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Ten Thousand Days

After the Fire

August 9, 2017

Photo: Yosh Ginsu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All have been burned, and I am ash.

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

What will be my strange and mysterious fruit?

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

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

 

It is holding on that hurts us.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The work of the soul is not an easy path.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo: Mads Schmidt-Rasmussen

For what are you most grateful, today?

Art, Art, Articles, Music, Nature

Jesse Narens – Composition/Decomposition/Art

August 1, 2017

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

I find my greatest joy in nature.

 

Jesse Narens with mask. Photo courtesy of the artist

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

Follow Jesse Narens:

 WEBSITE,

INSTAGRAM

 

Ten Thousand Days

Archaeology of The Heart

July 11, 2017

Photo: Gaelle Marcel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Photo: Cathal mac an bheatha

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Fire and Water

June 20, 2017

Photo by Tania D. Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before I die, I want to______

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

 

‘Live my soul’s purpose.’

 

It was another magic moment.

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful Summer Solstice!

Photo: Farsai – C

For what are you most grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

Exhausted but Well

June 12, 2017

Photo: Sabri Tuzcu

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

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

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

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

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

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

What You Wish For…

May 29, 2017

Photo: Roya Ann Miller

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1091 – 1101)

On Saturday, I marked the passage of another year in my life.  I used to love birthdays and I’m not afraid to admit that I loved it if people fussed over me.  I would cajole boyfriends and family into fussing over me on my special day (when I was a child, this stretched to my special week, and – if I could get away with it – my special month).  I think I would still like birthdays if I had a significant other who make a big fuss over me and celebrated me on my birthday.

But, there was a year, a few years ago, when I was hitting a milestone birthday and my career was in the tank and I had just ended a relationship.  I really did not want to be reminded that time was passing as what seemed like my whole life was falling away.  Since then, I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with birthdays and I respect anyone who says they really don’t want to make a fuss over their day.  The older we get, the more we have to adjust to the idea that life is probably not going to bring us a castle or a Maserati or a soul mate life partner in the way we dreamed that it would.

The older we get, the more we are asked to let go of these wishes…at least, if we are on a spiritual path.  More so, if we are on a path of mysticism.

I meditate with a group of mystics.  I have a sense of what mysticism is and I think we all know it when we see it, but put quite simply – it is the belief that a direct experience of Oneness with the Divine can be achieved through the heart or mind of the mystic.  This is not a pretentious group of self proclaimed mystics; they are earnest mediators on a spiritual path of mysticism, with the hope of the Grace to achieve that unio mystico (union with the Divine) that every mystic craves, like an addict craves heroin.

Like an addict, the mystic appears crazy to the world around them.  The mystic is drunk on the love of the Divine and knows that what the soul needs is not always in the best interests of the personality.  Sometimes what the soul needs is terribly painful to the personality.  In my early days on the spiritual path, I learned about the importance of a teacher to guide us, because in yogic traditions, when the kundalini awakens, it is disturbing to the entire system, and can cause psychosis, without a knowledgeable teacher helping to guide us through the destruction of the ego and our entire world view.

My kundalini has not awakened and if living as one with the Divine is how we define being a mystic, then I’m not a mystic, either.  I’m grateful that I’ve not had a disturbing awakening –  because I am afraid of it.  I’m shit scared of it, to be honest.  And, at the same time, my soul yearns for it.   When I travelled to India to immerse myself in yoga, I teetered on the precipice of surrender to the Divine and the path of awakening.  Like most spiritual aspirants, I couldn’t do it.  I was afraid of the pain.

I have spiritual ambivalence, and I’ve struggled with this, all my life.

I’ve known since childhood that my purpose in life is spiritual but as a young person, it is easy to put off what is difficult because we feel we have all the time in the world to live our lives and get down to the serious business of spiritual attainment later in life.  As I get older, I see that the next breath is not guaranteed, and spiritual attainment does not usually come without spiritual practice – done in earnest and for a long time.  It is a disservice not only to myself, but to living my purpose on this earth, to put it off one moment longer.  And yet, in both conscious and unconscious ways, I’m continuing to put it off.

Recently, I was given a gift by Spirit.  It caused me tremendous pain and so, in an impulsive moment, I prayed to be relieved of my pain until such time as the gift could be received in a package that was palatable to the personality.  And just like that, it was gone.  I felt relief, but as the pain left, so did the gift.  The absence of that gift is perhaps more difficult to swallow than the pain.

What I had not realised is that the pain was a roadmap to where Spirit was calling me to work, in my life, toward my soul’s purpose.  Those who work with depth psychology will know that depression is a gift, if we learn to work with it.  In it, we can find meaning and listen to our shadow story that wants to be told.  Once it is told and freed, we are no longer ruled by the unseen forces of that unconscious story line waiting to be heard.

Of course, I’m not belittling the suffering of those in depression or anguish or despair.  It is horrible.  Sometimes we aren’t strong enough to bear it.  But it is important to remember – and I have come to realize the hard way – that when we wish away our depression and our pain, we wish away the opportunity for healing and integration.

Until we face our pain and listen to the shadow story that it tells, it will repeat over and over again in our lives.  Looking back from the perspective of a heart in relief, I wish I had had the courage to deal with it now, rather than when it surprises me again, in the future.  The meaning of our lives is not found only in the narrative of success and triumph and cultivated relationships that we tell ourselves and one another.  It is also found in the story of broken hearts and power plays and dark obsessions that the soul yearns to tell and have heard and accepted.

On Saturday, I had the joy of spending a wonderful evening with a new friend at her home and she bought me a cake for my birthday.  I had the opportunity to make a wish as I cut my birthday cake.  I’m always grateful for the opportunity to dream or to wish or to become deeply connected and pray.  Having been granted freedom from suffering – and with it, freedom from a direct experience with God – I chose not to make any more wishes.

As the variant of the old Yiddish curse goes: Be careful what you wish for; you just might receive it.

 

Photo: Noah Silliman

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Disappearing Act

May 18, 2017

 

Photo: Elijah Hail

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 921 – 1090)

It may appear as if I have not posted in 6 months.  This is not the case.  Regular readers will know that every few weeks, I have returned to this website to do what I promised to do – to write about gratitude in both the joyful and painful times.  I found  gratitude, joy, Oneness, purpose, and service in my life and by the way I processed life’s events, I have attempted to find meaning.  It has been a painful 6 months, but I have fulfilled my promise, and I trust that those who needed to find some solidarity in what I wrote in 2017 have already found their way to this website and have taken what they needed from the experience.

In Economics, contracts are only fair if there is no information asymmetry between parties.  Of course, economic theory is based on human behavior.  We know that this principle is true in our most personal relationships and so it stands to reason that the principle holds true at a wider level.  I’ve been processing a very painful, quick, sudden and complete ending of a relationship, without the benefit of any answers, the opportunity to ask my questions or even to be heard.  Neither have I been given a chance to work thing out, nor the chance to say a loving and complete goodbye.  I am in limbo. I have waited and I have given the benefit of the doubt.  Eventually, we have to emerge from the fog and accept that we may never get the closure we were promised and make whatever peace we can with living in a state of incomplete information and make space in our baggage for what may always remain an unresolved relationship.   Life is subject to change, but so far, we have not had the private dialogue that I needed, in order to move on with dignity.  In the absence of that, I know that my public words, here, have provided him with the very healing opportunity that I have wanted and needed.  And while I always want to do whatever I could to facilitate the  healing of someone I have loved, I am painfully aware of being in a state of information asymmetry and the unfairness of the position in which this places me.

I will never be able to fully resolve this, alone, but I choose to let go, of what is done, with love.  And so, I have let all my posts disappear.

I’m grateful to all my readers who have witnessed my journey through the fog, thus far.  I am grateful that my words touched friends and strangers alike.  Today I am grateful to see the sunshine, aware that spring weather in the PNW is just a few days away.  It is a joy to see the sun after so many days of rain and snow that can cause us to draw inward.  When our hearts have been damaged, we will also draw inward and not want to connect with others.  And, so Oneness remains something of a challenge for me but in the past few weeks I have reached out to friends who are struggling and I’ve been able to connect with them in supporting them in their time of need.  Sometimes, the best way to lift our hearts is to help another who is in pain.  Although I’ve written those (now, phantom) posts in service to those who may have found solace or inspiration in my words, I’ve struggled to write these past 6 months. I haven’t written much, but what I have written was very raw, very personal and very deep. I am content that I have acted with integrity and that I upheld our dignity and privacy in sharing my journey, focusing on me and on what was being triggered for me and how I might live gratefully through a terrible time.  But truly, in pain, I am a most private person.   If one good thing has come of this time, it is that I have taken my unwillingness to commit my darker emotions to words,  and I have poured the depth of my private thoughts and feelings into a non-verbal art form.  Without formal training as an artist, I have been able to share my heart through painting.  I have created some beautiful pieces, some playful pieces and pieces rich with meaning.  Painting has opened up a new world to me and I have been able to offer beauty back to the world.  In that, and in the writing of those (now, phantom) posts, I have remained on purpose.

I have always had a special kinship with the archetype of Persephone who rises from being a captive of Hades, in Springtime. We’ve spent a winter in hell, together, and while the Spring hasn’t fully arrived, I’m truly grateful to see the sun again, today.

 

Photo: Sarah Mak

 

For What Are You Most Grateful?

Articles, Milestone

One Thousand Days of Gratitude

February 17, 2017

Photo: Luca Upper

 

The number 1,000 appears in the Bible some 50 times.  In terms of time, 1,000 is a ‘millenia’ and when referring to quantity, the number conveys the immensity of the thing in question without the totality of it.  In health and development, research has shown that the first 1,000 days of life are what UNICEF call’s the ‘brain’s window of opportunity’ where the future health of an individual is largely set and can either set a child on the path to wellbeing or to a life of morbidity and early mortality.  The first thousand days are are immensely important for the totality of one’s life and that is why health and development agencies focus their investments in those first 1,000 days. So how do we apply this to a spiritual practice?

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali advises:

Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness

In some Buddhist traditions, 1,000 repetitions of a practice is the magic figure at which one becomes an adept.

In some traditions, it takes ten years to even begin to walk the path.  So, let’s not get carried away with pats on the back just yet.  We have another 9,000 days to tackle!

My friend and much admired colleague Alicia once reminded me that we are in such a fast paced world that we often don’t pause to take a moment to reflect and appreciate our accomplishments before we move on to the next challenge.  And although I am inclined to continue to push the envelope by explicitly adding new practices, it is a joy to reach the first 1,000 days that have firmly grounded us in the practice.  This has been the heart, soul and mind’s ‘window of opportunity’ to become attuned to a higher vibration, develop new neural pathways for positive emotions and for the practice to become habitual.

In the first 1,000 days of Gratitude practice, we organically added joy as a by-product of gratitude and then came to see that a sense of abundance led us to want to give back to the world in service.  A sense of connection with others when we looked to be of service in the world grew into our concept of looking for a sense of Oneness in our lives.  After the first year of practice, we moved to a weekly post and started to look for meaning in our experience.  Without being explicit, this has become a fifth practice.

Meaning as I define it, is the symbolic value we give to our experience.  It is the sense we make of the chaos of our lives.  It is the thread of narrative that we write out of our daily experience and which helps us to know who we are, to be in awe of our place in creation and to discover our values in this lifetime.  Meaning then, is no small thing.  It tells us the why of what we are doing. We can find meaning in times that are good as well as those that are full of sorrow.   As we reach upwards to spirit with Gratitude and Joy, we reach into our depths of soulfulness with Oneness and Meaning.

Related to the concept of meaning is living with a sense of Purpose.  Purpose, as I define it, is living in alignment with our values and using our gifts to translate those values into action with the intent to create a positive impact in the world.  Happiness scholars argue that having and working towards a sense of Purpose is one of the key ingredients to creating a life of Meaning.  And so,  the two are inextricably lined and as we formally add the search for Meaning to our practices, we will add working towards a sense of Purpose, as well.

 

 

As I  anticipate the road ahead and reflect upon the 999 days that preceded this one, I feel so grateful for all those who have been on this journey with me.  Getting through the first 1,000 days of practice was no small feat and it didn’t happen without inspiration from others.  If there was something wise that I did to get this practice grounded, it was to seek out and speak to those who inspired me, so that I could learn from them the secrets to carrying on with a difficult task when things were not always easy.  I am grateful to all those artists like Louis Masai, WRDSMTH, Food of War, Noriaki, Matthew Del Degan, Monsu Plin, and C. Michael Frey who have inspired us and shared with our community their beautiful hearts and souls through their artwork.  I am grateful to all those who are not necessarily artists but who are working in their own capacities to make the world a better place, including Alexandra Jackman, Alicia Altorfor Ong, Lord Richard Layard, Action for Happiness , Elie Calhoun, and James Wheale of the Nomadic Community Gardens. They have been an inspiration to me, and I hope they have been, to you as well.  And, because love, and music are my own personal spiritual path, I am grateful to Dan Shears, Jesse Cook, Chris Church and Josh Savage for sharing their music and their hearts with us.

I never know who is reading these posts unless you choose to comment.  But I do always write these posts with you, specifically, in mind.  I am grateful to you for coming here and witnessing this journey.  It is a joy whenever I hear that someone has been inspired to live more gratefully and even if I don’t know who you are, know that you are embraced by me, and we are a community.  You are always part of the circle of Oneness at Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.

Over the past 999 days, I have at times wondered why I continue to post publicly about my private life.  I wonder why I do what many could see as a pedestrian practice, over and over and over again.  I have come to realize that I value inspiration and one purpose of my life and my time on earth – one of the things that sets my soul on fire – is the potential to inspire others to live a more sustainable, meaningful and connected life.  Rather than just quietly living my own life of gratitude, I have chosen to make show up and make public my triumphs and my struggles with as much truth and vulnerability as I can muster.  And so, as we turn the page from 1,000 days my service is to continue to keep showing up to these practices with you.

In the past few weeks leading up to this milestone, I returned to writing a daily gratitude post with the audience being my friends on Facebook.  For me, personally, if there is any meaning in the writing of a 1,000 day post, and the work of the 999 days leading up to it, it is the way opening my heart to you and laying bare my life has repaid me with love and fullness beyond measure. Words today fail to express how grateful I truly am for you.  I hope that witnessing and (it is my hope) joining in these practices has and will contribute to your deeply fulfilled life, dear reader.

 
So I turn it back over to you…

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Articles, Community, Music

Josh Savage – Living Room Tourist

January 19, 2017

Josh Savage Photo: Common Spark Media

Last year,  TTDOG featured one of  London’s finest troubadours, Josh Savage as he was releasing his 2nd EP, a first french-language offering: Quatre Épines.

Savage creates a direct connection with his ardent followers through the vulnerability of his lyric, the poignancy of his voice and his virtuosity as a musician. What sets Josh apart from others in the industy is his absolute committment to intimate living room performances throughout the world.  When we last saw Josh, he had completed his living room tour of Europe to promote Quatre Épines and was awaiting the release of a film documenting his unprecedented tour.  The film, The Living Room Tour, by independent filmmaker Duncan Trevithick, follows Josh Savage as he plays 44 gigs throughout the summer.

We caught up with Savage to discuss The Living Room Tour,  a Winchester Short Film Festival Official Selection, released last month.

 Sofar Sounds inspired me with the concept.  Living Room Tours are the only way I can tour independently on a large scale and guarantee an attentive audience.

TTDOG asked Savage whether filming the tour impacted on the intimacy his audiences have come to expect in his concerts.

Being documented takes some getting used to.  it didn’t feel like it impacted the intimacy of my shows however.  I guess cameras are more commonplace in today’s society.

Did Savage have a single favourite moment captured in the film?

My optimism about chewing gum when my car was broken into.  At the time, I was in shock so I can’t remember what I said but I’m glad I’m able to see the light at the end of the tunnel in nightmare situations.

Just 24, he reminds dreamers of all ages to follow their hearts.  In a message to his fans at the launch of the film, Savage called The Living Room Tour:

A short documentary about choosing yourself as an artist.  About not waiting for the gatekeepers to say yes.  About finding your own path to your own definition of success.

.

 

TTDOG asked Savage whether there was something for which he was particularly grateful in the making of the documentary.

I’m most grateful for the wonderful people I met on the road who supported me and keep me going to this day.  It’s lovely to have a documentary to reflect back on the adventure and I hope it will inspire new artists to take the plunge and follow their passion.

 

Savage has inspired thousands through his performances and music.  His latest single, Whisper in the Snow, featuring Alice Pearl will launch tonight in London before Savage heads out on the road for his 2017  Living Room “Whisper in the Snow” Tour this Friday, 20 January.  

 

 

Follow Josh Savage on his Website,  Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube and Twitter

Ten Thousand Days

Duckie

November 29, 2016

 

Photo: Darius Anton

Photo: Darius Anton

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 915 – Day 920)

Recently I overheard two people talking about a third man who was in the throes of unrequited love. They described it as full-on “Duckie love.”

Anyone of a certain age will be taken back to the unforgettable character Duckie, played by John Cryer in Pretty in Pink.  He became not only a gay icon, but also the epitome of unrequited love.  Sensitive, devoted, and expressive, Duckie was the poster boy for the ‘outsider.’

The film came out long after I left high school but, as with all John Hughes films, like most of my generation, I could relate to it.   I was never Duckie in highschool.  As much as I wanted to punch her in her pouty lips (projection, much?) I always identified with the Molly Ringwald character, Andie.  Although I wasn’t poor like Andie, I was always the pretty girl who had boys in love with her.  When I changed high schools in my graduating year, I was with a lot of much richer kids and I got a taste of the despicable snobbery of James Spader’s character, Steff, who really did think in terms of social class, at the age of 18.  Like Steff did with Andie, a young and popular rich kid on the rugby team took a fancy to me and made advances at me at a party.  When I rejected him, I became the outcast of the school.  I guess my initiation as Andie was complete.

My mother, too, had been a young beauty.  She came from a group of people that are ridiculed in Canada, despite being admired by strangers the world over.  She, too, knew what it was like to suffer prejudice because of her background.  But she met and married a young man, and as time went on, his career took him to fancier and fancier places and she never really felt comfortable there.  Her beauty faded, as it will, with time, and she was insecure.  She learned the hard way what we all learn about our society – for women, our power is greatest when we are young and beautiful.  As we age, it fades and men gain in power through accomplishment, status and wealth.

I’d like to say that isn’t the case, and I have always been a feminist.  But all we need to do is look at the US elections to recognize just how far we really have come, as a society in accepting women – especially older women – and condoning their right to power.  And yet, we must not let society dictate our roles.

Duckie was an original, (the character Watts, from Some Kind of Wonderful, was the female version of his archetype).  He didn’t do things the way society told him to do them, and I guess this is what makes him the iconic character he is today.

I wish I’d had more Duckie moments when I was young, to build character and to prepare me for life as an older woman.  I didn’t.  I’ve had to learn the hard way, too.  We all know that feeling of being in a relationship where we love harder and more fully than the object of our affection.  It can be devastating, if we let it be.

I’ve had my heart broken and I’m grateful not for the pain, but for the resilience I have developed (even as an older woman) as a result of it.  Many people have their heart broken once and never love again.  I’ve had it broken twice.  And again, while not grateful for that pain, I am grateful for the time that preceded it and the time when I was loved.

I’m not really sure I want to put myself in the position of even one more unrequited love in this lifetime.

I wonder who Duckie would be, today.  Would he have loved again?  Would he have found someone who loved him in return?  Or, would he rent a penthouse flat and become a recluse?  Would Duckie have learned to recognize true love and tell it apart from those times when he was being played?  I hope he would have continued to grow and recognized that he deserved someone who was ready to stand up and love him, wholeheartedly and without reservation.

I’d like that for myself as well, and I still believe it is possible for me.  I am grateful for the ability both to keep my heart open and to discern between the fear of being hurt and the uneasy inner knowing when something isn’t right with a love relationship.

It was a joy to be reminded of the character, Duckie.  I am learning to embrace and to love my inner Duckie.   While his broken heart hurt, Duckie triumphed and maintained his integrity.  He was the only real winner in the whole movie, despite losing the girl.  He won, because he grew as a human.  When I think about him now, I feel a tender Oneness and communion with the character’s vulnerable young heart and soul.  Yes, Andie got the rich kid boy in the end, but we all know they probably didn’t stay together and she was probably left devastated.   But Duckie loved, he lost and he recovered.  I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be Duckie than any other character in that film.

And so, as we head into the most romantic season of the year, my service today is to remind us all that the only real way to guarantee the outcome of the game is to leave the field of play.  We are all human and we all want to be the first to bail in a relationship, before they bail on us.  To paraphrase John Hughes…we all do just want to let them know that they didn’t break us…

But love is always a risk; Once in a while, the risk may turn out to be worth it.  The odds really are not in our favour.  Unless we are game theory experts, the best we can do is to summon our inner Duckie,  have courage, self esteem, and an open heart as we keep doing our own internal calculus, moment by moment.  We all deserve someone who will love us wholeheartedly and without reservation.

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

The Blindspot

November 23, 2016
Photo: Oscar Keys

Photo: Oscar Keys

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 908 – Day 914)

A few days ago I had a strange dream.

I wear eyeglasses and in my dream, the glass spontaneously shattered.  When I awoke, I felt that this was one of those ‘important’ dreams in my life.  I feel that it was screaming at me about that thing we all have but simply cannot see: our blindspot.

Many of us have problems seeing what is right before our eyes.  When we are grieving, Kubler Ross tells us that there are stages through which we cycle, and one of those is denial.  When we are in denial, we cannot see what it is that is presenting itself as a losss.  We can not bear it.  The other side of seeing – being seen – is also a challenge for many of us.  I am willing to go out on a limb and say that all of us want to be seen – really seen for who we are – and loved as we are.  But it is the risk that we will not be loved, or the belief that we are unloveable that makes being seen – really seen – such an act of vulnerability.

I remember sitting in a playwriting workshop one hundred years ago and my teacher, the award winning playwright, Joan MacLeod, spoke of her best friend.  He was able to see her blindspot and she was able to see his. So, I asked around.

Before the first friend answered, I went through a list:  I love someone and it is a challenging relationship.  But, I have faith in the relationship.  Was this my blindspot?  I had a milestone birthday recently and with it, I struggled to reconcile my inner sense of youth with ageing.  Is this somehow my blindspot?  I carry more weight than is healthy and there are certainly emotional reasons for this.  Could that be my blindspot?

Friends started responding.  Some have known me longer than others, and some have known me more intimately than others.  I thought of the woman with whom I have been closest, and of my mother.  I thought of what they would say.  And then a friend said it:

My blindspot is my self worth, she said.  If I could see myself like others do, I would have a much different and higher sense of self worth.

I think to some extent, we all struggle with this.

Where do we develop our self esteem?  I suppose it develops in childhood when we are seen and mirrored by our primary caregivers.  What we developed as children is reinforced by our actions as adults.  One thing is certain: we cannot have high self esteem if we are doing things in our lives for which we are not proud.  But, looking at it now, no number of accomplishments and sense of integrity can ever completely fill that sense of lack, if we were not mirrored as children.

As a child, teen and young adult, I was applauded for certain kinds of accomplishments and parts of my personality.  My artistic side was called ridiculous and I was chastised for being a dreamer.  I was not loved for who I was, exactly as I was.  I was not mirrored.  What was seen and loved and what I could see and love of myself was like looking into a shattered mirror and seeing only parts of myself, but never the whole.

This week I had the task of painting a self portrait in my art class.  I’m a beginner at drawing and at painting but I do my best and my best is usually not good, but also not that bad.  So I sketched myself and painted in the glasses, focusing on my eyes and my lips.  It was an interesting and intriguing piece.  Many people suggested I leave it at that.  I thought I would.

One afternoon, my father unexpectedly bought the family lunch and I had my painting in the car.  So, I brought it in, and showed it to my family.  They looked at me, at my unfinished painting, back at me and then continued their conversation without saying anything about it.  If I had chosen to write a scene of psychic annihilation I don’t think I could have chosen a more perfect moment than that.

A few days later, I returned to the painting and decided to complete it.  Although I had used a magnifying mirror and a low angle, the resulting portrait was distorted and more grotesque than even the magnification would produce.  I look in the mirror and I know that I don’t look this way.  And yet, I am blind to myself.

In my dream, I had been standing at a crossroads when my glasses shattered.  I had come from a place where I had plugged in to ‘the source’, but my machine had been borrowed from a man.

When I was young, my father said on more than one occasion that I would never amount to anything without him.  I am sure that he probably meant that I should be grateful for the roof over my head and my tuition.  But the words went far deeper than that, for me, as a child.  I am a half a century old and for half a century I have sought my father’s approval.  Despite all my accomplishments, I don’t think he’s ever said that he is proud of me.  If I cannot amount to anything without him, perhaps at an unconscious level, I feel that I fail to exist without his approval.

Consciously I have let go of this wish, but the unconscious has a way of holding on and repeating patterns.  I love a man who disengages from me sometimes and although this is his coping mechanism, it triggers my earlier sense of not being mirrored.  When he is engaged, he is able to see so much of me – the admirable and the less admirable qualities – and he loves me as I am.  I am grateful that when he is able to stay connected, he models for me what I lacked in childhood.  When we are connected, it is a  joy to spend time with him and to work through our differences and come to a deeper understanding of one another and a deeper level of closeness.  I sometimes wonder how I got so blessed to meet someone so kind and gentle, and I cannot express how grateful I am for him, in my life.  He is working on staying engaged, and I am working on self-soothing and ‘holding space for him’ in his times of solitude. But the fact is that he is prone to disengage and not understand me.  In those moments, I feel invisible.  I don’t know where the relationship is heading but it has been a growth experience for both of us, and for my ability to stand up and ask to be seen, and for his ability to sometimes offer his gentle love in the face of my vulnerability, I am grateful.

I’m grateful for my dream because it has provided me the opportunity to consider the things that are holding me back and to which I am blind.    In my dream, I was at a crossroads, as I am now, in my life.  I am grateful for this moment.

My father was a writer and I know he had a real talent for poetry.  He wrote love poems to my mother when they courted.  He grew up in a different era and he suppressed his own artistic side in order to become a provider for his family.  I am certain that some of his insistence on gratitude conveyed in those offhand, but damning words, came from his own experience of having given up more than any of us know, in order to be a husband and father.  I know he has a soft heart, like I do, and despite his damaging messages, we are both writers, poets and lovers and in knowing that, I feel Oneness with him and I am able to love him despite the wounding of the past.

As we go into the holiday season, we return to our families of origin for at least a few days.  My service this week is to write this to remind us all that we are always at a crossroads, that most of us are blind to how amazing we truly are, and to send out this reminder that there is always a new way of seeing the hurt that we carry with us, so that we can leave it behind us, at the crossroads.

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Just Like Family

November 15, 2016
Photo: Katie Chase

Photo: Katie Chase

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 904 – Day 907)

My best friend is just like family to me and he has embarked on a seminal adventure in America this week.  He is on a hero’s journey that he must take alone.   And while I know this,  I worry about him when he is driving and camping alone.  I worry, and maybe I am over the top on my anxiety, but a boy I cared for died on a camping trip in high school when he fell down a ravine.  I don’t know what happened when he disappeared – only his family knows those details – but I do know that he died, alone, in that ravine.

Being over the top on my anxiety has led me into a thought experiment.  When you care about someone, you want them to be safe and if they aren’t safe, you want to get them help, as soon as possible.   I would be comfortable with being in the position of taking point on alerting National Parks, Highway Patrol and Search and Rescue if my friend, who is just like family – but not family – had failed to check in.  But, it turns out that he had made the arrangement with his ‘real family’.

Being like family, but not family, is a wonderful feeling to have with a friend.  Sit with it a moment and it becomes clear that it is a pretty terrible position to be in, if the world falls apart.  His family probably doesn’t even know that I exist.  And if they know that I exist, they certainly wouldn’t think that my attachment to him warranted being kept in the loop.

And my thought experiment causes me to reflect on what is happening in America right now.

In the 1980s, my cousin, DK, died of AIDS.  I don’t know if he had a significant other.  Knowing his father, I’m pretty sure that if he did have a S.O., that man was not welcomed.  The family made all end of life decisions and somewhere in the ethers there was undoubtedly someone who was at least as attached to my cousin as his parents were, and arguably, more so, perhaps.  Out in the ethers was possibly a person who my cousin loved deeply, and who probably never got to be near him as he died.  He probably wasn’t even kept in the loop.

Being just like family – but not family – is a pretty terrible place to be, when the world falls apart.

When his father made it unbearable for DK, as a young gay man, he left home.  My mother took him in – even through he was my father’s nephew, and hers only by marriage.  For awhile, I got to grow up with him in my nuclear family, and for that I am grateful.  He taught me not to judge someone by their sexuality before I even knew what sexuality was.  I am grateful to him for opening my eyes to a world that had fallen apart and a group of people that was so staunchly being pushed into the closet and left to die by politicians like Ronald Reagan and by vocal activists like Anita Bryant.  I am grateful to my mother for teaching me about making a family of choice when the world falls apart.  DK was more than my cousin – for at least awhile, he was also my brother.

I find joy in knowing that my friend, who is just like family – but not family – is finding himself in the woods, even as I am realizing the pain of being just like family – but not family.

Right now my friend is in Oregon – the seat of some of the most violent protests in the wake of the US election.  I think about what the election results and the promised policies may mean for many families in America and I can feel the sense of despair, abandonment and lack of safety that so many in the LGBTQ+ community must be feeling.  It is unthinkable that the current painful situation in which I find myself could be legislated by my government:  that I would not have the chance to be by his side were he pulled out of a ravine in critical condition.

I’m not an American.  There is nothing I can do for my American friends except to be a supporter.  Many of them are my extended family of choice and I have a bittersweet sense of Oneness with their sense, when the world falls apart, of not being considered ‘real family’.  And I feel the same sense of powerlessness to defend their rights as they might now feel about their own democratic process.

My service this week, and for as long as it takes, is to continue to speak up about marriage equality and climate change, sexism and racism in whatever forum I can, because until you’ve lived a thought experiment like mine and found yourself to be an outsider, you may not realise just how precarious it is to be just like family – but not family – when the world falls apart.

For what are you grateful this week?