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Ten Thousand Days

Ten Thousand Days

Couscous Crisis

March 4, 2019

Photo: Jo Sonn

Day 1655 – Day 1661

My friend Bruce (the brat) (Brat being Jackey’s suggested word) suggested that I break my writers block with the word antidisestablishmentarianism.  I think he chose the word because it is long and would help my word count.  However, I’m in favour of a separation of church and state.  I believe everyone has the right to worship (or not) in their own chosen religion and that the state, which represents all of a nation’s citizenry, should not fund institutions that promote only one religion.  So, writing about antidisestablishmentarianism (the counter political movement that opposes those who oppose the separation of church and state) would be a short post.

Instead, I will carry on and incorporate Hugh’s word ‘sad’, and Richard’s word ‘want’ as I lament the passing of couscous from my life.

Recently, I wrote about my issues with food sensitivities.  I’ve been trying to be positive and grateful for all the food that I can still eat.  However, having to refrain from eating gluten, dairy and soy is quite a cluster when you look at the ingredients of most foods in the grocery store.  By choice or chance, I’ve ended up cooking all of my food at home and struggling to eat out.  I ate out last week and was immediately sick, because the ingredients did not list mayonnaise and it was not detectable to me.  I had told the waitress my dietary restrictions, but it seems she was also unaware that the dish contained mayonnaise.  If the mayo was truly mayo (eggs and oil), I would be fine.  But modern commercial mayonnaise contains cream, in many cases, to improve the flavour.  I’m not sure if there is wheat or soy on top of that.  Wheat is in the most unlikely places – tomato soup, for instance.

Because I can’t eat out, I have been trying to bring the kind of flavours into my cooking that I’d normally save for dining out:  Moroccan, for instance.  Last week I made a delicious butternut squash and chickpea stew with Moroccan seasonings.  I didn’t have any couscous and so I made some sprouted rice and quinoa to serve with it.  It turns out that sprouted rice does not agree with me.  And so, I had to dump the whole pot into the garbage.  Because I have to plan ahead and food prep most, if not all of my meals, I sought out couscous and looked forward to eating it for my lunch today.

It wasn’t until I was in my car, arriving in the parking lot to work that I had a niggling doubt.  I got out my phone and asked Siri:  “Does couscous contain gluten?”  Alas, I am sad to report that it does.  There are gluten free alternative couscous on the market, but these are made with corn.  Because most corn sold in North America is genetically modified, and since I am sensitive to GMO corn, this also is something I cannot eat.

I don’t recall the last time I ate couscous.  I used to eat it a lot in London because I made sweet potato and red onions with couscous quite often.  I just hadn’t really thought of buying it here because Moroccan seasoning is not available in the stores here (indicative of a small Moroccan contingent in the pacific northwest, I guess).  But, having made my own seasoning mix, I was so excited to have a whole seasoning palette open up to me again and I was really looking forward to cooking with couscous again.

Knowing that I will probably never be able to eat it again, it’s all I want.

And so, gratitude is becoming vitally important.

I wrote many posts in my first year of this practice about being grateful for the simple comfort of a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of tomato soup.

All of that is off limits to me now.

It may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but I remember how sad my mother was when she was told that she had to go on a low sodium and low fat diet.  She had to give up avocados and she loved avocados.  She acted as if life, as she knew it, was over.   I never really understood the big deal until now.

Today, when I had to throw out my lunch, and faced, afresh, how difficult it is to replace it with anything store or restaurant-bought, I’m grateful that even though I can no longer eat most canned foods, eat in most restaurants, can no longer pop out and buy myself a sandwich for lunch when I’m running late or go to the drive through when travelling, I can still eat avocados.

I had an avocado and two slices of gluten free bread for lunch.  I’m grateful for the bakers who have figured out what flour combinations and guar gum would work to create a gluten free bread.  It’s not the same, but I can get used to it.  I’m grateful for olive oil margarine that contains no dairy or soy.

Even with all my gratefulness, my inability to ever eat couscous has me a little sad.  Last week I was feeling rebellious about cheese and hot chocolate.  It crossed my mind to eat them despite doctors orders.  That is, until I accidentally ate mayonnaise, and it made me so sick.  This couscous crisis of mine reinforces for me that practicing gratitude, joy, oneness and service is not about overlooking or minimizing our challenges.  We have to accept the hand we are dealt and do the best we can with it.  But, before acceptance, comes mourning.

Food is central to our lives, our identity, our memories and our ways of coming together and of celebrating.  All of those things are forever changed for me.  Like my mother, I can see how life, as I know it, is over.

But, I know there are others out there that have similar constraints and after I allow myself a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, I will move on from this couscous crisis, and somehow tell myself that couscous is not very good anyway, that it is bland without all sorts of seasoning and flavourings and I will convince myself that rice is a far better grain, all around. I will continue to offer suggestions and accept recipe advice to others, in forums, who face the same issues as I.  I will be grateful that my want is not for food itself.  I am deeply grateful that I have access to healthy and nutritious food, even if particular foods that I enjoy are no longer healthy for me.   I will be grateful for unsprouted rice, the staple grain of peoples and cultures around the world, and I will try not to think of how water intensive it is to grow.

Photo: Juan Cruz Mountford

 

For what are you most grateful today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Quelle Drag!

February 25, 2019

Photo: Pawel Szvmanski

Day 1635 – Day 1654

I’ve been working on an idea for a post for ages now.  It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to write, nor that I’ve been feeling ungrateful.  It’s an important idea and one that I’ve been churning around in my life but I haven’t been able to see it to fruition.  Failing to write that post has left me feeling a bit let down.  Winter is dragging on and on, and at the same time that time seems to stand still, the inability to write has left me watching time march on without producing anything.

To break out of this rut, I asked my niece for a one word writing prompt that I would work into my next post.  I’m grateful to her for helping me to break through what I feared was becoming writer’s block.

She chose the word: ‘drag’.  Edit:  I asked friends on social media to give me one word writing prompts which I will work into future posts and my cousin Adele gave me the word ‘inclusive,’ after I had already completed this post.  I guess great minds think alike.  This post will be inclusive of both prompts. (see what I did there?)

As well as friction, there is another meaning of the word drag that comes immediately to mind, and that is the act of dressing against one’s outwardly observable gender, without being transgender.  I love to go to drag shows.  There is something rebellious and fun loving about flouting convention and of being way over the top.  But dressing in drag is something very different to being transgender.  Years ago, that line was very distinct.  Now, identity politics makes this a bit more blurry for me.

I’ve been noticing that I see the world through a certain lens.  I am a well educated, white, Western woman.  I see the world firstly with a cis-gender and fairly straight lens.  I see it the way that I am.  I then expand out to include queer reality and that of people of colour.  I take into account what it might be like to be non-white and not straight.  But I usually sort of stop there.  I don’t exclude those who are transgender or pansexual or asexual.  I have people in my family and friend group that identify as one or several of these identities.  I just neglect, in my language, to reflect this.  I ‘m grateful for my friends of the younger generation who are automatically much more broadly inclusive in their language, as a matter of course.  I know that there are many people out there whose bias would say “Those people should not be included,” and that isn’t my bias.   Now that I have noticed it, I make a conscious effort to be more inclusive, but habits of a lifetime are hard to break.  If reminded, I certainly will broaden my language, and I believe we all have equal rights and all deserve to be treated inclusively.  My limited language does not mean that I am not liberal.  But I can easily be misunderstood.

I try to overcome my own bias to use language that reflects how I am, and thoughts that reflect my own world view, but I will probably never succeed, because the fact is that I can try to empathize with those who are not like me – and I can get pretty far with that – but I will never know what it is like to be you.  I can wear your clothes for awhile; I can go in drag, but I will never be in your skin.

I take the attitude that we are all One at a more spiritual level and I look for the commonalities between us.  And I am grateful whenever I find common ground with people.  But that is not to negate that your experience is different from mine.  Your lens on the world is as valid as mine.   We may not agree, but we can respect one another and find our commonalities, together.

On social media, I notice that people seem quick to take offence and to assume that someone’s perspective can somehow keep another person down.  I understand the concept of white privilege, and I’m sure that I am blind to some of the ways that I benefit from it and some of the assumptions I make.  In addition to confirming that this is a place of inclusion for all people, regardless of gender, sexuality, race, national origin, religion or belief, I ask readers to assume the best of intentions on my part.  One’s choice of language seems to be the start of arguments on social media, and I wonder how many people are intentionally being exclusive, as opposed to having good intentions, but being unaware of the ways they are stuck in their own perspective.

If I have a blind spot, I welcome being made aware of it, with respect for one another.

There will be, in everyone’s life, some people with whom we cannot agree.  I remember an evangelist trying to convince me that I must do this or that in order to “be saved,” and I told them what seemed obvious to me at a very young age: you cannot drag someone kicking and screaming, to your point of view.  If they are to come, they must do so willingly, in their own way, and in their own time.   I can still respect people with whom I disagree, because I can put myself in their shoes and see why they believe what they do.  And I hope that they will do the same, for me.  As long as neither of us imposes our opinions on the other, we can overlook big differences in opinion, finding our common ground and dwelling there, because we respect one another.

However, when respect is gone, they’re gone.

Respect is the one non-negotiable requirement, that must be present, in order for me to engage.

That might seem harsh, but, as we used to say in school: “quelle drag”

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Art, Ten Thousand Days

Think

February 5, 2019

Photo: Fred Kearney

Day 1631 – Day 1634

Spoiler alert!  This post discusses two current documentaries – Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes and Fyre.

Recently I saw an artist and influencer posting on social media, imploring people to boycott the Ted Bundy Tapes and to call the internet content provider to voice their outrage.  The artist’s contention was that the film romanticized the serial killer.  The comments that followed were ever so polite and measured.  Yet, they revealed that the artist had not seen the show that he was imploring people to boycott.  At the time I read his post, several people were ready to act on his call to boycott the film.  None of them had seen it, either.  They had simply read reviews and seen a trailer.  They made up their minds on the basis of other people’s opinions.

Leaving aside fictional movies about Ted Bundy,  this post is about the documentary series in which Ted Bundy’s recorded interviews formed the basis of the narrative.  With so much furor about this series, I wanted to see for myself what the fuss was all about.  I found that listening to the Ted Bundy tapes, with the awareness that this was a narcissist and a psychopath, to be illuminating.    I hope that it will help me to spot a man or woman like him, in the future.  Not every woman he kidnapped became a victim, and perhaps it was because they saw past his manipulations and charm that they got away.

Ted Bundy, as far as I know, was diagnosed as a manic depressive, following his trial.  Later, it was thought that he had two Cluster B personality disorders: Narcissistic Personality Disorder and if he was not a psychopath, he certainly displayed several traits of Antisocial Personality Disorder (aka psychopathy).  People with these disorders tend to be manipulative, charming, lack empathy, and may or may not be handsome, but to get their needs met, they learn to be seductive in many ways.

There is an argument that goes something like this:  were Ted Bundy a person of colour, he would not have gotten away with the number of abductions, rapes and murders that he did, and this represents white privilege.  There is also an argument about the gendered nature of sexual assault and prosecution.  I agree with both of these arguments.

The artist who called for the boycott felt that anything that portrayed Ted Bundy as charming, handsome, or intelligent was romanticizing this serial killer.  Ted Bundy, he said, was a below-intelligent loser and nothing more.  I don’t agree that he lacked intelligence.

I did a google search:

Romanticize: (Verb) deal with or describe in an idealized or unrealistic fashion; make (something) seem better or more appealing than it really is.

Conveying the notion that, to those around him, Ted Bundy was handsome, charming, manipulative, intelligent and seductive, does not constitute romanticizing or humanizing him.  It simply conveys how he was perceived.  And, these opinions could be objectively argued, as well, although it is certainly only a part of the picture of how he got away with so many crimes.

To argue that he was not capable of murder because he was so wholesome or charming would be to romanticize him.  Many women, including his own mother, did this, at the time.  And, anyone who now questions the guilt of Bundy  (who, in his final days, confessed to the killings and aided police to recover buried women) on the grounds of his good looks or charming personality, is romantizing him.

While the film did not take on the issue of white privilege or the gendered nature of victimization and prosecutions in sexual crime, it also did not promote his innocence on the basis of his attractive qualities. Further, the film gave several other causes, other than his attractive qualities,  for his failure to be apprehended and for his subsequent escapes from custody.  The film also called the viewer to question why  a woman would marry and have a child with him, after he had been convicted.

In the tapes, Bundy told fabrications about himself, and it was clear that he worked to manipulate his victims, his family, his lovers, his jailers, and the media.  If anyone romanticized Ted Bundy, it was Ted Bundy, and those around him, who bought into his lies.

The film made it clear that those who saw Bundy as being incapable of murder, were wrong.

I’m not championing Ted Bundy.  I’m not championing his white privilege or the gendered nature of sexual assault.  I find all of of these abhorrent.

What I do champion is free thought and our responsibility to educate ourselves before we urge others, over whom we have influence,  to act upon our uneducated opinion.  I’m grateful to live in a society and a point in history where we are highly educated.  I’m grateful to live in a society where filmmakers and artists can make documentaries and art about difficult issues that generate discourse.  I’m grateful to live in a time where freedom of thought and freedom of expression are enshrined in the UN Declaration of Rights.

What disturbs me is when I see a fellow artist who is a taste maker and influencer decide, on the basis of others’ opinion, that a film is not only unworthy of his time, but is to be condemned and banned from view by others.

I got something out of the documentary.  If it interests you, I would encourage you to view it and decide for yourself, how you feel about it.  You might hate it and  we might disagree, and that is okay.  I’m willing to hear your reasoning, and have my opinion changed by your persuasiveness.  I’m not willing to be brow beaten by ‘popular opinion’.

I commented on the artist’s social media post that I didn’t think the documentary romanticized Ted Bundy and why I believed that.  I think that we want to believe that people of all colours and genders, who commit heinous crimes, will come off as low-life people.  And people who are good, will come off as such, regardless of race and gender.  It helps us to hold on to a distinction between us and the baddies.  But, if we could spot the heinous criminal before they had us in their power, a lot of bad things would not happen in the world.  The artist deleted my comment and wrote me a very long email telling me to stop championing this kind of ‘shite programming’.

To reiterate:  he has never seen the programme.

I’m glad we’re having the discussions around white privilege and the gendered nature of the crime and prosecution of sexual assault.  Perhaps we should also be having the disturbing discussion about why some current-day women are still sexualizing Bundy, despite his heinous crimes.  Perhaps we should be creating room to understand these collective projections of our shadow selves, rather than shutting down discourse by banning a documentary that arguably does not idealize or romanticize him.

Until we own and transform that collective shadow, it will continue to play out in our society.

We live in a time when the left is worried about the censorship and manipulations of the right.  But when a left-leaning artist calls for the banning of a film he has not seen, and when he deletes comments that differ from opinion, and harangues a dissenter to stop stating their opinion, then we are in danger of declining into polarized camps of extremism, on the run from the collective shadow.

Freedom of speech and  freedom of expression rely upon freedom of thought and opinion. These freedoms are collective freedoms but they are only defended by individuals, taking responsibility to see that they are maintained.

The same internet content provider that aired the Ted Bundy Tapes is currently airing a documentary on the Fyre Festival – the greatest party that never happened. It turns out that the organizers were able to convince several key Instagram influencers to create posts promoting the Fyre Festival, when the festival did not yet exist.  This influence caused thousands of people to part with hundreds of thousands of dollars to attend the non-existent luxury festival.

I fear we have become a society that lets others do our thinking and analysis for us, and we’ve not vetted those influencers very well.

Social media is a tool that can bring about Oneness, social change, collective transformation and peaceful interdependence.  It can also be used to polarize.

This is not 1930.

We need to stop; and

THINK.

Photo: Explorenation

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

88 Things We Love About You

February 1, 2019

Photo: Joshua Anderson Slate

Day 1620 – Day 1630

Recently I was meeting with a fellow storyteller and I mentioned to him that I was documenting this journey of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude.  He asked if I was writing a post every day.  As readers know, I did that for the first year, but after that milestone, I started to experiment with other ways of showing gratitude.  Daily gratitude practice is great for building a habit of being grateful, practicing joy, experiencing oneness and of looking for ways to be of service.  But to find purpose in our practices and to make meaning out of our lives, through the lens of these practices, research has shown that gratitude is more impactful with reflection and the cultivation of reverent depth of feeling.  It is hard, in our busy lives, to find the time to exercise daily, let alone to sit in reverent reflection on gratitude.  And so, we have moved to a more weekly (ish) personal essay.  Readers may have noticed that we’ve also taken away the formal ticking of the boxes of gratitude, joy, oneness, service, purpose and meaning (etc), although the thread is still present in the narrative.

For me, it helps to focus my gratitude practice on these practices, and it helps me to make meaning of a week or two of my life, when I consider these practices and how they’ve played (or not) a part of my life.  I have found that my experience of gratitude, joy, oneness and my drive to be of service has deepened with this more reflective approach.

Yet, there are many ways to practice gratitude, and in the first year, we experimented with some of those forms – letter writing, saying a heartfelt thank you for deeds done and expressing heartfelt appreciation directly to individuals that have been important in our lives.  Since we moved to this new website, we’ve featured individuals who are making a difference in the world as a way of showing appreciation for their efforts, on behalf of all of us.

But there are still so many ways we can express gratitude.

Last month, my father achieved 88 years on this planet.  Before you try to calculate how old that makes me, let me just say that there is a wide age gap between my eldest sibling and myself.  I was an unexpected baby, I’m told, and I am the youngest of my entire generation.  Many of my second cousins are closer to my age than my first cousins are.  But, let’s not let my vanity about my age detract from the story….

My father celebrated his 88th birthday.  We often do great things on milestone birthdays but we forget those years that aren’t a 5 year or 10 year marker.  At this age, reaching the next milestone is far from guaranteed.  To me, 88 seemed auspicious.  Double digits, and all that.  And, it turns out that in Chinese tradition, the number 8 is auspicious, and as it is a double 8, it is particularly so.

My father doesn’t see his grandchildren or his children as much as he would like.  They are all grown and live at a distance.  The time of wonder and play and the tender cuddles he had with children and grandchildren, as children, are gone.  As adults, we just don’t spend time with our parents and grandparents like we used to.

I try to see my father once a week.  A large part of the reason I re-located across the world was to spend some time with him while we still had time.  But breakfast in a crowded restaurant is not conducive to heartfelt conversations or expressions of gratitude and love.

My dad is not really one for soppy conversations as it is.  But, the fact that he doesn’t like to talk about ‘feelings’ does not mean that he doesn’t have them wrapped up within a very sentimental and romantic heart.  As his generation of men do, he hides his feelings behind humour or practical displays of caring.    My family, in general, was not raised to be adept at expressing emotion with one another.  This changed, for me, when my mother was sick, and, as it turns out, dying.  I was a young woman of 18 or 20 and definitely not adept at communication.  But, even then, I knew – or sensed – that love is better expressed now, rather than face regret over words that were left unspoken.

I’m pretty good at saying I love you.  My friends have simply learned to accept my expressions of love, even if they aren’t comfortable with saying the words, themselves.  Surviving the events of 9/11, in New York, reinforced for me that words of love, appreciation, or remorse should not go unspoken.  Life is both too short and too long to hold on to things that should be expressed.

Before the holidays, I had spent some time looking for thoughtful gifts that I could make for friends and family.  Most seemed to revolve around mason jars.  YouTube loves mason jars.  Hipsters love mason jars.  Who doesn’t love a mason jar?

And so, the idea of creating “88 Things We Love About You,” was born.

I arranged for my father’s wife, children and grandchildren to each write a certain number of things that they loved, admired or appreciated about him on different coloured post-it notes.  At Christmas, I gathered them up and put them into that mason jar, and my niece put one of her hand-made bows on the jar.  A week later, on his birthday, he received the jar containing 88+ Things We Love About You.

He read a half a dozen on his birthday and it made him so happy.  When his children and his grandchildren can’t be around, he can open up the jar, pull out some of the papers and feel the love and appreciation that we feel for him, but sometimes are embarrassed to, or forget to express.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

 

It cost nothing to make, but I think it is one of the best gifts he has ever received from us.  I know it is one of the two best gifts I have ever given him.  And, with 88+ sentiments of love and gratitude, it is a gift that will keep giving him joy, for months to come.

I like to think that whenever he feels a bit tired or unwell, he will reach into his jar, and pull out an expression of love.  I know that when he read a few on his birthday, his face lit up with smiles, and he planned to read a new one each night, as he was drifting off to sleep.  Like he read stories to us as we were children, so too, can we send him off to sleep with happy thoughts on his mind.

I’m so grateful that we could pull off that magic for him.  And I’m grateful that we’ve all had the opportunity to leave no words of appreciation unspoken, which we could later regret.

Life is short but one of the saddest things we can experience is to reach our final years and feel we’ve made no impact on the world or that we’ve wasted our lives.  Recent economic research indicates A U-Bend in life and this can hit us around 50 years old.  We either grow old and bitter or we accept and appreciate the life we have lived.  I think a jar full of appreciation is one great way to see the meaning and the purpose that our sacrifices and efforts have created in the lives of those we love.

I don’t mind if you take the idea and run with it.  In fact, I hope that you will.  The more love and appreciation we can spread to those in our lives, the happier our world will be.

Photo: Dakota Corbin. Muralist: Unidentified, but please comment with artist name if known

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

A New Hobby

January 21, 2019

Photo: Fancy Crave

Day 1608 – Day 1619

Usually as we start a new year, I decide that I’d like to give something on my bucket list a try this year – pottery, weaving, stained glass, planning a trip to some exotic place to see some wonder, singing or some such hobby.

I seem to have picked up a past-time that takes a lot of my mental and physical energy.  Following on from my last post, my digestive system is still out of whack, nearly at the end of month two of this.  I have eliminated wheat, dairy and soy and I am grateful to say that most of the time, I feel much better than I did, 7 weeks ago.  I’m better, but I’m not what I’d say is ‘well’, just yet.  Every morning starts out something like this:  What food will try to kill me, today?

Today, I found that amaranth is out.  Yesterday, it was oatmeal.  Both made me very ill, within an hour of eating them.

Without meaning to insult the fabric artists out there, this is worse than my sojourn into weaving.  To be fair, it wasn’t weaving that I hated, but threading the needles and not really feeling confident in what I was supposed to be doing.  My one foray into weaving was in a multi-level class that was overcrowded, and getting instruction or even the attention of the instructor was a challenge every week.  I never knew quite what to do with the shuttle at the end of the warp, in order to beat and turn,  and the handouts of different weave patterns didn’t really indicate that clearly.  My weaving had an experimental quality to it; sometimes I’d go under the warp and sometimes just stay on the top and go through the warp again.  I just hadn’t a clue and I experimented to see what looked best and what might unravel.

It kind of reminds me of eating, now.

I’m grateful to be feeling much better than I was.  But, still, unexpectedly puffing up and getting sick with something I’ve been eating all my life is just no fun.  Not knowing what might bring that on is a little bit more painful than an unravelling or wonky weft.

There have been small joys in this process, when I can go a full 24 hours with a relatively calm stomach and have a peaceful sleep.  I know that I’ve been grateful many times in the past for the small joy of a frozen pizza and a cold beer on a Friday night.  Now, both of those are impossible treats, for me.  Instead, I’m taking comfort in the warmth of a heated throw and the pleasure of my gas fireplace, when I come home from a long week of working.  And, I’ve had the delight of three performances by one of my favourite bands, SVER, since last I wrote.

There is a move to simplicity in all this.  I can no longer eat processed foods, and it’s a challenge to eat out.  So, when it comes to spending time with friends, I suggest concerts, walks and phone calls, instead.  In a world that is decluttering and moving toward ‘minimalism’ (a luxury I believe that only the rich can indulge – for the rest of the population it’s simply ‘doing without’), shifting from eating or drinking towards shared activities has long been something I welcome, with friends.

This challenge is forcing me to practice extreme self awareness and extreme self care.  I also need to plan ahead so that I’m not caught out at 9 pm at night after book club or song circle, famished because I didn’t pack something for a light dinner before my outing.  It has also made me much more profoundly grateful for my garden.  So far, anything that comes from my garden has been fine for me to eat.  I keep my fingers crossed that it will remain this way.

I’m looking forward also to concluding whether food has been the cause of my illness, or whether my reaction to food is indicative of a more complicated situation.  I’m hoping it is the former and I keep my fingers crossed for simple and definitive resolution.

I have nothing momentous to write about this week.  My focus has – quite literally turned inward to one of navel gazing.

I need a new hobby other than the game of let’s see what food will try to kill me.

Next weekend is the Bellingham Folk Festival and it is something I’ve been looking forward to, for some time.  There isn’t as much singing in this year’s workshop lineup, but there are other classes that intrigue me, and I’m looking forward to seeing my friends and acquaintances and spending some time together, making lovely music.

Photo: Aaron Burden

For what are you most grateful, this week?

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Be Anders Hall

January 9, 2019

Photo: Miguel Bruna

Day 1573 – Day 1607

It has been some time since I’ve posted.  Just after I posted in December, I fell ill.  I figured it was the flu.  But it turns out that I had an internal infection brought on by food sensitivity.  I am beginning an elimination diet of basically almost everything that I regularly eat (except for kale, rather unfortunately).

I am hopeful that the weird symptoms that I’ve had for some time can be attributed to widespread food allergies.  I had a friend who was a brilliant mathematician, and actually, a genius.  I remember how his whole personality changed when he finally got the allergy testing that he needed.  He became completely lucid and focused where he had spent his whole life being told, by his parents, that he had the attention span of a distracted butterfly.

Food is essential for our growth.  It nourishes us, but the wrong food for our system can be poison to the body and the mind.  We can condition ourselves to stomach that poison for a very long time.

Thinking about my friend now, I wonder how long it took him to undo the conditioning of being told he was not up to snuff, by parents who were distinguished professors from a lineage of famous nobel prize winners.  I imagine his confidence was greatly improved by understanding that his failings were not character flaws, but were biologically based.  It may have been more difficult to accept that the people we love can be so lacking in self awareness that they project their fears onto us, with judgments about us or the situation, that are both wrong and damaging to our self esteem.

 

I feel much better now that I’ve begun the elimination diet.  I am confident that with proper allergy testing and lifestyle adjustment, I will be back to my old self again.  And my old self is pretty great, actually.  I’m happy to feel like she is more present these days, as I’ve come out of another dark place in my life.

I feel that 2016 was a shock of a year.  It ended with emotional trauma and I walked through 2017 like a zombie in a PTSD haze.  Just as I was beginning to recover, the trauma was perpetrated again – only in a more sinister way, the second time.  In the background, old family dynamics have been a challenge as well as the well documented difficulty most people face with trying to make repatriation a successful transition – particularly given that I’ve been away for over 20 years, I am single, I work alone but without the freedom to set my own schedule, and I live in a town where opportunity is scarce and whose culture is the opposite to my liberal mindset.  I do this, in order to spend time with my aging family.

Late last year, I started to feel like I was recovering.  Fulfilling a lifelong dream of growing my own organic food, in the tradition of my ancestors, helped.  But, forgiveness was a big part of it.  I don’t recommend forcing forgiveness before one feels willing, but when that point is reached, it can be transformative.

With forgiveness, we stop placing our focus on the other person, and letting ourselves be drained by the negative energy of the wrong that has been done to us.  We don’t necessarily condone the wrong, but we take our focus and energy away from it.  We take back our power.

Power –  including personal power – is a difficult idea for me.  It is probably one of the major lessons I have to grapple with in this lifetime.  I’m humble and I don’t know if this is an innate trait to be admired or whether it is unhelpful conditioning.  I was taught not to be proud and – as crazy as it may sound to tell a child – that I could never stand on my own two feet.  From early childhood, my conditioning has been that I will never be enough and the message continues to be repeated in my family of origin, to this day, despite all evidence to the contrary.

I saw some old friends over the holidays.  Some have been friends for nearly 30 years.  We know the arc of one another’s life story and we’ve seen our patterns re-appear.  We know what makes the other special, and where we fall down.  They all agree that although I’m not where I’d like to be in my life, they can see the powerful woman they know and love.

Her spark is returning and I’m looking forward to 2019.

Next week, a the Nordic folk band – SVER – will be performing in my city and I’ve invited my friends to join me.  I was introduced to their music last year, at the Bellingham Folk Festival.

I was a very novice percussionist at the time and while all the musicians in the band are the top of their field, I was particularly taken by the viola/fiddle player, Anders Hall.   His fiddle and viola music moves me – to dance, to swoon, and to cry.  I don’t play the fiddle, so I couldn’t attend his workshops.  But I really wanted to.  Though there is value to studying a particular style of playing or a particular instrument, there is great value in simply learning about someone we admire and how they approach their art.  (Fortunately, after writing this post, I found an interview with Anders Hall by Neil Pearlman at Trad Cafe)

I am grateful to have encountered Mr. Hall and to have the opportunity to see him perform again.   I see in him is a confidence, a virtuosity, and a playful, mischievous magnetism that radiates from within.   I know nothing about the man, or what his life has been like, but I recognize his spirit and I see a spark that I know that I also have within me.  It has nearly been extinguished, through life’s experiences and conditioning, but it is still there.

Many women who admire male performers are experiencing a form of delusional amorous projection.  There is no denying that all of the qualities I admire in him add up to a delightful attractiveness in Mr. Hall.  But he is young enough to be my son, and I am fully aware that I am projecting positive qualities onto him.  My wish is not to bed him.

I want to BE him.

I don’t mean in a “Being John Malkovich” way, and I don’t mean I want to be a virtuoso of the fiddle and viola – I haven’t the talent or the time left on this planet to achieve that.  But I do want to claim those positive traits that I so delight in, when I see them in someone else – in this case – Anders Hall.  I want to be the virtuoso of my own unique gifts and to fulfill my purpose here on this planet, with focus, joy, and confidence and to share those gifts with others of a like mind.   Having appreciation and reverence for my gifts and using them to build a meaningful life,  on my own terms, is not selfish or deluded.  I have come to believe that it if there is any reason for our time on earth, it is this.

I want to reclaim my sense of attractiveness and attraction.  Years ago, I was sexually assaulted, and the system failed me, as it fails many survivors.  The last man I loved knew about this, and he ended up projecting his sexual confusion onto me, leaving me feeling undesirable and to blame for his lies, indiscretion, and exploitation.  That’s irresponsible nonsense, but as we know, other people’s projections can be poison, as much – or usually, more – than they end up being food for thought.  Maybe I had conditioned myself to believe that I needed to feel undesirable, in order to feel ‘safe’ in this world, but I don’t need to own that idea anymore.   Personal power, not ‘playing small’ is a far healthier choice – in all areas of my life.

We can’t undo what was done to us in life, but we can choose to undo the conditioning that consciously and unconsciously controls our life.  I’m choosing to take back my power – with lightness and play.  To me, magnetism and virtuosity has nothing to do with great technical skills and being the tall, blonde, 20-something model of the advertising industry.  It has to do with being true to oneself and sharing that whole self with others, to joyfully live one’s purpose with delight and total, unwavering confidence.

Think: Queen Latifah.  Think:  Mick Jagger.  Think: Anders Hall.

I’ve done decades of work on my shadow self, to own, rather than to project it onto others.  For me, 2019 is about working with owning my positive projections.  I want to more fully and consciously accept the positive traits I cannot yet own, and which, in this moment, are still projected onto others.

In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, working with a mantra helps to focus the mind on the soul, and to escape the pull of  ‘samskaras’ or conditioned patterns that often remain beneath conscious awareness and end up as disowned projections and karmas.  “Hai Ram” was Ghandi’s mantra, and “Hare Krishna” was the mantra of George Harrison and both men repeated their mantra as a reminder of their immortal Self, right to the moment of death, in order to break free of their karmas.

When planning our trip to see SVER perform, my friends and I talked about the musicianship of the band and about the special appeal of that mischievous and confident fiddle and viola player.  With the impish and playful reverence I seek to cultivate, my friends and I agree that for me to become re-acquainted and comfortable with my personal power, my unique virtuosity, my playful sexual energy and my magnetic charm….for 2019, there is perhaps no better personal mantra than:

“BE Anders Hall.”

 

 

For what are you most grateful, as we begin the new year?

Ten Thousand Days

Random Acts of Kindness

December 5, 2018

Photo: Sandrachile

Day 1560 – Day 1572

It seems that every year, as the winter holidays roll around, people start to think about random acts of kindness.  I notice that this coincides with a time of year when people are grumpy, drive aggressively, and are rude to sales clerks.  It is a time of year when people look forward to spending time with loved ones, but many must spend weeks recovering from the trauma of togetherness.

Random acts of kindness has become a holiday tradition in North America and rightly or wrongly, I have the impression that it was made popular by the same crowd that used to watch Oprah.  I have spent many years in Europe so I am always delightfully surprised when someone pays for my cup of coffee at Starbucks at this time of year, and it prompts me to pay that kindness forward.

Recently, I watched YouTube on auto-play and came upon a collaboration on the topic of random acts of kindness.  I enjoyed listening to each YouTuber’s ideas of how one can be kind and spread joy in thoughtful and often frugal ways.  I notice that a lot of the things I try to do as acts of kindness are things I do normally, as a part of my practice of daily service.  They are often part and parcel of one another.  Some people find it hard to get their head around the idea of service, but kindness is something we can all understand.

It got me thinking about the link between kindness and a practice of service, and so I challenged my own friends to engage in Random Acts of Kindness and asked for their suggestions.  For those who struggle with service (and I am right in there, sometimes struggling to think of ways to contribute, meaningfully, to the world), kindness is always a great place to start.

I’m so grateful for this chance to re-ignite my passion for service with a loving heart full of kindness.  I’m grateful for all the suggestions my friends have given me for ways to be frugally kind to others. And, I’m especially grateful that so many friends are participating in the challenge, and are sharing their experiences.  If you are inclined, I’d like to challenge you to participate in daily acts of kindness.  My hope is that anyone who has struggled with service will find the joy in the practice, by re-envisioning it as kindness.

I know that most of us face financial stresses over the holidays, but there is no price tag on kindness.  My friends shared so many ideas for frugal random acts of kindness.  I’m guessing that many of these are already a part of your daily toolkit, and even if they are, there is value in reminding oneself when one is aligned with living servicefully, purposefully and gratefully – with kindness.  For those who need a booster, here’s a starter list:

  • smile at a stranger
  • speak to someone who looks alone or stressed (single moms, elders, teenagers) and ask how they’re doing.  Listen with your full attention and show empathy.
  • offer to help someone
  • visit an elder home.  Bring some word puzzles or if you play an instrument, bring it and ask if you can play for the elders
  • share a bargain with other shoppers.  If you see an unadvertised bargain, tell others so they can enjoy the savings.
  • write someone a letter and express your gratitude to them for their place in your life
  • let someone in line ahead of you
  • give your gently used winter clothing to homeless charities.  If you can afford to top it off with new mittens, hats, coats, blankets, please do.
  • with their permission, mow a neighbour’s lawn or shovel the snow from their driveway or walkway
  • babysit for free for a couple of hours
  • do grocery shopping for someone who is pressed for time
  • tell a joke to make someone smile
  • hide a happy note on public transit or in a library book for someone to find
  • if you enjoy creating, make some art and leave it for someone to take home, or you can brighten up an elder’s room at a retirement centre with it
  • with their permission, hug someone
  • tape some money to a vending machine
  • bring in some treats to the office and write a note ‘help yourself’
  • hold the door for someone
  • tell someone who serves you what a great job they did today
  • pay someone a sincere compliment
  • donate unwanted books to the library or local charity shop
  • gather friends and arrange with a hospital, hospice or seniors home for a folk song/old timer singing (or carol singing) evening
  • clean up public/shared spaces
  • do something unexpected for someone
  • pay for a stranger’s coffee (if it is within your means)
  • do something kind for yourself
  • invite someone, especially someone who might be on their own, to celebrate the holidays with you
  • etc.

This is just a beginning of a list to get you started.  If you have other ideas, please leave them in the comments, so that it may inspire others.   At a time of year when people can feel lonely or lacking in purpose, it has been my experience that making a daily act of kind service a part of one’s life creates purpose to one’s day.  It doesn’t need to simply be for December, it can be a regular part of our lives, and is a natural extension of living gratefully.

Photo: Evan Kirby

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

I’m Always Grateful – Except, When I’m Not

November 23, 2018

Photo: Squarespace

Day 1544- Day 1559

Today is Thanksgiving in the USA.  In Canada, our Thanksgiving celebration is 4-6 weeks earlier than it is, in the USA.  People have been wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving, unaware of this fact.  I respond:  I’m always grateful.  But the truth is this:  I’m always grateful, except when I’m not.

Thanksgiving is my favourite holiday, and I have to admit that I prefer the timing of our harvest celebration to that of the one in the USA.  For me, I always think that American Thanksgiving is like the starter pistol that signals a race to Christmas.  I love Christmas.  It is a time that my family, coming from the Judeo-Christian tradition, gathers together.  We may not all be together for Thanksgiving, but we are, at Christmas.  I missed the family gathering twice only – one time I was at a friend’s wedding in India and another time, I was awaiting the renewal of my work visa and passport, so I couldn’t travel.  Christmas is not a race.  To me, it is a very special time of year that is to be savoured.

I delight in the spirit of Christmas – being together, relaxing, reflecting on the year, and observing sacred days.  What I don’t like is the sport of shopping, that seems to kick off with American Thanksgiving.

Shopping is a task that I don’t enjoy.

This year, I’ve been helping an elder relative and doing their shopping for them.  For myself, I prefer to have my shopping done by 1 November, so that I can enjoy the season,  but this has not been possible this year.

I have a budget for each person’s gift and I buy something for them that they will enjoy and use, based on that budget.  I am happy when the item is on sale, but some things go on sale early in the year and some things never go on sale.  I have received value for my gift giving dollar if I know that it will be useful and make their life easier or more joyful, somehow.

Even if it is on behalf of someone else, I am unhappy if I find myself caught in the crowd of bargain hunters that has come to be known as Red Thursday, Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Mental Torture Tuesday and Woeful Wednesday.  (Okay, I made the last two up).

Photo: Rawpixel

Every year, people go into debt, get stressed out, break up relationships and suffer through the holidays with resentment.  This is the antithesis to how I set out to live my life.

But, stuff happens and stress mounts.  The fact that I was unable to do my shopping early, and helping someone else throughout November has taken a lot of time that I like to spend on moments of hygge – painting, cooking, seeing friends and being cozy.  On top of the late start, a postal strike in Canada adds to the pressure and complication of buying things that come from online retailers. In some cases, things are being shipped to the US or people have asked for items from US retailers, and  I’m having to cross the border, travel,  and deal with customs, in order to guarantee that the items arrive for Christmas.  Whether the people I am helping with their shopping or the recipients of the gifts behave in a gracious and grateful manner is not something I can control.  I do this as a service, by choice, and it is only my own reaction that is under my control.

I have been getting irritable.

Today, I purchased the second to last item from my relative’s shopping list and had to stand in queues to get into the store and queues to get out of the store.  Tomorrow I will return this same item that I bought elsewhere because it was on sale this morning.  That’s the dance we’ve come to do at this time of year.

I’m surprised if everyone wasn’t irritable.

I am not a materialistic person.  I enjoy my possessions but I don’t enjoy receiving things that I will not use and I do not need.  I find that a waste, as is giving something that is not useful, and considered.   I’m in favour of frugality;  I enjoy buying as many of my own possessions in thrift shops as possible.  I feel better, knowing that the item I need is something that someone else has used, and someone else will use, after I am gone, prolonging the lifecycle of produced goods.

Others are not as keen on thrift shop items as I am, but they do want a bargain.

Frugality is important.  If you are celebrating Christmas, you’re basically celebrating the birth of a poor boy who would change the course of the world – or the myth that is this story.  Yet, now this has morphed into cultural pressure to save a buck and get it shipped in time for a gift giving day,  even if it isn’t really a cherished or practical gift.  Artificial pressure of time-bound sales, holiday wish lists filled with items that aren’t really deeply wished for, countdowns to a looming date of gift giving, and the crowds that gather to fight over sales just makes me really irritable.

Really, really irritable.

I’ve made vows to live simply.  To me, this is based on good stewardship of resources, a focus on inner life, mindful use of possessions and a turning away from pride. I live simply so that others can simply live.   It is not my business how others choose to live, but I’ve been confronted with other people’s way of doing things,  in doing the holiday shopping.

We have so much, and yet this season creates a drive to consume, without mindfulness,  and to feel a sense of  lack if we don’t get our gifts at the lowest price or we don’t get something we put on our wishlists.

It is really hard not to get judgey when one is this irritable.

I’m part of Project 449, organised by some friends in the UK, to create an art installation that draws attention to the plight of the homeless.  In the first 3 quarters of the calendar year 2018, researchers learned that at least 449 of the roughly 320,000 homeless people in Britain, died as a result of their homelessness.  Their deaths were entirely preventable if we lived in a culture that was less inclined to individualism and greed and more inclined to service, sharing and oneness.  In Vancouver, people living on social assistance are facing such high rents that they are left with $5.75 a week to spend on groceries and household necessities like toilet paper.  They are, literally, starving.  Canada-wide, a high percentage of people are giving up eating, and heating, in order to pay for life saving prescriptions, or they are going into debt, to simply seek medical treatment.  Working and homeless people are dying in our own cities.

It has made me really, really, really irritable and until I sat down and wrote this, I hadn’t fully reasoned out why.

I became very bitchy with my family (whom I love!) this week and I stepped about a mile away from gratitude.

I don’t want to ruin anyone’s bargain hunting, but I can’t help but feel that this inequity of death and suffering, set against a seasonal consumer frenzy, that must be done with perfection,  is simply grotesque.  What have we done with the world that was so dramatically changed by the love of a single poor man?

Perhaps our culture, as a whole, has stepped more than a mile away from gratitude.

Tomorrow is Black Friday and while people are trampling one another and punching each other for a cheap television set, I’ll be setting right the fact that I have stepped away from gratitude and joy and into irritability, judgement and stress.  I’ll be dosing up on the antidote to all bad attitudes: the Oneness that is found in the heart of mindful, humble, selfless, service.  

For what are you most grateful today?

Ten Thousand Days

On The Other Side of Forgiveness

November 6, 2018

Photo: Tim Mossholder

Day 1530 – Day 1543

As we neared the end of the fourth year of gratitude practice, empathy became a key theme in working with gratitude, joy, oneness and service. With empathy, it is possible to overcome our differences and even to forgive those who have deeply wounded and wronged us.  I’m usually a forgiving person, and I faced a struggle with forgiveness for the first time in my life.  Someone I had loved had exploited my love and betrayed me.  I truly did not believe that I would ever be able to forgive him.  And in that,  I had lost a big part of what made me the person that I am.

People move on at different speeds.  I remember that the man ‘forgave me’ for all my wrongdoings very quickly.  Perhaps it was magnanimous of him.  I’m certainly not perfect and I said some thing I regret, but his accusations of feelings I didn’t have, and wrongdoings that I hadn’t committed, were, it seems to me, the projections of his own feelings and actions.  In that case, it made sense to forgive quickly, because if they originated within himself, then forgiving me was really excusing himself.   Forgiveness made sense, for him.

It’s also fairly easy to forgive someone who has had your best interests at heart but whose actions have unintentionally disappointed us or hurt us deeply.  It is even easy to forgive someone who has loved us and has tried to act in our best interest but who, when deeply hurt, has intentionally hurt us back.  In each case, having the other’s best interests at heart is key to finding the redemption in the transgression.

Some people don’t think much about forgiving or not forgiving.  For them, they simply move on, choosing not to work through their emotions.  The package up their memories and their emotions and they stuff them down where they think that they will never be found again.  Unfortunately, blocked emotions and memories don’t always stay where they are put, and even if they do, they may be harmful to long term wellbeing.  It seems to me that at the very least, pushing down our feelings robs the tapestry that is our life of its patterns and colour.

Whatever I may do, unconsciously, as an adult, my conscious choices have been to try to work through my emotions.  Sometimes this can’t be done with the participation of the person who has elicited the emotions and I’m grateful that where this has not been possible, I’ve had the support of friends, healthcare professionals and spiritual wayfarers to help me. While they may help us gather the tools, in the end, the work resides in our own hearts, where only we can do the work.

I recover from emotional blows very slowly, but I try to do it completely.  When I love, I love deeply, and the wounds are therefore equally deep.  Recovery takes time and even when I feel patched up, I may still be tender for a long time to come.  I suppose this is why I fall in love so infrequently.  Once I have loved someone, I have loved them forever, although the love takes a different form.  I’ve always managed to transform feelings of romantic love into something else, with all the men I had loved.

The person I needed to forgive was someone I had loved deeply but when our association ended, he burned the bridge between us, and his lack of remorse makes it unwise for me to attempt to rebuild it.  It saddens me that there would be no way for us to ever experience, together,  the epiphany of love transmuted.  My love for him had been so deep because we shared a spiritual life and at one time we both agreed that we had what could only be described as a soul connection.  I had promised to love him, no matter what.  And, while I could not be held to that promise, this story would have been incomplete if I had not found my way back to some sense of agape love.  Love and compassion are the two sides of the sacred heart.  If I could not, eventually, find my way to love, I’d consider it my saddest failure as a person.

All through our relationship, I knew he was a troubled soul, and this showed up in behaviour that hurt me.  I didn’t always like him, but I did always love him, I knew that he was worthy of love, as are all people,  and I wanted the best for him.  After he betrayed my trust and exploited my love for him, I spent nearly a year hating him, and in that time, I never once wished for his happiness.  If I could have, I would have, but I couldn’t and I didn’t.  I’m not proud of myself for that, and just as I’ve had to take full responsibility for the decisions I made to continue to see the best in him when he repeatedly showed me other qualities, I also have to take responsibility for the stone that settled in my heart where love had been, when I finally saw the other side of him.  I am responsible for my hurtful words and my hateful thoughts.

Women forgive the people who murder their children all the time.  If they were capable of this, then surely I was capable of forgiving him.  I had given up the idea that love would ever return to my heart when I thought of him, but, at least forgiveness was in my power.   In time, with new techniques of active imagination, I was able to connect to my empathy for him, and without condoning his behaviour, I forgave him.

I thought that was the end of it.  But he remained in my dreams.   And something happened that caught me by surprise.

On the other side of forgiveness, I started to feel not only empathy, but compassion for him.  Having imagined whatever suffering or deficiency had caused his behaviour, I wanted his suffering to be removed – not for my benefit – but because I wanted him to be free of anguish.  I was surprised, but pleased to feel my heart soften to him.  And, I thought, surely this is where this ends.

But I was taken by surprise, yet again, over the next few weeks.

Where there is compassion, love often arises.  With compassion, for him, I noticed fleeting and uncontrollable wishes for his happiness arising within me.  To be honest, I was annoyed to feel these stirrings.  He had pursued his own pleasure at my expense.  I had forgotten what I already knew: pleasure is not the same as happiness.  Happiness, and the peace of the soul that would go with it, was the only thing I could wish for him, once connected by empathy to his pain and having my compassion activated.

Compassion is the desire to see someone free from suffering; The wish for another person’s happiness is Love.

On the other side of forgiveness, I rediscovered love.

Even for the sake of experiencing – together – the epiphany of love transmuted, it would be unwise and indeed, unsafe for me to rekindle a relationship with or even to build a bridge to someone who shows no regard for my wellbeing.  But, I am grateful to see that I am not forever changed, nor forever damaged as a person, by the experience of loving him and suffering his remorseless selfishness.   I have reclaimed my compassion and I am profoundly grateful to unexpectedly find the pathway to fulfill my promise to love him – truly love him – no matter what.

Wisdom promises that on the other side of forgiveness, there is freedom.  There is, and it comes through love.  I am once again my best self and it is a joy to see:  a woman with great capacity for personal responsibility,  empathy, forgiveness, compassion and love.    I like who I see, when I look in the mirror,  and I believe that I, too, am worthy of love – my own love, firstly,  and also the love of a good man who has my best interests at heart and who cares for my wellbeing.

 

Photo: Neon Brand

For what are you most grateful today?

Ten Thousand Days

Stolen Moments

October 23, 2018

Photo: Ivana Cajina

Day 1516 – Day 1529

I notice that I always seem to have something that needs to be done.  I feel like I have more chores than I did when I lived in London but I know that I work less hours.  Of course, I have to spend time driving everywhere, which adds a lot of time to my day, whereas in London I could simply hop on a train or tube and multitask, because I wasn’t driving the thing.  But commuting aside, somehow there always seems to be a lot that I need to do, just to maintain myself.  In my last few years in London, I lived in a very small place and there was a cleaner who took care of much of the cleaning for me.  And, I used the washing machines in the basement, which meant that I could do all my laundry at one time (unless everyone else in the building had that same idea!)  And I do think there is something to be said for having less things, because the more we have, the more we have to tend.

As grateful as I am for my bounty,  I think that it is really my garden that has taken up so much of my time, lately.

This weekend, I canned the second to last batch of my tomatoes.  I still have many tomatoes ripening in my home.  It took 5 hours to process 5.5 pint-sized jars or roasted tomato sauce.  Now, given that time is money, those tomatoes better taste incredible at just under an hour per jar!  I wouldn’t pay my hourly wage for a half pint of home grown tomato sauce, but I didn’t mind spending the time because I know what is in each jar.  I grew it and I sterilized everything and I canned them.  There is pride in knowing that it was my labour that went into my sauce, and it’s a nice, “homey” thing to do.

Right now, we have amazing weather that we normally don’t get at this time of year in the Pacific Northwest (PNW), and so my garden has lasted for a month longer than one would reasonably expect.  I harvested a dozen peppers, bunches of broccoli, kale, swiss chard and leeks this weekend.  I even harvested some peas, which are normally an early summer crop. It has been a wonderful summer for growing.   But everything has its time and place.  And when you’re growing, you also have to be harvesting and preserving, as well.  I underestimated how much time this would take.

I realise that this summer, I had to clear the plot that I planted, build the structure and put up a fence.  It took more time than it will, I hope, next year.  But even still, one doesn’t get a great harvest if one isn’t willing to put in a couple of hours a day into watering, pruning and staking plants, building plant supports, improving the soil, and weeding one’s plot.  As the summer goes on,  harvesting and preserving begins as early as June and, at least this year, has lasted until the end of October.

It has been bountiful.  And it has been a lot of work.

I never once went hiking this summer.  I love hiking and being outdoors.  I just never got out to do it.  I did get to go kayaking but not as often as I would have liked.  Next year, I have decided that I will commit to kayak racing at least one night every week, because I love it.  Every time I thought of going kayaking, or hiking, I felt the pull of something needing to be done.  And so, I managed to go kayaking only every other week and not hike once, in the summer.

The winter months are dreary and depressing for me, so I grabbed some stolen moments and did some things that I had been missing.  I live in a valley, and unless I’m kayaking on the water, somewhere at a higher elevation,  or meeting friends at the seaside for a walk, I don’t get to see the sunset.  When I lived in London, I lived on the 14th floor, facing the Thames and – later – within 2 blocks of the river.  On the 14th floor I saw the sunset every night, and when I lived such a short distance to the river, I was able to walk the Thamespath or sit on a public bench along the path, and watch the sunset reflecting on the Thames River at least two or three times a week.  What a gift I had, in living there, and I am indeed grateful for that time.  But, I miss the sunset.

And so, two weekends ago, after my day-trip to Seattle for a singing and hambone workshop, I decided to steal 3 hours more and go to West Seattle to watch the sunset on Puget Sound.  It meant that I didn’t get home until nearly midnight and Monday was tiring.  But it was glorious, and I’m so grateful for the wonderful weather and the ease of finding parking so that I could walk along the beach and see the Seattle skyline and then return to Alki Point to watch the sunset glisten on the Sound as it dipped behind the Olympic mountains.  It was the perfect end to a perfect day. I hadn’t neglected all my chores for the weekend.  I had spent one whole day gardening, the prior day, and began the process of clearing my plot for winter, but I didn’t get other chores done when I decided to allocate some time for solitude in nature.

I think that solitude and awe are important parts of the contemplative path.  It is a part of the experience of sensing something greater than ourselves when we see beautiful artwork or a glorious sunset like the one I witnessed.  It’s a pathway to feeling Oneness with that which inspires that awe, within.  I was filled with awe at the glorious hues of yellow, orange, pink and red that lit the sky and at the way the light flickered and hid as it danced on the water.  It was well worth it to miss doing laundry and feel a little tired on Monday.

This past weekend, I had no travel plans and was set to do more harvesting, food preservation, cleaning and clearing of the garden.  I felt a bit sad that I had not planned a hike in the sunshine or booked myself a final kayak session for the summer.  So, on Saturday, as I headed to the garden, instead of turning left, to the road where my allotment is,  I powered onward and headed into the Canadian side of the North Cascade mountains and into the Canadian part of the Skagit Valley, where a little known hiking trail will soon be closed – to the Othello Tunnels.

I had heard about these tunnels that went through the mountains in Coquihalla Canyon, and really wanted to explore them but was a bit scared to go alone, in case the rock was unstable.  The tunnels were carved into the mountains in 1913 for trains to transport people and goods from the USA border up to the interior of British Columbia.  They stopped being used when the railway was re-routed from this perilous path in the 1960s.   The tunnels have been deemed to no longer be safe enough for hikers, without considerable maintenance.   I had wanted to see those tunnels before they were closed to hikers forever, and I really didn’t think I’d ever get the chance.  But I made it happen, and I am grateful that I did.

Seeing the fall foliage was a joy and taking a short and easy hike on a level trail was the perfect antidote to my feelings of deprivation from a summer that was lacking in opportunities for hiking.  I met the most beautiful dogs and their owners along a 5 km walk and it was just what the doctor ordered – if doctors wrote prescriptions for dry souls.

I did feel a little guilty that I passed the town where an elderly relative lives and I didn’t stop to visit.  It would have been a service to do so, but sometimes we need to make sure that we are listening to the needs of ourselves, before we give to others.  I needed to spend some time just taking in wonder and visiting new places.  I needed a rest, drinking in vitamin D-laden sunshine, not thinking about what needed to be done, or having any goals except to return, safely.

I will remember the summer of 2018 as the summer I fulfilled a dream I’ve held my entire adult life – to grow my own food.  And I will continue to feel pride as I roast squash and eat baba ganoush and salsa from the vegetables I grew.  I will remember this summer whether I grow another vegetable this year or not.  But I don’t want to remember the summer as the year I was deprived of enjoying the outdoors.

It is these stolen moments that open up the space to dream new dreams.

I don’t know if that space that I gave myself contributed to new insights, but I’ve had some interesting new ideas emerge this week.  They’re crazy.  And I’m not dismissing them.  I’m not acting on them, either.  I’m just giving them space to sit beside me for awhile, and we’ll see.

As much as it has pained me to pull out living plants, I’ve cleared my garden of all but the marigolds and a few plants that can winter in the garden until spring.  I’ve thanked each plant for the food it has produced.  I may have gotten a few more peas and a few more broccoli florets, but there comes a time when every gardener has to give the soil and themselves some time to rest.

Photo: Remi Yuan

For what are you most grateful today?

Ten Thousand Days

Private in Public

October 9, 2018

Photo: Toa Heftiba

Day 1504 – Day 1515

One of my favourite past times is to bring my work to a sunny cafe and work in public.  There is something social about working in a public place, when the work we are doing is solitary (like writing) or we simply lack colleagues.  The energy of the world around me, rather than distracting me, keeps me motivated to work.

Writing these posts is another kind of way to be private in public.  Writing publicly is not as enjoyable as simply soaking in the public ambience while I write, and I’ve written before about how this public practice challenges me and has been costly to me.

I decided, when we hit 1,500 days of gratitude, that I’d start to thin out the previous posts.  I think a selection of previous posts (and perhaps that selection will change over time) will offer readers enough of the journey to interest readers, while reserving some of my privacy.

Seasonally, I withdraw in the winter, but this is more than that.  Right now, in North America, everyone is processing some pretty heavy emotions based on the politics that we are seeing playing out.  Globally, we are being made aware that science is making a last call for us to save ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change.  It’s all pretty dire.  And, as the holiday season is now firmly nestled in Canada with our Thanksgiving celebration behind us, there is the end of year family gatherings and personal reckoning that begins now.

Like many, I’m processing a lot.  And while I want to remain authentic, I don’t want to share all of my thoughts and feelings with the world.  The most authentic thing I can do, then, is admit this.   I’m mindful of people’s privacy but I know that I suffer the same challenges as any non-fiction writer.  Because we write about our lives, we inevitably write about events that people in our lives can identify.  People look for themselves in what I write.  In the past, one sentence, that didn’t identify anyone in particular, was taken as cause for offence and a friendship was terminated.  I made it clear that I meant no harm in writing that one sentence, but my offering was rejected.  It’s possible the person personalized the entire essay as being about them, which it was not, and when people are looking to be offended in life, they will surely find opportunity at every turn.

Everyone is on edge right now, and I find myself getting writer’s block for fear of offending others in my expression of the way I see things.  I’m writing about myself, and my experience, and while I don’t identify people in my posts, I have a right to write about my experience, even if it does not match anyone else’s or if it does not reflect as grandly upon someone else as they think it ought.  Anyone concerned about how I might characterize my experiences should probably not be reading my writing – fiction, non fiction or otherwise.  Censoring oneself is the death knell for a writer.  I’m no longer tolerant of needless drama in my life.

When I was once asked why I write, I answered that writing was my pathway to truth.  Truth is different from fact, as we know.  Truth is a private matter, and is dependant on one’s perspective.  But it is to truth that we look to make meaning out of our lives.  And while I am committed to resist any pressure to self-censor, some things we experience are complex and require a lot of processing.  Last week I wrote a 1500 word post but chose not to publish it because it lacked clarity: unprocessed and complex feelings were sort of half blended in to an unclear narrative.  I had not yet found my own private truth in all the complexity.

Truth seems to be the battlefield of our post-factual, modern times.

Many of us carry battle wounds.  I’ve had several people come to me this weekend with rage or depression.    Although I am not a minister to anyone with whom I work or have personal relationships, I try to be of service, offering a compassionate ear and some comfort.  For me, I am fortunate that I have a spiritual practice that can take me beyond the noise of the moment, and it is in that Oneness that I find solace, as well as re-affirm my sense of purpose.   For others, who are not spiritual, I’ve advised extreme self-care,  to let go of the uncontrollable,  and of course, to re-focus on gratitude.

When life seems so complex, I return to gratitude for the simplest things.

Today I am grateful for the sunshine.  It is warm and soothing on my skin and it gives me joy to feel these last autumnal rays before the cold winter and rains set in for good.  I wish that the Thanksgiving holiday had been a sunny one as I have much clearing of my garden to do.  Instead, I took it in turns, between rain showers, to make soup from my garden vegetables and to pull the last of the plants out of their pots on my balcony (a not insignificant feat).  I’ve expressed my gratitude to my plants for their bounty as I compost them into fertilizer for next season’s crop.  I am thankful that most of my family was able to gather for a meal, and that I had an extra day of rest and solitude, which I feel I deeply need, right now.  And most simply, I am grateful for the soup I made in that time.  It  nourishes my body, so that I have the energy to continue to wake up and be publicly grateful,  even as I do the harder and deeply private work of soothing and nourishing my spirit, in these difficult and complex times.

Photo: Katie Moum

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Harvest Moon

September 27, 2018

Photo: Zan Douglas

Day 1498 – Day 1503

This summer I started marking out my life in lunar cycles.  It wasn’t something I set out to do, but I’ve been more aware of the cycles of the moon than I’ve ever been before, and as each full moon passes, I reflect on what has transpired in the intervening cycle.

This week we had a harvest full moon.  I know that there are many myths and much folklore around the meanings of the harvest moon but they may not speak to my experience, this week.  Astrologically,  this moon was referred, by some, as a Monster Moon, because it was so intense.  Apparently the full moon in Aries was squared to some heavy duty planets.  The earth didn’t open a sinkhole and swallow me, though I will admit that it has felt like a quietly intense week.  In fact, my harvest has been good.  I have reaped what I have sown, for better or worse.

In this time of living a simple life, I’ve been making a concerted effort to be mindful, quiet, and to listen to what I say to myself and to others.  I watch where my thoughts go.   As a gardener, I’ve been reaping the last of my harvest, sharing this harvest with others, and gleaning from other gardeners and nature herself.  As a wayfarer, I’ve been reaping a lot of insight from my dreams and from the process of listening to my thoughts.

Someone once told me that I sowed the seeds of creative ideas for him, and he liked that.  Over time, I came to see that he also was able to sow seeds.  What he sowed, however, was self doubt, through the manipulations of triangulation.  Some of those seeds fell into my garden, and I was able to reap them this week like the weeds that they are, and to see that with any triangle, there are three points.  In listening to my thoughts and words and harvesting insights about this and the meanings of my dreams, I have been able to detach from the system, with compassion for others.  I am grateful for the support of my friends CMF and AH, to do this.

I’ve noticed that I often think the worst thing first, and only with effort (like this gratitude practice) am I able to think more positively.  Sometimes, this includes my assessment of people.  Oh yes, there have been many times in my life when I’ve thought the best of someone because I wanted to believe the best of them, with or without evidence to support this.  But sometimes, I make an assessment about a person’s character based on my reading of events, and sometimes, I end up being wrong.  In the past, I’ve noticed that this happens when I’m feeling insecure – the quickest route is to the negative.  This week, I think I misjudged someone, and I’m grateful that I can admit when I am wrong and adjust my course in response to new knowledge.  I’m also grateful that I did nothing to ruin the friendship, in the course of being wrong about them.

I feel a fragile shift in my perspective – a return to greater self confidence and a generosity of heart that has been hard to achieve in the past two years.   I’ve had a few suitors lately and while I’m seeing a return to open-heartedness, I’m grateful that I’m balancing that with the willingness to observe and act upon red flags or simply with those qualities that are deal breakers, for me.

I’m grateful for the bounty of this harvest.  We’ve hit 1,500 days of gratitude this week and I’m still catching my breath from that milestone and quietly letting it set in.  I feel like I’m in between the in between right now, being deeply present and One with that which is greater than myself.  Where I go with the insights I’m gaining will remain to be seen, but as I start canning and preserving the last of my harvest, and as I nestle in to a period of cozy nights at home, I feel more at peace than I have in a long time.  For a wayfarer, this is the greatest thing I could hope to harvest.

 

Photo: Sonja Guina

For what are you most grateful today?