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

22 Jun

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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

 

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52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Eight: What Happens When God Answers?

10 Jun

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Getting Bossy with God:  Elizabeth Gilbert references in her book entitled Eat, Pray, Love this idea of petitioning God for what we want. Earlier this year, I made a very deliberate request to have certain things happen to me in order for me to be the best that I could be for myself and everyone around me.  It felt a bit like bargaining with God and saying, “Look God, I have been waiting for a long time to find, accomplish or experience certain things in my life, and I am determined to make this happen.  Your help is required, and I hope that you will ‘step up’ and help make it happen.  If you do, I can fulfill my dreams and be in a place of greater abundance to help others as well”.  It was not a typical experience to negotiate with God as a conservative Protestant who was always a little bit shy to ask the universe for anything knowing that I am better off than most people around the world.

However, I had been waiting 49 years for one very important thing in my life–a relationship with someone special–a champion.  I wanted a relationship in this new and wonderful place where I had dared to start a new life on Vancouver Island.  People were starting to worry about me being alone, saying things like, “There is no perfect person out there, and you might have to lower your standards.”  I always shook my head and responded quite confidently, and convincingly (even to myself) that I knew what I was looking for.  I would find it, and when I met him, I would know it.

One of my friends asked me, “What if you had to wait until your next life time to meet someone?  What if you are not intended to meet this person now or any time soon?”  I replied pretty definitively, “No, I am not prepared to wait on this one, nor die in order to experience another lifetime to do so.  I am going to get bossy with God and say exactly what I want, and when I want it.”  The deal that I had made explicitly with God was this:  Meeting someone special to share a life with would need to happen before I turned 50 years old.  This relationship would need to be a good fit, and so much so that I would feel very “wowwed” by this person.  The “wow” factor was something very important to me.

She continued to debate the matter, “You don’t need to have someone in your life.  When you are ready to really love yourself, you will not need anyone else, or you will attract someone to you who loves you just for you.”   Of course she is correct.  This is absolutely the case.  I have spent many years learning how to love and respect myself on many levels and for many personal and professional outcomes, not just finding a partner.  However, I felt ready.  In fact, I was liking myself so much that I was starting to choose my own company instead of going out with people on dates on the off-chance that they didn’t have crazy deal-breaking habits that I could not overlook (smoking dope, lying, being married, being a workaholic, posting naked pictures online, cheating, anger management issues, addictions, etc.)

And then one day…just when I was pretty close to closing down my online dating site (as it always seemed a bit more like viewing America-Canada’s Most Wanted than a perfect life mate), I got a message.  He commented on my profile picture that happened to be a picture of me in the exact same setting as his profile picture on the top of Mt. Maxwell on Saltspring Island.  We were posed similarly, and had the same gorgeous Gulf Island view behind us.  I was in a practical mode of thinking at that point, to meet over coffee.  My observation in the cyber dating world was that there is a serious “failure to launch in the real world” phenomenon of emailing and texting, and I was not interested in this type of protracted dating process with little outcome.  Given some recent dating encounters that I had experienced since I had moved here, a couple of which had gotten my hopes up about, I did not want to invest too much energy and hope into something until I investigated the situation first hand.

We efficiently negotiated our early morning meeting time and place like a business deal in a quick phone call.  It felt like a business transaction.  You can tell a lot about someone by their ability to engage in a phone call.  He was polite, responded to my questions, and asked me a bit about myself.  I had been used to phone conversations where I either had to carry the entire interaction, or had to sit listening in a zoned out state of utter disengagement.  Instead, this gentleman had phone call etiquette figured out, and I liked him immediately.  I reminded him that I would prefer to meet him in person instead of walking in the woods alone with a stranger, which was his original suggestion.  I joked that I might be an axe murderer, and it might be in his best interests to meet me in a public place.  He agreed.  We met for breakfast in downtown Courtenay.

At First Glance:  It did not take long for me to know that I would love this man.  Not only did we like the same food, but we loved to hike.  We quickly decided to go on a walk by the ocean, and I noticed that we were literally tripping over ourselves to talk about what we liked to do; and the types of experiences we hoped to have in our lives.  We did not talk about our personal lives (families, ex’s or anything really intimate).   It was an immense relief not to be interrogated by someone about personal matters that I preferred left to a later time.

The topic of travelling quickly identified itself as a priority to us.  I had done more than him, but he was keen about it.  He had lived a few places around the world because his father had been in the military, and liked being centered in a home base on the island.  I had lived in one solitary city all of my life, and had travelled to escape the monotony of living in one city for my whole life.  However, we both agreed that as we approached turning 50 (although he was quick to remind me that he was 10 months behind me from doing so) that we had to start putting some other priorities ahead of work and family.  It was quickly apparent that we were the responsible types, used to taking care of other people–the stable, yet predictable backbone of society that had the potential of propping up others instead of ourselves.

At one point on my dating site, I had simply asked, “Who is interested in travelling the world?”  I had a couple of responses, but none that were very serious about the idea.  Most men wanted to travel the world (and never had), and those who had travelled the world were somewhere else in the world at this time living a nomadic experience far beyond my reach.  This fellow seemed tenuous about life changes, but keen to reconsider a life plan where he was presently working in Fort McMurray to frugally save and help support his family.  I presented to him early on in our walk, the fact that at some point soon, I intended to quit work and travel the world.  He did not baulk at my candid admission which I usually used to scare men who lacked any sense of wonder and adventure, away.  However, in his own even-tempered way, he considered my question, and he seemed interested.

See You Around Sometime:  However, just when I though the date had gone well, he dropped me off at the car, and left me with the words, “I had a great time.  Give me a call if you would like to do something outdoors.  I hope to see you around sometime.”  I smiled, and thought to myself, “Like hell…”  I have never been interested in passive men lacking initiative, and especially a man who would choose to leave me to ask him out on a second date after one that I felt had gone very well.  I smiled and said, “See you around sometime,” and walked away.  As I drove home, I thought to myself glibly, “Well, you win some and you lose some.”

The next day I got a text.  He invited me out for a date for dinner.  A text, I pondered, was not the best way to be asked anyone out, especially me, but it was a start.  I contemplated the demise of our social norms as texting in sound-bytes in incomplete sentences and poor spelling or grammar was quickly becoming the new social reality.  I had grown up in a face-to-face age.  However, I decided that I would meet him again because I had enjoyed our first date.

Oh, by the way…:  Somewhere between a walk on Goose Spit in the Comox Harbour and our date for dinner at the Atlas Cafe, I knew that something magical was happening to us.  We talked about very innocuous things–in fact, we talked a lot about nothing at all.  We spent most of our evening talking about places we had been and food that we liked to cook.  I liked the simplicity of the encounter, and his good humor in response to most topics.  He was witty, and made me feel interesting.  The conversation was easy, and it was pretty apparent that we shared some similarities that we marveled at each time something came up that we had in common exclaiming, “Me too!” numerous times throughout the evening.  It was obvious that we had good connection.

He drove me home, and kept his hands nervously on the steering wheel as we said our good nights.  I asked for a hug, and we awkwardly exchanged ones in the confines of his sports car.  He mentioned just as I was leaving, “Oh, by the way, I will be away for three weeks with work.”  Long distance was not something that I had met with success in my life.  In fact, no one I knew had ever found it very easy.  I was alarmed that I had the good fortune of meeting someone so special, but would be yanked away from building this connection any further for almost a month.

I smiled.  I said good-bye, and made a decision to answer God.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Forty-Seven: Pulling the Pieces of Turning 50 Together

5 Apr

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Life is a Gigantic Jigsaw Puzzle:  I am learning that life is a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.  Unbeknownst to me, God has been slipping me little pieces of my life puzzle all along.  For the first part of my life, I didn’t know that I was receiving the pieces in the first place.  In the latter part of my life, I wasn’t really sure what to do with them.  However, all of a sudden, the puzzle is taking shape.  I see the pieces and am fitting them into place:

My Parents:  My parents set me off on a journey in the key of E flat major, and that is where I have been setting my melody line ever since.  It has been a good key, and when I modulate to another one, I always find myself resolving back to my original key.  I determined some fundamental values on which I guide my life around their life principles.  In many ways, they set the bar very high for how I operate in the world because they were honest, fair, and incredibly authentic.  For some of my life, I have been disappointed to learn that not everyone operates in this transparent way.  How fortunate to know that this moral compass that they gave me has guided me through some tricky terrain, and back to myself again.  The puzzle piece that they gave me was to be honest.

My Sister:   Five years after me, an annoying young baby that cried all of the time, joined me in the world.  I was not impressed by the whole situation, but there she was.  I had to like it or lump it, and fortunately, she became a wonderful part of my life.  She is teaching me a lot about this idea of accepting people for who they are.  My younger sister has become a wise mentor to me in ways that I had not anticipated.  She grounds me in good advice regardless of my confusing life choices.  She appreciates me for my high spirit and always gives me space to return home over and over again, regardless of the challenges.

My Son:  My son is my legacy.  It dawns on me now that all of the music that I wrote in the beginning of my life (and has lay dormant for a while), has been waiting to be produced, published and presented to the world by my son.  He just offered to put my songs that I painstaking composed onto staff paper, into his new technology and sound equipment so that I can finally share it in bigger and better ways.  I had to nurture a musical son so that he could see my music through to completion.  He also wants to do so to better understand some of the melodic and harmonic principles that I studied and then taught as a music teacher.  What a fabulous gift to learn that sometimes our children see our life dreams through to completion when we no longer have the fortitude or the insight to do so.

My Childhood Friends:  My friends have been coming through for me in very integral ways.  My childhood friends are those big obvious pieces of my puzzle that have been slotting very easily into places.  They were there all along, and I am just beginning to see how they fill up my life in profound and wonderful ways.  Like siblings, these crazy people just seem to stick around and be there for me even when I don’t see them in a while.  I am very blessed to know that I am accepted for exactly who I am for an entire lifetime.  Home will always be where my childhood friends and family reside.

My New Friends:  Making new friends in a new culture is not always an easy thing to do.  I cannot rest on my laurels and expect new people to love me for who I am.  It takes time to garner trust, and to show them that I am trustworthy.  However, a few people have risen to the task of letting me into their lives, and have offered me a fresh start in new relationships.  These people have decided to accept me at this point in my life without any preconceived notions—baggage free.  It is liberating to be liked for exactly who I am at this very point in my journey.  It allows me to reinvent myself a bit as I make these new connections.  I am not exactly who I was 40—30—20 years ago.

My Life Work:  I am just learning that the job that I go to every day is not necessarily meant to be my life work.  This realization that our life calling is not always our eight to five paying job can be both disconcerting and motivating.  I realize that I must now reconcile the two and make the time that I spend daily go towards fulfilling the dreams that I have to write, research and teach.  My life path has presented me with serendipitous connections so that I can see this idea of my spiritual vocation very clearly.  However, it hasn’t been until recently that I now know that I need to take risks in order to satisfy my true reason for being on this earth.

Travelling:  My brain gets bogged down in neural ruts.  My drug is travel.  Seeing new people and places where I have never been before, allows me to reinvigorate who I am in the moment to moment of each new experience.  I stay young because I make a concerted effort to experience new things every day of my life in my home and in the world around me.  Travelling locally, nationally and internationally has turned me into a much better human being because it has taught me that the whole world is universally connected to me.  I appreciate every new experience with gratitude because it teaches me something new about the people around me, and in turn, about myself.  Each trip has brought me some new piece of wisdom that was sitting inside of me all along, but I had never tapped into it until I went away to find it.

The Arts:  What re-energizes my soul whenever it is a bit down and droopy is a night of live music, a visit to the art gallery, or enjoying some live theatre.  All of this creativity inspires me to be creative myself.  Being in the presence of imagination spawns innovative thinking and feeling deep inside of me in ways that help me to grow and learn.  I truly believe that this highly charged artistic world keeps me young when I make the impetus to tap into it.  I am drawn to people who initiate inventive thinking because they influence my journey in very powerful ways.  The world is not meant to be seen as only a series of logical outcome.  It is meant to be experienced as a magical encounter, and I believe that this best happens through the arts.

Animals:  I had pets in my younger life.  Unfortunately, they were all killed on a road, or died by terrible natural and unnatural causes.  I did have one stray pussy cat (that my father was not terribly thrilled to keep around) for sixteen years, and this little tabby taught me a lot about love and friendship.  Recently, I am learning that having two little ginger tabbies brings me incredible joy.  I am learning empathy and understanding by responding to the tiny needs that they require of me everyday.  It brings me great pleasure to fulfill their little routines and small pleasures.  Animals are so simple, and yet, so capable of generating incredible tenderness from the people who they love and love them back.  I had forgotten how important animals can be to me.

Nature:  I have learned that being in woods is my sacred space.  I am always fortified by the glory of the green that surrounds me in the wilderness on Vancouver Island.  This place that I was drawn to from childhood has now become my home.  I may travel far and wide, but the Pacific North West Islands of Canada are where I feel most connected to the earth and my own spirit.  I hope to share this with the important people in my life so that we can truly learn about how the forests nourish us as human beings.  I find it very romantic to be given flowers because they are a gift from nature.  However, I have removed all of the house plants from my home because I believe that living plants need to be outdoors, and it is there where I choose to enjoy them.

Love:   I have loved many people in my lifetime with complete and utter abandonment.  Many people have pursued me with this idea that they love me too.  However, real love has been a truly elusive experience for me.  Complete and unconditional love has evaded me most of my lifetime (except for my family and friends), potentially because I learned too late in life that I had to really love myself first with all of my strengths, foibles and insecurities before I could love another.  In doing so, I am now able to present outwardly who I really am, and attract someone who is a good fit for both of us.  I have learned that my soul has to be a true expression of my heart’s desires in order for it to find its match in the universe.  As well, I have learned that love is a verb.  If someone really loves me, they say what they mean and do what they say.

Looking Backwards:  Turning 50 is a big deal.  Anyone who says otherwise is a bit delusional about getting older.  To turn 50 is to see an entire half of a century unfold in unique and wonderful ways.  It is to be able to go into museums and say, “Hey, I used that telephone years ago.  I learned to sew on that treadle sewing machine.  My grandmother cooked on that wooden stove.  My mother did her weaving on this type of loom… etc.”  I can no longer go into a museum without realizing that I have lived part of its history.  From these living archives, I discover from where I have come, and then consider where I am going next.

As I enter the next half of my century, the little discreet pieces of my life are finally coming together because I am finally paying attention to them.  I can see the puzzle taking shape, and am marvelling at the picture developing in front of me.  The picture is not exactly what I had anticipated at the outset of my life.  It is becoming a whole living artifact.  If I squint my eyes tightly, I can see the emerging picture.  It looks a bit to me like a dense forest of Douglas Fir and cedar trees growing beside the ocean.  The sun is shining through the fern foliage, and a waterfall bursts from a crevice in the cliffs nearby. I think it is a picture of home.

“You’ve got to find yourself first. Everything else’ll follow.” 

Charles de Lint, Dreams Underfoot