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Ten Thousand Days

Ten Thousand Days

Summertime

June 7, 2019

Photo: Matthew Schwartz

Day 1728 – Day 1756

When I lived in the USA, Memorial day was always the official start of summer.  Now that I grow a vegetable garden, I know that the rule of thumb is that the end of May is also the ‘safe bet’ for having all your summer crops planted.  This year, Memorial Day happened to fall on my birthday.

I am incredibly fortunate that I was speaking to a friend and she suggested that I fly out to see her in Cape Cod for the weekend.  There was an incredible seat sale and the airfare was her gift to me.  I jumped at the chance.  I had to get my garden planted before I left, because I knew the tomato seedlings would not last in the hot temperatures that were predicted for the weekend that I was away.  All of my patio plants went into as many buckets and barrels of water as I could find, to keep their roots wet and I tried the old water bottle inverted in the soil trick to keep the soil moist.  This, plus a shade cloth meant that I came home to lush and thriving patio plants.  All things aligned so that I ran into a fellow gardener who agreed to water my plot while I was away.  With 4 hours sleep in the 48 hours before I flew, I planted my garden, packed my things and set off for Cape Cod – a coast to coast adventure.

I’m so grateful that my friend offered me this gift and that I decided to be spontaneous and take it.  I’m also grateful that I could get a few days off from work at short notice.

We had a great time.  My friend had to work every day for a few hours and while she was at work in the wee hours of the morning I went to the beach, explored her town, and did some necessary grocery shopping considering my vast array of food allergies.  We visited Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, Mellerton for raw oysters, Truro Vineyard, the National Seashore, Race Point Beach at Provincetown and spent time on the beaches around Hyannisport.  I went to art galleries, exotic food markets and to the Kennedy and Korean war memorials as well as spending a morning at the Kennedy Museum in Hyannisport, where the Kennedy Complex is still actively used by the family, to this day.  It was a whirlwind and we ate out, cooked in and had takeaway and watched movies.  For 4 days and 5 nights, I got to spend time with an old friend that I’ve not seen in over 15 years.

For me, the beach was supremely relaxing and enjoyable. I’m delighted we got to spend a whole day together just hanging out on the beach.

We drank our fair share of wine, as well.  However, for those of you that might have had the same impression as me – Martha’s Vinyard is not a winery.   It’s a pretty vacation island off the coast of Cape Cod, with an interesting history.  Imagine my disappointment when I didn’t get to have a good glass of wine and a tour of the non-existent vineyards.   Instead, I learned about the Methodist Summer-camp Retreat that drew 30,000 visitors back at the  turn of the century and that welcomed the African American slaves during the civil war.  No wine, but an interesting time and some very cute gingerbread houses, as well as some lovely beaches.  We took a ride on one of America’s oldest carousels and got our fortunes spat out of the Zoltar machine. (If you are old enough to remember Tom Hanks in Big, it was Zoltar that granted his wish).

And, I had a bloody Mary on the ferry to make up for the lack of wine.

I have grown up with a difficulty accepting gifts, particularly a sizeable gift such as this, because there were always strings attached.  I’m grateful that I could overcome my challenge through the generosity of a dear friend who financed my flight.  It was not only a joy to have the holiday but a joy to break down some learned beliefs.  Of course, I also treated my friend to a few treats as well.  What would be the point of going if we didn’t have the chance to have a few adventures?  After all, with our time on earth, we only have the choice of a good time, not a long time.  It was a wonderful way for us both to be in service to the other.

If you ask me how I am, these days,  I’ll say come si, comme ca.  Some things are going okay and some things are very challenging.  But, that is a big improvement over how I’ve felt for several years.  What is different, as I begin another trip around the sun, is that I have been the recipient of a truly selfless and loving gift, and this has both refreshed me and renewed my faith in humankind through a loving connection.

I really needed a mini holiday.  I have not been enjoying my life much lately.  The dynamics under which I spend much of my waking hours are hostile, abrasive, and soul destroying.  My trip was an exception and, I hope, the start of a new phase of my life.  The trip revived me enough to start thinking of how to change some of that and make, yet a new way, for myself, in this world.

It has given me hope.

These feelings are delicate and fragile and in a world that is often hostile to my fragile improvements, I’m keeping it locked in a tower, beaming light out above the heads of those who would like to tear me down, and out across the horizon.  Is it to remind people of my presence so far away and affirm that I’m ready for a new adventure? Or, is it scanning for risks and storms that may be yet beneath my radar?

After the past few years, I’ve had, let’s be honest – it’s both.

But hope reminds me that it is Summertime; People are out at sea more, and my light will travel farther in the clear of the night.  Perhaps the living really can be a little more easy.

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

For what are you most grateful, right now?

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

No. More. Excuses

May 9, 2019

Photo: Analise Benevides

Day 1721 – Day 1727

When I was a  girl, I was bullied on the playground.  My mother taught me to try to overlook bad behaviour and with empathy, see what might be driving people to act so badly.  ‘Maybe there is something going on in their life that you don’t understand and it is making them behave in a mean way’, she would say.  I suppose that my mother did this to help me see that being bullied by a kid on the playground was more about them and their issues than it was about me.  But, as an overly empathetic young person, I grew up always trying to understand the psychology of people who treated me like dirt, rather than getting out of the way of their abuse.

Empathy is a great thing.  It is, in fact, one of the core underlying practices (along with mindfulness and authenticity) that makes practicing gratitude, magnifying joy, being of service, experiencing our oneness and living a life of meaning, with purpose possible.  Empathy and pro social behaviour are requirements for belonging to society.  Without empathy, I don’t think it is possible to actually be happy, because empathy is key to forming relationships.  Those lacking empathy, as far as I understand it, are often diagnosed with Cluster B personality disorders that include psychopathy and narcissism.

Empathy is a good thing.  Too much empathy, to the detriment of mutual respect and self-preservation, is a very bad thing.

Someone treated me badly recently and I was recounting the story to a friend.  The first thing she did was jump to hypothetical reasons why they might have behaved so badly “Maybe they think this or maybe they feel that.”  My feelings were not acknowledged.   I’m sure she had good intentions, but this is not empathy.  It is looking for rationalizations of bad behaviour.

I notice this is common with some women – at least women over 40 –  and I notice that my male friends do not bother to try to understand, rationalize, or find excuses for bad behaviour.  They say it like it is.  The behaviour was unacceptable.  Usually, they use more colourful words.  I also notice that those women who tend to look for excuses have stayed in situations where their potential has been limited or where their needs aren’t being met.  I put my hand up as one of them.

People of my generation were raised in an era where women were working full-time outside the home, en masse, for the first time.  My mother was a stay at home mom and while many of my friends had mothers who worked outside of the home, it was rare that they were ‘career women’.  We were the first generation who had no expectation or hope that we would ever be taken care of by a partner who was a breadwinner.  We were the first generation who would have to make our own way in the world, a world that was ruled by men.

Our mothers had no idea what it would take to get along in the world, for their daughters.  Our mothers had to practice the subtle art of persuasion and ego stroking, and they had to learn to overlook the flaws of their husbands.  They had to do this, no matter how bad his behaviour was, at times, because it was a matter of survival.  And for their part, some of our fathers – used to having their bad behaviour overlooked – modeled, for their daughters, that this was what men expect of women.  Many men of that generation still expect to be obeyed, no matter what their behaviour.

Mine is the first generation to make her own way in the world.  And, our parents did not prepare many of us to do that.

Even at my ripe (rotting?) old age, I have tended to still make excuses and try to be understanding of people who aren’t always pro social and in control of their mouths or behaviour.

But, something has changed in me, and it is growing stronger.

I wrote about germinating ideas and the need to change my life.  One of the first things I’ve found myself feeling is that I no longer want to make excuses for bad behaviour.

My life took a very hard turn in 2016.  I think about the young man who said he loved me and with whom I fell in love.  He had a charming and gentle exterior when we met in 2015.  That was who I believed him to be.  Who he turned out to be was a man who was self involved, opportunistic and exploitative, who had no empathy for others, and had a moral compass that was strongly anti-social.  I had believed his lies.  Like my mother, and her generation, I stood on my head and turned myself inside out for months that turned into years, trying to make sense of his treating me with disdain and cruelty and then vulnerability and sweetness in turn.  I tried to find a reason why the sweet and vulnerable man was lying to me and hurting me.  Like my mother, I chose not to see what was right in front of me if it meant I could not rationalize his anti-social ways.  I had clocked what was either embarrassment or disdain, towards a bouncer who didn’t want to let him into the pub for dressing shabbily, on the first night we met.   That was a red flag.  But, I gave him the benefit of the doubt on that first night and every night after, for over 2 years.   The bad behaviour was who he really was, and he had pegged me for a gullible target.  He exploited me, betrayed me and broke my heart, and when I finally got pushed to far, I reacted, in kind.  All that did was allow him to alleviate his own self hatred and position me as the bad guy.   While I am not victim blaming, I must admit that up to that point, I had made the excuses that let him continue, for years.  I’m sure I’m not the only one.  He likely lied to and exploited the other women who were, unbenownst to me, in his life, as well.

His sweet exterior was a necessary mask he wore to disguise his anti-social self, in order to make his way in the world.

I went through the worst time in my life, and I sort of sleep walked through 2017, but I’m awake now.

I have forgiven him, not because he is remorseful or because his behaviour is excusable.  Whatever made him the way that he is, whether nature or nurture, it was not in his control.  I don’t feel any joy in knowing that he is probably still stuck in a spiral of anti-social behaviour and shame, but Il struggle with the knowledge that his shame is not remorse.  I feel sad for what has become of him, but don’t mistake me – he is still accountable for his behaviour.  He could have behaved differently.  He’s certainly capable of being charming and likable with those who aren’t particularly close to him.   He can behave pro-socially when he wants to, he just chose to lie and behave badly with me because he didn’t care how his anti-social behaviour would hurt me.

Empathy is good, but not everyone has our best interests at heart and deserves our efforts to understand their less than shining moments.  I’m grateful for this lesson, though I wish it had come earlier in my life, and I wish it had come at a much lower personal cost.  But, we learn when we learn.

And I do feel joy that I am free of it.

Having come through that I’m working on forgiving myself for making the wrong (overly empathetic) choices with him.  A part of forgiving myself for letting it go on too long is to have zero tolerance for disrespectful behaviour being directed at me and to resist the need to rationalize, that I learned from my parents.     Yes, sometimes we can’t completely end toxic relationships (example: co-parenting) but we can enforce our boundaries with people who do not have our best interests at heart.  We are all One at the level of the soul and spirit.  At the level of the mundane, where most of us live our day to day life, we must honour the light of our own soul by protecting ourselves against abuse.

To let anyone dump on us is to dim our own spiritual light.

No. More. Excuses.

Photo: Sandeep Swarnkar

For what are you most grateful this week?

Ten Thousand Days

A Good Time, Not a Long Time

May 3, 2019

Photo: Sharon McCutcheon

Day 1701 – Day 1720

In my last post, I talked about things germinating but since then, I’ve been thinking about the other end of the life cycle and how quickly life passes by.  In any garden, the germination happens quickly but the seedling takes a long time to grow into a mature plant.  Then, all of a sudden, with the warmth of the summer sun, the plant shoots out flowers, bears fruit and dies in a rapid display of the full and glorious cycle of life.

Last week, I had some banking to do and I realized that I’d held my bank account for 30 years…no, wait, I thought…40 years(!)  I feel like I’ve gone from the age of 30 to the age I am now, in the blink of an eye.  I still think of myself as 30 but I’m really, really not.

Life is so precious and as we get older, it feels as though time speeds up.  Our finite time here is the fact of our human existence and we might as well acknowledge it.  To fail to do that is to risk squandering our lives over petty little things.  As I was making a deposit at the branch and marveling that I’d had done anything for 40 years, I thought about this, and realised that since life is so short, we have to make sure we live it to the fullest.  I don’t mean the whole ‘quit the job and travel the world’ major mid life crisis act (but maybe that is the right thing for you or somebody out there to do, right now).

I mean, simply this: I want to make sure that I am enjoying my life, each and every day.

I’ve been dealing with some toxic people who I’m unfortunately exposed to, on a day to day basis.  It makes life not enjoyable, when I’m interacting with them.  And so, I’ve decided that even if I have to be ‘around them’ every day, I don’t have to interact with them more than is absolutely necessary.   We all have challenges and toxic situations that we sometimes can’t escape.  Loads of people have toxic relationships with their ex spouses, who happen to be the parent of their child.  Many of us just need to learn to limit the damage that this situation causes, and to never let it rob us of our peace.

That is easier said than done, I know that.

As I reflect on my return to Canada, it has been one hell of a tough ride.  At least, I am grateful to be able to say that the toxic relationship with the young man is over and that is firmly in the past.  It is forgiven, but it will never be forgotten.  I’m grateful to be far beyond that crazy-making lunacy, now.

I’m in a better place but yes, it is still far more challenging than I would like it to be.  We all have challenges.  I get sick quite often, and I have a chronic something in my body, making it turn against me and perhaps it is food allergies, but perhaps it is something more challenging.  We just don’t know yet.  I have toxic people in my life that I cannot currently escape.  And, I’m not being utilised to my fullest skill level and I am underpaid for my skills and experience in the local marketplace.  I’m aging and facing changes in my body, mind and soul that impacts all these things.  And, I’m single when I thought I’d have a life partner to grow old with.  I’ve had my heart broken in a more devastating way than I could have ever imagined another person of being capable of.   I live in a town that I really don’t like but it is where I need to be, right now, for other goals.  And, I miss my friends and my social support in London, desperately.  I have no social circle where I live and it is hard to build one.  Family dynamics are a challenge, and the man who hurt me terribly and his ‘other’ lover keep cropping up in my extended circles because it is a small art and music scene.  I’m not feeling creatively fulfilled and I struggle to find the time to do the things that I really love doing and that I feel will be my life’s legacy.

Yeah, that is true.

And, I have a roof over my head.  I’m not in the hospital dying of an illness.  I have food in my cupboards and in my fridge.  I’m not living on the streets, I’m not eating out of a refuse pile.  I’ve seen people facing all of that.  In the grand scheme of things, I’m fortunate and I’m grateful.

Sometimes I feel that people race to the bottom complaining and imagining they have it worse than anyone they know, when they’re actually just as fortunate or more fortunate than I am.  At times, I want some empathy.  I had a very painful fall that was not my fault over the weekend.  My leg hurt like heck last night and after 1 am, I couldn’t sleep any more.  I am working on 2 hours sleep today and feeling in a lot of pain.  It would be nice if folks were empathetic about that and didn’t ask me to walk more than necessary.  But, I do not want to race to the bottom and be awarded the medal for being the best martyr I can be, and having the ‘worst problems.’  Be careful, what you wish for.  I wouldn’t wish that award on anyone.  Know what happens to martyrs?  They die.  Usually painfully.

I’d rather get on with working on my challenges and having the energy to do that by staying positive.

Most of my challenges are able to be changed.  Maybe, not overnight.  And some may never be changed, so, a process of acceptance and mourning is needed.  I’ll probably never be able to eat wheat or cheese again.  I may never fall in love again after experiencing a total betrayal.  But, I’m learning to cook new foods that can excite me and distract me from that fact.   And, I’m loving myself more than any man could do.

We either adapt to life’s circumstances and make the best of it, or we rot in our own stew of bitterness.

Someone this week said to me: I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes.  I just wouldn’t stick around, with all those challenges.  And, it didn’t really feel like empathy.  I wondered what was the point of that comment.  We don’t climb mountains by counting how far away from our goal we are.  We climb mountains by tracking how much progress we have made.  The first approach makes us miserable, overwhelmed and depressed.  The second approach gives us a sense of accomplishment and hope.  In both cases, we are standing in the same spot, with the same distance between ourselves and the summit.  But only in the second case, are we enjoying the journey.

Life is short.  If we aren’t enjoying our lives, we need to change that.  Standing in that bank, I had already realised that, in a lot of ways, I’m not enjoying life.

And, that needs to change, but the only place it can change is inside of me.

I think that people focus on their circumstances to the exclusion of our attitude about our circumstances.  In the aftermath of moving to Canada, I got caught up in that.  But believing that our happiness is found in our circumstances is why we have such high levels of personal income, nutrition and education but people are still reporting anxiety and depression.   Yes, I want to change some things about my life and I have some dreams that I want to fulfill.  I can be frustrated about not being in a position to immediately change these things.  Or I can work steadily towards my goals, treating my waiting room like a classroom, and reflecting upon all the good in my life.

A few days ago, a fellow gardener was lamenting that the sunshine had turned his clay soil into a patch of cracked earth.  He was beating himself up for not tilling his soil better before he  had planted.  And yet, from where I stood, all I could see where 6 inch tall pea shoots that had managed to find their way through the clay and to the light.  Some things grow terrifically in clay soil.  I kept reassuring him that what he had planted was going to survive and that he learned some new things for next year.  And, I reassured him that there were remedies that he could use, over the summer.  He marvelled:  You’re always so positive.  And he also said, in the same sentence, that he was envious of my bumper crop of tomatoes, last year.  I had a horrible plot full of weeds.  But I tilled the soil, weeded the garden and planted tomatoes.  And then,  I talked to my tomatoes and gave them encouragement and thanked them for their fruits.  Things grow better with encouragement, with gratitude, with love and with that wonderful sun.  I’m sure his garden will work out.  And, I’m going to keep telling him that.  His peas are listening.

Gratitude is the one choice we can make in every moment that will help us enjoy exactly where were are, and be happy,   even if it’s not where we hope to be a year or five years from now.  As the old (truly Canadian) Trooper song goes….we’re here for a good time, not a long time, so have a good time, the sun can’t shine every day.

….And, the sun is shinin’, in this rainy city….

 

Photo: Court Prather

For what are you grateful, right now?

Ten Thousand Days

Germination

April 12, 2019

Photo: Marcus Spiske

Day 1662 – Day 1700

It has been so long since I posted!  I have been thinking of you and wanting to sit down and post something but it has just been such a busy time.  I thought about it yesterday and I’m happy to say that although, in the past, a long gap in writing was associated with a period of grief, this gap has been associated with so much good stuff (and a little of life’s irritations) happening!

I’ve been planting seeds.  Not in the garden, yet, because it has rained every weekend that I’ve been well enough to garden, but I’ve been planting them in my life.  I had a very busy work year this year and have been working on a project since January that wrapped up three days after I was supposed to leave to be on annual leave.  So, I had to curtail my annual leave to make sure we had a successful conclusion to the project.  As soon as results were in (I’m still wrapping up the paperwork), I jumped in my car and zoomed down to Portland, Oregon to spend a couple of days in a class with the man who I credit for unleashing me on the world of acrylic painting, Jesse Reno.  I’m so grateful to have met him in 2017 and to have been able to continue to study with him every year, since.  I had a tiring but joyful trip, meeting old friends and new, and producing some great new works that I’m hoping to exhibit this summer.

As soon as I returned from Portland, I had to rush to my drawing class at Emily Carr University of Art and Design.  My relationship with drawing is a complicated one and teachers have tried to press me to spend years learning to draw before I learned to paint.  I’m not willing to do that.  And so, I was delighted to meet Jesse Reno who told me that I didn’t need to draw to learn to be a good painter.  He’s right.  And, this year, I decided that my painting would be helped with better drawing skills.  It’s been a humbling experience because I struggle with drawing in a way that I don’t with painting.  But, it was MY decision to improve my drawing skills and so I was happy with each little improvement.  My teacher, Keith, has been amazing, encouraging even my worst efforts and through his positive approach as well as technical knowledge, I’ve seen my skills improve.  There is still nothing I would want to show anyone, but I learned to use new drawing tools and got a bit of theory under my belt.  It was never ‘work’ or a ‘chore’ and I never felt like I wasn’t doing it ‘right’.  He worked very hard at helping us to not judge our work and I’m very grateful for that.  My classmate were wonderfully supportive as well.  The class finished last night and I’ve got two projects that I’m going to continue to work on, to help me continue developing until I return to classes in the autumn.

I also took a great class with some street artists in Vancouver this month and created some collaborative works with them one sunny Saturday.  Again, it was great to develop and reinforce old skills and to spend time with like minded people, making a new friend or two.

In the past few weeks I’ve also been to a thrilling, joy-inspiring couple of workshops with Moira Smiley in Seattle at Frontier Home.  I was very tired that weekend and, in hindsight, I was coming down with the flu, but I had a blast at the workshops and I hope to study with her again in the future.  Moira has a real joy in singing and in teaching and the group really came together as a supportive environment even though most of us were strangers to one another.  I love the sense of community that I get when I attend events at Frontier Home, and Moira was a particularly wonderful facilitator.

Of course, I did what we all must do at this time of year – I spent ages working several nights into the wee hours, putting together my tax paperwork for my annual tax return.  It’s been a busy time.

And, yes, I got run down from all the work, and yes, I had the flu.  Last weekend I slept for 4 days and missed the annual general meeting of the Garden, which made me sad.  I’m still not 100 percent well, but I’m getting there.  I’ve got some of my lettuce and spinach planted and I hope to get more planting done before dark tonight as its set to rain all weekend again, but little by little, I hope to have my garden planted by end of April, save for the hot weather crops.  I’m doing some service again this year by leading the Greenhouse volunteers, and I’m really looking forward to a new growing season.

Since I’ve had to change my diet so radically, I’ve been working on watching loads of YouTube videos of cooks who cater to my skill level and dietary needs.  I should be a chef by now, with the number of videos I’ve watched!  I’m looking forward to growing my own vegetables and using them in new ways this summer and autumn.

All of this has happened on top of more than full time work load.  So, as I said, it’s been busy.

But, part of my purpose is not only living this journey of ten thousand days of practice, it is also documenting it.  And in that I have been remiss.  I’m grateful that today, I could drop my wish to have a wonderfully meaningful epiphany and simply sit down and spend my lunch hour putting a few words to the gratitude I’ve been feeling.

Last night, on the drive home from my final drawing class, I noticed that most of the time, I’m feeling pretty wonderful, emotionally.  Yes, when I was sick, I felt a bit isolated, but frankly, I wanted to just sleep anyway.  I’m in a good place and I believe a lot of this happiness has been down to really making an effort to focus on the things for which I’m grateful, and noticing the really sublime moments like being conducted, with my fellow workshop attendees, by Moira Smiley.   I haven’t been posting my gratitude, but its been overflowing in my life.  When it comes to writing, a former creative writing professor once told me that sometimes you write and sometimes you are immersed in living and gathering the raw material of writing.  But, it’s good to keep coming back here and I’m working on re-setting some of my commitments to align with my deepest priorities,  so that I will be more regular, again, in my posting.

I’m grateful that you’ve come back again to witness the journey.  Lots has been germinating over the winter and particularly the past few weeks.  I’m looking forward to working with it all in the coming months!

Photo: Melissa Askew

For what are you most grateful, today?

Ten Thousand Days

Couscous Crisis

March 4, 2019

Photo: Jo Sonn

Day 1655 – Day 1661

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so, gratitude is becoming vitally important.

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

All of that is off limits to me now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Juan Cruz Mountford

 

For what are you most grateful today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

Quelle Drag!

February 25, 2019

Photo: Pawel Szvmanski

Day 1635 – Day 1654

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Art, Ten Thousand Days

Think

February 5, 2019

Photo: Fred Kearney

Day 1631 – Day 1634

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

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

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

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

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

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

I did a google search:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To reiterate:  he has never seen the programme.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is not 1930.

We need to stop; and

THINK.

Photo: Explorenation

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

Gratitude, Ten Thousand Days

88 Things We Love About You

February 1, 2019

Photo: Joshua Anderson Slate

Day 1620 – Day 1630

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Kelly Sikkema

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

For what are you most grateful this week?

 

Ten Thousand Days

A New Hobby

January 21, 2019

Photo: Fancy Crave

Day 1608 – Day 1619

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

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

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

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

It kind of reminds me of eating, now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Aaron Burden

For what are you most grateful, this week?

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Thousand Days

Be Anders Hall

January 9, 2019

Photo: Miguel Bruna

Day 1573 – Day 1607

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to BE him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“BE Anders Hall.”

 

 

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

Ten Thousand Days

Random Acts of Kindness

December 5, 2018

Photo: Sandrachile

Day 1560 – Day 1572

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo: Evan Kirby

 

For what are you most grateful, today?

 

Ten Thousand Days

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

November 23, 2018

Photo: Squarespace

Day 1544- Day 1559

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

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

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

Shopping is a task that I don’t enjoy.

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

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

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

Photo: Rawpixel

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

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

I have been getting irritable.

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

I’m surprised if everyone wasn’t irritable.

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

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

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

Really, really irritable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For what are you most grateful today?