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Ten Thousand Days

Ten Thousand Days

Surfing Home

July 26, 2016
Photo: Artem Verbo

Photo: Artem Verbo

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 693 – Day 703)

It’s been just over two weeks since I packed up my life of more than a decade and moved to a place I haven’t lived in over 20 years.  I averaged 1.5 hours sleep a night during that last week in London and when I arrived, I fell ill with the typical cold that hits everyone who has run on adrenaline and suddenly comes to a grinding halt.  The problem is that I didn’t come to a halt.  I’ve been working on getting my goods from the UK, replacing broken luggage, reporting a fraud that happened overseas and the repercussions on all of my banking details, dealing with health insurance, two different tax jurisdictions, filling in government forms and finding a place to live.  After two years of discussions with my employer, I landed and found chaos around my job which has obstructed my ability to find a place to live for yet another month.  And, all this is going on while I am staying in the basement of my folks’ home, as a fully grown adult.

It has been one hell of a two week churn.

I have had bad timing.  Apparently it is in the last 6 weeks that the market for rentals has gone insane in the area.  It has now a lower vacancy rate than either London or New York and people are bidding on rentals in a way that the Vancouver area has so far only seen in sales.  I’ve seen at least 20 places.  Some were very dodgy, and some quite nice but not within my Canadian budget or they have some kind of backhand deal that just feels fishy.  I’ve encountered 4 scams (that I spotted) in my two weeks of looking.  I feel less secure here than I did in London or New York because in both cases, I found my first place to live within days.

I need very little in an living space – a feeling of safety, light, and the ability to sleep at night.  Even with that little in the way of criteria, I haven’t found a place to live.

I’m just trying to swim with the tide but I keep getting churned up.

I’m re-thinking what it is that I really want in my next home.   Security is a must – and that includes knowing who I am contracting with, and living below my means.  Beyond that, I guess it comes down to this:  What does ‘home’ mean?  And that is a question I can’t answer or the answer I might have in my heart is not the answer I can easily express to the world.

I once told a friend, in London, that I get sucked into Facebook quite easily – or I used to, anyway.  She asked me if I tend to be more on Facebook when I’m away from home.  I was unable to answer that.  The question pre-supposes that there is this mythical place called ‘home.’

I moved 9 times before the age of 12 and then we settled down for what seemed like an eternity – 3 years.  But all through that time there was the looming certainty of moving, again.  I never got used to having an idea of ‘home.’  We had a house, but roots was not a thing I knew. I lived in London longer than I lived anywhere in my life.  Is Canada my home?  Is London, where I am a foreigner despite having dual citizenship?  I don’t know that I will ever know what it is to call a place ‘home’ other than the limits of my own skin.

I am my only home.

For me, it is about being safe enough in myself and my surroundings to be able to surf the waves of change and chaos and not get churned up.  I don’t know this for a fact but from my limited experience of actual surfing, I found that I got churned in the surf when my board went one way and I went the other.  The churn happened because I was attached.  And so it is in life.

The day I arrived in Canada, my step mother asked me whether it was difficult to leave my friends behind.  I had no words for the grief I feel at leaving them.  If I were leaving them to go to Singapore or Zurich it would be different still.  But I have left friends and a way of life that I’ve come to love to come to a place that is both foreign and full of ghosts  – both living and dead.  Detachment becomes particularly difficult when we are dealing with ghosts. It is they who seem to have the grip on us, not the other way around.

Two children in any family will have different experiences and this is particularly so when there is a big age difference.  My eldest sister is 10 years older than I and the sister closest to me is still 5 years older.  I ran away from home when I was 13.  I ran away twice that year.  And when I was 16 and able to go to University, I went.  I moved away from home but it wasn’t until my mother died that I really ‘left.’  She was the closest thing to what I think we all consider ‘home,’ for me.  And so I really really left home – First across the continent; and then across the world.  In one way or another, I guess I’ve been running away from ‘home’ since I was 13 years old.

I am my only home.

I am here and I am surfing.  And that is enough.

Photo by Tania D Campbell

Photo by Tania D Campbell

I am happy to share my joys, but pain is something I keep private.  I’ve asked my friends not to ask me any questions about my life right now.  I will share what I feel like sharing when I am ready to share it.  My private and my public self are split in a way that they haven’t been, in a very very long time.  I am grateful that even if they cannot understand it, they seem to accept it.  And I trust that you will, too.

While it is awful, I am grateful that I am in tune with my feelings of discomfort.  This discomfort helps me to pause.  I need time to process everything right now.  And, while I’m doing that, I’m grateful for my ability to draw.

Drawing is helping to keep me calm in a turbulent time.  It is a joy to see my drawing improving because I know that I am no longer in my head.  I draw portraits of the people I love, because while I am processing all of my anxiety, grief, and hope, it is important to have that connection with people I consider to be my closest allies.  That Oneness with them is a great reserve of strength for me right now.

My service is nothing spectacular this week.  In fact, I think just keeping my hair on and not disrupting those around me more than is necessary, with this incredible undertow, is a service.   Today I walked out of a bad situation and went to my car.  For the first time in my life, I let out a primal scream that left me without a voice and gasping for air.  The meaning in all of this is that sometimes, it takes everything we have to just try to keep our head above water and it is in those times we most need to look for the things in our lives for which we are grateful, that bring us joy and that connect us with something bigger than ourselves. Swami Satchidananda used to say to us, his students, that it was in these most trying of times that our practice really gets tested and we see how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to journey along the path ‘home.’

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

The High Cost of Betrayal

July 15, 2016

imageGratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 678 – Day 692)

I’m not going to talk politics this week.  I think there is enough of that going around and we are all in our heads much more than our hearts.  Even politics, if we could be honest right now, is all about a sense of what should be, and our deep feeling of betrayal that it is not.  Betrayal, as I define it, is that feeling that comes from a circumvention of our entitlement to the world being the way we expected it to be, given the promises we made and that were made to us.  Infidelity is the classic instance of betrayal.

I was ‘unfaithful’ once.  I was 14 and I kissed another boy over the long summer absence from my boyfriend.  It had happened the night of my grandfather’s burial and the start of a 3 day wake. I felt so guilty that I told my boyfriend about the indiscretion as soon as we met. In the face of betrayal, he modeled commitment, faith and forgiveness..  He chose not to see my behaviour as a reflection of my love for him,  but rather as the act of an emotionally distraught young person, ill prepared for the intensity of a wake that goes on for days.

I know it is perhaps naive in this neo liberal world of individualism and ‘me first’ thinking but I take people at face value and I believe the best of them.  As an adult, I don’t make commitments lightly, but when I do, I am fierce about keeping them.  When I say ‘I love you,’ I mean it.   If I say it to friend, family or lover, I mean it.  And what comes with my expression of love is the commitment to continue to love, despite what comes.

I see the best in people even when they hurt me.  What I cannot bear, however, is lies. Whether they are overtly stated, come under the heading of topics-avoided, or they come in the guise of second guessing and judgements, all are a fabricated story designed to avoid discomfort.

I remember that in writing school, some classmates and I were out for coffee and the topic of ‘why do you write?’ arose.  Aside from the obvious – ‘because we have to’ – we all had reasons.  I said that for me, it was the pursuit of Truth.  They looked at me as if I was from Mars.

I guess my top values in life have always been Truth, Justice, Love and Beauty.  And sometimes, those values can seem to come into conflict.  We want justice when we are lied to, or when our love is betrayed by ugly behaviour.  It is natural, but it is a false sense of justice.  Ego wants to act out of entitlement and expectation.  We are hurt.  We must have restitution.  But sometimes we can’t go back and make things the way things once were.  And that is where Love can bring us to Truth.

Right now I have a friend who is behaving less than ‘respectfully’  or ‘open’ towards me.  I have no idea why, and I cannot know unless he tells me. I could jump to conclusions – and other friends have done this for me, and they are angry with me for continuing to have faith in him.  I don’t know what to make of the situation.  My intuition has been pretty strong on this friendship in the past and now it is like the signal has been turned off completely.

Instead of jumping to conclusions, I am choosing to live with a question mark that cannot be answered by me.  Sitting in this is painful.  The question may never be answered, in this lifetime.  I am desperately human and so I want jump to conclusions so as to fill in the story and complete the narrative of this chapter.  And, I could easily do that and move on.  But that would only be a cheap literary mechanism of Deus Ex Machina (God in the Machine).  It would be a fabrication to avoid the discomfort and mess of epiphany.

And Truth is my highest value.

A few weeks ago, I saw a friend that I love.  We had a sudden split over something that was said in jest and which was taken to heart.  For him, it was a betrayal.  He cut us all off, shortly after.  For some reason, he has forgiven me for what I said.  Perhaps it is because I just never stopped communicating and in that, he came to know me.  I don’t know if he remembers that I am the one who said the comment, or if he has rewritten our narrative, in his own mind.  Whatever the case, I am very grateful that we met after all this time.  I love him, and hurting him had been painful for both of us.

For me, a meeting with him was one of the two unfinished relationships I had in London.  I thought about him a lot and I was about to go to some length to get my closure of this chapter.  It would have been a form of Deus Ex Machina.

But sometimes the Universe enters the machine in its own way if we just open our hearts and love fiercely enough.

I had spoken about him, with love, on that spot where I was when I met him again.  I had cried about not seeing him, on that very spot.  And within a week, after wishing him there –  there he was.    He walked up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder.

I was shocked.  Sometimes I actually have problems accepting the gifts that the Universe manifests for me and the signs that something deeper is going on here.  But after a few seconds, my joy was clear as I leaped up and hugged him, over and over and over again.

We had a special, soulful,  beautiful, and unexpected evening – very intense – and we talked about everything.  I came to see the Truth of the situation.  I saw him again a few days later but that was on a different level than the soul.  I don’t know if I will see him again.  My intuition says that I may not, in this lifetime.  But a chapter in our story is now complete and it has written itself in the time and in the way it needed to be written.  And if there is another go round in another lifetime, I am sure that we will find one another again and we will open a new chapter.

As for the first friend I mentioned in this post, I don’t know what is happening with him. What is in my hands, is whether I choose to see some strange behaviour as a betrayal of our friendship, or not.

I think that the world is full of opportunities to be offended, if we want to take them.  Most of that is manufactured in our own minds.  I am grateful that my mother always tried to teach me not to take other people’s behaviour personally.  I am also grateful that she never wanted me to be a doormat.  Sometimes, those two principles can seem to be in contradiction with one another but by taking care of ourselves and also being loving to the other, we can walk even the finest of lines.  If we really believe in Oneness then we know that ego is the source of feelings of betrayal and this only adds to our feelings of being separate.  I think that right now, my service to the world is to live by example and to try to access my own intuition in whatever I do.  Sometimes that may leave me isolated.  Sometimes the process is painful.  But, I suppose that the real meaning of commitment and of faith – whether it be in a deity, a person, or in our own internal knowing – is that we are able to stay the course of our commitment and sit in our discomfort without throwing that false God into the Machine.  If we heed the soul’s call, I believe that eventually, we will come to the Truth.

Photo: Dino Reichmuth

Photo: Dino Reichmuth

 

For what are you grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Leaving Las Vegas

June 30, 2016
Photo: Jenelle Ball

Photo: Jenelle Ball

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 671 – Day 677)

It has been nearly 2 years since I quit my job, intending to leave London, and I am finally leaving.  I am in shock, and when I think of leaving, and returning to my birthplace, I start to feel like I am suffocating.  I have done so much work on myself in my lifetime to become who I am.  When I am there, I feel that people see me in the way I was, when I left, more than 20 years ago.  Nobody knows me, there.

I have lived in London longer than anywhere else in my life.  It is home to me, now.  I have a life that I love.  Or I did, until the country voted to throw it all in the air.  There are things I must do and they are calling me away.  For two years, I have been sentimental about my love of this city, my friendships and my life.  I find myself grasping to hold on while trying to let go.

I’m not ready, but it is time to go take care of some things.

While the timing now means that uncertainty stretches out in all directions, I am glad I waited.   I took time to invest in myself, in my healing and in my writing again.   In the first year, I spent a lot of time exploring and I made a whole new group of friends.  In the second year, I  assimilated, and learned a lot about myself.  I have gone from watching artists paint to taking baby steps of picking up a pencil and trying to draw, to picking up a paintbrush and watercolours.  It has been an incredible journey of trying out and of pouring out my love into everything I draw and paint.  I have also been writing for 2 years and writing like mad these past 6 months.  In the last 2 months I rarely left my desk.  Along the way, I have unearthed and dared to dream (again) a few writing dreams that were long ago buried.  I couldn’t have imagined that it could have been like this, if I hadn’t had the love, encouragement and support of very accomplished artists along the way.

I think that this is the path of art, psychology and spiritual work: Experience, savour, explore, unearth, assimilate, pour out the heart (some would say “tear out”, but leaving is the only thing that tears out my heart), transform, and move on to a new vulnerable place, to experience anew.

I just don’t feel ready to move on, yet. But, I must.

Even before the death of my friend, a few weeks ago, and all the world events that followed (Orlando, Jo Cox’s murder, Brexit, Istanbul), so much had happened in my inner world, stirring up my dreams. In my spiritual circle, we work with dreams and so I take their symbols seriously.  My dreams are very vivid, particularly when I send Reiki to one particular spiritual friend.  He has been “absent” and so I have not had the chance to get closure before leaving.  It is surely one reason that my dreams are so charged.

Recently, I dreamed  I was sent to awaken a man.  When I looked into the room, I saw that he was levitating and so I thought: I must wake him slowly.  I knocked gently on the door several times and when I stopped knocking, I awoke from my dream.  The man was me.

Readers will know that I have very recently and sadly come to the end of my association with my spiritual community in London.  They have introduced me to a new kind of work, which involves a sort of spiritual alchemy and I have taken tentative steps into this work.  It makes me feel vulnerable.

It makes sense that this dream would come to me when I am sending Reiki to my friend, because when I met him, the word “Shaman” came to mind very strongly.  This is not as strange as it seems – Shamans exist in the modern world, working with spiritual alchemy.  I told a friend about that experience.  She looked at me directly and said: YOU are the Shaman.

Now, I still believe my friend has unusual spiritual qualities and I certainly don’t believe that I am a Shaman, but as a healer, light worker and as a storyteller, I guess I share an aspect of their work.  Perhaps the dream suggests that despite my anxiety, I don’t need a spiritual community and it is time to let myself fly.

"In My Dreams, You Levitate". Photo: Tania D. Campbell

“In My Dreams, You Levitate.” Photo: Tania D. Campbell

 

A few nights later, I dreamed that I was on my way to see my friend, but my journey kept being interrupted as I was greeted by people who no longer lived in London.  I was preoccupied with giving away my things to them, and as I parted company with someone who left London years ago, I realised that I, too, was already gone.  I texted my friend, asking him to join me somewhere underground, though I wasn’t certain that he would come.   Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars  played like a soundtrack.

On the face of it, this is a love song, but to me, it is a song associated with death and a kind of melancholy that leaves one unable to reach out, but longing for someone to lean in.  I suspect that the melancholy is my own.  When I last lived in the city where I will be going, I identified with the archetype of Persephone who was kidnapped to spend half her life with Hades, in the underworld.

The dream probably speaks to my anxiety about leaving London and what lies ahead.   I fear losing all the inspiration, love and transformation that has characterised my relationship with friend and my Tribe. At its essence, that text message was an existential cry from a universal fear of being, and of dying (suffocating), alone in our own private hell.

It is bittersweet, because the dream has come to fruition: I am leaving London without connecting with him.  I have tried, but it hasn’t happened.  If this is the end of a chapter and this sense of connection is lost, then I am grateful for the many ways that my friend and my Tribe have touched my life.  I am scared, but I am grateful to be so deeply in touch with and able to express my fear. I know it causes me to feel and act rather intense right now, and this all may seem dramatic, but I am grateful for a rich inner life.  I have to face some tough things, ahead, and I am grateful that I have the courage to decide to face them, head on. Courage does not mean there is no fear; it means we feel the fear and walk through hell, anyway.  It has been a joy to live in London (not always, but overall) and to be part of this quirky Tribe I have come to know and love.  I will miss them more than they know.

When we really have faith in Oneness, we know that the connection, whether conscious or not, is always there.  The tree, the flower, the pomegranate, the ocean, the raven, the whale, the bear, the people – we are all connected, always and everywhere.  Like everyone, though, I struggle with my faith in Oneness.

My service this week has been to make sure that the last of my things have new homes and are sent on to the new owners with love and blessings.  I am trying not to say goodbye.  I say that I will be back, and I hope that I will be, soon. But the truth is, I don’t know what will happen.  Chaos stretches out before me, and I leave a Britain in chaos.  I don’t know where, when or how I will emerge.

The meaning in all of this?   Nothing original.  Some people are with us to take us to the next crossroads and then we are meant to walk our separate ways, because we have learned all we can from one another.  And some people are meant to walk on with us, wherever we go.  Who will be in which group isn’t really ours to determine.  Attachment causes anxiety.  So, when we get to that junction, let’s embrace one another and then let go, with gratitude, and have a dance.

If this is to be the last dance we will do together, let’s not make it a sad one.

 

“Those 3 words are said too much.  

They’re not enough.”

 

 

For what are you grateful, this week?

Ten Thousand Days

Who Do You Think You Are?

June 22, 2016
Photo: Vashishtha Jogi

Photo: Vashishtha Jogi

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 669 – Day 670)

Around this time last year, I spent the evening with two acquaintances – one was a man, the other a woman.  The man was much younger and I wasn’t sure how to relate to him.  When he went off to the gents, the woman and I got to talking.   I asked her – are you married, in a relationship, single?  No, she said, she had been single for awhile, but she was looking.  Just then, the young man returned, and to be inclusive, I asked him the same thing.  “No,” he said, “I’m still trying to figure myself out.”

It was a typically 20-something sentiment, but one that I have shared, much of my life.  I had the first love of my life at a young age.  I was 22 by the time it all ended.  They say that men who have their hearts broken at a young age are sometimes inclined to rarely fall in love again.  I can tell you that the same applies to women.  I spent the rest of my twenties trying to unravel myself from the knot I had made – twisting myself to conform to what other people thought I should be.  I moved around the world and had an ambivalent feeling about relationships.   I was still just trying to figure myself out.

Then I met my second love of my life.  I was in no way looking for him.  I settled into a career, and had a nice flat and things just sort of ticked along.  I was no longer really questioning anything. I had settled into what looked like “my life” and he was a part of that picture.  Whether the picture was the right one for me or not really didn’t seem to matter so much anymore.  A friend of mine once said that at some point in life we stop trying to figure out what to do with it and we just get on with living it.  If we aren’t careful, our comfortable life becomes one of, as Thoreau puts it, “quiet desperation.”

Love should liberate. All too often, it becomes a prison as we settle into a life of apparent comfort through compromise.  That relationship became a 7 year prison sentence.  I met the third love of my life, awhile ago, but I haven’t pursued a relationship; I’m just trying to figure myself out – again.

 

We have a referendum this week, and I have a gut feeling and acquired ‘wisdom’ as an economist, and I will vote that way.  But to be honest, I don’t know, really, what political ideology I can believe in, anymore.  Despite never wanting her children to be branded with the brush of a sect (Doukhobour) that was hated and vilified, I believe in many of the values of environmentalism, mysticism, pacifism, and a shared economy that characterised my mother and her people.  But I also studied economics and finance and the systems I was taught came from a whole different ideology to the one I absorbed from my mother.

Even while I read Adam Smith, Kant, Marx, Lenin, Galbraith, and Keynes, the discussion around their work, looking back, seems like a pre-digested interpretation. I was indoctrinated into the political ideologies of the Universities I attended.  Save for my time in writing school, I was never, really, encouraged to think.   We say that the personal is political. But if the personal doesn’t get a chance to develop, how can it develop anything political? Whether we admit it or not, I think we all had the same kind of education.

This week, the political became personal for me, here in the UK.  An MP was murdered – ostensibly for her politics.  The news was awash with it and on Facebook, a friend quietly posted support to her friend, the husband of the slain MP.  I very nearly missed it.  In the maelstrom of rhetoric, the horrible incident had happened not to some “politician” but to the friend of a friend.  The political is always personal.

But when the rhetoric is silenced, what is it that we really believe? For what, if anything, would we die?  For what do we live?

In my late 20s and early 30s I went down the path that said belief doesn’t matter because there is one Truth, and all thought and ideology is a product of ego.  But we still must live in this world, and if we aren’t blissed out in divine union, we must have some direction for our energy.  Even the system that sought to dissolve systems has basic rules: meditation, non-violence, and other practices to clear and free the mind.  All were designed to make a ‘good’ life.

But what makes for a ‘good’ world?  Is it a series of communities in direct democracy like Switzerland?  Is it a system of representative democracy like America?  Is it a system of centralised planning and rule of law like Singapore?  Is it a series of self sufficient ashrams, or – in the case of my mother’s people – a series of pacifist communes that live a self governing life set apart from wider societal institutions?

Maybe there is something better, beyond popular thinking and current imagining.

 

I am grateful for the artist friends and young people I have met in London.  They inspire me to question my thinking.  I am grateful that I have found new ideas and perspectives and am grateful for having the freedom to re-think my values and to vote.  It is a joy to discover fresh thinking in the world and I hope that I can, in future, do the service of introducing some of that thought to a different demographic.

I was speaking with a young woman the other night. We talked about many things. We wondered what thoughts went through the minds of those who dropped the atomic bomb and those who built it. And then I remembered the words of one of the greatest minds of his time, Robert Oppenheimer, on his contribution to the bomb. It was taken from an ancient yogic text:

“I am become death. I am the destroyer of worlds”

Beyond our thoughts, I do believe the yogis are right and we are all One.  But, our thoughts determine who we are in this world – individually and as a society.  The world seems more divided and upside down than it has been, this century.

Like love, our ability to think should set us free, but like love, we use our minds to imprison ourselves in a comfortable relationship with ideology that can lead to disastrous ends.

Maybe the world would be better off if we all tried to just figure ourselves out.

Photo: Unsplash

Photo: Unsplash

 

For what are you grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

The Power of Words

June 14, 2016
Photo by Jamie Street. Words by unknown graffiti writers

Photo by Jamie Street. Words by unknown graffiti writers

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 663 – Day 668)

On Sunday, I was wrapped up in my own world.  I didn’t see the news until late in the evening.  I had things to do for my upcoming move, and the only time I had for Facebook was to deal with a difficult decision to ban someone from a memorial group who could not stop himself from attacking another member.  I know that anger masks deep pain, and so it was a difficult decision to exclude someone when I advocate working with Oneness. But no pain justifies continuously acting out on another person.  Without seeking to understand, he would lash out and, like children in a schoolyard, others would join in the cyber-bullying with a barrage of words.  When did we stop listening to one another, and engaging in dialogue? When did we start becoming so incensed by different opinions?

I was exhausted and I just needed a break.  I decided to take a trip to South London, on a mission to give an energetic ‘au revoir’ to a London friend, who isn’t here to do it in person.

He is the artist of one of my favourite pieces of street art that was tagged immediately after it was painted.  When I first went to photograph it, right across the face of the character was scrawled in black paint: “Gay.”

I have always been drawn to words on walls and they have the power to offer an alternative perspective that seldom gets expression, and to remind us that there are other ways of being. Lately, there has been a lot of tagging of streetart in London, by graffiti writers.  But this tag hurt me, because it wasn’t a staking of territory or a protest against gentrification – which are a part of the street art/graff/community dialogue.  No, this was HATEFUL.

The sexuality of the artist, the shop owner and the property owner are not something I know. If I don’t know, then it is likely that the graff didn’t know.  Most likely, this was not an overt personal attack directed at someone believed to be gay.  But it is still a hateful act.   It reflects a culture that allows words about sexuality to be used in a derogatory manner, as a means of bullying.

This morning I was watching the news as I was doing chores.  A very popular American sitcom came on.  Three times in the first five minutes, I heard characters use the word ‘Gay’ as an insult to their friend’s manhood.  I don’t watch this program, but it hit me in the heart, as I saw how they were hiding behind ‘comedy’ to perpetuate the acceptability of this form of bigotry.  Bigotry and bullying is not righteous, hip, edgy or funny.

Like feminists, the LGBTQ community has made gains in the UK, Canada and now America but backlash ensues, in subtle and not so subtle ways.  Yes, in many countries, the LGBTQ community faces more open hostility than in America, but hidden hostility and backlash is perhaps more difficult to fight because it is so hard to identify, define and achieve consensus.

Perhaps if any good has come of the Orlando murders, it is highlighting the backlash against the LGBTQ community, just as the Montreal Massacre did for feminists in Canada.  Some will try to silence the dialogue and will point to the changes in the law that give rights to the oppressed.  “Stop complaining,” they will say.  We must not be silenced.  In the Montreal Massacre, the attack was characterised as the act of a madman and not the targeted attack of women in a previously ‘male domain’ of engineering science.  I am grateful that in the 27 years since L’École Polytechnique, leaders have learned that mass murder can be the act of a madman and be a targeted hate crime as well.

 

You may wonder what took me to see that particular piece of art, on this particular Sunday, before I knew about the Orlando shootings.  And, I wonder as well.  For months, I have had this draw to go photograph the piece again and because I am leaving, I reasoned it was now, or never.  For some reason, I felt (or maybe just hoped?) that the piece had been cleaned up by one of the artist’s friends.

When I got there, I had to wait a half hour for the shop to close.  As I waited, I had a moment of stillness watching the evening sky as the quality of light changed with the weather.  It was beautiful.

When the shutter finally came down, I saw that although the art had been tagged with a graff’s name, the hateful tag across the face had been removed.  I let out a “Yay!” and explained my delight to the manager.  We admired the piece together for a few moments and commented on the craftsmanship of the details, before he was on his way.  He took my hand and said he hoped we would meet again.  Do not tell me that street art does not bring people together.

It gave me so much joy!  And as I delighted in seeing the piece restored to its glory (save for the graff tag that happens on the street), it started to rain.  And then, it turned to a downpour.  When I lived in India, I celebrated the monsoons, and standing in the downpour in South London, for a moment, I felt that the world was rejoicing along with me, at the sight of one less hateful thing.

I am grateful to the artist, and to all street artists.  These artists infuse our communities with love and light through the beauty of their art.  They are an integral part of creating the new story of Oneness and Life.

Knowing that I’m leaving London and may not see the artist for a very long time, I am grateful that I was able to create a happy memory, re-visiting the piece.  I believe that there are forces that are trying to extinguish the light and love in the world and they not only perpetuate violence, but they also rob the hope and faith-in-humanity of people of good intention.  With this moment a part of my day, I later learned of the horror of Orlando, and I did not despair.  I was able to send Reiki as a service to the victims and their families and, because it felt right to do so, to the artist that had painted that shutter.   I was unable to sleep; I have rarely felt the “pull” of the recipients so strongly as I did that night.  The world needs so much healing.

I know that many people struggle to find meaning at times like this.  I don’t pretend to have any answers, but for me, I have learned that the only way to combat division and bigotry is through Oneness.  Attacking members of a religion who have perverted and selectively edited the words of their Prophet (Peace be upon him) to justify bigotry and murder will itself be a backlash against a whole religion.  It will not end the culture of bigotry. I don’t know what will end bigotry in our world, other than a growing movement of Oneness. But, if there is anything I know, as a crafter of words, it is this: our words have power.

As the ancient yogis told us: thought becomes word and word becomes deed.  If we want less targeted murders, less workplace discrimination, less religious, gender, sexuality and politically based violence, we can begin by observing and altering the language we use, to change the way we think.  We must be mindful of our rhetoric in response to this horrible event.  Together – and only together – we can buff out hate.

 

For what are you grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Never Give Up!

June 12, 2016
Photo: Alice Achterhof

Photo: Alice Achterhof

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 656 – Day 662)

It’s a rainy day in London and I know that the news can get a person down.  I have been thinking a lot about the wonderful people I meet in London.  I have been wanting to direct a post to all who dare to dream.

I look at people in their twenties, and I am amazed at what they are accomplishing.  My nephew is a hockey champion, one niece is a Canadian weightlifting champion and the other niece has two degrees and a full time placement as a social worker.  When I was their age, I had held very responsible jobs, lost a parent, loved and lost my partner and was scared to really chase my dreams. I had nobody who really mattered, that believed in me enough to tell me not to give up.If someone had said this to me at a crucial moment of decision, my life would probably be different, today.

When I was in my twenties, I got accepted to do my Master’s degree in playwriting at NYU.

I turned it down.

Take a moment to let that sink in.

Very few people know this. Yes, I got the chance to chase my dream, and I turned it down.  I chased it in other ways in a Canadian writing school and in the NYC film business, but the stage was my passion.  I wanted to go to NYU more than I wanted to live, but the investment in tuition was too great for a career as a playwright that “wouldn’t pay off, financially.”  How did I know that?  I didn’t.  That wasn’t my voice speaking in my head.  It was the inherited wisdom of voices that had told me, all my life, to stop being a dreamer and to get my head out of the clouds.  I was a highly sensitive young person and when I heard that story enough, I used it to quell my fear of stepping up to the plate and striking out.  Or, more frightening still, of hitting a home run.  Like most adolescents, I was insecure and I didn’t believe in myself.  So, when I held the ticket to my dream in the palm of my hand, I chose to crumple it up and I throw it away.

That was a defining moment for me, in many ways.  And the sad thing is that most people have never pursued their dreams.  That defines them, as well.

I am so happy when I see younger people giving it a shot. I am blown away by the talent that they have.  And I see that they struggle with the same fear of failure, fear of success, money issues and well – self doubt – that I did.  And they are really talented.  Really talented.  And, what they are doing is amazing.

I know my demographic is 34-65 and not the twenty something generation, but I feel like Joe in John Patrick Shanley’s ill conceived film, Joe vs the Volcano:  “I have no interest in myself.  I think about myself and I get bored.”  What interests me are people who don’t share my perspectives and who can open my mind.

The other day, I clicked and followed links to look at a couple of websites of bloggers that some of my younger friends follow.  Street art websites are interesting but, of course, given my own work, the sites that I like best are the ones by young artists, photographers, and writers themselves, working at their craft.   The writing and perspectives are interesting.  The sites are hip, visual and engaging.  And yet, what I hear from them is a sense of ennui, of feeling a lack of a place for them in the world, and a need to boost their artistic confidence.

Why?  Who is it that is telling them it isn’t going to pan out?  If it’s us, then we need to shut our fat mouths and start being supportive, because the world needs more art and entrepreneurial spirit.  Now, more than ever.

One of those bloggers I read this week was someone who expresses his self doubts at creating music and is really trying to give it a go.  He has so much talent as a writer.  I mean really talented – better than some of the working writers in magazines that I encountered in my time in the business.  He wants to write music, and yet, with all this talent, he doubts himself.

I wanted to tell him: Don’t give up.

Seriously: Never give up!

Of those in my writing classes at UBC, I know of less than a half dozen who are published and award winning writers. All very talented, yes. But, some of the most talented writers never went anywhere. It wasn’t lack of talent. They gave up. Whether I was talented or not, I also have to admit, I gave up on myself too.  Long before I got tired of writing dark tales, I backed away from my dream.  And maybe that is why my writing remained dark and stuck.  Those who made it had one thing in common: they never gave up.

Any unfulfilled dream will remain and if you don’t pursue it when you’re 25, you’ll be scrambling to pursue it at 40 or 50 or 75.  It never goes away.  No amount of money in the world will ever make us happy if we are unfulfilled.

I may be presumptuous, this may be unheeded, but if there is even a chance in a million that I hit the right note with someone like myself, who, at 27, needed someone older to believe in them, then I will say it:

“Never give up. Keep making your art, because the world needs it.”

 

I’m grateful for those who have believed in me and have encouraged my creative and entrepreneurial dreams.  I’m grateful for the mix of friends that I have, ranging from 22 to 83, and for the many perspectives they bring into my life.  And, I am grateful that I didn’t wait till I was 50 or 75 to unearth, dust off and start pursuing my dreams again.  It gets harder to achieve what we want to achieve and to create the body of work that is within us as we get older, and  I wish I knew then what I know now, but I didn’t. This isn’t a dress rehearsal for Life, the Musical. We only get so many days.  We might use them well.

It is a joy to learn that actually, I can still write and more: I can paint.  I’m not very good at it, but why would I be?  I have never tried it before, have had no instruction and am just experimenting and trying it out.  And in a way that I can’t always, with words, I am able to pour my love into a painting.

When I see a young artist, writer, actor, or musician, I see myself, and whether right or wrong, in that moment of Oneness, I am compelled to do the service that I wish someone had done for me.  Maybe it isn’t a service really, because I know that in speaking to them, I am also speaking to the 27 year old inside of myself who still doubts herself and still wonders if anyone cares if she ever writes another word.

So please, never give up.

 

For what are you grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Farewell, Friend

June 5, 2016
Photo: Jonas Vincent

Photo: Jonas Vincent

In Memoriam: Rev. Nicholas Temple (1946 – 2016)

**UPDATE:   There has been a Facebook group setup for remembering Nick. **

I started a blog circa 2006.  I had about a 2 year run of blogging for fun, and then, Facebook took off.  Most of us never went back to it.  A few kept on blogging.  One of the first bloggers I started to follow, Sometimes Saintly Nick, went into Hospice care, last week.

I think I have known Nick for something like 10 years now.  Never having met him, I know that he was a UCC clergy member, a Veteran, a social worker, a father, a grandfather and a cat lover.  I know that he loved music, that he was a crusader for social justice, an old school activist, a musician, a romantic, (his birthday was Valentine’s Day) and he had a corny but unwavering sense of humour.  Despite being of service all his life, he was virtually housebound and alone, for many years.  He was, like so many, a lonely soul, who found community through his computer.

In the time I knew Nick, he lost his ability to work, his mobility, his lifelong home, his health, his independence and finally, his life.  I remember feeling that some of this had to be made up: Surely, so much misfortune could not befall one person.  But it was not made up.  It was a slow and steady decline and one that is all too familiar to those who have seen loved ones reach old age without financial security. Nick was one of the fortunate ones – he was a US Veteran and he had health insurance and as much as his HMO frustrated him, and played fast and loose with his dignity, he had some coverage for his chronic and terminal conditions.  And yet, it seemed a pitiful show of  health “care.”

The last decade of Nick’s life was testimony to poverty in America.

I remember my surprise to find that he had been admitted to hospital and was unable to walk.  I learned about it on Facebook, because we became Facebook ‘friends’ when I stopped blogging.  For the next five months, Nick was in hospital and he posted updates several times a day.  It was heartbreaking to see him so poweless and alone; in the hands of seemingly inattentive hospital staff and at the mercy of beaurocratic nonsense from his HMO.  Nick had family and friends nearby, and they helped advocate for him, but they had their own lives and whatever time they could spare was not enough to fill his days or spare him the indignity of a terminal hospital stay.  He felt he had been “warehoused” in the slow wait for death.

In the midst of this suffering, the group of online friends, who had perhaps never met him in real life, rallied around him, 24/7 from many different time zones.  I remember that one virtual and long distance Facebook friend called 911, to get him attention in the hospital, because the staff were failing to respond to his calls and, as I recall, he was about to fall from his bed and injure himself.

As Nick’s cancer kept him in hospital – in fact, shuttled between hospital to hospital, care home to care home – we saw a lot of nonsensical posts come up and that worried the lot of us.  Was Nick slipping into dementia?  Was he too heavily sedated?  His returns to lucidity were a relief to us all.  This week, however, was very confusing.  A few days before Hospice, Nick was elated that he was going to be released from hospital.  The next message was that there was more confusion about where he would be going, again.  Then the next status update was that he was shaking and cold.  And then, he became unresponsive.

The next message I saw scroll through my Facebook feed was written by a family member, telling us that Nick had been transferred to Hospice care.  I was in a coffee shop, in Shoreditch, working on an article.  I stopped and I sent him love and prayers across the miles, and I cried in the middle of the coffee shop.

In the days of our grandparents, people had pen pals and wrote letters to one another pouring out their hearts and souls, or perhaps just the day’s events, if one was terribly British.  Virtual communication is nothing new.  But Nick made the most it.  I remember his ventures into video blogging and seeing him play guitar and sing for the internet.  I remember the antics of his fur babies, Alex and Midnight.  And I remember the warmth and the compassion of our Nick.

It is not new to come to love someone simply through correspondence.  All of us – Laurie, Ruela, Spo, Bob C, Little Lamb, Paulus, Beader – all of us who knew him, also came to love him, through the internet, the medium of the blog and then through Facebook.  What was new in our times, was that friends of friends could also come to love him, online, too.  Nick did not just make friends. He created a community of strangers bound together by a common love for our Sometimes Saintly, Nick.

Poverty is nothing new, either.  What is new is how indifferent the world has become to the dignity, indeed the divinity, in another human being.  As a society, we have become comfortable with homelessness, and death with indignity.  We no longer see it.  Dickens would never believe that we had managed to invent the computer and the internet, but had not alleviated the misery all around us.  We fail to see what is right before us, even in our most intimate circles.

Every day, Nick was a part of my life.  And the loss of him is as real as the loss of a dear and intimate friend with whom I have spent time, in person.  Nicholas Temple mattered to me.

In his final days, Nick was without his computer.  I can’t imagine how that was, for him.  His computer, his iPod and his blackberry had become his lifeline.  He was aware of just how alone he was, in the hospital.  I looked last night at his last few status messages on Facebook.  Two of the last status updates, when he was lucid, were:  “No visits, no calls, no computer – Doesn’t anyone care?” to which many of us replied that we cared, or we clicked ‘like’ to let him know that he was not alone.  And one that I missed – I don’t know how I missed it – a cry in the darkness:  he was alone, he was afraid, and he was putting himself into the hands of his God.

Never were there more true words written about the end of one’s life.

In the end, we are all alone.  And, we are all afraid.  We don’t know where we are going or if this is it.  All we can hope is that we are loved and that something will be there, lighting our way onward.  Death is inglorious.  It is humbling and it is cruel.  And it comes to us all, far too soon.  But it need not be reached with such indignity.  I cannot help but feel that Nick’s life was cut short by poverty and neglect.

All I could do for Nick, when I learned of his transfer to Hospice was to send him love, prayers and light from thousands of miles away.  In these final days, I posted a letter to him and told him how loved he was.  It did not reach him in time,  but, in his last few days, even people who didn’t know him, (friends of mine on Facebook), were also sending their prayers, love and light to help him find his way onward.

He was loved, and all I can hope is that he felt it, and that it comforted him.

Don’t tell me that the internet, Facebook and the mobile phone are alienating and isolating.  It is not the technology, but the way that it is used that determines the quality of one’s life and relationships.  It is not computers that make us indifferent to one another. Computers brought Nick into our lives. But if Nick’s death is to have any meaning, let it be to shine a light on our indifference to the misery of others all around us.

Nobody who knew Nick – in real life, or virtually – is the same person they were, before they knew him.  He mattered to us, and he deserved far better than he got.  He was a courageous soul, and the world is a little less wonderful without him.

Farewell, friend.  Thank you for your friendship. We light your way, onward with love, Sometimes Saintly Nick.

Photo: Nghia Le

Photo: Nghia Le

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

The Art of Storytelling

June 4, 2016
Photo: Aaron Burden

Photo: Aaron Burden

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 649 – Day 655)

I have a few artists I call friends, and a whole lot with whom I am acquainted.  Recently I met an artist and they asked me if I am an artist, too.  I get this question sometimes.  Sometimes I say that I am a photographer, sometimes I mention that I’ve started sketching and painting at a beginner level.  But always, I say I am a writer.  Oh, many of them say, well, almost an artist.

Really?

How do we differ?

I am a personal essayist, feature writer, dramatist and fiction writer.  I take images, words and ideas and I put them on the canvas of the blank screen.  Then I erase, I adjust, I blend, and sometimes, I just start over again.   I go into a feeling state and try to evoke the same feeling states in the reader.  I allow myself to be vulnerable and expose my own humanity in the hope that the reader will be in touch with their own, through the journey.  The act of telling a story is the art of synthesis, of persuasion, of captivation, and of beauty.  We seek to express and connect, and in that act, to transform.

So, tell me, how is this not art?

Another artist recently compared their creative process with the act of writing an interview.  It’s different for you, they said.  You don’t have to create anything.

No media is objective. Gathering a series of anecdotes and turning those into a story is an act of creation.   It is rare that a subject tells their own story in a way that reveals the meaning, within their life.  Their sense of meaning is a private one.  It is the role of the storyteller to find and reveal the universal from the personal.  I take the incidents of life, form insightful questions, add textures, and highlights and I break things apart and move things around and I delete.  Finally, I shape and reconstruct the form.  I imagine this is something like sculpting, but we call it storyboarding and the raw material for the portrait is a kind of personal psychology and universal mythology, revealed in language.

The art of storytelling predates the written word.  Often it was an account of actual events, but through remembrance and in the telling, it was the carrier of culture and history and the sense of something bigger than ourselves. What remains of our first stories are cave paintings but in various ancient cultures, storytelling involved not only rock paintings, but enacted oral narrative, dance, and music.

We were all One, in the beginning – in the art of storytelling.

 

 

I’m grateful that I learned early that I could express myself in words and I am grateful that at a time when perhaps my parents were preoccupied with their own agendas, my art took nothing more than  a pen and paper, and if I was lucky, a stage.  I am grateful that the internet has made publishing into a democratic process.  It is a joy to read other’s work and a delight whenever someone tells me that they were touched by something that I wrote.

Because it is an act of expression and connection, writing is my first way of working with Oneness.  Some days (more than I’d like to admit), my ego gets in the way and I start to question why I bother to write anything, let alone these very personal gratitude posts.  And yet, I do the service of showing up and writing and walking the talk (imperfectly) of these practices.  Even if I am the only one transformed, that itself is meaningful, and it changes the world.

Each week we come to the fireside to tell a story about Life, lived gratefully. Dance, paint or sing along, as you wish.

Photo: Kimson Doan

Photo: Kimson Doan

 

For what are you grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

“You Have Your Age”

May 26, 2016
Photo: Stephanie McCabe

Photo: Stephanie McCabe

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 642 – Day 648)

This weekend, I celebrate my birthday.  I love my birthday and I love it if people make a fuss over it, but I tend not to wait for others to do it.  I take myself away to Vienna most years and have a different cake and coffee every day of my trip.  I don’t just go to Vienna for the cake (although Sächer Torte really is good).  I go there because they have one of the finest Art History museums in the world and because I am a big fan of Austrian Expressionism and the Vienna Secession art and crafts movement. I also love the Volks Garten and the special Rose Garten that is a part of it.  I could spend all day photographing the Gloria Dei roses that bloom in May.  And of course, Hundertwasser built some amazing social housing in Vienna based on some of the principles of Art Nouveau (a favourite design style of mine) coupled with deep ecology.  His art work is amazing, too.  He was an outsider artist in every sense of the word.

This year, however, I am staying in London for a Paint Jam, because it will likely be the last one for awhile.  I will be in Vienna next month.

Age of course, is on the mind of anyone over 21, when their birthday comes around.  I had a big birthday last year and the fact that I hit a new decade seemed to imply a different way that people viewed me.  Suddenly, I was ‘old.’  If you go back through my posts, you will find that this was the theme, last year.

Inside every old person (whatever old means) is a young person whose body is wearing out.  Well, that is what ‘they’ say, isn’t it?  I’m not so sure that is true.  I have a friend who is 26 and who is, in some ways, behaviourally much younger than that.  But emotionally, he is has the maturity of a wise old person.  I was much the same way.   In some ways, I feel that I am finally growing into the age I was, spiritually and emotionally, as a child.  I have always been sensitive, perceptive and wise.  It’s just that now people are no longer surprised by it.

There is something so funny in that.  I was talking to my flatmate this week about something I had perceived that everyone else had missed.  She didn’t think that was spectacular.  In her Italian English, she said:

“You have your age!”

I wonder what that means.  It is so funny what labels we put on age.  One can’t do certain things because one is too old, but if one displays wisdom, it is expected.  I don’t buy this.

Wisdom is the product of both a personality that is sensitive and perceptive and of one’s circumstances.  Some people are born wise and some people have to attain wisdom quickly because of their precarious circumstances.  Some people older than I, in their senior years, are dumb as a block of wood and lack any self awareness, let alone awareness of others.  Age gives us nothing but worn cartilage, poor eyesight and blocked arteries, if we aren’t careful.  Everything else is either the luck of personality or has been hard earned.

I also had a friend recently insist that I am old.  I found that odd.  He was feeling old, and while a year younger than I am, I find a world of difference between us, in attitude.  He is ready to die, although he probably has another 40 years in him.  I am not.

Neither of us is what I would call old.  Neither of us is what I would consider young, either.  We are at this awkward in-between age where we are ‘coming of Age’.  We had a similar transition as we went from child to adult, but we never talk about the transitions of age that come later.  I estimate that the latter transition will last from 40 to 75 for most of us and is a very challenging time of change.  How we define ourselves is what matters most to our mental health in this period, and to the quality of our lives.

I wonder why so many are so quick to define themselves in such self-limiting ways and insist that others align with their categorisations?

I am grateful for my flatmate’s repetition of a cultural norm that she meted out, unchallenged and for the non idiomatic choice of words she used to express herself.  Words are my blood and so it opened a portal for me to question the ideas that those words conveyed.  I am grateful for my friend who insisted twice that I join him in considering myself old.  My resistance to the label gave me cause to pause and give myself the space to consciously choose how I will define myself in this next year of life.  And most importantly, I am grateful for the opportunity to mark another year around the sun.  There are many friends and family members that will not see that privilege again.  It is a joy to spend time with my Street Art friends and it will be a joy to see my favourite city, Vienna, one more time.  I think about the 26 year old self that I was, the 6 year old self and I anticipate the 86 year old self that I will someday be.  I feel the Oneness of me at all times in my life.  We are who we are and it is only the body that houses the mind and soul that changes and wears out.  We are eternal souls and so, although I have felt and succumbed to a lot of pressure and rules about my age this year, I don’t understand why we get so hung up about the biological date of our bodies.

We all “have our age.” And we all have a limited number of years on this earth.  What we do with the distance between our age and the end point is up to us.  My most important act of service in this lifetime is to live out my life’s purpose, for as long as I have on this planet.

And what does all this mean?   Maybe I am at the point in my life where I feel that I have finally grown into my wisdom.  Maybe I finally “have my age,” but I am under no obligation to accept anyone’s labels or rules.

And, neither are you.

Don’t raise a toast to me, in my honour.  Forget all that “adult” stuff.  Go out and blow bubbles, climb a tree, fly a kite.  Run and jump and dance and sing.  Whatever you do, please don’t act your age.

Photo: Sylvain Reygaerts

Photo: Sylvain Reygaerts

For what are you grateful, this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Solo Navigation on Rough Seas

May 22, 2016

Marius Fiskum

 

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 637 – Day 641)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the choice between victimhood and piloting our blood filled vessels of the soul toward our life’s purpose.  Let me say that the choice to live a life of purpose is not always an easy one.  For whatever reason, the more we live in alignment with our values, the more we can attract hostility from others.

Perhaps it is what psychologists refer to as the “change back” response.  When one makes changes in one’s life, family and friends can become disoriented and feel threatened by the changes and the first response is to try to get one to “change back.”  Sometimes, one’s changes are threatening to others because they draw other’s attention to areas of their own lives that remain unfulfilled.  And sometimes, it is simply one’s conviction, that brings about challenge.  In any case, it would be a lie to say that living a life of purpose is smooth sailing.

This week I have encountered hostility from unexpected places.  Were I rooted in equanimity, I would navigate the waves with ease.  I am not always so firmly rooted.

Defence is a natural instinct to an attack.  But this is probably an amygdala response from the very old part of our brains that still thinks we might be eaten by lions.  When the attack is a personal attack on one’s way of being in the world, defence is an unhelpful response because, in taking a defensive stance, one gives power to the attacker.  We must not justify our existence.  Our existence, our beliefs, our choices and our privacy need no justification.

I fell into defence briefly, this week, on Facebook.  It wasted my time, and it wasted my vital energy.  I had somewhere to be and my preoccupation with defence left me rushing to get to my appointment.  It occupied my thoughts for almost the entire trip.  A person grounded in equanimity would not have defended themselves or carried the attacker in their mind.  But I am human.  Fortunately, during the journey, I recognized my response for what it was.  I took care of myself, without justification.  But it made me sorry for all the lost vital energy that I had allowed the incident to rob from me.

When I arrived at my destination, more rough seas ensued.

I have been floating on the edges of a spiritual community for the last 10 years, enjoying the community whilst practicing my own similar, but distinct, path. When I first came to their meetings, I was the youngest in the room and everyone was at least 15 years older than I was, at the time.  Even the leader said it was a path for the more mature seeker.

I had come from a yoga circle in New York that was mutli-generational, but I found that beyond that circle, yoga was really the preserve of the 18-25 year old yoga bunny.   I wasn’t interested in fitting in with the yoga bunny crowd, but neither did I fit with the older circle of this London based spiritual group.  Ten years have passed, and I am now nearly the age of the next youngest in the group, when I first met them.  Somehow I felt I finally grew into the group.

Just as I came to feel this, the group dynamic changed.  Leadership is changing and the focus is radically shifting toward those under 30, and the work of the group is largely excluding the rest.  In the words of the new, 30-something leader, he is “focussing on the future and people under 30, because they are the future.”

It struck me as a very linear view of time, and an odd way to transition leadership.

It is darkly amusing that just as I feel I have reached the maturity for the path, the path changes and I am no longer in the desired demographic.  And, sadly, those who have been on the path for decades seem furious at feeling discarded and useless.  I can see the dynamics of an irreparable rift and a split taking shape.  I have witnessed two spiritual communities that splintered and split when leadership changed.  Neither felt as tumultuous as the energy in the room, this week, as the new leader came to meet the group.

 

I am a little saddened by what I heard in the meeting, but am grateful for the clarity that I have.  This spiritual community has served its purpose, for me, and it is time to move on.   I am also grateful for the clarity to recognize and stop defending my way of being in the world and to let go of those who would attack me for who I am.   And, I am grateful for the wisdom of Swami Satchidananda, my yoga master.  He used to say that one must not judge a guru by his followers.  I extend this statement to the concept that one must not judge that thing greater than ourselves by the actions of the individuals that make up the whole – guru, follower, friend, family and non-believer alike.

The day of the meeting was a particularly rough one, but I am joyful today to see early morning sunshine.  Whenever one is in the midst of a group at war with itself, it may feel difficult to remember Oneness, if one doesn’t also remember that it is ego and personality that creates war, not the eternal part of oneself.  And it is in the eternal where we are all One.  My service today is to bless those who welcomed me into their group and to move on and chart my own course, remembering always that they have been an essential part of my journey.

What is the greater meaning in all of this?

I suspect that the artist, the mystic, the ecologist, the healer, even the economist…anyone who is looking to live a life of purpose..can never really be a follower of anything other than Truth.  A bird pushes its young out of the nest, in order to teach it to fly, and if one is lucky, one will get pushed out of any nest that becomes too comfortable.  Making the choice to be independent must also include the choice to be independent of the opinions of others.

This can make the seas one navigates seem stormy and treacherous as people attack and exclude.  Solo navigation on rough seas is not for everyone.

But it is the hero’s journey.

I don’t recall a single hero, in literature, that wasted much time justifying their journey.  I don’t know a single hero that didn’t have to lose sight of land, home and companions.  And I don’t know a single hero in literature that didn’t go through a series of tests, fail some, get lost, and have to face their fears and abandonment as they journeyed through the dark.

But I also don’t know a single hero that, having come to the end of their journey, ever regretted it.

I know that there are many of us out there navigating rough seas in our own ships, trying to find our way.  It may help to remember that although the sea is vast, we are not alone.  Perhaps one day, we will meet, and share a moment in some harbour, before we set sail again and weather the storms.

Photo: Mariana Magno

Photo: Mariana Magno

For what are you grateful, today?

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Messages from the Soul, Hidden in the Boxes Under the Bed

May 17, 2016
Photo by Christopher Flynn

Photo by Christopher Flynn

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 635 – Day 636)

I live in a small place.  I’m efficient and organised at work but at home…well…my paperwork gets thrown into a box on the desk.  And when that is full, it gets emptied into the box under the bed.  This morning I had two overflowing boxes on the desk and two boxes under the bed.  The papers have been staring at me, mocking me, for weeks.

Today, I had a writing deadline for an interview.

So, of course, I sorted my paperwork.

Now, because I am going between two tax regimes this year and am self employed, I tend to keep every receipt that has ever entered my wallet.  My weekly grocery shop – much to my chagrin – is not a deductible expense, so it was the first to make the transition to the rubbish bin.

And, I seem to attract people who want to give me their card.  I look at the card and 9 times out of 10 I can’t for the life of me remember who the person was or why they gave it to me.  I have a card.  It is useless.  And so, it is next into the bin.

In this mass of “treasured” paper is a whole lot of rubbish.  Two bin bags full, it turns out, today.  Yes, there are bank statements, and the odd bit of important correspondence, but by and large, it’s rubbish.

Now, as a writer I could be forgiven for holding on to so much paper – it is my stock and trade.  But the grocery receipts are just a step too far.  Still, hidden under two small desk boxes and two under the bed boxes were some real treasures.

I have a storage locker.  In it, there are 4 boxes.  One is my tax files. Another is a box of books.   The other two contain medical files, course notes and loads and loads of writing. This is all the paper I will keep.  The rest is recycled.  But hidden in this pile of rubbish was the beginning of a novel from last year, letters to loved ones I never mailed, notes from personal development courses, letters to “myself at 80” and a whole lot of writing ideas.

I used to write fiction and drama and I stopped when I got tired of writing dramatic but tragic stories.  Drama is easy if we revert to tragedy.  But it is oh, so easy, to get stuck there.  It takes a quiet confidence to be able to tell a story of triumph.   Last year, I started brainstorming ideas for fictionalising my life story (it is pretty unusual, so even the true story might read like magic realism!)  I was delighted to find this note to myself, scribbled in the margin:

Text and Photo by Tania D Campbell

Text and Photo by Tania D Campbell

Why, indeed?  I have run across this note in the margin of my ‘ideas’ book a few times already, and it makes me chuckle every time.  Why are we here, if not to live a happy life, complete with a happy ending?

I have art by Plin and Skeleton Cardboard, a few drawings by me, some bits and pieces from fellow writer TCBC and a couple of mind maps above my desk.  I think I will post this up, a great reminder, every day, of what it is I’m trying to make out of this life and the story it will tell.

Lest you think I am always Sally Sunshine and rainbows and care bears follow me everywhere,  I also came across this little tidbit which clearly was occupying my mind instead of whatever professional course I was supposed to be undertaking:

Words copied from an interview with David Cameron following the terrorist attacks in Paris, 2015. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Words copied from an interview with David Cameron following the terrorist attacks in Paris, 2015. Photo by Tania D Campbell

Rather ominous words.  I thought for a long time to try to recall the context of this quote and what had made me scribble it – and only it – on a full sized sheet of A4 paper.

And then I started to put the pieces together.  I am trying to live in the light and to spread that light in the world, but I am very aware that the world around me is darkening at an accelerating rate.  The system is broken and our way of life has become unsustainable.  This paradigm in which we live is an enchanting illusion but it is really deceptive and dark and I do believe the paradigm will shift, but I’m not sure that it will be in my lifetime.

I found these words felt very much like the sentiments being repeated after 9/11 in America.   These words were from of a press conference by a world leader, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, last November.  The words shot through me like a flaming arrow and made me wonder what hell lay ahead, in terms of civil liberties and war.

Spoken like a battle cry, I will keep this paper and the words, and I will turn it upside down in its context.  There are darkening forces in the world that would stop at nothing to extinguish the light in the hearts of us all.  And in the face of that threat, I say:  “It may take a very long time, but they will be defeated.”

 

And then there is the personal.  Hidden under the bed was the cry of a grieving heart, and I am grateful that she has moved through and healed her torment:

Words by an unknown version of Tania D. Campbell. Photo by author.

Words by an unknown version of Tania D. Campbell. Photo by author.

 

I really don’t recognize the version of myself who wrote this.  Perhaps I don’t want to recognize her.  Perhaps a little of her lurks in all our hearts when we love and experience loss.

 

Looking through the boxes, I found the various lists of qualities I liked about J, and about P, and about M – every man I’ve ever loved, as an adult:

 

* Kind

* Great sense of humour

* Spiritual

* Handsome/Sexy

* Romantic

* Sensitive

* Creative

* Intelligent

* Independent

* Financially independent

* Loves me

* Treats me well

 

Each had a few variations but the list is always pretty much the same.  I am pretty sure that either I seek out men of the same type, or I wear rose coloured glasses and project my animus onto whatever man takes my fancy.  It is probably a little bit of both.  I am grateful that I have somehow, for some reason, kept all of these lists over the years to remind me to be grateful for each of the men in my life who have been all this and more.  I can see the thread of Oneness in all the Love, pure and simple, that has been reflected in all the faces of the Beloved in my life.

There were so many word-snapshots of different versions of myself in those boxes today.  It was a joy to encounter them all and a service to honour each version of myself as part of the whole.

Pages from a journal, letters  that I will never send, mind maps of my life’s purpose.  All of these treasures were like messages from my soul, from the unchanging part of myself that is the container for the heartbroken, the optimist, the wary cycnic, and the romantic.  I am every one of these people and more.  And I am grateful for the words they have left behind.

The meaning of our lives doesn’t announce itself in neon lights, suddenly, one day.  It is hidden in the scraps of paper and in the photos and the little keepsakes that remind us of others that we – for some reason – keep tucked away.  Every once in awhile we need to have a clear out and find those pieces of the puzzle that makes up the map of the human heart and to sit and read the messages from the soul, that lay hidden in boxes under the bed.

 

For what are you grateful, today?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Second Life

May 15, 2016
Photo: Nick Tiemeyer

Photo: Nick Tiemeyer

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness and Service (Day 629 – Day 634)

Today I am reflecting on how much we consume and the ways in which we have become such a disposable society.  I am fortunate that my parents were the first generation to leave the farm.  And more fortunately, when I was growing up and would spend part of the summer with my Russian grandmother, I got exposed to the life of a working farm.

Both grandmothers had gardens.  My dad had 13 siblings and so his mother grew food as a bit of a necessity.  My mother’s mother grew food because it was their way of life.  The doukhobors live by the adage: ‘toil and peaceful life’ and hospitality is its expression.

As vegetarians, my grandmother kept a cow for milk, butter and cheese – yes, she made her own.  And she kept chickens for eggs.  But the majority of the food came from the garden.  Beans, peas, carrots, beets, rhubarb, potatoes, radishes, cabbage, lettuce, raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, tomatoes, and corn.  All that filled our soups and our perogies came from the garden.  And every day, my grandmother made her own bread. It was delicious, it was fresh and it was organic.  And perhaps most importantly, it was tended and grown with love.

My grandmother knew how to make use of every single thing.  Nothing was wasted and everything had a second life.  I don’t remember having many canned foods, if any, in her house.  Well, that is, no store bought canned foods because of course my grandmother canned her own vegetables, fruits, jams and pickles.  But any biscuits tins or chocolate boxes were saved and reused for storage.  She had the same set of dishes her entire life, and pots and pans were probably passed down from her mother.  I have my mother’s cast iron frying pan and I think it was probably one of my grandmother’s, originally.  Nothing went to waste.  Food scraps were composted, even back then.

I grew up in suburbia and as an adult, went to live in big urban centres.  I never learned to farm, although I did learn to harvest.  What I did learn from both my grandmother and my mother was how to reuse and not to waste.  Every glass jar of spaghetti sauce or pickles becomes a container for something or a canister to hold lentils or sugar, until it is finally recycled.  And while I try to avoid plastic, any plastic box that holds vegetables becomes a drawer divider or goes to the community garden for seedlings until it is downcycled. I try, as much as possible, not to create waste for landfill.

This attitude stretches out to using everything until it is worn out.  I drove my first car for 14 years and then passed it on.  My second car was “second hand” and I sold it on, and then the new owner sold it on, yet again.  I know the 4th owner.  I still see that car running strong.  Now, I am fortunate not to need to own a car because I live in a city with excellent public transportation. I prefer not to own a car.

As a child, I learned not to fuss too much over things.  I wore the same outfit for what felt like a decade, as a child, because my mother would sew the same pattern, in the same fabric,  for all three of her daughters, who were born five years apart.  As I grew, I got the next size up…twice.  Even if I had been a girl inclined to shop for fashion, it would have been drummed out of me by having to wear the same clothes for years.

As an adult, I wear my clothes to death.  I have a polar fleece hoody that I bought in 1998.  It has been around the world with me, and I still continue to wear it.  When it has holes or is no longer wearable, I will give it to North Face for reuse in new textiles.  Most of my clothes are like this.  What was once a work outfit becomes a pub outfit and later, an “at home”, laundry day outfit and it is either finally given to charity or to textile recycling.  Had I learned to sew, I might be able to make a rug, or washcloths out of my clothes, like my mother and my grandmother did.

My sister tells me that I should throw out old clothes so I can always look my best.  You never know where you’ll “meet someone” and you want to be looking your best, she would say.  Well, maybe she has a point. I am, after all, still single.  But let’s face it.  If I am to meet a partner, I want someone who is also as committed as I am to reducing waste and opting out of the manic consumption of our modern world.  I want to meet someone who, like me, would rather gaffer tape his computer screen than buy a new laptop full of conflict minerals.  I’m not poor.  I can buy new things.  I simply choose not to.

Photo: Jenelle Ball

Photo: Jenelle Ball

And when I do get ‘new’ things, there is great satisfaction in having things that others have either gifted me or that they have passed on to me.  Right now, I live in a place that is smaller than a studio.  I do this by choice.  I have enough stuff for me, and a guest.  I used to live in a 2 bedroom flat and it was full of stuff that I didn’t need.  When I realised that I spent 95 percent of my time in one room, I knew I didn’t need so much space.

In New York, I lived in less than 300 square feet, the entire time I lived there.  I had what I needed.  I was never happier.  Small space living means that life outside of my home is a lot more active and social and my home becomes a space of retreat.

Where I live now is furnished but in New York, I bought second hand furniture from Housing Works (a charity that was founded to support those living with AIDS) and everything nested.  When I left New York City, I gave it all away – most of it back to Housing Works for yet another life and some of it to friends.  And in London, where the population is even more transient, I have given away most of my things and what I still have are pieces from friends who left town.   I don’t think any of my pots, pans, dishes, or shelves are things that I bought from a high street.

And let me tell you, I have found all of our daily practices can be done simply in the use of my things, every day.  When I sit down to eat my breakfast, I am grateful for the kettle that P- gave me, which his sensei could not use.  And I am grateful for the bowls which Alicia and Ste passed on to me when they left London.  I have my coffee and I think about Lk, and I am grateful that he left me his oversized tea cup and saucer when he left for Oxford and as I add my sugar, I use the spoons that we had in our flat at LSE in 2003 and I think of Matt, Dev, Th, Pl, Dar, and Z.  I have my morning shower and I think of Steph and Tony whose towels I received when they returned to the States, and when I sit down to write, I think of my sister and her children who gave me my iPad mini.  I am grateful for all the gifts of the things that fill my life.  And, it is a joy to be reminded of these people that I love and who are not with me.  The thing that nobody ever talks about, when they talk about using hand me downs or second hand items is the circle of Oneness that is created.  When I pass that cup on to someone else,  I am delighted to think that they might think of me, a little, too.  In old things, there is continuity.

It is said that everything contains consciousness.  And in that cup, with the tea and the sugar and the milk, is a dollop of each of our energies, forever co-mingled and creating an even more beautiful object.  It is the reason we hold on to items from those departed from us.  It is why we treasure certain silly things.  My current treasure is a step ladder.  I don’t use it much in my small space.  I think I have used it once.  But I hold on to it because it is both useful and it was given to me by the second love of my life to take care of me when he was not with me.  He didn’t want me climbing on the chair to reach the top cupboard anymore, after I took a spill.  And so he bought me the most sturdy, heavy duty stepladder he could find as a symbol of his care and protection. It is a service both to reuse things and to remember from where they came, to care gently for, and to pass on each of these objects for a second or third life.

So where is the meaning in all this?  Am I fetishing objects and actually revealing myself to be extremely materialistic in the love of my things?  Well now, I hope that isn’t what you will take away.  This week, I passed on a printer and some shelf organisers to the Nomadic Community Gardens.  As I did, I thought of Sara, who passed down the printer to me and Steph and Tony who passed down those shelf organisers.  I not only passed on their goods, but I passed on both their and my energy to the next owners.   We are a Nomadic Community and our good vibes will be passed to the next owner.

Photo: Tania D Campell

Photo: Tania D Campbell

There is a continuity in making use of old things.  They may not be the most shiny or new, but they are beautiful because they each are the container of a conscious story of Oneness.

 

For what are you grateful, today?