Friday, December 30, 2016

2017?


2017 looms in the very near future. Sometimes I can hardly believe it! 2017??? I remember New Year’s Eve as we welcomed in the turning of the century. Both my parents and also Paul’s parents were still around and we, along with many of our kids, gathered together in Florida to celebrate!

I remember that year being quite auspicious. Concerns about “Y2K” and the possibility of throwing off computer programming became a big concern. Our four-digit year was, at that time represented with the last two digits making the year 2000 indistinguishable from the year 1900 (for instance). I remember my first response to this was “So what? Who cares? We’ll just make the necessary adjustments when it occurs!” And, in fact, that’s exactly what happened. Our world didn’t blow up. No body was attacked as a result of the confusion and eventually concerns subsided and our world went back to normal!

So…what’s in store for 2017? I believe in the wonder that is coming to us. Our world is changing drastically. Recent leadership shifts in the United States will have great fallout for us in Canada and throughout the world. We will continue to strive for justice and fairness and peace for all, and be aware when those things occur and when they don’t! I, for one, will persist in keeping my heart’s mind focused on “the light at the end of the tunnel” so even when I’m feeling sad or disappointed or even distraught, I can allow myself to feel that because I know it will end. And…if I don’t ‘see’ the light at the end of the tunnel, I will call on my faith to remind me it is there and if I just let myself experience and feel, even the bad stuff, it will eventually become less present and the light will reappear.

I have strong feelings that 2017 will be awesome. That is my resolution for this year. I wish it for everybody. May it be so…


Shanti, Shanti, Shanti


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Catching Up!

I’m catching up! I’ve let many parts of my life lag behind as I begin to piece myself back together.

These past couple of years have changed me.  Turning 60 and feeling the significance of my aging is on the one hand challenging and limiting, and, on the other hand, exciting and limitless. Losing my mother, our last parent to survive, leaves me in a new position in the physical realm of family. I am now one of the oldest of our family. I am accepting a new role as elder and a responsibility to help our ‘future’ transition and grow into healthy human beings.

I have learned to appreciate the simple things in life and to embrace those people and things that want my embrace. Also, I have learned to release those people and things from my life who don’t want to be there, even though I want them there! It is hard to let go of that which I never really had in the first place. I will probably never have them now. I am resigned to that.

With so many life events occurring last year, Paul and I stayed home for the winter and didn’t travel. That’s unusual for us too. Our hiatus created a lag in visiting places where we have never been and revisiting those we have and love. Our ‘bucket list’ has become shorter. We don’t have as much time as we used to. We’d better do the things we want now! Our sense of time and energy is shifting as we age. And the way we travel is changing too!

So…this year of travel is about ‘catching up’.

That's ALL of us!
We have just finished a huge family reunion in Akumal, Mexico with our family of birth. Our 7 children, 6 partners and 4 grandchildren gathered together for a week of resort living in Akumal. We celebrated with gratitude the sale of our house in Toronto where all of the kids were brought up. We had time to ‘catch up’ on relationships, play together and simply enjoy each other’s company.

After our time with our kids in Mexico, Paul and I grasped the opportunity to return to Guatemala where we spent three months in 2011-2012. While living at that time on Lake Atitlan, we also connected with a very special community in Guatemala City. There, we spent many weekends with a group of Latin Americans who have become Jews of Choice. Growing up in various Latin American countries, each of these people were Christian.  Each of them were seeking a strong spiritual expression. Each of them did research to find that expression, and by some chance of God (beshert) found each other. Now they have all come together in Guatemala and delight in their individual lives as well as rejoicing in their lives tightly engaged with their spiritual community. Paul and I loved sharing Shabbat with this group of wonderful, energetic, smart and, oh so grateful people. Catching up with them meant experiencing the growth of their development since five years ago.
The physical aging of the youth and adults, the intellectual expansion of their knowledge about Judaism and Jewish practice, and their increased ability to hold morning service with song, prayer and conversation was so inspiring. And they shared so much gratitude for the times we spent with them the last time we were there and what we were able to share with them.

We’re thinking about catching up with our family and friends in Israel this winter and then to take advantage of proximity to India and catch up with our friends and “family” there. There are so many places in the world I have yet to explore. If I keep going back to the same places, I’ll never see Greece, or Viet Nam, or Australia! And…I also like being at home, and returning to places that already feel like ‘home’. I’m suffering from a real first world problem!

Even my blog needs ‘catching up’. Each year since I began my blog, the numbers of blogs that I post each month reduces. I want to catch up with that too.

I suppose it’s a little bit like closure. Leaving loose ends is uncomfortable, reminding me about unfinished business. I’m thinking that this is a little bit of what getting older is all about…finishing up business so we can clear the paths and make the most of what’s to come……
A Labyrinth.....The Spirit Wa

Friday, December 2, 2016

Antigua and Change

Walking the uneven cobblestone streets of Antigua reminds me of the uniqueness of this city. Antigua means antique and it’s architecture reflects that vibe. Since several devastating earthquakes in past centuries have destroyed the city, it has been rebuilt to highlight its Spanish baroque colonialism. We’re in the highlands here and I can feel it in the air I breathe (as long as I am away from the roads). The Central Square in the middle serves as a focal point for all the narrow stone streets and walkways that are outlaid to the north and south and to the east and west. Navigation is simple here because of the geometric design.

The quiet streets are lined with restaurants and ‘tipico’ Mayan shops and as we make our way outwards, busy mercados offering Guatemalan wares in vibrant colours and patterns are for sale everywhere. Fabric designs are all woven to represent the village from where they were made. Tacos and other characteristic foods abound. The streets resound with music, conversations in Spanish and (often) loud discourse. “Come see my wares! Good prices!” are calls meant to entice tourists to enter shops and purchase souvenirs.

Paul and I have been here before. I remember feeling the intensity of the Mayan culture here, and also the noticeable tourist attraction of the place. Even Guatemalans flock to Antigua for a short respite from the big city of Guatemala just an hour’s drive away. Here is an opportunity to stroll, eat, drink and share the offerings of antiquity, nature and solemn religious energy. The churches beckon, with their massive walls and ceilings and strong constitution of rock and cement. The painted walls of the buildings mirror the colours of Mayan design.

The last time we were in Antigua was five years ago and though the city looks the same, I don’t think I am the same, and so I see the city differently. The residents seem more comfortable and at peace. There’s a community vibe on the streets that I didn’t experience before. I also don’t remember the challenges of walking the cobblestone roads as acutely as I do now. I suppose my body is older now.

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The children’s’ faces tell it all. There’s a calmness that pervades here as I see them following their mammas who walk with baskets on their heads trying to sell what they have so they are more able to feed their children. Sometimes I become troubled about the divisions that money, or lack of money, create for the ways that we view each other. Occasionally I will buy something, but mostly I offer smiles and communication with an innate understanding of the commonality of how we care for our family regardless of where we live in this diverse world. We reach out to each other with acknowledgement that says “I see you!” I understand…


Our ascent to Cerro De La Cruz this evening is easy. There are apparently about 300 steps to complete the climb. By the time we reach the top the sun is setting and the sky is misty with clouds. There’s a white film that flows across my span of vision and Christ’s cross stands majestic across the city’s view. I’m guessing it provides a security for many who live here.

It’s times like this when I feel on top of the world. I share the space with visitors, neighbours, tourists and residents. There’s music playing in the background. I’m not even sure from where it comes. Drums sound and in communion with those around me I feel at peace with all who are here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Remembrance Day 2016



 Today is Remembrance Day in Canada, and traditionally, although I wear a poppy, find moments to express my gratitude for peace and appreciation for War Veterans, Remembrance Day is not a holiday that I usually commemorate. War is not an activity I typically condone.

Today is different. As of Tuesday’s American election, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to express commitment, devotion, love and respect for our country, Canada. I appreciate this place like never before and, as I become more expressive in that appreciation, I strive to activate that patriotism…that love and gratitude that it exemplifies.

My parents, both Americans who lived in the U.S. until their death, taught me the value of commitment and patriotism. My father fought in the second world war and my mom volunteered to do whatever she could to make those years easier for soldiers and the citizens of the U.S. Even through the challenges of the 60’s and 70’s they both struggled to maintain their love for their country and to assert their faith in the political future. Both were ardent Democrats and engaged in ensuring fairness and consideration for all citizens.

I left the United States as a somewhat precocious teenager of 14. At that time I knew only that the country in which I was born was tormented. Engagement in the Viet Nam war in which both my brothers would have participated had it gone on longer, the leadership (and ultimate criminal behaviours) of the Nixon regime, living in a sterile environment of apartment buildings, office towers and subway stations, pushed me to leave. I went to Israel, lived on a kibbutz-like boarding school where I graduated with American accreditation and met a “nice Jewish” Canadian boy. At 18 years, I married, acquired my Canadian citizenship and actively and enthusiastically began my participation in all decisions of our country. I vote, stay informed with politics and maintain active involvement in my community. I consider myself  Canadian only, and except for the fact that I (apparently) still have American citizenship, I feel completely a part of this wonderful country! My life in Canada has been the greatest.

My heart aches for my American family members right now. This is not the United States they grew up into. I feel, strongly, their sadness from ‘the other side’. There is little I can do but let them know that….and to continue to live with honesty and integrity.
 
I want to remind my children that there is hope in this wonderful world! We must continue to care and to love, and remain active in our pursuit for peace and justice. We remember!!!

Today…Remembrance Day in Canada is a time to reconnect with what matters, to love in the face of adversity and to continue to work towards justice and freedom for all.

I love being Canadian!  Living in Toronto, Ontario was perfect while I was moving into and through my adult years. Growing up our children, developing my career, establishing my ‘purpose’ in life, and grounding myself in community, worked perfectly in the big city then. In Ontario I laid a solid foundation for who I wanted to become. When our ‘job’ there was complete, Paul and I transitioned slowly to British Columbia, and an environment more compatible with our lifestyle.

I appreciate how many people in Canada seem to show that they care for one another. Though it is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, many Canadians often begin a conversation with “I’m sorry”. I don’t like it necessarily, it’s often annoying to me, and yet, I’d rather that than conversation full of attack and blame. Maybe we tend to take more responsibility for our behaviours …sometimes, perhaps, to a fault.

As a society, I think we are less controlled by money. That’s not to say we don’t like money, and that consumerism and commercialism do not exist, but it’s not as prominent as in the U.S. Our roads are not completely lined with billboards. Our vistas do not become hidden by advertisements, and our social system is designed to attempt to ensure that those in need have some sort of safety net. We’re not perfect, and, we keep trying. Ultimately, we do care about each other!

I wish, like Costa Rica, we didn’t have a military. But we do! I also think our military is more involved with peace keeping, rather than overtaking and forcing our life style on other cultures. It’s not perfect, and still, it’s better than some.

We have many challenging times. Thankfully our leadership here in Canada is relatively strong and open minded and driven by justice and fairness. It’s not perfect, and still, it’s better than some. We continue to remember our past to create our future. And together we find ways to remind ourselves to be hopeful and maintain faith in the goodness of humankind. For me that’s what today is about!



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Clarity

“I can see clearly now. The rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.”

I’m feeling clearer. Depression is abating and the sensation of decluttering is comforting and welcome. I feel the anticipation of good things waiting in the future and I’m experiencing a gentle acceptance of events of the past. Now is what matters most and I am noticing the timelessness of the ‘now’. I can hardly remember what day it is, and, when 4:00 arrives, I am amazed at the passage of the time and at how much I engage during my day!

Ultimately we are each in search of happiness. We strive for safety, satisfaction and joy. How we access that joy is often challenging. “How do I have fun?” “What do I want to be when I grow up?” “What has meaning for me in my life?” “Where do I find that meaning?”

Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning suggests clearly that our very survival often depends on having a purpose for living. During his years as a Jew living in concentration camps, including Auschwitz for a few years, Frankl observed that those people who recognize meaning in their life tend to survive the misery and trauma of life in the camps more often than those who have lost purpose. A loving relationship (wife, husband, child, friend, etc), an idea for a book to write, pursuit of a career, being alive to ‘tell the story’, all constitute meaning for individuals. Meaning for living comes from within. Once established and identified, chances for survival increase.

Generally, in our western world, we are conditioned to look for answers externally. Media, television sitcoms, Hollywood movies, pop music, advertising generally influence the ways we choose to live. What we wear, when and where we wear it are often determined by conventions. The ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ frequently guide us in making decisions. “I should go to university because that’s what my parents expect.” “I’m 30 years old. I should have a baby already!” These influences often interfere with our own pursuit of personal bliss. “Should we go to the party?” is often the question instead of “Do I want to go to the party?”

The answers to these questions ultimately lie within each of our selves. Asking the right questions is the path to finding them.

For me, I feel smart enough, with rich and varied life experiences. I’m a good, loving and compassionate person. I trust that I have the answers to the questions that keep me unsettled. I continue to search and remain open, and I find peace as I seek love within my own heart. Clarity appears because my boundaries become established. The boundaries remain soft, appearing as cottony mountains…not solid walls. They are flexible, breathable and gentle. They provide safety and security.

Yes…de-cluttering is what I’ve been doing to achieve satisfaction. Prioritizing, breathing and letting go of things and relationships that don’t serve me well also is taking place. It allows me to think less and focus on what matters most… finding my own delight.




Saturday, April 30, 2016

Learnings From George

Sante Fe offers an alternative perspective of aging. Our friend, George was a healthy 72 year-old when I met him in 2012. His dark long hair clustered around his face. He smiled regularly and was ready at any time for our hugs. His facial expression was animated and varied in emotion.

Paul knew George from the 70’s. They played together in the Ontario band, Perth County Conspiracy. They had a good chance to play music together while we visited and had lots of time to reminisce. George and I connected quickly and, through many conversations over the days we spent in Santa Fe, our connection went deep.

George is a master piano player. During our time he insisted on giving me several 20- minute piano lessons. It left me with great memories and lasting opportunity for growth.

“Put your fingers gently on the keys.” He instructed. “Then just let them dance. The empty space between your fingers and your wrist is what plays the notes. Let that beautiful space fill up with the music.”

George just wanted me to play. He models the playing of the black keys, the pentatonic scale. He demonstrates other options using the white keys. He urges me to just play. I do. By the end of each lesson, if I really allowed myself to let go and tune in to the flow of making music, I was able to create some nice sounds. I experienced a sense of accomplishment and a recognition of my musical self.

I’m not surprised. I know I can learn anything that I want to learn. Learning requires hope. When I feel successful at what I am attempting, I persevere. Once I tap in to my own skills, it is easy to continue to believe in my own creative expression. The knowledge that I can sit down at a piano and play music is exciting!!!

Dr. Rick Hanson, a Buddhist practitioner and neuroscientist speaks prolifically about “hardwiring our brains for happiness”. Through deliberate awareness and mindful meditation we are able to actually change the physical configuration of our brain connections to accommodate new learning.

Rick refers to the acronym H.E.A.L. as a means to learn through positive experiences that rewire and change brain synapses, helping to modify our attitudes and behaviours and create a happier existence. Learning requires, first, Having an experience. That might be facilitated by a conversation, reading an article, seeing a movie, competing in a race, or even simply listening to a lecture. Being aware of having the experience and welcoming the newness of it helps the learner find the joy.

Enjoying the learning experience helps to make it a positive one and inspires the learner to ‘stick to it’ longer. The more we practise new information, the more apt we will be to remember it.

The ‘A’ stands for Absorb. Integrating the new information into our being with multiple sensory stimulus, helps us to find relevancy and reminds us where the information can be accessed when needed.

During my Yoga practise, I make sure to intermittently spend moments in Sivasana so that the postures I have been practising will become integrated into my body. Some people call that ‘muscle memory’. It helps me transfer my practise into my daily life.  How can I become more flexible in my attitudes? What do I need to do to stretch my perspectives more? Where in my life do I require more openness and clarity? Where can I find simple peacefulness and relaxation, even in the midst of an active and rich life.

This brings us to the ‘L’ in H.E.A.L. which stands for Link. Applying the new learning in different ways helps connect it physically to information we already have in our brain and the new learning becomes personal.

George has passed away since I met him, and I remember him with great love and admiration. And whenever I am learning something new, or even getting better at something old, I try to remember to simply “put my fingers on the keys, listen to the spaces in between the notes, and just let them dance”.






Friday, April 15, 2016

Walking on the Sunny Side

My walk down to the ferry yesterday was glorious! The daisies are exploding all over the island. Daisies were my mother’s favourite flower and, every time I see clusters of them I feel her presence.

 When walking on the road, people usually walk towards oncoming traffic. I usually try to abide by this practice. Today, I decided to walk on the other side of the street. The sun was shining on the ‘other’ side and I wanted to feel the warmth of the sun. I thought about that some, and realized, that, when I’m out in the world, I am generally cautious, no matter where I am, and I often do choose the sunny side, even if it requires a little bit more attention and caution. Some would say I live dangerously. I think I just live the way I want, and make sure it fits for me and doesn’t ever hurt anybody else.

Being aware of danger and remaining open and curious is ideal. I never want to live in fear. My mother used to prevent me from walking barefoot on the lawns of her property in Florida. “ You have to be careful about red ants.”, she would say. “The armadillos will attack you if they see you walking.”  “You never know what you’ll get if you walk barefoot in the grass.” I would listen to my mother, put on a little smile, and then, once I got far enough away, I would gently slip off my shoes. My eyes gazing in front of me anticipate any ‘monsters’ who might be on the ground, or under my feet. But mostly I reveled in burrowing in the thick, warm grass feeling the blades between my toes and the soil molding around my feet as I walked. I would meander towards the river that ran through their golf course property. My eyes remained open in anticipation of alligators and worms and (yes) even armadillos with their very interesting and protective shells. But, alas…I never saw any of these things, no matter how hard I tried. And….I got to walk barefoot and carefree ‘cause that’s who I am.

On Gabriola we have a community Labyrinth and, with others, I share a meditative walk each week. Generally it’s 30 minutes of silence…walking, stretching, pausing, reflecting. Sometimes we process our experience together.

My weekly labyrinth walk places me on the sunny side. No matter which part of the winding, twisting, turning path I find myself, I am able to settle in to letting go of the constant focus on future plans and goals and my general tendency to make sense of the world. Our labyrinth has a beginning and an end, both in view regardless of where you are within. There are no tricks. No dead ends, no unusual passages. It is simple and clear and one step influences another. I don’t get lost. I don’t need to think. It’s a relaxing way of being in the Now by quieting my mind and, ultimately, opening my heart.

The ‘sunny side’ appears as my bare feet gently touch down with each step. Often, I gain a great sense of ‘grounding’ just by removing my shoes! The people with whom I share the space, the beauty of my natural surroundings, the sounds of the variety of birds and insects, the sensation of the sun and (sometimes) cool air on my skin remind me of the simple pleasures that are available for me in my life!

Most often, I experience a great sense of gratitude, contentment and appreciation. Some times I can gently work through issues. Most often I leave with clarity and a joyful feeling of bliss.


I suppose in life, we make choices about how we want to be. For me, I know it isn’t always easy. Thankfully I allow myself to confront my fears, deal with uncomfortable situations, and resolve conflict with friends, family and life in general. These are the experiences that provide opportunity for growth and my own increased awareness. And it keeps me always searching for the sunny side of the street.