Sunday, August 5, 2018

Reconciliation













I'm not one of those people who believes that we have to get everything right before we die. We don't have to reconcile friendships or relationships that ended badly. We don't have to mend all the broken fences, understand all the puzzling people in our lives, or forgive when it's just not in us yet. We may not have the time or the opportunity.

Instead, I like to imagine us sitting beside each other on a cloud in heaven. In heaven we have the perspective we need to see the bigger picture. The bad feelings have vanished, and what is left is the love that was always there beneath the turmoil, misunderstanding and broken relationships. As we reflect on the difficulties and trouble in the life we've left, we can turn to each other with love and say, "Boy! That was intense!"

Monday, July 30, 2018

AudreyMary





One pic is my mother Audrey showing my niece Mary how to play the organ at Christmastime in 1991. Mary named her daughter Audrey for Mom. The 2nd was taken Friday June 22, 2018 at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto. Our beloved Mary passed away peacefully on Monday morning holding her husband’s hand. Oddly my mother passed away on the same date, June 25, in 1999.


Thursday, July 19, 2018

Breaking Open


Sometimes even the worst of things can be beneficial. Some months ago, one of my favourite people got a terrible diagnosis, and all of us who loved her had to watch her life wind down. Every family has its tragedies, our family is no exception. This one hit me hard; it broke me open in a way that I haven't broken since I was a kid. Yet even though it was awful, the 'breaking open' part was a good thing.

You know how you feel after a good cry? Empty, neutral - an open space waiting to be filled back up. It's like a fresh start. Everything unessential gets stripped away and all that's left is just, well, me. A reboot.

I spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in the last 6 months or so. It's the best way I know to meet things like this. In meditation it's about coming back to the moment again and again, being willing to accept what life has given me. In prayer, my focus was less about asking for miracles (although I never would rule them out) and more about asking for help to process the tough feelings. When frustrated by my inability to do any more to ease the situation, I found small things I could do around the house to bring order. I cooked. I couldn't focus on reading much, or working much, or many other of my usual activities; my body seemed to demand that I just sit and let things be. I spent a lot of time out on the front deck watching the birds.

At first I couldn't contain the emotion. I found myself blurting out the news. It was exploding outwards so strongly that I couldn't bear the compassionate hug of someone who cared. That was new. Once the floodgates opened, I discovered feelings I hadn't known were there. Rage. In capital letters. That was a surprise, too. I suspect a lot bubbled up from past angers, using the current emotional upheaval to process some old stuff. 

Yet I knew it didn't matter where these feelings came from. Nor did I need to figure out whose feelings I was feeling. Many of the women in our family are empathic and connected emotionally over long distances. When terror rose at a certain hour of a certain day, I had no idea whose terror I was feeling. But that didn't matter either. It just needed to be experienced.

This helped me realize it's ok to feel cranky, but not so ok to feed the crank. It's okay to cry, but not so ok to dwell on sadness. It's ok to be scared, but not so ok to start a blame story to sidestep the discomfort. The shaking always passes, as does the sadness, anxiety, pain. By spending as much time as I could being in the moment, I was reminded that no matter how uncomfortable, none of these feelings last forever. 

Yet not all the feelings were bad. 

Strange how that works. While difficult feelings did rise, so too did a deeper appreciation of the living energy of the air and trees and birds - the joy and vitality and shimmer of life itself. That cold drink felt more refreshing, the music on the radio that I might otherwise have missed more beautiful. Compassion automatically rose for all those who are struggling. Joy rose when watching the squirrels chase each other, in the complex patterns of a spider web, and in the scent of soup on the stove. Sometimes it felt a bit like a roller coaster - tearful one moment and filled with peace and gratitude the next. Yet all of this gave me a greater sense of our interconnection. The boundaries between me and the world got blurred - in a good way. 

Now that the intensity of the grief has passed, I feel like someone else. A little emptier. A little less interested in the things that occupied my attention before this. A little more interested in being in the moment. Things like this remake us. They give us a chance to be reborn, to pick up whatever pieces are left of ourselves and arrange them in a new order. Or choose not to pick them up quite so urgently. 

    ...

Want to hear something nice? 

Months ago, I prayed to my Mom (who died in 1999) to help Mary pass over when her time came. I didn't say anything to anyone or even give it another thought until I got a message from my daughter, "WEIRD. So I'm sitting in the driveway. Just got back from dropping J___ at school. And I saw your mom standing in T___'s yard holding Mary's hand." My daughter isn't interested in metaphysical stuff. This came out of the blue 2 weeks before Mary died. Then a few hours after Mary died, she messaged me again: "Both your parents are with her. BOTH. She had one on each arm. They were walking away. All three. And she was regaining strength as she walked. Holy crow mom. It's like they were walking away from here, helping her and she was frail, and then standing more and more straight, and more and more energetic as they walked away"



Monday, April 23, 2018

The Default Value



Things have been humming along pretty well. I'm feeling better than I have in months, with energy to take on more than usual. It's summertime and I am a summer girl. I love the warmth and sunshine and birds and flowers.

The trouble is that when things are humming along well, I take it as the default value.

Then when I wake up with a rash, or gain a couple of pounds, or have an argument with a loved one, or get a flat tire, it feels like an affront, a failure. I thought I'd finished with that rash 10 years ago. Now here it is again.

It all seems a bit worse than the normal ups and downs of life.

What I forget is that 'ups and downs' includes 'downs.' The default value needs to be up and down, summer and winter, gain and lose, joy and annoyance.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Getting Along With the Neighbours



I live in an area that is rural, predominantly white, and predominantly conservative. I moved out here from busy and diverse Toronto decades ago, and found it a bit hard to fit in at first. I loved the quiet beauty of the countryside, but found the lack of diversity in the region unsettling. It felt like a closed community in which outsiders were viewed with some suspicion.

In this recent populist political climate, gossip, hatred and greed have been given a louder voice. Suddenly I didn't know how to be around Shirley. She sent a hate-filled email to everyone on her contacts list, something I'd never seen from her before. I was shocked. Had she always felt this way? Then there's Bill, who very subtly suggested to his granddaughter that she could have chosen a baby-doll with lighter skin. I'd known he felt this way, but I'd never seen him speak so openly about it. I was outraged.

What to do?

So I sat down to think it through. Here's what I've been doing:

If I don't know what to say, I try to say nothing. Speaking too soon may just polarize opinion and rouse emotions.

I try to keep in mind that we have a lot more in common than the factors that divide us. The Dalai Lama: "Despite all of the things that differentiate us – race, language, religion, gender, wealth and so on – we are all equal concerning our fundamental humanity." And this is true in my experience. That can mean setting aside my disapproval of their actions and letting the present moment inform my actions when I'm with them. Which leads to the next thing ...

I've been shoring up my boundaries. I sent a note to Shirley asking her to check her facts before passing on emails and suggesting this kind of thing could incite hatred. If she does it again, I'll let her know I'm blocking her and I'll tell her why. When Bill moved from racist rhetoric to 'jokingly' tear the head off his granddaughter's baby-doll, I stopped him with a cautionary, "Don't you dare 'toy-story' that doll!" He looked up and made a move to go ahead anyhow. But I meant business. That wasn't just about my boundaries, it was a breach of his granddaughter's; she wasn't old enough to know that he is not entitled to behead the dolly she chose for herself - even if she loves him. By setting boundaries, we're standing up for who we feel we are, and for what we value - and not letting other people define that for us.

It's been illuminating.

Change comes slowly to small communities, but in spite of the recent upsurge of voiced hate, greed and intolerance, after more than a century of sameness, an influx of new citizens has doubled the population, bringing new colour and music and religion and sport and food to the area. This is good news. We needed fresh blood.

As for me, I may not spend as much time with Shirley or Bill in the future, but you can bet I'll check out that new restaurant. I'm told the jerk chicken is delicious.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Passive Media Making Slaves of Us All

It occurs to me that what facebook and instagram want are not the active users, but those who are passive - like flipping through a magazine without really caring what's there. I deleted Flipbook because it didn't want to serve me what I wanted to see but instead fed me stuff from its algorithms. The first time I opened FB's newsfeed it served me an ad about the Royal Family intended to denigrate. That's not an attractive product.

While something new might crop up in an algorithm that'd be interesting, it hasn't been worth my effort to dig and change settings, and jump through all the other hoops to see what I want rather than what these media outlets want me to see. The user experience is designed to demote me to passive user. I guess these types of media are made to provide the same kind of passive entertainment as someone'd get flipping through cable stations on TV with a remote.

They say we are not the product but clearly they serve other masters. Have we become the slaves of this new digital world?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

A Letter to My 9 Year Old Self


Hi Sweetie,

Some of the friends you steered yourself towards have just been using you to make themselves look good. They will never respect you. Stick with friends who you feel equal to.

Don't believe it when people compare you to your sister. Your edginess is there for a reason. Accept it without shame or regret.

Remember that magic "piece of chocolate" moment that evening in the backyard. That moment of insight, when you realized that the way to get what you want is to accept that you don't have it and move on, was important. You'll find it brings things to you that you thought were out of reach.

Just because you don't feel you have a talent for art, doesn't mean you can't draw. Your creativity crosses all boundaries and lights up every area of your life. If your teacher says you're not an artist, he is not right. He just doesn't know what to do with you.

Follow your heart and intuition as much as you can.

It's okay to cry. Save it for a not-too-public time, but cry all you like. Tears are a necessary function, made to release difficult or intense feelings.

No choice takes you down the wrong path. Some choices may lead to tougher circumstances, but each will bring you to what you need to know.

Just because your Mom wished you'd settle in one field (or on one hobby) doesn't mean you are supposed to. Who you are is changing every day, and not being locked in to a specific path gives you the freedom to explore. Perhaps exploration and discovery are your life path.

Pay attention to your dreams. Dreams like the one where you learned how to ride a bicycle can make life easier.

Understanding why someone acts unkind to you doesn't mean you have to stand there and take it. You are entitled to walk away, even when it is someone you love.

Do what you love and what comes naturally. You may think that flute is a good choice in music class, but baritone is more fun. Tuba even more.

Just because someone is older doesn't mean that what they say is true. Different people believe different things. Don't accept everything they tell you uncritically. You don't have to agree with them to get along.

When someone says you aren't living up to your potential, remember that no other person is capable of telling you what you are supposed to be or do to fulfil yourself. Many of them are hoping you'll fill their own unfulfilled dreams. Others may just be parroting what others told them. They are only human.

Think about the kinds of things you love to do: taking the dog to the river for a splash, solving puzzles, riding your bike, reading, singing harmony. These are all aspects of who you are, and you'll carry the essence of these wonderful things through your whole life.

You may not feel like it sometimes, but you can trust yourself, your life, and the loving intelligence that brought your life into being. You are unique, supported and needed.


(First published in Starry Night in April 2011)