Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween 2012

 I am grateful to my friend, Leita for informing me about the Celtic origins of Halloween. I have generally believed that Halloween is a meaningless and flippant holiday; one that I avoided. It is the cause of jokes now that our children have grown up totally scarred because they were never allowed to go out trick or treating or engage in Halloween activities. The fact is…. in our house…. Halloween didn’t exist. I suppose that caused some issues for our kids.

We saw some great movies on Halloween night when the boys were young. It was my only way to help them get through the Halloween excitement without engaging in the activities. We didn’t have a lot of money in those days. I remember consciously saving enough to take them out for the evening and avoid the trick or treaters knocking on our apartment door begging for candy. I, for one, looked forward to having that night away from the antics of the holiday and together, creating alternative experiences with my kids.

My children grew up in a Jewish home. Wearing costumes and pretending to be someone else happens on a holiday called Purim when the intention is to dress up like the characters of the story of Purim. Wearing costumes on Halloween had no particular cultural significance. And going from house to house, begging for candy, dressed in monster costumes or Batman, simply went against every idea about healthy eating and nutrition that I tried to model.

Halloween is a very scary time for some youth. I realized that when I was a middle school teacher in the inner city of Toronto. In the students’ journals, as Halloween approached, expressions of stress and worries about ‘being mugged’ or ‘attacked’ for candy became a common topic of note. Many of these youth came from other countries, wanting to fit in to the Canadian way. In adolescence they want nothing more than to be accepted in the social mores of the environment. For many, Halloween made no sense in their country of origin, and complying with the practice just became easier than fighting the mainstream.

In addition, Halloween became opportunity for danger. Stories of razor blades and poison in distributed food led to the termination of homemade, interesting desserts to share with neighbours. The holiday became, for many, opportunity for violence and horror! Even movies depicting frightening faces of vampires and monsters intended to scare and haunt the child psyche. Desensitization to murder, carnage and gore brutality becomes desirable and amusing. There’s something wrong with this picture! Especially in a world that struggles with war, urban violence, prejudice and teen bullying, we want to promote and model positive activities. We need to be way more loving and compassionate and kind. Those are the behaviours we want to model and highlight.

We were definitely the exception in our community in Toronto. Most people completely bought into the practices of Halloween. Making (or buying) costumes, purchasing bags and bags of Hershey’s or Cadbury to distribute, getting involved with Halloween parties, all became a part of the days leading up to October 31st.

In my own classroom the challenge was to acknowledge the holiday and still respect the various cultures and religions that were represented in our learning environment. To represent the day, we would have a potluck lunch. Everybody had to bring food that was black or orange. Recently I have learned some interesting information about Halloween that opens me up to make more sense of this holiday.

A Pagan holiday in origin, it is said that October 31 is considered to be the identification of the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the 'darker half' of the year. The separation of the seasons is a time for change, ‘house cleaning’, preparation and inner reflection. It is time when many believe the ‘door’ to the otherworld opens allowing the souls of the dead to appear. It reminds me a bit about saying Yizkor and connecting to the loved ones in our lives who have passed. The Celtic holy day of Halloween is actually called Samhain (pronounced sow in). During the festivities people wore costumes to disguise themselves so they are unrecognizable from the evil spirits that could appear. Jack-o-lanterns, originally made from turnips, were carved and lit along the pathways for light and protection from the spirits. This was the last chance for these souls to seek vengeance on Earth before they were permanently settled in heaven. The trick or treating practice originated from the desire to distribute food to poor people who came to one’s house. Doing good and helping others, people believed, would save their souls.  Like Yom Kippur, it represents your ‘last chance’ for redemption.

There is also a Christian connection to Halloween, which many of us know as ‘All Hallows Eve’. Like the Celtics, it too is assumed that those spirits, who have not yet passed in to the Other World, use their last chance to make a presence in this world before they are moved on to Heaven.

I wish I had known more about Halloween while I was growing up and growing up my children. I’m not sure if it would have influenced me to practice the rituals for the holidays, but I do think I would have been much more forgiving of those who did.

Happy Halloween to all those who care…

Saturday, October 27, 2012


Thanksgiving was more than two weeks ago already and I still feel in a place of thankfulness.

I feel it when one of my four daughters calls in the morning to say “Hi mom. I just want to let you know I’ve arrived home safely. How was your weekend?”

I feel it as I move about our outside living space and marvel at the choices I’ve made in my life. Our outside composting toilet naturally feeds our trees and flowers. I am blessed with the presence of Nature and I feel the joy of my surroundings that feed me.

I feel thankful as I walk towards the ferry on my way into town to get passport photos taken. Living on an island sometimes means making extra effort to acquire simple things. I feel separated from and also connected to the rest of the world.  On my way down the road I see a sign “Live Music Thursday”. I am grateful.

I feel it as I teach Yoga to the people who come to our weekly soup social. We talk sometimes in between our intentional breathing. We move and stretch and balance and focus within, and sometimes in between asanas, we share stories and tears and laughter. And always there is thanksgiving.

I feel it when I am able to share my gifts, further developing literacy skills with adults, helping high school dropouts acquire secondary school certification. I feel it when these people begin to talk about university and future learning options that previously were deemed insurmountable. I feel it when a local resident, destitute and addicted to drugs, rises from his dank, dark and densely smelly trailer with a smile on his face as I bring him healthy and fresh food from our local food bank.

I feel so grateful when Paul turns over in bed, wraps me in his arms and warm body and helps me settle down to a calm and better place for sleep.

I am grateful for the chance to love my 87-year-old mother. She used to be an angry, hurtful and jealous parent when I was growing up. She has reached a place of peacefulness and acceptance. I think of it as being in a mental place of Yoga and meditation. She loves me now. I know that, and most importantly, she knows it. I’m thankful that she gets to feel that love before she dies. And I am thankful for the love I feel for her.
I am grateful for the rain, and the cool winds as autumn shows her presence. God’s colours are changing now. The red leaves, once so green, are dropping from the now tired branches. They are mingling with the yellows and oranges and golds from other trees creating a warm blanket for the earth.

I give thanks for the many friends and neighbours here, on Gabriola who stop and talk with me on my way to the mailbox, or at the village market where I go to buy milk. And to Michelle in the produce department, who stops me to say, “What are you looking for, Amy?” as she observes my confused expression and realizes that I have completely forgotten why I came into the store in the first place.

The other day, I read something on one of my friend’s Face book pages. She wrote, “Why can’t I just feel good all the time?” When that happens to me, I say….”Let me find something good in  my world.” and then I remember! I am even thankful to that friend for the reminder!

Monday, October 15, 2012


“Where is home?” I often get asked as I travel through the world.

Home is the quiet of my soul. The place I go to when I feel lost and untethered. I find strength and comfort when I allow myself to go inside, meditate and sit quietly. I find home in my own being.

Home is the deafening sound of the quiet in the woods on our land. Or the growl of the wind as it passes from sea to sea. Home is the hum of the ferry liner cruising past Gabriola as it makes its way to the mainland.

Home is the warmth of the rocks on the shore at Drumbeg  Park. The eagles soaring above my head. It is the gentleness of the rain pattering on the canvas roof of our yurt in the afternoon. It is the crackle that comes from the wood stove.

Home is the dazzling contrast of God’s colours everywhere I look…blue sky, green leaves, brown bark from the trees…simple and profound.

Home is the comfort I feel as I look into my love’s face. It is the simple conversations that we have. It is the politics, literature, money issues, joys, dreams and fears that we get to share together. It is believing that we can always be together.

Home is making simple meals and lighting candles and drinking cheap red wine that we make ourselves for $3.00 bottle. Home is anywhere in the world, and everywhere in the world. With Paul I am home.

Home is actively sharing love with my children. It is knowing that, as we grow older, our relationship deepens, and we open up to understand each other more. Home is being with them, through all aspects of our lives, sharing laughter, tears, music, grief and joy. Home is having them near me, where ever we are on this planet.

Home is knowing that what I do in the world is helpful to others and that I make difference in their lives.

Home is teaching and the gift of being able to help others become more aware…of life…of their universe…. of themselves.

Home is learning. Travelling and reading and talking to others helps me expand my opinions and my perspectives. Learning is listening with my eyes and ears and an open heart… without judgement and the need to form an opinion. Learning is accepting every point of view before I feel confident enough to form my own opinion. Home is being able to say, “I don’t know.”

Home is writing. Paper, computer, dictation into my IPhone allows me to express what goes on in my heart and soul. It is that form of expression that connects me with others. It is the pathway that I create to make sense of myself in this world. Letting stuff out makes more room for finding space at ‘home’.

My life is full! At 57 years old I have lived in many places of the world. I have been born into and created family where personalities have incubated and flourished. I have studied, taught, sacrificed, danced, laughed, mourned, and sown myself carefully into this universe. I continue to do all that. I am here, now. I am home!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time of Change- Rosh Hashana

Just Thinkin'
Paul and I just celebrated the Jewish High Holy Days with our beloved spiritual community in Toronto. The ‘Days of Awe’ were truly awesome as I focussed on those special gathering times and concentrated on prayer and introspection and holiness. It is a time to reconsider, re-settle and re-establish in anticipation for a year a head. It is a time of transition and adjustment. It is evidenced everywhere.
Full moon drumming

I notice it in the autumn moon as it has moved into a different place across the night sky. Shifting its way further north, in its fullness I need no lantern as I wonder outside. It is an unfamiliar stream of light for me, now shining on the back of our yurt. In the middle of the night the air is still cool, not cold, and the quiet of the woods fools me into believing it could actually be summer.

The morning brings change too. The Japanese maple tree on our neighbour’s drive has completely changed into a bright red, the leaves reacting to the coming cold. The fallen leaves create a colourful blanket on the bicycle path I ride each day.

The coffee brews and I am excited about the day! The potatoes in our garden need to be dug up. Potatoes don’t get ‘picked’ like other vegetables. They are like gold, hiding themselves under and between. I’m going to find them today in preparation for meals for the next few days.

A place of beauty
I am putting the garden to sleep. I pull finished plants and mix the soil with manure from the island horse farms. When I still lived in Toronto I learned how to ‘lasagne’ the garden by placing cardboard and newspaper over the entire ground. That allows it to decompose into the soil. Our garden on Whalley Road will benefit from that too.

Nature provides space for change. As I prepare for the winter months I notice the absence of birds and the increase of squirrel activity. We too are readying ourselves for the change of temperature and the coming of rain. “We can do this,” I think to myself.

The rains are pouring. It is our first autumn on Gabriola living in a yurt. How wonderful to have this beautiful structure to rest in. It’s warm, thanks to the blazing fire we maintain in the wood stove. We have no shortage of fine wood to contribute to the fire. And the round frame of our abode is solid and secure.

The rain pounds on the canvas. At times it is thunderous…a gentle thunder that reminds me how lucky we are to have this protection.
Feeling 'ready'

Sunday morning brings a calm to my life. Coffee, Yoga, chatting with friends and family. I am still connected to the outside world! And I reflect upon the strong connection I have with self. The change, for me, is noticeable.

The slugs occupy my toothbrush holder in our washing basin again. Spiders carefully construct their webs under our hand-made roofs, providing more protection than would have been available before. I carefully remove my sugar bowl from the shelf to avoid destroying the intricate web.

Change is good. The New Year comes upon me with wonder and a rejuvenated anticipation of what lies ahead. It certainly feels like a Shana Tova!