to be.

With deep gratitude for each of my previous 19-year chapters, I am learning to let them go. I am learning to see (and coach) new perspectives.

I am now beginning to write my Chapter Four… one day at a time.