Archive | May, 2013

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Eighteen: The Message of the Whales

12 May

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Eighteen: The Message of the Whales.

Gowland Point Facing States

The Message of the Whales

He handed me several beads, and sat quietly and knowingly on one knee in front of me, as if he were not a complete stranger: “You have several strengths.” Each sea shell or rock bead that he slid into the palm of my hand had something very unique about it. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so he placed his hands one on top and beneath my hand protecting them. “Each bead represents a separate strength that you know you possess, but have not brought to life yet”. His beauty and energy were hypnotic. “You wrap it in this small cloth and I will come around later with some red wool for you to cherish it safely. You can keep these beads with you, or you can keep them somewhere else near you for safe keeping once we are done”. He looked directly into my eyes. His intensity was powerful and I had to look away. I hadn’t been able to hold eye contact with anyone recently, except at work where it was professional, safe, and expected. He continued to sit in front of me. “Do you understand?” He sat quietly in my discomfort. I nodded. “Good. I’ll come back later.” He walked over to sit next to the elders or “siem”. There was no “chief” here. Chief is a government-applied term, although it was apparent that some of them held a greater position of respect than others.

It occurred to me as I sat at the hearth of the largest fire that I had ever seen at this First Nations Big House, that I was spiritually depleted. One of the men continued to put large pieces of Douglas fir into the fire, feeding its hypnotic inferno. My eyes followed the plumes of smoke escaping upward into the open-air ceiling. I marveled at the magic of this place made up of polished cedar poles all standing tall and grouted one beside the next. After a long trip back from a conference for work in San Francisco, I considered how much I had changed in the past seven months of being on the island in “the valley”. The male elder sang his prayer to us to the beat of his drum. His plaintive, jagged aboriginal inflections filled the space around us. Until now, I had been reciting what Robert Bly had advised his readers“…to suck out all of the marrow of life’…” as I pursued my lifetime dream to move West. Fate finally pushed me out of my Alberta nest as another bout of pneumonia and a job as a school principal exceeded my capacity. I took a leap of faith and left the cold prairies to be in a place with a kinder climate and a chance for a fresh start, on my own.

What I noticed right from the beginning was that it smelled right here. The pungent earthy smells of forest and ocean welcomed me. I had found my new relationship, and it was one with the setting around me. I had chosen the earth as my new love. Island life, both on Pender Island and Vancouver Island, took my breath away from the phosphorescent night time stars to the violent winds that assailed the trees and forced me to seek sanctuary by real fires that I had learned to light. I had found the right fit for me in what K’omoks referred to the valley as the “land of plenty”. I felt a sense of joy every time I found a new path, and experienced a new flower growing somewhere that I had not known flowers to grow before. It was a healing place, and I would grow here.

Food tasted good in the Big House. Sockeyed wild salmon cooked on cedar planks over a real fire was not only powerfully delicious, but exciting to my psyche because it had been so recently alive and swimming in the Puntledge River next to us. The faces around me were masked by the smoke and flickering shadows of the big fire. The strange prayers chanted in this other language by the descendants of the Northern Georgia Strait Coast Salish held my mind captive until I let go and fell asleep.

I opened my sleepy eyes to the face of the young Salish man who had given me the beads earlier. “You are tired.” He had come back to hear my strengths that he has assigned me to attach to each bead. Embarrassed, but too dizzy with the fire and the food to care, I shared a list of ideas with him in a quiet whisper, and ended with the last one: “relationship”. He smiled, and bowed his head a bit so that I could see the top of it as he kneeled in front of me. I was warm with the fire and a blanket over my lap, but I was also warm with our connection. “You have travelled a lot and seen the world,” he surmised. I nodded. “Now it is time to travel inwardly so that you can be in relationship.” How many people had he said this same message to in this special ceremony, I wondered. He smiled, guessing at my cynicism. “You are very strong minded.” Yes. I agreed with this young-elder. “Hang on to those beads.” He put his hand in his pocket and took out a stone with the image of whale on it and handed it to me.

“You know the power of the whale.” He assumed a knowledge that I did not have. It occurred to me just then that throughout my life, I had either bought, or been given pictures, ornaments and jewelry with the images of whales on them. It truly just dawned on me then that they were everywhere in my home. Until now, I had never really made the connection to my fascination of them. In my young adult life, I had sought them out, but they had never appeared. It was a joke I had that I would never see one, even though I had sat on several West Coast beaches for hours with binoculars waiting for them. However, later in my life, on a trip to Pender Island, I had witnessed my first Orcas at Thieves Bay. I never forgot the magic of seeing the pod as they swam by spouting plumes of water out at us. Later in life, when I was in Newfoundland, my almost adult son and I marveled at the grey and ming whales that seemed to be in every harbor we encountered. The whales had finally found me.

“Whales take away illness,” he explained. “They represent family.” In retrospect, whales had been a symbol for me of the mysteries of the ocean that were always a world away from my cold prairie life. They represented my dream of a different life style. Now the whales were part of my new ocean world. Did they really have the power to heal me? Perhaps the whales had brought me to Pender Island where I now lived just above where they travelled either alone or in pods in the spring and summer months. I had not known until I moved in that I was so close to them. Again, he held my hand and I focused on the earing he wore sparkling in the firelight along with his silent charisma. “Listen to the whales,” he explained, as if I knew what he meant. I finally looked into his eyes, and I knew that this message was intended just for me. The whales had been speaking to me all of these years, and it was only now that I had finally paid attention. Unconsciously, I had sought out places where they lived, and also, how interesting to note that I now lived in the “valley of the whale” as the glacier called Queneesh has much First Nation significance as the powerful whale that saved the people (http://beyondnootka.com/articles/queneesh.html)

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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Eighteen: The Message of the Whales

12 May

Gowland Point Facing States

The Message of the Whales

He handed me several beads, and sat quietly and knowingly on one knee in front of me, as if he were not a complete stranger: “You have several strengths.” Each sea shell or rock bead that he slid into the palm of my hand had something very unique about it. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, so he placed his hands one on top and beneath my hand protecting them. “Each bead represents a separate strength that you know you possess, but have not brought to life yet”. His beauty and energy were hypnotic. “You wrap it in this small cloth and I will come around later with some red wool for you to cherish it safely. You can keep these beads with you, or you can keep them somewhere else near you for safe keeping once we are done”. He looked directly into my eyes. His intensity was powerful and I had to look away. I hadn’t been able to hold eye contact with anyone recently, except at work where it was professional, safe, and expected. He continued to sit in front of me. “Do you understand?” He sat quietly in my discomfort. I nodded. “Good. I’ll come back later.” He walked over to sit next to the elders or “siem”. There was no “chief” here. Chief is a government-applied term, although it was apparent that some of them held a greater position of respect than others.

It occurred to me as I sat at the hearth of the largest fire that I had ever seen at this First Nations Big House, that I was spiritually depleted. One of the men continued to put large pieces of Douglas fir into the fire, feeding its hypnotic inferno. My eyes followed the plumes of smoke escaping upward into the open-air ceiling. I marveled at the magic of this place made up of polished cedar poles all standing tall and grouted one beside the next. After a long trip back from a conference for work in San Francisco, I considered how much I had changed in the past seven months of being on the island in “the valley”. The male elder sang his prayer to us to the beat of his drum. His plaintive, jagged aboriginal inflections filled the space around us. Until now, I had been reciting what Robert Bly had advised his readers“…to suck out all of the marrow of life’…” as I pursued my lifetime dream to move West. Fate finally pushed me out of my Alberta nest as another bout of pneumonia and a job as a school principal exceeded my capacity. I took a leap of faith and left the cold prairies to be in a place with a kinder climate and a chance for a fresh start, on my own.

What I noticed right from the beginning was that it smelled right here. The pungent earthy smells of forest and ocean welcomed me. I had found my new relationship, and it was one with the setting around me. I had chosen the earth as my new love. Island life, both on Pender Island and Vancouver Island, took my breath away from the phosphorescent night time stars to the violent winds that assailed the trees and forced me to seek sanctuary by real fires that I had learned to light. I had found the right fit for me in what K’omoks referred to the valley as the “land of plenty”. I felt a sense of joy every time I found a new path, and experienced a new flower growing somewhere that I had not known flowers to grow before. It was a healing place, and I would grow here.

Food tasted good in the Big House. Sockeyed wild salmon cooked on cedar planks over a real fire was not only powerfully delicious, but exciting to my psyche because it had been so recently alive and swimming in the Puntledge River next to us. The faces around me were masked by the smoke and flickering shadows of the big fire. The strange prayers chanted in this other language by the descendants of the Northern Georgia Strait Coast Salish held my mind captive until I let go and fell asleep.

I opened my sleepy eyes to the face of the young Salish man who had given me the beads earlier. “You are tired.” He had come back to hear my strengths that he has assigned me to attach to each bead. Embarrassed, but too dizzy with the fire and the food to care, I shared a list of ideas with him in a quiet whisper, and ended with the last one: “relationship”. He smiled, and bowed his head a bit so that I could see the top of it as he kneeled in front of me. I was warm with the fire and a blanket over my lap, but I was also warm with our connection. “You have travelled a lot and seen the world,” he surmised. I nodded. “Now it is time to travel inwardly so that you can be in relationship.” How many people had he said this same message to in this special ceremony, I wondered. He smiled, guessing at my cynicism. “You are very strong minded.” Yes. I agreed with this young-elder. “Hang on to those beads.” He put his hand in his pocket and took out a stone with the image of whale on it and handed it to me.

“You know the power of the whale.” He assumed a knowledge that I did not have. It occurred to me just then that throughout my life, I had either bought, or been given pictures, ornaments and jewelry with the images of whales on them. It truly just dawned on me then that they were everywhere in my home. Until now, I had never really made the connection to my fascination of them. In my young adult life, I had sought them out, but they had never appeared. It was a joke I had that I would never see one, even though I had sat on several West Coast beaches for hours with binoculars waiting for them. However, later in my life, on a trip to Pender Island, I had witnessed my first Orcas at Thieves Bay. I never forgot the magic of seeing the pod as they swam by spouting plumes of water out at us. Later in life, when I was in Newfoundland, my almost adult son and I marveled at the grey and ming whales that seemed to be in every harbor we encountered. The whales had finally found me.

“Whales take away illness,” he explained. “They represent family.” In retrospect, whales had been a symbol for me of the mysteries of the ocean that were always a world away from my cold prairie life. They represented my dream of a different life style. Now the whales were part of my new ocean world. Did they really have the power to heal me? Perhaps the whales had brought me to Pender Island where I now lived just above where they travelled either alone or in pods in the spring and summer months. I had not known until I moved in that I was so close to them. Again, he held my hand and I focused on the earing he wore sparkling in the firelight along with his silent charisma. “Listen to the whales,” he explained, as if I knew what he meant. I finally looked into his eyes, and I knew that this message was intended just for me. The whales had been speaking to me all of these years, and it was only now that I had finally paid attention. Unconsciously, I had sought out places where they lived, and also, how interesting to note that I now lived in the “valley of the whale” as the glacier called Queneesh has much First Nation significance as the powerful whale that saved the people (http://beyondnootka.com/articles/queneesh.html)

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Seventeen: Seeking a Spiritual Connection

8 May

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Seventeen: Seeking a Spiritual Connection.

Forest181461_10151646026511383_617655756_n

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Seventeen: Seeking a Spiritual Connection

Renunciation: What happens when you arrive at the most spiritual setting of your lifetime, and realize that the culture of people residing in it are those of any small town, fraught with issues of ego and judgment? Even though I am new to small town life that has many advantages to it, there are some challenges that require me to reconsider my approach to how I accept or detach from them. Fortunately, I have made key connections with people (through work and other) that remind me of the strength and goodness of the valley. However, there sometimes appears to be a sense of fear and judgment that permeates some people’s experiences here.

It is difficult to watch people (young to old) in this small valley talking behind each other’s backs. This is not a phenomenon unique to this locale as this state of egoic dispassion is evident everywhere that I have lived or travelled (in large cities, small towns and villages, and even in remote cultures). Humbly, it is something that I myself struggle with daily in my humanness, and I have noted a distinct need on my part to rise above this type of toxic mindset in this smaller centre. Perhaps it is because I am new here. Perhaps it is because I am in a position of caring for people. Perhaps I am ready to consider a better way to co-exist with people as I transform my spiritual experience.

The Ego is Always Right: It is all too easy to get caught in the vortex of one opinion against another as there is often a need for people to be “right”. I believe this need arises from a fear that what has happened to other people who have been “wrong” might happen to them. Failure, or the perception of it here and in other places, is not always handled compassionately. However, those who are a bit more enlightened (I have noticed this here in the First Nations culture, alternative lifestyle communities, spiritual communities and some leadership roles), are held in very high regard because of their loving kindness toward others.

Small centers draw attention to the evidence and damage of black and white thinking. People get slotted into their roles, responsibilities and reputations. Only those who have worked past this type of fixed thinking seem immune to it. Others have to grapple with the versions of self that they allow other people to determine for them. For example, many young people have confided to me that they often feel judged and misunderstood. This constant looking over their shoulders in an almost paranoid frenzy of what their peers and elders might be saying about them (live or virtually) is perplexing to observe. In a larger city, I believe we grapple with it by becoming anonymous. In a smaller community where it is nearly impossible to be anonymous, it requires a careful mindset to decide who to trust and how to be trustworthy.

The Question of Detachment: However, in aspiring to “detach”, it is easy to risk alienating ourselves from intimate connections. So the question that arises for me is “How can I be lovingly detached from difficult matters or people instead of building walls and wearing armor?”

I feel a need in my emerging role in the community to remind people that there is a more loving way to interact, although I cannot claim to have it all figured out. People seem to be relieved when they feel their strengths are acknowledged instead of any deficits that have been pointed out to them in the past. People rise to the positive assumptions we allow them when they learn to trust that I will stand behind my opinions about them. Lately, I am finding it harder and harder to dislike and find fault with people. I am fuzzy on how to get really angry as well. This is a distinct change from my younger experience. I am finding that the one thing that still does get under my skin is judgment.

I am learning that this matter of worrying about who is right and wrong requires that we model that it doesn’t matter anyway. We are all living somewhere on the path toward truth. None of us are ever really right or wrong even in situations where matters of principles and values are challenged. In these situations, we can raise our opinions where we disagree with others. We can afford people an opportunity to debate and dialogue. We might even intervene where there might be injury to others or self-harm. However, in the end, the actual “right” and the “wrong” of it is immaterial. The human spirit underneath the situation is what counts.

When our journeys coincide, we need to connect in ways that speak the following message loudly and clearly: “I care about you.” Even where a connection is toxic or unmanageable, we need to consider the connection through the lens of detachment. In extreme cases, a mentor taught me to use “compassionate avoidance”. However, at no point can we “disregard” another or label them as unsuitable, unacceptable or worthless. Everyone has value.

Spiritually Seeking: However, the matter of caring for self in order to consider others compassionately warrants careful time and attention. I have sought it in the pews of the Christian churches here; around the fire of the K’omoks Big House; and tonight on the floor of the Courtenay Buddhist Temple. When I went to hear the Dalai Lama in Calgary three years ago, I initially found his single message of “compassion, compassion, compassion” simple and sophomoric. I now see it as the seed of all successful human interaction. After all of these philosophical and religious pursuits, I still find my greatest sanctuary to be in the valley’s forests. The glorious green and the wildlife that surrounds this ocean community nurture and inspire my “nature deficit” body and soul (Louv, 2005).

Interestingly, I find that my body knows when it is in disequilibrium with self and in disharmony with others. It tells me very clearly through fatigue, pain and illness that I am too attached. It warns me when I judge, gossip and patronize. My body knows when I am in healthy relationships and with whom I can truly be intimate. My body picks up on those intuitive cues that my mind often disregards. It tells me through my breathing, posture, and muscles.

Lately, my body is telling me to sit up and pay attention. It is telling me to speak my truth humbly, but to keep my voice despite disliking conflict. By talking about my experience, I believe that I will discover a better way to connect to people in the community who are on a similar spiritual journey, and detach a bit more from those who are not. By seeking out wise mentors, I hope to gain insight into how they “renunciate, transform and liberate” themselves (Geshe YongDong, Sherab Chamma Ling Tibetan Bon Buddhist Centre in Courtenay) through various strategies (prayer, meditation, yoga, reading, singing, labyrinth walking and other). I feel a sense of optimism and comfort in being true to my voice. I also need to honor the voices of others who grapple with similar topics in their search for kindness in our community.

The goal is always to find love–to “be” love.

Namaste.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Seventeen: Seeking a Spiritual Connection

8 May

Forest181461_10151646026511383_617655756_n

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Seventeen: Seeking a Spiritual Connection

Renunciation: What happens when you arrive at the most spiritual setting of your lifetime, and realize that the culture of people residing in it are those of any small town, fraught with issues of ego and judgment? Even though I am new to small town life that has many advantages to it, there are some challenges that require me to reconsider my approach to how I accept or detach from them. Fortunately, I have made key connections with people (through work and other) that remind me of the strength and goodness of the valley. However, there sometimes appears to be a sense of fear and judgment that permeates some people’s experiences here.

It is difficult to watch people (young to old) in this small valley talking behind each other’s backs. This is not a phenomenon unique to this locale as this state of egoic dispassion is evident everywhere that I have lived or travelled (in large cities, small towns and villages, and even in remote cultures). Humbly, it is something that I myself struggle with daily in my humanness, and I have noted a distinct need on my part to rise above this type of toxic mindset in this smaller centre. Perhaps it is because I am new here. Perhaps it is because I am in a position of caring for people. Perhaps I am ready to consider a better way to co-exist with people as I transform my spiritual experience.

The Ego is Always Right: It is all too easy to get caught in the vortex of one opinion against another as there is often a need for people to be “right”. I believe this need arises from a fear that what has happened to other people who have been “wrong” might happen to them. Failure, or the perception of it here and in other places, is not always handled compassionately. However, those who are a bit more enlightened (I have noticed this here in the First Nations culture, alternative lifestyle communities, spiritual communities and some leadership roles), are held in very high regard because of their loving kindness toward others.

Small centers draw attention to the evidence and damage of black and white thinking. People get slotted into their roles, responsibilities and reputations. Only those who have worked past this type of fixed thinking seem immune to it. Others have to grapple with the versions of self that they allow other people to determine for them. For example, many young people have confided to me that they often feel judged and misunderstood. This constant looking over their shoulders in an almost paranoid frenzy of what their peers and elders might be saying about them (live or virtually) is perplexing to observe. In a larger city, I believe we grapple with it by becoming anonymous. In a smaller community where it is nearly impossible to be anonymous, it requires a careful mindset to decide who to trust and how to be trustworthy.

The Question of Detachment: However, in aspiring to “detach”, it is easy to risk alienating ourselves from intimate connections. So the question that arises for me is “How can I be lovingly detached from difficult matters or people instead of building walls and wearing armor?”

I feel a need in my emerging role in the community to remind people that there is a more loving way to interact, although I cannot claim to have it all figured out. People seem to be relieved when they feel their strengths are acknowledged instead of any deficits that have been pointed out to them in the past. People rise to the positive assumptions we allow them when they learn to trust that I will stand behind my opinions about them. Lately, I am finding it harder and harder to dislike and find fault with people. I am fuzzy on how to get really angry as well. This is a distinct change from my younger experience. I am finding that the one thing that still does get under my skin is judgment.

I am learning that this matter of worrying about who is right and wrong requires that we model that it doesn’t matter anyway. We are all living somewhere on the path toward truth. None of us are ever really right or wrong even in situations where matters of principles and values are challenged. In these situations, we can raise our opinions where we disagree with others. We can afford people an opportunity to debate and dialogue. We might even intervene where there might be injury to others or self-harm. However, in the end, the actual “right” and the “wrong” of it is immaterial. The human spirit underneath the situation is what counts.

When our journeys coincide, we need to connect in ways that speak the following message loudly and clearly: “I care about you.” Even where a connection is toxic or unmanageable, we need to consider the connection through the lens of detachment. In extreme cases, a mentor taught me to use “compassionate avoidance”. However, at no point can we “disregard” another or label them as unsuitable, unacceptable or worthless. Everyone has value.

Spiritually Seeking: However, the matter of caring for self in order to consider others compassionately warrants careful time and attention. I have sought it in the pews of the Christian churches here; around the fire of the K’omoks Big House; and tonight on the floor of the Courtenay Buddhist Temple. When I went to hear the Dalai Lama in Calgary three years ago, I initially found his single message of “compassion, compassion, compassion” simple and sophomoric. I now see it as the seed of all successful human interaction. After all of these philosophical and religious pursuits, I still find my greatest sanctuary to be in the valley’s forests. The glorious green and the wildlife that surrounds this ocean community nurture and inspire my “nature deficit” body and soul (Louv, 2005).

Interestingly, I find that my body knows when it is in disequilibrium with self and in disharmony with others. It tells me very clearly through fatigue, pain and illness that I am too attached. It warns me when I judge, gossip and patronize. My body knows when I am in healthy relationships and with whom I can truly be intimate. My body picks up on those intuitive cues that my mind often disregards. It tells me through my breathing, posture, and muscles.

Lately, my body is telling me to sit up and pay attention. It is telling me to speak my truth humbly, but to keep my voice despite disliking conflict. By talking about my experience, I believe that I will discover a better way to connect to people in the community who are on a similar spiritual journey, and detach a bit more from those who are not. By seeking out wise mentors, I hope to gain insight into how they “renunciate, transform and liberate” themselves (Geshe YongDong, Sherab Chamma Ling Tibetan Bon Buddhist Centre in Courtenay) through various strategies (prayer, meditation, yoga, reading, singing, labyrinth walking and other). I feel a sense of optimism and comfort in being true to my voice. I also need to honor the voices of others who grapple with similar topics in their search for kindness in our community.

The goal is always to find love–to “be” love.

Namaste.