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Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Three: Messages from Up High

5 Jul

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Three: Messages from Up High.

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Signal Hills, Temples, Fortresses, Domes and Steeples: It has struck me today as I climbed up to Signal Hill on Pender Island, that I am always climbing to communicative vantage points. In almost every country that I have visited, I have this fascination with getting to the highest points where their citizens have found inspiration. In turn, they have used these places to communicate with their people because of the visibility from up high. These citadels, minarets, bell towers and other have been used throughout the centuries for various military, political and religious reasons to protect its people, and present important communication over land and, sometimes, sea. There was a sense of security in each community beneath these communication points knowing that someone was manning these towers and could communicate key pieces information to other relevant parties through light, bells, voice, instruments, flags, semaphore, Morse Code, and other agreed upon signals.

I remember, in particular, when I visited Boston, the story of Paul Revere warning his people of the British Red Coats coming. Beyond all odds, he found the highest point in the city in the steeple of The Old North Church:

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Mass Communication: Since then, we communicate through all sorts of modern means: mail, radio, telephone, email, video conferencing, etc., and in some respects, we are relying on our highest points of satellite to be our newest technology temples. We have become quite connected through multi-media across various communication management systems and social media venues. However, what seems most interesting is that the more connected we become (with less of a need to stand on mountain tops in order to be heard), the less clear it is becoming about what are truly the most important messages. The key messages are being diffused by the trillions of other messages that are being transmitted millisecond by millisecond to millions of sources in the immediate and global vicinities. We are left decoding: “What is important? What should I pay attention to?”

Messages from Up High: What becomes critical then, is to consider the source. All of this information may be coming through a place of high visibility, with what seems to be very interesting news. However, these sound bytes of information, often static in their importance and tentative in their longevity, may not be meaningful for long. What we need to be listening to, instead, is our information from our higher collective power. Our intuition and our connection to the spiritual energy within and around us is what is most important. It helps us receive information that is authentic and meaningful from the external sources from around the world.

Through these spiritual lenses, we filter and make sense of the valuable signs and symbols. We then learn to appreciate the magical synchronicities of these messages and our experiences. We learn to know what messages are the powerful ones because we start to trust ourselves with how we receive and interpret them. We become both the signal towers and the receivers. Therefore, instead of looking up to find the high places that have traditionally been the telegraph hills, look within, and in doing so, the messages we hear will be certain to be the necessary ones. The “lanterns” hung up at the steeple are never lost where we pay attention.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
― Mary Oliver

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Three: Messages from Up High

5 Jul

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Signal Hills, Temples, Fortresses, Domes and Steeples: It has struck me today as I climbed up to Signal Hill on Pender Island, that I am always climbing to communicative vantage points. In almost every country that I have visited, I have this fascination with getting to the highest points where their citizens have found inspiration. In turn, they have used these places to communicate with their people because of the visibility from up high. These citadels, minarets, bell towers and other have been used throughout the centuries for various military, political and religious reasons to protect its people, and present important communication over land and, sometimes, sea. There was a sense of security in each community beneath these communication points knowing that someone was manning these towers and could communicate key pieces information to other relevant parties through light, bells, voice, instruments, flags, semaphore, Morse Code, and other agreed upon signals.

I remember, in particular, when I visited Boston, the story of Paul Revere warning his people of the British Red Coats coming. Beyond all odds, he found the highest point in the city in the steeple of The Old North Church:

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Mass Communication: Since then, we communicate through all sorts of modern means: mail, radio, telephone, email, video conferencing, etc., and in some respects, we are relying on our highest points of satellite to be our newest technology temples. We have become quite connected through multi-media across various communication management systems and social media venues. However, what seems most interesting is that the more connected we become (with less of a need to stand on mountain tops in order to be heard), the less clear it is becoming about what are truly the most important messages. The key messages are being diffused by the trillions of other messages that are being transmitted millisecond by millisecond to millions of sources in the immediate and global vicinities. We are left decoding: “What is important? What should I pay attention to?”

Messages from Up High: What becomes critical then, is to consider the source. All of this information may be coming through a place of high visibility, with what seems to be very interesting news. However, these sound bytes of information, often static in their importance and tentative in their longevity, may not be meaningful for long. What we need to be listening to, instead, is our information from our higher collective power. Our intuition and our connection to the spiritual energy within and around us is what is most important. It helps us receive information that is authentic and meaningful from the external sources from around the world.

Through these spiritual lenses, we filter and make sense of the valuable signs and symbols. We then learn to appreciate the magical synchronicities of these messages and our experiences. We learn to know what messages are the powerful ones because we start to trust ourselves with how we receive and interpret them. We become both the signal towers and the receivers. Therefore, instead of looking up to find the high places that have traditionally been the telegraph hills, look within, and in doing so, the messages we hear will be certain to be the necessary ones. The “lanterns” hung up at the steeple are never lost where we pay attention.

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
― Mary Oliver

Pressed: 52 Weeks Being Now: Week Thirty-Two: The Spirit Moving

4 Jul

52 Weeks Being Now: Week Thirty-Two: The Spirit Moving.

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**My experience in my Spirit Movement Class on Pender Island

The Spirit Moving

by

Shelley Robinson

Asynchronously around me
The playlist
Bursts everyone open into flame
A free flow frenzy of dance
I lay pressed to the floor
Shallow breathing
Heart flatlining
Tears trickling
The wooden floor vibrates
Their footsteps recalibrate my soul
I stir, and breathe, and wake
Quietly

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-One: Glad to be a Female Canadian

29 Jun

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-One: Glad to be a Female Canadian.

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I am glad to be a female Canadian because…

1. I am free to pursue my dreams, and I no longer feel that there are any glass ceilings and limitations, provided that I am intentional and tenacious (and where I feel injustice, I call people on it)
2. Men look me in the eye, shake my hand, and treat me with respect, where I hold my head high and do the same (and when they don’t, I comment on it)
3. I can support myself as a single person, and was able to raise my son as a single woman through hard work and an education
4. I do not feel that my son will be pulled into war at any moment, nor that his young life is in danger fighting for causes that are not his own
5. I am not forgotten nor invisible in my 40’s; instead, I am still valid and important in society where I also treat myself with respect and integrity
6. I have the ability to take care of my medical needs with confidentiality and confidence, provided that I research and take care of my own health
7. I can express myself openly without fear of retribution, provided that I am thoughtful of how I communicate
8. I appreciate the Canadian women of our past that afforded us the opportunity to vote and become legitimate in the eyes of law and society
9. I can be in the open, and walk on the streets at night, provided that I am thoughtful of where I tread (as there will always be danger)
10. I am free

Happy Canada Day!

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 27: Peering in the Cracks and Finding Words

15 Apr

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 27: Peering in the Cracks and Finding Words.

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Books Speak to Me: As always, when I have questions, all it takes is for me to open a book that I have found inadvertently, and an excerpt will jump out at me as a life lesson. Such was the case today when I opened the book The Wise Heart (Kornfield, 2008) and a story lept out at me:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia…

The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situation that lead us to cover our innate nobility. Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the portective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armouring and bring our our original goodness, called our Buddha nature. (pp. 11-12)

Operating from the Protective Layer: The unfortunate thing for so many people is that we have been operating from the protective layer for so long, that we forget who we are at a deeper level. Unfortunately, it takes some fundamental shift in our lives to crack the facade, and to allow light into our inner beauty. Otherwise, it can remain tucked away and out of reach.

Sometimes, the difficulty is not in finding our secret goodness, it is knowing what to do with it once it is found.

It takes risk to emancipate ourselves from the clay, and often ourselves or others will not know how to advise us once we know that we need to become reconnected to our inner purpose. People will suggest that we do “THAT” (our passion) in our spare time because we obviously have to make a living. There will be some confusion by those of us who have not taken the time to stop what we are doing to consider our own cultural domestication, and reconsider our value in the short time that we walk the earth.

Therefore, it is incumbent on us to take care to guide ourselves on this journey and to seek out mentorship of others who have made some significant self-discoveries, and through some personal risk and tenacity, acted on them. They are the ones who have the light to guide us whereas, often (not always), our counterparts, will operate from a place of security, darkness, naivete, fear, or ignorance and may steer us back to that with which they are familiar in their own journeys, and of what they have grown comfortable in their relationships with us. They may not know how to support us, nor be unconditional enough to offer what we may need from them.

Original Goodness: I often ask people this essential question: “If you had nothing to fear or risk, what would you most want?” My answer, when I ask myself this very simple question that sweeps the dirt of resistance off my table cloth before I decide to open my mouth to take a big juicy bite out of life: I want to write. That is it. Plain and simple. I can never truly get past how I might logistically do so as much as I would like to do so, but I am now confident that this is my true calling. It is the place that draws me back over and over again. It is the activity where I am always lost in flow. I am nourished by the experience. And, although I often get recognition and communication for my writing because I sometimes like to share it, the simple act of drawing words out of myself into some meaningful form is reward enough.

Someone might suggest that the act of writing does not a personality make. I would disagree that the art of bringing forth words; sharing and connecting the voices of other writers (as I often like to ground my writing in the rich diversity of other authors); and liberating new and old ideas into new new forms, comes from my soul. Therefore, it is the work of my soul and not my personality. Words leap out of me at various times of the day and night, and I am only satisfied when I have done what they ask me to do. My dissertation, (later published as a book, now in multiple countries, much to my surprise–and a little bit overwhelming as the publication itself unfolded in an interesting and unexpected way), captures my sentiments on the act of creative writing, and I am reminded to go back and re-read it: An Autobiography of the Creative Writing Experience (2009). I am reminded that through this academic research, that creative writing is my essential love: http://www.amazon.ca/An-Autobiography-Creative-Writing-Experience/dp/3639150945 It seems lately, that I need to remind myself to stay the course on my true path.

I wondered about the world as a child through words, and now, I need to bring this full circle and spend the latter part of my life in the centre of that type of work (on my own and with other writers). When I write, I draw on my deepest and rawest core, and shed the protective layer. Through writing, I let myself out and other people in. It is my lens to look inwards and outwards. It is my way way to make sense of my life that remains ahead of me, and the world around me in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

Inner Buddha: When I was in Thailand, I found a temple along the River Kwai called the Wat Tham Khaopoon that was built into the cliffs. We could only access it by climbing hundreds of steps to reach it, and then a few dozen more to get inside of it. There is a middle cave containing stalactites and stalagmites and many remarkable Buddha images. In the quiet calm of the inner cave, I appreciated the worship of its inner Buddha that people took the time to seek out and worship. Just as we seek out the Buddhas, Allah’s, Jesus’, Mohammad’s, etc. around the world, so must we seek out our inner Buddhas where we have opportunities to find them.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 24: The Art of Pizza Making and Life by Shelley Robinson, Canada

19 Mar

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The Whoas of the Celiac: Unfortunately, I will not make many actual pizzas in my lifetime because I struggle with all of the ingredients. My Irish heritage has plagued me with the gift of gluten, dairy and egg issues that are typical of the Irish. However, “when in Florence, Italy” I chose to learn about the art of building a pizza in a class with a well-known pizza chef, Davide Rafa in The Food and Wine Academy of Florence (with permission). In doing so, I was reminded to think carefully about life and am richer (and fuller) for the experience. I caught myself wondering why I waited this long to learn the art of cooking something special in the good company of enthusiastic (and hungry) students. I realize that it is likely because food, for me, for most of my life, has been a means to an end (staying alive while busy), and keeping a growing boy from the brink of starvation every hour of every day until adulthood.

However, as a result of this short course, I thought about cooking food differently as I listened to this wonderful chef explain the love and art of the pizzeria. As he spoke, I saw the pizza metaphor for life emerging.

The Crust is Everything: It takes some skill and patience to bring this little ball of dough to life.

First, the choice of flour makes or breaks the pliability of the crust. We need to make sure that we are choosing soft flour for our crusts. If our flour is not ground soft, we need to sift it down until it is as fine as icing sugar. Then, it is necessary to hollow out a circle in the centre of the flour and fill it with the water and active yeast (that has been sitting in room temperature waiting for this moment to bring the flour to life). Slowly, you bring the flour, little-by-little into this little circle, while whisking it gently with a fork to build moist consistency and an easy texture. You cannot push the pace of this process, or it gets sticky and unmanageable.

Next, you pull the dough together and gently, and repetitively knead the dough away from you into a moist and flexible egg. You lift it gently from the bottom, and then ever so carefully knead outwards. You repeat this often. If you push down too hard, it gets gooey. If you knead it in too many directions, it gets tangled up and rips apart. If you put too much flour in it in an effort to speed up the process, it loses its pliability. You need to slowly and tenderly bring the dough to a smooth and flexible round ball. Once you have succeeded, you cover it, and wait for it to rise.

Remember to drink wine while you wait.

After that, you push down with flat fingers and start pulling the ball into a flat round base. If you push too hard, the crust will be too thin. The ingredients will then soak through, or it will burn in the fire. If you do not knead it carefully and evenly, it will start to take on an interesting shape instead of the desired circle that truly is the mathematical genius of the perfect pizza. With patience and careful kneading, flipping and pulling it outwards, the pizza crust begins its life. Its whole purpose is to support the rest of the marvellous ingredients that we choose to put on top of it.

The Choice of Toppings: This is the fun part. You get to add what you want on top of the pizza. He explained how important it was to keep the key ingredients fresh and simple. “Don’t add to much of any one thing so that all of the ingredients blend and complement each other”. This means that you do not want to have too much sauce, cheese or seasonings. The goal is to have a taste sensation that is balanced and full. I chose to use tomato puree, dry mozzarella, salami, oregano, basil and at the end, some olive oil.

The Metaphor: I suppose we could all interpret this process in multiple ways, but I chose to see the following in the pizza making experience:

-We need to consider our base. It needs to be the right size and density to support our dreams. We need to be patient with ourselves and work at being flexible. If we spread ourselves too thin, we burn in the fire. If we are not round and balanced, some of what we take on, falls off, or becomes difficult to slice.

-The spirit within us, like the yeast, needs to be alive and meaningful or it will not rise.

-We must always think carefully about what we add into our lives as “toppings” to bring us joy and fulfillment. If we put too many things into our day-to-day, month-to-month, and year-to-year experiments with truth in an effort to experience it all at once, it takes away from the present moment of enjoying just a few tastes of life at a time.

-It is best to cook together in life with good mentors, friends and family. It is the process, not the outcome in life, that makes life worth living and this is always more enjoyable in good company.

-And always remember to drink wine. (I suppose that this is intended to be a literal translation from my pizza lesson as we all enjoyed a lot of it).

My first pizza experiment resulted in an odd shape, despite my efforts. However, it was delicious. Others around me chose other toppings, and they too, were very happy with the results. We were happy because we made time to slowly and methodically build our pizzas together. We expressed loving every step in the process. Eating it was just one part of the enjoyable process, albeit, it was the outcome for which we were all waiting.

Take care to make delicious pizzas with your life. Take time. Be patient with yourself, and do it so that you can savour life to its fullest in balance and wellness.

“Chi ha tempo, ha vita”
(He that has time has life).

**Permission to re-print elsewhere is provided to The Food and Wine Academy of Florence with reference to the author’s link Adventure Ahead by Shelley Robinson, Canada

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Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 23: Finding Culture

18 Mar

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 23: Finding Culture.

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Three Urns: I recently wrote my will. Within it, I leave my ashes in three urns to three special people in my life (and they know who they are). I ask them (with some support from my estate) to find a place in the world where they feel that the culture is enlightened, loving and supportive of them. I ask them to then spread my ashes in these places so that I can share in the experience. I do this as a way to encourage my loved ones to carry on the travelling tradition that I have started. As well, I have not yet found the type of culture, despite my considerable travel to date, that considers each other very carefully. What I find instead is that people are people wherever I go, and few places have people looking and thinking beyond themselves.

It Must Be Possible: However, I have to believe that there are places where the following happens:

-People welcome you into their homes with generosity and hospitality with no strings attached
-Acceptance for who we are, despite our differences, occurs openly
-There is a general goodwill towards others and the Golden Rule of “do unto others…” actually applies
-Communication is open, and there is a willingness to share, learn and grow
-No one person is more important than anyone else in the group. The group is seen for its strength as a whole
-When people are down or unwell, they are cared for by the stronger people in the community
-Everyone celebrates life…a lot
-There is a gentleness of spirit, and hard feelings are put to rest easily
-People do not benefit from gossiping or putting each other down. Instead, they build each other up

There are many more positive attributes of an enlightened culture, but these, in my mind, are the essential ones. I find that where there is a strong community, everything else seems easier. We are all intended to be in relationship, despite the autonomous values we hold dear in our North American culture.

I Remember: When I was young, I used to keep a journal. I remember in one entry, in a naive and expressive voice, I wrote that I would be happy on the moon as long as there were good people around me. I suppose that this still stands. I have not travelled to the moon, but I have travelled to many places; encountered good individuals, but I have yet to feel the strength of what I describe above as an enlightened culture. I have known fleeting moments in time where I worked, lived or travelled with a group that felt like a strong family, such as my trip to Andalusia, Spain four years ago. For a brief week, we became an important interconnection of people supporting one another as we explored Southern Spain. For some reason, we found magic together. We drank, danced, laughed and celebrated our cultural similarities and differences. This type of group dynamic is rare, and this is why I find it special to consider where to find more of these types of community connections that are authentic and longstanding.

Florence, Italy: I am visiting the fine city of Firenze. Immediately I notice how people interact with myself and each other. There is a general hospitality here. However, in my first night sleeping (staying awake), I overheard a heated fight between a man and woman. It was a two-hour tirade that kept everyone awake. Ironically, just when that stopped, the fire alarm went off, and the entire hotel needed to be evacuated. I saw all of the sleepy residents make their disgruntled way to the lobby. Everyone kept their eyes averted, and made comments about the inconvenience. No one seemed remotely concerned about what might be happening, and if everyone was well. The hotel clerk was alarmed by the situation and handled it graciously, and we all returned to our rooms without much connection. Now, granted, it was four in the morning, but I find that people are people wherever I go. For the next few days in Italy, I will keep my eyes and ears open for that friendly moment where I am invited into it.

Calgary, Alberta, Canada: In 2013, Calgary and the surrounding areas had a big flood. Within a few days, the entire city started helping each other with financial support, food, and clean-up. It was a massive community effort that afforded the city to continue with the Calgary Stampede, a summer event that brings in considerable revenue to the city. Of course it was successful in its efforts to put the city back together again, and made world headlines because it exhibited what we do not always see as a culture: efficacy.

Calgary is starting to look differently to me. I made a considerable effort to leave its cold climate it to move to a warmer ocean setting, but here is what I miss about it. People work hard, and don’t complain about doing so. They tend to look out for each other, and are demonstrating this with better community initiatives for the disenfranchised and marginalized members of its community. Calgary has money, but some of this money is being spent to better itself as a whole through funding for its underprivileged, and with a focus on raising educational awareness through corporate and educational partnerships. Calgary is, in my mind, starting to stand out as a place where I now see its supportive culture in retrospect and in comparison to other places that I stay.

Sometimes we don’t appreciate what we have until we leave it behind.