Thursday, 30 July 2020

 

The only difference between an extraordinary life and an ordinary one is the extraordinary pleasures you find in ordinary things.
                                                                                                                       Veronica Vienn
                                                                                                           French designer, author, and artist



Almost August.

At this juncture I would traditionally gaze at the calendar with mixed emotions – “Smack dab in the middle of summer – woohoo!” would compete with, “Yikes, summer is half over!”

Not this year.

And why is that?

We could just blame it on Covid, (It has become everyone’s favourite whipping boy.) but I don’t think it’s that simple.

I have been traveling a lot this spring and summer and just returned to Caledon.   Today I casually struck out on my favourite Caledon trail but wasn’t ready for the magic.   Every blossom and berry was in bloom.   Banks of wild phlox, fields of butterfly weed and Queen Anne’s lace backed up by sumacs full with luscious berries.

I swear if anyone is feeling a scarcity of any kind, go take a walk on the wild side and witness nature’s abundance right now. It is an antidote for lack, worry, exhaustion, and probably much more, because if we are immersed in beauty and abundance we cannot participate in any of the former states.

There is a caveat, however. You absolutely must be in the present moment. Without wavering. Once we allow the mind to take over, we slide back into ‘lack, worry, exhaustion etc.’

It is a practice that we can do anywhere at anytime, and this practice of mindfulness or presence can be our best friend. Without any drugs or artificial stimulus we can jump from blues to bliss, from worry to wonder. I had only intended to walk one section of the trail and before I knew it I had covered three. It was a gift of grace. But isn’t that what bliss it? A relief from all that would keep us from being anything other than the light?

We love it because that is what we are meant to be. It is our true nature. Gloominess is what holds us down. If we want to fly like the angels we must find our bliss, whether it’s in a field of wild flowers or a path to living a more authentic life.

It’s hard to talk about bliss without mentioning mythologist, Joseph Campbell, who gave us The Hero’s Journey and introduced the idea of ‘following your bliss’.

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that had been there the whole while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living,” he writes.

I find that my bliss usually involves being immersed in nature – total immersion! Or perhaps when I am creating something, anything from a birthday card to an arrangement of flowers, a painting or poem.

Where do you find your bliss? If you don’t know, then it’s time to investigate. This is not something you want to discover on your deathbed. I am with Joe Campbell all the way. We are here on this planet to discover our bliss and to be in that state as much as possible.

So Covid or no Covid, keep your eyes on the prize, dear ones, and use the former like everything else that Life hands us -- an opportunity to Be Present.   Everyday.  Start small.  Five minutes ‘being in the moment’. Watch the birds.  Appreciate your garden.  Appreciate a beautiful sonata or sunrise.   Be blissful.  And watch how things change.



“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
                                                                                                                         -- Joseph Campbell

Monday, 20 April 2020

 
And the people stayed home.  And read books, and listened, and rested, and exercised, and made art, and played games, and learned new ways of being, and were still.  And listened more deeply.  Some meditated, some prayed, some danced. Some met their shadows. And the people began to think differently.

We have been living in ‘lockdown’ for a month. How are you now?   Are you settling into a rhythm?  Are you getting ‘squirrelly’ (to quote our premiere)?  Can’t wait for this to end?   Or loving the lull in your life? 

I have heard them all.

Where I find solace is in the knowledge that this planetary ‘intervention’ in life as we knew it, has allowed our precious planet to begin to heal.  Before this nothing could shut down the engine of our economic system.  No matter how hard we tried, or cared, or cried, the daily grind just kept on grinding.  Many of us felt helpless as we watched Earth systems weaken and crash. 

But now, (I almost need a drum roll here) this week, on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, we have offered our Earth mother a priceless gift – an intervention!  The skies over Los Angeles and Wuhan, China (pop. 11 million) are clearing to blue again.  Bird songs once more fill the air, and are heard!  Dolphins and fish are returning to the canals of Venice.  A marine ecologist at Cornell reports that “just pulling those cruise ships out of the water is going to reduce the amount of global ocean noise almost instantaneously”.  Whales and marine life of all species will finally get a break.

After half a century of relentlessly increasing pressure, our collective footprint on Earth has lifted.

And the people healed.  And in the absence of people living in ignorant, dangerous, mindless, and heartless ways, the earth began to heal.

And now, my friends, we have a choice. When the doors open and the nations’ populations flock back to work, we can return to that mindlessness. 

Or can we? 

Is it possible to slide back down into dystopia?  Now that we are aware of our impact and of what is possible, can we really ignore it?  Let’s hope that’s a NO.

I am encouraged to hear friends and family vow that when life as we know it resumes, they will do it differently.  Many have learned that working from home is not only doable, but more functional and time saving.  In other words, more sustainable.  I just heard from someone who runs an employee benefits consulting firm.

“We need to get past having a sense of obligation that our clients need to see us in person and on site,” he told me.  He plans to confirm with clients that they are okay with virtual meetings where there is a savings in time and resources. In fact he feels proud to suggest to them that his firm cares about the environmental impact this will have. 
 
Families have discovered new ways of connecting and creating with each other.  My own family – members of which live coast to coast – have a weekly date on Zoom. Every Saturday night we gather round our computers and play a two-hour board game.  Hilarious! We kept saying we should do this but it took Covid19 to make it happen! Now it’s the highlight of my week.

And here is another gift that has emerged from our enforced ‘sequestering’.  Parents take note: 
Two members of our ecoCaledon team who take environmental science into the classrooms of Peel schools have designed a new home program:
TAKE 5 FOR THE EARTH - to start on Earth Day and then happen once a week for five weeks. 

Amy Darell and Lu Chiappetta will be posting a new workbook of information, activities and actions on a particular topic. It will be on the google platform and families that register through Eventbrite will get access to Google Classroom. 
The topics:
1. Climate Change and your Carbon Footprint
2. Electricity
3. Food and Agriculture
4. Transportation
5. Health and Education

Here is the link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/take-5-for-the-earth-tickets-102456594432?aff=ecoCaledon 


And here is our mission, that we like to think of as ‘our gift to Earth’ but really it is our gift to ourselves.  The planet, now in its sixth extinction, is barely hanging on. If we go back to business as usual, extracting resources and trashing the environment, our species will be one of the first to fall.  Earth will eventually recover.

Our mission is to remember. Remember what we did.  Remember how levels and all stripes of government came together to work for the people.  Remember how all levels of society were cared for, quickly and efficiently.  Remember the bird song and the clear skies.  And remember how we flocked to the parks and trails to find solace.  Remember how our planet began to heal.

And when the danger passed, and the people joined together again, they grieved their losses, and made new choices, and dreamed new images, and created new ways to live and heal the earth fully, as they had been healed.

[The italicized lines are from a poem by Kitty O’Meara, a Wisconsin retired teacher and chaplain.  I have named it The Turning, after Joanna Macy’s movement, The Great Turning, which she identifies as the third major revolution of human existence after the agricultural and industrial revolutions.]










Monday, 16 March 2020




   
                                               Worse than death is a life filled with fear.

So here’s the thing. I was actually out of toilet tissue.

I had over-nighted in the city with friends and as I was leaving for home they kindly tucked 2 rolls into my bag. We laughed. In my imagination I saw myself returning the rolls after grabbing a package in my local supermarket on the way home.

I drove up to Bolton. Stopped at Zehrs. Walked over to the tissue aisle. Got the shock of my life. It was empty! Stripped bare. That was when the reality struck. People really ARE drowning in fear. In a chat with the young cashier I learned that those aisles were full that morning but also that people had been lined up to get into the store. We had the same question: Why toilet paper?

As I used to tell my children, “It’s not always just about you.”

But fear does wild things to us. Hoarding is an ugly word. It implies: As long as I am okay, the rest of the world can go to hell. Or, to be kinder: I am looking after me and mine, and you had better do the same.

Either way, it is based on fear, and fear is a terrible motivator. It makes us shrink from who we really are, turning us into a simpering shadow of our true self.

So let’s look at FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real. It is the oldest and strongest emotion of humankind, and the worst fear is that of the unknown. That may just be the driver of all this panic and hoarding. For most of us, the pandemic and its unfolding is a step into the unknown. The fact that it has traveled to every continent but Antarctica in a couple of months is a little unnerving, I grant you.

I am not for one minute suggesting that we do not take it seriously. Rather I am suggesting that the fear response is not optimal. In the grip of fear we do irrational things – like bring in a year’s supply of toilet tissue. Fear is a parallel virus accompanied by it’s brother ‘dread’.

What I am suggesting is that we replace our fear response with sanity. That in our mind and body, we go into a calm, clear, centred place of well being, where we inhale peace. This may take some practice if you are new at it, but with the new scheduling replacing our once manic lifestyle with a “remote”, at-home workplace model, there will be time for slipping in a little sitting still and breathing. Make use of this profound opportunity.

Begin with – This too shall pass.   Three deep, cleansing breaths.
My whole being is healthy and filled with the energy of Love.   More deep breaths.

You get the idea. I use a candle to centre my attention and intention.

Using loving kindness meditation like this will change your life if you stick to it. Think about replacing the constant media bulletins that instill more fear, with these breaks that replace that fear with peace.

My other push would be to go outside and spend time there, preferably around lots of trees. That is one of the healthiest pastimes I could promote.

I cannot help but wonder if this virus is here to show us a new way to live -- to rebuild our damaged immune systems -- to adopt a healthier lifestyle. To “make regular visits to our self’ and spend time connecting with the divine, with nature.

It is definitely a wake-up call. Will we wake up? It would be a shame if we slept through it.

My last tip is about hand washing. Rather than timing it by singing Happy Birthday a couple of times, try this mantra:

May all beings be safe.
May all beings be content.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings live with ease.


20 seconds if you say it twice.


                                  FEAR IS THE CHEAPEST ROOM IN THE HOUSE.
                       I WOULD LIKE TO SEE YOU LIVING IN BETTER CONDITIONS.
 

                                                                                                                        Rumi

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

 


It is just a week to Christmas Eve. And a week later will be New Year’s Eve. And the voice in my ear is telling me to live in the moment, but I can tell that it’s smiling.

It is the end of the month – the year – the decade.

I have a sense that more of us are treating holiday giving with a deeper sense of conscience. That more of us are speaking about living with intention. Maybe it’s because I listen to CBC radio most of the time rather than Fox News, but I do believe that humanity is evolving.

When a paradigm is shifting, there is a breakdown before there is a breakthrough. And when something is dying it makes a lot of noise.

Think of the atrocities that, less than a century ago, were not only tolerated but cheered on. Atrocities that stemmed from hatred and fear and ignorance. It makes us cringe today to even think about them and we wonder – how could humanity have been this cruel?

And yes there are still pockets of residue left from these times and places. But it is being pushed to the surface to be cleared and we are asked to work to clear it. This is part of what Barbara Marx Hubbard calls ‘the evolutionary impulse’. Negativity is pushed up and out into the open for cleansing and detoxing.

And at the same time a hungering for depth, purpose and meaning is awakening in us – the shift of the ages. It’s our cosmic journey. And we are not here by accident.

Any change that happens in one place creates a field that allows the same kind of change to happen elsewhere. Acts of kindness strengthen the field of kindness; acts of love strengthen the field of love; and acts of hate strengthen the field of hate.

Tasks that life sets before us are part of a larger tapestry woven by an intelligence that puts us in exactly the right place at the right time. They anchor the field of love that helps the rest of us serve our purpose rather than our personal ambition.

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. And I believe that the world is moving from the last century’s ‘me-ness’ to ‘we-ness’, and even to the sacred principal of ‘enoughness’.

This principal can be beautifully interpreted: There is enough; I am enough; I have enough, etc. Feel the peace that flows from those words and then realize how true and good they are.

At this time of year especially, enoughness rings loud and clearly.

I wish you, my dear friends, a time of true gladness over the next fortnight. May it bring you exactly what comforts you and expands your horizons, whether you celebrate the coming of the Son or the return of the sun, or simply a time of rest and relaxation.

My wish for the roaring 20s is that each of us shares our love for ‘the other’, for humanity as a whole. And that we explore and expand our reverence for the Earth. Our only home. Our cosmic mother.

We are spiritual astronauts creating our own atmosphere – one of peace, love, and harmony rather than the hypnotic spell of fear.

Fly well.









Thursday, 14 November 2019





                                    FORESTS ARE THE WISDOM OF THE PLANET

A shaman was remembering her dream, and her telling was vivid and painfully evocative for me. In it she watches a forest of mighty trees being ravaged by fire, and she weeps. Then from the ashes on the forest floor where each tear has fallen, a sapling miraculously begins to sprout.


How would you interpret this? Is it too simplistic to imagine that the message is: If we care and love her deeply enough, we can bring the Earth, her forests, oceans etc. back from the brink?


This is my dream: that enough of us will care enough to ‘get involved’ in her rescue. And Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) is always trying to make it easier for us. Following is a super-easy avenue to plant a forest if you have as little as one acre of land available for planting.


Forests Ontario recently received renewed short-term funding to continue building tree cover and forest connectivity in Ontario through its 50 Million Tree Program (50 MTP). This plan greatly reduces the cost of large-scale tree planting for landowners, “offering them the opportunity to leave their mark on the Credit River Watershed -- and the world -- by planting a living legacy on their properties,” advises CVC’s Calantha Elsby.


This is time-sensitive funding, she emphasizes, to encourage landowners to book their spring planting with CVC by January 15, 2020. As a delivery agent of the 50 MTP, CVC can provide full-service tree planting at a subsidized rate of up to 75% on properties within the watershed. Eligibility requires that landowners commit to planting one acre (750 trees) or more. Tax incentives may also be available for projects exceeding 10 acres through Ontario’s Managed Forest Tax Incentive Program.

(Personal note: I took advantage of the latter several years ago using Toronto Region Conservation Area (TRCA) and my property tax was halved!)


90% of land in the CVC watershed is under private ownership so imagine the opportunity and the potential to make positive change on the planet by simply planting trees on our property.


As we learn more about trees and forests I find my own strong emotional connection to them verified. We have just started to understand what a tree is all about. Forests are the wisdom of the planet. Their secret underground connective community is even more amazing and surprising than the overhead canopy.

Why do we feel better when we are around trees? Because we are immersing in a medicinal aerosol that the tree has emitted.

A tree is not just a tree. The most complex chemistry on the planet is found in the furnace of a tree – directly benefiting our immune systems – telling us to relax as this immune system is being boosted.

And it is the cheapest and best defense against Climate Change.

Diane Beresford-Kroeger is a botanist, medical biochemist and author, and a woman with whom I feel a common bond. She likes to say, “The forest in me knows.”

Her ‘bioplan’? If every person plants one tree, each year for six years – one native species tree into native spaces – we can reverse Climate Change.

Grow your own forest! She boldly advises. And for every breath you take, thank a tree.

For more information re CVC’s subsidized tree planting program visit cvc.ca/subsidized-tree-seedling-program or contact Alastair Biscaia at 647-449-2743. Or to get inspired and see what others are doing on their property to build resilience, visit: https://cvc.ca/your-land-water/see-what-others-are-doing/the-choats-make-their-mark-on-their-new-property/































Thursday, 10 October 2019





Below is a letter. I have tried not to make it a rant. I want to be reasonable and measured and, let’s face it, gently persuasive. Read on:



Dear 905,
As you are aware, the 2019 federal election is pending, and whatever you decide is, apparently, the road that will be taken. The collective decision about Canada’s future lies in your hands. On election night, the Prairies, Alberta and BC can only quake in their boots awaiting the outcome of whatever the powerful 905 decides, because we are a huge number and because we are apparently monolithic (massive, uniform in character and slow to change) in our decisions – blue, red, blue, red.

We don’t have to be this predictable. There are alternatives. Just sayin’.

The very definition of ‘conservative’ is tiny, careful steps. Mice steps. It may have worked in the 20th century, but dear 905, we are in crisis mode going into 2020. The IPCC tells us we have barely 11 years before our beautiful Earth is irreversibly screwed, and life upon her becomes a threat. We need lion steps. Old thinking will no longer work.

The human race is evolving beyond the rusty, decrepit, limiting “what’s in it for me?” slogan from the 80’s. In fact, this selfishness from my youth has spelled out sheer terror for today’s youth. The students and children who are NOT holding placards of protest in the face of Climate Change are, I suspect, deer in the headlights. These kids are not climate deniers; they are terrified and think they have no power or say.

Have you parented this apathy, dear 905? Is it a chip off the old block? Do you know about depression among this generation? About suicides that often result? We must give this generation a reason to HOPE. A strong Climate Plan like the one demanded by the Green New Deal for Canada, like the one insisted upon by Extinction Rebellion is needed desperately and immediately.

So here is what I am asking:

Don’t be afraid of change. It’s the only way out.

Don’t be stuck in the mud, out of tradition stubbornness.

Don’t be focused on ‘Me, Me, Me’.

Think of the future. Do you have kids? Grandkids?

Think about preserving the beauty and diversity of our natural environment. Without it what is there?

Think about investing, not just your vote, but also your wealth in renewable energies.

Think about energy as revitalizing: solar, wind, water energy sources are full of vitality.

Embrace the reality that the IPCC has spelled out: act now on Climate Change or ensure a world of fear and harm for our current youth at the hands of those who could not look beyond their current definitions of energy, beyond their wallets, beyond their apathy in acting for the greater good, beyond living in their own smallness.

And finally, dear 905, I would ask that when you vote, you avoid making a fear-based decision. We make fear-based decisions out of insecurity. Out of a feeling of scarcity, out of giving too much power to others so they might control your life. Growth based decisions come from a different energy – that of love. You feel it in your body – competence increasing, freedom expanding.

‘Strategic’ voting is purely from fear. It goes something like this: “I would like to vote for X but if I do that then Y might win so I had better vote for Z.” Voting with your heart or from love has a whole different energy: pure, warm, uplifting. When I do things with love and trust, miracles happen; so my most important decisions always come from the heart.

The future of the country is in your hands, dear 905; summon up your best Self. Dig deeply into your courage, your conscience, and your soul, and pray for guidance. It could be the most important decision of your life and it definitely IS the most important one for the lives of our children.

Sincerely,
A sister 905er





(Betty de Groot, my ecoCaledon compatriot and like-minded friend, collaborated with me on this essay. I thank her for her inspiration.)













Saturday, 31 August 2019





                                                          Upon Reflection


“August is laughing across the sky”, writes poet Pauline Johnson, in her gorgeous, hypnotic The Song My Paddle Sings. I thought deeply about that today as I walked under the deep blue, puffy white sky. Only a few more hours, I bargained, of August sky for this summer, and I intend to make the most of them.

I laughed right back at her.

It’s always this way for me when September hovers. I can (and do) announce boldly that my summer is not over until September 21st. I cling to my summertime ‘til the dying hours; the equinox arrives on schedule; the world turns; and my foolish fantasies fade into the glow of autumn.

This September, however, is different for me. This will be the first year that I have not returned to the classroom. Or more accurately, it will be the first year that I have not been bound by the classroom culture in something like 50 years. Perhaps I was not teaching, but my children were in school.

It feels a little odd. A little wistful. A bit errant.

And truth be told, when I think back to sitting in that circle of shining faces beaming up, as I share a favourite story, the thought that this too is over makes the wistful becomes weepy.

Is it always like this for retirees? I’m new at the game.

 What I know for sure is that endings are beginnings. And it’s not like I have nothing to replace my former profession; it’s just that one of my greatest joys was sharing beautiful literature with children. I am blessed that I was given this privilege to light up my life for so many years.

And what most readers don’t know is that last June I was completely surprised by staff at James Bolton School with a send-off party. Flowers, gifts, touching sentiments – it was overwhelming, and so unexpected. Truly, my cup was ‘running over’ that June afternoon in the JB library. So upon reflection, I have decided that there is no room in my life for anything less than light and love.

Make way for September! It’s a new day. It’s a new month. It’s a new year.

What will it bring? Depends what we offer it. I plan to celebrate the fact that my phone will no longer waken me at 6:30 AM. And then I’ll find something else to celebrate. And just keep on ‘kissing the joy as it flies’.

Cherish what you love, while you have it. Life is too short to be gloomy.