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Ten Thousand Days

Persephone will be a little bit late to the Party

April 3, 2018

Day 1315 – Day 1320

If you celebrate Judeo-Christian traditions then you had a feast day over the weekend.  For me, I recognize that is is again the time when the world begins to bloom.  I’ve been feeling under the weather and I have a little bit of FOMO and frustration at not being able to get out and about as much as I wish I could.  I look back at my winter and I wonder if I have been more busy with activity than I had been in the prior year.  I travelled a fair bit in winter of 2016/17 but 2017/18 was filled not only with travel but several weekly activities on top of weekend adventures.  I’ve been burning my candle at both ends and unfortunately my candle is a lot shorter than it once was.

If I won’t listen to my body, my soul will tell me.  I’ve had a series of dreams – irritating dreams – that feature a person I’d rather forget.  Rather than fuss about what the dream might mean in terms of any unfinished business between us, I’ve decided to look at the dreams in terms of collective symbols and metaphors.  And what the dreams are telling me is that I need to be kinder to myself and protect myself – even from myself.  I push myself.  I always have.  You don’t get a Masters Degree from an ivy league school when you are a slow reader unless you push yourself.  You don’t three times earn professional designations whilst working full time unless you push yourself.  And yet pushing myself has not been good for my health.

I’ve always liked the metaphor of Persephone.  In my mind, she is the maiden that does not wish to grow up, and,  she is taken into the underworld by her husband where she must spend the winter apart from her mother.  She is allowed to return to the upper world and her mother in the Spring but she must first eat the pomegranate seeds that bind her to return to Hades every year.  And while her return ushers in the bloom of spring and summer, the other half of the year, the land must lie fallow as she returns to the dark underworld.  In all spiritual and psychological journeys (and to me this is the whole point of being embodied) there comes at least one period where we must leave the oasis and venture into the desert, leave the community and enter the forest, alone, leave the bounty of summer and go underground.   In order to grow, we must all go through a long dark night of the soul.  It is a time of going inward and of dealing with the fecal matter of our lives.  It is the time when we might feel pain, loneliness, loss and mortality – all the things we never want to face.  But only in facing that darkness and accepting what is there, can we find the way to the light and out of the hole from Hades.

I did a lot of what we might call ‘shadow’ work very early in my life.  But growth and development has a habit of presenting itself as an awkwardly wrapped opportunity again, when circumstances of life reveal new things with which we need to grapple.

My dreams are telling me what I will not hear from my body:  it is shadow work time.

And so, when I might normally be preparing to arise into the summer, I’ve had to take a break from the outer world of activity and buzz.  My body and my soul need tending.  I hope that it will not take too long, but in matters of the soul, I think its best to let them take the time they take.  They will take that time anyway.

I’m going to be a little late to the party that is the promise of spring and the energetic fruition of summer.

And so it is.

I’m grateful for my irritating dreams.  I’ve decided not to rail against the face that my unconscious mind slaps on my inner masculine because maybe that annoyance is exactly what has been needed in order to get my attention.  The dreams are rich in symbolism and much of it is not too difficult to decipher, even if the message is not something I want to hear.  But the sooner I surrender to it, the sooner things might transform.

I’m also grateful that listening to their message led me to do a lot of painting this weekend.  There is a piece that I started just under a year ago.  I gave it to someone to do a collaboration with me but it came back to me with bad energy despite no further work being done on it.  I have painted and repainted and made marks upon it for months and nothing seems to have worked to transform that piece.  Finally, I surrendered to the circumstances of the painting.  It became one of my most beautiful pieces.  Just this morning, when I looked at it, I saw a symbol I had not seen in it before:  it was my power animal. That transformation is complete and that part of my dark journey has come to an end.  For that, I am truly grateful.

The artwork is entitled “Dear John”.  It is Acrylic, oil pastel and coloured pencil on 30 lb paper stock. iPhone capture.

Pinkstarpix

 

I feel – if not joy – at least lightness in the growing sense of possibly moving beyond some things that have been creeping around in the darkness of my psyche.  There is also a growing sense of being able to get past the resistance to the circumstances and particularly the people that have brought about my being right here, right now.  If not a sense of Oneness, I am beginning to feel a sense of indifference and a touch of benevolence toward the people involved.

Last night a friend was sharing her sense of loneliness.  Holidays can highlight that for people.  What stood out to me was the way in which she was regretting decisions she made more than a decade ago.  I had advised her not to make the decision that she did, back then, because of the consequences, but she chose that path anyway.  In retrospect, the consequences were far worse than she had anticipated.  I did her the service of not saying ‘I told you so’, but of reminding her that we’ve all been in that situation.  If you are still in your first three decades of life – I’m sure that is yet to come.  Nobody makes all the ‘right’ decisions because we cannot anticipate all of the outcomes, and eventually we run out of the safety nets that our parents place beneath us.   And just as I’ve had to do in my own life, I advised her to stop lamenting a decision and an outcome that is already done.  All we can do is go forward, and find our purpose and make meaning of what circumstances we find ourselves facing.

There is an old saying that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.  So, we are where we are.  Sometimes we think that’s a pretty good place.  Sometimes we think things didn’t go as planned.  Sometimes we just have to look at that fecal matter and accept it.  Sometimes it is life shattering and we can’t reverse the decision that shattered our lives.  At that point, if we ever hope to rise, like Persephone, and bring the party of Spring and Summer into our lives, we have to stop digging, accept our circumstances, and look for the light that shows us the pathway to climb out of the hole that is Hades.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Private Lives

March 27, 2018

Photo: Nathaniel Dahan

Day 1253 – Day 1314

I’ve been thinking about privacy and lately I’ve been feeling crowded.  An old friend from childhood spotted my comment on someone’s post in an online forum for people in recovery from toxic relationships.  From there, he tracked down my website and my public Facebook page.  I guess this is what can be expected by being online.  I didn’t think too much about it except that the man had been determined to reach out to me.

When he happened to know my dating history of more than 20 years ago, I felt really uncomfortable because I was sure I had not mentioned that old boyfriend by name and I wondered if my privacy had somehow been invaded.  A few days later, I learned that he was involved in some way with the ex-wife of that long ago boyfriend.  She contacted me and asked about my friendship with him. She had spotted his and my new online friendship on Facebook.  She seemed to know the whole story of how my friend and I had reconnected after so many years.

I didn’t like the feeling of being talked about by people separated by decades and thousands of miles in my life.  This crossed my boundaries.

When I first starting writing online, I did so under a pseudonym but my branding advisers encouraged me to write under my professional writing name on this site.  So, I’ve had to turn to disguising the identity of the people in my life to protect theirs as well as my own privacy.  But, the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal aside, protecting our privacy online has become somewhat of a challenge.  We are tracked by our mobile phones, by the data chips in our shoes, listened to by our digital assistants 24 hours a day and our webcams can be used to watch us even when we haven’t turned them on.  Privacy is something we need to protect, but new challenges to this come up as technology moves faster than our understanding of the implications.

 

The contact from my childhood friend was initially a delight.  He reminded me of the happiest 2 years of my childhood.  We had come from the same place and we had ended up in this a similar place in our lives.  It was an odd coincidence but not something that, alone, was sufficient to re-forge an old friendship, no matter how sweet our childhood times had been.

He could not stop focusing on the woman from his toxic relationship.  My childhood friend wanted to commiserate and discuss his ex-partener’s possible personality disorder as the answer to it all.

I was in a different place in my journey.   It had taken me a long time to understand that I would never know why someone I had loved and someone who said he loved me had behaved so badlyand with such cold cruelty towards me.  And more, to the point, why he did it really doesn’t matter; all that matters is that he did.  And because he did, that relationship is over and I’m moving on.

After some concession to ‘sharing’ experiences, I set my boundary.  To rehash a painful relationship for the sake of commiseration seemed an abuse of my privacy and was harmful to my wellbeing.  I told my childhood friend that my relationship was in the past and that was where I was leaving it.   I did not want to discuss it further.

When, a few days later, my childhood friend announced that he was reuniting with his toxic ex-lover, I ended our engagement with one another.

In a few weeks, all sorts of drama had come into my life through my childhood friend.   That kind of drama wrecked havoc in my life once already, via that toxic love relationship.  I don’t want it in my life directly or vicariously any more.

In a way, this crazy episode of intrusiveness and boundary pushing was a gift.  It held up for me the mirror of where I would otherwise be, had I continued the toxic relationship with the man I loved, who said he loved me.  And, it made me consider again my absolute need for peace, for privacy and for strong boundaries – especially as regards anything I might allude to in my writing.

I come here and I mine my life for specific details of my personal narrative that might speak to the universal in all our lives.  That is the hook by which I engage a reader into witnessing my journey as I attempt to demonstrate one person’s attempt to live a grateful life despite the obstacles – and, hopefully, this inspires others to do the same.

I feel a Oneness with anyone who has ever loved and been devastated by another’s cruelty.  I hope my childhood friend will eventually find peace in his love life – if that is what he wants.  I hope that the man who treated me so cruelly will also find peace, too.  But those are their lives to live.  In living my own, it is my own peace that is my priority.  Peace can only come, for me, with strong boundaries.

Reflecting on the ways I’ve been vulnerable through writing here, I’ve taken a break.

Instead, I have been painting a lot lately. And, for that I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that one good thing that came of my toxic relationship was the drive to learn to paint.  I took the courageous step of painting because of my love for that man.  One of my first paintings was created, with love, for him.  I asked him to teach me to paint, but he never did.  I learned anyway.  Painting had long been a secret desire and it has been a gift to emerge from that toxic relationship as a burgeoning painter. I’m not grateful to him for that, but I am grateful for the impetus and the natural talent to paint.  It brings me joy and a fair helping of frustration, too  – just as any relationship of love will do.

 

I’m not sure how I will proceed with this website.  Writing publicly is fraught with all sorts of infringements – not just of privacy.

Six months ago,  I discovered that an article I wrote on this website about Monsu Plin was lifted verbatim and published on a site that pays crypto currency for content.  This was done by a friend of his.  I’ve since password protected my article but that is a bit like closing the gate once the horse has run away.  I’ve sought out and had a public apology for the failure to seek permission and properly attribute the article.  But my article is under someone else’s byline now, and cannot be removed from the blockchain.  The blockchain is an evolving technology that is presenting threats to our privacy and what is in some jurisdictions, a right to be forgotten.  To have it published without my permission was a violation – if not of my privacy, certainly of my rights.

I am confident that the meaning-making in writing about gratitude is part of the purpose of the rest of my life and living a life of gratitude is the best way to move beyond any sort of toxicity.  But how I will do this, and the future of the content on this website, is still uncertain.

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

I’m Back!

January 25, 2018

Photo: Senjuti Kundu

Day 1220 – 1253

Happy 2018 to you all!  I’ve been away for quite some time.  I’m taking a little liberty with the format of these posts as an experiment in writing style.  I’m grateful for your patience as I work out how best to share the journey of gratitude, joy, oneness, service, purpose and meaning.

I’ve had this horrible flu that has been going around.  It came back as a chest infection which turned into laryngitis and then a cold.  Given that I’ve been having singing lessons, had a recording session booked and a folk festival weekend of singing classes booked, I spent as much time as possible getting better so that I could hit all those events.  I did it.  Somehow.

Perhaps the prospect of doing something I loved was motivation to heal.  Perhaps I had some help from the Universe.

Over the past few weeks, I recorded a jazz standard, learned harmony for an Old Time ballad, sang an improvisation with a couple of groups, learned the mechanics of harmony and sang old southern Gospel and Sprituals.   There is a real earthy sensuality to my voice that suits jazz and gospel music and so I am hoping that my teachers for that class at the Bellingham Folk Festival will be creating a specific group for singing spirituals on a more regular basis.  I enjoyed the Old Time music and dance and found that the community is really an incredible pool of talent and people.  I was feeling vulnerable and so before I went off to the Folk Festival this past weekend, I set the intention with the Universe for a weekend of joy.

It was delivered.

I made a joyful noise (mostly hit the notes) and in this sense, I have also come back.  I felt it just beginning to happen before I got sick – this opening of the heart and a return to joy.  Singing is a heart based activity as a spiritual practice, and has a long association with the mystics.  It is a part of my spiritual life not only for what is sung but for the connection it gives me to creation, when I sing.   I was led, by synchronicity, to find my unique singing teacher who understands that it is a deeply spiritual practice for me.  And, I was further led to a scholarship to attend the festival and to the offer of a free recording studio session.  I was meant to be there and I am clear that this is a path I am meant to continue.

I had to get well enough to be there. Really well enough to really be authentically there.  To do that, I think I had to first fall ill so that I could repair all that needed to be healed in order for me to be present.

My heart has been a closed book for a year now and we’ve seen how I’ve struggled to open it.  I had a lot to grieve.  Each time I felt finished, I found more at the bottom of that well.  At times it became too much and I closed my heart, which cut me off from myself, from others and from my spiritual centre.

While I was sick, I processed a lot of the personally horrendous year of 2017 and in fevered dreams, I was able to come to the end of some painful threads and tie them with a bow.  I was able to cut the threads and let the beautiful bows fall away.  With a lot of time in bed, I was able to really sit with what had happened, to process and to look at what I need to learn from it all so that I could thank the Universe for the opportunity to grow and then move on to new experiences.  There is no coincidence of the timing of this illness and the fact that my chest was involved.  I needed to cough out any last vestiges from the bottom of my lungs, where, energetically, grief resides.  I coughed until I bled, and then I coughed some more.

I lost my voice for a time and so I sat in silence and listened to what I needed to understand.  I returned to meditation, and my heart was open.

I’ve overcome most of my fears in this lifetime, but the last thing that made me feel vulnerable was singing in front of strangers.  On Sunday, dosed up on antibiotics and throat lozenges,  I volunteered to test out my voice in various keys, in front of a room full of strangers who were longtime musicians.  I hit the notes in several keys and some I just couldn’t hit.  And that was okay. Just by standing up and saying – I am here and I want to sing! – I crossed the threshold to move beyond a lifelong fear to come out the other side: open, joyful and present.

In being present, I am able to offer all of myself to others and I see that in some small way, I bring a little joy into the world.  For me, this is why I came to be here, in this body, in this time.

I have found my voice, again.  I’m back.

 

Photo: Jesse Ramirez

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Into the Clearing

December 22, 2017

Photo: Christopher Flynn

Day 1210 – Day 1219

I’ve wrapped up my work before the holiday weekend and part of that was sorting through things in my office and at home, to make sure that anything that must be done in 2017 gets put at the top of the agenda for the few days we have before the New Year.  Sorting through paperwork, I came across old letters, emails and transcripts of text messages from someone who made my life a living hell.  My first thought was to throw them out, without revisiting them.  And that was a self-care move.  My second thought was, however, to make something from them.  And so, I’ve gathered them all and I’m not sure what I will do with them, but they will be used to construct something wonderful.

I recently meditated with my meditation group and I usually have a powerful meditation when I am gathered with others.  Something that became certain was that I need to clear things that no longer serve me, from my life.  I did this in a big way in London but when I returned to Canada, I was given a load of my mother’s things and other things from family.  I rented a big apartment just to house all the stuff.  In the 15 months I’ve been home, I’ve accumulated more, in terms of a new kayak paddle and some hiking gear as well as lots of lovely art supplies.

I have too much stuff to be happy.

I’m a writer and so I’ve kept old journals.  I struggle to let those go.

I have my mother’s wedding dress.  I will never wear it.  I don’t know if anyone in the next generation wants to wear it, but I will struggle to let that one go, as well.

And yet, I am happiest with the least amount of stuff.  I have two entree bowls. (One plus a spare for company)  I prefer entree bowls to plates.  I also have 3 full sets of dishes – only one of which is actually my own.  What does one person need with 3 sets of handed down vintage dishes?  Or, a closet full of towels?  I just feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all.

Sometimes we hold on to things and to relationships far longer than is healthy for us.  The longer we hold on, the more bonded we are to them and the harder it then becomes to let them go.  But letting things go is the only way to make space for ourselves and for fresh and more suitable things and people and experiences to find their way into our lives.

And so, I’m grateful to have had a reminder of my mother in these dishes and her wedding dress.  But I’ve lived for over 20 years away from my family of origin and I didn’t have these material items in my life.  And yet, I still held on to my love and memories of my mother.  I don’t need them. I’m grateful that one of the things she passed on to me was a reluctance to waste things and on the flip side, an absolute lack of sense of herself being derived from things.  I am grateful, too, that I have more than I need, rather than less than I need and that I have the privilege of giving things away.

I know it is going to get increasingly difficult to let go of things as I pare down the initial non-sentimental items and get to those things with memories attached to them.  But there will be joy on the other side of this.  My goal is to have so little that I could live in a tiny home with a workshop for art and glass and woodworking.  I also know that the studio space does not have to be a part of my home.  For me, the less I have – as long as I have the bare essentials plus a tiny bit of luxury – the more joy I have in my life.  To be honest, my goal is to detach so completely that all I own will – by my own choice – fits into a backpack.  And on that day, I hope that I am well enough to begin my final adventure as I walk the planet.  It is a dream not many would share but it is my dream, nonetheless.

My word for 2018 as I head into it is ‘Clearing’ and the second word that comes to mind is ‘Simplify’.

I think a part of this is also healing.  Take the text messages and email transcripts, for example.  To throw them away is a form of clearing but that just generates waste.  To use them to create something beautiful, to me, is a metaphor for all the internal work I have been doing in the wake of the pain.  And likewise, to find new homes and new uses for the things that no longer serve me and to release those relationships that have been outgrown will be a release of creative energy for all involved.  And that, is a great service that I can do for the world and for those nearest me, in 2018.

Going through all these papers today has been a little re-living of 2017 and a bit of 2016.  I see the ups and downs of the year, the hardships and the wonderful moments and the heartache along the way.  And I feel connected to each version of me that stood in those moments as they happened.  They shaped who I am, right now.  Some of those times were excruciatingly painful but I survived them.  I’ve done my best to work on moving beyond survival and into finding some meaning in the painful moments and a sense of purpose within the easier times.

Maybe this seems a strange post as we head into a holiday weekend where most of us will come home with things we need to make room for in our lives, whether we wanted them or not.  But as I passed through this past year or so clearing my office and as I begin to pass through my lifetime and the lifetime of my ancestors as I clear my household possessions, I am grateful to have the experience of doing this in both London and New York, so that I’ve gained the confidence that I will be able to let it all go.

 

Photo: Michelle Spencer

For what are you most grateful?

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?