Browsing Category

Ten Thousand Days

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?

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?

 

Ten Thousand Days

The Half Life of the Human

September 19, 2016
Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Photo: Marat Gilyadzinov

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 739 – Day 752)

When I first entered University, I was a physics major and I loved nuclear physics almost as much as astronomy.  In nuclear physics, we have the concept of the half-life or what might be considered the time for an element to decay and become unstable or simply to diminish to half its former size.

Living in a country where the cookie was trumped by the noble biscuit, I haven’t eaten a chocolate chip cookie in some 20 years. The exact date when I last ate a chocloate chip cookie is not something I have recorded in a notebook.  But let’s say 20 years – roughly the time I’ve been away from this city – for argument’s sake.

Tonight, I sat down with a cup of coffee (tea is a thing of the other side of the pond) and a couple of chocolate chip cookies.  They looked sort of like chocolate chip cookies.  They were round, beige and sprinkled with dark spots where the chocolate would be.  They certainly didn’t taste like the chocolate chip cookies of my childhood.  And rather than the size of my palm, they were the size of my thumb.  I think we can safely say that the half-life of the commercially produced chocolate chip cookie is less than twenty years.

But what of the human?

Years ago, I left this country and I abandoned all of my household goods that I did not pack with me.  I gave them to my father because they were my mother’s things and a few old day planners I no longer needed.  I assumed the planners would be shredded and my father would take what he wanted and pitch the rest in the charity bin.  He didn’t.  He avoided dealing with my mother’s things.  When I returned, he gave it all back to me to deal with and to send to charity.

I have spent the last two weeks moving these boxes into my space and opening them to uncover their secrets.  And while they have been boxed away for 20 years, they trigger memories and grief.

Mixed in with the lot are the things I brought from the UK.  In those boxes are my treasures, including photos and journals from long ago that I haven’t read since they were written, but which I could never bear to shred.

Friends say I talk a lot about death and not having much time anymore.  My mother was my age when she moved to this city, just as I have now done.  And a couple of years later she fell sick.  And not long after, she died.  I was just a teen when she got ill and just coming of age when she died.  It has been probably the single most important defining experience of my life.  And I am smack dab in the middle of it again – revisiting my mother’s things and remembering the sound of her voice, the way she walked, and the crazy pink sweater she always wore.  And in my journals, I am meeting again the girl, coming of age, and so full of dreams and ambition – most of which never came true.  We can add ‘yet’ to that sentence, but there are some dreams that are too late to be fulfilled.

There is a lot of grief in these boxes. It is not only the grief of a life half-lived by being cut so short, but the grief of the half-lived life of the one left behind.

I was texting a long-time friend today while I drank my coffee and we were talking about men as we always have; or at least we have, for as long as the half life of a chocolate chip cookie.  Men, she said, only fall in love with young women.  She continued on about the need for perky breasts and of sexual attractiveness being a thing of youth, for women.

I have known her a long time and I value her opinion. I felt punched in the chest.  Is that it, then?  I am not old, but I am not young.  Is it over for me, then?  Should I pack up my sexuality and my love and put them in the charity bin with my mother’s clothes and other ‘items no longer needed?’

What is the half life of a human?

Is it the time it takes to go from well to ill to death?  Is it the time it takes to let one’s goals get detached from one’s dreams? Or is it something perhaps more subtle than that?

As we think, so we become.  We will decay with time – that is the nature of things.  But the rate of decay is dependant on our inner and outer environments.  I am sad for the girl who forgot her dreams. I am sad for the woman whose life was cut short.  Loss is a part of life and grief comes with that loss.  There is loss and grief that comes with middle age.  But our beliefs shape our reality.

Recently the young SP-, who unwittingly challenges me to face myself and my dreams in a bittersweet fashion, said to me of my dreams: “it’s never too late.”  Whether, from his position of youth, he believed what he said or not, I do.

The half-life of the human comes when we make the decision to let our beliefs rob us of the remaining half our life because we don’t believe that it is ours for the taking, any more.

Photo: Francesco Gallarotti

I am grateful for SP- who not only throws up the mirror of who I might have been, but inspires me to start again. And I am grateful for Addila and CM who remind me all the time that people our age are highly productive and that dreams are just wishes unless they are our life’s purpose. Wishes are not to be taken seriously, but purpose ought to become our guiding force.

I am grateful for the friend who exposed her limiting beliefs so that I had the opportunity to take the time to examine my own.  And, I am grateful for the crazy, messy, non-linear narrative that has been my life.  It didn’t go the way I dreamed it would but it has been eventful and made me the insightful, loving and grateful person with sore knees and laugh lines, that I am, today.  It isn’t over yet and if I don’t fall victim to my mother’s genetics, I have a long way to go, yet.

Joy is hard to come by at this moment and that nostalgic rest break with a chocolate chip cookie sure fell short of it, like much of nostalgia does.  It is a melancholy state.  But, I anticipate being on the other side of this traumatic process and setting off on those dreams again and that will be a joy.

As I look at my mother’s things, I feel that she is around me and that Oneness with her is a gift, albeit one that comes with rust.  My service is to honour the ghosts that this time in my life has presented me – my mother and my youth.  They’re both gone now, but in being remembered, their half life can serve as a reminder that life is short and the end comes unpredictably and all too soon. Although we are in the process of decay from the day of our birth, we make the choice, with the beliefs we choose to hold on to, about whether we live each day fully.

It is that choice which gives the meaning to the half of our lives we have left.

 

For what are you grateful this week?