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Jim Paymar - Life is often not what it seems

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It was a steel grey day and the clouds hung low at the tops of the trees, pushed on by an Atlantic Ocean storm. The rain was splashing on the windshield as I headed to upstate New York from my home on Long Island. I felt the need to leave, to flee the thoughts and feelings I had been going through as my life had changed radically in the past couple of weeks.

One day I was busy with work to the point I could not see straight, 12-hour days, lunch at the desk, living a part from my family. The next thing I know I am at a dead stop, the victim of a corporate reorganization, still employed but out of the maelstrom and day to day demands.

Rushing, worrying, trying to keep ahead of the curve was the way my life had been shaped. It was relentless. The work stream never stopped and as you would get done with one project, another would be upon you.

However, I was at the top in my field and that gave self-esteem, even though I could feel the tingle down my arm and the stress build up, as my fingers could not move fast enough to get the next document at the computer, to make the next phone call or sprint to the next meeting.

I had believed that being as busy as I was gave me a certain level of importance and fulfilled my need to make a contribution not just financially to my family but to an organization and to the larger world.

Maybe it was a blessing in disguise that things transformed as they did even after such a short period of time. Only a half a year had passed since my ascent to one of the top jobs in communications at one of America’s most prestigious companies. I thought I had finally arrived after a long, circuitous professional journey.

Now it had changed and I was moving in another direction, not sure of where things were going or where I will end up but definitely moving in another direction.  

As I traveled farther away from New York City, I left the interstate and began driving up a winding country highway. The awesome power of nature began to reveal itself to me as I viewed the stone cliffs and streams flowing from the hillsides.

There were enormous stalactite shaped icicles stretching thirty to forty feet down the mountainsides where water poured over the cliffs and then froze solid. Statuesque in their splendor, one had to be careful not to drive off the embankment into the chasm far below as the site was truly mesmerizing.

The rivers and streams were rushing with the snowmelt that inevitably comes every spring, soon to reveal panoply of color in the summer months ahead when life returns to what had frozen over the long winter hibernation.

It was raining at the bottom of the mountain but then with elevation the droplets turned to snow as I drove through the moisture-laden clouds. I had the warmth of my vehicle and the quiet of the day to warm my soul. Eva Cassidy’s “Songbird” played softly in the background and I dreamt of a kind and gentle soul.

It was bitter cold for the last week in April as I arrived in the barren Catskill Mountains of New York to a place called Peace Village, a spiritual retreat center run by the Brahma Kumaris, a worldwide spiritual organization committed to seeking peace through the power of silence and meditation.

The BK’s as they are known have about one million devotees worldwide and they are some of the kindest, warmest, most intelligent people I have met. There are many more who are committed to the organization like me and we are known as friends of the BK’s.

I had gone to seek solace and quiet as I have before when traveling to the BK centers around the world, in London, Oxford, San Francisco, Bel Marin Keyes, Miami, Queens, Manhattan and Great Neck.

Every time I journey to the BK centers I slow down, I become more at peace with myself. The thoughts that typically occupy my mind tend to drift away, replaced with feelings of contentment and calm.

The Brahma Kumaris are some of the most human of beings on this earth. They give everything and expect nothing. They speak softly and with clarity and never ask you to believe or be anything you do not wish to be.

You take the thoughts from your contact with the BK’s with you; incorporate them into the mosaic that is your soul; the place of light inside your being connected to all other human light and the supreme light that encompasses the universe.

After I arrived at Peace Village, I went to one of the mediation rooms and became reacquainted with that place inside myself I so frequently forget in the hectic pace that is urban life. Sitting still, quietly, staring at a point of light, one begins to get back in touch with the innate life force within us all, that life force where we are truly at home, the place we have all come from but have forgotten.

After sitting and meditating for an hour or more, I decided to walk into the countryside. This is a special place for someone like me who grew up in a small city surrounded by woods but who now lives in the metropolis of New York where nature, peace and quietude are sorely lacking in people’s lives.

As I walked on the thin layer of snow that covered the hardened ground, I could hear the echo of my boots as I placed one foot in front of the other in search of Baba’s Rock.

I had seen a picture of many pilgrims on top of a mountain looking down at the valley below. I was going to make this journey on this day, alone with my thoughts, my soulful nature in tow.

I had been in the woods up here once before but it was in the late summer and the warmth of the sun and the long days made the journey one of ease.

I also knew how easy it was to get lost in these woods. I had done that my last time in the Catskills walking many extra miles to find my way out.

I had also come across shotgun shells in these woods and I knew this could be an unfriendly place as not everyone was a BK and there are some who have yet to find the light and who take joy out of pulling a trigger and downing the wildlife that call these mountains their home..

I noticed as I walked up the path it was marked with arrows and some of the trees were sprayed with green paint to mark the trail. I figured it would be all right to take the hike and see if I could reach my destination. I could also follow my own tracks back down the mountainside if need be.

The path followed a creek up the mountainside and the snow was melting. There were many places where the water had formed small ponds that one had to traverse around and then get back on the trail.

I had snow shoed in the woods many times and always enjoyed the thought that no one else had been where I had walked and there was absolutely no chance of running into another human being, this was my space and my space alone.

I walked for a good mile or so and then started to feel raindrops showering down on me. Not to be deterred I ventured on, what could a little rain hurt. It was truly beautiful in the woods. At the creek bottom, you could see the leaves of many trees in the waters, preserved just as they had been when they fell during the previous autumn.

There is nothing more comforting then the sound of running water in a stream. That steady pattern I have always known. I always think of the Siddhartha and how the river runs through all and for all time, it is eternal.

There were many tall, slender birch trees in these woods. Many people around the world consider the birch holy. They are now threatened by global warming and being destroyed by insects who just a few years ago would not have survived because of the cold.
That makes me very sad because growing up in Minnesota I remember the largest trees in our yard were birch and I can still hear the song of the wind rattling through the tiny leaves on a summer night giving me such a feeling of peace.

I continued to walk on and knew I was getting farther and farther away from Peace Village and farther and farther away from people. The feeling of isolation gave me a sense of being whole, knowing exactly who I was with no distractions, no interference just the sound of my heartbeat and the snow crunching underneath my feet.

The rain seemed to be picking up and I did not have rain gear on. It seemed as if the temperature was rising but I was not sure since the chill of the snow I was walking through and the rain falling cut to the bone.

I walked on hoping that soon I would reach my destination. After circumventing many ponds and obstacles and having to walk around the creeks so as not to get wet, I came to a “T” on the pathway. As I looked up the new path to the right of me, I did not see any more arrows or green paint just a long climb straight up the hill with no real path and just the creek as a guide. I had made it this far so why not go on.

I stood in the rain and thought, if I got lost, it would be a frigid 10-degree night by myself in the woods, which would not be a good thing. Had anyone even seen me venture off? Yes, my friend Erik saw me and would surely remember if I did not return.

It is just raining so that is not a problem. However, if it gets colder, the rain could turn to snow and cover my tracks and then I would really be in trouble or if it began to rain much harder perhaps, my tracks could be washed away.

Did I really need to get to the top? Had I not enjoyed the experience and been blessed with peace and solitude? If I traveled on, I would get to the top and see the valley but was that the goal, was it a worthy goal or a quest of my ego, to make it, to win, to achieve? It seemed that discretion was the better part of valor and the rain seemed to be picking up and I was getting colder and wetter as time progressed.

A 360-degree turn and I was heading back down the mountain. Just follow the tracks and look for the arrows and green paint and all will be well. However, what you see on the way up is not the same as you see on the way down. You look at the path, the creek and the trees and it all seems quite different.

When you look up in one direction, it is not the same as when you look down in another. You realize that perhaps you were not paying as much attention as you should have, not been as in tune with yourself as you could have been.

I walked down the mountainside very slowly, as it is always easier to slip on the down side then the upside. Follow the tracks, follow the stream and all will end well, though one might be a little wetter for the experience.

It is interesting to watch the mind work through fear, fear of the unknown, fear of being lost and fear of dying. All one has to really do is trust in oneself and then the fear disappears as if it never existed.

All my senses were now aware, like the big cats that roam this countryside. I saw clearer, my hearing became sharper; my sense of smell became keener, my heart slowed down and my mind took control and brought me through.

The walk now seemed much more pleasant as I knew that trust was the key, trust in myself; trust in the higher light that all I was doing, all that I was being, was exactly as it should be.

Eventually, after about an hour down the side of the mountain I could sense the valley was close by and that I would soon be out of the woods, out of the rain and among the Brahma Kumaris who had come to experience a weekend of peace and togetherness.

Finally, I had arrived rather wet and cold but I had arrived. When I walked out of the thickness of the woods, I was struck by the change I felt. Something was acutely different. Was it just that I was in the clearing? Was it that I was not just on the woods that was different? Was it that I had finally arrived?

Then I realized it was not raining out here. How could that be? It was just raining a moment ago. Then I realized it had not been raining at all. The warmth of the day had been melting the ice that had accumulated on the treetops in the forest as the rain from the previous night had frozen on the branches as the temperatures dropped.

What I had been thinking for the past couple of hours had been based on what I thought to be reality but what really was not. It was not really raining; the trees were simply shedding the ice.

I walked over to a large rock in the middle of the field and thought of all that I had just experienced. It is all about thoughts. You can think one thing and reality can be quite different.

I could see a man walking in the field below. As he got closer, I realized it was Erik. He walked toward me and we began to talk. I told him that I had gone to see Baba’s Rock at the top of the mountain because I had seen pictures of people sitting there and I wanted to go there too.

I told him I did not have a map and was not sure how far it was to the top. I told him about the rain, the trail, and my thought that it was better to return then to try to reach the rock this day. I told him I was disappointed because perhaps if I had gone just a bit farther I would have made it to the rock.

Erik then informed me that I was sitting on Baba’s Rock and the trek I had made was a great walk in the woods but that I had accomplished my goal before I ever left. I was at the rock when I started the trek but I just did not know it.

In life we seem to be constantly chasing a dream, striving constantly but then one day we wake up and realize we have already been living our dreams but never had the insight to look inside and find the truth because we were seeking and searching rather than just being and belonging.

Life is often not, what it seems!

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