I shook hands with a volcano today. I’ve been watching her from afar and imagining what she might be like: Wondering if she had rivers of lava frozen in time; if her peaks were smooth or jagged; if she had deep pits with hardened lava in the bottom; and much more.

As the boat sliced through the angry and spitting blue sea, getting closer to where the waves break on her edges, she became less of dark mountain in the ocean and more intimately unique. There were black jagged rocks that waves lapped against, green grass on her rolling hills, and lighter colored gravel that covered much of her surface. She was nothing like I imagined.

My first step off the boat was on to dark fine sand. As I walked up her hills pumice crunched under my feet. There were massive red jagged boulders and many of her rocks sprouted with a dusting of orange furry fungus. The further up I walked the more she looked merely like a rocky hill. There were volcanic stones, but no rivers of lava. There were no peaks, only mounds of rocks and sand. There were low spots, but no deep pits. She was beautiful and simple and so different than I imagined.

There was a stone pillar, probably 8 feet tall and as wide as a bar stool that man had made in the center of her tallest plateau. I climbed up and sat on top, facing the wind. Within moments the wind became stronger and stronger, almost pushing me off my perch. Instinctively my eyes closed and I sat there hearing the roar of the wind in my ears, feeling its force against my chest, and noticing it pushing my hanging legs around like two pegs on a wind chime. Sitting there in the darkness of my eyelids, I realized I could be anywhere.  For a moment I even wondered where I was as the deafening roar of the wind drowned out everything I knew.

It was almost like Christmas, wondering what I’d see when my eyes opened. Then it happened and there in front of me were rolling slopes of green grass, bordered with jagged red volcanic boulders, framed by the Agean sea, which was dotted with islands as far as I could see. How did this happen? What luck and miracles brought me here, to sit in this spot and have this solitary experience with and on a volcano?

Santorini Volcano Greece

I sat and watched the wind roll through the green grass in waves, tasted the salt air, and smelled gentle whiffs of sulfur scent that had traveled from deep within the earth and found their way inside my nose. Then I realized I was no longer by myself on the volcano. I slipped down from my perch so others could experience sitting atop a pillar with an ancient volcano while each and every sense was stimulated.Santorini Volcano

As I sauntered around atop her rolling rocky hills, I left the beaten path to explore. Then I saw it: a trace of smoke or steam. I waited, wanted and watched. There it was again, almost invisible, but it was there. I slipped and slid down her slopes, rocks the size of oranges rolling under my feet. Finally her warm humid breath met my face and I was surprised how moist it was. There were several tiny caves that bellowed the steam, each crusted with yellow sandy crystals. I wondered how deep the tiny caves were. The holes in her earth that were whisping steam weren’t large enough for a grapefruit. So I reach out and then in: my hand instantly wet, and suddenly scalding. I instinctively drew back.

Then I gently reached out again, this time slowly inviting her to say hello.

I shook hands with a volcano today…

 

A video of the tiny caves and view from the site of the handshake:

 

Nea Kameni is an active, though dormant, volcano in the Agean Sea; Santorini, Greece

https://www.volcanodiscovery.com/santorini.html

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A friend suggested I go to Santorini. He said there is beauty… and a silence there like the instant after a thunder clap.

This morning I drove to the top of the tallest hill on the island and just as I was leaving found a small trail… that lead me along a slippery rocky cliff-side path. As I got further away from everything, the silence crept in and I turned a corner to find this view… no words, just pure beauty.

Santorini

During the journey of the last 14 months I’ve gone back and forth between loving the learning that comes from true solitude and feeling very alone.

I’ve found (again!) that being a loaner gives time to wonder and sit in the silence where everything is… and in that silence we are never alone.

Beauty and silence…

 

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A few weeks ago I went on an awesome treetop adventure course, climbing, tightrope walking, and zip-lining more than sixty feet off the ground. To make it all the way through the course without falling required a combination of balance, strength and creativity. Fortunately for anyone who thought they lacked sufficient balance, strength, or creativity, we all wore a harness tethered to a safety cable that kept us from falling more than a few feet towards our untimely demise.

I had a great time, moving from obstacle to obstacle without giving one thought to my wellbeing. After completing the first section, one of the instructors asked me to come to the front of the line. I didn’t understand why and felt bad for “cutting in line”, but the enthusiastically sweet instructor welcomed me on to the second half of the course with a huge smile and said “Go have fun!” To my amazement the entire second half of the course was empty – wide open and waiting for me.

The instructor had noticed my comfort on the first half of the course and how much time I spent waiting for others to cautiously cross the obstacles. He set me free on the second half and seemed to enjoy watching me fly through almost as much as I enjoyed doing it, playing like a carefree kid.

What struck me as interesting to think about was how different this experience might have been if I had attempted it without a harness. Even though in the end I never fell or made use of any of the safety equipment, I suspect much of my attention probably would have been focused on not falling to my death and I most likely would have had a lot less fun.

Trusting the Equipment

Imagine yourself strolling down a narrow sidewalk without a care in the world. Now, imagine walking down that same narrow sidewalk 1,000 feet in the air. Notice the difference?

Many of the participants were tentative and clinging to the cables throughout the course instead of simply letting go and using their body to balance naturally. While watching them I thought: “Man, this would be so much easier for them if they trusted the equipment!”

Then just last week in Athens, Greece I had almost the opposite experience. While on a walk in a park I came across a beautiful towering tree that begged to be climbed. Its branches were broad and perfectly spaced all the way up to the top. Before I had time to think, the tree climbing kid inside of me was up amongst the branches. Like a monkey, I began easily climbing up. But the higher I got, the more worried thinking I had. In reality, the tree was just as simple to climb 35 feet up in the air as it was when I was only a few feet off the ground, but I began to think more and more about the “what ifs.” Just as I suspected when I was on the adventure course, without the safety equipment I began to worry more about falling than enjoying the experience.

Remember, when I did the adventure course I had the safety equipment, but never needed it. On the tree, I didn’t have any equipment. So while I had full confidence on the lower branches, I experienced significant unease on the higher ones.

Here’s the point:

It wasn’t the tree that caused me to experience the uneasiness; it was my imagination running wild. I was overthinking. The higher I got in the tree the heavier my thinking got, and as you can probably imagine that feeling wasn’t helpful at all.

To me the equivalent of “trusting the equipment” in life is an unconquerable faith in the future. What if we knew the universe always had our back?  Imagine having a celestial carabiner attached to the cable of life and no matter what happened you’d be safe. Sure, life throws us obstacles and challenges involving balance, strength and creativity. That’s just life. When we have an unconquerable faith in the future we can zip along through the course of life really enjoying the ride.

 

 

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