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Pressed:  The Forest Chapel: A Short Story

3 Aug

Source: The Forest Chapel: A Short Story

The Forest Chapel

by

Shelley Robinson

The massive front door made of Douglas fir planks blocked me from entering.  The little sign hanging from a single nail, said, “Closed Today”.  I was disappointed because I had made it my habit of coming to this heritage lodge.  It had become my rustic forest chapel surrounded by enormous legacy trees that guarded over it like faithful soldiers.  Over one hundred species of tree seeds brought back by the owners from countries around the world, had been planted here. Logging had been what helped them build their empire and beautiful home.  As a result, cedar and Douglas Fir were used to build and decorate the interior.

Today, the quiet visit that I had anticipated here was put to an unfortunate halt.  I peeked through the mottled hand-blown window glass, wondering if maybe there was a mistake.  ‘Surely there were some people inside’, I hoped.  I strained to see the grand yew staircase, with its one large bannister limb reaching down to the newel post at the bottom.  Everything about this lodge was about trees.  Trees fortified it with its posts and beams, and fuelled it in the large stone fireplace.  The energy that it imbued provided respite from a stressful life.

Because the house was closed, I was relegated to the front covered veranda.  Two drift wood lounge chairs welcomed me to sit.  I had an eery fixation with this place. Sometimes, I would come here and listen.  My adult son had commented when he had visited here, “I can feel the ghosts in this house, Mom.”   He was a big believer in the paranormal; whereas, I was a skeptical believer.  If there had been ghosts, I would have seen some by now in my five-plus decades on earth.  No angels, ghosts or demons had ever come to say hello and actually pay me a visit.  However, I had always felt some strange connections to buildings in the past.  I sometimes heard, smelled, and witnessed things that were a bit unusual.

“Is it open?”  I turned to see a tall backpacker approach.  He sported a paisley bandana and sunglasses, and carried a large overnight backpack.  He clunked up the stairs with large shoe-laceless hiking boots.

“No,” I answered disappointedly.  “It usually is, but I’m not sure what is happening today.”

He smiled slowly revealing a large toothy grin.  “That’s too bad.”  He looked to be nearly half my age and a well-seasoned traveller with all of his weathered gear.  He seemed to be relaxed in his Bohemian lifestyle that I might have embraced if I had had another lifetime to trek around the world.

I nodded, unwilling to share with him my irrational preoccupation with the estate.   He took off his pack and sat down in the other chair.  He pulled out his water bottle, and drank most of it.  He explained, “I am related to the owners.  That’s why I came.”

“Are you the long lost grandchild due to inherit all of it?”  I joked.

“Wouldn’t that be interesting if I was,” he laughed, appreciating the possibility as he looked up at the building.  “No, I am related to the cousin of the owner’s daughter somehow.  My mother used to talk about this family like they were the royal family.”

“They had a strange history.” I explained my limited knowledge of it.  “He inherited the money by marrying his wife and working his way into the family logging empire.  In the end, he was the last surviving of his two children, who died fairly young, shortly after their mother.  It was all very sad.”   I was momentarily distracted by the pretty pink hollyhocks knocking up against the porch front.

“You know quite a bit about the owners,” he mused looking around at the acres of manicured gardens leading away from the forest and down to the Comox Bay.  In the distance, the Beaufort Mountain Range and its white glacier framed this pretty ocean paradise set in the Valley of the Whale.

“Not really.  I did a bit of reading, but there’s not much to learn about it aside from what the tour guides tell us.  I just like sitting in the quiet of it when no one is around.  I suppose I come here expecting answers. I listen for some kind of advice from the walls,”  I admitted to myself and to him.

“The walls…” I could feel him summing me up as a bit odd, and he was likely correct.  He contemplated my strange disclosure for a while, and then said, “I do that too.  I look for answers in odd places, especially in nature.  What are you hoping to learn?”

“I want to learn why I keep coming back here.  Every time I do, I see things changing inside of the house.  I feel a conversation stirring inside of me as if there is something on the tip of my tongue that needs to be spoken.  There are also smells…”

“What kind of smells?”  he pondered.

“Apple pie; a man’s cologne; and roses…lots of roses…oh…and strong cigars.  I can almost see the smoke.  It all happens when no one is around, nor when anyone nearby would be making these smells,”  I tried to change the topic.  “But no matter, I just enjoy the place.”

He sat back in the chair, and folded his arms.  “I am a little bit psychic sometimes,” he spoke tentatively.  It was my turn to wonder if he was a bit daft and disoriented, or in these parts, maybe a bit under the “influence”.  “I have spoken to ghosts,” he said convincingly in a whisper as he leaned in to me to explain further.

The elderly lodge caretake interrupted coming up the steps.  “Can I help you?” the portly older man with an uncomfortable looking limp, stopped to inquire of our loitering.

“We were wondering why the house is closed,”  I prompted him to explain why to my myself and the backpacker friend who had introduced himself to me as James after complimenting on my long hair.  “This fellow here came to see the house because he is related to the owners.”

***

“You may kiss the bride,” the minister announced.  We leaned in to kiss each other very passionately, and then turned, almost surprised to see to the house full of guests.  They clapped in celebration, recognizing the joy we were experiencing together.  We had finally found each other, and we were thoroughly caught up in this special moment.  “We’d like to invite everyone into the dining room to enjoy some wine and toasts,” my new husband, Chris, cleared his voice and announced.  He was very handsome in his dark pin-stripe suit.  His red rose boutonniere complimented the white and red rose flower arrangements that had been brought in by my family.  It was Christmas time, and we stood in front of the Christmas tree, humouring my father for a couple of pictures before heading to the other room.  

“You have finally found each other…” my best friend began her toast, while my other friends filled up their glasses with champagne in preparation to raise them in good cheer.  The rest of her toast was a bit of a blur to me as she reminisced about my childhood, and some of my accomplishments.  I was also distracted by my husband who leaned in to kiss me on the head during it.  I could smell his sweet cologne, and could sense his excitement and fatigue from the many days of preparation that had led up to this special day.  It was both a triumph and a relief to have it all come together in such a beautiful venue.  I had always liked this house. I had doubted that I would ever marry at all, let alone in such a special place which sometimes felt to be more a church than a heritage home. 

We could smell my sister’s apple pies cooking in the kitchen.  It had been decided that it would be an old-fashioned wedding and what better way with which to bring in a new life together than with the taste of her nutmeg and cinnamon seasoned dessert.  However, there were more toasts, first by my husband’s brother, and then by my other friend, who broke into tears before getting very far in her speech.  It was all a bit of a dream for me, as I had wondered how it all happened so quickly.  

We met each other over coffee, and we spent our first date exploring the park around this very house.  Then, on our second date, we walked further over to the spit, and enjoyed a beach fire by the ocean.   From there, our lives together unfolded naturally, as we shared a mutual love of hiking in the trees.  He would laugh when I would go up to an old-growth Douglas Firs and sacredly hold my hands on their trunks.  I had been told that these parent trees nurtured the smaller ones in the forest.  I believed that they gave me energy too.  We were tree huggers, and for us, there was no finer place in which to share our vows than in a home and park dedicated to appreciating them right along the harbour front. 

It was raining and we wrapped our arms around each other.  The damp pungent smells of the cedar shingles, and the fragrant foliage that stayed green here even into the middle of winter, sharpened our senses to this magical evening.  We sat under the tin roof of the veranda, and Chris pulled me in to him, savouring this quiet moment together before we headed back into the lively celebration. “I love you beyond belief,” he whispered. 

***

“Just come on in,” the lodge caretaker laughed, amused by our interest in the house.  “I have dishes to clean up from the wedding this afternoon.  You can poke around.  I’ll be here an hour or so.”  He pulled out a key chain with dozens of keys on it, and opened the front door.  We were welcomed into the woody living room with hand-woven Persian rugs.  This cozy sanctuary was filled with antique, hand-made mahogany and oak furniture surrounding a large stone fire place that still burned wood on special occasions. “Please take off your shoes,” he looked at James dirty boots and backpack.

“Amazing,” James exclaimed.  We wandered into the dining room with rough cut Douglas fir planks across the ceiling.  A used silver tea service was spread out over the dining room table.  We stepped down into the little breakfast nook and admired the mosaic floor with its inlaid multi-coloured tiles.  They had been brought over in the ballast of ships from the Far East for lumber.  “There is such a powerful energy here.”  He looked carefully at the family pictures on the wall, reading about the family history.  There was one of the owner’s daughter and the owner on the front steps of the lodge where we had been sitting earlier.  She was joyful in her wedding dress, holding wild flowers.  The owner looked on at her with pride.  The photo captured this family in its golden years, and it was with sadness that I thought of everyone who had lived here, and were now gone.

He came over to me and spoke quietly so that only I could hear him.  “I think that this house holds memories of the past and the future in it.”  He reminded me of his son in his youthful belief of mysterious and unexplainable things.

“How can you have a memory of the future?”

“This house seems to have something prophetic about it.  I don’t know if I would call it a memory.  It just gives me some feelings of things to come.”  He touched the heavy wooden mantlepiece above the fireplace.

“What kinds of messages?”  I had been alone for along time.  I always liked to speculate what lay ahead me.  I had many tarot card readings foretelling pretty average events.  Most were vague and inarticulate at best.  I wished that somehow I could know what lay ahead for me.  Would I grow into my older years alone?

“I feel something about you.  You are attached to this home in the past and in the future.  Have you ever been here before?”

“I don’t think so,” but I tried to think about where I might have somehow come across this lovely place in my history.  My family had come over to the island when I was a child, but I had no real recollection of it.

***

The men’s laughter rang through the night louder than the rain that pelted overhead onto the tin roof of the veranda.  They spoke heartily about the deal of the day.  “…and I told him to bugger off if he didn’t have the cash for the lumber.”  All five older gentleman dressed in distinguished evening attire laughed in unison enjoying their whisky and lox.  He pulled out a cigar and clipped the end of it in a definitive stroke, and then handed the cigar clipper over to his friend who did the same.  They savoured the slow catching of the flames before inhaling them.  “Dad,” a woman poked her head out of the front door.  “Can I talk to you?”  

“Sure,” he responded, handing his cigar to a friend with a pat on the back, excusing himself.  He followed her into the lodge, past guests in the living room, with whom he shook hands.  They ended up in the sitting room of the master bedroom, where she sat with him on one of the sofas.  

“I am not sure that I can keep doing it,” she confided to him.  “He has been moody and unpredictable.  I am exhausted with all of the money he has been spending lately.”  She looked over as a little girl peeked around the corner, looking up at them shyly as she made her way from the bathroom back towards the living room to find her parents again.  Mary smiled and beckoned the girl over to her, and had her sit between them, playing with her long red curls as the girl looked up at them through sleepy eyes.  

“I don’t know what to tell you.  Marriage isn’t easy, Dear. It seems like yesterday when you were the bride here in this house.  I think you have to talk to him and make it work,” he looked into her sad eyes, and offered, “Would you like me to talk to him?”

“No,” she was quick to reply.  “He would be furious.”  She started to cough. “We have to get back in and pay our respects to the beautiful bride.  She is such a lovely New Year’s bride, isn’t she, Dad?  She has so much hope for the future, doesn’t she?…”  She sighed.

“Yes, she does,” he held her hand.  “1967 is going to be a good year for all of us. You lie down,” he pulled her in for a hug and then encouraged her to rest.  “You don’t look well.  I’ll pass on your best wishes to the new couple.”  

“Okay,” she agreed.  She never left a social occasion early. He held out his hand to the small girl who looked up at them with wide green eyes.  “And we need to find your parents, Missee,” he smiled down at her, and then led her out to the living room.

***

“It’s a beautiful place,” James looked around and then down at his phone where he typed a message.  He looked up at me and then spoke a bit distractedly.  “I do feel the energy that you are talking about.”  We had wandered around the upstairs and we ended up in the owner’s daughter’s bedroom.

“Apparently this room has been reported to have ‘an unexplained chilly draft in one part of this room’”, I read the description of the room posted on the wall.  “‘Over the years, various lodge caretakers and workers have reported sensing a ghostly, yet benevolent, presence about the property, particularly in the owner’s former bedroom’.  Spooky!”  I turned to James and we both looked out of the room with a stunning view of harbour.  “This is the room where I smell a lot of lavender.  I asked the lodge caretaker before if they used lavender oils or perfume in the room, and he said that they do not.  He also confirmed that there was no longer lavender on the grounds because it was sometimes invasive to other flowers.”

James turned to with a strange look in his eyes.  “I think you will have a significant moment in this room.”

“Really?  Unless I break in here at night, I don’t think anything really interesting can really happen to me here with all of the tourist traffic,”  I teased.

His phone chirped again, and he made apologies.  “My girlfriend is texting me, and I’m going to have to go.”  I was taken aback by the abrupt ending to our brief encounter.  He continued, “It was nice meeting you.  Remember, good things are going to happen to you in this house.”  He said a quick good-bye, leaving me to wonder about where he would end up.  I was left alone in the quiet of the house.  I explored the adjoining dressing room with its built-in cupboards, and coal fireplace.  I felt a presence, and heard a hint of laughter, but I wasn’t sure if it was my over-active imagination.  I stayed still, listening.

***

“She is so perfect,” I held my sleeping grand-daughter, Jane, breathing in her lavender talcum powder while her mother, Andrea, explored the room. Jane’s little eye lashes fluttered and her tiny fingers twitched while she slept in my arms.  I was in love with this little biological heirloom that my son and his wife had given our family

“This is an amazing house,” Andrea exclaimed as she wandered around the room, appreciating all of the antiques.  “Do you think this room is really haunted?” 

“I don’t know.  I’ve always felt like it had something magical about it.  Now you are here to share it with me,” I revelled in the intimacy of this moment together, just the three of us.  

“It looks like they are setting up for a wedding on the front lawn?” she pointed down to a man who was setting up a table next to a full garden of pink hollyhocks.  I leaned out of the open window, and recognized him. I couldn’t quite place where I had met him.  He looked up to the window that we were leaning from, and squinted up at us.  

“Hey, Christine,” he seemed excited to see me.  “Remember me?”  

“No,” I yelled back, smiling.  My daughter-in-law’s awkward laughter suggested that this might have been a forgotten lover from days gone by.  

“I’m James…”

Like a slow processing computer, my mind finally crunched out a memory of my very brief encounter with this man.  “James!  The backpacker.  I remember you.  God, it has been almost ten years.  Do you work here now?”

“I took over that old caretaker’s job.  It helped to be a long lost relative.  I love the trees, and hell, the pay was pretty good.   I got married too.  We live in the little cottage behind the house in the forest,” and as an after thought he blurted, “…and you still have that pretty long red hair.”

I smiled a bit awkwardly.  The dots in my head were starting to re-connect the many pieces of the puzzle of this house that we had spoken briefly about a decade ago.  “I got married too, and we got married here in this house. This is my daughter-in-law, and their baby!”  We both waved a bit awkwardly to him, holding up the sleeping baby who was oblivious to our hollering back and forth.

He gave us a thumbs up and flashed us those big white teeth.  He still wore a flannel shirt, and I wondered if he had finally gotten shoe laces for his big boots.  “You see,” he yelled up happily to remind her knowingly, “Good things did happen here, didn’t they?”  Our conversation years ago had been a foretelling of things to come for me, and stirred a memory from my childhood that I had long forgotten.

“Yes, they did!”  I gave him a thumbs up, and held my other hand to my heart at the immense realization of it all. 

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

12 Aug

52 Weeks Being Now: Week Forty: Silent Knowledge.

IMG_7588

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 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.

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

8 May

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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.

52 Weeks Begin Now: Week Eight: Trees Talk to Each Other and To Me

16 Sep

Trees Talk to Each Other and To Me

 

Tree Communication:   I have always wondered why I feel so happy when I am in the woods.  It is always a therapeutic experience for me.  We read about how our society is experiencing a “nature deficit” (Louv, 2005) when people are inside so much of the time.  Louv talks about the need for children in particular to “see” nature and experience its beauty.  However,  I think that there is more to it than just the rest and relaxation in the visual beauty of the forest.  Now that I have been immersed in the world of the trees on Vancouver Island, I think that there is something very scientifically psychological at play when walking amidst the trees.  I truly believe that trees are communicating with me.

Trees have been found to communicate with each other.  At first, scientists discovered that it was through chemicals and gases through their complex underground root systems stemming from large “mother trees” (Simard, 2011).  However, other studies indicate that gases and pheromones travel through the air between trees to communicate more immediately both warnings and danger (Andrews, 2012). 

Tree Therapy:  It is apparent to me (as I observe forests carefully) that trees, when contented with their environment and allowed to thrive, are communicating positive energy to each other.  So many people I have hiked with have commented on the positive energy that they feel in “happy” woods.  I would even speculate that happy trees are trying to talk to us and exchange energy with us as we move through the forest.  Many would counter my discussion about “tree energy” with the talk of oxygen and how the trees give us more air to breathe.  Although this is true, I think that there is so much more happening for humans than this when they encounter the trees.

I notice that whenever I have some worry or am facing some negativity in my life, a walk through the forest changes my mood and perspective for the better.  The power of the tree collective does much to restore my balance.  It is not my imagination that I come away from the experience a stronger and happier person.  Perhaps I also offer something back to the forest when I unite with it.  Perhaps they know that I marvel at their beauty and feel a sense of reverence and peace in their company.  In exchange, they shower me with their energy and power, just as they help to sustain each other (Simard, 2012).

I have noticed that big trees have a greater impact on me, and perhaps this is because they carry the most root networks in the forest (see links below).  Whenever, I have had a rest under a large tree through my tenting experiences or other, I have come away feeling more positive.  It is almost transformative for me, and it hasn’t been until recently that I have put two and two together to add up to the tree energy.  Trees rely on each other to be healthy (Corliss, 2000).  Perhaps, we rely on them and they on us to be healthy as well.  We are all one large inter-connected network of living beings.

The Forest is a Chapel:  I could speculate further, at the risk of being called a “tree hugger” (which I am), that trees help us operate at a higher level both psychologically and spiritually.  For thousands of years, we have relied on them in multiple ways.  Relying on the trees for fire and shelter are only the simplest ways that they benefit us, and yet, this is how we take advantage of them the most, destroying vast forests around the world.  It would be advantageous for us to learn more about trees and understand why they help us in more sophisticated and meaningful ways.  I know that most recently in my move to Comox that trees have offered me a sanctuary.  I am resting and healing with their support.  For me, there is no greater church than that of a dense forest full of trees, and this will be where I continue to spend my Sundays.

http://www.karmatube.org/videos.php?id=2764

http://goodnature.nathab.com/the-trees-are-talking/

http://www.science-frontiers.com/sf063/sf063b11.htm