Saturday, 23 June 2018

Being in a Doing World

In my last blog, I wrote how my commitments seem to be changing, but I don’t know what direction to take. “Maybe the crow is telling me, just BE!” I commented, and concluded the blog with “[this is] a time of waiting and listening as I look forward to what may come. And in the meantime, just BE!” I also wrote that this would not be easy for me.

I was right. It’s not going so well. I awoke on Monday morning, the first week of being 70, feeling antsy and asking myself, “Ummm, now what? How do I just be?”

Do I sit in a yoga pose meditating day after day, humming  OMMMMM?

Or maybe I should just eat, drink and be merry, paint my toenails and watch the shopping channel, living in the moment and doing whatever pleases me. Does “just being” mean I can now ignore what is happening in the world around me? That seems so airy-fairy, so heavenly bound you’re no earthly good to anyone, least of all yourself. And boring, too.

My inclination, and probably yours too, is “to do”: to set goals for ourselves which we hope to accomplish. I have an idea for a goal: to get involved in a year-long art project to celebrate 70 (but the concrete plans are not gelling at all.) Our culture has long placed great value on the doers, the movers and the shakers, the folks who make the cover of Time Magazine’s person of the year. It does not have a lot of use for contemplatives, or those who don’t produce, or those who are dithering around wondering where to start, like me. They’re slackers, persons of no great worth.

Except that there’s a change in the air. Studies point out that constantly doing can be a source of great stress, and diseases related to stress are on the rise. “You can do it all,” but women who bought the message found that it came at great cost. Folks who climbed the corporate ladder came to realize there was nothing at the top. The glitter of the busy life, with all its material rewards, may be losing its shine.

And so, there’s a lot of noise these days about the benefits of “being.” Websites, books, and conferences that have the word “mindfulness” in the title are promoting the idea of just being rather than always doing.

“Being present in the moment” is the mantra of this movement. Mindfulness, the dictionary tells us, is “the practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one's thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.”

Oh, really? Am I the only one who thinks this is impossible? Is there something I am missing?

And so I turn to my trusty friend Google once again, to learn more. I find a description and an explanation that is worth noodling on at

First of all, I learn that you can “BE” and DO at the same time. Phew! If I didn’t “do”, there would be no meals on the table, no clean laundry to put away, no lovely gardens to enjoy. I would not be able to make play dates with the grandkids or teach Sunday School or bring a covered dish to the potluck supper. If I did not “do” I would not be able to exercise the gifts the Creator has given me, which in my case is communicating through words and fibre art.

Oh, good! It's okay to be me!
 We “do” to maintain our lives and to be absorbed in the things that bring us pleasure. To do can bring us much joy.

I spent time this week doing work in the garden. It was good!

The problem with “doing” is when it takes over our lives. Doing is not always successful, and we can overfill our lives with tasks. Even in our own eyes, we can become failures, if we set goals for ourselves and then feel frustrated when we can’t meet them. Instead of living our lives with contentment, we are just striving all the time, running on the “doing” hamster wheel, trying to catch up with where we ought to be. The “ought-tos” turn us into driven-doers. The present moment is something we use just to get ahead. And that prevents us from “just being.”

Just being can also bring us great joy. When we wake up to the wonder of just being in this world – well, wow! The key, it seems to me, is to pay attention. The opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness; often, we do our tasks mindlessly, thinking ahead to the next “to do” on the list. But if we work at our tasks and pay attention, we become aware that we are part of a bigger picture. Our hearts open to gratitude; we begin to understand that we are tiny sparks in the universe creating our own light just where we are, but linked to all the other sparks, just where they are. Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, we appreciate where we are, right now, at this moment.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work, more or less, as I understand it. True confession time: I’ve got a long way to go on this journey, since at heart I tend to drive myself. But I have had moments in my life when I am stopped in my tracks by an awareness of this magnificent universe in which I dwell, by the amazing gifts with which I am blessed. That is “just being.” I  have had times when I have been cranky and ornery about things I cannot control, when, by grace, I am suddenly aware of my teensy place in the grand scheme of things, and I can let it all go and leave it in the Creator’s hands. That is “just being.” There are moments beyond time, when I am immersed in something beyond myself as I create art, or write, or work in the garden, or read a good book, or hold a baby’s hand, or am surrounded by my dearly beloveds, or just sit by a tree and be still. That is “just being.” I think that’s it, anyway. As I said, I have a ways to go!

I still do not know the answer to my Monday morning question: “Now what?” So again, this week, this is what I will do: just be.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Book of Life

I believe every life is a story. It is a bit like a book, with each chapter a story within the story, woven together with all the other chapters in the book.

If I were to write an index for my personal story book, in chapter one I’d find a story about my early childhood. I might call that chapter Love and Discovery. Skipping a few chapters, I might come to the chapter called Hard Times; that’s the story of my teen years, a story of confusion and loneliness, punctuated with flashes of light. And the chapter on becoming a mother for the first time might be titled Oh Wow! and would read like a confusing tale of frustration, delight, anxiety and joy.

There’s one chapter, not a very long one, that’s titled Searching for God Knows What. It comes right after the one titled Grazing in a Safe but Boring Pasture. I really was looking for some big thing, my next calling, to be revealed, and I was counting on my Creator to reveal it to me.

And boy, did he/she ever deliver! I started my first blog with part of that story (June 30, 2013). It goes like this:

“Once upon a time, there was a woman of a certain age who wondered what she would do with the rest of her life. The call to her career was fading, and nothing was replacing it.

So, on a rainy camping holiday on the West coast, she set out on vision quest, deliberately keeping her heart and mind open. She journaled, she prayed, she read, she listened, she paid attention to her dreams, always hoping to catch a glimpse of the “big thing” that would grab hold of her and guide her into a fulfilling future.”

One of the things that happened on that trip was a visit to the Yaquina Bay Art Gallery in Newport, Oregon. That’s when I saw her: the mermaid with the red hat and big purple butt, her tail swinging out over the ocean.

Watercolour by Cheryl Ruehl

Her back is lumpy with a bit of extra padding and a slight roll around her waist. She is facing away, looking into the distance to see what might be coming next over the horizon. “Oh yes,” she whispers. “You know me!” She continues, "Something is out there for you. I know it. It will come.” I had to have her. So for $12, I got a steal of a deal: a mermaid who sat on a shelf in my studio, becoming my muse, perhaps even my guardian angel, a promise for my future.

More things happened on that trip. There was a hazy glimpse of what the future would look like: I would be writing and quilting about the lives of women of “a certain age”. How I could possibly do that wasn’t at all clear – what platform did I have to speak from, after all? An empty-nest mother and a free-lance writer whose specialty was writing Sunday School Curriculum? (“Do people actually get paid to do that?” asked an incredulous man. Yes, if you’re lucky! But the contracts were drying up.)

Nevertheless, I trusted the glimpse. It accompanied me through all kinds of adventures as we moved to the beautiful Comox Valley to begin a new life. Uprooting and getting repotted into a bigger container can sometimes stimulate new growth, and that’s what happened to me. I grew spiritually, and I learned about fibre art, both developments I would need before I could make my vision come true when Crow Day One was born.

And so it happens that for the past five years, I’ve been living in the chapter titled Looking out from the Crow’s Nest. That chapter started in a breathless voice of wonder: "Can this actually be happening to me? I feel as though I’m doing something that I’ve been waiting all my life to do." My alter ego, the crow, had been nudging me to squawk, and squawk I did.

I squawked through more than 180 posts, and it was a wonderful ride. As #45 would say, “Yuge! It was yuge! The best!”

Lately, though, I’ve noticed something. The crow is so much quieter. It’s almost as though she is saying, “Lots to squawk about, but that’s not your job right now. Time to listen.” And that message seems to be affirmed by the piece of art I came across this spring when once again we visited the same Yaquina Bay Art Gallery in Newport Oregon where my journey started.

silkscreen by Jane Hodgkins

There she is: another muse. She’s sitting quietly looking over her shoulder at me. She’s more of a suggestion of a crow than an in-your-face feathered squawker. What is she waiting for – another major revelation, another vision, another calling to the next big thing? Or maybe not. Maybe she’s telling me, Just BE!

Of course, I bought this crow, and I’m using her as inspiration for my self-portrait at 70. I begin by  thread sketching her on soluble background.

And what about a background? I love the reds and oranges, colours that symbolize creativity to me ...

but something tells me that blue hues may be appropriate for this time in my life: a time of waiting and listening as I look forward to what may come. And in the meantime, just BE!

 This is not going to be an easy thing for me, I must say. But I will trust that it is going to be good.

Who knows what that next chapter will be titled?

PS: I’ll still continue to blog when the crow within squirms and squawks. I’ll still continue to create art which I’d like to share with you. And I have a good idea for a project that will take up most of the coming year. It will all be revealed, bit by bit, in the next chapter, the Lord willing.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

The Excellent Adventure Rerun

Last week I ended my blog like this: “Birthdays have always been a reminder to me to take stock and look forward...I’ll share more of that next week.” I meant it, too. In fact, by Wednesday I had most of it written. And then Thursday happened.

Five years ago, when my friend Trudy and I both turned 65, we celebrated the occasion with a BC tradition for newly minted Seniors: we took a free ferry ride. At that time, all BC residents received a Gold Card at age 65, a consolation prize for getting old, I guess. It meant you could ride the ferries for free from Monday to Thursday. Trudy and I chose to visit Powell River for our first free voyage. I wrote about that in my blog of August 17, 2013.

2013 ...younger, less grey. 
A year or two later, our premier Christy Clark was the grinch who took away the Gold Card from the oldsters.  Perhaps that’s why she lost the next election. Who knows? I think she learned her lesson: don’t mess with oldies. But recently our new premier gave that privilege back to us (he knows which side his bread is buttered on.)

So, on Thursday this week, Trudy and I repeated our cheap date, this time to Vancouver where the Canadian Quilters’ Association annual convention was being held. A day out in the big city, seeing beautiful things, and bonus, go cruising for free. Yay! It doesn’t get much better than that.

2018: still sassy
Apparently, hundred and hundreds of other women of a certain age had the same idea. When we showed up in Nanaimo for the 8:45 a.m. sailing, the waiting room was full of grey-haired women clutching their quilting totes in one hand and their free ferry tickets in the other. Many were wearing their best lace-up walking shoes: reality is more important than fashion on a day like this.

Unfortunately, I did not have my camera at this point in our trip, so this stock photo will have to do!

There were also many groups of kids on school field trips in the waiting room. Can you imagine the racket? A cacophany of old crows mixed up with teenie bopper squeals! More than one of us removed our hearing aids. When it came time to lower the barrier so we could board, the ferry staff sniffed disaster in the offing: don’t ever get between a woman of a certain age and the goal she’s pursuing. The smell of the Sunshine Breakfast was in our nostrils. The staff held the kids back, and we got to the head of the cafeteria line-up first. And no, not one woman said, “Oh, let the kids go first.” We’ve learned a thing or two in our dotage.

Over eggs and bacon, women mingled and exchanged information. The air was filled with phrases such as long-arm machines and fat quarters. (The latter not to be confused with fat butts; no mention of those.) People who had never met before became BFFs. In no time we were a cohesive flock, and flying together. One woman was the expert on bus schedules, and freely shared the info: seniors only had to pay $1.80 (can you believe it?) for the Express bus (#257) which would get you downtown in a jiffy. BUT that bus was bound to get crowded, so line up early so we could be first off the ferry. Use elbows if necessary. We did. We got a seat on the bus. We let the young ‘uns stand in the aisles ... or maybe even hang from the sides. All I know is, we got a seat.

When #257 approached the stop where we wanted to get off, the bus didn’t slow down. Do old crows keep quiet when their plans seem to run amok? They do not. They claw the doors and caw loudly.  The bus stopped on the other side of the corner, and the quilting crows burst forth, single-mindedly focused on getting to that convention centre. “As the crow flies” took on new meaning as cars screeched to a stop to let this determined migration stream down the hill to their destination. Fist bumps all the way around: we made it!

The flock broke up into little groupings, and some crows became solo adventurers, as we toured the juried quilts and shopped the merchants. After all, we’d gotten from Nanaimo to Vancouver for $1.80, so we could make like Blondie and spend all the money we’d saved. But we kept running into our new BFFs, and like good crows do, shared all the good info about the best bargains, where the loos were located, and which hidden quilt gems we shouldn’t miss.

I’d like to say that the return trip was more of the same happy hullabaloo, but truth be told, a day on hard concrete floors, even with good lace-ups on our feet, takes its toll on knees and bunions and hips, and carrying heavy bags of bargains too good to pass up didn’t do much for our shoulders either. It was a scattered, subdued group that made its way back on #257 (still only $1.80! Can you believe it?)  Fortunately there’s a pretty good place in Horseshoe Bay where you can recover before you catch the FREE ferry back, and I know for a fact that old quilting crows do drink beer and eat fish and chips. And if a 19 oz. sleeve of golden ale is $6.50 and the 10 oz. glass is $5, well, what do you think the smart crow chooses? That may account for the mellow trip back, watching the sunset over the water and counting our blessings that we could have such an Excellent Adventure.

What’s that you ask? The quilt show? Oh yes, it was Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful! You can see photos on the CQA website. Pictures are worth 1000 words, and I have squawked enough.

Oh, okay, just one photo... for some reason, this one caught my eye.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Colour Me Delighted

After our rainy winter, the sun came out, and it hasn’t stopped shining for weeks. It’s been great watching the colours unfold after that long grey winter – white snowdrops, yellow daffodils, multihued tulips, pink bleeding hearts blending with sunny leopard’s bane; today, the garden features pink and purple rhodos, an orange azalea, yellow irises, brilliant blue veronica, and the beginnings of fuschia foxgloves. And there’s so much more to come. I love it.

The front yard....

And the back yard.

And here are a few more colourful beauties in our yard. (They're doing so well because of the tender loving care the resident sweetie bestows on them every day; I'm his helper, but he does the lion's share of the work.)

I recognize that just writing this description -- and posting these photos -- has made some readers cringe. All that colour – it sets their teeth on edge. Too much, too garish, too busy! A few years ago I read a memoir by one of Canada’s leading poets, Patrick Lane. It was his story of recovery from alcoholism through working in the garden. It was a good book, but he wrote something that made me mad.  He despised folks who put a splash of yellow,  orange or red in the garden – in his opinion, they had absolutely no taste. His idea of a garden was a Japanese beauty, serene, understated, full of mossy greens, rocks, and running water, with perhaps a white lily floating in the pond for a punctuation mark. Minimalist. It sounds good, Patrick, but only for a visit. When it comes to our back yard, I’m not with you. Bring on the colour!

Colour and ambience are definitely different strokes for different folks. I wondered why some people adore brights, and others adore pastels, some love the English cottage look in a garden, and others go for Zen. So  I did a little research, and the findings surprised me. The preferences we’ve developed for colour are actually rooted in experiences we’ve had with those colours in our formative years, according to Psychology Today.

If I pursue that theory, I would trace my love for bright colours to a special day in my life. It’s a memory I’ve written about before: I was about 5 or 6, walking alone down a country road to the neighbour’s house. It was a gorgeous morning with the bluest sky, brilliant sunshine, yellow dandelions in the ditch, the maples and cornstalks in full green leaf. I have a distinct memory of feeling surrounded by something much bigger than I was, a loving presence, expressing herself in nature’s rich colours. The feeling was pure delight, so much so that I can recreate that day in my memory now, 65 years later. So maybe Patrick had a similar epiphany in a forest glade, and that has shaped his preference for green.

On another Saturday morning, when I was a bit older, I recall hopping on a bike and heading off alone to do a little explore. I biked towards the cemetery ... as I write this, I realize I must have been a bit weird when I was 10 or 11. Exploring alone? Biking to the cemetery? All I can say about that, is, back then, being alone and exploring the countryside was way more enticing than playing house with my peers. At any rate, it was another sunny morning, early in spring, and I was peddling along when I saw something that caused me to stop suddenly. The ditch was filled with bluebells, a bright splash of colour beside the grey pavement. It was another breath-stopping, wonder-filled moment. Such delight!

Now the garden is my opportunity to indulge my desire for splashes of vibrant colour that give  joy and delight. Occasionally I’ve toyed with the idea of having a colour-cued garden – only pale pinks and whites, with a hint of silver foliage, for instance, but I just can’t do it. I have to tuck a blue lobelia into that pot.

Yep, I added it to the bottom of the pot.
When that last red cabbage needs to be planted somewhere, I add its purplish leaves to the green herb bed, and maybe add a few orange nasturtiums because they’re so cheerfully full of life. The flowers that spring up  from seeds dropped in the fall – foxgloves, snapdragons, calendulas and sunflowers in totally uncoordinated colours – make my heart sing, even if they interrupt a row of beans or compete with the squash.
This pink volunteer foxglove has a mutant bloom at the top: it looks like a big bellflower.

As I noodle a bit more about this, I realize that my days come in colours, too. Grey and bluish grey days are when melancholy rears its dreary head. I don’t like them, but they are not as bad as black days, which thankfully are few and far between. Nor do I like the beige days, which are hum-drum, boring, and lethargic. Those are days to clean out the kitchen cupboards and put on a radio talk show. Lovely sky-blue days are serene and filled with contentment – good days for hanging out with friends and loved ones. I enjoy green and yellow days, which are fertile and thriving – you can actually get things done and feel satisfied as you tick things off your to-do list. Purple days are deep and emotional, rich but not always comfortable as I struggle with conflicting thoughts which need to be resolved. But my favourite days are red and orange, when the fires of creativity burn bright, and ideas come in bucket-fulls.

It’s been almost 5 years since I started this blog. I know the crow can’t squawk forever – but I’m wondering what might come next. The birthday clock is ticking a countdown to 70 – three-score and ten! –  and birthdays have always been a reminder to me to take stock and look forward.  I’ve had some grey and beige days as I consider options, but occasionally, green, yellow and red flash on the horizon. I’ll share more of that next week.

In the meantime, I wish you days filled with whatever colour your joy seeds come in! Be blessed.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

The Cranky Crow Squawks on Mother's Day

It was a busy week, but I did intend to write a blog yesterday. Unfortunately, the crow was unusually uncooperative and cranky.

“I suppose it’s going to be a warm and fuzzy Mother’s Day blog,” she muttered petulantly.

“And what’s wrong with that?” I asked.

“Don’t bother,” said the crow. “Everybody already knows what you will say. You’ll tell everyone how much you loved your mom and all the mother-figures in your life."

Embro, 1954

"You’ll say how wonderful motherhood is – how it added colour and sparkle to your days," the crow continues. "You’ll add a little tear-jerker vignette about the time your kids brought you breakfast in bed. How you wish you could go back to those days."

Devon, Christmas 1978

"Just don’t bother," warns my inner crow, "because everyone else is already writing those blogs or articles in the newspaper. Go have a beer in the garden and enjoy the flowers instead. Don’t waste my time.”

When the crow speaks, I’ve learned to listen. I went out to the garden and enjoyed the beer and the flowers – and then felt guilty because I hadn’t written a blog praising all the women in my life. Because guilt is what mothers do best. 

This morning the crow prodded me some more. She said, “If you’re really going to write a blog, tell the truth.” Ay-yay-yay. Really?

The truth is, Mother’s day makes ME cranky. It bugs me that commercial interests have taken it over. It bugs me that advertisers are dictating to us what the perfect mother’s day looks like, and how the best mothers behave. It bugs me when I read wonderful flowery tributes to the perfect super-mom. It's all about hearts and flowers and butterflies.

I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, when they plunked that bundle of new life into my arms, I did not feel an instant gush of mother-love. It took me weeks to bond with that baby (but he turned out great, anyway.) The truth is, when older women saw me mothering my troupe at the playground and told me to enjoy it while it lasts because these are the best times in your life, I wanted to scream. Really? These are the best days? Please don’t tell me that. Tell me it gets better. (It did! And those kids survived and thrived in spite of me.)

The truth is, there were days when I parked myself on the sofa with a novel and put my children on hold, with only one ear cocked to listen for sounds of distress. (Actually, the kids cooperated beautifully – maybe they didn’t want mom hovering over them all the time.) The truth is, I shoved my kids out the door to do their afternoon paper route instead of going with them to help them. The truth is, I was sometimes to tough on them. The truth is, sometimes – well, more than sometimes – I lost my temper and did things that embarrass me now, like packing up their coats and boots that were littering the back hall into a plastic garbage bag and making them pay to get them back. That’ll teach them to hang things up, I thought grimly. Really? I did that? Yes. Like I said, embarrassing behaviour.

Yes, I’m cranky because Mother’s Day makes me feel inadequate. The truth is, I was a fair to middling mom, like almost everyone else I know. As my friend told me recently, we did the best with the choices we had. We muddled through with the skills we had, we made mistakes, and yet, in spite of all that, the kids are all right. And I am so glad that I am their mother; I'm intensely proud of them all.

And now that I’ve gotten that off my chest, I want to say something about Mother’s Day that’s really, really important. There is no substitute for mothering love; it shapes who we are and how we view ourselves. The thing is, it comes in so many shapes and varieties. I have had, and still do have, the most amazing people in my life who fulfilled, and still provide, a mothering role, and they include both women and men. My mom and Oma shared their unconditional love and made me feel incredibly valued; my aunts and uncles have been there forever with their kindness, concern and inspiration. My sisters are always there to pick me up when I fall down, and my children and their spouses know just when to give me the hugs I crave and words of wisdom that leave me in awe. My best man, the resident sweetie, lets me cry on his shoulder without feeling like he has to fix me, and listens to my grumbles. Occasionally, he even sets me straight when I need it. My friends, both single and married, both mothers and not, both men and women, listen and laugh, and tell me the truth about myself, with love, of course. Mentors have brought out the best in me and opened up my heart to new adventures. And even the stern church ladies and elders of my youth have had their role in teaching me the value of hard work and practical acts of kindness. Surrounding all that, there’s Creator God, who delights and encourages me in my struggles to become all that I’m meant to be. These are all forms of mothering love, and perhaps on Mother’s Day we need to honour these forms, too. After all, it takes a village to raise a child.

It comforts me to know that I do not have to be the perfect mother to my children, the perfect grandmother to my grandies, because they too have people in their lives to fulfill the mothering roles that are so vitally important to our emotional health. Not all of them are mothers, either.

As I’ve been writing this down, the cranky crow has settled down. Her feathers are no longer ruffled, and she’s tucked her head under her wing for a rest. Like a mother, she knows her job is done – until the next time. Thanks, Crow.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

New Math

I’m not good at math. But lately I’ve been noodling over some interesting equations. This new math is pretty simple. There are no rules to follow, no “carry the one” to worry about.

                                    1 + X = 2 much.    1 - 1 = enough.

I’ve been noodling over these equations since the beginning of the year, when I chose the word SUBTRACT as my word for the year. (See blog post January 27).  I chose it because of a quote I read during a very busy period in my life, when I felt as though I was shriveling up inside.

Growing the soul: that is, growing the most essential part of us. When we’re born, we come ‘trailing clouds of glory from God, who is our home,” as the poet Wordsworth expressed it.

There's nothing quite like a prairie sky to give us an image of "clouds of glory." This fibre art piece was created by Saskatchewan artist Cindy Hoppe. Check out more of her amazing work at this link:

But the clouds of glory – the delight in every living thing –  that children express so openly, often disappears quickly. The bumps and bruises of life inflict wounds, and our essential selves, the best we could be, is covered over with scar tissue.

Who are we really, after all? What’s there under the scar tissue? It’s a question so many people, especially as we grow older, ask ourselves. Have we been living our best lives? Have we been authentic, and do we live with integrity? Does what you see on the outside measure up to what you are on the inside?

These are big questions. Perhaps that’s why they often rise to the surface as we get older, when there is more time to noodle about such things. And some of us noodle deeper and harder than others. Perhaps, even now, your eyes are glazing over, wondering what on earth this old crow is squawking about.

If so, dear reader just skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to the end. SUBTRACT  a large piece of this blog post from your to-do list. There, did that feel good? Then you've got the gist of this blog.

But if some of you are ready to dig a little deeper, read on.

When we realize that we can’t always answer the big questions, we often blame ourselves for not engaging enough with spiritual practices. We should be praying more, we tell ourselves; we should be meditating more, taking more yoga classes and living with more mindfulness. We need more and longer quiet times, times of reflection. More. We need to do more.

Meister Eckhart disagrees. Our soul – the very essence of who we are – does not grow by adding all kinds of burdens; instead, it grows when we subtract, pare down, simplify. This concept appealed to me. 

Now the year is already 1/3 gone. How’s this word working for me, I ask myself. Actually, it is a good word, and more than once in the last few months I’ve been stopped in my tracks by it.

It echoes in my mind as I mull over the purchase of yet another pair of pants or essential collectible in the local thrift shop. Subtract, not add, I remind myself. Instead of buying more, I cleaned out my closets and drawers and gave much of it away. It felt good. Even better was the soul searching that accompanied it. Have I fallen  into society’s addiction to material goods? Why? And if I indulge, am I just adding more distractions to my spiritual growth?

I also hear the word  SUBTRACT whispered in my ear when I am restless, driven with the compulsion to jump into yet another project. People who are creative are prone to get carried away by great ideas that all clamor for fulfillment. But the reality is that as you grow older you have less energy. You find you just can’t do it all! (Sob, sob.) Maybe making that onion jam wasn’t such a great idea, considering how many hours it consumed of your time. Live and learn, I tell myself; not all these projects are conducive to becoming your best self. Narrow down your choices.

Subtract is my watchword as I give away three boxes of research books I used when I wrote Sunday School curriculum – it was one of the tracks on my career path, but I am not on that path anymore. It is time to subtract it from my life – fondly kiss it goodbye and fill that empty space with gratitude for a wonderful experience.

Subtract, I tell myself, as I consider environmental issues. My choices today impact the future of the world, the future of the children who come after us. We are connected to every other living thing. Our actions now have lasting consequences. Subtract the number of indelible footprints you leave behind for the next generation. 

I can think of many more compulsions, habits, and attitudes to subtract: harsh judgements, negative thoughts, unkind criticism to name a few. Every subtraction makes room for better things – mercy, hope, compassion, kindness -- that nourish my soul and let it gently unfold. There are a lot of layers between the outer me and the inner me, but I am peeling them away bit by bit. It’s not easy to subtract these ingrained patterns of living. I am definitely a work in progress, and have a long way to go.

But at this point in the year, I like how the new math is helping me grow.

Saturday, 21 April 2018

Fighting Words

Today, I need to write about conflict. To tell the truth, I’d rather write about onion jam any day. Easy peasy. But the crow has been squawking, and I can no longer ignore her.

It's all about conflict: fight, battle, struggle, strife, controversy, quarrel, discord, antagonism, opposition, collision, incompatibility ...

The crow is in a flap about conflict, but I am the classic conflict avoider. So was my mom, who would resort to martyr-like sighs whenever she was upset about something. This would send dad into the basement to putz around in his workshop, where we could hear him banging around and mumbling nonsense syllables. You can’t fight with a conflict avoider.  But once, when I was a kid, I recall mom and dad  actually having a loud and prolonged argument It upset me so much I ran for the bathroom, locked the door, knelt by the side of the tub, and prayed like mad  that God would restore peace to our home.

I still want to run away when conflict erupts. If people in a meeting start arguing with each other, I want to grab my coat and run for home. That meeting is so over for me. Why can’t we just listen to each other?

Which is why my inner crow is squawking so loudly: I am in distress. Last week I visited my sister in Alberta, a province where I lived for 33 years. For the last 12 years, we’ve been residents of British Columbia. I love both these provinces. But now they are fighting with each other, pointing fingers, threatening, accusing each other of heinous deeds and malevolent intentions. If you are Canadian, you know this. If you aren’t, briefly, the conflict centers on oil; land locked Alberta mines tar sands and needs pipelines to send unrefined bitumen to ports to be shipped to other countries for refining; Alberta’s economy depends very, very heavily on oil and oil production. BC has the ports, but says, hold on a minute, we don’t want to build more pipelines on our lands and increase shipping traffic along our coastlines. We’re taking the risks, but there is nothing in it for us. And besides, why are we encouraging the production of more products that increase global warming? In the meantime, the company that needs the pipeline is threatening to pull out, and the situation continues to escalate. It will take the wisdom of the Dalai Lama to figure this one out.

What am I to do in this situation? My facebook friends from Alberta, and some from BC, are sending out scathing memes; people who protest the pipelines are probably paid protestors from the US, they say. BC citizens who are against the pipeline are selfish, naive, and basically idiots, pawns of the snowflake environmental movement. Hypocrites, too: they’re still driving cars, aren’t they? BC politicians are digging in their heels, launching court cases that are doomed to failure, but which may buy them time to come up with alternative strategies. The contra-pipeliners cite dozens of reasons why this project should not go ahead, but can’t seem to get it together and speak with a unified voice. While it appears from here that everyone in Alberta is mad at BC, there are folks in BC who agree with Alberta’s stand. Many British Columbians work in the Alberta oilpatch; they want to keep their jobs. I throw up my hands in confusion. What am I to think?

Google tells me conflict avoiders tend to change the subject, or they run and hide (shutting down FB would be one example), or they smile and agree with both sides. They are people pleasers.  None of these tactics leads to lasting resolution, and may just increase stress. Hence, the crow is squawking, “Stand up! Let your voice be heard.”

So I will. My view on this conflict is inspired by a billboard I saw on our recent trip. The billboard flashed past as we sped along in  the 4-lane river of vehicles stretched out as far as the eye could see. The billboard was split in half; one photo showed people like us living the good life. The words said, “Our choices today”. The other half showed young children’s faces; it read, “Their future tomorrow.” Just sit with those words for a moment. THEIR future. Our choices today impact not only us, but the future of our children and the generations that follow. This world doesn’t belong to just us. In fact, every action we take has consequences for every other being, for we are all interconnected.

The irony of this situation does not escape me: I am reading this billboard as we are consuming gasoline and contributing to climate change, hurtling down these roads to visit a warmer climate. We don’t live in a world of easy choices.

But on this issue, I must choose, and stand, and speak. It’s possible that eventually the pipeline will go ahead to satisfy the short-term needs of many, including myself, I also believe it is the wrong choice in the long run, and will bring suffering and pain to this planet we call home. There, I said it.

The crow stops squawking...but only for a moment. Then she says, “That’s a start. But words are words are words. Now what are you going to DO?”

The journey continues. Stay tuned.