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Ten Thousand Days

Ten Thousand Days

The Importance of Being Earnest

September 17, 2018

Photo: Markus Spiske

Day 1489 – Day 1493

This week I was reminded of an art project that appeared on social media some time ago.  It was produced by a relatively new circle of artist friends.  The project parodied a famous artist in the genre that my friends pursue and I wasn’t completely sure whether it was done in homage or mockery.  I also wasn’t certain whether the parody was of the famous artist or of themselves.  Other friends helped me decode the intent through the hashtags and comments, and we concluded that the project took aim at the earnestness of the famous artist, for being excessive by today’s standard.

I think there is a danger in viewing any art from a previous era, out of the context of its time, but, more importantly, I wonder: when did the quality of earnestness become a subject of contempt?

Sources define the word ‘earnest’ differently but there seems to be a consensus that it means to be serious, highly convicted and sincere.   I found some sources that equated earnestness with being religious and moralising, but this is faulty logic:  An evangelist is earnest, but an earnest person is not necessarily an evangelist.  And, while a highly convicted person who exhibits sincerity may, in times past, have been found in societies that lacked moral ambiguity, Bob Dylan was a good example of earnestness that belonged to a counter culture where morals were individually felt, held, and acted upon.  Finally, many think that the quality of earnestness sucks the levity out of the room.  One can lack the ability to take perspective with gratitude, humour or fun, whether one is earnest or not.  In my experience, levity is the essential lubricant that allows one to pursue one’s convictions without burning out.  So, why the derision?

I notice that many in a younger age bracket – and maybe more so in the arts –  have adopted the counter-culture-turned-mainstream idea of doing and liking things ‘ironically,’ that many pop culture writers have rightly identified as a requirement of being in the circle of cool.  Along with ironic and mocking lifestyles, we’ve also seen the rise, within this crowd, of the quest for a life of ‘authenticity.’

I suspect that one who draws attention to a quality in themselves is one who lacks it most.  I know that is true whenever I do it.   The truly humble person doesn’t tweet about their humility.   The person who lives their life with presence, in the moment, and being real about who they are and how they feel,  has no need to hashtag themselves as authentic.  They are grounded in who they are and they don’t look outside of themselves for approval of their #authenticity.  By extension, I admit that gratitude has not been my natural tendency in life, and therefore, I practice it, and write about it and hope to inspire others who struggle with it, to be grateful.  Spiritual and contemplative paths don’t attract those who’ve achieved nirvana; one doesn’t need the path when one has already reached the destination.

So, I am curious why, on the one hand, authenticity can be a sought after and cherished experience, but earnestness is not.

I am an earnest person.  It would not be possible to honour the commitment to 10,000 days of these practices – shared publicly – without being serious about the task and having a deep conviction that it is worth doing.  To do it well requires openness and sincerity – or what we have called Authenticity.  And to be authentic requires a deep conviction of the need for the serious pursuit of self awareness.

I may never understand the motivation for that project, but I’ll admit that it saddened me and it took me some time to unravel why it impacted me this way.

I’m saddened that sincerity, deep conviction and seriousness may no longer be a de-rigueur part of the making of art.  I wonder what will be the purpose of art, without it.  Whether in vogue or not,  I’m grateful that, as a writer, and as a painter,  conviction and sincerity still enlivens me to make serious effort.  My intention is serious, not necessarily the form it takes.  I have written comedy and many of my paintings are whimsical but I have a purpose and a conviction behind it all and I’m grateful that those who have been moved by my work.

At a more personal level,  it pains me to feel judged, even if by proxy.  I have good associations with that famous artist.  I don’t care if people have the same taste as I do.  In fact, I like to mix with people of different tastes and experiences because they broaden my world and introduce me to new ideas.  However, nobody likes to have their taste, style or way of navigating the world judged, mocked and dismissed.  When we cannot be ourselves, when we cannot bring the best of ourselves to the table, we are in the wrong company.  We don’t need to be into the same things, in order to support one another in pursuing our passions.  We simply need to forgo judgement.  I’m grateful that I have good friends who don’t judge me for being different from them and I’m sad that these friends are no longer in a part of that circle.

I’ve chosen to distance myself from any fellow artist who backstabs or tears down another artist – famous or otherwise.  I’ve known a few famous people who are artists.  And the one thing we all have in common is that we are just people,  subject to the same insecurities, trying to make our art.  It takes courage to put our art into the world, even if we are famous (perhaps more so?), knowing that some will love it and some will hate it and – worst, perhaps of all – some will be indifferent to it.   We are all vulnerable when we put our art out there.

Sure, if your art is the art of satire, then I understand there is mockery involved.  But satire has a point – it is to awaken people from their complacency or false self images by exaggerating reality.  If there is no wake up call embedded in satire, or your genre is not satire in the first place, then it is just mean-spirited.   I’ve been in several different artistic circles from writing, to acting, to painting, to making music, and I’ve witnessed this bitchy and backstabbing behaviour in all of them.  I’ve had my own privately-held bitchy moments fueled by jealousy and frustration but I’ve tried to keep them to myself, and to resolve my underlying pain, because I know these moments serve nobody.  They perpetuate negativity and comparison and that robs me of the joy or creating.

When I was in writing school, I heard someone famous say that there is room at the top for all of us.   It seems to me that successful people – those who achieve their goals and create a legacy (like the famous artist, being mocked) – are not those who are looking around at what others are doing and putting them down.  They have their eyes on their own work.  They maintain their drive with optimism and conviction, and they elevate those they meet along the way, thereby, creating a culture of loyalty and positive community.  I’m grateful that I heard this concept early in my career, and I’ve tried to live by it and create a circle of mutual support.

I don’t claim to understand the paradox that these thirty-something artists’ who produced the project live within, because  I try to be authentic in all my dealings and  I believe that there is importance in being earnest.  We all care deeply about something.  Authenticity, it seems to me, requires that we own up to our earnestness, and risk being vulnerable enough to reveal to others, and to ourselves, the places in our hearts where we care the most.  Ironically perhaps, it may mean exposing ourselves to the threat of mockery.

 

Photo: Joey Nicotra

For what are you most grateful today?

 

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Lifelong Learner

September 12, 2018

Photo: Clay Banks

Day 1483 – Day 1488

I’m back to work this week, after last week’s anxiety producing surgery.  I’m not thrilled to have been under the weather for the end of the summer, but as autumn rolls around and children go  back to school, I am reminded that I used to feel a sense of melancholy at this time of year that I associate with childhood, and the knowledge that the carefree days of summer had come to an end, and the time to crack down and set to the task of earning good grades was upon me.

There is something wrong in that.  I love learning.  I hate the testing that has always been a part of my education.  As an adult, with a post graduate degree, and several professional qualifications, I think its safe to put to rest the days of testing, and return to the love of learning.

The school of hard knocks and of self awareness is, in many ways, the best teacher but the formal acquisition of knowledge and new skills is a favourite pastime, for me.  Learning new facts, systems and ideas brings me joy.  Drawing from the same old well of stale ideas and ways of doing things stifles creativity.  There is nothing more igniting than a new idea and the process of synthesizing that idea with older concepts.  At least, that is the case, for me.  One of the requirements of my professions is maintaining continuing education records to ensure that I am keeping up to date with developments in my fields.  That is a pretty broad requirement and I sometimes struggle to find verifiable courses that pertain to my particular career.

This September, as the weather changes and the oppressive heat settles into a cooler, comfortable temperature, I continue to harvest the last fruits of my garden, and I have set out to harvest some new ideas beyond that which is simply “pertinent”.  When I lived in London, I was incredibly grateful to have a lot of continuing education that was financed by my company, and a considerable amount that was free from my institute and the wellbeing departments attached to my professional institutes.  Although I cannot attend those in person anymore, I do have access to some of them online, as well as a host of University courses.

I enjoyed learning with others, and I made friends from some of the participants and teachers of those classes.  But, when life hands you lemons, you need to learn to make lemonade.  And so, this September, I went back to school with three University courses by distance education offered as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses).   I am grateful for the wealth of free or low cost resources available to me as I continue my education, self financed.  I’m doing courses that will be of benefit to my day to day working life and have some application to one’s personal life as well.

I’ve felt uninspired in my work, for a few months now, and I think this is largely attributable to a lack of colleagues and mentorship opportunities, and the incubator that colleagues and mentors provide.  Because I’ve spent my whole adult life away from here, I lack a professional network where I’m living.  Imperial College London, The University of Munich and The University of California, Berkeley, have now become my extended network, in addition to those friends and colleagues that live in different time zones.  I’m grateful that I am resourceful and able to be self-directed, because with a MOOC-style education, that is what is required.  With so many courses to choose from, I have carefully selected three that are aligned with my values and purpose, and also directed towards my professional requirements and goals.   I’m pretty happy about that.

While solitude and contemplative time is really important and must be preserved, my evenings are going to be busy this autumn.  But accommodating study into my life is nothing new.  For most of my working life, I have studied alongside working a day job or two.  I finished my Creative Writing degree and studied with a professional acting school, while I was working in the film business in New York, and I became a minister while I was working in the entertainment business and held down a seasonal job as well.  I worked towards a certificate in Sustainability and became a polarity practitioner in there, somewhere, as well.  (Ah, the energy of youth!) And, when I moved to London, well, I studied to become a professional while working full time, and then got a second qualification when that was finished.  I am a life-long learner.  I love to learn.  And each thing I learn bounces off the other things I have learned and this will be my own internal incubator.

I encourage anyone who is feeling a bit bored or uninspired, as winter sets in, to take a look at the vast array of MOOCs, continuing education or distance education courses that are available, near or far.  Maybe we will meet in some distant University chat room.

Photo: Sergey Zolkin

For what are you most grateful today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

On the Tip of the Tongue

September 6, 2018

Photo: Sarah-Louise Kinsella

Day 1482

Later this afternoon, I’ll be going under the knife for a biopsy on my tongue.  When the doctor saw the growth on my tongue he said:  “I think we should cut it out – not the tongue, the growth.”  He thought that was funny.  I didn’t, and the thought of it has lingered with me.

Last time I wrote about the symbolism of the tomato, and now I’m thinking about the tongue.  Maybe its the curse of a writer and someone whose contemplative and spiritual path involves the interpretation of symbols.  But, I can’t help but be grateful for my tongue.

Yes, my tongue is too big for my mouth and that has caused me some dental problems and left me with a lisp as a child that I had to work hard to overcome, with the aid of a speech therapist.  Yes, ‘my tongue is too big for my mouth’ is also another way of saying that I love to talk.  As much as I am a good listener,  I do love to talk.  A great visit with a friend involves a lot of talking and I’ve had a lot of talk therapy in my life (I was, after all, a New Yorker, where you have to have talk therapy in order to be permitted to live in the city).    To me, my tongue is essential to friendship and self awareness.  I suppose that were the surgeon to slip and oopsie! my tongue was gone, I’d still be able to write.  But there is a reason that we long to hear the sound of someone’s voice.  I long to hear my mother’s voice, and I never will again.  In the secret parts of my heart, where I don’t like to look, I also long to hear the sound of the voice of a lost love or two, just one more time.

I am grateful for the memory of their voices in my head and my heart, and  I’m certain that I’m not the only person who associates the mystery of memory with the tongue.  After all, when something is just beyond our cognition, don’t we say that it is on the tip of the tongue?

And as I go through my memory, the tongue was a great appendage of exploration when I was a child.  I learned that metal would stick to the tongue when it’s cold outside, and that pop rocks would fizz on the tip of it, that it was possible to catch raindrops and to taste snow.  And, I learned that my tongue could be used as a gesture of defiance, coquettishness, anger and humour.  The tongue, even before I had command of complex language, was a means of understanding the world and expressing myself to it.

As I grew older, I learned that the tongue expresses not only through our words but also through touch.  Passionate kisses and carnal pleasures pass by the tongue as we commingle with others.  Whether it is a source of pleasure and joy or sloppy disgust, the tongue gets involved in amour.   It is one of our most intimate appendages.

Oh yes, the tongue has been a great explorer.  It is the means by which I’ve tasted food (along with the olfactory senses) and the means by which I derive pleasure from eating.  While I’m not a great cook, my food is tasty and I’m grateful to have eaten in fine restaurants and local food stalls around the world.

And as I’ve gone around the world, I’ve heard and picked up bits of several languages.  As a child I was bilingual and then as an adult I added a third language.  In my travels I learned a bit of Hindi and Swahili but these days I’m lucky if I can remember words in a single language, let alone multiple.

I remember once being in a foul mood in London and sitting on the bus with people talking loudly on their cell phones in a cacophony of world languages.  I felt like I was sitting atop the Tower of Babel with a migraine headache.  And then, I suddenly realised how lucky I was to be living in a city with so many diverse cultures coexisting peacefully, and to be in a hub of airlines routes that made international travel from London so cheap.

I’m grateful for the languages I’ve learned, and the people and cultures I’ve experienced by way of the tongue.

The tongue even has a part to play in our own individual heritage and sense of belonging.  Our first language that we learn at home is called our mother tongue and it is probably named after the mother because it is the primary caregiver (traditionally the mother) who first teaches the child to speak through efforts to mimic mother and belong.  The tongue is a link to our home, to a sense of belonging, and to our heritage.  It is an anchor as well as an appendage of love and adventure.

In Eastern medicine, the tongue provides a roadmap of the body and is used to diagnose illness and imbalance.  Where the tongue is discoloured, or coated in milky film, or simply red and dotted reveals the condition of our organs and systems.  The tongue is the microcosm of the macrocosm.

It may get me into trouble sometimes, but I very much want to keep my tongue.

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Bounty

September 5, 2018

Photo: Vince Lee

Day 1463 – Day 1481

I’ve had a pretty good life.  I’ve had impressive achievements and rubbed shoulders with impressive and really cool people.  I’ve had the chance to travel through Europe, Africa, Asia and North America.  I’ve had plays produced, writing published, and paintings shown in galleries.  By all accounts, I’ve had a really good life.

But this year, a dream that I have nurtured all my adult life finally came true:  I grew my own food.

This may seem like a kind of nerdy or simple dream-come-true, and one that is on trend with the millennial crowd.  But, it is a quiet and deeply soulful dream I have had since I was in my twenties.  There was more to the dream, but anyone who has known me for any length of time and with any depth will know that I have longed to return to my roots and be One with the earth in a very deep way.  This doesn’t mean I’m a country girl.  I’m happy to grow food in a city.  I simply wanted to grow my own food. Both of my sets of grandparents were farmers.  I am the first of my family to live in New York and London and to have a master’s degree from a world class Ivy League institution.  And yet, what stirs my soul is to work in the garden to satisfy my needs, with organic methods that harm nobody and that help our pollinators and planet.

Were I to really return to my roots, I would be making my own cheese, carpets, knits and clothes.  But there is something so incredibly grounding in eating all organic vegetables that I grew in my 200 square foot plot.  Over the summer, I’ve bought vegetables only twice: onions, potatoes, carrots and garlic because I had not grown them.

Each of us has a symbolic language unique to ourselves that help us make sense of the world.  A symbol will mean one thing to me and will mean very different things to you.  One of the most potent symbols in my lexicon is the tomato.

When I was growing up, my mother loved tomatoes.  I loved tomatoes.  And when I visited my Russian grandmother, one of the very few words I learned was the Russian word for tomato.  Tomatoes symbolised summer, the garden, being in the kitchen with my grandmother, and a simple delight for my mother.  Whenever we travelled, mom would put tomatoes in the cooler to snack on.  It was a bit of home we took with us, wherever we went.  And so, tomatoes are a comfort food that remind me of my mother, and my grandmother.  Tomatoes, rather than borscht, are really the quintessential symbol of my heritage and lineage.   Saving seeds is a way to carry on the tradition and preserve our living history.

Anyone who knows me well will recognize that the symbol of the tomato infuses my life with meaning.  When I returned to Canada, I asked my long-time friend, TCBC how successful she thought my repatriation would be.  I am aware, and have been aware for some time ,that the statistics on successfully repatriating after living one’s adult life elsewhere are grim.   Her response to my question was:  It depends on how deeply you plant your tomatoes.   And, after the third love of my life – with whom I shared the dream of growing our own food  – dumped me without explanation, we eventually embarked on the process  of reconciling.  Just as I was beginning to let him into my life again, I dreamed that he was serving my tomatoes to others.  While, consciously, I was not aware – or would not admit to myself – what that dream meant, at least my unconscious mind knew.  I take a petty and perverse pleasure in the knowledge that while he was spreading his seed elsewhere during our reconciliation, his own first-garden’s tomatoes died from lack of care.

Tomatoes are a potent symbol for me, of love, trust, security, home, family and contentment.

This year, I have more tomatoes than I can eat.  I eat tomatoes every day, and I may not even get through these tomatoes by next year, if I can or freeze them.  I have given away tomatoes to family and friends, and the food bank, and still, I have a veritable bounty.  There is no way you can compare organic tomatoes, fresh from the garden, to those that are sold in the supermarket or even at the farmer’s market. Maybe I’m sentimental, but I believe that you can taste the love that went into growing your own vegetables.  And, if you can’t, perhaps it is just the sense of pride that flavours them.  Given that I have a sensitive immune system, there is deep self care involved in eating my own organically and longingly grown vegetables.

I understand why Thanksgiving and the festival of appreciation and gratitude coincides with the harvest.  I find it difficult to put into words the feeling of abundance that comes from harvesting a grocery bag full of food every couple of days from my own garden.  And, there is security in freezing food for the winter.  It strikes a primal chord that harkens back long before my grandmother’s time, when survival really was about keeping warm, having shelter, water and enough food.  We are so busy with the latest trends and hippest restaurant and wanting the coolest holiday that we can easily overlook the simple gratitude of having our survival needs met, and the accomplishment of having met them with our own labour.

This has been a lifelong dream come true and for that reason, the success of my garden this year has been perhaps the achievement I feel most profoundly, gratefully,  and joyfully.

My tomatoes took root.  This does not guarantee that my repatriation will be a success, or that I will never have another broken heart.  But, it is an accomplishment that positions me within a strong tradition of survival against the odds and with self-sufficiency.   It shows me that I can achieve not only things that are pretty cool, but things that I dream of doing – cool or not.  It may be late in life to learn that lesson, but not all of us have been raised to believe that we actually can or should achieve our dreams.

Along with my tomatoes, I have planted that seed.

Photo: Sergei Pesterev

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

A Way to Empathy

August 17, 2018

Photo: Umit Bulut

Day 1462

I had breakfast last week with a man I’ve gotten to know over the last 2 years.  He’s been a good friend to me and I always come away from our meetings with something to ponder.  As, I think, does he.  We have a kind of spiritual friendship and this has filled a gap in my life.

I’ve been thinking for a long time about forgiveness.  In order to forgive, we must first find our way to the Oneness of empathy.

I’m a pretty forgiving person, but awhile ago, I said to my friend, CMF, that I didn’t think I would ever be able to forgive a particular person for the wrong they had done to me.  I just couldn’t see how I would ever forgive.  I could not envision myself ever doing the same wrong to another person as was done to me, and since forgiveness, to me, requires empathy, I could not put myself into their shoes.   If I had behaved badly, or even if my actions were misinterpreted, my empathy for how I must have hurt someone would cause me to apologize as soon as it was clear that I had caused them hurt.  In this case, I have apologized for my own wrongdoings, but I’ve not received an apology, in return, for a major betrayal.   And, hardest to bear, it was precisely my ability to feel empathy for them, during the time we engaged with one another,  that was exploited by the person I struggle to forgive.

I think anyone would understand my difficulty.  But, the simple truth I’ve come to realise is that until I can forgive, I will be the unwitting carrier of the resentment that keeps my heart defended and closed.  It will be the thief of joy. And, I will energetically carry a tie to that person.  As a service to us both, I must learn to forgive the seemingly unforgivable.

I came away from breakfast grateful for three insights:

Empathy does not require me to reconcile with the one who wronged me, or to excuse or even to be able to relate to the choices and ACTIONS of the other person.  I only need to be able to imagine what lead to the MOTIVATION for that action.  While I will never know the developmental process that created the person who hurt me, it is possible for me to imagine a young child who has been wounded by parents or teachers and who adapted behaviours to that situation, in order to survive.  I don’t have to relate to the behaviours, but I can related to being wounded and I can imagine the fear and helplessness that caused a young child to fight for survival.  When I feel how that child might have felt, I have compassion for the person who wronged me.

Secondly, my friend was adamant that where we cannot forgive someone, we must examine ourselves to see if we are unable to forgive ourselves.  Often, we cannot forgive in ourselves the very qualities we despise in the one we feel has wronged us.  This is called projection.  We sometimes project our shadow side onto someone when they do something that irritates or offends us beyond the magnitude of the action.  We say they are horrible people, because we don’t accept that we share that quality.  I’ve considered this, but after soul searching, I don’t believe that I projected my character flaws onto the person who harmed me.  What I did do, however, was to see only the good in them, even when there was evidence that I was overestimating them.  It is important not to victim blame, but I do have to accept that I was slow to admit that I was mistaken.  I’ve done some thinking about why I was so slow.  There were some good reasons.  And, there was also the reason that I simply didn’t want to believe the truth.  For the latter, I have forgiven myself.

The third insight that I’ve come away with is that it is not necessary to receive an apology, in order to forgive.  Yes,  it is harder to forgive someone who is not sorry for their wrongdoing, but it is not impossible.  This is where it is helpful to imagine ourselves in the others shoes.  I’ve imagined many ways in which a childhood trauma could explain their actions as an adult.  But I keep coming up against one thing that doesn’t fit my experience of adults I’ve known, and that is what appears to be a complete lack of awareness or regard for the feelings or needs of others.  And, while harmful behaviour warrants an apology, the simple fact is that if someone lacks empathy, it is beyond them to comprehend why their behaviour is harmful or even that they have wronged another.

Sometimes apologies come much later, and sometimes long after we have forgiven the one who harmed us. For many who lack empathy, this quality can be learned, and is often learned when one takes the steps to heal one’s childhood wounds.  But, there are some people who will never be able to acquire empathy.  When one encounters someone who lacks and will never have the capacity to develop empathy, we may decide to keep a safe distance from them.  As hard as it is to swallow, we have to accept that they cannot help or change their behaviour and they will never care about what they do to others.  As strange as it sounds, it feels easier, for me, to forgive a psychopath (and keep as clear of them as possible) than it is to forgive a fully grown adult who has more resources than 99.9% of the world to put towards healing their childhood wounds, but has chosen not to do so.

As I reflect on this and try to make meaning out of my reluctance to forgive, I realise that the kind of wounding that results in a lack of empathy, in an adult, is incredibly tragic.  Just as I have compassion for the wounded child, I realise that healing those wounds takes a great deal of courage.  I am a courageous person and I have overcome a great deal in my life, and so I have a blindspot for those who lack courage.

This is where I need to soften my heart.

Not everyone has that courage or has the support structures in place to dare to open Pandora’s box.  And as much as it does not excuse anything that was done to me, I can see that my blindspot to those who are fearful gets in the way of my empathy for them.

I know how it feels to be frightened and lacking support. I know how it feels to be governed by my fear. I know what it is to keep secrets on myself and stuff them down inside,  because I was not ready to face them. I know what they are going through. I was once there; I remember how it felt.  I can empathize with anyone in that situation, even one who has wronged me.

My empathy, with some effort, now extends both to the child in distress, and to the adult who cannot bear to revisit and heal the wounds of their childhood.

Having found a way to empathy, I have found the doorway to forgiveness.

Forgiveness may not happen all at once, but it begins with a decision and a willingness to forgive.  Understanding that their own wounding led to my wounding, and that their fear prevents them from healing and developing empathy, I see that they currently have no ability to understand their wrongdoing or feel remorse.  I hope that they will find a way to heal. And, I choose to forgive.

 

Photo: Serrah Galos

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

I Can Not Imagine…

August 16, 2018

Photo: Genessa Panainte

Day 1456 – Day 1461

When something horrible happens to someone we know, the polite response seems to be: “I can not imagine what you must be going through.”  It is polite because we don’t diminish the other person’s suffering by offering some platitude as if that will be a salve.  The only salve that can be offered in times of loss, grief and pain is empathy.

There are many ways that people use the term empathy.  One scholar outlined 8 different ways that the term is used.  So, what is empathy?  In my life,  empathy is providing space for a person to be heard so that their experience can be understood, and felt, from their own perspective and frame of reference.  Empathy is to feel another’s pain, just as it is, without trying to change it.  Until the pain is acknowledged and felt, it is unlikely that anyone can move beyond it.  So, despite our finest intentions, compassionate efforts to problem solve or to alleviate the suffering of others can only stand a chance of being effective once we’ve offered real empathy.

In my life, people have often shared their stories instead of just being present with me when I share mine.  I do not want to hear the listener’s own story of pain as a response to mine because it makes me feel unheard and dismissed.  Until I feel heard, I do not want any advice.  And, even then, I do not want to have someone play the devil’s advocate for the person who hurt me, because it makes me feel unsupported.   And I do not want to be told what to think, or what I’ve missed in the subtleties of life because it feels condescending to be treated as stupid, unsavvy, and inept.  Even if well intentioned,  these ways of relating are off-putting to most people, including me.  Imposing one’s own world view on a person who simply wants to be heard is not received as empathy.

When I was younger, I shared with a young man something very private that had caused me a great deal of pain.  When he’d heard my story, he said: “I’m so sorry that happened to you.  I can not imagine what that must have been like.”  Having not felt heard for most of my life, I expected he would treat me in the same way.  That he heard me, and didn’t share his own pain story made me feel both seen and heard and I fell in love with him.  I didn’t realise until much later that he completely lacked empathy for other people’s experiences.

I confused being heard with being felt.  ‘I cannot imagine” is a declarative statement of an inability to equate my experience to yours and it creates the space for my unique experience to be heard.  It is polite.  But, it does not take the leap to empathy, where my feelings are felt and understood.  If we care about someone, our humanity demands that we find a way to imagine what it is that they are feeling.

We can imagine  the same experience happening to us and how we would feel in those circumstances.  Or, we can remember times when we felt what we imagine we would feel in those circumstances.  Since we are only imagining what it would feel like from their perspective – a perspective that by definition we do not inhabit – the final aspect of empathy, as I see it,  is not to impose our imaginings on the situation.  We simply sit with them in their pain, feeling what we imagine they might be feeling, and accepting and finding a way to feel whatever feelings they bring to the table, whether we imagine we would feel them in the circumstances or not.  Together, we bear the pain until it is bearable, alone.  That is empathy, to me.

Some people cannot tolerate empathy.  They have hardened their suffering into anger and resentment.  By refusing to be vulnerable and share their pain instead of their bitterness, they push out love, as well.  I know how easy it is to close one’s heart to pain but without the courage to feel and share our pain, we will never be able to feel and share love and joy, either.  With people who cannot be vulnerable, we are rebuffed if we attempt to offer empathy.   I’ve come to realise that they are stuck in victimhood and what they want is pity, not empathy.  I struggle with people in these circumstances, and at present, the best I can do is have empathy for their predicament.

I am grateful to Swami Ramananda of Integral Yoga.  I took a class with him in New York many years ago.  He was lecturing on forgiveness and although it was not a class on empathy, it turned out that empathy was the key to softening our heart and opening the way to forgiveness.  Without both empathy and forgiveness, it is hard to make meaning of the suffering in our lives and that which we witness around us.  That said, it is not, of course, empathetic to rush to gloss meaning over another person’s pain.  Meaning is made (or not) from our own adversity and only in retrospect, when we have processed our feelings and have enough distance to take a wider perspective on our lives.  Meaning-making is the prerogative, in my opinion, of the one whose life it concerns, and nobody else’s.

Empathy is not easy.  We can go wrong with it, in so many ways.  And, when we get it right, it is painful because we really do feel another person’s pain.  But who are we, without empathy?  Narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths and other personality disordered individuals lack empathy.  I’d rather the bear the pain of another person’s loss to maintain my humanity.

It is empathy that brings us most in touch, I think, with our humanity.  It is a selfish byproduct of the capacity to feel another’s pain that we feel, most bittersweetly, the fragility of life and that there but for the Grace of whatever you wish to call it, we might have gone.  It is a form of Oneness and although the weakest form of gratitude is to be grateful that we aren’t worse off, real empathy for the suffering of another may well be a pathway to gratitude in our own lives.

This week, two of my dearest friends buried their younger sister.  I never met the sister that passed away though I feel that I knew her through them.  She was joyful, warm and had a great sense of humour from what I heard of her.  She was steadfast and loyal to those she loved, especially her family, and she had a deep inner strength.   Mostly, what I know of her is how very deeply she was loved.  The three sisters were closer than any set of sisters that I’ve known.  Together, they were like a solid, stable, three legged stool.  She was, in many ways, the rock that held the family together and she will be sorely missed.

Today she has been laid to rest.  The first words that come to mind are that I cannot imagine how it must feel to be in my friends’ shoes.

It is true that none of us who has not lost a cherished sister can  imagine what my friends are going through today, and what they will go through in the weeks and months to come.  In the order we expect our lives to go, their sister was taken far too soon.  It is unfair and life will never be the same for my friends.  Since I heard of her passing, I’ve done nothing but imagine how my friends are feeling. They are far away and even if we were closer to one another, there is nothing that I can do to make it better.   I wish I could be there, just to sit with them in their grief and to honour their sister, their pain of loss, and the incredibly tight bond the 3 sisters shared.  I can’t be there, but from far away, I care, I am moved, and I empathise with their unfathomable loss.

All around me, friends are fighting cancer or losing parents and siblings to illness.  Many of them are younger than I am, now.  In moments when I focus on how I would feel in their shoes, I take perspective on my life.  I am grateful for these friendships and for the opportunity to walk – even at a distance – through life passages together.  I am the youngest of my family, and although we have our challenges,  I am grateful that both of my sisters and my brother in law are still living, that my father and step mother are alive and well, for their age, that my nieces and nephew are well, and I am grateful, myself, to be alive, to savour another day.

I have tasted the pain of this loss, and though I never met my friends’ sister, I will remember her.  As they bury their sister, and move on to processing their grief, and living a life without her, my dear friends are in my thoughts, and in my heart.

Photo: Becca Tapert

For what are you most grateful?

Ten Thousand Days

Eclipsed

August 1, 2018

Photo: Fabian Oelkers

Day 1442 – Day 1446

This past weekend, the world witnessed the longest blood red full moon lunar eclipse that will likely occur in my lifetime.  Sadly, I was in a part of the world where I did not get to witness it live.  But, I am grateful for the NASA feed that allowed us all to watch it, globally.  The last time I saw a lunar eclipse in person was in London, at the great Old Street flat of some dear friends from University days.  It is a moment that is forever imprinted on me.

When I was younger, I played Delores Claiborne in professional acting school.  I remember that Delores killed her pedophile of a husband under a full moon lunar eclipse.  And, when I studied yoga, and spent time in India, I remember learning that eclipses are considered times of bad luck and that one ought to pray and avoid being out when an eclipse is underway.  This past week, I read up on the meaning of this particular eclipse – according to astrology – and was mortified.  It was meant to dredge up old wounds and pain and be an overall and completely really bad time.  In short, the earth was going to open and swallow us whole.  Or something to that effect.

I tried to understand the metaphor of the eclipse in Delores Claiborne and while I’m good at creating metaphor, I’m not always so great at deciphering it in other people’s work.  All I could come up with is that when the normal patterns of our lives are placed in shadow, we have a chance to truly see the contours of our lives – the landscape, in relief – and when we see something we cannot abide, this moment can be an impetus to make great changes.  When the light returns, it can be like the dawn of a new day in our lives.  It can be the start of a new chapter in our lives, so to speak.

As the eclipse reached totality, I decided to meditate as best I could, given that I was sitting at my desk and it was lunch time.  I set a few intentions and the biggest intention was simply to just let it all go.  All my limiting thinking, all the expectations that others have placed on me and any emotion that wasn’t helping me to move forward towards realization – for just  one moment – I let them all go.

And the weight that was lifted from me was palpable.

I find that in life, time takes time.  No, I’m not starting on a series of posts based on obscure song titles of stars of the 1960s.  What I mean by this is that life changes in sometimes startling and monumental ways but those big shifts are preceded by long and sometimes agonizingly painful periods of deep work and processing.  We mark time by the changes that happen, not by those long periods that precede it.  So, time takes time.  My life, and my process of self development is ordered in this way.  I’m happy to learn that another close family member also operates in a similar way.  I thought I was the only weirdo in the tribe that makes changes in geological time frames.  Change happens all of a sudden after lots of processing, like tectonic plates suddenly unleash an earthquake after rubbing against one another for hundreds of years.

Perhaps introverts operate in this way.  I don’t know.  I know that I do, and I’m an introvert.  I am an INFP and even amongst the introverts I know, I score the highest on the Introvert measure of that Myers Briggs classification.  When I am working on something – be it a move across the world, or a new phase of life, a new career, or a decision to marry or cohabit – whatever it may be -you will see very little happening above the surface.  But, inside and invisible to the world, major shifts are occurring.  The world sees only the earthquake, not the rubbing of the plates against one another.  That can leave people thinking I am impetuous, when there is nothing further from the truth.  I am measured and deliberate to a fault.

The eclipse of this past week reminds me that what appears to the eye is deceptive.

As the eclipse reached totality and I let so many things go from my psyche, I had a glimpse of a different way of being.  I’ve spent years stuck in the crush of two tectonic plates.  Some of that pressure is dissipating.  A space is being created that is creative and as I turn inward and focus on that space, the pressure mounts again between what is and what might be.  I’m kind of excited about what may come.  It might show up in a month, or a year or in a few years.  I have no way of knowing how long this process will take.  But, I’m now in a process – one of weighing and sifting and imagining and refining.  There might be some tremors as I test out new ideas.  There may not be. It may all come as a massive shakeup.  But what I do know is that the space I am creating now is sacred.

I will take my time.  Before I moved to North America, I took my time.  From the outside, it may have looked like I was stalled or not moving forward but that all depended on where you set your gaze.  While one thing stopped, great progress was made in other areas and I had inner work to do on several areas of my life and I needed to sort out how I felt about many things.  I learned a lot about myself in that stillness.

At this time, I notice that some “things”  are falling away.  When I come to these seminal moments in my life, I see that some things just no longer fit with where I’m going.  Recently I let go of a relationship and I thanked that person for the years that we were friends.  The fact that the friendship no longer fits does not take away the fact that at a particular time and place, it was valuable and important to me, and so I am grateful.  I wished him well, and I meant it.  I’m grateful for the crazy energy of that earth-swallowing eclipse that has helped me to see some possibilities of how things could be and that I am finally willing to let go of what no longer fits.  I’m grateful for the weight that it has lifted off of me.

I spent a joyful weekend with a friend and her family.  We painted and drank wine and talked and the weekend was both about where we had been and our limitations and where we were going and our challenging those limits.  Our lives are very different, but just because we have little in common outwardly does not mean that our human experience is not shared.  While she is a decade younger than I am, I’m grateful for her sage advice and for a really lovely sense of sharing and community that I sometimes lack in being an expat trying to make new friends in what little spare time I have.  And in turn, I’m glad that I could be a cheerleader and a witness to her as she broke through something that had been a limitation for her.

I’m not really sure what this moment in time will reveal – I think that is something that can only be seen in retrospect.  But, what has become clear is that living a life of purpose, meaning and joyful gratitude eclipses most obligations and other people’s expectations that are putting pressure on the tectonic plates of my inner landscape.  Where there is a mismatch of the old features of both my inner and outer landscapes with what I can envision for myself, I’m really okay with letting them go.

Someone once said to me that it takes great courage to be naked when we take off the cloak that no longer fits us so that we may don a finer set of clothes.  If we rush to put on that new set of clothes, we will likely reach into our closet and all that is there are more outworn duds.  We need to be willing to be naked for a time, so that we can tailor our next set of finery for where we want to go.   If we are to be vulnerable like this, we also need to establish strong boundaries and initiate self care as we dream, process and rub our tectonic plates together.

I see this as the first word of the first line of a new chapter in my life, and I’m ready for a new set of finery and I’m okay to let time take time.

Photo: Roberto Nickson

For what are you most grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

Unconditional

July 19, 2018

Photo: Laula the Toller

Day 1427-Day 1433

Last night, a member of the extended family was put down.  She was a 3 year old husky, and she wasn’t my dog, but without my knowing it, she had become a member of not just ‘the’ family but of MY family.  I’ve never had a pet – well, not a pet with a personality – do goldfish count?  My friend TCBC says that fish have personalities and I told her that it is limited to swimming, turning, surfacing, diving, eating, and the dreaded one: floating.

Growing up, for some reason, we were not allowed to have pets.  I guess my mother had enough to manage with 3 children so widely spaced apart in age and with my father spending all of his time in the office.  We didn’t have a lot of money when I was little and so I guess feeding and caring for a dog would have cut into the budget as well.  I really don’t know why we weren’t allowed to have a pet, but we weren’t.  And having known the dog R- that belonged to someone else but became a part of my family, I wish that had not been the case.

When I heard that she had been put down, I was shocked.  I can’t believe that I will never see her again.  I know it must be a thousand times harder for the one whose pet she was, and for the part time caretaker that took R- during exam times and holidays.  But, even though she wasn’t my pet, I loved her.  I will miss having her run to the door, her tongue hanging out and pouncing all 200 pounds of her puppy physique onto me.  She loved everyone and was the friendliest dog I’ve known.  She was an office dog and I’m pretty sure that those who ‘worked’ with her will miss her as well.  She had a personality that made you just want to treat her to the world.  She exuded joy.

I’m grateful to her for warming me up to the canine world, and for her care when I slipped on the ice, one winter. She stood guard over me until I was safely up and away from danger.  And I’m grateful for the friendship she provided to everyone who knew her.  If I am feeling the loss, I can’t imagine what those who knew her better than I, will be feeling.  I know that they had, at times, a feeling of spiritual connection, a kind of oneness that comes with interspecies communication.

Because she isn’t my dog, I’m surprised at how sad I am today.  TCBC texted me this morning, that in some ways, losing an animal is worse than losing a person.  It has something to do with the fact that the love between you is unconditional.  R- never cared if I was wearing hip shoes or had my hair done.  She didn’t care if I weighed more than I should or if I was a slow walker.  She was a breed that wanted to run but whenever I was with her, she’d keep looking for me to make sure I was able to keep up with her.  She loved with enthusiasm the way that children can love with enthusiasm.  She was well treated and so her heart was open wide.  There was never judgement or aggression and she never competed with you for air time.  She did, however, like to watch you eat, hoping for a little morsel and to sprawl on the sofa, leaving you a little armchair – until she decided that the armchair was cozier.

Her love was unconditional.  And that inspired others to love her back.

There are few places in life where one truly experiences unconditional love.  Mothers are supposed to have unconditional love for their children but unfortunately, mothers often don’t live up to this.  In romance, we often say we will love one another forever, come what may.  But all we need to do is look at the divorce rate to see that is not the case.  The only unconditional love I can think of at the human level is a kind of agape love – a non specific universal love for all of mankind.  That I have experienced and am able to say I can achieve.  But personal love, that is unconditional?  I’m not sure I have ever experienced it.

She had a short life but she gave us all that experience of being loved completely and without judgement.  And she gave everyone who met her the chance to get to know her endearing and playful personality.  We all loved her.  I sometimes wonder why bad things happen and what is the purpose and meaning in it.  She was certainly just out of puppy hood and nobody would have expected her to fall ill.  I don’t know what the purpose of this sad event is, but what I can say is that she lived a life of purpose by being a good companion to her owner and to her caretaker and giving them the love that they needed at a particular time in their lives.  I lived overseas for half of her life and didn’t spend much time with her except at holidays and for the occasional walk.  I probably knew her the least of the whole family.  But I have been surprised by how deeply I have felt her passing and how much I wish I could have one more joyous greeting at the door.  I’d rub her belly and whisper, in her one floppy ear, that I loved her.  I am grateful to R- for bringing that which is unconditional into the lives of all who knew her.

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Lunar Cycle

May 30, 2018

Photo: Arnau Soler

Day 1370 – Day 1383

Last night I was gardening under the nearly full moon.  As I gazed at her brilliance I thought of the last time I witnessed the full moon and the great distance I’ve travelled in this last lunar cycle.

The last full moon, I was driving home from a wonderful weekend in Seattle, filled with music, art, and new friends.  I hit the most incredible downpour outside of Everett and hydroplaned on the freeway.  I am grateful that there was nobody in the lane to my right as I swerved and regained traction of the road.  I thought I had been destined for my grave.

Whenever I go to Washington, I pass through a town within an hour of my home,  where someone I once loved chose to relocate from thousands of miles away – after ending his relationship with me.  He lingers.

I’m always grateful to pass Lake Samish which nestles in the hills between Mount Vernon and Bellingham.  It is a kind of physical border for me that guards my peace.  As I rounded the last bend before Bellingham, the most brilliant light shimmered on the water.  I looked in the rear view mirror,  and rising above the mountain behind me was the full moon.  Her glow felt like a benediction after all the hazards I had endured.

Last night, I was digging a trench, readying my plot for a season of growing.  From a plot comes the food that sustains us and to a plot we will go, when our life is done.  We become food for the worms that nourish the soil that grows the food for the next generation.  And so it goes with this finite life that lasts only a precious few lunar cycles.

As I’ve dug down into the earth, I have often wondered what I might discover.  I have visions of unearthing a body.  This macabre fantasy is joined by tales told to me by others who have fears of bodies buried in the most innocent of places.   It makes me realise that there is something archetypal in this story that we carry in our collective unconsciousness.

I don’t need to look in the earth for bones.  From a ghost that lingers, are the bones that I have carried on my back.

Photo: Giancarlo Revolledo

I have wondered who I will be free to be, without the burden of those bones.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing – personal writing – during this past lunar cycle.   I have given words to what needs to be expressed and remembered, forgiven that which  needs to be forgiven, and honoured what is to be honoured.   I don’t always understand what is going on at a soul level, but the subconscious magic works its way to my consciousness through image and symbol and the meaning-making that can be made through writing.  I have painted a lot in the past year but the Word is the land through which I must eventually travel in order to do the work I’m here to do in this life.

I’ve also been reading some old passages about the one who was once flesh upon those bones.  I am awed by the poignant beauty of my own writing.

Every transformation is the culmination of a long and continuous process that goes deeper and deeper, and we keep thinking we’ve arrived only to find our journey is not over.  But in every journey,  there are liminal moments.    Last night, I was alone under the enormous full moon and I felt a Oneness with that which is bigger than all of us.   I have witnessed, with consciousness, the moon’s journey through the sky and her nightly changes.

And she has witnessed mine.

Bathed in her glow, I was aware of what was passing into legend with the fullness of the moon.  There has been a gentle peace in setting those bones to rest.  Free of that weight, I am able to stand upright, and feel my heart, once again, filled with love.

 

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Private Lives

March 27, 2018

Photo: Nathaniel Dahan

Day 1259 – Day 1319

I’ve been thinking about privacy and lately I’ve been feeling crowded.  An old friend from childhood spotted my comment on someone’s post in an online forum for people in recovery from toxic relationships.  From there, he tracked down my website and my public Facebook page.  I guess this is what can be expected by being online.  I didn’t think too much about it except that the man had been determined to reach out to me.

When he happened to know my dating history of more than 20 years ago, I felt really uncomfortable because I was sure I had not mentioned that old boyfriend by name and I wondered if my privacy had somehow been invaded.  A few days later, I learned that he was involved in some way with the ex-wife of that long ago boyfriend.  She contacted me and asked about my friendship with him. She had spotted his and my new online friendship on Facebook.  She seemed to know the whole story of how my friend and I had reconnected after so many years.

I didn’t like the feeling of being talked about by people separated by decades and thousands of miles in my life.  This crossed my boundaries.

When I first starting writing online, I did so under a pseudonym but my branding advisers encouraged me to write under my professional writing name on this site.  So, I’ve had to turn to disguising the identity of the people in my life to protect theirs as well as my own privacy.  But, the recent Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal aside, protecting our privacy online has become somewhat of a challenge.  We are tracked by our mobile phones, by the data chips in our shoes, listened to by our digital assistants 24 hours a day and our webcams can be used to watch us even when we haven’t turned them on.  Privacy is something we need to protect, but new challenges to this come up as technology moves faster than our understanding of the implications.

 

The contact from my childhood friend was initially a delight.  He reminded me of the happiest 2 years of my childhood.  We had come from the same place and we had ended up in this a similar place in our lives.  It was an odd coincidence but not something that, alone, was sufficient to re-forge an old friendship, no matter how sweet our childhood times had been.

He could not stop focusing on the woman from his toxic relationship.  My childhood friend wanted to commiserate and discuss his ex-partener’s possible personality disorder as the answer to it all.

I was in a different place in my journey.   It had taken me a long time to understand that I would never know why someone I had loved and someone who said he loved me had behaved so badlyand with such cold cruelty towards me.  And more, to the point, why he did it really doesn’t matter; all that matters is that he did.  And because he did, that relationship is over and I’m moving on.

After some concession to ‘sharing’ experiences, I set my boundary.  To rehash a painful relationship for the sake of commiseration seemed an abuse of my privacy and was harmful to my wellbeing.  I told my childhood friend that my relationship was in the past and that was where I was leaving it.   I did not want to discuss it further.

When, a few days later, my childhood friend announced that he was reuniting with his toxic ex-lover, I ended our engagement with one another.

In a few weeks, all sorts of drama had come into my life through my childhood friend.   That kind of drama wrecked havoc in my life once already, via that toxic love relationship.  I don’t want it in my life directly or vicariously any more.

In a way, this crazy episode of intrusiveness and boundary pushing was a gift.  It held up for me the mirror of where I would otherwise be, had I continued the toxic relationship with the man I loved, who said he loved me.  And, it made me consider again my absolute need for peace, for privacy and for strong boundaries – especially as regards anything I might allude to in my writing.

I come here and I mine my life for specific details of my personal narrative that might speak to the universal in all our lives.  That is the hook by which I engage a reader into witnessing my journey as I attempt to demonstrate one person’s attempt to live a grateful life despite the obstacles – and, hopefully, this inspires others to do the same.

I feel a Oneness with anyone who has ever loved and been devastated by another’s cruelty.  I hope my childhood friend will eventually find peace in his love life – if that is what he wants.  I hope that the man who treated me so cruelly will also find peace, too.  But those are their lives to live.  In living my own, it is my own peace that is my priority.  Peace can only come, for me, with strong boundaries.

Reflecting on the ways I’ve been vulnerable through writing here, I’ve taken a break.

Instead, I have been painting a lot lately. And, for that I’m grateful.

I’m grateful that one good thing that came of my toxic relationship was the drive to learn to paint.  I took the courageous step of painting because of my love for that man.  One of my first paintings was created, with love, for him.  I asked him to teach me to paint, but he never did.  I learned anyway.  Painting had long been a secret desire and it has been a gift to emerge from that toxic relationship as a burgeoning painter. I’m not grateful to him for that, but I am grateful for the impetus and the natural talent to paint.  It brings me joy and a fair helping of frustration, too  – just as any relationship of love will do.

 

I’m not sure how I will proceed with this website.  Writing publicly is fraught with all sorts of infringements – not just of privacy.

Six months ago,  I discovered that an article I wrote on this website about Monsu Plin was lifted verbatim and published on a site that pays crypto currency for content.  This was done by a friend of his.  I’ve since password protected my article but that is a bit like closing the gate once the horse has run away.  I’ve sought out and had a public apology for the failure to seek permission and properly attribute the article.  But my article is under someone else’s byline now, and cannot be removed from the blockchain.  The blockchain is an evolving technology that is presenting threats to our privacy and what is in some jurisdictions, a right to be forgotten.  To have it published without my permission was a violation – if not of my privacy, certainly of my rights.

I am confident that the meaning-making in writing about gratitude is part of the purpose of the rest of my life and living a life of gratitude is the best way to move beyond any sort of toxicity.  But how I will do this, and the future of the content on this website, is still uncertain.

 

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Into the Clearing

December 22, 2017

Photo: Christopher Flynn

Day 1215 – Day 1224

I’ve wrapped up my work before the holiday weekend and part of that was sorting through things in my office and at home, to make sure that anything that must be done in 2017 gets put at the top of the agenda for the few days we have before the New Year.  Sorting through paperwork, I came across old letters, emails and transcripts of text messages from someone who made my life a living hell.  My first thought was to throw them out, without revisiting them.  And that was a self-care move.  My second thought was, however, to make something from them.  And so, I’ve gathered them all and I’m not sure what I will do with them, but they will be used to construct something wonderful.

I recently meditated with my meditation group and I usually have a powerful meditation when I am gathered with others.  Something that became certain was that I need to clear things that no longer serve me, from my life.  I did this in a big way in London but when I returned to Canada, I was given a load of my mother’s things and other things from family.  I rented a big apartment just to house all the stuff.  In the 15 months I’ve been home, I’ve accumulated more, in terms of a new kayak paddle and some hiking gear as well as lots of lovely art supplies.

I have too much stuff to be happy.

I’m a writer and so I’ve kept old journals.  I struggle to let those go.

I have my mother’s wedding dress.  I will never wear it.  I don’t know if anyone in the next generation wants to wear it, but I will struggle to let that one go, as well.

And yet, I am happiest with the least amount of stuff.  I have two entree bowls. (One plus a spare for company)  I prefer entree bowls to plates.  I also have 3 full sets of dishes – only one of which is actually my own.  What does one person need with 3 sets of handed down vintage dishes?  Or, a closet full of towels?  I just feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all.

Sometimes we hold on to things and to relationships far longer than is healthy for us.  The longer we hold on, the more bonded we are to them and the harder it then becomes to let them go.  But letting things go is the only way to make space for ourselves and for fresh and more suitable things and people and experiences to find their way into our lives.

And so, I’m grateful to have had a reminder of my mother in these dishes and her wedding dress.  But I’ve lived for over 20 years away from my family of origin and I didn’t have these material items in my life.  And yet, I still held on to my love and memories of my mother.  I don’t need them. I’m grateful that one of the things she passed on to me was a reluctance to waste things and on the flip side, an absolute lack of sense of herself being derived from things.  I am grateful, too, that I have more than I need, rather than less than I need and that I have the privilege of giving things away.

I know it is going to get increasingly difficult to let go of things as I pare down the initial non-sentimental items and get to those things with memories attached to them.  But there will be joy on the other side of this.  My goal is to have so little that I could live in a tiny home with a workshop for art and glass and woodworking.  I also know that the studio space does not have to be a part of my home.  For me, the less I have – as long as I have the bare essentials plus a tiny bit of luxury – the more joy I have in my life.  To be honest, my goal is to detach so completely that all I own will – by my own choice – fits into a backpack.  And on that day, I hope that I am well enough to begin my final adventure as I walk the planet.  It is a dream not many would share but it is my dream, nonetheless.

My word for 2018 as I head into it is ‘Clearing’ and the second word that comes to mind is ‘Simplify’.

I think a part of this is also healing.  Take the text messages and email transcripts, for example.  To throw them away is a form of clearing but that just generates waste.  To use them to create something beautiful, to me, is a metaphor for all the internal work I have been doing in the wake of the pain.  And likewise, to find new homes and new uses for the things that no longer serve me and to release those relationships that have been outgrown will be a release of creative energy for all involved.  And that, is a great service that I can do for the world and for those nearest me, in 2018.

Going through all these papers today has been a little re-living of 2017 and a bit of 2016.  I see the ups and downs of the year, the hardships and the wonderful moments and the heartache along the way.  And I feel connected to each version of me that stood in those moments as they happened.  They shaped who I am, right now.  Some of those times were excruciatingly painful but I survived them.  I’ve done my best to work on moving beyond survival and into finding some meaning in the painful moments and a sense of purpose within the easier times.

Maybe this seems a strange post as we head into a holiday weekend where most of us will come home with things we need to make room for in our lives, whether we wanted them or not.  But as I passed through this past year or so clearing my office and as I begin to pass through my lifetime and the lifetime of my ancestors as I clear my household possessions, I am grateful to have the experience of doing this in both London and New York, so that I’ve gained the confidence that I will be able to let it all go.

 

Photo: Michelle Spencer

For what are you most grateful?

Ten Thousand Days

Paddle

August 28, 2017

Photo: Aaron Burden

Gratitude, Joy, Oneness, Service, Purpose and Meaning (Day 1090 – 1108)

I have found that the overwhelming task of re-orienting to life after the fire can sometimes cause me to panic.  After the young man threw a bomb into our relationship, I learned that one of the things we do when we are caught in our grief and cannot move out of it is to search for the lost person everywhere and to try to re-establish order.  I remember when my mother died, I would go to pick up the phone to call her, or set an extra place at the dinner table and I would think I saw her face in a crowd.

I’ve been searching since the fire ritual, and I’m working to just get dead calm like a still day on the ocean.  As I try to adjust to being just the space between the ashes of who I once was, I have been searching for what will come next.  Even as I bury the babies and I cry my tears for what has died, I have been searching.  I have been trying to put my life back together and try on new lives like new sets of clothes.  Nothing seems to fit.

And then I remember that in re-birth, just as in birth, we are in the water, alone and naked.  This vulnerable time is a necessary part of real transformation.

The only thing that calms me is a return to the ocean.  Yes, early on I started walking by the sea.  That is still enjoyable for me but I’ve learned, in this process, that I love to be on the water, or in the water.  I can’t afford to sail, so I’ve taken up sea kayaking.  And I do it as often as I can.

When I was a child, I was a long distance swimmer.  For me, the constant repetition of the stroke and the breath was a meditation.  Life was not always easy for me, as the youngest sibling whose older sisters often resented her presence and bullied her, as siblings do.  But swimming, I was free.  I swam for hours and because my sisters would hold my head under water at the public pool to taunt me, I grew stronger from the constant practice of breath, stroke, breath, stroke, treading water and holding my breath.  I stayed calm in a world that was turbulent for me.

 

The young man is going through a similar process of trying on lives, and I saw him recently.  He told me that “I have time” to figure it all out.  While we share this in common, and that is a comfort, I am the only one of us who can see life from both sides of the age gap.  I have been where he is in life. But where I am – that is a place he cannot yet know.  I am alone, trying to fathom its depths.

At times, I feel quite lonely, here.

I think it was Soren Kierkegard who said that “Life can only be understood backwardsbut it must be lived forwards.”  And even as I paddle, I know that I can’t know what is ahead of me but I can know what is behind me and yet, life is flowing.  We can never go back to a point that has flowed past us.

For a long time after the ending of our relationship, I tried to make sense of things.  After 7 months, I came upon one thought that I had never thought and only then did the pieces come together.  Having the pieces come together, however, does not make the fact of the situation any easier to bear.  When things hurt, understanding why they hurt doesn’t take away the sting.  All it does is put the mind to rest, and possibly provide insights for what can be expected, going forward. It doesn’t change anything.

I’ve seen him and I’ve talked to him and I feel strange.  There are just so many emotions that run the gamut from ease to sadness to a distant observation of what is.  I’ve been in this place before and it is very internal and intimate and I wouldn’t want to describe all that is going on – to him or to anyone else.  Something has died and I’m watching “what is,” with detachment.  This won’t last, but I am surprised by my lack of desire to rush in and re-order the universe.  What is, is.  What the meaning in it is – well – maybe I’ll only know in a year or 10 or 20 or at the end of my life.  Or maybe I will never know.  And maybe it doesn’t even matter.

Perhaps this is wisdom – the ability to let things be what they are and just be the observer, adjusting the rudder and accepting the tide.

I’m sure that, in time, I will get caught up in the future or the past or be somehow out of the present moment.  But for this brief window of time, I am so incredibly present in the moment, and I am grateful for that gift.

I panic about my own future when I look to buy a home and see prices rising 4% a month and I wonder how soon I will be completely priced out of the market.  And then I paddle.  And I wonder if this is where I’m meant to be.  If life is like paddling against the tide all the time, perhaps its time to stop and float and see where the current is directing life.

I am not good at just being. But I am grateful for the discovery of how calming and central to my rebirth the kayak has become.  Like lifestyles, not all kayaks are the same.  Some are meant for long ocean tours and some for whitewater paddling.  Some are meant for lakes and rivers.  Some have long and narrow bows and some are wider and each one has its own ease of entry and exit for the individual.  No kayak is good for all weather and conditions and so we must choose wisely and we must know what is most important to us.

I spent the day with a friend that I’ve known all of my adult life.  I wondered why it is that as we get older, our energy gets less directed at the big issues in the world and we become more tender and focused on our own little world.  The young man might call this “small mindedness.”  I know that I am one of the most broad minded people I know.  And yet, I no longer have the energy to fight the system.  I know that true influence comes from within.  Like any ecosystem, we are all connected.  And it is the understanding of this Oneness that makes me want to focus inward, at this point in my life.  The change I want to see in the world must begin with me.  If I change, it all changes.

And with every stroke I take as I kayak out against the tide, I know that I am fighting a losing battle.  The best we can do in a kayak is to use our paddle and our rudder to work with the flow of the currents and tides and get into the flow of the whole-body stroke to reach our destination with ease.  When I am racing, and paddling so hard against the tide, I miss the heron and the seals and the ravens and eagles that populate the coast.  When I am gentle with myself, my course, and when I  allow whatever time is required to reach my destination, with ease, there is joy in the journey.

I am doing some very deep inner work at the moment and I am grateful for this moment and the transformation that is in process.  I have no energy to paddle against the tide.  But the changes I make within myself may be the most powerful impact I can have in the world.  Changing myself and letting go of at least a layer of ego, holding the light of my soul shining – that is the greatest service I can do for the world though there will be no accolades or worldly appreciation for this.  But the forest knows when I sing to her and the waters know when I am there.

I don’t know what will fill this space that has been left by the death of so many things. But, I trust that the Divine does.  I hope that it will be a new understanding of what is important in life in order to live a meaningful and purposeful life.  Although I can find calm when the storm gets too turbulent, I feel quite lonely in both the eye of the hurricane and when I am spinning at its whim.  This is not the loneliness of lack of friendship.  This is the loneliness of being in a place in life that few have been.

I am in my own kind of wilderness.  This is my postcard to you.

 

Photo: Noah Rosenfield

 

For what are you most grateful, today?