Monday, March 11, 2019

Memento Mori

I had a bit of an epiphany when I was walking in the woods the other day. I'm 66 as I write this, my husband is 76. I know that what we are looking at ahead is the inevitability of decline and death.

Sounds terrible doesn't it? 

It's not really. We run away from this our whole lives. But then I remember seeing my grandmother when she was in her 80s, happy and eager to see what was up for lunch. How could Gma do that? (That's her in the pic with me gnawing on her hand in 1953)

OK, intellectually I know this is inevitable. One favourite quote that lights it up is this one: "Things rise and fall. We gain. We lose. Someday, all of us, if we're not hit by a bus, will get a diagnosis. At that time, the question will be what is valuable about life, what do we love."  -- John Tarrant

But the adjustment is not smooth when our usual lives start unravelling. We have to accept the 100 small fails that when younger wouldn't have slowed us down for a second. They add up. And the big ticket ones - well, we have to accept them too.

I can't know what is going to happen, but I can know for sure that it will include death, and likely include discomfort, vulnerability and disease, whether it has my permission or not. 

So, I started to think about what 'inevitable' really means. The word itself. This was my thought process:

That means it is going to happen for sure.
That means it is already written in the stars.
However the future unfolds, it's already written. A done deal.
Not in terms of fate or destiny, but just the simple fact of it.
That means it has already happened.

Now I am starting to get an idea of why people who are old, ill, disabled, and vulnerable are grateful for each day. It's not because they are running away from death, but because they are taking care to notice the 100 little joys in a day.

As I adjust to all this, as I give up any idea that I will survive this, and give up any idea it won't be painful at times, I'd be wise to do the same - stop often through the day and take joy in my life. 

I wish I Gma was here so I could ask her how she coped. She was alway a cheerful soul, even though she had a tough life.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The House Turkey

We had a turkey living in our yard for 6 years. Some of you may know the story. She was a wild turkey raised domestically that escaped and came here, where hunting laws prohibit shooting her. So she stayed.

Her presence was felt all through the neighbourhood. 

Now this wasn't a sweet little songbird like a goldfinch that flitted at the feeders and sang from the trees. She was big. She emptied my bird feeders until I cut costs by buying scratch grain for her from the local feed mill. She flew to our rooftop and bounded from one end to the other barking. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And then back again. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And her appearance - she was not the most attractive of birds. She frustrated the neighbours' pets. When dogs chased her, she simply outran them, then lifted off to roost in the pines. When cats stalked, she stayed put on the deck railing and watched them. Every single cat backed down.

Some neighbours grumbled, but most of us enjoyed having her around. Before long, we got used to her warty, mottled face and neck, and appreciated the iridescent sheen of her feathers in the sunlight. Her spotted eggs turned up in the oddest places in the neighbourhood - beside Eva's front step, under Penny's cedar trees. I often found a few in the garden shed. 

Still wild, for a few weeks each summer she flew away. She returned each afternoon for a hasty sand bath in the garden and a belly full of grain. Then off she went again. We never knew where. 

It all ended one snowy midnight. I'd heard the Great Horned Owl for several nights before it struck. In the wild, turkeys like her live for about 3 years. In our yard, she lived for 6. Was there more we could have done – should have done? I don't know.

What I do know is that whenever I hear the distant call of a wild turkey in the hills, I feel a warm, sweet affection at the sound.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Me Time

In my Sunny Days, one of the "Joyful Intentions" that comes up says, "Today I'll make some time for myself." Lately, it's taken on a whole new meaning. Family matters occupied a lot of my attention last year, forcing me to adjust the time I was willing to give to other people and projects.

And boy did people push back.

When I was unable to follow the course in class and my requests to find a way through it went unheard, I was accused of "wanting things my own way."

When I refused to volunteer for an admin positition in a local charity, the woman who called pressed. "It's just one time only." "No," * I answered. "We really need your help." "No." Before hanging up, she mildly accused me of letting them down.

When a new neighbour asked why I hadn't come to her get-together, I told her that I hadn't been up for it. When she suggested I come to the next one, I refused to commit. "If I'm up for it," I told her. But then when she said, "You really should," I had to repeat, "I will if I'm up for it." Even then she continued to push. "It'll do you good to come, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone."

That got my back up.

They all did - a sure sign that my resources were already depleted.

I could understand the push-back. Many are used to me saying "Yes." Some are low-energy too and rely on my compliance to make their own day go more smoothly. A few try to manipulate others to meet their own needs, these ones can be just plain toxic. I wish them all the best. But this is about what I need.

I need to give my time back to myself. Not give others my time, but give it to me.

This doesn't come easily to me, so I asked my husband how I might get better at it. He said, "You're over 65. You don't have to answer to anyone any more." I hadn't thought of it that way. And when I put that to the test, he supported me. He knew of my plans to go to another town for an appointment and hoped I'd want him to drive, so he could pick up a few things on his own while there. But when I said, "Not this time," he was a little disappointed but he was fine with it.

Taking back my time means choosing who I spend my time with. It means taking on activities that energize rather than deplete me, even taking on fewer projects than I think I can handle until I have more reserves. ** Taking back my time can mean puttering in the kitchen at my own pace, answering to nobody but myself. Until I hopped on the train one day without telling anyone I was coming to the city, I had no idea how much the urgency of meeting the schedules and expectations of others had been depleting me. It was a great day.

My time. My schedule.

Do I want things my own way? Sure. But I'm not a princess. Do I want to help the charity? Sure. But I'm not about to take on more responsibility. Do I want to meet new people? Sure. But not right now. People push back for their own reasons. I stand my ground for reasons of my own. It’s better to deal with their lack of grace than undermine my own needs.

Today I'll make some time for myself. It is a joyful intention. Time for me to maybe walk in the woods, or maybe cook a delicious soup, or maybe read a happy book. I can figure it out as I go along. It's up to me. After all, me time is my time.


* See also: Janet's 5 Rules of "NO"
** This reminds me of the cook's rule: "Use a bigger bowl than you think you'll need."

Friday, January 25, 2019

Pure Gratitude

I stopped here because I could barely help myself. It was too cold to linger really, but the beauty of the place, the sounds, the light, the energy captured my attention and then gratitude stopped me in my tracks. I didn't make gratitude up out of the moment, it was more like it made me.

Perhaps that's what Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, meant when he said, "it is our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved, utterly gratuitous – life, existence, ultimate belonging – and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness. In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole."

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Thinking Patterns

I read a New Age book 35 years ago that changed the way I look at life. In this book "Seth Speaks" by Jane Roberts, Seth said that our thoughts and beliefs change our reality. "Your scientists are finally learning what philosophers have known for centuries -- that mind can influence matter. They still have to discover the fact that mind creates and forms matter."

This was a totally new concept to me, yet in my deepest heart, it rang true.

It wasn't until about 10 years later I discovered that the first verses in the Dhammapada, the Sayings of the Buddha, say the same thing. "We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with an impure mind and trouble will follow you as the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart. We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world. Speak or act with a pure mind and happiness will follow you as your shadow, unshakeable."

In both, we are encouraged to become more aware of our thoughts. It's within our power to see what kinds of thoughts we have, to learn how to change them, to discover how following them can lead to insight and inspiration. Since I have an active mind this kind of stuff appealed to me. 

One of the exercises suggested is to become aware of a thought and then follow it backwards as far as possible, perhaps seeing where it originated, perhaps seeing a pattern.

Here's a recent example: 

Driving home from a nearby town, I was thinking about our local roads, and a little annoyed at the way the municipality has handled them. "I've lived here over 40 years and the only time they plowed this section of road properly in the winter was when one of their plow drivers lived here and needed to get home."

But I caught the rant before it could gain steam. Even justified anger depletes me if I indulge it. So, "What I was thinking about right before the "roads" thoughts?" The feeling of sadness hit at the same time as the memory. I'd been thinking about someone I loved who was in pain. I couldn't make it better. I felt helpless, vulnerable and sad. My crankiness about the roads wasn't really about them at all. It was about suppressing the sad and helpless feelings. 

I may not always have the room/courage/time to process the difficult feelings, but it's useful to know how my mind operates. I came into this world with a busy mind. I may as well use it to my advantage.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Going With the Flow

If I am to trust that the Universe/Life/God is on my side, then I have to learn to see how it's always leading me to smoother waters. 

A few years ago, Tom and I went to buy a lounge chair on sale to replace a stiff, shabby 60 year old poolside lounger. We couldn't find one on the store shelves so we looked for a salesperson. After a long delay, we found someone to help. "The extra stock is out in another building. I'll get someone to find one for you." Another long delay, a repeated attempt to find it, and finally success after an hour or more. All that perseverance paid off!

Except that it didn't. The chair is too heavy to lift/store/move around. The finish on the wheels rubs off on anything they touch - fabric, flesh, everything. And it looks more comfortable than it is. When I want to sit outside, I drag out the old one.

At some point, persistence becomes inflexibility, and my efforts to push through challenge become the opposite of going with the flow. 

When I take a new way through the forest, I ask the trees to show me the best way, even if it feels like whimsy. I have learned from experience to trust this. If I find my way suddenly blocked on the path I thought was best, I can push through, but I'll likely find the path impassable farther along. If I seem to be directed down an unlikely pathway, I have learned that it'll probably open up a bit farther along. 

I get it wrong often. Sometimes I'll be almost stuck in the mud before I admit to myself that my persistence was actually stubbornness, and laugh at the discovery. But I often get it right, too, something I find reassuring.

Going with the flow is flexibility in action. I must be willing to change plans on the fly. Which action seems the most joyful, easiest, warmest? If I can, that's the direction I take. A playful approach helps. I try to be like the kid I used to be. As kids, we know what calls to us, with uncomplicated notions such as, "I like it here," or "I want to move away from here." 

I was all set to drive to town for a few veggies before the forecasted freezing rain arrived. I started the car, got dressed for the weather and saw rain freezing on the steps. Maybe tomorrow. 

I just spent a little while looking for synonyms for a word in the dictionary. It wasn't working. To move with the flow, I rephrased the sentence, and ended up with a better result. (Which you are currently reading.)

Building trust requires practice but the rewards are endless. The more often I stop and do a gut check, the more often I'll hear what life is telling me. The more often I hear and act on the signals life is giving me, the smoother life goes. The smoother life goes, the easier it is to trust that the Universe/Life/God is on my side.

It's a good way to live.