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Pressed: 52 Weeks Being Now: Week Forty: Silent Knowledge

12 Aug

52 Weeks Being Now: Week Forty: Silent Knowledge.

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Stopping to Listen: Every so often we get caught up in the inertia of our lives and in the words and actions that precipitate what we believe to be the “truth”. We are so busy trying to figure out what the truth means, that we lose the essential point of why we are trying to learn it in the first place. We want to experience joy. We want to experience love. We believe that the absolute truth will allow us some sense of security in knowing our goodness and that of those around us. Then, and only then, can we experience true joy and love. However, the truth is only a story that we tell ourselves, or that we allow others to interpret of us:

“I am only one half of the message; you are the other half. I am responsible for what I say, but I am not responsible for what you understand. You are responsible for what you understand; you are responsible for whatever you do with what you hear in your head, because you are the one who gives the meaning to every word that you hear” (Ruiz, 2010, p. 104).

Usually, we listen to the words of those we hope are telling us the truth. We watch their actions. We try to align their words and actions so as to have them make testaments of what we need to believe to be true. However, in the end, it is all a story. It is a perspective, and what truly matters is what is beneath the story. “The truth is silent. It’s something you you just know; it’s something that you can feel without words and it’s called silent knowledge” (Ruiz, 2010, p. 110). I refer to it as intuition.

Quiet Communication: Intuition is sometimes fed by little clues. If we really listen, we hear someone’s character by subtler things found in between the words and actions. These sometimes imperceptible details become magnificent, in particular when we are at odds with ourselves and each other. Compassionate details matter most in moments of difficulty. For example: the sound of the patient breath; a loving look; our tears wiped; a patient tone; loving eye-contact; arms open; whispering tones of gratitude; no rushing; quiet rest; the benefit of the doubt; a hug; a loving presence; strong persistence; a belligerent belief in our internal goodness despite the proof in the moment of something less; a hummed melody; pure stillness; compassionate space and intimacy; staying awake; a caress; a touch on furrowed brow; a knowing look; and never ever feeling ignored. All are quiet forms of love that are somewhere between or beyond words and action.

When we show this quiet love, we believe in ourselves more. This silent belief in our own goodness are the roots that we grow into the ground around us. These are the roots of disciplined empathy which I like to call integrity. These roots give ourselves and people confidence in us, even when the wind blows.

Although you are a talisman protecting a treasure,
you are also the mine.
Open your hidden eyes
and come to the root of the root of your Self.
(Rumi, Root of the Root)

When we are quietly strong this way, we and the people around us always know that we only tremble a bit in the storms, or when we are tired. Regardless, we remain standing, and continue to grow upward into the sunlight. There is a tacet understanding that unless we are forcibly chopped down, or burned, our goodness is intrinsic and constant. We do not tire from being this way because it is a good way to be, but it takes effort. We see no limitations to it because we understand that “the mind that perceives the limitation is the limitation” (Buddha).

If we are really listening, we do not question the internal goodness of ourselves and others because it is just there, sometimes covered up by confusing words, and complicated actions and the assumptions that we draw from both. However, if we are really listening, we hear each other in deeper timbres. We know intuitively of the pain and the love that resides deeper inside of us and those around us. We ask different questions. We appreciate the power of the pregnant pause when we respond, not react. We step forward into the wind, not backwards. We sing inwards, rather than shout outwards. We pull forwards rather than push away.

Don’t go away, come near.
Don’t be faithless, be faithful.
Find the antidote in the venom.
Come to the root of the root of your Self.
(Rumi, Root of the Root)

In other words, when we are rooted, we stay. We stay present. We stay connected. This staying is the silent knowledge of our spiritual love as compassionate people in all of our complexities.

“Human beings are millions of things in one day.”
― Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Nine: Creating the Grand Adventure

6 Aug

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Nine: Creating the Grand Adventure.

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Getting on the Train: My recent move to the Comox Valley to live on my own in a new culture, and in a paradise setting, has taught me three things. I can do it. Secondly, that it is not exactly where I want to be at this time in my life, and thirdly, I am not living out my true potential in my major career (although I appreciate my good fortune in having such a good job in the Comox Valley, and I enjoy some of this work very much). I am at a critical turning point. Pender Island, the cottage that I bought in tandem with moving to BC to work as an administrator, was clearly the right decision. This has become a place where I will set down some roots and return to it time and again, as my little sanctuary for as long as I can afford to do so.

My friend, who recently visited my cottage, left me with an interesting quote that she found from watching the movie The Lunchbox: “Sometimes the wrong train takes you to the right station.” To some degree I feel similarly to the lead character in the movie. I have gotten on a train, and am confident that this was a good step towards getting towards where I need to be (although I am not exactly sure of my destination). At least I got on a train, as many of us talk ourselves out of doing that because we want guarantees that we are safe in whatever we do. Whereas, life is really a journey. It is about taking a series of steps that head in the direction of our souls, and hopefully, allow us to do what we are called to do along the way so that we live authentic and rich life experiences.

What is the Grand Adventure? It is difficult to describe to someone what a grand adventure actually means. So many of us get into relationships to achieve the outcome of having a relationship. We work at jobs for the satisfaction of achieving our career goals. We have children to raise and launch them into adulthood. In many ways, we go through a series of developmental tasks that help us to experience key personal and professional goals through to fruition in very componential and linear ways.

Whatever the goal, the Grand Adventure is something big, important, meaningful and memorable. It is deemed an adventure because it requires preparation, courage, and possibly, training, to carry it through to fruition. It is something that we will be proud to tell our friends and family, and to look back on with happiness and pride. We will be able to reminisce in the glow of accomplishment, and say, “We did this together!” Or, “We built this!” This memorable lived legacy can be something either internal, external or both.

I believe that a Grand Adventure is something bigger than any one developmental task in our lifetimes. It affords us to have a relationship within a bigger life trajectory. It allows us to consider our career within a larger overarching plan or series of plans. We can then bring our children into a bigger conceptual space about their purpose for being. Rather than simply raising them within some established structures and formative milestones that are typically accepted as “growing up” in our cultures in safe and acceptable ways, we broaden their life experiences through a bigger life vision that often involves building strength, confidence, and helping ourselves and others to be better people.

Vision-Making: The Grand Adventure is something that we can do ourselves, or with others. I believe living out this type of big dream would be most satisfying, albeit, most challenging, to do with a partner. I also think that this is the type of thing that relationships benefit from to help us align our spirits. Living on a shared Grand Adventure requires a kind of vision-making of each partner so that we can first find meaning in our own independent plans, and then in our shared visions. I believe that it is important that both people in partnership own part of the dream so that we feel some shared passion and motivation in fulfilling it. We are co-pilots and rely on each other flying towards our connected dreams.

Essentially, when striking out towards this vision, we each sit side-by-side at our easels considering what colours we will throw onto it, or how we might delicately paint over our blank canvasses. Everyone has a different visioning style. There are no paint by numbers. There are no rules that make one painting right and the other wrong. It is dreaming aloud without any preconceived notions. Writers refer to this as “free writing”. As we create, ideas come into shape, rather than what is typically accepted which is that all things need to have an outline, or clearly measured blue prints.

From time to time, we will peek over at our partner’s painting, and see what is emerging. We give each other space to dream and grow, trusting that we are both committed to building something together and in some synchronicity and on a similar timeline. And then together, we compare our creations. It might be a cacophony of colour, or a clearly rendered painting from a picture held in our minds, perhaps from childhood. Then we consider how the ideas align. What brainstorming needs to occur to make each one independently as beautiful as possible. And then, what happens when we bring them together and merge them? What are even more possibilities when both dreams are combined? The logistics are not the point at this part of the adventure. All that is required is hope, enthusiasm, inspiration and raw courage.

Imagine travelling to a foreign country to work with a non-profit charitable organization to help bring water to communities. Consider what it might be like to climb key mountains in the world that are both beautiful and challenging. What if the grand adventure is to co-author a book while travelling and living somewhere that is unfamiliar and new? What if it looks like sailing from one coast to another and learning to live off of the sea? What if it means living in a community of people working towards the goal of saving an animal or ecosystem that is fragile? Perhaps it is living for a year or two discovering different spiritual practices? What if it might be to research a certain thing or situation and publish the findings? It might be simpler, and could involve setting personal goals of physical well-being or building something tangible that has value to both people and is helpful to others who need this support. What if…? is the type of talk that occurs at this stage.

Living the Dream Aloud: Eventually, the time comes to live it aloud. The architect and the carpenter need to work together to carefully craft what the dream might be. The logistics of how the blocks from the quarry are lifted, cut and crafted together, need to be considered. It takes ongoing communication and disciplined planning in order to see it through so that there is a nice sense of possibility and momentum in its creation. Most importantly, both partners need to share in the leadership. The skill set of each partner is respected, but neither is made responsible for motivating the project. Instead, it is agreed that if it matters to both, both must contribute to its launching. Each must relish in the work and joy that it will bring the partnership. Both must appreciate how to open our arms and abandon ourselves openly to the unknown that happens on every adventure. No one person is left holding the bag, as having a trusting and reciprocal commitment is the key element of a shared adventure. At times, this takes discipline, effort and might require education or guidance from external sources where challenges emerge.

Doing It: Finally, the adventure begins to unfold. It can sometimes happen while it is still being planned, and it might continue and branch off into many directions; but most importantly, it happens. It might not happen exactly as planned. It might become too large or too small, and require revisions along the way. There might be some breaks for rest, or modifications so that both people can sustain the journey. However, again, the point is that there is follow-through. The dream comes to life. There will be a wonderful story to tell before, during and after it happens. I like to believe that the partnership will benefit and grow from the experience, and so will others that we encounter along the way, provided that we act from a place of love and integrity. And then, at the end of the adventure, hopefully we will find that it is really only the beginning of our next adventure together.

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
― Eleanor Roosevelt

Pressed: 52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Seven: Getting High and Staying High

3 Aug

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Seven: Getting High and Staying High.

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Getting High: Everyone wants to get high–metaphorically, literally, spiritually, through drugs and alcohol, artistically, sexually, or other. What is interesting to me is that most people don’t know what “getting high” actually means. As well, we don’t understand the following:

-We don’t know why we want to get high so badly
-We don’t know how to get high in safe, healthy, or relevant ways
-Once we are high, we are not always sure how to really appreciate it

As well, most people who do get high, want to replicate it over and over again in exactly the same way. We think that if we just re-do the same steps, in the same way, that the same outcome will result. However, the nature of any ecstatic experience is that usually we cannot re-formulate it through mere repetition. Each time, some different variable comes into play that requires the need to be attentive, creative and intentional so that there can be new unique and wonderful outcomes.

Of course, this takes effort. People who do not want to make the effort usually end up taking drugs; resorting to simulations on a computer; or need some other extrinsic catalyst to jump start them into the sublime.

Hot Air: An example of getting high for me was a hot air balloon trip in Capadocia, Turkey (see pictures below). The last time that I had taken a balloon ride prior to this adventure, was in Calgary, Alberta a decade previously. It had been a less than thrilling experience on a cold morning with a grumpy husband who wasn’t overly enthusiastic about the whole early morning escapade. As well, as we ascended into the air, our little son was waving up at us with a worried expression, wondering if his parents would disappear into the clouds and never come down again. (Because of his alarm, my father took it upon himself to follow our balloon by driving through the city underneath it to the safe landing spot, reassuring his grandson all the while). As a result, I remember the whole balloon ride as a feeling of mixed emotions about why I was doing such a far-fetched thing in the first place without my son, and with my, now, ex-husband.

As a result, when the suggestion to go up in the air with complete strangers in a foreign country, came about, I wasn’t sure that I would find the experience to be anything more than this botched attempt at getting high in the same way the first time around. While the crew began the launching process in the pre-historic landscape of this famous Turkish desert valley, the sunlight was just starting to appear on the horizon. In the darkness, the blasts of the burner flame sounded like hungry dragons, as they heated the air through the balloon mouths. Once they were air buoyant, we jumped into the balloon basket. We were all a bit nervous as the box swayed sideways before launching, but finally the ground crew released the balloon into the pilot’s capable hands.

Magic in the Ascent: As we ascended, magic began to unfold all around me. This balloon ride was different. I was surrounded by a few fellow travellers who were as equally interested in being “mesmerized” as I was by the ascent. Their enthusiasm was contagious. The desert landscape below filled with miles upon miles of wind burrowed rock formations (which we call hoodoos in Canada) was absolutely breathtaking.

As well, the Turkish balloon companies did not, at this time, have any regulations about how high they could actually fly. I had been told in my first balloon flight about the Canadian guidelines because of the dangers of flying too close to the sun, and other elevation precautions. In Turkey, words like “guidelines” or “precautions” never came up. He seemed more interested in sharing with us what we would see, not what might go wrong. All the while, we just kept getting higher and higher. At one point, when I looked down, I realized that I was “high”–very very high. Any fear or trepidation about heights was something that I should have thought about before the trip because here I was…up in the clouds. I breathed in the height. I kept my eye on the beauty, and I revered in the experience. All of it was simply too beautiful for fear to step in and ruin it for me.

Some of the high had to do with the pilot. I trusted him. He spoke confidently about the height. He seemed credible and capable handling the balloon. He pointed out what would be happening before, during and after the trip so that we were at ease. He had a certain “enthusiasm” (coming from the word “entheos”, which in Latin means “of the Gods”) that awakened me to what I could expect. However, I was confident that everyone in the basket would see and experience something very different from each other. The flight was also gilded in gold for me because of my openness to trying it–again. I was a different person this time around. I had the capacity to get high, and I appreciated the joy of doing so in a way that I had never experienced before. I was high on my new status in life. I was free.

Staying High: What amazes me about the whole experience is that the balloon ride was not the real crux of the experience for me. The rush was my willingness to embrace all aspects of the experience. I was doing something that other people had done a thousand times, but for me, it was as if no one had ever done this before. How could the universe be this wonderful? Why was I so fortunate? What would I see, and remember from the experience? For the duration of the trip, I was out of body. In memory of it, I find it surreal to consider how magnificent the view was, and I am still high in the recollection. I was in another world. I was on another planet. I was flying high. And what is most important to realize about this existential height experience was that there were no drugs required, then, during the flight, and now, in the remembrance of it (although I am sure the adrenaline rush released a bit of dopamine). This was flying high for real, inside and out.

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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Thirty-Four: Mail Order Bride and the Leap of Faith

6 Jul

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What if… you were a young woman in Finland, writing back and forth to a young man from Finland living in Canada (whom you have never met) who has taken it upon himself to pioneer out to Canada in the early 1900’s? You have been hooked up to each other through friends and are now part of a series correspondence blind dates. Through beautifully scripted hand-written letters (as you are both creative), you forge a strong friendship over the course of a year. You start to learn more about him and his adventures in Canada, and he starts to learn a bit more about you. You exchange a couple of photos, and the rest of the correspondence is an outpouring of hopes and dreams.

You realize that you are getting older (late 20’s), and are now one of the few single ladies left in your town. This is an eligible bachelor, well-respected in his community (through word of mouth) regardless of his desire to live in another country. Even though you haven’t met him, you have a pretty good feeling and intuition about him through his letters because he is educated, articulate and motivated to make his way in the Canadian frontier. If he proposed on his next visit to Finland and asked you to go with him to Canada, would you?

From Mail to Meeting: This was the correspondence that occurred over the course of several months between my grandmother, Tyyne Kattelus; and my grandfather, Onni Kattelus while he was getting oriented in British Columbia. In 1931, he went back to Finland to finally meet my grandmother, Tyyne Kattelus) in person; marry her; and, as a result, return with her back to Canada (all in one trip). It was a magnificent leap of faith. The words and the time that they took in their initial correspondence helped them to forge a strong enough belief in each other and their respective dreams, to act upon them.

Settling: After much hardship surviving the rough and undeveloped landscape around Field, BC, they eventually settled into Golden, BC where my mother and her two siblings grew up. They had a hard-working life amongst other Finnish settlers in the Columbia Valley with very little leisure time. I remember from my visits to their home that they were always working at something on their property: chopping wood, planting and harvesting the orchards and gardens, making carpets on the loom, etc. However, I especially enjoyed the hot steam saunas that we would share at the end of the day.

They had a small farm, a larger garden and ran properties within the town, while my grandfather worked on the CPR as a carpenter until he passed away and left my grandmother to tend all of it on her own. She took care of her property admirably until she passed away in her 90’s. In the end, they were well-respected members of their community, and she in particular as one of the oldest living Finnish pioneers. In retrospect, both of my grandparents were highly conservative people with an incredible aversion to risk and failure. They worked hard and were incredibly meticulous and careful about everything that they did. By nature, they were not prone to making large risky decisions.

Leaps of Faith: Sometimes our circumstances, personalities, dreams, fears and issues call us to make leaps of faith. I am always fascinated by what actually motivates people to take that final step. The idea of “readiness” is an important one, but sometimes, people may not be entirely prepared for the big jump, but they do it anyway. Why?

Impetus: I would suspect that sometimes people want to jump out of the fire, hoping that they will land anywhere but where they have been. The fire that they are escaping is burning them alive, and they need to jump away, just as people sometimes do from burning buildings. Other times, people believe that what they are jumping to is so incredible–this fantasy opportunity, that they will do anything to experience it. These motivators, I believe, are the two extremes on the leap of faith continuum and can also sometimes be equated with being “impulsive”. However, other leaps of faith happen for other reasons (sometimes ranging from the simple to the complex). The stories about why people make these life-changing decisions can be fascinating as each tale holds some very small detail of their impetus for change. “Impetus”, from the Latin word “Impetere” means “to attack”. It often involves the passion to actually “attack” our dreams.

Second-Order Change: However, what is even more fascinating to me is why so many of us don’t leap. Fear is the obvious reason. None of us like to be outside of our comfort zones for long. In some cases, it is wise to stay put, and be present in the now without having any need to search and grasp beyond this moment in time, place or people. However, there are times in our lives where if we pay close enough attention, we know that we need to make a change. However, sometimes, in order for the change to be the meaningful one that we know that it needs to be, it has be to be a big change. There is no other way around it. We can’t just talk about it. We can’t pick at it or tweak it. Instead, it needs to be true “second order change” (starting all over again and building from the ground up). It requires incredible courage and then fortitude to first make the change, and then to make the change work.

Commitment: I think of so many immigrants to Canada whose stories were successful ones. They made their decisions work. There was simply no choice. They had no safety net or people or finances. They just did it. Others pioneers, some from my father’s ancestral family (writing that I will save for another article), were not as successful. Therefore, leaps of faith require leaps of intentional action, but they also need steel-willed fortitude and calculated follow-through. It may not need to all be preemptively planned and orchestrated ahead of time, but there needs to be a deep commitment by the people involved so that they can draw upon it when they need to count on it for determination: “I am going to land on the other side, and I am going to enjoy the landing.”

Sisu: I write this article because I have taken a leap of faith moving to BC, and am now working on “enjoying the landing”. What will I need to do to be sure that I am happy and successful now that I have made the leap? It will continue to require of me a tenacity that is sometimes evasive. Therefore, I look to my Finnish ancestors as examples of those who took a leap of faith (independently and interdependently) and made it work on the other side. I have to trust that I, too, have this Finnish personality trait defined as “sisu” that my grandmother always said that I possessed. It means “bravery, determination and resilience”. In some cases, I also think there needs to be a measure of good luck, and so I will wish for a little of that as well.

“If we never had the courage to take a leap of faith, we’d be cheating God out of a chance to mount us up with wings like eagles and watch us soar.”
― Jen Stephens, The Heart’s Journey Home

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Twenty: Buying a Ticket

22 Jul

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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Twenty: Buying a Ticket

Being specific: Elizabeth Gilbert writes so eloquently in her book Eat Pray Love (2006) about being specific about what you want when you are seeking outwards into the universe:

Of course God already knows what I need. The question is—do I know? Casting yourself at God’s feet in helpless desperation is all well and good—heaven knows, I’ve done it myself plenty of times—but ultimately you’re likely to get more out of the experience if you can take some action on your end. There’s a wonderful old Italian joke about a poor man who goes to church every day and prays before the statue of a great saint, begging, “Dear saint—please, please, please…give me the grace to win the lottery.” This lament goes on for months. Finally the exasperated statue comes to life, looks down at the begging man and say in weary disgust, “My son—please, please, please…buy a ticket.” (Gilbert, 2006, p. 176)

I think we are often very general about what it is we are seeking. We tend to know that we want to feel healthy, happy and secure. We know when we experience joy and when we are not content in what we are doing. However, we are not always really clear about why things are positive or negative for us. I believe that finding some clarity for myself might improve the quality of my perspective and the success in achieving what works for me.

Sending out the wrong messages: We are often a bit more specific about what we don’t want. I know that of late, I have been pretty clear about what I do not like in life about people, lifestyle, and about society in general. If I am really honest with myself, I am learning that I have definite aversions to things, and I steer clear, giving a wide berth to these unpleasant things or people, very much like I used to do when approaching the skunks that would come up from the neighborhood park. Sometimes, I will go as far as getting up and walking in the other direction when negative things I do not like come up, saying to myself, “I do not need this right now”. However, when we pontificate about what we don’t want, we send energy into the universe about where it is we are “stuck”. I say stuck because things don’t tend to bother us if we are free of what it represents to us. As a result, the universe keeps sending us that energy as if to say, “Well, this is what you keep talking to us about, so I am just adding to the conversation.”

For example, I cannot stand the sound of electronics buzzing away, or distracting people. It represents to me noise, laziness and pop-culture gone wild with stimulation overload. In my childhood, I watched television passively suck up and waste much of my family’s time, and as a result I learned to stay clear and be selective of my screen time. I encouraged the same of my son who vehemently objected when I would impose electronic limits on him. Therefore, when I now meet people who watch sports all day on the television, or talk at length about their recent gaming escapades, I put two-and-two together and assume that they buy into those negative electronic attributes that I associate with recreational technology use. I step back from having relationships with people who can quickly list of their top twenty television or computer programs. With this being said, I do admire technology when used constructively and optimally in the educational or work place. I guess, to sum this up, people who even talk to me about recreational technology don’t have a hope of connecting with me, especially if they are trying to date me.

Buying a ticket: However, I long for something “else”—something off the “grid”, and yet I am not really specific about it, likely because I don’t truly know what it looks like. I have become a bit better in my 40’s about being clear about my intentions by designing some vision boards, or setting goals and ironically, many of these goals have come true. However, I have never really articulated what I “want” in detail for fear of seeming demanding, or greedy. God (or that special life force we call God–God in the spiritual sense of the collective energy around and within us) has bigger fish to fry than my less important requests. It was refreshing to read Gilbert’s Chapter 9 about petitioning God as she obviously felt similarly and her friend’s candid response was refreshing:

I don’t like asking, “Will you change this or that thing in my life that’s difficult for me?” Because—who know?—God might want me to be facing that particular challenge for a reason. Instead, I feel more comfortable praying for the courage to face whatever occurs in my life with equanimity, no matter how things turn out…”Where did you get the idea you aren’t allowed to petition the universe with prayer? You are part of this universe, Liz. You’re a constituent—you have every entitlement to participate in the actions of the universe, and to let your feelings be known. So put your opinion out there. Make your case. Believe me—it will at least be taken into consideration”. (Gilbert, 2006, p. 32)

So, I need to “buy the ticket” for the ride I really want to go on. However, now comes the bigger question, “Which ride is right for me, or which lottery do I want to win?” Life doesn’t present many second chances, although I am finding that it actually does give us some “re-do’s” unlike what the great philosophers profess about not being able to go back. We can stop and turn around and try again where we make the opportunity to do so. However, that turning around takes incredible willpower and fortitude, so it is sometimes best to be intentional and get it right the first time around.

Being clear: What do our minds, hearts and souls long for? I know that mine are getting clearer. I know that I want to learn about the world, but not so broadly that it is overwhelming. I want to learn how people find peace in themselves. What are people doing to be happy? What do they eat, seek and create to be the best that they can be? These questions will likely lead me to churches, spiritual rituals and celebrations, and, as well, fine art that demonstrates how people unearth their most important selves (sacred and secular). Therefore, I need to be open and clear about how I do it so I can reciprocate in this discovery process as I travel and grow. As a result, I need friends (or as Gilbert would say, “champions”) who are exceedingly strong and capable of this type of journey, and have set themselves up already to do this type of self-reflection and exploration alongside me.

It is interesting that my son is a sociology major. I think we have been talking about people for a long time together as he grew up. I envy him his post-secondary studies learning about societies around the world. I miss school, but school is second-hand learning that inspires us to get out and see things first hand and begin making positive first and second order changes in our local and global communities. I have been in school long enough. I am now ready to do my learning first hand and viscerally touch the things and places; smell the aromas and taste the food that inspire people to be happy and healthy. My new experiences in the Comox Valley have taught me that we all live differently, and we are all spiritually seeking “something” even when we do not know it. The key is to be clear about it, and in the next few weeks, I hope to map out exactly what I hope to petition from the universe.

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

8 May

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

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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.

Pressed: Fifty-Two Weeks Being Now: Week Twelve: Into the World of New Relationships

3 Dec

Fifty-Two Weeks Being Now: Week Twelve: Into the World of New Relationships.

wine in Hope Bay Cafe

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Twelve: Into the World of New Relationships

New people: It is becoming more apparent to me as I continue in my 52 week experiment with a new life in a new place, that I am being very thoughtful of whom I will be in a relationship with (acquaintances, friendships or intimate partnerships). Now that I have the blessing of people wanting to get to know me, and to feel that I want to know them, I am considering the topic of relationships a bit more carefully. Perhaps I came to a new place to be sure that my time with people was authentic and valuable to both them, and as well, myself.

On the intimate relationship front, despite people thinking I should just dive into the culture and the relationship dating scene, this is a bit easier said than done. I think that if people in general are comfortable being alone and enjoying our own company, we do not feel compelled to rush in and risk unhealthy habits or companionship to fill our time. As well, not everyone is going to find what I have to offer interesting or a good fit for them either, so the explosion of “the right” chemistry with people is not always easy to find. However, I am finding it, and now I have to really think about what it is that I want in my life. Life is a lot less complicated “sans people”, but much less rewarding.

I have done the hard work to get to a healthy place in my life. Now, relationships have the potential to further expand my life or, as I have experienced in the past, make it smaller. I ask myself this about relationships in general: “What makes me the best that I can be and gives me more energy than it costs me most of the time?” This sounds a bit calculated, but I think it is an intentional way to be.

Biology: I think that people as a whole need to really listen to our bodies and ask ourselves important questions. At a recent presentation given by an educational expert named John Abbott (November, 2012), talked about our strong biological programming. When we kiss, he explained, we know almost instantly who we should be with or not. Our tongue and saliva have been programmed to rule out people that might be related or a bad physical match for us. So, that “bad” kiss we have all experienced was truly trying to tell us something. As we get older, our radar goes beyond “the kiss” and we pay attention to other red flags.

I am aware that human insecurities can sometimes make us perceive warning signals that may not actually be there, and it is wise to be careful that we are not merely making excuses for not being intimate. Being emotionally unavailable is fearful living that impedes a healthy and enlightened consciousness. So, the balance is between finding how to be both judicious and courageous about new relationships. And when I do allow people into my life in various types of relationship, I need to “recognize that the reason [I’m] in the relationship is to learn about [myself] and deepen [my] connection with the universe. So healthy relationships are based not on neediness but on the passion and excitement of sharing the journey into becoming a whole person” (Gawain, 1993, p. 56).

Asking the right questions: Just as it is interesting considering the matter of being in relationship with people, it is interesting to watch other people who are seeking or holding on to relationships. I have noticed that people are pretty tentative about showing who they are to people unless they feel that they can trust them. This is difficult to do in the cyber age where many people are meeting each other online and often demonstrate a failure to launch their interests from the virtual world into real-life connections. It is also difficult to do where trust has been broken in an existing relationship.

What is ideal is to have the opportunity to meet or re-connect with someone and look each other in the eye (and appropriately), ask the hard questions and then truly listen to the answers given. Being intentional rules out a lot of the margin of error we experience when we are just going with our “gut”. No one likes to be interviewed, but whether we want to admit it or not, we are always consciously and unconsciously interviewing people as we determine our next steps in any kind of relationship:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your essential raison d’etre?
  • What do you have to offer me that will make my life a better experience?
  • What can I offer you that will make your life more rewarding?
  • What do you want from me most?
  • How will you handle problems that will inevitably arise?
  • Can I trust you?
  • Will you like or love me for the person I am most often?
  • Will I have something to learn from you so that I will change and grow for the better because change is inevitable (although my essential being is already established)?
  • What will we do and make meaning of together?
  • Are we a good fit for each other as acquaintances, friends or lovers?
  • What must we do to continually strengthen the relationship?

If we are honest in our questions, we need to encourage honest answers through our conversations or experiences with each other. By doing so, we learn pretty quickly who fits and who doesn’t.

The grass is greener: I always find it ironic that my married friends admire my singleness, reminding me that cohabitating bliss is not always a splendid thing. “Freedom”, they remind me, is everything. We single folk often wonder what it would be like to be “normal” like everyone else and have that reliable person in our lives forever and ever. So, if freedom is what married people envy in single people, how can we have freedom within a relationship? Inevitably, the matter of doing what one wants gets compromised by another person, especially where power, control, insecurity, distrust and martyrdom get in the way.

I suppose that finding a good match is the key. However, I remember being at a film conference for work in the Kananaskis a decade ago where I had to review dozens of videos on relationships. One stands out in my mind (although I cannot remember the title) that indicated that there are only approximately 20 percent of relationships that are truly healthy because there are no healthy relationships without healthy individuals (emotionally and socially). Most relationships are based on codependent neuroses and result in difficulties and despair. People are reduced to the weakest neurotic tendency of the weakest partner. Tolle reiterates this point in his eye opening (and somewhat depressing) chapter about relationships in The Power of Now (1997).

Women have some things figured out: At the risk of sounding like a raging feminist or a delinquent generalist (these are only my observations), I find that 40-something women start to come alive at this time in their lives (Tolle, 1997). They find their voices. They are stronger and seem to know where they are going. 40-something men, I am finding, are struggling a bit with their identities. They have either raised and are now consumed by children who are very young or getting close to young adulthood, and have had or continue to have successful careers to provide for themselves and their families (and to define them as individuals); Or they are looking to have children, and find new life paths that are more rewarding—a second chance at youth because they were too busy or non-committal the first time around with what they found to be other priorities.

Women, on the other hand, have often have gone to counseling, read a zillion books, talked to their friends for hours and hours figuring out who they are and what they need as they accept that they are now moving into a new era of their lives. They are often fulfilled as parents, or have to accept that they can no longer have children. Most women that I am meeting are thrilled about a new sense of purpose and freedom that comes with these life changes. They now have time for themselves and each other, and are not interested in continuing on in the same nurturing roles that they have typically assumed in their relationships. They are entering into a new stage of their lives.

Happy endings: What I am learning is that there are no happy endings. “Happy” and “ending” seem a bit oxymoronic to me. Instead, I think we are always in transition, and the only real ending (and I am dubious even that that is an ending) is death. So, to speak about endings feels to me to be static and unappealing. Even my parents, who are celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year, would not describe their life together as “blissful”. It has been filled with the ebb and flow of what most long term relationships seem to host. Each up and down cycle has been filled with both beginnings and endings as they grew and changed over five decades together.

I believe that if we are fortunate enough to spend a wonderful evening, year or decade with a person, we are blessed. Spending a lifetime together could be the penultimate goal, or could be the death Nell expectation of a good relationship that was intended to have a shorter life span. The happiness now is the key. Does that mean we can go out and have multiple one-night-stands to live in the moment? I suppose it could mean that, although I don’t think that is what would fill me up. What I think it means is that one positive connection leads to the next, and then to the next. If we find love in all of that, we are blessed; and in finding it, we need to protect and nurture it.

I am optimistic that as I have had before, I will continue to experience meaningful and loving connections with new people in my new life in BC (and beyond). The key is to be present enough to decide what relationships I am attracting, allowing into my life, and then choosing to sustain so that I can be best I can be, and, in turn, offer the same to someone else.