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.