Browsing Category

Making a Difference

Love, Making a Difference, Ten Thousand Days

The Landscapes of Conflict

December 10, 2023

Photo: Stijn Swinnen

Day 3399 – Day 3403

One night this past week, I was scrolling and came across a video made by the actor Misha Collins, raising awareness about the shelling of Ukraine and I wrote a long comment.  I’m not a fan girl and can’t see myself ever being a celebrity fan girl.

I worked in the New York film business for several years and I worked with a lot of stars.  Yes, I was  excited to work with David Mamet and Paul Schrader – both great writers – but the only person who caused me to be tongue-tied and nervous was Francis Ford Coppola, when I met him, in passing.  Our office was in the famous Brill Building, on Broadway, on Paul Simon’s floor, so there were a lot of famous people that I met on set, in post and in passing.  I see stars for who they are – fellow human beings (with followers) who are very good at their craft (and sometimes very lucky) but humans, all the same.  Sometimes they have more fragile egos than one might expect, and it is for that reason – not because they are celebrities – that they might deserve extra kindness.

So, I suppose it was a combination of my nonchalant attitude towards celebrities, and the fact that I seem to share a lot of the same passions with Misha Collins, that led me to overshare by way of a contemplative comment on his YouTube video.  I don’t regret what I said, but I did realize that it wasn’t the right forum.  So, I deleted it – but not before I took a screen shot for myself.

There is so much conflict in the world and on the world stage.   I have friends and colleagues on both sides of current wars.  I don’t condemn anyone for feeling aligned with one side or another based on their lived experience.  I think that is natural.   But at the risk of attracting condemnation, I am becoming more resolved in my own impartiality.

There is a monument in London to Edith Cavell, a nurse who treated soldiers on both sides of the conflict in WW1 and who aided Allied soldiers to escape across the Dutch border.  She was tried by the Germans and shot for treason.  I learned of Edith Cavell during my time sitting in silent contemplation as a guest of the London Quakers.  I passed the monument several times a week, for years,  and the memory of her story left cracks in my heart.  I think, or I certainly hope, that I would have done the same as she.  In my heart, I feel that when we are called to love, it is a Holy call and our ego’s preferences can have no part to play.  That choice of impartial love can be a matter of conscience or faith or both.

This brings me back to the comment I made on Misha Collins’ video.  For context, I understand that he practices Buddhist meditation and he has a history of activism in both politics and projects aimed at making the world a kinder place.  We share a similar passion to change the world for the better.  Don’t many of us have that aspiration?  I assume that if you are hitting up this website, you are at least interested in gratitude, joy, oneness and service.  Perhaps, my friend, we are being called to a new army: an army of love.

I deleted my comment on Misha’s channel, partly because it wasn’t the forum for such a comment and partly because I thought it might be seen as a criticism, which was not my intention.  He was, in the video, in Ukraine, filming the torment of night time Russian shelling.  To some, it might appear that he has chosen a side, but only he knows the level of equanimity and compassion that he nurtures in his heart, for each side of the conflict.  Edith Cavell’s example reminds us that impartiality does not necessarily mean a lack of action, yet the landscapes of conflict are where our good intentions can be misconstrued and we can forget the good intentions of others.

In any case, I thought that you, dear reader, might find some food for thought in my slightly abridged words:

I wonder whether you struggle, like I do, to balance the spiritual call to be the witness, with your compassion and your activism.  This is not a criticism but a genuine question.

It is something that I wrestle with, on my own hybrid spiritual path.  My maternal ancestors were radical pacifists from that very region (Ukraine/Russia).  My paternal ancestors took a different tack on Christianity and lived more by the sword.  My meditation/spiritual teacher, in this lifetime, is a mystic of a different faith, where the tradition is both witnessing and radical love (but the sword has its historic place in the wider faith within which the mystic sits)

My teacher’s guidance is not to expend energy on outer activism, but to focus all our work on the inner…which is somewhat of a return to the path of my maternal ancestors.  It is heartbreaking and requires constant wrestling with the ego to truly be a compassionate witness and lover.  To do it wholeheartedly is not an act of complacency but I certainly don’t find that I live up to the call of my maternal ancestors or my mystic teacher.  I wonder sometimes if the inner work is enough.  And, just saying that feels like I need to do more inner work.

My maternal ancestors were labelled “Spirit Wrestlers” by the Russian Orthodox Church.  I really feel that moniker in my bones.  They have nearly died out now, globally, but it feels like now is their time.

Late night thoughts here but I do wonder how you manage the pull between the inner and outer.  I wonder how anyone on a spiritual path does.  I don’t feel I”m doing a great job of it in these times.

I’m not sure any of us are really doing a great job of navigating a world in conflict right now. Conflict seems only to be escalating, from inner conflict to family conflict to workplace conflict to road rage to a shooting at the local grocery store until entire countries and regions of the world are at war.

If we believe that there is something more profound than just ourselves, how do we reconcile the experience of conflict with our awareness of Oneness?  And how, then are we to respond?

I don’t have the answers.   I have inner conflict and there is conflict in many areas of my life with which I struggle to bring together both my worldly and spiritual truths.  I have some good questions and my faith to guide me but I am actively wrestling with them, for my own and for Spirit’s sake.

Even in this uncomfortable place, I find myself grateful.  I’m grateful for that video by Misha Collins that gave me the space to begin to put words to these questions.  I’m glad I made the choice to delete them and re-write them in this forum, as an invitation to contemplation.    I am grateful for my ancestors – even for the fact that their values were so at odds.  It has been a legacy I have had to contend with all my life. Perhaps it has made me more aware of and willing (sometimes not before I’ve dug in my heels and been dragged, kicking and screaming) to try to walk the tight rope between points of view.  And, finally, I’m grateful for my teacher and my small group of fellow meditators with whom I meet, fortnightly, to bear witness to it all.

My compassionate hope for you is that you, too, will find the gift of space to reflect and wonder, as you navigate the many landscapes of conflict.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Gratitude, Gratitude Practice, Happiness, Joy, Making a Difference, Service, Ten Thousand Days, The Daily Practice

A Global Renaissance

January 22, 2020

Photo: Olm Vibes

Day 1979 – Day 1985

That title of my previous post, “YouTube Famous” was a nod to the Millennial generation, the first generation to grow up on social media, and to create and aspire to participate in the phenomenon of going viral.   I have no expectation that TTDOG’s YouTube channel will become YouTube famous and in fact, at a personal and selfish level, I’d be horrified and my skin begins to itch at the thought of it, because I am attached to this project.   I’ve known several famous people and fame is something that looks great on the outside but comes at a very high price.  I told a story and hoped that it would take the reader along a journey with me but maybe I didn’t signpost clearly enough the final destination. I truly do want the practice of Gratitude to go viral.  It is the only reason that I’ve continued to write about gratitude, and my gratitude practice, past the original 7 day Facebook challenge.

Like every human, I am wildly flawed and plagued by ego – both the self-aggrandizing and the self-deprecating sides of that ego coin.  My name may be associated with this project but being on camera, I pretty quickly realized that I needed to tell the story while taking the focus off of me, even as the storyteller.   Yes, I am the writer and it is my subjective story of a long-term practice of gratitude that I am telling but the protagonist of the story is Gratitude, not me.

If this story of Ten Thousand Days of Gratitude should happen to go viral, if I’ve done my job well, it is Gratitude that will spread like wildfire.  I will have succeeded in achieving one of my goals – these last 5 years – to be an instrument of what Robert Emmons calls a Global Renaissance of Gratitude.

My channel isn’t competing with all the other content providers making videos on gratitude.  It is competing with the channels glorifying luxury consumption, self-made star status, and the obsession with more that comes from a mindset of lack.

I am aware of the underlying Christian ethic in the West that says one should not be seen to be virtuous in public.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that to guard against hypocrisy, one ought to be somewhat clandestine with our virtue.  Whether one is Christian or not, if one lives in a Western democracy, this is a prevailing cultural imperative and we use it to assume hypocritical intentions of anyone who sets out to inspire others to follow a virtuous path, no matter how humbly it is done.

We have become so cynical that an outward expression of thanks is considered suspect and the whole practice of forming a habit and an attitude of gratitude is considered cliché.  To be cliché means it is overdone, and the art of genuinely living gratefully is, sadly, forgotten in our modern world.  We fill the air with empty words of thanks, to maintain an appearance of politeness, while sneering at those actively forming a practice to honour the sacredness of gratefulness, expressing profound appreciation to others, and acting upon that thankfulness to increase the good in the world.  I’m afraid our happiness and wellbeing indices tell a story of a culture that is tragically lacking in gratitude, despite our social etiquette.

Public practice of a virtue is condemned, yet on television, in the news, on social media, and in our gossip, we make it a guilty pleasure to be spectators of the public practice of vice.  That, to me, is hypocrisy.

The demographic that reads a written blog like this is somewhat different to the younger demographic that watches YouTube.  There is yet a different demographic that consumes podcasts.  Whether TTDOG gains a large following or not, I will put TTDOG on each of these platforms to increase the chance that this story will inspire others to practice gratitude.  Emotion is contagious and in a world with the airwaves filled with bad news, I’d like to counteract that and spread the complex emotion of gratitude, with all the associated positive emotions and behaviours that attach to it.

I’m a servant to a social movement of Gratitude and a volunteer employee of the TTDOG brand.  Doing this work comes at the sacrifice of earning more money in my professional gig and at the cost of my own creative work.  I have been transformed and healed through the steadfast daily practice of gratitude and the cultivation of an attitude of grateful living.  I could not, in good conscience, not do this work.

I believe in the great potential of gratitude to change the world.  I have experienced in my own life what Robert Emmons calls the ARC model of gratitude – the ability of gratitude to Amplify, Rescue and Connect each of us.  Gratitude amplifies the good in the lives of ourself and others by changing our predisposition to one that expects and recognizes the goodness in the world, it rescues us from a world built on doom and gloom, transforming a natural negativity bias, that robs us of our happiness, into a bias towards benevolence and the capacity for joy, and it connects us to others with our desire to pass on the great good we have experienced, though reciprocity.

I am dedicated to do my part to further a social movement of gratitude.  Speaking of the teachings of Brother David Steindl-Rast, Emmons eloquently says, in The Little Book of Gratitude:

 

The spark that can ignite a trend towards global gratitude is the zeal of men and women
who discover that grateful living makes life meaningful and fulfilling.”

 

Photo: Faris Mohammed

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Art, Articles, Community, Making a Difference, Music, Service

Cayley Miranda Schmid: Home Tone of the Bellingham Folk Music Community

January 24, 2019

Photo: Kenneth Kearney

This month, we feature Cayley Miranda Schmid, in our series of people working to make a difference in the world and in their communities.  Schmid is a professional musician, fiddle instructor, community event organizer, dancer, writer and magical weaver of connection for people interested in traditional and folk music and dance.  In a recent podcast interview, her bandmate and interviewer, David Pender Lofgren, credited Schmid with drawing him into celtic music and their band.  It is safe to say that there are many musicians in the Pacific Northwest and beyond that owe their introduction to music and the social circles that it can provide to Cayley Miranda Schmid.

We were curious to discover what motivates someone to spend so much time and energy creating opportunities for others in her community.

I love being able to create environments for people to enjoy music and enjoy their communities.  Once I find something I love, I want to find a way to share it with other people and enjoy it, together.

Born in Vancouver, Schmid’s family moved to a quieter seaside town in Northwest Washington when she was just a child.  Not being a big-city child, this was a decision for which Schmid remains grateful.

I’ve never lived anywhere else for long enough to compare; Bellingham is small enough that information spreads by word of mouth, but large enough to support lots of projects.  A lot of people move to Bellingham from larger cities to have more of a sense of community.  Bellingham is also starting to get more of a reputation for being a folk-music-loving town, which attracts more of the same!

Schmid began her performance career as a ‘tweenager,’ participating in competitive Scottish Highland dancing.  She soon found that she enjoyed Irish dancing and preferred the celtic music that accompanied Irish dance.

Irish and Scottish music drew me in first as music to dance to, and then as music to play.  Jigs and reels at a good tempo feel like a heartbeat, and playing it with other people feels like a natural human function.  The tunes jam so many notes into a phrase of music, but it feels exhilarating and not chaotic.  Sometimes it’s hard to put your finger on what draws you to something you love, but I know it makes me happy.

When she was just 12, she saw Anna Schaad perform in Bellingham and was mesmerised by her glamour.   Realising that her violin lessons could be re-focussed on learning fiddle tunes, Scmid’s musical journey began.  Under the mentorship of Schaad, she began performing at the age of 14, developed a lifelong performing partnership with cellist Clea Taylor Johnson, (a fellow founding member of the traditional celtic band, Giant’s Causeway), had her first professional paid tour as a fiddler, and returned to Bellingham and a roster of fiddle students, by the age of 20.

Clea Taylor Johnson and Cayley Miranda Schmid; Photo: Aaron Guest

Schmid currently plays in Giant’s Causeway, and in the multi-genre band, Polecat, which she joined at the request of guitarist Aaron Guest, who later became Schmid’s life partner as well as band mate.

Schmid is grateful for the many wonderful opportunities that she received as a young musician and recognizes that many music students don’t have these same chances to experience performance, mentorship and the social aspects of being a musician.  Over the past decade, Schmid has dedicated much of her time to providing safe spaces to explore one’s craft, with more experienced musicians, in workshops and jam sessions.  Schmid hosted a weekly Celtic Ceili gathering (roughly translated as an Irish kitchen party), which has evolved into the multi-day, multiple venue autumn Bellingham Irish Festival.   Schmid also organises a diverse festival of workshops, performances and jam sessions of many sorts of traditional music in the celebrated multi-day, Bellingham Folk Festival.  The 2019 Bellingham Folk Festival takes place at the Bellingham Unitarian Church and offsite concert venues this coming weekend; January 25-27th.

Schmid seems to never rest.  A typical day consists of:

Lots of computer stuff.  Emailing and calendar coordinating.  Feeling guilty about not cleaning the bathroom.  Four or five private fiddle lessons, sometimes group classes.  Feeling guilty about not exercising.  Play a show or go to a show, have a rehearsal or recording session.  Making a big to-do list for tomorrow.

As a precocious and self-motivated youngster, Schmid’s experience with home schooling and self study taught her that if there is a gap in her knowledge or experience, she has all the skills and resources necessary to fill it or find those who can help her fill it.

I’m always excited to learn new things about the subjects that I’m passionate about.  Expanding my understanding of music and folk traditions makes me appreciate it even more, and it seems like other people want that as well.  I don’t think there needs to be a definite line between teachers and students, we can all be open to receiving new information.

Photo: Sandy Lam

In a teaching role, the most valuable thing I can do is to share why I love doing it, and to help other people find their musical happy place.  Everyone learns so differently, and everyone has a different idea of what they want to achieve.  I try and adapt to each person’s learning style and speed, and to push folks a little further than they think they can go.  Some people are able to work on music every day, and some only have an hour a week to play, but everyone can still experience the joy of playing.  For myself, I’ve had times that I’m really motivated to improve on my instrument and times that I need to take a break.

Recognizing that there are many ways to learn, Schmid has for the last 5 years, organised a multi-day festival with a full roster of workshops on songwriting, singing, dance, and in depth sessions with senior musicians on various instruments that aim to help developing musicians take their skills to the next level.  When one thinks of music festivals, one imagines summer sunshine, camping in a field and jam sessions that go into the late evening with the long summer light.  A bright light in the space between summer festivals is the Bellingham Folk Festival.

I like that the festival is in the middle of winter, when days are short and you want to be cozy, inside, with your friends.  My friend Sam Vogt designed the perfect logo for the festival; a lantern in an evergreen forest.  I think that sums up the feeling of being at the festival pretty nicely.  The Bellingham Folk Festival has a pretty huge offering of workshops, so it appeals especially to those who are interested in playing music as well as listening.

Logo Design: Sam Vogt

I have loved seeing new communities of folk music players and appreciators start to form in Bellingham over the last few years.  I am constantly trying to introduce people to each other that have already connected!  We are bonding with the people we share happy times with, and community seems to spring naturally from those shared experiences.

We wondered how funding impacts Schmid’s choice of festival performers and instructors and where Schmid sources the money to fund these events.

There isn’t any!  Everything I organise is supported by ticket sales.  The festivals receive some financial sponsorship from generous local business and individuals.  Those donations are crucial to getting the events off of the ground.  Then I shoot for ticket sales to cover most of the operational expenses.

For me, an ideal festival line-up would include half local musicians and half touring musicians, performers and teachers who are passionate about sharing with the people who have showed up to be there, and a blend of current friends and new people to connect with.  I so appreciate teachers and performers who come with the ‘all in’ attitude, ready to participate and connect.

Undoubtedly, love of the music and craft inspires this ‘all in’ attitude, but we suspect that Schmid herself inspires people to want to give generously to these events.

As if her to-do list was not massive enough, Schmid has recently revived an old passion for fiction writing.

In high school and college I did a lot of creative writing.  Mostly poetry and short stories.  I think I stopped putting energy into it when I didn’t have a class or peer group to share it with.  Right now I’m VERY slowly working on a (piece of) young adult fiction about kids playing traditional music.  It’s sort of sitting on my desktop right now, waiting for creative moments.

Creativity is a quality that is not in short supply with the multi-talented and tireless Schmid.  We at TTDOG look forward to reading her fiction, in print, soon.  As is our way, we asked Cayley Miranda Schmid to tell us what makes her most grateful and where she finds her greatest joy.

I am grateful that I get to work with and be friends with so many kind, supportive, and fun people.  People who are generous with their time, passionate, courteous, hilarious and loving.

Amongst musicians and music lovers across the Pacific Northwest and beyond, it is hard to overstate how beloved Schmid is.  Her goal in all that she does is to make people feel good about playing music, and to create opportunities to break into the jam sessions and social events around which musicians congregate.   Her gentle warmth, charm and delightful sense of humour endears her to others, brings them to her performances, and draws crowds to sold-out sessions in the multiple festivals and gatherings that Schmid has organized.

I hope that the festivals continue to grow and bring people joy.  I want to have a lot of fun and to get better at everything I’m already doing.  I would like to continue to do work that I am proud of, and to have more memories of great times with friends.

Perhaps it is in performance, where we can best see how this joy of making music, together with others, has been the motivation for her work.

 

The Bellingham Folk Festival runs this year January 25-27 at the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship, 1207 Ellsworth Street, Bellingham.

 

Click On the Links, For More Information About:

Fiddle lessons with Cayley Miranda Schmid

The Bellingham Folk Festival

The Bellingham Irish Festival

Polecat Band

Giant’s Causeway Band