Archives

Ten Thousand Days

Good for the Soul

June 15, 2018

Photo: Tom Ezzatkhah

Day 1381 – Day 1387

We are having a cool and rainy June.  Since so much of May was spent working under a blazing sun to clear and weed my garden, I am grateful for the cool and wet days.  On days like today, I like to sip cups of tea and gaze out the window and let my mind wander.

Yesterday I was at the garden and, like a first time parent, I was doing what amounts to watching the grass grow.  I have a lawn chair tucked into my plot because I find myself getting tired when I’m working all day in the garden, and I need a little rest from time to time.  A visitor to the garden asked if it grew better when I watched it, and I wondered.  I do know that my tomatoes grow better when I talk to them and sometimes sing to them, because one emits carbon dioxide which the plants can use.   I wondered if just being present and really attentive had any impact.

It certainly has an impact on me.

I stood and bent over my garden looking for weeds.  I noticed what looked like alfalfa and I had pulled several similar shoots from the plot when I was first clearing it.  I was curious how I could have so many new weeds in such a short time.  I enlisted a neighbour and together we tried to discern weed from pea from bean from broccoli.  When we could not be certain anymore, I left the sprouts intact.  I was, however, delighted to see my cucumbers, sweet pea and bush beans sprouting along with a yellow squash emerging from the soil.

There is no need to water today , so I find myself yearning to go and spend time in the garden, just looking and paying attention.  I have a kayak race tonight and so I won’t have the chance to go see…but I am wondering how they are doing and if they’ve grown more overnight.

Nurturing something, it turns out, creates a deep sense of connection with it.  Research has shown that we are more bonded to those for whom we have done favours than to those who have graced us with their service.  I suppose that is why mother’s love for her children is unconditional but – to be frank – a child’s love for one’s mother is often self serving.

I’m a nurturing person, and a healer.  I know in my heart that the work of tending this garden is a part of my service to tending to the soul of the planet and changing – in my 200 square feet of soil – some of the energy that is attached to the relationship of the modern humans to the earth.  I do this with attention, and by treating her as sacred.

The earth is our mother and yet I have become a surrogate mother to a part of her bounty.  My children are peas and beans and broccoli and my foster children are the worms that aerate the soil, the birds that come to visit and feed on the worms and the bees that find sanctuary in the flowers I have planted, and in turn, who pollinate the vegetables.  Although I build my fence to protect my lettuce and greenery from them, even the bunnies that come out at night and race one another around the garden are a part of the ecosystem in which I watch these alfalfa-like delicate shoots become bean stalks.

I live in a valley at the edge of the Cascade Mountains.  And to the west of me is the ocean.  There are plenty of opportunities to feel the presence of that which is bigger than oneself by floating on the vastness of the ocean or by standing in awe of the vastness seen from the mountain summit.  And yet, there is something quite egotistical in basking in that grandiosity.  It is humbling and also deeply personal to spend time with the smallest of creatures and watch, with full attention, the micro-movements and changes in the earth.  To participate in the bringing forth of life and to be deeply enmeshed in the ecosystem is a very different experience and fosters a true intimacy with that which is bigger than ourselves.  Rather than feeling our smallness in the cosmos, we become assimilated into the microcosm.  We become not awestruck, but ‘of service.’

This is my first garden, but I have long wanted to grow at least some of my own food.  It is part of my cultural and spiritual heritage to do so.  As humble as it may seem, having this 200 square feet of soil is a dream come true.  My friends have been delighted to see me gardening, and when I ask why it makes them feel good to see it, they all say that gardening is good for the soul – or so they have been told.

I’ve wondered about this, too.

Presence, it turns out, is good for the soul.  To be of service is good for the soul and it creates a sense of purpose in one’s life.  To be in communion with the subtle vibrations of the earth and the interactions between parts of the ecosystem – and to find a place in that ecosystem, it turns out, is good for the soul.

I’ve wondered what their happiness about me tending to my soul has to say about their view of the state of my soul.  I have been in a kind of hell, for which death seemed the only metaphor.  Emerging from that influence to find life sprouting all around me, and partly because of me – it turns out – is good for the soul.

 

For what are you most grateful today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

I (Do Not) OU

June 8, 2018

Photo: Rawpixel

Day 1372 – 1380

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of entitlement and expectation.  There are many people in our lives who will come and go and some will stay awhile.  Some of them will earn a debt of gratitude or loyalty.  And some will do nothing to earn anything from us but will – by virtue of relationship or manipulation – find a way to make us feel as if we are indebted to them.  In the wake of a toxic and abusive relationship, I’ve been considering what, if anything, I owe anyone.

I owe a debt of gratitude to my mother for carrying me in her womb and nurturing me when I was young.  I owe my father a debt of gratitude for providing for me as I grew up.  I choose to live in gratitude to that which is bigger than any of us and to live a life of service, but that is not a debt.  It is a choice.

Those friends and family who have proven themselves loyal and steadfast – to them – I offer my fidelity.

Recent research published by Berkeley provided evidence to what we all know – it’s easier to make friends when we’re young.  In college, we go from acquaintance to friend to good friend in 1/3 of the time it takes us as adults to make that same journey.  When we are young, we overestimate the depth of our friendships or perhaps we have not lived enough life experience to know what a good friend truly is, and how rare they are to find.  When I was in my twenties, I remember my eldest sister told me that if I could count on one hand the number of true friends I have, I will be lucky.  I wondered why she thought I had so few friends.  Now, after 40, I realize that a person of substance, who takes seriously their fidelity in friendship, will probably be able to count on only a few fingers of one hand (if that) the number of true friends they have.

This is not a sad thing.  It is a liberation.

We all hear that once we turn 40, we no longer give a darn what people think of us and we are liberated.  I’m not sure that is really what people experience.  I guess I can only speak for myself, but from observation of others, I can see that societal pressure lessons on us after 40.  We are no longer in our years of slaying our dragons, we are no longer in our prime child bearing years, and we are no longer in our prime matchmaking years either.  There are standards to which we are expected to live, in order to fit in to the societal norm.  If, by 40, we haven’t met those standards, society sort of sees us as outsiders and pays us no attention.

It is a much different thing to weigh our precious life in the balance against the expectations that people place on us and make the decision that we will no longer live our lives out of obligation.  I owe my mother and my father my gratitude, and I truly am grateful for the life they have given me and how they have provided for me.  I owe my fidelity to the very few who have earned it.  Realizing that my debt ends there, I am grateful.

The rest of life becomes one of choice to live on purpose with joy, excitement and integrity.

Just as I am beginning to feel solid in my path again, someone appeared in my life, uninvited, today.  He is a bit player in a subplot to the story of that toxic and abusive relationship that has been damaging to me;  a story of abuse of my rights and of my fidelity; a story of cruelty and of deception.  He is part of a story of chaos that overtook my life, and took me away from myself, for a period of time.   I try to see the best in others.  In this episode and the toxic relationship which set the context for it, the privilege was never earned.

I considered the timing of his appearance and found meaning in it as a test of my resolve.  I’m grateful for the consciousness of choice.

While I would not be surprised if he was contrite and his appearance might be a gesture of genuine reconciliation and friendliness, there is simplicity in how I feel.  I do not want chaos in my life.  I owe no debt to anyone who played a part in that toxic story.

Without guilt, when I saw him approach, I closed the door between us.

 

Photo: Alice Pasqual, Graffiti Writer: Unknown

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

Lunar Cycle

May 30, 2018

Photo: Arnau Soler

Day 1366 – Day 1371

Last night I was gardening under the nearly full moon.  As I gazed at her brilliance I thought of the last time I witnessed the full moon and the great distance I’ve travelled in this last lunar cycle.

The last full moon, I was driving home from a wonderful weekend in Seattle, filled with music, art, and new friends.  I hit the most incredible downpour outside of Everett and hydroplaned on the freeway.  I am grateful that there was nobody in the lane to my right as I swerved and regained traction of the road.  I thought I had been destined for my grave.

Whenever I go to Washington, I pass through a town within an hour of my home,  where someone I once loved chose to relocate from thousands of miles away – after ending his relationship with me.  He lingers.

I’m always grateful to pass Lake Samish which nestles in the hills between Mount Vernon and Bellingham.  It is a kind of physical border for me that guards my peace.  As I rounded the last bend before Bellingham, the most brilliant light shimmered on the water.  I looked in the rear view mirror,  and rising above the mountain behind me was the full moon.  Her glow felt like a benediction after all the hazards I had endured.

Last night, I was digging a trench, readying my plot for a season of growing.  From a plot comes the food that sustains us and to a plot we will go, when our life is done.  We become food for the worms that nourish the soil that grows the food for the next generation.  And so it goes with this finite life that lasts only a precious few lunar cycles.

As I’ve dug down into the earth, I have often wondered what I might discover.  I have visions of unearthing a body.  This macabre fantasy is joined by tales told to me by others who have fears of bodies buried in the most innocent of places.   It makes me realise that there is something archetypal in this story that we carry in our collective unconsciousness.

I don’t need to look in the earth for bones.  From a ghost that lingers, are the bones that I have carried on my back.

Photo: Giancarlo Revolledo

I have wondered who I will be free to be, without the burden of those bones.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing – personal writing – during this past lunar cycle.   I have given words to what needs to be expressed and remembered, forgiven that which  needs to be forgiven, and honoured what is to be honoured.   I don’t always understand what is going on at a soul level, but the subconscious magic works its way to my consciousness through image and symbol and the meaning-making that can be made through writing.  I have painted a lot in the past year but the Word is the land through which I must eventually travel in order to do the work I’m here to do in this life.

I’ve also been reading some old passages about the one who was once flesh upon those bones.  I am awed by the poignant beauty of my own writing.

Every transformation is the culmination of a long and continuous process that goes deeper and deeper, and we keep thinking we’ve arrived only to find our journey is not over.  But in every journey,  there are liminal moments.    Last night, I was alone under the enormous full moon and I felt a Oneness with that which is bigger than all of us.   I have witnessed, with consciousness, the moon’s journey through the sky and her nightly changes.

And she has witnessed mine.

Bathed in her glow, I was aware of what was passing into legend with the fullness of the moon.  There has been a gentle peace in setting those bones to rest.  Free of that weight, I am able to stand upright, and feel my heart, once again, filled with love.

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Weeding

May 16, 2018

Photo: Markus Spiske

Day 1360 – 1364

I’ve been spending time in my community garden.  When I got my plot, it was in a state of sad neglect.  The weeds in the garden cover the entire plot and are a foot high.  I’ve managed to clear about 10 square feet of it.  There is an old bed frame and dead plants in there, as well.  I have no idea why someone would take valuable soil and let it go to this state but I don’t understand people that feel a need to pollute the earth that they touch.  My first task has been clearing the piece of land, and weeding.

If you don’t get a weed at the root, it will keep coming back.  Even if you do get the root, the influence of the gardeners around you can spread seeds and you have to start all over again.

As I’ve been unwinding the past, I’ve been tilling the soil of my heart and mind and I’ve unearthed a lot of ideas – ideas about him, ideas about what is acceptable to me, and ideas about myself.   I’ve had to decide what, if anything is worth keeping.

I’ve discovered a lot of ideas about me that I would consider to be weeds.  Many of them were planted by parents that grew up in an era when survival was still a prime concern and the luxury of having dreams and aspirations was considered unrealistic paths to ruination.  Like weeds, each dream was crushed or pulled out by the roots and self-limiting ideas were planted in their place.

I feel like I’ve already done the job of weeding many of them out but they’ve reappeared.  When I was in my twenties, I snipped the flowers off of these ideas and threw them away as I skipped after my dreams.  But they grew back, and as much as any life circumstance, I got in my own way of fulfilling my dreams.

Not content to believe that this was all there was to hope for, I did a lot of work on my psyche and I dug up the ideas by the roots.  And after many years, of this, I found the soil relatively free of these pesky grasses and in their place, I planted wildflowers and I learned to dance in the meadow of my own heart, mind and soul.

It is a fact of life that not everyone has good intentions towards us.  And while we may be dancing in the meadow and welcome anyone with a joyful heart to join us in the dance, there will sometimes come a stranger with ill intentions.    I danced, and I forgot to put up a fence and query the stranger at the gate.

When the wind blew the stranger into my life, carrying what looked like a lover’s bouquet, I failed to see that it was, in fact, a bunch of weeds, gone to seed.

Photo: Robb Leahy

 

Today is the new moon and it is a good time for planting.  Last night I had a wonderful walk and talk with a friend who is quite remarkable.  She said that if your dreams are not laughable they are not big enough.  I’ve been noticing that there are a lot of people that are quick to tear apart your dreams but few who encourage you to reach for the stars.  My dreams, I realise, are not laughable.  They have been dampened by the landscape fabric I have thrown down to keep the weeds at bay.  I’m grateful for this awareness, as sad as it may be.  And, at the same time, I feel a sense of delight and hope that dreaming laughable dreams is not something to hide, but to celebrate.  This alteration in my worldview has fed nutrients into the soil from which I will build the next phase of my life and I am grateful.

I’ve been wondering what – if anything – I can take to be the greater meaning of my experience with the stranger.  I haven’t come to any conclusion on that.  But I am grateful that I’ve managed to clear a lot of the weeds, again.  A friend says that she is grateful to her ex husband because if he had been even a little bit nicer she would have stayed with him and never become the person she is.  I can’t say that of myself – I had already done a lifetime of work to become poised to be a fully actualized individual.

I am grateful that I really have solidified how important gratitude is to achieving resilience in difficult circumstances.  Without this practice, I would not have had the strength to keep pulling at the weeds.  This time, I feel I have truly gotten at the root and I am poised again – albeit a few years later – to step into that new cycle of growth I was ready to embrace when the stranger appeared.

The sun is shining and the world has stopped spinning.  I have a couple of weeks of weeding and planting ahead of me in my garden.  This was a dream we shared, – that stranger and I – to grow our own food.  I used to feel that I had been discarded so that he could live our dreams without me – or, more to the point –  with somebody else.  Somehow, imperceptibly, I’ve found myself moving in the direction of this dream without him.  I’ve been a bit lost and moving through life like a zombie, but I’ve kept moving forward.  Without being conscious of it, I have planted the seedlings of a new, meaningful, dream.  I no longer care what he is doing or who he is doing it with.  It is a joy to see some of  my germination has begun to produce exciting new shoots.

Photo: Markus Spiske

I put my hands into the soil and I feel One with the earth.  As I work on my plot, I  improve the conditions of the earth beneath me.  This is a deeply spiritual act of service for the planet and all her creatures.  Whether I grow food this year, successfully, or not, I will have achieved a purpose in working this piece of earth, with love.

 

For what are you most grateful today?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Spin

May 11, 2018

Photo: Ahmed Odeh

Day 1321 – 1359

Recently a new friend – a young talented actor and musician was admiring my paintings and I told him that I enjoyed my most recent paintings the most, out  of all of them,  because the journey of learning to paint has been one through more than 18 months of grief, rumination, second chances and finally unwinding from an exploitive and toxic relationship.  The journey is all there in the artwork and the stuff I’m painting now feels so much more like me – the me that I am, and always have been, in the centre of my being.

It is no surprise, then, to think that in dealing with all the gunk of that unwinding, there has been a roller coaster of health and un-wellness.  There is a natural cycle to unwinding trauma in the body.  It is a kind of spiral dance we do, as we unwind the physical, mental and emotional pockets where we have stored what we could not process: the gas lighting and the deceptions, the exploitations and the manipulations.  As we realize that all the things we accepted at face value were really falsehoods, the moment is another shock.  The way we need to frame our story and our position in the world needs to be adjusted for each of these shocks.  Each time I recognized another pattern or level of deception and abuse, I would fall ill as I released the grief that belonged to it.   There are people in this world who can lie with a straight face and whose lack of empathy borders on, or is pathological.  Most of us don’t operate at that level and so when we find that we have been fooled by a disordered person, it sends our world spinning and coming back to balance again takes a lot of unwinding.

 

Last week I found myself flattened with vertigo.  I’ve struggled with a lot of malaise and I’ve gotten used to this being my baseline but when the world started spinning and I could not walk, all I could think was – what fresh hell is this?

I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t work.   So I was forced to stay home and follow doctors orders while I waited for this to pass.  I could not lay down without being nauseated and I could not sit up and focus my eyes to read or even to watch a film.  So I sat in my tall drafting chair which has arms on each side, to keep me upright, and an easel in front of me to keep me from falling forward.  As I tried to paint,  straight lines turned curvy and curvy lines turned straight.  And then I had to laugh.  Like a dervish who spins towards the heart, I sat in the centre of the spin.

And what I found there was my innate but buried sense of play.

“Playing As Fast As I Can, 1 & 2” by Tania D Campbell. Acrylic on recycled book pages

 

Play hasn’t been too easy for me for about 18 months.  It has always been a feature of my personality but I’ve been pissed off like I’ve never been pissed off, before.   I’ve been mad at people who wronged me, mad at my situation and mostly, I’ve been furious with what I would call God, for some time now.  I felt like I was led by my faith to go against my psychological defences and I followed signs that took me down a metaphorical dark alley where I was beaten up and left for dead.

In the midst of the spin, I  had a wonderful talk with a fellow graduate of the seminary I attended.  We spoke of faith and spiritual beliefs and world views.  I told her that on the path I’ve chosen, which is an eastern path of mysticism, one can expect everything to be taken from us and our ego destroyed on the road to preparation for enlightenment.   I was angry for following the mystical signs and ending up down the dark alley and beaten within an inch of my life.   And my friend said to me:  If you are meant to have everything taken from you to cleanse the ego, then why is this loss not a cause of celebration?

And the world around me spun faster and the earth tilted a little more.

Yes, many things have been taken from me.  My life has been completely changed in the last several years and some things are no longer possible.  But what has arisen in the cracks of my broken and beaten body, left for dead in that back alley,  is really quite glorious.

While I mourn the passings, I’m grateful that while a part of my cognitive processing takes a backseat, the artistic, mystical and musical side of my mind has come to the fore.  I made it to the second round of an open call for artists in London to which 8,000 artists responded.  I didn’t make the final cut of 40 artists, but I did make the short list, and that tells me something about what I’m able to express with colour and form and line.  And if it is speaking to others, then it is something worthy of continuing.

I will, by the way, have two paintings in a group show here in Canada next month, and that is a cause of celebration.

I’m grateful that I found my voice again and although I feel myself pulled in too many directions, I can always squeeze in a bit of singing practice in the car.  It’s not ideal but what it does say is that my life is full.   I have worked as a healer and I know that sound vibration is the most subtle form of healing that there is.  It can create dissonance and disease but it can purify and heal as well.

So, while it hasn’t felt good to be left for dead, I’m grateful for the opportunity to consider what is holding me back from rejoicing when the people I love, the life I have lived, and the illusions  that I held dear are ripped away from me so that I am forced to face myself and my remaining life on deeper and deeper levels.

There has been a return to joy, despite this spin.  I went to listen to my new friend Harper Stone sing this week, and it made me so happy to be well enough to go and listen to his sweet music.  I drove home with a mile-wide grin plastered on my face.  When I pulled up to the border, the guards took one look at my massive smile and pulled me over for a sobriety test.  All I had consumed (and all I ever consume) was a cup of mint tea, so I passed it immediately.  But even the nuisance of it made me laugh – we are so quick to be suspicious of joy.

I feel more grounded now than I have in a long while – a strange thing to feel in the middle of a spinning world, but I do.  I feel confident in myself in some areas and I can see a route to growing confidence and putting the meaning back into other areas of my life.  Sometimes I can get out and mingle and sometimes I have to miss out on events.  But whether I am home and sitting with myself – perhaps painting or singing – or I am with my new and growing circle of friends, I feel a sense of Oneness with a tribe that I’m beginning to identify and explore, in this strange new land.

I’m not really sure what I can say that I have done this month by way of service except to try to keep productive and restorative in equal measures so that I don’t fall into being a burden on anyone.  Sometimes I can gift some beauty into the world.   What I’d like to be able to convey is the beautiful depth that is at the centre of life and that this depth contains both our joys and sorrows.  Both are gifts, if we can see them rightly.

I don’t know that I’m yet fully living a life of purpose but I heard the Shaman Christina Pratt once talk about how to find your purpose.  Finding our purpose is about doing what we love to do and doing it in a way that brings good into the world.  We might make our living from that work and we might not.  But that does not remove the fact that it is that which sets our soul on fire, that is our purpose to be fulfilled in this world.

“Blossoming” (A study after Chagall) by Tania D. Campbell – Acrylic on 5 x 7 recycled book page

 

I sang for my voice teacher, Paul Russell, last night and I felt like I was truly in resonance with the tone of G.  Each time we truly vibrate, we manifest.  What I will manifest, I don’t know.  Maybe I don’t need to know.  Perhaps, as long as my vocalizing is done with integrity and purity, as long as I can stand still and resonate with the tonal centre, while the world spins around me, perhaps then the Source, from which all sound emanates, will take care of the rest.

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

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.