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Leonard’s Escape: A Short Story by Shelley Robinson

7 Nov

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Leonard:  The Journalist

Writing Prompt:  “Resurrection”:

I saw the body of a woman with her arms spread eagle, and her hair feathering out around her at the bottom of the pool.  How had I missed this? I jumped into action, blowing the whistle, and commanding everyone out of the pool.  My military officer’s voice of authority came back to me.  I dove into the calm underwater, reached her still body, and pulled her onto the deck. 

I had never rescued anyone.  I had been a father, and was not able to save my daughter, Vivienne, who had died when she was five.  I leaned over this woman, frightened for both of us as the crowd watched us battle for her life.  I breathed into her several times, and with relief, saw her chest rise and her eyes flutter.  I rolled her to her side so she could wretch out everything that had attempted to drown her.  Her daughter sat beside us, and I could hear her whimpering in alarm contemplating life without a mother.  The resurrection of this woman from one who could not breathe to one who could, was miraculous.  It was the one time in my life where I had been a hero, and I remember every second of it with crystal clarity.

Leonard was satisfied with his words after reading them over a couple of times like he had edited his thoughts when he was a journalist.  He waited for the others to finish their writing.  He always loved the sound of pens on paper in this little writing group.  For a few hours, once a week, he felt like he belonged somewhere important.  Interestingly, his son had taken to writing as well.  He was his only other child with a girlfriend from the States which was a lifetime ago.  Through Adam’s childhood, they visited once or twice a year, sometimes in Canada, and often in the States.  As a result, they had grown to appreciate each other through travelling in ways that normal father-son relationships did not allow.

Leonard looked over to see Sarah, another writing group member.  Her red hair and green eyes reminded him of what his ginger daughter might have looked like later in the life had she had the opportunity to live.  She had fallen overboard on one of his sailing trips with he and her mother.  Their marriage never survived the devastating loss of their only child together.

Sarah: The Teacher

Writing Prompt:  “Awe-Inspiring”:

…I remember the sunset on the Grand Canyon.  It brought to life the magnificence and the enormity of this wonder of the world.  It changed the hues of the rock as it descended into darkness transforming from atomic tangerine, to coral, to burnt sienna, and then in its final declaration of light, to glorious luminescent sinopia.  No painter would ever really be able to capture it.  I have tried.  It is impossible.  

Now, I sit on the little veranda in this little town and watch the clouds shape the colours in their rippled striation.  Every single awe-inspiring evening dazzles me with a different light show.  Then the curtain of light closes, and my heart applauds.

Sarah:  The Bank

She deposited her cheque, withdrew some cash from the bank machine, and then grabbed the receipt.  It was considerably more money than she could remember depositing.  Had she made a mistake?  She quickly reviewed her statement.  She put her card in again, and looked back through her banking history.  Fourteen thousand and forty-four dollars was deposited last Monday.  How could this be?  She walked into the bank to speak with a teller who reviewed the situation in detail.  Someone had deposited the money in cash.

“How did this person know my account information?” she asked, feeling exposed.

“They likely never knew your account number, but likely gave us your name and some details, and offered it as a gift to your account.  It is legal.  If it had been over fifty-thousand dollars, we would be obligated to notify you, but in this case, it was not necessary.”

“So, there is no way to track it?”

“No.”

She gathered up all of the statements that they had printed out for her, and left the bank in a daze.  Who would give her such a substantial amount of money?  Would there be unknown strings attached to such an anonymous monetary gift?  Would someone show up on her doorstep and expect something in return?

Leonard:  The Boat

Every time it came time to finally launch his boat, some other matters came up.  His son would phone up and talk him out of it.  Adam was irritatingly sensible which was probably why, Leonard concluded, Adam was still not married.  Or, Leonard’s friend would fall ill and go into the hospital and need a visit.  Or, he had to collect clothes from the laundromat, or food from the grocery store.  Eventually, he would lose his nerve wondering if it was truly the right decision to simply sail away into the sunset.

He had an Island Packet Long Keel Cutter 35 and named her Gloria.  It was the Volvo of sailboats, boxy, not sexy, but very safe and comfortable.  It had been a lot of work restoring sections of it over the last few years, in an effort to finally get off the grid away from this little town.  Escaping had become his primary reason for living lately.  He wanted to feel alive again.  It was time to feel the pulse in his veins that had become shallow and unpredictable.  He wanted to explore some of the world that remained open to him like a gaping question mark.  Most importantly, he wanted to know himself again because he had become lost in this old body that housed a young man’s heart.

Sarah:  The Survivor

Every week she attended a writing group.  This eclectic group of creative writers met in a little community hall that was built when this little quintessential BC hippie town was first built by a paper mill company in the early 1900s.  The Douglas Fir floors creaked under the weight of her feet as she moved carefully through its hall carrying coffee and loaf cake to her seat.  Each week, she was ready to sit around the old wooden table with eight or so other members who came to free-write with their journals and pens in hand.  They were given a writing prompt by Fran who was the leader of the group who then carefully timed them for ten minutes to compose something out of thin air.  “Time” she would call out in her loud deep voice when it was time to stop writing.

It had been the one morning every week that Sarah would force herself out of bed.  She was always five minutes late no matter what her efforts to be punctual had been.  It was a struggle to get moving in a life where she no longer had any real time commitments.  She chose to move to this small town to be near the ocean, and the woods where she could breathe better, rest and rediscover herself.  Recently, every time she looked into the mirror, she stared deeply into the tired eyes of a societal burn out.  She now had time that had never really been afforded to her in her previous educator’s life composed of bottom lines, deadlines and front lines.  She now sat dormant on the sidelines in the grey weather of the Canadian West Coast where she came face to face with herself.

She wrote in order to preserve her sanity and to ward off a sense of purposelessness, isolation and depression that threatened to devour her each and every day.  She was not the only person healing in this eclectic group.  Leonard was the oldest member.  He was in his eighties, and had been first an officer in the military; then a journalist; next a commercial diver; and finally, a recluse on one of the Gulf Islands where he jokingly described his profession as selling pot out of the back of his motorcycle.

Leonard was an articulate writer who spoke softly of his plans to escape this town.  Sometimes he wrote about sailing away on a boat he had been building and harbouring nearby for over a decade—Gloria.  At other times, he told them about his motor cycle and his plans to drive down into the States to visit his family, and then camp along the beaches of the Oregon Coast.  The group quickly learned that there was always some sad delay with his boat, or his bike, that prevented him from launching his dreams.

What Sarah learned was that no one in the group really aspired to publish, and as a result, there was no real expectation to critique each other.  Instead, these people let down their masques and disclosed intimate details of their lives in this profoundly free writing.   It was here where she started to heal.  She did not disclose much about herself because she felt like an imposter in her own life.  These people made space at the table; welcomed her warmly when she arrived; and listened to her intently when she read aloud.

Leonard:  The Motorbike

Writing Prompt:  “Roadways”:

I had found the perfect two-man tent that would fit nicely into the saddle of the motor bike.  I have done a ton of upgrades to my Road King.  It is more than just a lot of chrome.  Last week, I put on a new rear tire with lots of tread.  It has seen miles of highway, this motor bike.  I think that it is ready to hit the road again, and I phoned my son to let him know that I am coming down.  He talked about us getting over to the Grand Canyon which has always been my favourite place to go. 

The roadways always feel good to me under a motorbike with a good engine.  When I am heading somewhere with my helmet on, and my gear stowed behind me, I know that my life has purpose and adventure.  I like not knowing what will happen next.  

The thing about travelling is that when I travel, I miss home.  This is the harsh reality of the traveller.  There is the tugging of the heart to leave and the pulling of the mind to return to its comfort zones, just like canaries that fly back into their cages when they are released…

After the writing group, Leonard walked downtown.  Without really remembering how, he found himself on the town ferry without much money and no real destination.  He just sat comfortably in a seat looking out over the water.  The captain announced a sighting of a pod of Orca on the starboard side.  They breached for quite a few minutes right in front of him.  They were marvellous in their enormity.

Sarah:  The Departure

“Where is Leonard?” she asked.

“He was put into the hospital because he was caught wandering.  He has been struggling with the onset of dementia for quite awhile and his behaviour has become unpredictable,” one of the members who knew him well, explained.

They talked quietly, contemplating the writing group without Leonard.  “Will he need anything?  Should we be visiting him or sending him anything?”  Silently they contemplated their own cognitive mortality.

“I think he is being assessed, and will be medicated.  The hospital is likely the best place for him to be right now,” Anna reassured us.  “There aren’t many places for someone like Leonard here in town.”

Sarah sat listening to the gentle rhythm of people reading their weekly devotions.  This little community hall had become her church, and this group, its spiritual congregation.  Their religion was the written word.  They wrote to prove their existence.  Leonard shone here.

Adam:  The Visitor

He came up the steps and found her sitting, enjoying some morning coffee and sunshine on her veranda overlooking the water.  Her hair was wild with curls, and she was wearing her favourite flannel pyjamas.  She did a double-take when he showed up.  He looked familiar.

“I’m Leonard’s son, Adam,” he announced awkwardly.  He set down a parcel by the door and came over.  He looked around at the view of the ocean in front of them.  He was the spitting younger image of Leonard with dark red hair, blue eyes, and fewer wrinkles.

He sat next to her and got straight to the point, “Leonard passed away.”

“I’m so sorry,” she gasped, taken back, pausing to find the right words to continue.

“He wanted me to give this to you.  He said that you would appreciate this painting.”   The artwork leapt out at her with vibrant intensity.  She could visualize the exact spot from which this artist had rendered this perfect twilight moment on the rocky ledge above the canyon.  Someone had actually been able to capture the colours and light of this beautiful place on canvass.

“Did your father leave me some money in my account?”

“Probably.  Money was always showing up in my account too.  It is his MO.  He explained that you would sometimes drive him home from writing class.  To be honest, I think he loved how you wrote about travelling. Now that I see you, I think you remind him of Vivienne.”

“Yes, he told me.”  They sat transfixed with the masterpiece in front of them.  “Thank you for bringing it over.”

He struggled with his story. “I got my love of motor bikes from Dad.  Anyway, I thought I would come and pick him up and we would just hit the road.  When I showed up, he barely recognized who I was.  I said, ‘Pops, let’s do that road trip’.  I remember looking over at him sitting beside me with his helmet and a big grin on his face like a small child.  He didn’t care that it had come down to me driving and him sitting in a side car.  He was just so happy to finally be on the highway.

“It sounds so good,” she squeezed his hand.

“But, he didn’t wake up at the US border.”  Adam wiped his face with his hand.  “We rushed him to the hospital, but he had passed away somewhere on the last part of our trip.  He left me everything—what is left of it anyway, and his treasures.”

“And Gloria?”

He nodded.  “…and he mentioned that you loved the Grand Canyon and should have the painting.  I asked around to find out where you lived.”

He stood up to leave.  She was as startled to see him go as she was to have him arrive, and felt disappointed.   They both hesitated about how to end their brief encounter.  “Thank you for bringing it by.”

He walked down the steps, and turned around.  “What do think about going for a sail?”

via Leonard’s Escape: A Short Story by Shelley Robinson

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Pressed:  On the Other Side of Comfortable by Shelley Robinson

28 Feb

Crossing Over from 2016 to 2017:  As I transition into a new year, I realize that 2016 was challenging for me because this was the first year where I have experimented living very differently than …

Source: On the Other Side of Comfortable by Shelley Robinson

Pressed:  EMPTY BEACHES by Chris Crawford

23 May

Source: EMPTY BEACHES by Chris Crawford

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Many things can be discovered by spending time on a beach in any country. Some of the things that come to mind for me are; level of happiness of the local people, family values and local social habits.

Shelley and I had a chance to experience this on our honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. We spent two weeks there over Christmas and New Years 2016.  It was a welcome break in our crazy lives of planning and then having a wedding. During this time away we made a conscious effort to learn basic Spanish so that we could converse with the locals and experience the real Dominican Republic.

About an hour before we landed, I heard an excited voice say “pull out the travel book.  We need to learn Spanish if we plan on making it to the resort. ”  For the next hour, we went through the drills of learning a few basic phrases. Even in the customs line-up we befriended a  weary  traveller who spoke Spanish to help us learn how to catch a bus to Jaun Dolio beach.  I could not absorb as much as Shelley because I did not sleep on the plane.  She has the gift of being able to sleep the moment that she sits down. I should say lies down all oer me as I was the pillow for the five hour flight. Needless to say she was much fresher than I was when we arrived.

We made it through the Airport and picked up our luggage.  As we exited the airport, we were met with a barrage of taxi drivers and such.  All were eager to try and help us use their cab. Shelley Tip # 1, don’t let anyone grab your luggage. As it turns out, the friendly help would cost us a $270 USD ride to the resort. Shelley tip #2 they will haggle.  A simple Spanish of saying that is was “way to much”, dropped the price to $150 USD.  It was still to much for our liking, so plan B was executed — Public Transit.

We had the entire afternoon to make it to the resort and we used it to travel with the locals and see some of the country that the average tourist would never see. Three buses later, thanks to Shelley’s Spanish lessons on the air plane, we were dropped of in front of our resort. The total was thirty Canadian dollars for the both of us.  After the journey, a check in and good sleep was in order.

In the morning, we had a light breakfast and were eager to hit the beach and take a swim in the azure Caribbean sea. As we walked IMG_1541onto the beach, we noticed that hardly anyone was on the beach beyond the strip in front of the resort.  Three hundred feet around the corner and we had about a mile of tropical beach to our selves –Heaven.  It is very easy to lose track of time when all you see is the hypnotising surf of the Caribbean and the tropical winds moving through the palm trees.

Our second adventure was a self-guided trip into the old colonial zone in Santa Domingo.  More public transportation. Santo Domingo is the oldest colonial city in the Americas. Founded by Bartholomew Columbus in 1496.  He was the son of Christopher Columbus. We had an incredible day exploring all the old buildings.

After the day of exploring the old colonial zone had concluded, it was time to make it back to the Hotel.  Three busses and a slow trip through the heart of Santo Damigo during rush hour was all that it took to get back to the hotel. It was  a look into the real world of the Dominican Republic.  If anyone really wants to experiance any country and  know how the locals live, public transit will show you it in about one hour stuck in rush hour traffic. What a ride it was with people  hanging out the door of the bus and people stepping on at every stop to sell food to the the hungry passengers.

The real contrast for me on this trip has been the different people managing the crazy pace of the city to the construction worker napping in the shade.  Everyone knew how to move quickly, but all seemed to also know how to slow down.  For me, the time spent on the beaches was the real Dominican spirit. Locals spending time with their families on a Sunday with a picnic seemed to be their favourite pastime. Their only concerns seemed to be where to find a palm tree for shade.  We should all spend a bit more time looking for shade under a palm tree.

Pressed: Staying Forever Young Together

8 Aug

Staying Forever Young Together.

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Staying Forever Young Together
by Shelley Robinson, July 27

Eternal Youth: People are always wondering about how to stay eternally youthful. It would be the most wonderful thing to know what we know as more mature people while having a second chance at being and then staying young physically. People pay big money to try to freeze time.  In doing so, they hope to keep their relationships with others vital and vibrant. We often blame our aging for things like not being able to be leaner, mobile, adventurous, sexual and so forth. At the head of the Wurzburg Cathedral yesterday I observed to statues of two skeletons on the front doors greeting its parishioners with the text: “We are operating from dust to dust”. We come into this world as dust, and we leave the world in the same way. The topic is a depressing one for people, and so we do everything possible to delay this eventuality.

Fighting death a futile battle, but I believe that it is a good fight to stay fit and prolong life as long as possible, even to go as far as tricking the brain into believing that it is younger than it actually is chronologically. If we are only on this earth for a short while, then I believe that we should be on the earth in our very best bodies possible, living a life that affords us the optimal physical experience. How can this be done? I have been asked quite a bit on this trip about how I stay so young looking. When I met my Finnish relative for the first time, she commented that I looked like a young girl. It has been a flattering question because aging for me has been a relative thing for me over my fifty years. I would say that the answer is quite simple: live in moderation, and by God, have fun!

I have looked very old in my lifetime at a much younger age, and I have looked very young at a much older age. The question of my aging is a matter of attitude and life experience at the time. I have watched myself shape shift from moment to moment when life joys or traumas cause my body to go through sudden metamorphoses. I suddenly look younger or older, depending on my belief of my age at the time. When I am tired, I feel old, and visa versa. Lately, I have decided to be younger, and I hope that it is coming across in the same way in how I project myself into the world.

The Logistics of Good Health: What I have learned most profoundly is that there is a direct correlation to my looking and feeling OLD when I am NOT eating, sleeping or exercising regularly nor well. As well, stress has been a huge contributing factor to creating these circumstances, or, perhaps, being a result of these circumstances. The spiral of poor health is a cycle of circumstances that we sometimes feel is beyond our control. Fortunately, I am finding that if I make positive healthy experiences my priority, that I have the ability to influence the rest of my life experiences through it. We all experience the world through the body as our temple, and we need to honour this special place in which we reside, regardless of the challenges that we each have in the universe.

This idea of being “meta-kinesthetic” that I wrote about in my research on the five meta-learning domains, seems to be of greater value to me the further that I proceed through my life. The “meta” self is always hovering above each of us to lucidly evaluate what works best in our lives. I have always been interested in what inspires or blocks us cognitively (thoughts), conatively (motivation), affectively (feelings), physically, and spiritually? The road to good health is an important experiential domain, but not an easy one. The path of least resistance is always clearly marked on the trail and can sometimes distract us from the best course of action. This idea of being disciplined to do what works best for our bodies, is a critical one.

Having a Relationship with Our Bodies First: Before we can have a relationship with someone else in these five learning domains, we have to have a relationship with ourselves first. When we know who we are and how we can best operate through body, mind and spirit with ourselves, we can offer it to the rest of the world. For example, when we are doing the good work for our bodies in this regard, we can let someone physically into our lives. Only when we can turn ourselves on sexually, can we truly turn someone else on sexually. It has not been until I have been older that I have truly listened to what my body has been screaming at me through its various signs and symptoms.

We Are What We Breathe and Eat: I coughed most of my life, likely because my body was inflamed. I breathed air and ate foods that kept me from breathing well. When our bodies and lungs are inflamed, the life breath that we need to take in and exhale moment to moment, is impaired. When we do not breath well, we do not live well. Good breathing is fundamental to a good life. The slow inhale and exhale that fills our body with restorative energy is the basis of our good living. Without it, we die. I was dying until I figured out that what I was breathing and eating were killing me. A high altitude, dry climate, polluted city, cold weather and other breathing variables were not treating me well in my native city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and so I moved.

However, I did not move before I learned from a wise naturopath that I had been eating wheat, dairy and eggs to which I had been having terrible physical inflammation reactions my entire lifetime (phlegm and restrictive airways). My blood work indicated extreme allergies to beef, wheat (all grains and gluten), dairy (not just lactose), eggs (whole egg), and a few other odds and ends. When I cut them out, the reaction was dramatic over time. My body shed some of its weight. I could start breathing without medicine, and I was more energized than I had been before. With that being said, the external variables were still coming into play, and so I decided to move to BC to be in a warmer climate, by the ocean with a less-polluted environment. The trees became my friends with their humidity and oxygen. The ocean granted me its salt water frangrance. By managing both my diet and my air, I had discovered a healthier place to live so that I was not fighting against my own limitations. Now the challenge for me continues to be how to minimize work stress. This dilemma is a big one for many people.

Being in Relationship: Even though Chris does not need much reminding as he is very healthy, I do remind him to eat, drink water, and sleep regularly. We all need reminding. When we are in the flow of our life experiences, we can sometimes lose track. He is often so busy wanting to experience the world very actively, that he forgets that he needs to tend to his body so that he can enjoy it. Just as I remind him of what his body needs, so does he with me. He puts vitamins in front of me, and promotes various types of good food ideas so that we are living leanly and staying fit. We both enjoy hiking in the outdoors, and we are convinced that the trees speak to us in very physical ways when we are out enjoying the energy that they give back to our world for us.  In short, we are both tree freaks!

When we are cranky or unsure of ourselves, there is almost always a definite connection to what we did not do that day in terms of eating, drinking and sleeping well; and as well, any hormones (time of month) or fatigue from work. I believe that 90 percent of the troubles that we have experienced together (and for the most part, we have very few big troubles), I can attribute to our bodies having been depleted at the time of these minor relationship disconnections. What we do for our bodies, our bodies give back to our relationships ten-fold. Now, instead of delving too deeply into the angst of an argument, I just simply think, “When did we last eat?” Or, he suggests that we get into the woods.  I believe that it is always helpful to recruit someone to help us be strong and well, but not to put him or her in the driver’s seat of making us happy.

Last Thoughts: As a woman, I am both surprised and confused by my body on a regular basis; however, the closer that I pay attention, the more that I can work with it, and not against it. In turn, I can show Chris how to figure it out as well. This applies very directly to the physical domain, and one where we need to be very thoughtful of as we get older. Between the two of us, we can find ways to achieve some very positive and exciting physical experiences together. In doing so, I believe that we can stay young together for longer, and that will make all of the difference to our long term relationship. I want him to find me as physically attractive as possible for as long as possible because I find myself physically capable of being so.

Blake said that the body was the soul’s prison unless the five senses are fully developed and open. He considered the senses the ‘windows of the soul.’ When sex involves all the senses intensely, it can be like a mystical experence.

Jim Morrison

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 51: Under-Graduate Milestones

22 Jun

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 51: Under-Graduate Milestones.

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Benchmarks for Success:  What is of interest to me is this idea of how we know we are making progress in life.  Are we getting ahead?  This idea that we can get from one point to another while accomplishing things and becoming better people as a result of our efforts, is a Modernist concept.  It relies on this philosophical pillar that there is a greater good to which we can strive and become better for our efforts.

I still buy into this line of reasoning, hoping that all of the “Sturm and Drang” in my life has been for some greater good.  I especially hope that my belief system holds some truth to it due to the fact that I shared this value system with my son who has recently graduated from university with an under-graduate degree in sociology in the Faculty of Arts.

Under-graduate Confusion and Ambivalence:  Undergraduate work can feel under-whelming.  These early academic years (to use an old expression) “separate the men from the boys”.  This milestone of convocating from a university with an undergraduate degree is supposed to symbolize incredible accomplishment where we feel that we have “arrived” somewhere that is significant, leading to somewhere else that will also be significant, and potentially even more important.  From this juncture in the road, we are supposed to have a clear vantage point from which to make choices upon which to base the rest of our life journeys.  In many cases, we catch glimpses of satisfaction and accomplishment, but it can be short-lived.

“Getting off the academic track” can be very unnerving for students.  We have been following so closely the institutional guidelines that tell us how to think and learn; when to do so; and how good we have to be at doing so in order to pass, that when we are relieved of these obligations, we can be left feeling confused and disoriented.  When we graduate, sometimes we are left with a sense of post-academic depression, realizing that all of our grueling efforts got us to a point where we still have more unanswered questions than when we went into the program in the first place. Degrees don’t guarantee jobs or success.  Unlike where we worked hard in the academic world to get a passing grade, life doesn’t hand out grades.  It simply looks at us blankly in the face owing us nothing for our efforts.

Looking Back:  Having gone through the academic world, which is both exciting and disillusioning, the first leg of academic work (the filtering and streaming years) can be a very institutional process that affords us very little “free thinking”.  Instead, we are indoctrinated into becoming good at “it”.  We become programmed to write and say the right things in order to be the best that our mentors believe that we can be within the parameters of the academic protocols.  We are groomed to achieve the status quo of high level critical thinking.  I loved it, but by the end of it, I hated it.  I remember graduating from the University of Calgary (my first time around), and as I packed up my bag of books, I looked back at the building and said boldly, “I will never go back!”

Next Steps:  The first steps after the program are the hardest.  They are like those first wobbly steps of a new born.  We wiggle around from one piece of furniture to another trying to grab onto something–anything that will provide some stability.  We are not secure enough to carry our own weight.  The time to embark out into the world on our own steam, with our own rules, takes incredible courage.  Where do we go next?  How do we afford it?  What matters most…first?  First things first, how can we enjoy the reality of our new found freedom when we are so worried about what comes next?  It is all very anxiety-provoking, but a very important experience, never-the-less.  We cannot grow and become our best selves until we truly are out of our comfort zones.  We need to stumble and fall, and then learn to wait.  We have to avoid that sense of desperation that forces us to grab onto the wrong things.  Instead, we have to be courageous and hold out for the best things that are yet to come.

My Son:  My son’s sociology program forces its students to think out of the box, and yet, when they are truly released into the world to think “out of the box”, it can be quite disconcerting for all of them.  He is truly wondering whether this degree was worth it.  It does not set him on any real practical and immediate track.  Instead, it just got him to think differently than he did before he entered it.  He got to learn that the world is not straight-forward, fair, or even relevant to itself.  He became a bigger thinker, challenged by his teachers, and his student cohort; and from this, he has accomplished a real cognitive milestone–the milestone of being a philosopher of his own learning, and as a result, a potential composer of a richer score of life.

He has the whole world just waiting for him to jump right in, but he needs to first determine who he is, and how to climb thoughtfully up the ladder to look over the edge at the next part of his journey.  Even though he is a little afraid of heights, he needs to climb to the top, set his eyes on the horizon and point outward.  Once he spots a landmark that can hold his gaze with his head, heart and spirit, he can begin moving ahead.  He may get side-tracked as he takes his next tentative steps forward, but our calling is always our calling.  He too will find his true calling through various means. And most importantly, he will begin to accept that he has never really strayed too far from being exactly who he has always been (perhaps a bit worldlier and wiser)…a very good man.

“When you stop living your life based on what others think of you, real life begins. At that moment, you will finally see the door of self acceptance opened.”
Shannon L. Alder

 

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 45: From Grief to Gratitude While Visiting Hollywood

28 Jan

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week 45: From Grief to Gratitude While Visiting Hollywood.

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Angst on an Airplane:  Recently I flew to Hollywood for Christmas.  From my flight from Vancouver to LA, and into the first couple of days of my trip, I was riddled with the stress of my job, and the anxiety of a couple of personal matters.  I felt emotionally consumed by worry, and felt unable to escape some of it, even by leaving home to do so.   No matter how hard I tried, I was not able to shift out of my work gear, and into my holiday mode which I had been looking forward to for several weeks.  I found myself reviewing many of the negatives like a silent picture show in my mind.

Fortunately, I have incredible travel angels, and I landed in the world’s most interesting bed and breakfast called The Hollywood B and B.  It was filled with fascinating relics and art from all over the world.  The theme of most of this boutique inn was vintage America.  Anything and everything that tied into American film, music and art was residing somewhere on a table, wall or available space in this historical home.  This was an exceptional hoarders’ paradise because everything truly was beautiful, not only to the hoarding hosts, but to their guests.

Shifting Emotional Gears:  It took me awhile to recognize the signs of worry, distress, depression and exhaustion, but eventually I surrendered to it through rest and recovery.  It had been a difficult fall at work grappling with a traumatized school district just coming out of a strike, and where I was learning the ropes in a new organization on multiple levels.  As well, I was starting to feel some homesickness for my friends and family in Calgary.  Despite having many positive things happening in BC with work, new social connections and hobbies, I was not feeling very happy about my circumstances.  No matter how I looked at everything, it kept leading me back to this sense of loss and failure, even though I knew that logically, this was not the case.

After a couple of days of ruminating, I chose to go out.  I started exploring Hollywood Boulevard; Sunset Boulevard; The Griffin Observatory; The Getty Museum; the LA County Museum of Art; the Norton Simon Art Gallery; Pasadena; Santa Monica, and the surrounding area down to Malibu.  Somewhere in the middle of all of this, as I was learning to drive the six lanes of traffic, I started to shift gears from grief to gratitude.

Serendipity Works Its Magic:  When I first arrived at 2 in the morning, I switched on the light of my “Maverick Room” (likely called this because there were two decorated cow skulls on the wall which some might call artwork). I  figured out how to turn on the satellite television and the first thing that came on was a program about “fear”.  At first it didn’t seem to be very profound, but I found it odd that of all 886 channels, the one program that kept coming up was talking about this topic of fear that I was vividly experiencing at that very moment in time.  The people on this channel appeared to be experts on this topic, and the quote that stood out for me in their dialogue (and then became my mantra for the next few days of my holiday), was this:  “If you give faith to fear, you give yourself to the enemy.  If you give your faith to God, you give yourself back to yourself.”  It was a profound starting point of other little “signs” that good things would be happening on this holiday.

The Maze:  What I also started doing was counting my blessings, and I realized that there were many of them.  I realized that part of my dilemma was this idea of turning 50 years old in the new year.  As the days of the holiday counted down to 2015, I was feeling my mortality.

When I was looking out from the Getty Museum overlooking Beverly Hills, I realized a few things.  I had more to be grateful for than I would ever to be sorry about.  As well, I marvelled at the key life events that had happened over the last fifty years that had turned me into the person that I had become.  Most of these life events involved people supporting me and helping to launch me into new and important directions.

From this vantage point at the top of the Getty, I could look down and see exactly the right way to go through this beautiful foliage maze.  It was a bit like life.  When you are right in the middle of it, you cannot see which way to go.  However, when you stand back, you can see it all very differently.  I decided then and there that I was going to acknowledge the 50 people who had most impacted my life over my lifetime.

My Top 50 People:  Who would my top 50 people be?  I had so many people to be thankful for, but I decided that I would narrow it down to the key change agents in my life journey.  These were people who had made a substantial shift in me physically, emotionally, intellectually, and/or spiritually.  My family automatically came to mind…then my doctors who had operated on my feet, knees and shoulder (so that I could move easily)…and then my mentors who had helped nominate and support me through my career–all of this started to come into focus.

As I was considering this list of names, I went into the gift shop, and there on the gift shop stand was a postcard of the very maze that I had just been looking out over.  It seemed to represent the maze of my life.   I decided to buy all of them!   When the shop owner carefully counted them out, there were exactly 50 cards which matched the exact number of my gratitude mission.  I spent the next few days jotting down names and making decisions about who I would write, and what I would say in each card.  Then, while I sat each evening in the dim light of the bed and breakfast while listening to some lovely guitar music and sipping hot ginger tea, I began to write.

Re-focussing:  No longer was I thinking about my worries and challenges.  I was thinking about my life in technicolor gratitude.  Important memories were coming back to me, and I was making some significant revelations.  I was connecting the dots.  Had these people not entered in my life at key times, my life could be very different than it is presently.  My good fortune in life was a result of a series of spiritual interventions of key people along the way.  In each letter, I decided to include a quote by one of my favourite authors, Marianne Williamson who I have been reading recently because as I am in the mid-life that she so graciously refers to as The Age of Miracles (2008):

It takes a decade to understand the basic nature of spiritual principles, another decade while the ego tries to eat you alive, another decade while you try to wrestle it to the ground, and finally you begin to walk more or less in the light.  Anyone who thinks a spiritual path is easy probably hasn’t been walking one…In A Course in Miracles, light is defined as “understanding.” What a beautiful thought, that to see the light is to understand. (p. 28)

I was starting to understand on this trip to Hollywood where people’s dreams came true, that my bright lights were coming from within.  Perhaps it was fed by the music from the wonderful music of the singer Olita Adams that I heard on New Year’s Eve at the famous Catalina Jazz Club, or it was the riveting comedians at the Laugh Factory that snapped me back into happiness; I’m not sure.  However, I have a feeling that what helped me to get my bearings most was travelling.  Again, by finding another vantage point from which to see my life maze, and to know that there was an entrance, a path and an exit, I felt reassured.  It was just a matter of taking the time to appreciate that everything was going to be alright because everything had already been alright.

Happy New Year 2015

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Pressed: Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us

31 Oct

Fifty-Two Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Three: What Trouble Teaches Us.

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“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows my sorrow

Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Glory, Hallelujah”  Louis Armstrong (traditional)

Standing on the Edge:  I was on an airplane with few movie choices, and I stumbled across a thought-provoking one called A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby.  It is about these four unsensational, but depressed characters that find themselves up on top of the Topper Tower in London all looking down contemplating the jump.  They are embarrassed to be exposed to each other as they find themselves on the same humiliating journey looking down to the ground.  After some awkward conversation, they agree to put off their decision to jump for six weeks.  They decide that if they still feel the same way on Valentines day, that they will meet and resume the jump.  However, predictably in the interim, they find that by knowing that they are no longer alone, and by seeing each other through the mirrors that are vulnerably held in front of them by each other, they find other ways of seeing and then resolving their difficulties.

What I have found in my human journey filled with markedly exciting and successful highs, and some periodic difficulties, is that trouble can insidiously shape us in some pretty unnervingly long term ways if we allow it to happen.  Sometimes it takes someone to say, “Hey, actually the problem is not this way, or that way, or that big.  You are just seeing it that way.”  Each time we have a problem that we delicately avoid, shove under the carpet, or feel that we have successfully averted, we become more adept at avoiding looking life in the eye through fresh and resilient lenses.  More often, we spend a lot of solitary time trying to “…to rebuild [ourselves], piece by piece, with no instruction book, and no clue as to where all the important bits are supposed to go” (Hornby, 2014). As a result, after each little break in the glass, when we finally stand back and look out of our windows, we have a very distorted view of life out there.  Our “cognitive distortions”, ranging from “tunnel vision, all-or-nothing thinking, should and must statements, worse case scenario thinking through to personalization, overgeneralization” (Beck, 1995), and many more disfunctional thought patterns, begin to rule how we conceive of the world around us.

The Trick is to Pretend and Not Let It Happen Again:  What we learn as children when we fall down, burn ourselves, or have something painful happen, is that in the future, we steer clear from making the same mistakes again.  The whole goal of our human conditioning is to avoid pain at whatever costs.  However, as we get older, the maze of “avoiding life’s difficulties” becomes pretty complicated.  We get lost in it.  We lose other people while we or they are in it.  Then, we stay clear of all things because there might be some remote possibility that something awful that we experienced before, might jump out at us when we least expect it.  We deny.  We blame.  We hide.  We do not “cope” in the really profound ways that allow us to get back on the horse and keep riding onward. We know when we get triggered by past episodes.  Our bodies start to tense.  Our breathing gets faster.  Our muscles get ready to fight.  However, our brains turn off because our blood flow is relegated elsewhere in our state of flight and fear.  The majority of the population gets lost in this trigger trauma cycle.  No one likes going down these scary rabbit holes, so they are either hyper-vigilent to prevent any problems (doing everything right), or hypo-vigilent to respond to them (numbing out and apathy).

The Mind’s Eye:  What has dawned on me lately, as I live on my own and have to grapple with difficulties by myself, is that troubles are only as big as I choose to make them.  It took a few recent falls to see that I am going to continually fall as long as I “live”.  Now I need to learn how to fall, and not how to avoid falling.  I remember learning how to roll and fall on cross country skis.  It was something that was expected to happen when we skiied, and as a result, when we fell, we knew how, and didn’t think much of it.  The key is to get up and to look at what happened and learn from it.  However, it is very important to not take on crazy reactive behaviour because we take what happened to us too personally and own more of the responsibility than is ours to own.

What I am discovering about my own life is that my circle of influence is pretty small.  There is really very little that I can truly control in my life other than how I think about my experiences.  I can make some choices within the context of my home, my work, my society, my culture and the world; however, there is a randomness in the universe each and every day that I live out loud.  There is always going to be some asshole who is going to say his or her rude comments and be obstinate just because I have an idea that is new or different, or that he or she did not think about first.  There will always be some obstacle standing in the way of some outcome (not all) that I am trying to achieve.  There will always be some cost-benefit analysis that I will have to do to make my straight lines to happiness a bit loopier than I want them to be.

The key for me lately is to stand my ground:  What do I need?  What can I leave?  What matters?  What does not matter?  I need to be clear about these fundamental questions in the moment of each experience that I live so that if I am triggered, I can breathe and say, “I don’t need to address this right now or ever!”  That is a choice I can make each and every time I feel my defences kicking in, and I experience what I perceive to be trouble coming my way.

Trouble in Partnership:  What I am also learning lately as I date and discover with whom I am interested in being in partnership, is that people do not have to be similar in many ways, and sometimes not even all that perfectly compatible except in one way:  Do we know how to solve problems together?  If people can agree on how to see and solve trouble together, we have a better shot at a relationship than all of the fairy tales stories we grew up believing would be our romantic outcomes.

The difficulty is that there are not many problem solvers who want to sit in the eye of the storm either independently or interdependently and “take it on”.  We are in a wounded world of avoiders, defenders, and fair weather seekers.  It is not easy to find that special someone who is well-versed in the matters of handling difficulties with a level head and heart.  Many of us look, connect, sense a little trouble, and move onward.  In established relationships, some are healthy teams of trouble shooters, but many marriages are filled with land mines and danger zones that are delicately side-stepped to stay “happy” together.

Stay Awake:  I encourage all of us to really look at all of the things that scare us–the people, places, things, experiences, memories, and ideas.  Sometimes they are hard to conjure up as we have become desensitized.  Sometimes we don’t know what we don’t know until someone points it out to us.  However, when we are ready, it helps to get raw and vulnerable and find out what frightens us, why it hurts us, and then start examining how to address it each and every time it happens… because it will happen over and over again until the day we die.  It means responding, and not reacting.  As well, when we are awake to it, we can stop asking everyone around us to walk on eggshells to avoid hurting us, and start getting a bit stronger about dealing with what real life experiences have the potential of giving us both good and bad.  It puts us in charge of our own life experiences and what we believe about it.

Let’s stand away from the edge so that we don’t feel as if we are on this dangerous precipice each and every time trouble arises with the fear of falling over.  Better yet, let’s make sure that there never comes a time that we feel the need to jump off.

The self is a mystery. In our efforts to pin it down or make it safe, we dissociate ourselves from our complete experience of whatever it is or is not” (Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life).