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Ten Thousand Days

Under the Magnifying Glass

December 12, 2017

Photo: Mar Newhall

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1178 – Day 1209)

Every year when December hits, there seems to follow a wave of nostalgia.  I’m guessing this is because as children, the season was so heightened in our imaginations.  We look back and remember times past.  But do we remember things as they really were?  I doubt it.  And just so, come December, we look back on the year.

As John Lennon sang:  “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?  Another year over, and a new one just begun.”

I hear a lot of people talking and writing about how awful 2017 was and how they are ready to be done with this garbage year.  Whether it was, or it wasn’t a good year (on balance) in our lives,  I’m not sure that that putting our lives in review like this is a helpful practice.

You may have noticed that I’ve been absent a lot more this year from the website.  I’ve been working through some challenging times in my life and writing publicly about it whilst knee deep in having to take action would not be helpful.  And so, I’ve been much more private in my gratitude practice lately.  That does not mean I have not been practicing.

In fact, I wanted to make sure that if I wasn’t reflecting at least weekly, on this site, that I picked up again a daily practice in my private writing.  I write every day (or at least that is the intention although it does not always happen) and at the end of around 1000 words, I stop and do my gratitude practice.  And, I have found that what neuroscience is showing to be true really does happen.  Daily gratitude practice provides a pathway to resilience for those of us that are facing difficult times in our lives.

Returning to a daily practice has been wonderful.  Within a few weeks, I can see an older version of myself returning – she’s not completely formed.  She is more like a scent that lingers like a memory.  She is the positive, happy, beautiful, confident and a spiritually lit soul.  In the midst of abuse, she took refuge and fled.  I get glimpses of her at times and when I do, I am overwhelmed with gratitude for her presence.  Life brings all kinds of horrible events into our lives and sometimes we get beaten into the ground by them.  And, I believe that part of us can split off and dissociate and if it is traumatic enough, we can experience what the Shaman would call soul loss.  Even more severe might cause something that only a psychiatrist could name.

For me, I am so grateful to say that she has remained close to me and I attribute this to the support of a lot of spiritually powerful friends, as well as a lifetime of work on my own spiritual and mental health.   Still, as a result of a pretty hard run of it, I had lost the ability to truly feel joy for most of 2017 and some of 2016.  This is not so much of a surprise as it might at first seem.  When a heart closes down and numbs out the pain of life, it also numbs the joy.

I was frustrated with this and did not want my future to be one of a numb nothingness.

I’ve taken refuge from everything that wasn’t working.  Although a source of comfort and community, I’ve even been away from my spiritual group for a couple of months.  I found it very difficult to meditate because my meditation practice is that of meditating on the heart and with love in the heart.  I had closed my heart and so meditation was difficult and frustrating.  Rather than perpetuate an idea that I could not meditate, I decided to go to the root of the problem.  I never felt disconnected from what I would call the Beloved (or you might call God, or the Divine Quantum) but I could not FEEL the Beloved in my heart.

Something else happened for me, instead, in these meditations.  The direction I received was specific and practical.  I had some work to do.

And so, I’ve taken it to heart.  Part of acting on that direction has required me to be offline for awhile and I’m getting to the point where I feel I have nearly achieved what was asked of me, and for that I am grateful.

I’ve mentioned this year that joy has been difficult for me this year because joy requires an open heart.  Trying to open the heart by approaching it directly, can cause the defenses to heighten and make the matter worse.  And so, unable to meditate, I followed the sound of my soul.  And so, I’ve been singing.

I’ve spent the last month taking a peculiar kind of singing class.  It has been a joy to be able to feel Oneness through the intimacy of improvisation and music making with another person, without the risks of other kinds of emotional intimacy.  And, as expected, my heart has begun to open.

With opening of the heart comes the opportunity to meditate again and I can’t be more grateful.   I’ve tentatively returned to social media and to this website.  I’ve still got work to do and it is my service to all those with whom I interact to be able to be emotionally present.  I still have work to do to clear out the debris of this difficult time and so I may be somewhat quieter for awhile.  Hey, we have 10,000 days together, folks, and that is going to ebb and flow.

This has been an incredibly profound and fertile time for me and there will come a day when it is right to say more.  But until that time, please understand that the deepest meaning cannot be made without time, solitude and reflection.  My purpose here is to write something to which we can all relate and that is often best done from a vantage point of distance.  Putting ourselves under the magnifying glass in the midst of processing change will only focus on the blemishes, rather than the beauty.  There are enough places and people who focus on the blemishes.  I choose to focus on the beauty – in all of life.  And so, I am grateful for your continued patience as we walk these days together.

I hope you’re well and I’m so grateful that we can reconnect in this sentimental season.  I hope we’ll have more frequent visits together here, over the next few months.  I’d love to hear from you…

For what are you most grateful?

 

Ten Thousand Days

When Bad Things Happen

November 10, 2017

Photo: Bryan Minear

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1153 – Day 1177)

I work above a doctor’s office.  In the last few months I’ve noticed there are people sitting outside the office on a regular basis.  I ask how they’re doing and greet them as they sit in the lobby and many are really not doing so well.  I’ve often thought about the lives of those people who come in and sit in our building’s lobby and the lives they will pick up and live out once they leave the doctor’s office.

This has been a very stressful few weeks, in my life.  I was essentially ‘at the scene’ of the first fatal shooting of a police officer in Canada, during 2017.  I didn’t witness the crime, but I heard gunshots from a shootout across the street.  As I drove back to my office, I had to stop twice for oncoming police vehicles heading to the scene.  I think that one of those vehicles contained the two police officers that were shot on the scene, and the one who died there.  I can’t help but think about how quickly life changes.

 

Two weeks ago a family member called me to come over and when I arrived, it was apparent that the ambulance was needed to take them emergency, where they stayed for the next week.  While they were in hospital, I had to juggle care for their dependent, caring for them in hospital and to some extent, taking on some medical advocacy.  While this was happening, family was squabbling and people at a distance were arguing with me the facts of what was unfolding before me, as if they knew better than the people who were there, handling the issue.  I became very direct and not willing to be manipulated.

I remembered how this happened when my mom was dying and when I lived through the terror of 9/11 in Lower Manhattan.  When bad things happen, the bullsh*t becomes apparent.

I had a spiritual teacher talk about those in their 20s and 30s who waste their energy being deceptive and caring about things that really don’t matter.  As you get older, she said, we become more honest and authentic.  What anyone else thinks about us loses its importance, with years.  It happens, she said, because we no longer have the energy we once had to juggle so much bullsh*t.  If people could learn this in their youth, they’d have much more energy to make positive change in themselves, and thereby, the world.

My teacher wasn’t entirely right.  We can, if we have the energy to do so, continue to worry about things that have no importance in our life, right up until the day we die.  It is only when we gain wisdom about what really matters that we stop giving energy to that which does not.

A lot of wisdom is gained when bad things happen.  I’m grateful that I am clear about what matters to me and I’m grateful that I know that I try to do the right thing and can look myself in the eyes in the mirror with a clear conscience.  I learned early in life that cultivating a life of integrity was far more important than a life of wealth and I’m grateful to Harvey for teaching me this piece of wisdom.  I’m grateful to my younger self for taking that lesson and applying it throughout my life.

It has been a very stressful time since I last wrote my gratitude journal.  But I have always said that it is in times of crisis that we often find that for which we are grateful rises to the surface.  In the wake of thousands of people dying in the twin towers, it was the community of my apartment building, the camaraderie of friends and the selfless sacrifice of first responders and carers that shone through and brought New Yorkers together.  It is in the darkest ash that we can see the diamond.  And so it is with gratitude.  We are not grateful because life is good.  Sometimes bad things happen, but we can still be grateful for the good things in our lives.

In the midst of some stressful times, I performed music for the first time at an international festival.  We played only 3 times with the Music on Mains All-Star brass band but I really listened deeply during the final performance to the score that James Maxwell had written for the festival and it was a joy to be a part of bringing that beautiful sonic landscape to life.  A person who had been with us throughout rehearsals remarked that she teared up when she heard us perform, and when I listened to us play our final time, I felt the same.  There is a real communion to playing music together and that Oneness, like all moments of communion, is truly moving.

My service over these past few weeks is self evident and, to be fair, now that the crisis has passed, I’m exhausted.  Whenever I’ve had a few moments to myself in the car, I’ve been listening to podcasts by the shaman Christina Pratt and she spoke, in one of them, about this place where I find myself after the fire.  Despite the crises, I’m lost, and I’m allowing myself to ride the crises even as I let myself stay lost.  To pick up old patterns would be self-defeating.  This is a time of transition and when bad things happen, it helps reveal our old beliefs and our former structures of relating and ways of living our lives.  But with crises comes a clarity of purpose that helps us to choose what we will keep and what we will leave behind.  I am certain of one thing now: I will take no belief or structure with me that does not help me to live every day serving my soul’s purpose in a meaningful way.

 

Graffiti by unknown artists

For what are you most grateful?

 

 

 

Art, Articles, Community, Music, Oneness

Instruments of Change: Community Sounds in Contemporary Classical New Music

November 4, 2017

Street Beats Band 2016. Photo: Jan Gates

For years, I have longed to make music but I had missed the opportunity to learn as a child.  Earlier this year, as I sat with a musician friend watching videos of new world music, I spotted a percussionist playing some grooves on a bottle.  “I could play the bottle!” I declared.  My friend laughed and we thought no more about it.

The next week, while looking for a woodworking class, I happened upon an advertisement to join the Street Beats Band, at the Roundhouse Community Centre, in Vancouver.  Street Beats Band is an urban percussion community band that makes grooves on found objects.  I remembered that street musician playing the bottle and decided to take the leap.

Street Beats  is a 2 year project produced by Instruments of Change, a not for profit organization founded by flutist and activist Laura Barron.  The project was commissioned by David Pay of Music on Main for the International Contemporary Music Society’s World Music Days in Vancouver, this week.

The mission of Instruments of Change, is to use “the arts as an educational tool to empower individuals to become instruments of transformative change in their own lives.  By expanding community access to cultural activities, we allow diverse populations to make and experience music and art.”

We asked Laura Barron to reflect on the inspiration for creating this platform and project:

I’ve always been a social activist but mostly not in a music capacity.  I worked as a phone crisis worker for Vancouver rape relief and women’s shelter and I taught yoga at a downtown East women’s shelter and in a women’s prison.  I did some music as a performer in hospice, doing therapeutic music, not music therapy,  but I was not finding a way to really intersect my musical expertise with the kind of empowering work that I wanted to do in a social engaged way.

Instruments of Change was born out of that interest and I took a class at SFU on exploring art for social change for mid career professional both from the arts sectors and from the social sectors: artists wanting to find a way to apply their work in social contexts and social service workers wanting to infuse their work with more art.

It’s a really great meeting of minds and I got tremendous inspiration and ideas from that course but also met probably a dozen collaborators that I’ve since done many of the projects that are Instruments of Change initiatives.

Among the initiatives are the Women Rock programme, Artist in School programmes locally and internationally, the Stick Together programme and Street Beats, amongst others.

This (Street Beats) project was born out of my constant interest to find the most accessible ways for anyone and everyone to make music.  

Surely we can all find objects and surely we all have a heartbeat and we can stick together with a groove and so it is, in my opinion, the most democratic kind of music making that I could think of.

My board member and good friend Dave Pay who runs Music on Main got the bid for Vancouver to be the host city of the International Society of Contemporary Music World New Music conference three years ago, and once he knew this big conference was going to happen here, he knew that he wanted one community engaged piece in this rather challenging, complex, avant garde music context which is not unheard of but not that common.

Community music often you know takes its form in choirs, in drum circles and other kinds of music but has very rarely intersected with this more esoteric classical new music context.

A resourceful, multi-talented musician with a multi-disciplinary team and a network of community partners, Laura Barron set about creating a transformational community music experience.

I’d already been doing some found object drumming and thought this very democratic music making form could work extremely well and of course be fused with any number of composed classical elements.

We had first just a Street Beats band to learn what community was capable of doing, what kind of rhythms were possible, how we were going to teach those, learn those together, strategies for working with the community, what sounds were possible out of these instruments.

James Maxwell, our composer, whom David Pay selected, observed that process (in the first year and a half) and let that inform the piece that he wrote for us to play collectively.

As a community band, Street Beats Band plays percussion on found objects from the city streets.  Aside from the affordability issues involved in equipping a band with instruments, we wondered about the appeal of found objects:

Duke Ellington said “You gotta work with what you got.”

Anyone…at any time…with whats available to them…can be musical and creative and artistic.

And we’re doing some pretty complex rhythms right? Look at this really complicated piece that many of you who have not played an instrument or certainly not played a drum before are able to do right?  And that’s something over my years of leading community ensembles I’ve realized is that there’s just a greater, faster learning curve when you’re just paring it down to one music element which is rhythm.  Though some people say ‘I can’t keep a beat’ or some people say ‘I’m tone deaf.’  I don’t really believe it.  I think we can all eventually connect to our own inner pulse in the inner ear.

 

Photo: Allef Vinicius

 

Teaching those who have not traditionally had the opportunity to make music can sometimes present unique challenges, particularly for a diverse and inclusive group of community members.  Through the use of pneumonics, and music theory which is stated in everyday language. Laura Barron and fellow musicians and facilitators Martin Fisk and Robin Reid, have managed to take a group of individuals who might not have made music and who did not know one another and turn them into a cohesive band.

It’s always my job to find the most skilled, multifaceted musicians who can play those roles because that does not just require that you’re a good performer or require that you’re a good teacher but requires that you have you know true facilitation skills and understand how to work with a broad demographic, understand how to work with people who might have language challenges – we have a few people in the group that are ESL – and in the first iteration we had some people with mental illness.  And those are things that when you open your doors that are possible and we really want to be as inclusive as we can so I’ve built a great team over the years for all our projects of these multi-talented artists who have the sensitivity and the skills within their disciplines to do this work well.  

The found objects that Street Beats band members play range from buckets to frying pans, thanks to the Vancouver binners’ community.

The involvement of the binners came in the nascent stages because I’ve always been super interested in trash and concerned about trash.  Since I was a little kid.  I used to have nightmares that we’d have nowhere left to put the trash, that we’d be living in piles of trash and then I went to India and realized that some places people live like that.

The binners are our foremost repurposers and recyclers in our city.  They hear and see and think in ways very different from most of the rest of us and I knew of their work and I knew of the Binners’ Project which is a non-profit which supports them was really trying to raise their profile in the city, legitimize what they’re doing, provide better income opportunities for them and I thought wouldn’t it be great if we could actually hire them and pay them to be the curators of our instruments?  So that’s what they did to create this whole inventory that we’ve held onto throughout the whole two years of the project.

 

Photo: Lakerain Snake

 

The Binners’ Project was on my radar as a passion and interest of mine and I approached them and they were thrilled to be involved, right in the early days of the project.  I walked their routes with them and went to their meetings.  You know when you build these community partnerships its all about trust, and building connection.  

And I’ve since hired them for other projects.

One of my school projects was a kind of found object project and I brought the binners in to talk about being responsible, non wasteful citizens and that was fantastic for the kids and those adults who said they have often not been made to feel welcome in those spaces.  So to be paid and asked to come in and be an expert on something in a school environment was super confidence-building for them.

 

The Street Beats project has evolved over the two years, with the first year’s performance of Street Beats Band being solely urban percussion composed by 4 community groups.

 

A sample of the 2016 grooves:

 

 

In 2017, Street Beats Band will be accompanied by professional musicians, Music On Main All-Star Band to collectively play a classical score married with a sonic landscape of the built/urban environment composed for the festival by James Maxwell entitled Eight or nine, six or seven.

 

Photo: Dayne Topkin

 

Music on Main is a fluid group of musicians that have known each other and played together for years.  It was always the concept that they would be featured in the piece.

We’ve had City funding for two years, Instruments of Change funding, partnerships with the Roundhouse who lets us have our space for free, the Binners’ Project the UBC Learning Exchange that is also in the downtown east side and let us store the instruments for free so all in all this is probably a $50,000 project so we had to work towards success.  

We never use volunteer facilitators.  One of the things that drives this is how much I value the arts and want to impart a value of the arts in everyone we reach and so by allowing participants to make and do art, of course that increase the value in their lives but paying artists commensurate professional rates is one of the most important ways I can demonstrate value for the arts.  

 Certainly there seems to be some interest in having a community found object band so we don’t know what the future might hold but this was a two-year project.  We‘ve asked for nine 3-hour sessions from you all and that’s already quite a lot for people’s busy lives.

Barron hopes that her work will encourage people to participate and support her programmes.  The more people that participate, the more it proves to funders that arts are  worth funding.

Having worked so hard for a successful performance this weekend, we wondered how Barron will know if this has been achieved:

I really hope that it inspires other people to realize that there’s music around them everywhere.  There’s the possibility to make music with things you might not have considered instruments before so that might happen to some of our audience members or participants.  

And then I think that probably all of us underestimated what would be possible merging a community ensemble and a contemporary new music classical ensemble and so all of those composer that are in the room – hundreds at least, from around the world – I imagine are going to be quite impressed and inspired not necessarily to write a piece for found object drum ensemble but to have confidence in what non-traditional music makers are capable of.  

That’s what I really hope to see.

 

Photo: Marcos Luiz

 

We asked Barron to consider that which brings her the greatest joy and for which she is most grateful:

My greatest joy in life is allowing people to find their true voices while I find my own.  And, as a passionate connector, I am most grateful for my relationships with family, friends and community.

 

Of course, you may be wondering: Has Instruments of Change and my participation in Street Beats Band transformed my life?

Making music together is a one of a kind bonding experience.  People I considered strangers just weeks ago have become a part of me and I will miss playing with them, come Monday.  Playing in Street Beats has given me the confidence to seek out new and varied ways of making music.  I have joined a community harmony workshop, joined the Vancouver folk society to attend sing alongs, as well as the Pacific Bluegrass society that hosts jam sessions for Old Time and Bluegrass players.  I am set to pick up my new ukulele – which I am told is an easy first string instrument to play –  this week.  My preference is for world music and jazz, and my bandmates  have even talked about continuing our grooves together in informal jam sessions.  Whatever the future holds, I have become a musician through this process, and I don’t intend to stop.

It has been an empowering transformation to participate in the band.

I hope that you, too, will find a way to engage with this wonderful work.

 

James Maxwell’s Eight or nine, six or seven will be performed (free) by Instruments of Change Street Beats Band and the Music on Main All-Star Band on Saturday 4 November and Sunday 5 November at 11 AM at the Roundhouse Community Centre, at the corner of Davie & Pacific, Vancouver, BC.

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Lost

October 17, 2017

Photo: Jakub Kriz

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1131 – Day 1152)

I try to write these posts like a journal – one draft, and little forethought.  I sometimes don’t express myself as eloquently as I would with revision.  But, unless I feel I have wrongly characterised someone, I try not to go back and edit.  This is a journal.  It is meant to be an exploration.  However, I opened a book this morning – after I wrote my post  – and found a truly eloquent summary of what I am writing about.  And so, I preface my own post with these words, from these two great teachers:

 

SIMPLICITY

Practicing simplicity does not mean giving away all our things, quitting our demanding jobs, and moving to a mountain hut or living off the grid.  It simply means being very honest about what we value within our lives, what sustains us, brings us joy and meaning and devoting ourselves to those activities, people or things.  While we might end up having fewer possessions or changing some of our habits, simplicity compels a return, not a rejection – a seeing through and within, rather than looking somewhere else.  When we live from a place of simplicity we naturally find we need less, and instead are more open to life.

— Llwellyn Vaughan-Lee and Hilary Hart, “Spiritual Ecology: 10 Practices to Reawaken the Sacred in Everyday Life”

 

I have always been an adventurer and what my family call ‘a world traveler.’  When I was a small child, I would constantly run off from my mother and go where my interests led me.  Or, I would stay behind, transfixed on something when my mother walked away.  Quite often, I looked around and realized I was all alone, and I would panic.  It happened so often that before I learned to write, my mother taught me to stop looking for her, to look instead for a trusted person in authority and to stay with them while they paged my mother to come claim me.  I am grateful for the wisdom of her protocol: stop, stay still and let myself be found.

I see the trajectory of the series of posts that I have been writing.  I have been paddling against the tide, I have not followed my inner compass…and now, lo and behold: I am lost.

But being lost at this moment is not unexpected and I am grateful for my spiritual community who has been where I am, even if they didn’t send postcards from this place.  We don’t find ourselves as quickly in these foggy moments as our mothers were able to find us, when we wandered away in the shopping mall.  This process is internal and it takes a lot of surrender to let go of the ego. Things that have stood in my way have been burned in the fire of surrender.  And some dreams that I have held dear have gone up in flames as well.  There is a tendency to rush to fill in what has gone.  And, I am grateful for my curiosity, willingness to try new things and to never stop the adventure.

Where do I want to go from here?

I’ve been looking at homes in different cities and different neighborhoods.  I’ve looked at homes on acreage, homes on city building lots, condos, townhouses and tiny homes.  I’d love to live in a tiny home but the practicality of that in the confines of zoning restrictions where I currently live and work is not viable.  I’ve considered intentional community and artist collectives and I’ve considered the pros and cons of city versus rural living.  I’ve considered the question: in which country do I want to spend the next and possibly final chapter of my life?  I have always said that there are so many ways to live.

Finding the lifestyle that suits us can sometimes be the task of a lifetime.  I have recently re-considered becoming a wandering mendicant.  Those who have known me for decades will know that this has been a long calling for me, but it seems that my purpose is best fulfilled in relating to others, not in a solitude that is a relief to me.  And even in this weighing of my options, I am grateful for the element – at least to some extent – of agency and choice.

Big questions.  And so when folks ask me what I’m looking for in a home, I have no simple real estate type answers for them.  I am shopping for a lifestyle, within my financial budget, that allows me to live out my soul’s purpose.  I am looking for a style of life that matches my goals and priorities.  Some people may think I am not being serious enough in my search for what is next.  I am purposefully attempting to face it with joy and love rather than fear and dread.  And in that, I’m looking for who I am,  who I want to become, and what I want to offer the world, in the years I have left in this body.

In my efforts to fill the spaces that burned in the fire, I have pursued activities that I love, while I wait and watch.  I have joined an urban percussion band, continued my painting, set writing goals and taken up woodworking, in addition to kayaking and hiking.  I had once wanted to climb Kilimanjaro but my health won’t allow that and so I look for other ways to journey as a pilgrim would, because even if I can’t wander forever, real pilgrimage is an important element of my journey in this body.

Each time I turn around, I find something else that catches my interest and that I would love to pursue.   I’m delighted to find the world continues to fascinate me.  I’ve enquired about returning to the stage, as I am a professionally trained actor, and I’ve taken courses in beading and pigment making.  Some things I found were easy and some were hard.  And some I just decided that I never really wanted to do again.  It’s been a process of trial and elimination.  The goal has not been to find a hobby.

It has all been a grand date with myself – a search for the unchanging “I” within me –  and a test of the best tools that I can use to serve humanity by my meaningful work, self-healing and style of living, in this next chapter of my life.

In this adventure, I left my home of a decade and a half to return to my place of birth.  I did so on the hope of a couple of promises and dreams.  They did not come to pass and they are being grieved as part of this time.

Simplicity means letting go of that which no longer serves us and placing attention on only that which enlivens and enlightens us.

I shared a dream with the young man and it seemed we had shared the same values.  But, while we shared a dream of living simply, of preserving old fashioned folk ways of doing things, the way in which we would seek to pursue those dreams diverged at the crossroads.

In a span of six months, he had either changed radically, or perhaps he simply dropped the mask he was wearing.

The vegetarian pacifist that could not stand to see an animal harmed, has turned into one who wants to hunt and kill animals for food and to use all the skin and bones and sinew.  He became a person willing to bear arms for his values.  He was preoccupied with himself as a killer when last we spent time together.

Homesteading certainly does not require this!  And more to the point, this is not a part of the way I want to live.  I follow a more Tolstoyen brand of ecology and rewilding.

I come from a heritage of vegetarian, pacifist, anarchist homesteaders for whom community, hard work, simplicity and spirituality are at the centre of life. While some of them protested, their greatest contribution to protest was in living by example.

I am not a full vegetarian, I practice self defence and I have slapped a man who abused me. I do not stand in judgement of anyone’s choices or less admirable moments. I am struck however, by what was a rapid and fundamental shift in the root of one’s philosophy of one’s place in the world:  Are we a single unit that needs to defend oneself, or are we part of an ecosystem of Oneness?  Do we aspire to survive by peaceful cooperation or violent competition?

Faced with someone whose whole way of orienting himself to others had changed 180 degrees in such a short time, I returned to looking within.

Who am I, at the core? 

What is unchanging about me, in all circumstances? 

How can I use this to live my soul’s purpose?

This, my friends, is the fundamental quest of every mystic and spiritual aspirant.

There has been a shift with many people – not so much in my age group or the baby boomers before me, but more so with the millennial generation – toward simplicity, folk arts and old timey ways of doing things as well as moderate to extreme re-wilding.  Artists and craftspersons have re-labelled themselves as ‘makers’ and ‘storytellers’ and I’m okay with those labels.  What is inspiring is that in the midst of mourning the loss of my companion on this journey, I have found that there are many many people out there who are discovering alternative lifestyles and living simply.

For me it is not just a whim. I have explored the many ways I can live by this principle of simplicity for nearly 20 years and it is my heritage.  Simplicity was part of the only vows I ever wrote and declared, at my ordination.

I have a great advantage.  With the large span in years between my siblings and myself, I am still the child of parents who lived on a farm and practiced old-timey ways and handicrafts out of necessity, not nostalgia.  I have the benefit of my father’s stories of just how darned hard it was to live without an electric stove or indoor plumbing, when he was a child.  I remember my grandmother making cheese, weaving, and actually using a washboard to wash clothes; not to produce the nostalgic sound I create in my percussion offerings.

In this process, I have looked within and back to my ancestors.  I see a richness of culture and of tradition.  I also see that ideals are often difficult but not impossible to maintain in juxtaposition with the modern world.  And I see the ways in which technology can be used to free up time and create wellbeing, in order to accomplish my soul’s purpose of leaving the world better than I found it.

I’m not having a romance with the belief that all self discovery and meaning can be found in complete rewilding and de-domestication, of returning to a life without electricity, running water, central heating and medical facilities.  This may be more sustainable (or maybe not – the research is still not clear) but it is not, in itself, going to give me peace and contentment.  I’ve done all that already and I learned the truth in the Buddhist adage: Everywhere you go, there you are.   It is not a change in circumstances but the spiritual work of a lifetime that brings us, finally, to a state of Simplicity.  And, at my age and state of health, now, to re-wild myself in a physical sense might possibly give me parasites, pneumonia and morbidity – as well as shorten my lifespan.  And if we all re-wild ourselves, I am not certain it would be more sustainable for the planet.  Life (all life) is too precious to shorten needlessly.

Re-wilding, in the end, is an inner process, helped by old skills and communion with nature. Permanent retreat to the forest is not needed for me to bring forth the things  I want: freedom, preservation of old skills, simplicity, pacifism, community, spirituality, sustainability, healing and artistic expression.

The true yogi, Swami Satchidananda used to say, can meditate on the streets of New York City.

I am beginning to find new ways to dream and to achieve the dream I had wanted to live.  It is embryonic and it is fragile.  Because of that, I am protective of it and I don’t like to talk about it much.

At each stage in life, we get lost and found again and the process takes on different emotions.  As a toddler, it was panic.  As a teenager, it was angst.  In my quarter-life crisis, it was a vague ennui and anger that life was not as I thought it would be, and a passion to protest and not to conform.  At mid life, it becomes one of accepting that some of life did not go as  hoped and some dreams need to die.

The passion remains but the focus must change from outer to inner in order to move outward again.

I’m lost.

I think this is a most glorious, fragile and tender place to be.  I’m not rushing to become anything or buy anything or adopt anything.  I’m letting go of all that I can.

I am stopping, getting still and waiting to be found.

 

Photo: Clem Onojeghuo

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Compass

September 25, 2017

Photo: Natalie Rhea Riggs

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1104 – Day 1130)

I wrote a post a few days ago.  I wrote it.  Published it. Re-wrote it.  Unpublished it.  Re-wrote it again.  Published it again.  After about an hour, I took it down for good.

The old post was about the narratives we tell about our relationships.  I realized that there are always at least as many stories of relationship as there are participants to that relationship.  The story continues to change, as we change.  And, the further away from the event we get, the further away from the Truth we get.  We all re-write our history, in order to make meaning of the seemingly senseless pain we endure, to maintain our ego and to take back the illusion of control of a chaotic world.

I’ve been thinking about the way that some of us tend to push one another’s buttons in a relationship.  If it is a relationship where one or  both parties withhold or react to having their buttons pushed, rather than getting still and focused on their inner compass and being able to respond to a situation in an assertive and direct way, before either have reacted, we can quickly lose our bearings as if we are trying to follow a compass that is being pulled by the magnetic poles of withholding and reaction.

When the young man ended our relationship in December, people told me to focus on myself.  It was impossible, for many months.  I had been so blindsided that I couldn’t make sense of it.  Somehow, if I could make sense of it, then the world would not be a dangerous place where chaos ruled.  I never did make sense of it, though my head looped around and I googled everything I could find to try to explain his behavior.   I found that trying to make sense of someone else is a pointless exercise.  We really are here to make sense and meaning out of our own lives.

After several months of being sick of going in circles, I decided to resurrect what I had buried in the relationship – my inner compass.  Instead of trying to figure him out, I focused on me.  Why had things gone so wrong for me and what did I do that was unhelpful in getting my needs met?

I did this in my spiritual work.  I painted about it.  I wrote about it.  But with two steps forward, I would fall back one step again, and try again to understand him instead of trying to understand how it made me feel and what I wanted to do, as a result of it.  I kept trying to navigate from the landmarks of our relationship that he left behind instead of navigating by my inner compass.

In desperation, I threw the whole thing into the fire and asked to be purged of it.  I was fed up with it.

But I hadn’t resolved it.

The embers of that broken relationship did not stay in the fire to be doused and buried and purified by the fire.  I stirred the embers, and they floated up on the wind to burn me, once again.

Photo: Ihor Malytskyi

I had been abandoned by him, yes.  And, I had survived.  But then I fooled myself that the next ‘right’ thing to do, was to reach out and propose that we be friends.  I was not changed enough to manage my responses to having my buttons pushed and developing a friendship with someone who had treated me with such little regard – in the absence of his making amends and altering his behaviour –  was a fatal act of self abandonment.

When we met again, I was observant and cautious.  He asked me to open up and I didn’t listen to my small voice say – ‘I don’t feel safe to do that yet.’  I took the leap, before I knew if it was safe (it turned out that it wasn’t) and I abandoned myself again, at the side of the lake and got into the kayak with him.

The waters that seemed clear as we left the shore quickly grew murky as they always had been.

In a few weeks, things spun out of control again and nothing was making sense.  I found myself spending more time wondering: ‘What is going on here?’ than I spent on getting clear about how I felt about what was going on.  I had stopped navigating by my inner compass.

There is a phrase in orienteering and hiking that says even though we have a compass and can triangulate our bearings from the landscape and a map, it is far better to STAY on course and stay found than to get lost and need to find our way back.  Within two days of not heeding my own compass, I was lost.  Old patterns resurfaced and with the best of intentions, conscious response gave way to unconscious reaction on both our parts.  It was ugly in the end.

In our last meeting, I headed for one compass bearing and I had the map to get me where I wanted to go.  But love and compassion for another can sometimes make us abandon ourselves, if we don’t have the same respect for ourselves that we expect others to show us.  One might say he abandoned me, and yes, he did that, again.  But what is most important for me to learn is that I allowed that to happen, by abandoning myself.  Neither of us could keep our bearings and in a panic, we both reacted.

I learned that the worst abandonment we can feel is when we abandon our own wellbeing for that of another.  Once we do that, we are lost and we will resort to our primal instincts to find our way home.  Primal instincts may be what we want to leave behind but what we’ve left behind is ourselves.  Autopilot takes over, so that we survive.  Sometimes, people get hurt in our drive to survive.

I’m grateful for this lesson.

I’m grateful for The Work of Byron Katie.  I don’t know that she is for everyone, or even for me over the long haul.  But this weekend I listened to her and found she helped me to turn around old stories and re-examine them.  And, I’m grateful for the work of a relationship counselor from Chicago, whose U-Tube videos helped me to see the pattern that I keep looping back into.

The hook of that pattern grabbed me so quickly, completely and left me reacting without conscious choice.  And yet, when I trace back the events, I see that I lost my ability to be conscious and choose my response when I abandoned myself and kept abandoning myself – even when I had moments to take my bearings.

I’m  grateful for the words of a friend who re-counted a tale of a visit with her long time teacher that never happened.  Her teacher had called and said that she just wasn’t up for it.  My friend was disappointed but grateful that the teacher had not pushed herself and then had resentment that would ruin the weekend for both of them.  This hit home.

On my last weekend visit with the young man, I was exhausted and I didn’t feel I’d been treated with respect in the lead up to the weekend.  I didn’t feel he was honoring his conscious agreements with me and most worryingly, I didn’t feel that I was hearing the full truth of what was going on, the impacts of which were bearing down on me.  This left me feeling a way I don’t want to feel, in my life.  Instead of calling off our visit, I went ahead with it, and I abandoned myself and how I really felt about everything.  Everything went to hell in a handbasket from there.

There is joy in getting to the crux of the matter by working through the events that led up to and precipitated the ugly encounter.  The joy is in finding that the needle for magnetic north points right back inside ourselves.  We are not at the whim of a chaotic universe.  The chaos ensues when we abandon our true north readings.

The first ending between us was accompanied by a lot of blame directed at me.  The second ending had a lot of blame directed at him.

In reality, we are both to blame for not being true to ourselves and not being forthright, truthful and kind about what that meant for ourselves and the other.  We each have our flaws, and it really isn’t in anyone’s interest to recount those.  Nor is it in either of our interest to judge one another for the way we behave.  What is in my interest now is to recognize that we push one another’s buttons and neither of us currently has the skills to stop reacting when that happens.  In that Oneness, we are both flawed and ugly and infinitely and intrinsically loveable.

The relationship with the young man was a hard one and was also meaningful.  I have learned from this episode, and now, in order to be of service to all those with whom I am in relationship, I must get clear about how I want to feel in relationship, and what my non-negotiable ‘must haves’ are (respect, forthrightness,  keeping agreements etc), and what are non-negotiable ‘deal breakers’ (lies, addiction, criminal activity etc) for me.  These are the markers on my inner compass that I need to honor, and my role is to keep my attention on my inner bearings as it calls to me and directs my course towards fulfilling my soul’s purpose – both in and out of relationships.

This is my personal task as we head into our fourth year of gratitude practice.  Nobody said this journey of 10,000 days of gratitude was going to be easy.  I expected a lot of growth and transformation from the path.  And, transformation is not always pretty.

I don’t condone his disrespectful behavior, but there are always at least as many sides to the story of a relationship as there are participants to that relationship.   Whatever the absolute truth of the relationship, I can say that I am grateful that the young man came into my life because I learned so much from being in relationship with him.  Mostly, I learned that everything changes when I honour myself, first.

 

Photo: Nik Shuliahin

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Milestone

Into the 4th Year…

August 28, 2017

Photo: Melanie Magdalena

As we enter our 4th year of Gratitude Practice, a word of Thanks….

On the 20th of August, we marked the 3rd year of this gratitude practice.  In prior years, I’ve looked back at what we’ve achieved, but this has not been an easy year for me.  I have to admit that I’ve struggled to stay positive and to be grateful.  Depression, panic, and anger  have been my companions as much as gratitude, joy, and oneness.  I’ve been stuck in my own pain more than I have been able to serve, it seems.  And, because its been such a difficult year to keep that balance a positive one, our anniversary passed, without me noticing it.

But, as much as I – and maybe you – have struggled with a personal or professional life that have been painfully disappointing and faced, every day, the darkening of the world news, we have stayed the course and we deserve to celebrate that.

I have always said that I am personally most inspired by moments of gratitude found in the darkest hour.  And frankly life is always a dance with adversity as much as it is with ease and joy.  We started this journey of gratitude on Facebook when I was terribly ill.  Daily gratitude practice helped me to overcome that challenge and to inspire others.  Internal challenges are not as cut and dried and progress as easy to see as when it is when the issue is physical.  I understand that.  And yet, we are still here.

We are all still here!

I have learned that frequent practice is essential in difficult times.  During the year, I returned to a daily practice on Facebook, with friends, and I’m sorry that I was not in a place to be able to write publicly as much as I would have wished I could.  Most of us are not able to give our best when we are struggling and I urge you to go gently with yourselves in your own times of sorrow.

I have also learned that grief is a lonely place.

I have faced judgement for being depressed or angry or for experiencing anxiety this year.  Not for the experience itself, but because it stretched on too long for the patience of others.  When someone dies, people are, for example, sympathetic for the first week following the loss.  But compassion fades.  From experience, those who are in touch with their loss and their emotions surrounding loss do not generally get over it within a week, or even a year.  It is usually that second week, second month,  and second year that is the loneliest for those who are struggling to put their life together again after the shock of a loss.  When one has truly grieved a loss, life will never, ever be the same again.

I never aimed to create a saccharine site where all we did was write ‘It’s all good,’ and then stuffed our suffering down into the depths of our souls where it could ferment and cause illness.  To me, the most meaningful offering I can give to others is to say ‘My life is difficult and I’m feeling awful and I can’t seem to want to get out of bed.  But I’m working these tools of gratitude (and joy, oneness and service to find meaning and purpose) all with faith that this low moment will pass.’  I invite you to witness as much of my journey as I can bear to reveal and you can bear to witness, so that you will know that you are not the only one who sometimes struggles with loss and grief and anger and panic that seems will never end.  I applaud anyone – including myself – for trying each day to apply the tools, even when it feels impossible.

I will never judge you for your grief.  Instead, I hope that you will find a place of solace, here.

Let us never use our commitment to these practices to shame one another for not doing as well at our work as someone thinks we should be doing, or for having difficult and dark emotions or for cursing or otherwise behaving imperfectly in times of distress.  We know when we are not doing as much as we wish we could.  We are all doing the best that we can.  I will never judge you for trying and falling down on your gratitude practice.  I will, if only by example, try my very best to encourage you to keep getting back up again when life sucks so hard you don’t know where to turn.

Fall 9,999 times; Get  up 10,000 times.

Together, we WILL make Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.

 

As I do each year, I re-affirm my commitment to living a grateful life through 10,000 days spent observing that for which I am grateful, and making my life one of service to life itself, living a life of joy, from a sense of purpose, and of Oneness experienced through the awe of nature, art and spirituality.

I will tell my story of this journey because I believe that storytelling is how life’s meaning is revealed.  And I invite you to share your stories, in the comments, in an interview or in some new – as yet unknown manner – because it is in mutual sharing that community is forged and a new culture of grateful living can spread.

I’m grateful to readers who have stayed the course with me, through the dark times of winter and the strange and curious death and rebirth that is currently in process.  And I’m grateful to all who have shared their stories with us over these past three years.

I acknowledge and remember the friends and loved ones we’ve lost this past year.

And, I am truly thankful for another trip around the sun, together.  I look forward to our 4th year…

 

Photo: Joshua Fuller

For what are you most grateful?

Ten Thousand Days

Paddle

August 28, 2017

Photo: Aaron Burden

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1075 – 1103)

I have found that the overwhelming task of re-orienting to life after the fire can sometimes cause me to panic.  After the young man threw a bomb into our relationship, I learned that one of the things we do when we are caught in our grief and cannot move out of it is to search for the lost person everywhere and to try to re-establish order.  I remember when my mother died, I would go to pick up the phone to call her, or set an extra place at the dinner table and I would think I saw her face in a crowd.

I’ve been searching since the fire ritual, and I’m working to just get dead calm like a still day on the ocean.  As I try to adjust to being just the space between the ashes of who I once was, I have been searching for what will come next.  Even as I bury the babies and I cry my tears for what has died, I have been searching.  I have been trying to put my life back together and try on new lives like new sets of clothes.  Nothing seems to fit.

And then I remember that in re-birth, just as in birth, we are in the water, alone and naked.  This vulnerable time is a necessary part of real transformation.

The only thing that calms me is a return to the ocean.  Yes, early on I started walking by the sea.  That is still enjoyable for me but I’ve learned, in this process, that I love to be on the water, or in the water.  I can’t afford to sail, so I’ve taken up sea kayaking.  And I do it as often as I can.

When I was a child, I was a long distance swimmer.  For me, the constant repetition of the stroke and the breath was a meditation.  Life was not always easy for me, as the youngest sibling whose older sisters often resented her presence and bullied her, as siblings do.  But swimming, I was free.  I swam for hours and because my sisters would hold my head under water at the public pool to taunt me, I grew stronger from the constant practice of breath, stroke, breath, stroke, treading water and holding my breath.  I stayed calm in a world that was turbulent for me.

 

The young man is going through a similar process of trying on lives, and I saw him recently.  He told me that “I have time” to figure it all out.  While we share this in common, and that is a comfort, I am the only one of us who can see life from both sides of the age gap.  I have been where he is in life. But where I am – that is a place he cannot yet know.  I am alone, trying to fathom its depths.

At times, I feel quite lonely, here.

I think it was Soren Kierkegard who said that “Life can only be understood backwardsbut it must be lived forwards.”  And even as I paddle, I know that I can’t know what is ahead of me but I can know what is behind me and yet, life is flowing.  We can never go back to a point that has flowed past us.

For a long time after the ending of our relationship, I tried to make sense of things.  After 7 months, I came upon one thought that I had never thought and only then did the pieces come together.  Having the pieces come together, however, does not make the fact of the situation any easier to bear.  When things hurt, understanding why they hurt doesn’t take away the sting.  All it does is put the mind to rest, and possibly provide insights for what can be expected, going forward. It doesn’t change anything.

I’ve seen him and I’ve talked to him and I feel strange.  There are just so many emotions that run the gamut from ease to sadness to a distant observation of what is.  I’ve been in this place before and it is very internal and intimate and I wouldn’t want to describe all that is going on – to him or to anyone else.  Something has died and I’m watching “what is,” with detachment.  This won’t last, but I am surprised by my lack of desire to rush in and re-order the universe.  What is, is.  What the meaning in it is – well – maybe I’ll only know in a year or 10 or 20 or at the end of my life.  Or maybe I will never know.  And maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Perhaps this is wisdom – the ability to let things be what they are and just be the observer, adjusting the rudder and accepting the tide.

I’m sure that, in time, I will get caught up in the future or the past or be somehow out of the present moment.  But for this brief window of time, I am so incredibly present in the moment, and I am grateful for that gift.

I panic about my own future when I look to buy a home and see prices rising 4% a month and I wonder how soon I will be completely priced out of the market.  And then I paddle.  And I wonder if this is where I’m meant to be.  If life is like paddling against the tide all the time, perhaps its time to stop and float and see where the current is directing life.

I am not good at just being. But I am grateful for the discovery of how calming and central to my rebirth the kayak has become.  Like lifestyles, not all kayaks are the same.  Some are meant for long ocean tours and some for whitewater paddling.  Some are meant for lakes and rivers.  Some have long and narrow bows and some are wider and each one has its own ease of entry and exit for the individual.  No kayak is good for all weather and conditions and so we must choose wisely and we must know what is most important to us.

I spent the day with a friend that I’ve known all of my adult life.  I wondered why it is that as we get older, our energy gets less directed at the big issues in the world and we become more tender and focused on our own little world.  The young man might call this “small mindedness.”  I know that I am one of the most broad minded people I know.  And yet, I no longer have the energy to fight the system.  I know that true influence comes from within.  Like any ecosystem, we are all connected.  And it is the understanding of this Oneness that makes me want to focus inward, at this point in my life.  The change I want to see in the world must begin with me.  If I change, it all changes.

And with every stroke I take as I kayak out against the tide, I know that I am fighting a losing battle.  The best we can do in a kayak is to use our paddle and our rudder to work with the flow of the currents and tides and get into the flow of the whole-body stroke to reach our destination with ease.  When I am racing, and paddling so hard against the tide, I miss the heron and the seals and the ravens and eagles that populate the coast.  When I am gentle with myself, my course, and when I  allow whatever time is required to reach my destination, with ease, there is joy in the journey.

I am doing some very deep inner work at the moment and I am grateful for this moment and the transformation that is in process.  I have no energy to paddle against the tide.  But the changes I make within myself may be the most powerful impact I can have in the world.  Changing myself and letting go of at least a layer of ego, holding the light of my soul shining – that is the greatest service I can do for the world though there will be no accolades or worldly appreciation for this.  But the forest knows when I sing to her and the waters know when I am there.

I don’t know what will fill this space that has been left by the death of so many things. But, I trust that the Divine does.  I hope that it will be a new understanding of what is important in life in order to live a meaningful and purposeful life.  Although I can find calm when the storm gets too turbulent, I feel quite lonely in both the eye of the hurricane and when I am spinning at its whim.  This is not the loneliness of lack of friendship.  This is the loneliness of being in a place in life that few have been.

I am in my own kind of wilderness.  This is my postcard to you.

 

Photo: Noah Rosenfield

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

After the Fire

August 9, 2017

Photo: Yosh Ginsu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1046 – Day 1074)

In the Vedic tradition, it is the mendicant who burns away all worldly attachments in the fire – they renounce all their possessions, their family and friends and even give up their identity, in order to take the most direct route to enlightenment.  Nothing is spared and all goes into the fire to purify the soul.   In the Vedic tradition all who die are burned so that all that is left is ash.  In the Christian tradition  this concept of ashes to ashes prevails,  recognizing that when all is said and done, we are all just dust in the wind.  In the mystic tradition to which I belong, one must die before dying – to give up all worldly attachments because it is all our worldly attachments that anchor us here and keep us from being able to reach the spiritual consciousness that a mystic seeks.

In many cultures, then, there is the idea of a fire ritual.  We can walk on fire to prove that we are able to overcome any obstacle.  Or, we can throw into a fire all the attachments to things that hold us back.  Most of us, however, if we are asked to pick and choose, will only throw into the fire those things that we no longer want to hold us back.

And it is the task of many spiritual teachers to help those on the path to throw not only the things we believe hold us back but also all those things we hold dear.

Two months ago I attended a fire ritual of purification.  It was a noble idea.   What I had neglected, however, was to consider that I have a mystic as a teacher.

I haven’t written much lately because I have been going through at the hands of the energetic transmission of the teacher is the first phase of a tranformation at the soul level and these experiences are ineffable.  I have been destroyed, from within.  Trying to describe this may sound very weird, so I turn to symbolic language because it is at that collective unconsciousness from which our symbols come, that we can feel as One.

In the past 8 weeks, it has not only been the things that I feel are in my way that have fallen out of my life – sometimes quietly and sometimes spectacularly – but my most cherished dreams, my deepest love, and my hopes for my identity.

All have been burned, and I am ash.

I had a dream about a woman who was covered by her teacher in ash.  It was only after the fire that she could have access to the magical forest that awaited her and there she found strange and mysterious fruit.

What will be my strange and mysterious fruit?

I don’t know what is going to come after the fire.  This time in my life – since I committed to the fire ritual last October – has been one of the greatest times of loss in my life.  I have had to watch it all burn, whether I wanted it to go or not.

When life falls apart, I think it is human nature to rely on the ego: I can fix this, I can work this out, how come this happened? What can I do to make this work?  And it is in this rush of ego, the drive to return to normality that some of the deepest grief occurs.

 

It is holding on that hurts us.

 

The Phoenix is a symbol for resurrection from the ash.  I don’t feel like a Phoenix. Spirituality takes us upward, like the Phoenix, to the heavens and to the bliss of Oneness of Creation.  The work of the soul, the work of the mystic, is first to walk through the fire and die.

The two month window I mentioned in my last post has passed with the full moon lunar eclipse, yesterday.  I feel like ash…or perhaps more acurately, like the disparate collection of empty spaces between the ashes that once held me together.

I am incredibly vulnerable and I feel like I have 3rd degree burns all over my body.  I am sensitive to everything.  And so, I continue to keep myself secluded, and I tend to my tomatoes, with love, and I sing to the forest, and I go out and kayak to keep me from losing all hope.

And, in the quiet hours, I pray and I listen.  And I wait.  This is where faith gets tested.

It’s easy to be grateful for the blessings in life.  Its easy to love someone who loves us back.  It is easy to have faith when we get all we want in life.  But it is when we can find a way to love those who cannot or will not love us, when we can surrender our will to that of the Divine and when we can see the Grace in death –  it is then that our heart and soul are truly engaged.

I am grateful for my cohort along the way who shared this road with me.  We lost a few along the way and I am grateful for their presence and wish them well as they move to rebuild their life, now that it has burned away.  Mostly, I am grateful for my teacher and for the Divine.

 

The work of the soul is not an easy path.

My relationship, along with my dreams, and now, my identity, were not things I wanted to release, but they were all beloved attachments.    I am not through the transformation…Death is complete.  Grief follows, and rebirth is yet to come.

I have been through a deep let go and I feel there are still tears to cry and babies to bury.

There is no joy in this death although I know that this lies on the other side of the process.

The last 24 hours, I feel as though I have been like Ashoka walked through the smokey fields of battle.  Like the King, I am overwhelmed with grief at what I have done and what I have not done.  And like Asoka, my heart is turning.

For some time now, I have had the growing sense that the next and final chapter of my life (whether it be 5 or 50 years) will be one of surrender to complete service to something far greater than myself.  And so, if there is any meaning in this suffering that I have faced in the fire, it is for that purpose.

 

Photo: Mads Schmidt-Rasmussen

For what are you most grateful, today?

Art, Art, Articles, Music, Nature

Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

Jesse Narens with artworks in forest. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Portland artist Jesse Narens is most at home in nature.  Artworks with tree motifs, raindrops and layers of mark making reflect the forests and coastlines of the Pacific Northwest.  Collected and followed by a global audience, Narens’ work is both lucid and magical, with creatures that seem to emerge, disappear and re-emerge from an ethereal plane.  What draws one to the artist’s work is an individual preference, but there is no denying an ineffable quality of being transported to another world – sometimes primal, sometimes whimsical  – vaguely familiar, if not altogether forgotten.

It is easy to make comparisons to visionary art when one looks at the works of Narens, although the artist would eschew any hierarchy – spiritual or otherwise – between the artist and other living beings.  In the creative process, Narens becomes one with both subject and object and returns both artist and audience to their wild essence of being.  Narens’ work embodies a transitory moment that is the quintessence of life, death, and art.

TTDOG met with Jesse Narens earlier this year and began a dialogue with the artist in advance of their upcoming show Asleep in A Field, opening Friday 4 August in Portland.  Narens describes the artist’s career to date.

 

I started painting at the end of 2010 after my friend and artist Jesse Reno suggested trying out some alternative techniques.  Prior to that I had never painted before.  I focused on ceramics in high school, and dropped out of art college in less than a semester because I felt like they were creating artists, not letting people just be artists.  I have always done something creative with my time.

I do whatever I feel like doing, creatively, at any given time.  Painting and music are my go-tos , but every so often I get the urge to try something else.

 

Collaboration and a sense of community with other artists has always been important to Narens.  As a teenager, the artist created showcases for their own and other artists’ works.

 

The shows I was hosting when I was 15-20 were one night music and art shows at different venues around the Chicagoland area, made up of people from the midwest that I found online, back when Myspace was popular.  I showed my own work and played music at those events.

I’ve always enjoyed sharing the things I like with friends, so when I started playing music and making art it just made sense to try and be an event organizer or curator of some sort.

 

Collaboration extends as well to the audience where meaning-making becomes an adventure between artist, subject, object and audience.

 

My paintings, titles and music never really have specific meanings.  I am trying to create a feeling.  The feeling I get when I am in the woods or on the coast in the Pacific Northwest.  Where people see bear and wolves, I just see a generic animal form, usually.

Sometimes I choose words just for the way they sound or to further push the atmosphere in the painting.  It’s also important that all of the elements (music, words, painting, etc) are taken in together at the same time to get the full experience of my art.

 

Observing Narens’ recent body of work, one gets a sense of both forthrightness and mystery that allows the artist to give birth to and express the unutterable. Whether seemingly benign or ferocious, the creatures in Narens’ works seem to belong to a world that adults, living in contemporary society, are no longer able to see, let alone access and engage.  Returning to a clarity and confusion akin to that of childhood, Narens leads us back to our own natural connection to the wild that we have distanced ourselves from, over time.  To do this, Narens draws upon motifs of the natural world.

 

Looking back on pieces I can remember making in high school, most of them were tree related; people with branch arms, bark texture on my ceramic pieces…I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and I don’t remember experiencing much nature before the age of 20 when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.  The few experiences I did have before then were all very memorable, and while I might not have thought about it then, I recognize now that the feelings I have now when I am out in nature have always been the same.  It’s the only place where I feel I can just be.  It’s the only place that feels correct to me.  When I go back home I tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that shouldn’t matter, but we have made them matter.  I paint the places and things that make me feel good.

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

As an intuitive artist, Narens’ artistic process mirrors the cycles of the natural world.  The artist composes and decomposes each piece over and over again.  Each layer, rather than adding armour and complexity, seems to strip away artifice and repression and restores freedom of vision.  There is no attempt to obscure what has come before and the history of mark making, evident in the pieces, is like a treasure map the artist has left behind, to lead the audience to a sense of uninhibited being.

 

I don’t have the final piece in mind before it’s done.  I just start painting, whether or not I have an idea, and the piece evolves as my mind processes what I’m seeing and thinking about at that time.  Pieces get to a point where they definitely look like they could be called finished, but something just doesn’t feel right to me.  I’ll paint over “finished” pieces again and again until they are done.  Even pieces that are done might someday become unfinished again.  If I have to sit with them for a long time, at some point, my mind might be in a different place than it was when a particular piece was finished, and I will no longer feel connected to it, so I paint over it.  When I sit down and examine why I do certain things, I feel like working this way is a lesson in letting go and embracing change.

 

 

I get stuck at some point in almost every piece.  Usually when they get to a finished looking point, but I don’t like it.  To move forward, I usually have to paint over the parts I like the most.  It frees up the piece to become something drastically different at that point.  It’s not always the easiest thing to do, but it’s almost always the answer.

 

Narens does not create artworks for archival purposes, and believes that decomposition is as valid as composition in the making of art.  For Narens, an artwork has a life that continues beyond the moment when the artist and the subject have transmuted the mystery of creation into form.  What happens beyond that moment is a part of the life cycle of the art and Narens delights in seeing, for instance, works weathered in nature or by time.  An ecosystem of its own, Narens’ art is in a constant state of flux and adaptation.

Art by Jesse Narens, placed in the wilderness, to be discovered by followers. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I don’t like making products for the sake of having things to buy.  Sometimes I draw something and want it on a shirt for myself, so I get maybe 20 shirts made.  When I do make something like a shirt or a book, I only make a small number to keep the items special to whoever ends up getting one.  I try to make things on my own, or work with friends so I can keep the prices as low as possible.

 

Narens work is primarily self expression, yet the artist aims to allow their artwork to be a catalyst for a return to the wild.  Using social media, Narens showcases the natural world through the artist’s own adventures as much as showcasing their artworks, encouraging followers to get outdoors.  On occasion, Narens has left free artworks at natural sites as incentive.  Having experienced nature, followers may be encouraged to protect the wilds.  Yet, in the face of our society’s failure to protect ecosystems and natural preserves and our failure to act to avert the catastrophic impacts of climate change, Narens accepts the limits and responsibilities of one’s own place in the lifecycle of this living planet.

 

I’m alive, so I’ll live the best life I can, but I don’t have much hope for humans.

The earth will fix itself when we are gone, if we can’t learn to live with it.

Even though I feel this way, that doesn’t mean I’ve given up.  I’ll continue to try and inspire people to care about the planet, and to share and support the work of people who I think are doing a better job than I am, like E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation and Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

 

While humankind may provide no solace for Narens, it is to the pockets of community, cultivated by the artist throughout life, that Narens turns.

 

I am currently going through a big transition in my life, so at the moment I am most grateful for the friends in my life that have been around since I was young.

 

 

“The Moon is Made of Chalk” by Jesse Narens. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

Like an old friend, Narens has returned to the artists’ roots, performing live music with art at the upcoming exhibition, Asleep in A Field.  For many of Narens’ fans, this will be the first opportunity to experience the artist’s music (performed under the name Ghost&Flower) with Narens’ artworks.

 

The last time I played music live was in 2011 and the last time I played music where my art was on display was probably 2008.

As with my visual art, my music is for me.  And with music, I am again chasing a feeling that I don’t get from anything else, and I can’t express it in words, but when I am making music I very quickly go somewhere else in my head.  I’ve recorded very little over the last 12 years of playing music live.  I make music the same way I paint.  It’s improvised, and I build layers through loops.  I use a prepared guitar instead of electronic instruments, and build most of my rhythmic parts with a contact mic to play the room.  Recording, even live, takes me out of the headspace that I am doing music for, so it’s no fun for me.

I went to a Bang On A Can marathon show when I was around 18 that had a big impact on my music.  The show was something like 12 hours of non stop experimental music, but at the beginning they encouraged you to come and go as you wanted because doing so meant that each person would have their own unique experience with what they heard.

 

Setting up for Asleep In A Field, a solo art show by Jesse Narens; music performance on opening night as Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

I’ve played so many great shows that I wish I had recordings of, but I know they would have gone different if it was being recorded.  I like knowing that everyone who has seen me play had a unique experience that no one else will ever know.

 

Asleep In A Field opens Friday, August 4th in Portland and runs through Tuesday, September 5th  at True Measure Gallery.  Jesse Narens will play live music under the name Ghost&Flower on opening night, at sunset.  For those interested in purchasing artworks but who cannot attend the exhibition, contact Jesse Narens (Jesse@Jessenarens.com) or True Measure Gallery.

 

 

Asleep in A Field – Jesse Narens’ Solo Show at True Measure Gallery. Music by Ghost&Flower. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Ten Thousand Days

Archaeology of The Heart

July 11, 2017

Photo: Gaelle Marcel

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1025 – Day 1045)

I haven’t been writing much lately.  I am in a very potent period of change following my spiritual retreat(s) and I’m expending most of my energy on making the changes that will set in motion the things I want to see come to pass.  I can’t really explain why this is a potent time, without going into the details of the mysteries of mysticism, so I will just say that the window of most potent opportunity is open right now and remains open for the next few weeks.  I am conserving my energy for the important shifts and transformation that is happening right now and so I’m not going to be writing much for the moment.

What has been happening within my heart is showing itself in surface activity but under that surface, the transformation is profound.  I have been working on healing injuries not from 6 months ago but from decades ago.  I am committed to this process.

In the course of my work, I have noticed that my heart feels like a closed temple.  When I talk to friends who have known me for decades, it is concerning to them to hear me say this.  It may not appear this way to an outsider, but I cannot feel love in my heart, right now.  For someone whose spiritual path is love and who has worked decades to open their heart, this is like being a member of the walking dead.  And so I am spending all my available energy to address this in seemingly unrelated activity.

We had a bank holiday for Canada Day and I was at Whistler.  I sat on the lawn in the Olympic park and listened to Vancouver Symphony Orchestra play Bizet’s Carmen,  watching the sun setting behind the Coastal Mountain Range.  In that moment, I was awe-struck with joy.  My heart felt the love of the glorious place where I was, for this beautiful planet that gives us life, despite how we mistreat her.  It was the first time in possibly a year that I had been overcome with the awe of joy.

Other things helped to close my heart again in that very same day, but the closure is not permanent, and I can see a tentative opening happening.  This week, as I was driving home after a hike, I saw the nearly full moon rise above the sublime Cascade mountains and I felt the awe of creation and the joy of that moment.  It is in moments like these that I feel that I can die, contented.

Spending time in nature and taking action to prove that I mean to change my life has begun to allow me to witness moments of Oneness and joy – and dare I say? – love, again.

I am grateful for the teachings and the tools that I have learned throughout my life to open my heart and while it has taken a longer time than it has in the past to heal from a current wounding, I can see progress.   I am grateful for the loving spiritual community that I have found around me who I support in working on their own healing and who support me in working on mine.  They don’t know what I need to heal and they don’t need to know.  It is enough that they know that I am striving to live my life’s purpose and that I will live in alignment with common values of integrity and responsibility.   And as everything impacts everything, being a part of this healing community is my service to the Oneness that is – in my cosmology – the Divine.

To be of service to the Oneness, I must be able to feel Oneness.  After the heartbreak of the end of last year and the devastation it left in my heart, it was hard to feel oneness and joy.  I am grateful for that taster these moments in nature are providing me.  Where human relationships can fail us and devastate us, the Oneness we find in nature can be a salve.

Last week, I had a conversation with the young man who brought so much pain into my life.  Afterwards, I noticed that I could not meditate on love and feel that love in my heart.  I am an introvert – when we feel hurt, we shut down.   But that is not a life sentence.

In any moment we really have only two choices: Love and fear.

At some point, love will devastate us.  It takes nothing to lock away our love and throw away the key.  It takes incredible courage to open up that chamber, after we have been deeply wounded.

It may take a few more archaeological digs and practical changes to clear out the fear that is keeping me from acting from Love. But there is meaning in the task.  Buried in the rubble of old pain, old wounding and old beliefs is a beautiful jewel more glorious than anything else in this world: the loving human heart.

 

Photo: Cathal mac an bheatha

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Fire and Water

June 20, 2017

Photo by Tania D. Campbell

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1117 – 1124)

Last year I took a big step in my life and decided to embark on a 4 year cycle of transformation with a Shamanic healer that I have known for about 20 years.  My first retreat on this pathway was held in Arizona a few weeks ago.

This is a mystery school and so it’s hard to talk about the transformation that happens and exactly how powerful it is.  I can describe what is happening but i think it must be experienced to be understood.  Much like my Sufi path, it involves direct connection with the Divine.

This past weekend, I was tasked to undertake the second part of a ritual that I began in Arizona.  On Thursday, I asked Spirit to show me what I needed to do and then I spent Friday gathering items from the woods and from the seaside to be offered in gratitude.  On Saturday, I went deep into the woods to find what needed to be found for the offering.  And then on Sunday, I met a cohort in Mount Vernon, Washington and we prepared ourselves and travelled and hiked to the ocean, where we undertook the ritual.

I’m grateful that I had a cohort with whom to do this work.  I’m not saying I couldn’t have done it, but he knows how to build a fire and I don’t.  He also knows the PNW and although I went to University here, I really never explored much of the area and have lived away from here most of my adult life.  I’m grateful that I got to see a new beach in a part of Washington that I love to visit and is closer to me than my own Canadian city.  And of course, I am grateful to the power of Spirit for answering my prayers and participating with me in my transformation.

After the ritual was complete, it was a joy to spend time with my cohort and watch the sun set.  While we prepared our sacred space, my cohort noticed a hummingbird and I realised that I had never actually seen one in person.  As we continued, crow, geese, small birds and seagulls all came to participate with us.  I really did feel a sense of Oneness with the bird population all around us.  As I work through this transformation, I am clearing a lot of energy that keeps me from living my soul’s purpose and removes a legacy of blocked energy for the descendants of this time.  In an invisible way, I am doing deep service not only for myself and my relations but for my ancestors, descendants and – with mindfulness – the planet.

The main aim of this work is to free an individual to live their soul’s purpose.  As we were heading to the beach for the ritual, we happened upon a Before I Die wall in Mount Vernon, Washington and without hesitation I answered their call:

Before I die, I want to______

Me, writing on the Before I Die wall in Mount Vernon, WA. Photo: Jeff Hammerquist

 

‘Live my soul’s purpose.’

 

It was another magic moment.

I’m not sure that I am clear about what that soul purpose is, for me – I have many passions and gifts, but as I work with the programme, and follow the directions in which I am guided, I do believe that will become clear.

As I was preparing for the ritual of this past weekend, I was very aware of the energy of fire and water and so much of that energy went into creating my ritual objects and was present in the choice of location for our ritual fire (right by the ocean/bay).  As I look to the next ritual for Summer Solstice, which occurs this evening and will be celebrated for the following week, it is very much the energies that I associate with both fire and water that are calling out to be healed, set free and celebrated.

I skinny dipped for the first time while I was away.  I’ve  sunbathed in a clothing optional situation before before but skinny dipping was not really something I ever had the chance to do.  And of all the things that happened on retreat, I think this may be one of the most momentous.  Under a nearly full moon and in the presence of the stars, I bathed in the fullness of most glorious vulnerable nudity and for perhaps the first time, I felt fully that I was a part of all of creation and all of creation was a part of me.

I won’t tell you where I’m celebrating the solstice, but I do plan to repeat the process on the beach and invite, free and celebrate the energies and lessons of this summer season.  I hope that you, wherever you are, will greet this season of passion, fire and youth with joy and celebration.  I wish us all  the exhilaration of feeling naked and vulnerable before something greater than ourselves and the courage to surrender to that out-of-control-not-knowing-wonder-of-being!

Have a wonderful Summer Solstice!

Photo: Farsai – C

For what are you most grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

Exhausted but Well

June 12, 2017

Photo: Sabri Tuzcu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1102 – 1116)

I am exhausted but I am well. I’ve been on two spiritual retreats, back to back for the past 10 days.  I’ve been on spiritual retreats before.  They are taxing.  Usually you are in a place that is – in many ways –  not your comfort zone and one’s last bastion of comfort – one’s  bed – is too hard or too soft to get a good night’s sleep.  Sometimes the food disturbs your digestion.  This time the food was wonderful and eating completely clean meant that my body detoxed a lot of rubbish and I started to feel so much better.  It was a good lesson in the way that I must care for myself.  It is easier to do, of course, when you have a full time chef, but there are simple changes I can make that don’t involve spending tons of time in the kitchen.  Salad at every meal is one, cutting out synthetic sweeteners and additives, and limiting my wheat intake are others.  Nothing I didn’t know already, but I felt it in my bones, and that is the way to get things to stick.

The other changes, well they go pretty deep and transformation is exhausting.  I have arrived home more tired than when I left.  I look forward to my bed, right after work, tonight.  Tomorrow, after a good night’s sleep in my beautiful memory foam mattress, I will be in a better position to tackle things.   For now, all I can think about is staying awake another 5 hours.  I feel as though I have jet lag – the way I used to feel after flying back to London from the West Coast of Canada.  I don’t have jet lag.  But the exhaustion is complete.   Sleep is healing, on many levels.  In my sleep I have dreamed – a LOT – in the past 10 days.  And those dreams are very much my teachers.

I’m grateful for the wonderful teachings I received this week and for the transmission of the teachers.  Both retreats involve transformation and that kind of work is profound and exhausting.  I’m grateful to feel a shift and I am grateful that I’ve been given some new tools (although it is up to me and me alone to work them) to help make the shift one that sticks.  It was a joy to experience a kind of Oneness that can only come from being with people who are willing to be vulnerable with one another.  I miss my gang already.  My service in the coming weeks is to do my inner work and to support the others who were on retreat, in doing theirs.

Going on retreat during the first vacation I’ve had in over a year demonstrated my commitment to living my purpose and living a life of meaning, regardless of my occupation.  It is, however, just the first step.  The next step is healing sleep, and for that, I am deeply grateful for the simple gift of being able to sleep in my own bed tonight.

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?