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Ten Thousand Days

Ten Thousand Days

From Cradle to Grave

March 13, 2017

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 1014 – Day 1024)

I don’t usually ask friends for a theme on which to write, but lately, my thoughts have lately been rather too singularly focused and so it is helpful.  Today, I am grateful to my friend CMF, who has asked me to write about fear.

Fear is probably the oldest of our emotions, linked to chemical reactions in our animal brain, the amygdala.  As we have evolved out of the wilds, so have our fears.  We fear becoming something we do not want to become or not becoming the person we believe we were meant to be.  And we fear being perceived in a way that would be damaging to our ego.  Unless we have a pathological dysfunction, each of us suffers from a myriad of fears.

What is the source of all our fears?  And where does it begin?

According to research by Dr. Jee Hyun Kim, fear and anxiety begins in childhood and what we don’t resolve in childhood stays with us, to be resolved as adults.  Yet children, if provided an intervention,  are much better able to resolve these fears than the adults they become.

I have only a couple of memories from my early childhood.  Like most introverted children, I had one or two playmates and I was inseparable from them.  When I was a child of 5 or 6, I developed a debilitating fear of dying in my sleep.  Every night before bed, I made my mother check that my heart was still beating, and that my belly button was not bleeding.  I was hysterical at bedtime, and this lasted for over a year.  My mother didn’t understand what all this weird behavior was about and dismissed me as being silly and most likely trying to stall at bedtime.

What she didn’t realize was that although she may have known that my best friend and classmate had died suddenly that year, – and, in retrospect, I’m not sure that she did know it – she probably didn’t know what I knew: that my best friend had died  in her sleep of heart failure and internal bleeding from a hole in her heart.

I can’t blame my mother for not knowing this.  As soon as I heard of my friend’s death, a part of my brain that contained all the memories of her was suddenly closed.  It was like a giant metal shutter had come down and walled off that part of my mind from the rest of me.  Now, as an adult, I understand that was my way of coping with severe trauma, but it appears that the adults around me didn’t recognize it at that time.  I still have no recollection of my friend, to this day.

What I learned about death was that it didn’t just happen to old people.  It could happen to children, and when it happened, you went away forever and you were forgotten.  This is something that not a lot of adults truly want to face, but it is a fact I faced at the age of 6.

Like many children, I went to bed every night with a prayer  begging the angels to come and take our souls if we should die in our sleep.  It probably scared most children getting tucked in for the night, to have to pray to be taken in their sleep!  We didn’t pray for salvation should we die when we woke, oh no…sleep!…that was the realm of death.  My friend was proof.

To soothe myself in the wake of her death, at bedtime,  I returned to sucking on a baby pacifier and I rubbed my own soft spot between my nose and lip, just mothers do to soothe a baby to sleep. (If you identified ‘oral fixation’ you win a golden prize)   I knew I was too old for such things, but I did what I needed to do.  I was ashamed, and I became isolated from other children, unable to attend or have sleepovers for fear of ridicule.  I deprived myself of the friendships that might have helped me grieve and move on from the loss of my best friend.

My father did not approve of this regression.  It became one of the many subjects of arguments that erupted between my mother and father, once the children were in tucked up in bed and out of earshot.  Unable to sleep, I would lay in bed, listening to them argue and worry about what would become of me if the fighting escalated further.  This just made my need for the pacifiers all the more intense.

One night, without warning, my parents took away my pacifiers and forced me to go to bed without them.

I fought off sleep, every night, and as my elder sisters snoozed in their beds, I had no recourse but to listen to the discussions that led to disagreements that no longer included my pacifiers but had moved on to arguments that led to shouting followed by deathly silence.   I lay awake paralyzed with fear.

Having exhausted my mother’s patience on my nocturnal death rehearsal,  and my father’s patience with my weakness for pacifiers, I found myself alone and in the dark, and I felt, at the age of 6,  that I was truly on my own.  Too old for bedtime stories, I listened to the CBC television, broadcast on the radio.  The sounds of crime dramas filtered out the sounds of the arguments around me.

Pacified by murders and burglaries, I learned to sleep.  A few short years of sleep followed, until Hollywood decided to take a crack at scaring the daylights out of the entire planet, just as I was hovering around puberty.  As my body was changing in ways I couldn’t understand or control, there on the screen was a young Linda Blair thrashing around the room, atop her bed, possessed of the Devil.  Every time I had a hormonal impulse, or a naughty thought, I was convinced I was possessed.  I went as far as to beg my mother to call the priest to exorcise me!

Demonic possession was more than my mother could handle.  Don’t be silly, she told me.  She had her own worries.  And apparently, so did my father.  Suddenly, and completely, he moved across the country, and my sister soon followed.  He was transferred with his job, but we stayed behind to sell the house.  As days turned into months and years apart,  it didn’t feel that way.  It was just me and my mom left behind.

He visited every month, but the arguments got worse, when he did.  At night, before he would leave for the red-eye flight, my father would slip into my bedroom and talk to me when I should be sleeping.  And his regrets came flooding out.  I witnessed a heaviness, beyond my childhood ability to comprehend, that seemed to weigh on him.   He would always leave with the parting thought – which he probably meant as an endearment – that I was his last child, his baby and, as he said, “his last hope.”

Afraid of sleep, afraid of my body, afraid of my thoughts, how could I bear the weight of carrying my troubled father’s last hope?  When I did manage to sleep, like a child possessed, I started sleep walking into my father’s bedroom, whenever he wasn’t home.   And then,  I stopped sleeping altogether, until dawn.

My mother struggled through a marriage at a distance, menopause and all that means for a woman, and I was largely on my own to struggle through the seeming demonic possession of puberty.  I learned to push down my silly feelings, to stay awake until dawn, and lest I become like Linda Blair, I  screwed the lid on tight.

I was a relentless, restless, reclusive pressure cooker.

In my twenties I developed anxiety, panic attacks and a phobia that seemed to be about a fear of losing control.  I had a very complex melange of thoughts, beliefs and maladaptive behaviors to work through.  But work through it, I did.  And, while I learned to sleep before dawn, I never managed to do so without the light on.  To this day, I sleep with a light on.

I am grateful for the lessons I received in cognitive behavioral therapy that helped me remove the lid of the pressure cooker and look inside.  As I challenged my beliefs and thoughts, I learned that it is possible to experience and accept the presence of agonizing fear and still face it and move forward in life.  As I faced down my fear, it always came down to this essential question:  What is the worst that can happen?

The answer, when the spiral was fully unraveled, was the point where we began, in childhood.

The worst that can really happen is death.

By the time I was 20, I had lost a childhood best friend, witnessed a fatal motorcycle crash, lost classmates to car accidents, a beloved boy to a camping accident, 4 high school friends to drunk drivers, a flatmate, two cousins, both grandfathers, and an aunt.  I had no illusion of living forever.

And then my mother died.

It was beyond my ability to make sense of that event.   Over the many years that I grieved her, intensely, I asked myself: what is the worst thing about dying?

 

Recently someone said that they admired me and my bravery in setting off across the world and making a life for myself.  Many times, people have told me they admire me for travelling solo around the world and for pursuing my passions without the support of others.  But, you see…even though I managed to accept death, all my brave actions come from fear.  My lingering fear is the deathbed regret.

I watched my mother die at a young age, with unfulfilled dreams and missed opportunities.

 

When I was 16, my mother and I went to Key West.  On our last night, she wanted to go watch the sunset and I wanted to go watch some TV special about a rock band.  I was petulant and I won the battle.  We’d be back in Key West, I reasoned.  We’ll do it next time, I said.

As a teen, I had no way of knowing that we would never get back to Key West together, and that she would never see that sunset over Cuba again.

A few years later, as an adult, I went back to Key West and watched the sunset.  But symbolic gestures would never give her that last sunset that she missed, because of me.  It is a regret that I will live with, all my life.  I decided that the best way to learn from that mistake would be to never take for granted that there would be a next time.  And, so, my motto became: Do It Now!  I stopped being held back by a fear of dying and I started living.

 

Like all of us, I am still afraid of a painful or difficult death.  I am afraid of dying alone and unloved, because of my choices to live an independent life, to remain unmarried and childless and by my choice of partners.  But more devastating to me is the thought of a  death that comes before I have fulfilled my purpose.

If I were to die today, my deathbed regrets would be that the relationship with the young man remains unresolved and that I lost a meaningful relationship.  I have apologized for my transgressions but I would regret not holding him accountable for the ways he treated me with a lack of mutual respect.  I would regret that I was not what he needed in that moment, and that I didn’t leave him feeling that I accepted him, his needs and his limits, as well.  I would regret that neither of us managed to slow things down and take space, even though we both knew we needed that.  I would regret that he might associate our relationship with sadness or anger or fear rather than remember that there was love.  I would die with the knowledge that the last time we spoke, his words were aggressive and unkind and would feel deprived of a heartfelt apology based in self-reflection and remorse.  And, I would be sad for him that not returning to make amends might one day become his own deathbed regret.

I would also regret that I did not live to see my father really accepted me or my dreams.  Despite telling him over and over that writing was like breathing to me, and that my dream was to create my body of work, he always asked me what I wanted to do with my life, as if he hadn’t heard me.  He cannot see outside of his world view and so, he cannot see me.  Yes, I would regret not holding him to account for treating me like I don’t exist, but I would also regret being withholding towards him.

Other people’s acceptance or lack of acceptance of us is not something we can change.  And so, if I died today, my greatest regret would be that I didn’t accept and fully mourn that I could not be who they wanted me to be, and simply see, hear, accept and love myself in the way they could not, and move on to become who I am meant to be.  I would regret that I didn’t find a way to let them know every day that although they couldn’t give me what I needed, I still loved them and accepted them.  And I would regret wasting so much time feeling hurt about not being seen by men who could not see beyond themselves, when that time could have been better put into living my purpose.

I am alive and they are as well, and as long as this holds true, there is still hope that I can resolve what remains to be resolved and make my decisions based on a motivation to fulfill my own purpose.

And still…I will always regret that I never shared the sunset in Key West, with my mother, one last time.  I have lived and continue to live my life, as much as possible, to add no more of those types of regrets to the list.  I have sought to learn to walk my path in awareness of the fragility of life, and navigate between reckless abandon and the paralyzing fear that comes with that awareness.

Writing about fear (my topic was not courage, but alas, fear) is a difficult thing to do, if the goal is to be uplifting.  But, in the telling, I have re-lived and connected seemingly unrelated events in my life and felt a Oneness with, and a tenderness for, all the many selves I have been and the many selves I hope yet to be on this journey.  It might seem difficult to find gratitude in those moments, but looking back, I can see how they are the threads with which the tapestry, that is my life, has been woven.   I am grateful for it.  I may get t-boned in a car accident right after I post this,  but I have this moment, with you.  It gives me a quiet and humble joy to think that maybe someone might be moved by something I have shared here or through the last 1024 days, and if I can be of any service in this one storytelling, it is to encourage others to really listen to children, and to provide them the security to help them rise in power and face their fears, in their own way, and in their own time.  Anxiety in children is not silly and there is no room for tough love with children.

In the past few weeks I have noticed many friends reveal a growing awareness that life is so short.  Yesterday I celebrated the birthday of a long time friend now in her forties, and I thought about a question the young man asked me in December.  “Are you afraid of growing old?” he asked.  It is a question that only a young person would ask because it is not the staving off old age but the staving off of the alternative to growing old that motivates us all.  If there is any meaning in this story, it is that we can choose to live in the shadow of the fear of death, or we can embrace it and live so that we will have no regrets when the inevitable comes.  From cradle to grave, we know the truth: nobody gets out of this life alive.  So, let’s make the most of it.  And, let’s Do It Now!

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

A Time of Homecoming

March 2, 2017

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, and Purpose (Day 983 – Day 1013)

I am grateful to Terrence and to Tonia who gave me the themes of today’s post, because I was struggling to get outside of myself and find a thread on which I could hang a narrative.

I was reminded recently that it has been just over six months since I came ‘home.’

Home.

If you have been reading this website, you will know that ‘Home’ is a difficult concept for me.  I have lived away from my family and my country of origin for most of my life and certainly, nearly all of my adult life.

By the time I was 12, I had lived in something like 10 different homes.  I lived in a nuclear family and by the time I was six that family started to disassemble itself, like a jigsaw puzzle that was completed for only a moment before being taken apart.  And slowly, the picture crumbled.  First a sister left, then a father, then another sister.  And soon it was my mother and me, alone.  And then my mother died.

‘Home’ has been a longing of mine and simultaneously a place I felt was always just beyond my reach.

I found myself loving a young man, and we shared a longing for a sense of belonging and a romantic sense of family.  For a flash of an instant, I thought we had found an eternal sense of homecoming with one another.  Some might call that the recognition of a soul mate; a memory of someone within someone in a time beyond time.

The thing about time is that there is the time that is measured in the lifespan of a body and the time that is measured in the lifespan of a soul.

I walk a spiritual path that demands we remain in this world, but not of it.  We keep one foot in the time that is corporeal and the other in the time that is eternal.  And, in a sense, we are in all times, at once.  But knowing how to navigate this, if our eyes and our hearts have been opened to another world, is not easy.

I knew I would be leaving London but I stalled, because the young man had promised he would return home to London and I could not bear the thought of never seeing him again in this lifetime.  I waited for the young man while the old man waned, and in the end, he never came.  So, I came ‘Home’ to Canada to spend time with my father and found a way to rekindle a long-distance friendship with the young man.

We have so many expectations of family and what it means to be family.  We change, we grow up, and we grow apart.  Inside of us is that child that we once were, or that parent that we want to be.  But we are so much more.  Nobody tells you that you have to live with all these ghosts as you try to live in the here, and dwindling moments of the now.  We want to say and do all the things we need to say and do before our time runs out.

My father’s heart is delicate – not just emotionally – but simply by virtue of his age.   I wish I could be his little girl again, but that time has gone.  He has grandchildren now and they are his light and his life.   I try not to burden him with my troubles.  I’m not his little girl, and I’m not his grandchild.  But, time with him has allowed me to be tender with him in a way that a parent is with their child. Time has a way of turning things around.

When the young man suddenly ended our relationship, I was on my way to my father’s office.  I grabbed hold of my startled father and cried.

As my tears watered my father’s starched white shirt, I was, again, his little girl.  I hadn’t been his little girl since I was about five years old.  Following the example of my teenage sister, I told him I was too old for hugs and cuddling and I didn’t let him hold me any more, despite wishing I didn’t have to be a big girl to gain my sister’s favour.  We take for granted so much in life and if only I had known how short my time as daddy’s little girl would be, I would have held on tight to him and let my sister go play with the big kids.  And, had I known how short my time with the young man would be, I would have done all I could to complete my purpose in his life and our karma together.

But, for just an instant – in what was possibly our last Christmas together – I was able to come home again to the little girl who ran away from her daddy, who ran away from ‘home’ and who has run all her life into the arms of men who could not or would not hold her.  For an instant, I came home and found a man who had once  loved me, held me and given me a home.

I am grateful that I got to return to being my daddy’s little girl and to crawl into his lap one last time.

We also have many expectations of what love should be.  When we feel drawn to someone and it feels karmic, we can so easily place a narrative on it, and  take that magnetic pull for granted, believing that nothing could tear it apart.  Karma can only be resolved if we work at it with intention. We may be given the opportunity, but free will is the catch.

About a month ago, I had a session with a long-distance healer that came highly recommended by a friend.  She told me that she was removing the karmic debt between me and the young man.  For a few hours I felt a joyful relief and I was grateful for that respite. But, in my heart, I just feel that there is no short-cutting karma.  In Buddhism and Hinduism, from which the concept of karma comes, nobody can remove our karma but ourselves.  It can be removed by Grace, but if there is such a thing as Grace, I am pretty faithful that it comes only from the Divine.

In my heart, I know THIS is not over.  I don’t say that with hope.  I say it with painful certainty.  Despite wanting to release one another, new karmas have been created that, without intentional work, will be binding.  Whether it resolves in this lifetime or not, whether it happens in the flesh or only in spirit, I will know that THIS is complete only when it is completed.

Ideally, for those of us on a spiritual path and those of us who believe in the concept of karma, we would like to complete as many relationships as possible in this lifetime so that we neither tie ourselves, nor our loved ones to a cycle of death and rebirth.  And, it is for this that I have come home, after all these years.  I know my relationship with my father is also not complete.

Yesterday marked the start of Lent in the Christian tradition.  The story goes that Jesus went into the desert to fast and to pray and to face trials and to be purified for achieving his purpose and death.  Following in that tradition, I have chosen to go home to the solitude of the deepest chambers of my heart and to a sense of Oneness with the Beloved that dwells and burns within the heart of hearts.   One of my highest purposes in this lifetime is to love.  Love does not hold on to another.  Love, if it is love, frees the beloved so that they can move on in this life or beyond it.  Dedicating this time to meditation and contemplation around my relationships is service to that purpose.

The only homecoming that truly has meaning is found in the deepest chambers of the heart that, broken, burning and bleeding, continues to beat with love, now and throughout time.

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

Ten Thousand Days

I Got Nothin’

January 31, 2017

Photo: Josh Adamski

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 976 – Day 982)

The would-be paramour (w-bp) and I spent a lot of hours talking via video chat because we don’t live in the same city.  I remember one evening we were both tired and we came together at our call time and looked at one another with a peaceful quiet.

“I got nothin'” I said.

“I got nothin’, too” He said.

And it was a beautiful moment.  For two introverts, to be able to have nothing to say – together – was a moment of silent understanding.  It is these shared moments of solitude and understanding, in life, that I crave.

Were we actually co-located, those moments would have been something we could build our friendship upon and silence would really have been golden.   When all you have to sustain a relationship is talk – rather than shared moments of quietude –  it gets pretty exhausting for two introverts.

Today, I got nothin,’ again.

I spent the day at home yesterday, after 8 weeks of stressful activity, holidays, heartache, distraction, dissection topped off with international travel.  I had a lot of social plans for the day, but I just bailed and stayed home.  Today, I had lunch plans but I went for a walk instead.  Tonight, I look forward, again, to the quiet of my solitary home.

My life is a quiet life.  I live alone and have lived alone since I was a teenager.  I have had a very busy and full life and I’ve lived in noisy cities.  My home is my sanctuary.  I am quiet when I am there.

Before the inferno, I had 3 months in which I gave a lot of care and attention to the would-be paramour.  He asked me to give to him in a way that I was not comfortable giving.  But I weighed up the situation and I made the choice to do it.   I don’t regret my decision.  I was reminded that no matter what the circumstances, our first duty is self-care, before caring for others.  And, for both of us, that self-care includes having sufficient rest and solitude.

I am an introvert.  I disguise it remarkably well and I had to learn to do that at a very young age.  But I am an introvert, all the same.  I have incredible intuition but I lost my ability to access it in the past 4  months and I attribute that to lack of space.  I need space and quiet time to get in touch with myself, and to know my own mind and heart.

Much spiritual activity occurs in the realm of “the ethers.”  Prayer, or meditation or journeying requires that we enter into that realm.  In the Ayurvedic tradition, Ether is an element but it is also a spiritual plane we might commonly refer to as the realm of “Space”.  If I am looking for answers or guidance, I must get into that space and listen.  To paraphrase the Zen Koan, we will never be ready to fill ourselves with wisdom until we have learned to empty our cup.  The cup, of course, is our mind and all the ‘ideas’ and ‘theories’ and emotions we carry with us about ourselves, about others and about our lives.  And emptying that, for most of us, unfortunately, takes time as well as space.

Emptying the cup is not just making space in our lives.  It is also about looking at ourselves, at our victories and at our folly.  It is about seeing ourselves, feeling our feelings (the noble and the ignoble amongst them), owning it and letting it go.  It is not about holding on to our reasons and rationale and justifications.  It is about learning to let go of all we know and feel or all we think we know and feel about a situation or a person, ourselves, or our lives and just sitting in that void.  And then, after awhile, we may get some clarity.  Or, not.  In the end, our clarity might just be the emptiness of mind and heart to be fully present, in the moment.

I haven’t been able to be fully present in the moment, because I haven’t had the space to be empty.

That place of nothing, that zero place of the void may seem the most lonely place on earth, to a non-spiritual observer.  It is certainly the scariest to enter, but it is where we lose our loneliness and all of our attachments.  It is the place where we come home to ourselves and to the divine nature that is a part of us all.  And it is the place that we come to remember that it is only after we exhale, that we can inhale again.

And so, without apology, I got nothin’ for you, this week.

May you make the most of it.

 

I am grateful to my friend JK who suggested I come to the computer and go with ‘nothing.’  It helped me to articulate the sacredness of space in our lives.  I am grateful for that all-too-brief moment in time when the w-bp and I came together and exhaled into the void and sat with space between us.  I am grateful to have re-affirmed that space is a very real need for me.  I know space is like oxygen for the w-bp, as well, and neither of us got our needs for space met.  We are both intense, creative individuals on a spiritual path.  Creativity, like spiritual work, needs space to incubate. Strumming the banjo, doodling, camping, baking, long walks by the seaside, yoga, meditation and people watching are all ways to make space for one’s creative and spiritual process.  We each enter, dwell within, connect and disconnect from within our own solitude very differently, according to our needs and experience of ourselves and our soul’s journey.

It was a joy to stay home, surf the net, watch movies, have a long-distance energy healing and nap.  I needed the rest in order to repair.  I still need rest and so I’m taking it.  There is no way that we can feel Oneness with others if we don’t have that sense of Oneness with our own selves and our own divine nature.  For those of us that need to have a whole lot of ‘nothin” in our lives, it is not idle time.   Only in the nothingness am I able to find myself.

My service this week, then, is to rest.  I have loads of social engagements and people with whom I promised to catch up and I have yet more travel in the coming weeks.  My service is to silence all the chatter of my mind from the last few months and the last few weeks that has just gone round and round in circles trying to make sense of nonsense.  And in the quiet space of empty nothingness, I will seek to be filled  with what I need to move forward in the world, whether it is or it isn’t what I want.  Then, will I have a cup that is full enough and fresh enough to share.

If there is any meaning to be made of our lives, I believe that it is not recognized in the bustle of the every day, but reclaimed at the bottom of that sacred space of nothin’.

 

Photo: Maria

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Drive

January 23, 2017

Photo: Zed Kolk

 

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 970 – Day 975)

Friends know that on the 15th of December, the car I was driving exploded on the freeway and smoke obscured my view before and behind me as I was in rush hour traffic at 70 miles an hour.  I managed to pull off without hitting anyone and narrowly escaped harm.  That began an awful month and several other close calls with death or injury followed.  It is not an exaggeration to say that I am grateful to see the middle of January.

I had not expected the major expense of making my first car purchase.  I have not lived somewhere that required a car in over 25 years, knew nothing about them and there seemed nobody around to whom I could turn.  The would-be paramour didn’t know anything, my sisters knew nothing and my father is too old to bother with these sorts of things.  I had one friend in LA who had made a disastrous car purchase of his own and a Facebook friend/blog pal whom I had never met, and the two of them turned out to be the most helpful in providing resources and alleviating fear.

It is at times like these, that I feel ill-equipped for a rite of passage that many have taken decades before me but which I bypassed, in life, in order to take a road less traveled.  It is then that I feel desperately alone.

I told the would-be paramour how alone I felt.  He assured me that I was not alone.  I had him, as support.   As if Raven had landed on my shoulder to pull one of his mighty tricks, a week later, the would-be paramour – to do what he needed to do in his own life, to be happy right now –  took the exit ramp from my life.

My journey is a solo journey, right now, Raven said.  Well, so be it.

And so, I mapped out my process and set off to educate myself.  Sales people regularly told me that they had never met a customer like me.  I had no emotion about the sale – I had done my research on consumer reports, test drives, fuel economy, safety ratings, resale and future values, as well as on the best car colour for resale value.  I appeared to have absolutely no emotion at all about the purchase of the car.  I like red cars.  I bought silver for resale.  I test drove the model of car I eventually bought 9 times with 6 dealerships and got the best price that I could, in the city.

It was a business transaction for a piece of equipment that, for my commitment to sustainability, I desperately did not want to have to own.

There was no emotion.  Or, so it would seem.

I had decided that the only car I would buy would be one with IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating which is the highest safety rating a car can achieve.  After the near-death experience on the highway, I sent a message to my soul that said one thing:  “I love you enough to pay more for your safety.  You are worth it.”

There was a great deal of emotion in my car purchase.  It was just extremely private and of the highest order.

I am grateful that I have resilience and resourcefulness.  And I am grateful to the friends who provided input and to a long time friend who asked the right question at the right time and helped me see that my greatest duty was to my own well-being because my work here on this planet is not yet finished.

I am grateful that this difficult chapter of my life is over.  My service is to now turn my energy to focus on my purpose.  I have realized how much of my energy had, in the last few weeks of our relationship, been pulled off course into helping my would-be paramour map out his own journey, rather than joyously staying the course of my own.  Even if you seem to experience a deep Oneness of purpose and are navigating your lives in the same direction, you can’t get to your destination if all you can do is stare at the map, and you can’t reach the starting point.  Eventually, someone has to get into the driver’s seat, turn over the engine and put the vehicle into gear.  It’s up to the other person if they get in and go for the adventure.  We all want to be happy and safe, and sometimes our journeys must diverge – for awhile, or forever.  The adventure is still there to be had – together, or alone.

If there is any meaning in moments where we come close to death, it is to realize that one’s life is a glorious and time-bound gift and protecting it is too great a purpose to sit idling in ‘park’ as we pave paradise all around us.

 

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Virtual Reality

January 17, 2017

Photo: Samuel Zeller


Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 953 – Day 969)

We walk around every day thinking the world we see is real.  We make decisions based on thoughts and feelings.  Many of us never question whether our feelings and our thoughts reflect the truth of the situation.  Our feelings and thoughts are the barometer of what is happening outside of ourselves.  They are our virtual reality.

If I’m having a feeling about which I have discomfort, there is undoubtedly a thought that will go with it.  If I am kept waiting for my friend Johnny for 20 minutes I may start to feel hurt.  “He is so irresponsible and he always keeps me waiting,” I may think.  And the thoughts continue:  “If he was my friend, he would know that I hate being kept waiting.  He doesn’t care about my feelings.  He is not my friend.  That’s it, it’s over.”  And hurt turns to rage.   Perhaps there was an accident on the highway.  Perhaps he got a call from his agent and landed that giant part in the major motion picture he’s been waiting for.  Maybe he was comforting a friend.  And maybe he just lost track of time.  It is highly unlikely that Johnny was sitting at home dreaming up ways of demonstrating disrespect.  And yet…our thoughts (if we really listen) sound something like this, much of the time.

We can get caught in endless spirals of negative thinking and blame and shame or equally, we can get hooked into idealization by the same external locus of control.  We replay these stories every time we are triggered.  Johnny is late again and that means he is trying to make us angry.  Jane is late – well, she’s just like Johnny, was and so she must be discarded as well.  And so it goes.

We construct stories about our world and our relation to it out of these thoughts and feelings.  Our stories create the narrative that explains our life and integrates our sensory experience.  Then we say that what is happening out there  created our feelings in here.  

 

When the would-be paramour created a fiery inferno, he did so with angry accusations.  I felt victimized and outraged.  I am none of the things that he said I am.  What is true is that he was upset.  What is true is that he associated those feelings with me.  What is not true is that I created these feelings or that a true story about me can be constructed solely from his feelings and thoughts.  My actions may have triggered his response but to know whether the story fits, one would have to look into my intentions.

Even good intentions can create distress in someone because of their own associations. We must take responsibility for our words and deeds and make amends where we have intentionally or unintentionally caused harm.  Most of us don’t want to cause distress and so, where we can, we alter behaviour to ease someone’s suffering.   But our actions, words, or very being can never create the suffering that is in someone else’s head or heart.  We don’t have that power.  The suffering belongs to the sufferer alone and it is created by the attachment to the story.

We all get fooled by the ego; it is a trickster.

This weekend I let the ego take the decks and spin the soundtrack of my life for a little while.  I heard from the would-be paramour and there were things I didn’t like about his email.  I had a lot of thoughts about it. My thoughts became feelings that fed further thoughts and on and on into an endless spiral.  And in the end, I was angry and decided his character was ‘X’, and I responded to him from my certainty that he was that.  Ego never paves the way for harmony and peace.  My response probably triggered thoughts and feelings on his end.  And so we enter the endless loop of suffering and illusion that never leads to Truth.

If we take the Buddhist approach to life, then our thoughts, feelings, intentions and stories are all just the material which ego uses to create this virtual reality in which our souls incarnate.  Emotions and thoughts are constantly in flux and are not a part of our true and eternal selves.  Ego tricks us into writing stories that become our narrative and our narrative is how we perceive ‘reality.’ We live our lives in this illusion of virtual reality – what the Buddhists call maya – often never being aware that we had the power to tear it away and live in Truth.

My feelings and thoughts created a story about the would-be paramour.  That story is part of a narrative of victimhood.   If I can not prevent myself from being caught up in ego as I play my part on the stage that is this incarnation, I have to wonder if my soul really needs that narrative of suffering any more,  or whether I can question my thoughts and feelings to create new stories and a more joyful and useful narrative for this virtual reality.

I am grateful that I had a weekend away with a dear friend who held space for me to process this event.  I drew an angel card from her bowl when I arrived, to set my task for the weekend.  I drew “integrity.”  Integrity means to act with complete honesty and uprightness but it also means to be whole and undivided.  I am grateful for the focus this gave me.

Honesty led me to realize that I was doing to him the same thing that he had been done to me.   I was creating stories based solely on my feelings and thoughts without recourse to checking his intention.  We are all One when we are our highest and most loving selves but we are also One in our pettiness.  I am grateful for the reminder that to get caught in ego is to be divided from our true nature.  And so, to live in integrity, my service this week was to examine my thoughts and feelings  and to let go of my attachment to the story of suffering.  It is a joy to be free of it.

What I think or feel about him is of no consequence to his soul.  What he thinks of or feels about me is not relevant to my soul.  But if I choose to believe the best of him, I may just end up with a more peaceful narrative.

I’m not saying we should deny our thoughts and feelings or stay in abusive situations.  But if our old stories have written a lifetime of victimhoood, it may well be that new events are labelled abusive only because it is  filtered through our thoughts and feelings in such a way that it can create a story that will not disrupt our view of reality.  We can’t control the event. We can only control our interpretation and response.

What I am suggesting is that we keep questioning our thoughts, feelings, stories and yes, even our intentions, and seek another way of seeing the event, the story, and to look for alternate realities.  Simply through this act, we can break free of the cycle of karma that is like an automatic loop, a groove in the record that keeps us spinning in circles of endless negativity, victimhood, rose-coloured fantasy or whatever it is that our past experiences have carved into our souls to be healed.

If there is any meaning in the pain we feel as incarnated beings, it is to recognize that we have a choice in constructing this virtual reality of incarnation.  Like a 90’s raver, we can either move unconsciously to the beat of an endless loop, or we can dance our Divine nature.

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

If Love is the Answer…

December 31, 2016
Photo: Jake Thacker

Photo: Jake Thacker

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 921 – Day 952)

I’ve been absent from this site for about a month.  This is not the usual frequency for my gratitude journal.  It has been a challenging time in my life.

When I last wrote, I was coming to the realization that perhaps a love affair was not going to work out as I had hoped.  It was quite possibly unrequited and I was coming to the realization that we can love someone and desire them but know that a romantic relationship is not going to work, or at least not right now. And when we love someone but we know it isn’t right, or isn’t right now, that is an unbearable pain and one for which we don’t have any models to guide us through. We may want to save a friendship but once both parties have gone down that route of fantasy, how do we go back?

Love and relationship are two different things, and when we confuse them, we can go down a path of ruin.

In September, when love seemed hopeful and playful, I was on a long drive and bored.  I had just bought my first iphone and I was playing with the Siri function.  I asked: “Siri, What is Love?”

“If Love is the answer,” she said, “please re-phrase the question.”

For an algorithm, Siri is quite an oracle.

I’ve been thinking about this phrase for months now.

What is love?  What questions and needs do we try to fill with it?  What questions does love call us to answer?

I suppose the answers to that could fill three books, or three libraries.  Or, three lifetimes.

I stretched my own definition of love this year by loving a younger man.  He certainly was not who I ever thought I would fall in love with. Nor am I who he expected.  I resisted it.  He resisted.

For a long time, I tried not to ask the questions or fill any needs, because there is a spiritual love that transcends all things – agape.  This is the foundation of my love for him.

But then there are all the other kind of loves that lead to this idea of “relationship” and those tend to mess us up.

The interpersonal relationship is one where we set our boundaries and look for our partner that can meet our needs. For me it’s pretty simple: reciprocity, mutual respect, generosity, kindness, self-responsibility and interdependence are non-negotiable in any interpersonal relationship. In a romance, there is one more necessary condition: my partner must know what s/he wants and must want me.

It seems a simple list. It seems like these things should be easy. And yet…

When we tried to move into eros, we crashed and burned.

When we fall in love, in our culture, we seek to have our needs met in that relationship.  But sometimes those needs can’t be met in the way we think they should be.  Over the last month, I’ve been going through this realisation.  If we are mature and loving, we accept responsibility for our own wellbeing and we state what we need and ask that our partner do their best to meet those needs in the way we can process.  If they can’t do that, we don’t blame or try to change them.  We simply must accept that this is the way things are, and either let go or accept a new understanding of love’s expressions.

But that really isn’t how humans act, in romantic attachment.

*In our case, the relationship occurred at such a rapid pace and with such an intensity, it was not until he left town for a week that I started to process my feelings and what I wanted to do about them.  I had been drawn into the thought process around his decision on a life event that had the potential to impact me and our ability to have a relationship.  A significant declaration was made by him, repealed by him and then I was excluded from the process all together, and he was off.  It was an emotional roller coaster.  And, rather than have the time to process all of his confusing messages and my complex emotions, the sudden ‘discard’ of me left me reeling and seeking to re-establish connection.

 

My needs were not getting met.  I stated my needs.  I restated my needs and asked for specific changes.  And once you start to ask someone to make changes, you’ve missed the point.  It is up to each of us to make sure our own needs are being met.  If it is clear that connection – the basis of all relationships – is happening on one person’s terms, then it’s probably time to reconsider the investment we make.  It would have been best to back up, take space and let us both sort out what we wanted.  Without time to process all of that, I asked him to make changes and  all sorts of insecurities get triggered for both of us.

I didn’t recognize how much my sense of safety could be compromised by romantic and sexual ambivalence *and by a pattern of approach and ‘discard’.  I sat with the uncertainty * of that emotional roller coaster for 3 months.

Approaching *with ambivalence is crazy making for anyone.  Had I understood the pattern of approach/discard and how damaging it can be, I might have taken space and coped better.  But we are all damaged, in some way.  Either ego dies or relationship dies.  Love, if it is love,  never dies.

 

When I first entered into the relationship with this man, I promised him that I would love him always, no matter what.

I have never said that before.

What happens when love moves to “relationship” and then personality and stubbornness leads it to a fiery inferno of aggression and blame?

Love has been defined by so many artists and philosophers that I wouldn’t want to try to attempt a definition.  But one thing I know is what love is not.

Love is not a feeling; Love is behaviour.

Love is not defined by relationship; Love is defined by commitment.

 

Love is a behaviour.  Love is reciprocity, mutual respect, generosity, kindness, and self responsibility.  Love does not answer the questions “Will you be faithful?  Can I trust you not to abandon me? Will you be in this relationship with me?” Love does not insist on one way of doing things; Love seeks to learn one another’s ways of expression.  Love is does not insist the other meets our needs.  Love seeks only to meet the other’s needs.  Ego has no place in love.  Love, never asks “What’s in this for me?”

Love only gives. It gives until it seems that there is nothing left to give.

And then, without question,  it gives even more.

Love is commitment.

Love demands the best we have to give. Love demands the death of ego. When we love, we are stretched, and sometimes our heart breaks, but we are always made better for it, if we truly love.

We face our ego and we must chose: Love or attachment to our own ego.  And if we choose love, then we stretch, again, and love our way through the heartbreak.

I am grateful that I opened my heart and loved as best as I could and I am grateful that he loved me, for at least a moment.  I am grateful for the challenges to my patience and my understanding and for the ways I surpassed my previous levels.  I have grown in my ability to love.

While I wish I had taken space for myself and processed what was happening and achieved a peaceful divestment of the romance, while maintaining a friendship, I am still grateful for the lessons.

For a moment, he was happy in our relationship – and seeing him happy brought me joy.  We may never speak again, (I hope this is not the case) and if we do not, I will grieve the loss, and yet I will also always be grateful for the Oneness we shared; We are forever a part of one another’s narrative.

My service to him, to myself and to the love we shared is to honour him and to continue to see the best in him.

Love does not end.

Some friends would like me to demonize him. I won’t.  He hurt me. He behaved badly. And I am grateful to friends who have questioned this for the sake of my self care in the “relationship.”

But looking back, I see he tried to communicate and I didn’t hear him any more than he heard me.

He has been my teacher and for that, I am grateful.

No matter who did what to whom, where there was ever love – the Divine was present.

How can we then even think of dishonouring that Grace by demonizing our beloved?  When we choose love, we choose to live in the light instead of in the darkness.

We can’t direct the course of the Divine. We are taken by the Divine into love and we are burned by its fire. Our ego and our understanding is burned by love. It asks everything of us and we must surrender our will to the course it takes or lose our shot at love.

We must give up our will to let its destiny unfold.

How it unfolds is not ours to direct. It may unfold in ways we cannot understand and in ways that are uncomfortable.  We must keep surrendering to love’s lessons.  And, we may never know the reasons why things unfold as they do.

Ours is not to question: “Why?”

Love is a choice and it is no less than an act of faith in one another and in the Divine that dwells in the space between two souls.

Love, if it is love, never ends.  Whether we ever speak again, I will love him forever, just as promised.

And so, if love is the answer, let us re-phrase the question.

Photo: Marcos Moraes

Photo: Marcos Moraes

 

For what are you most grateful, this year?

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?

Ten Thousand Days

Hope Slide

November 11, 2016
Photo: Jared Erondu

Photo: Jared Erondu

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 888 – Day 903)

When I was a child, we spent some of our summer holidays in British Columbia visiting my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins.  Every year, my mother took us to see the Japanese Internment camps as a reminder that we must never take our liberties for granted, and every year, we stopped at the site of the Hope Slide.

The Hope landslide occurred in the early hours of one January morning in 1965.  Two carloads of travellers on the Hope-Princeton Highway witnessed a minor slide ahead of them and stopped short of it and waited.  Why they were waiting remains a mystery.

Other travellers, just moments ahead of them, made it through the pass, outside of Chilliwack, unscathed and unaware that there had been a minor slide.  A greyhound bus, fully loaded with passengers, came behind the two cars and turned around at the sight of the blocked highway.

But those two cars, in Hope, waited.

Moments later, the entire mountain came down upon them.  Only two bodies were ever found.  The rest remain entombed under 47 million cubic metres of rock that remains as a monument – the Hope Slide.

As an adult, I wonder about the significance of making this pilgrimage every year.  My mother was one of the kindest people I have ever known, and although a person of quiet and unwavering faith, she was not sentimental.  So why this annual pilgrimage to Hope?

In the darkest of times, we are told to have hope.

The Oxford Dictionary defines hope as:

A feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to happen.

I am a person of faith and my faith has been tested and fortified in difficult times.  But hope, it seems to me, has little to do with faith.  It is, in some ways, the antithesis of faith.  Faith asks us to watch for the signs we are given and act accordingly, even when it is gut wrenching to do so. Hope abdicates personal responsibility and seems to ask only that we desire something and expect that it will happen.  It is a kind of magical thinking we ought to leave behind, in childhood.

In the darkest of times, we are not called to light a candle and sit in the dark, with hope.  We are called to have faith in the Divine and in that complete and complex confidence, to ACT, and to BE the light for those who have lost their own.  Our hope can slide, as it has for many of us in these dark times.

Faith endures.

Today, amidst the sombre mood of the world, the death of probably the greatest of my writing heroes  – Leonard Cohen – was made public.  I am deeply saddened by his death.  His was a carnal dance with the darkness and yet his spiritual light was never extinguished.  He taught me about the poetic and bittersweet death of the ego long before the yogis ever did.  And he taught me the profound poignancy of language.  For him, and for his prophetic words, I will always be grateful.

I am grateful that I came through the dark days after Brexit in the UK and am able to offer support to my American friends who feel unsafe in their own country because they are gay, or a person of colour or an immigrant – classes of people that have come under attack in a vicious presidential race.  I don’t tell them not to lose hope, because the minor landslide has occurred and I think it would be reasonable to expect the whole mountain to come down.  I do, however, encourage them not to lose faith, to act, and to BE the light, in all of this darkness.

I am grateful for my faith.  I don’t believe in some man with a beard, but I do believe in Oneness and in the web of light that is being held by spiritual practitioners who continue, daily, to make the choice to act on faith.

Joy may seem hard to find these days, but not if we reflect.  This morning, I awoke to a blue sky.  Even if only for a moment, my heart was lifted.  And that temporary respite from all the doom and gloom gave me rest, so that I could be there for others.

My service in the past few weeks has been to allow myself to be both vulnerable with another and strong when required.  I have been no less than a most intimate friend.

There is nothing better we can be, right now, to one another.

In memory of Leonard Cohen, I share a video of his song of undying love, inspired by the string quartets of the Nazi death camps.  In all the darkness, when there is no hope, we can still act to BE the light.

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Ruby Slippers

October 25, 2016
"Ruby Slippers" Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Ruby Slippers” Photo by Tania D Campbell

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 775 – Day 887)

In the tired, overused words of Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz:  “There’s no place like home.”

I have written about the idea of home at that at this point in my life, being unmarried, childless and uprooted to a new town I would not choose were it not for the fact that my father lives here, I feel that I am my own and only home.  To be fair, I’ve felt this for a very long time.  Every time I have fallen in love, I have looked for that relationship to become a kind of ‘family of choice’ and I have taken a sense of ‘home’ from that relationship.  When the relationship ends, these men remain forever a part of my family of choice.  How exactly that relationship goes down is a bit awkward.  We aren’t partners but we aren’t siblings.  Let’s just say: ‘Family.’

Recently I got into a very intimate relationship with someone at lightening speed.  It was dizzying and deep.  It was deeper than I’ve gone with anyone before.  And it happened in the course of a couple of weeks.  I kept saying to another friend that I didn’t understand what was suddenly happening and I wanted to stop and reflect.  But there was no time for that.  It just kept speeding ahead and leaving me with a cauldron of emotions to contend with.

I ruminate.  It is a necessary quality for a writer.  It is a terrible quality for a person steeped in a sea of unresolved emotions.  I learned long ago that we project onto our significant other all the things that we cannot own in ourselves.  I also learned long ago that while we may feel we will die if a love relationship ends, we won’t.  We could, if we don’t enter into a soulful relationship with what is happening.  And so, I took a good long look at someone who possesses so many qualities I desire.  And, I set about rediscovering them in myself.

One of the things I love about him is that he loves nature.  We both have a love of trees and hiking.  So, I went hiking this weekend in my favorite forested spot.

 

"sdom of the Trees" Photo by Tania D Campbell

“Wisdom of the Trees” Photo by Tania D Campbell

 

I love how he is environmentally conscious and wants to make a net positive contribution to the environment. I want the same. So, I found a place that will take my organic waste (it was not being separated at my apartment) and I visited the composting facility.  I also joined some organic farming guilds and made commitments to do some removal of invasive species and re-planting in the coming weeks with an ecological volunteer group.  What drew him to me was my spirituality and what drew me to him was a particular brand of spirituality.  So I signed up to step into that more fully and I engaged with local people who come from my own spiritual tradition.

I love what he does for a living and I aspire to have some of that in my own life.  So I signed on for some classes to teach myself about it.

I love that we are both INFP on the Meyers Briggs scale and we really seem to understand each other.  In a way, it feels like home and that makes this so difficult.  As INFPs, we go deep.  And we need solitude to experience ourselves and our connection to the world.  I needed solitude and I wasn’t getting it.

On Sunday, I went to a corn maze alone.  I was feeling old, tired and unloved. Perhaps getting in touch with a sense of childhood play would make me feel young again.  It was this shared sense of play that first drew me to him.

It was the muddiest that the maze has ever been.  As a child I loved to play in mud puddles and after a few hours lost in the maze, I came out with my boots covered in mud and a lighter heart. Seeing my boots later, a friend commented that they weren’t exactly ruby slippers but that they had a charm to them.

And I thought about it.  If I am my own and only home, these boots, which have been around the world with me and seen love and loss are the only things that really are my home.

 

And so, I am grateful for these old boots that have carried me to nearly every continent of this planet.  I hope they will take me to Antarctica, yet.  I am grateful for hard earned lessons in life that cannot be mentored to someone because they have to be lived and the pain endured.  And I am grateful for the experience of loving someone so deeply.  As much pain as there can be in it, it has taken me to places I have never before been and my capacity to love another has grown.

Service and the rarer breed of service: sacrifice has been my primary focus the last few weeks.  Being of service and putting someone else’s needs before my own has landed me here.   I hit what appears to be an impasse with this man last week.  I felt the pain of early abandonment.  My friend, AK, gave me the best advice but the hardest advice to take.  She asked me – regardless of what is happening with him – can you love yourself?  It seemed incomprehensible at the time.  But, I think this is the most important love relationship we can have.  If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot sustainably  love another.  My first and primary responsibility is to love the only one I will always come home to; I am my own family.

Even in the darkest moments we can look for the slightest glimmer of light to lead us home, and despite feeling left in a pre-verbal cesspool of abandonment pain, I managed to rediscover a sense of joy in playing in the mud.

A labyrinth is a traditional symbol for the inner journey, and the corn maze was my labyrinth.  I really needed to journey back to my Self – to the part of me that is always and ever a part of the collective unconsciousness and always worthy of and in receipt of unconditional love.  Instead of only being able to see the Divine in someone else, I found it in myself and in that moment of Oneness – very fleeting but reassuringly there – I found my way home.

 

Photo: Allef Vinicius

Photo: Allef Vinicius

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

To Walk Beside Me

October 12, 2016
Photo: James Bates

Photo: James Bates

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 768 – Day 774)

Albert Camus famously outlined a balanced view of friendship:

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow.
Just walk beside me and be my friend.”

In any friendship there will be times when we are more knowledgeable in something than the other person and we can share our expertise.  And then there will be things we don’t know how to do that our friend will.  Last night I cooked friendsgiving and I have no idea how to make gravy.  So my friend – who is also not the gravy master of her family – gave it a shot.  I cooked the rest of the meal fine, with a little input there, a dash of advice here and it never felt like a burden to be the one having to make the decisions and get it all together.

Sometimes our expertise in an area is so much more advanced that we become a mentor to a friend.  This can be a tricky situation and can impact on the friendship.  I try to steer clear of these situations in every possible way.  But sometimes, you have to bend the rules because you have been placed in the path of greatness and you have the opportunity to be at the crossroads for someone who can either disappear into obscurity or – with a little encouragement – move on to greatness.

Sometimes, we are called to act against our better judgement.  Most times this is because oh – we want to get with that person and date them or because we want the job with the extra money and the long vacations.  Usually, there is an ulterior motive.  And sometimes, there is nothing in it for you – in fact, it costs you, in the long run.  And still, you have to step up and boost someone who will soon run past you and never look back.  Sometimes, you just know that this has been a gift from the universe and you have been entrusted with something special.  At that juncture, do we go with the ego, or do we surrender and go with what is being asked of us?

It’s not easy to surrender, but surrender we must.

I’ve been given an opportunity to exercise my non-attachment and to go beyond ego.  Not every opportunity is painless, but I am grateful that the universe seems to trust me with this one.  I’m grateful for a blossoming friendship that is powerfully intense and may soon burn out if not stoked slowly and left to a slow smoulder.  And, I am grateful for old friends who cannot see the forest but warn me of the tree that lies dead ahead as I run towards it.  They will not understand that cutting my face on the branches was what I needed to do, in order to clear the way for someone else.  It is a joy to see someone excited and fresh at something and there is a closeness and a Oneness that comes from sharing those moments.  Eventually the roles will reverse and if a balance of walking together side by side is not achieved, then I will be grateful that I was given this chance to be of service and wish him well.

In times of crisis, I have always felt that we are not in a position to understand the meaning of the moment.  And so it is in times of gifts as well.  If we are called to step up, it is not necessary that we understand why.   Faith is about trusting that we may never know the why, but that the what was profoundly important.

For what are you grateful this week?