THE QUIET PLACE

I found myself in a familiar place this afternoon, sitting among the brilliant gold leaves, still mostly clinging to the aspens, watching the river. From my perch high above, I pondered recent events in my life. Leaves littered the ground like pirate’s treasure. It is a place I have returned to often when the world is uncertain or I need an island of calm. It is a place that reminds me of the beauty of the world around me. I’ve seen this valley on horseback. I’ve visited in the green of summer and cooked hotdogs with boys I thought came only for the food; when their noise still could not overwhelm its peaceful beauty. I’ve visited it coated in the white of winter when we turned off the roaring machines that brought us, and let the snow swallow the sound in gulps, leaving the silence echoing across the valley.

My boys called it ‘The Quiet Place.’ I dubbed it “The Pines” after the trees that grew from it’s sandy soil.   I’ve come here and laughed with loved ones and I returned when their loss seemed unbearable.  I’ve come here to listen to the echoes of voices long gone but still part of the earth around me.   This spot has seen and heard everything my heart had to offer, and taken it into itself with infinite acceptance. 

I came today, to this gold drenched place overlooking a wide and powerful river that cut its way through the banks, to reminisce. I sit here watching the wind rustle the leaves clutching tenaciously to branches. I am grateful for their determination. This golden time is too short. It’s a balance and a breath in time. The summer has drifted off but her perfume still lingers and winter’s harsh beauty is expected, but not here yet. It occurred to me how this spot and this time is representative of my life. I retired months ago, and my husband will follow in a month, at which time we will both move from one idyllic place in Northern Alberta to another in Southern British Columbia. As much as I love this season, my home, and this special place in the pines overlooking the Peace River, it is all temporary. It is still familiar and comforting, but the place, like my life is stalling at the top of a breath, ready to begin the next phase. We are both in pause. And I in this moment am full of expectation, gratitude, excitement, nervousness, and grief.

This will likely be the last fall I take the time to enjoy here. The last time I will have opportunity to just be and watch the time pass and the leaves fall. The last season I will watch the light play games with the horizon leaving everything bathed in golden warmth. When I return here to visit, if my experience is to be believed, I will be in a rush of people, stuffing our lives into a small envelope of time. But for right now, I get to say goodbye a season in a place, that while it is remote, and ordinary, it is miraculous and beautiful in a way only a dear old friend can be.

This retirement thing is a challenge. I feel like I am in a waiting room for an audition for a play. That play that is the rest of my life. It doesn’t quite seem real. I fill my time with teaching English, learning Spanish, and cleaning closets and windows. I fill time and enjoy my solitude, as I must, in this weird time when socializing is something to be avoided. Byron is a month away from joining me, so my days are spent rattling around in a nearly empty house that looks like a college kid’s dorm. Cast off furniture populate spaces without the clutter one would expect of a home that I spent a quarter century in. A home that raised two boisterous and busy boys. It is our home and yet it is not. The chaos and love that filled it no longer echoes in every room. I’ve drawn that energy back into me in preparation for leaving. It is a building now, contemporary grey walls instead of the riot of color I loved so much. Most of our belongings are already gone. The walls are bare. It is not sad, so much as quiet and still, like a photograph of a memory.

I’m leaning into this new time in my life.  Filling it with things I’ve not taken time to do.  There will be travel, sunshine, whimsy and mostly time in my future.  Time for family, time for writing, time for the things I love to do but rarely had time for. And while this seems like a space between episodes it doesn’t feel as empty as I feared it would.  Because right now, I’m sitting in gratitude for the slice of heaven this place represents and the people who have shared it with me. Like the leaves around me it and this gold saturated afternoon.  I am simply being here with the leaves, and the breeze and the smell of summer fading into fall.

Raising Boys

Things I know because I raised boys:
1. Toddlers like the feel of their gum boots on the wrong feet. Don’t sweat it. Like potty training, learning to walk, cleaning the bathroom, and balancing their checkbook, they get it eventually.
2. Aim is learned and inconsistent. Young boys are closer to the target but add alcohol a decade later and the effect is the same.
3. They won’t always love hugging you so take it while you can. Keep hugging them, even when they don’t want it anymore, because there will come a day their wiskered faces will rub against your cheek and you will hear, “I’m glad you are here Mom.”
4. Yell less. They hear you. They will admit it much later.
5. Show up. Make noise. Drive them. The conversations you have when you are heading somewhere they want to go are some of the most important. They need to know you see them on their “up” side. They are glad you are there even if they are too cool to admit it.
6. Advise and love. They will do it anyway. But they will hear your voice in their ear when their heads get unstuck from their asses. And they will know you loved them enough to warn them.
7. Pray. Keep the health cards handy. They will scare the shit out of you. They are testing their wings and all you can be is a safe place to land. As one ER doctor once told me “You can wrap them in cotton batting and hide them under a table, but they won’t be normal.”
8. Hygene happens and body functions are fascinating. Get used to the conversation at the dinner table. When they are little, you wonder if they rolled in the dirt. When they are thirteen, they smell and react to water like cats. When girls come along smelling good becomes a priority. Your nose won’t always be offended.
9. As one beleagured mom put it, “It is fascinating that I can love something so intensely, and want to beat it so badly, at exactly the same moment.”
10. Relax. You fall in and out and in love over an over again. You love their baby smell, the end of the day when they ask for three stories, from books you find annoying, when your ten year old finds his own humour, when he asks you how to ask a girl he likes out, and when he lets that girl go with kindness. Most of all, you get to a moment where you know he is grown and he is a good man that you are glad you know.

Namaste

The Thing I learned When Someone Died.

ageHey beautiful world, do you ever think how lucky you are, just for this day? Every time I see this meme I think of the people I have lost far too young. And for a moment, I grieve. Then I think of what they have taught me, about life, about courage, about gratitude, and joy. I think of the echos of their lives are like wind chimes in a breeze in my life, and I am grateful. I think of their families, that have become part of mine. I think of how I would not have done one single thing differently. I would not have spared my heart from the loss, if I had known what was coming.

Then I think of what age has given me: perspective, patience, wisdom, and grace. I am better at making mistakes now. I jump in sooner, not later. I don’t have time to hesitate. And if I fall flat on my face, I am still five feet nine inches ahead of where I started. I do not worry as much. Everyone has their path dictated by their own soul and the music that plays in their own heart. And mostly I have learned more compassion for myself and others. I set boundaries sooner but with a bit more gentleness than I had in the past. And I am emphatic about those boundaries. Never again will I not care for myself for the sake of others. I am useless broken, defeated, or exhausted.

And I relish my changes. The grey hair peeks out from my part and I think is today the day I let it grow out? If it glowed white I would. I love the laugh lines around my eyes…what put them there was worth it…every damn line was worth it. I would take nothing back, not one moment, not one year. Each moment encapsulates a miracle gifted to me by the Divine. To regret the years, the wrinkles, the aches is to say I would give up what put them there.

Life is a miracle we waste time complaining about. It is one hundred percent of our own making. What is outside us is beyond our control. What is inside us is what defines it. I intend every day, to be defined by gratitude and joy. And if someone sees a crazy middle aged woman dancing on a street corner maybe they will join in….

Life is too short not to.

The blessing of today

  1. FB_IMG_1488684420586Today I love my life. It isn’t true every day but today it is and I realized what a fabulous moment that was.  It wasn’t a really exceptional day.  I did my laundry, cleaned a bit, listened to the birds sing as I drank coffee  and watched the sun rise.  I talked to my son and two friends on the phone.  I read a book and spent time with my neighbor.  She makes me laugh.  It was very ordinary and yet it was spectacular because each moment felt like a blessing.

In truth, I realized that for one of the first times in my life I don’t just love my life.  You see my life is a daily commitment to and validation of being me.  On those days when I simply love my life I am in the process of loving me.

I love my family.  I love their warts and idiosyncrasies.  I wish they didnt stumble, fight, or judge and I worry but it lasts only as long as it takes for me to realize their challenges knock off thr rough edges and challenge them to grow.  They are perfectly imperfect and they are rising to the challenge of building thier lives in an imperfect world. I have faith in them.

I love my heart.  It keeps giving with everything in me, and without expectation. On the days I do this well,  I love the feeling of doing that without feeling depleted.  Expectations are premeditated resentments. So when I can embrace the idea that love has no cost, then what others do with this gift is their stuff.  My part is just to love them. I am free to do it without fear.

Mostly I love that I have been loved. By my family, by my friends who have love me like family and by friends who are learning me enough to become family.  The power of the knowledge that we all know eachother on the inside. If we can realize that disagreement doesn’t mean rejection we can be vulnerable and reàl.  Something I’ve done must have been amazing; that past must have been special to  have given me such incredible gifts of the people who love me.

I love my humour, energy, and my loudness that it shocks people from their complacency.  I challenge the idea that we always need order for the world to function.  Sometimes we need chaos, laughter and fun to bend the straight lines into beautiful curves.

Mostly I love the purpose of my life that keeps unfolding like a magical book.  Each page blank as it is opened and then words drawn by a secret pen, it’s colours mutable and infinitely complex or blessedly simple. The miracle of each day is yet to be written.

I love my life and all its blessings,  including and perhaps today, most importantly, the blessing that is me.

Blessed Be Beautiful World and my part in it.

Thanks to Louise Gallagher again. Www.dareboldly.com

The Empty Page

I have learned that I have trouble starting a project sometimes because I am unsure of what the end product will be.  The empty page mocks me.   The noisy critic, this empty page, the cluttered table, or the things unfinished. But I’m also finding the struggle to finish means I know the answers, that I have the conclusions already made.   This is not where real solutions for problems are often found.
For some, they need the curriculm already written to make the attempt. The map is there, the trip planned ahead. I don’t. I’m not sure I would find any joy in that kind of adventure. My magic, like some others, is in the process. It’s in the question, the ponder, the struggle and the learning.
So one day I sat in the centre of a maelstrom. It wasn’t chaos, but neither was it scripted.  I watched people bring from nothing, a small project, a food bank, which is changing my job. It started our as noticing that people came for help getting work with empty stomachs, worried about their kids, and unable to concentrate. People came into the centre looking for help feeding their families. A desperate situation for sure, but now they walk through our learning centre to get help with food and with small goals. They are snagged by the job board, computer tutoring, or literacy tutoring. The benefit we only hoped for, was people connecting with each other and with the community. Our clients have become volunteers, they have found housing and jobs. They bring baked goods and gifts ways of thanking us for connecting them. They ask for help, and bring their expertise to help their neighbours. We are creating community, dignity, and hope.
I wish I could have said I expected this. That I predicted or planned the result. But I didn’t. I knew it was needed and there was the right mix of people, will, and skill and we collectively rolled the dice. It was a blank page that mocked us. And we all stared at it and started filling it with no idea of the result.
And around us people started watching, like spectators around a live art exhibit in the town square. They offered their support and at times they picked up a brush and what started out simple, is growing like a secret garden, magical and full of promise.
I can’t say I know where it will end but I know that the whiteness teased us and we started filling it. First with doodles and then new people came along who took over when my ideas seemed to stagnate. And in the end there is a page of flourishes and some blank spots that willFB_IMG_1488926496737.jpg be filled as time goes on.
When the empty canvas mocked us, we started filling it with no idea how it would end… it is a story without an ending but it is quite the story so far.
I am so proud of her teasing, this not so blank page.

Thanks again to Louise Gallagher for her “She Persisted series”
Www.dareboldly.com

 

 

 

Creativity- The Persistent Muse

A friend created these canvases.  They keep pouring out of her like water over a precipice.  At times I wonder if she feels chained to her easel, they come so rapidly, and she has confessed sometimes she does.  They are inspired by the comments of a politician irritated by a woman who refused to be silenced.  “We told her to be quiet but she persisted.”  The woman, Elizabeth Warren, has persisted.

It has become a battle cry for women, some who proudly define themselves as feminists, some who find the word has negative connotations, all whom have found the condescension inexcusable.  But what has amazed me, is how this event has had the unexpected result of not only inspiring action on the part of many previously quiet or perhaps complacent women, but that it has also inspired this radical and relentless creativity on the part of the artist, Louise Gallagher.   In her blog http://www.dareboldly.com she explores acts of grace during challenging times and right now she is exploring persisting as a woman.

The idea that creativity is a gentle muse that inspires great works in the quiet recesses of your mind is a bit ridiculous in my mind.   For some it is true I suppose.  However, for me Creativity has always been a bit of a nag.  She’s relentless.  She’s brutal at times.  And yet she is always with us, demanding that we work out the issues we have creating.  For some of us it is building a machine that solves a problem, for others, it is healing from old wounds changing old patterns.  For still others, its the creation of art or writing.  But each time we move from the familiar into new territory, our muse has us in her wake.

The other thing I am realizing about Creativity is that it rarely exists in the familiar.  It is a product of us stepping out of the familiar and purging the expectations.  It is learning to play with color, with words, with our intellect, with the familiar,  and bending it.  Right now Louise is in the grip of societies expectations for women and she is bending them.  Each canvas has the messages women in particular, but men also, hear every day.  She then asks what would we do if we weren’t told these insidious lies and where would we be?

We wouldn’t be here.

Here is the comfort of the familiar.  What are societies’ expectations for women and for men for that matter?  They are comfortable, they are safe.  They define who we should be, what we should do, how we should act.  What they don’t do, is ask who we are, who we want to be, what we want for ourselves, what fascinates us?  It doesn’t ask what needs to change or be expressed.  It doesn’t want us to play in the unknown.  It wants to define the familiar.

Most of all, Creativity asks us to have faith.  It asks us to risk the path to the unfamiliar and dance along it without fear.  It asks us to try the untried and see what happens.  It asks us to risk making others uncomfortable  and see if our creations resonate with anyone.  We have to jump into the unknown and pray for a landing that won’t hurt.  Sometimes it does you know.  This jump into the unknown can be uncomfortable, even painful. Sometimes it rubs a spot raw.

But maybe the reason it rubs raw is because the old doesn’t fit any longer.  What is familiar will strangle if it is left too long without adjustment.  It cuts out light, cuts off circulation, and kills off the most vibrant urges in all of us.

Maybe who we are is not defined by other’s expectations but by our own urges, our own aspirations. Yet in those spaces we are undefined, unsure and simply playing.  As adults we don’t play.  We follow menus, patterns, and instructions.  We don’t boldly go into the unknown as Creativity demands.  If  we want someone to confirm our direction before we go, Creativity will get irritated, maybe leave in a huff.  She wants us to play with her, if we are willing to explore.

But what if we weren’t so tied to the plan or curriculum for our day?  What if we sat, unsure before an empty easel, or an empty page and just had faith that our playmate would come.  What if mud pie could be seen as inedible but having value?  Could our next creation be fusion of barbecue and thai?  What if the empty page beckoned and didn’t scold?   Or if we interpreted Creativity’s banter as teasing?

I think too often we see a stumble in our creative process, as a threat.  What if we could reach out past our fears and try something new.  We could recreate our days, renew our lives, find parts of ourselves we didn’t know existed.  Maybe that faith in ourselves and the entity that drives us all was not a taskmaster with an agenda but an angel inviting us to play?

Every culture has a story behind creation yet most of us, as individuals fear Creativity.    Most indigenous people of North America consider North America itself, Turtle Island, where an unseen hand created beings from the mud on the bottom of the ocean. It implies a creative force that loves to play and to make something from nothing.   Christianity would say God created the world in seven days and seven nights. And then there was light!  He didn’t say, “Then we trudge on.”   Egyptian myths say that the world was created out of an ocean of chaos.  We all believe that Creation is inspired by the spirit to renew the world. Yet we often see Creativity as a threat.  Something we should fear.

I think though that Creativity is often driven by making order out of chaos, at an individual level.  What if out of our chaos comes beauty?  What if when we struggle, we see the fellow soldiers in our battle?  Because I’ve often found at my darkest times comes a blink of light, a play of words, a description that resonates.  And if I let myself run, if I let it whisper along my arms, it somehow becomes hopeful and even joyful.

So Louise’s collection of women who are defying the constricts of society are playing in the chaos.  Each one was awakened by the noise and relishing in the women dancing with her.   She has not only persisted, but she defied the resentment seething against her.   She is teasing society, she is laughing with her playmates, and she is affirming her worth.  Creation is an act of faith that what we know in our hearts can manifest in others.  It’s sharing our story, sad or joyful, knowing what we are, is part of the greater story.  It is fearless, it is relentless, and it is being human.

The Breath

I am in the unenviable position of being many miles from my father who is fighting a dangerous infection in hospital.  Medivac flights, numerous surgeries and procedures, heavy duty antibiotics, and pain medications, as well as physical exhaustion has made this journey a long and painful one for my father, my mother and all the people who love them.  But it has also provided some profound moments of gratitude.  For example one night my mother stayed up all night to help Dad through the difficult process of waking from anesthetic by reminding him to breathe in through his nose and out through his mouth. Whether she knew it or not, this breathing technique is a yoga and medical practice that relaxes the body and slows the heart. It is an example of a millenia old spiritual practice used by medical science because it works.
My family is a pragmatic bunch I, however, interpret my mother staying up all night, breathing with my father, to share the stress of his reaction to the anesthetic, as also a having a spiritual component. Yoga would say that energy and life is in the breath. Western tradition would say God is Love. What my mother did in that long night with my father was an act of love, embodied in breath, physical and spiritual.
My mother who is a profoundly grounded woman will likely find my musings odd. My sisters may too. But I am the free spirit in the bunch and I find this fight my father is in, for his health to be frightening, exhausting and yet also enlightening. It has forced me to evaluate many of my assumptions about love and how families function, their idiosyncrasies, and thier unique resilience. My head spins most days with philosophical and emotional challenges. It is even possible once the turmoil of these days have settled, I will wonder if my learning is not a function of emotional exhaustion.
In the end though, I think it doesn’t matter how we interpret those profound moments in life when we realize that much of what we are preoccupied with in our crazy lives, is just white noise. It is in those moments we experience profound love for the gifts we are given. We let ourselves breathe deeply. Our lungs are filled with life and love. We know in our heart that the bonds we have forged are made of gossamer threads of pure light.
So my mom is likely trying to encourage my father to sleep again tonight so his embattled body can heal. Hopefully, tonight she might sleep too. They might see the battle to breathe last night differently. But I hope for a moment they breathe in the miracle of their lives together. Their power is not in their bodies but in their resilience and the love of a fifty year, unbreakable bond. They also have the unwavering support, love and respect of their daughters, grandchildren and a huge family of blood and friendship. My parents are amazing people who have collected and nurtured amazing people. They also should have the knowledge that, yet again, they are teaching us that love is almost never perfect, but it is beautiful and profoundly mundane. It is two people breathing through the tough times. It is perfectly and divinely, human.

Joy on the Lonely Road Less Travelled

'The road less travelled was a foggy run from Deadwood to Peace River just after the sun rose.'

 

A friend of mine and myself started a 100 day challenge 239 days ago as a way of improving our mental health.  Lifestyle changes we knew could help us, were difficult to incorporate.  So we started with 100 days of Loving Ourselves, and when that first 100 days past, and we were making healthy changes in our lives we started a second challenge.  100 days of finding balance followed.  Well as you can imagine we got to the end of that challenged and we started a third challenge.  This one is 100 days of “Letting Go of What no Longer Serves Me.”  It has proven to be the biggest challenge yet.  So as we approach 40 days this is what we have learned:

1. I am my own gift to myself.
2. “Be impeccable with your word,” applies to me. “I will love myself” started a commitment of 238 days to exercise a half hour a day and evolved into a treasure hunt exploring ourselves.
3. Flexibility has its own reward. I’ve done yoga watching a football game, meditated in hotel lobbies, where the chairs are the most comfortable and turned it over to the Universe for 139 days. It turns out God did not just whisper our purpose in our ear on the day we are born, that voice echoes all the days of our lives. Our only challenge is to still our demons, and listen.
4. Letting Go creates a hole that needs filling. Fill with love and joy.
5. Our toxic patterns hold hands with the bullies on the playground: Fear, Grief, Perfectionism, Familiarity, Bitterness, and Pain.
6. The playground has some surprises. Confidence is making forts in the tree branches, Courage is climbing fences. Faith is quietly drawing pictures on the sidewalk, as Hope watches on.
7. Imperfection is not a flaw, but rather a dab of glitter, that highlights individuality.
8. A habit can be created in 21 days. But 239 days can unlearn tapes imbedded in my DNA for 51 years.
9. The Road Less Travelled is followed by your heart. If we are blessed with good companions, the experience is breathtaking. The side roads are often solitary, as they should be. It is then we remember that the path eminates from our own soul.
10. Who said I couldn’t do it?
My demons.
They lie.

Blessed Be Beautiful Messy World. You are a unique gift of infinite value to that world. Honor that.

'This was a birthday gift from my parents.  It is a blessing that articulates the connection between us.  It means "The Divine in you acknowledges the Divine in you."  I treasure it.'

Treasure Box

A box that no longer fits.

Within the heart lies a chest,
Secrets and treasures
We keep only for ourselves.
Stored where the dust cannot touch,
And light cannot inspire.

Inside that darkened prison,
That benevolent wasteland,
Lies dreams too fragile to be realized,
Memories too precious to share,
Secrets too dark for the light.

In this casket sealed tight as a tomb,
We hide what no one else may see.
That place where dreams and demons are interchangeable.
Sealed by expectation.
Trapped by fear.

In the treasure box of expectations
Lies the battered soul
Of someone long forgotten,
Of a life lived, trapped by farces,
Played by unseen puppeteers tangled in strings.

Unfulfilled dreams press out from between seams.
And muffled music plays out.
The refuge becomes the prison.
How did the haven we agree to,
Become a prison we cannot escape?

We might let the rain saturate the walls.
Wash like cardboard down sewers,
Or float away like leaves, on rivers of change.
The sky erupting with storms,
Or gently soaks with life.

Or maybe light the cartons with inspiration,
Matches hidden in our pockets,
Waiting for just such an adventure.
We burn away boundaries and borders,
As phoenixes rise from the ashes.

Or we might simply leave by the door we paint on the wall.
Or slice into the ramparts with knives
Honed by courage and desperation.
Light streams into the burrow
And we raise our faces to the sun.

What happens when the box no longer fits?