Saturday, December 28, 2013

Happy New Year- 2014

The barking from across the ocean lets me know the sunrise is soon. Our friend tells us that sea lions know when the sunrise is coming and they get even more excited when it’s going to be a beauty!

This morning the sea lions call loudly. The cacophony from across the ocean wakes us early. From our bed inside the yurt we hear them clearly. The nights are long now.  The darkness of night still lingers at 7:30. If we move, we know we’ll get to the point in time to watch the rising of the sun! Pouring our coffee in our travelling cups we walk the 5 minutes through the woods to Drumbeg Park.

It’s early, and, it’s worth it. The sun peeks her way up over the mountains and soon there’s a stream of light across the water. Together we talk about the wonder of our universe as it revolves around the sun. We are moving, all the time, and we are exposed to different views along the way.  It inspires me.

The new year begins this week. 2014 looms! There are so many exciting changes ahead of me.

We leave for Thailand next week after a brief solo visit to NY to see my mom. Thailand is a place we’ve never been to, and the prospect of tapping into new culture is exciting! We have many plans to visit friends, scuba dive, practice Yoga, eat good food and learn. We’ll finish our trip in India to visit friends and be in the places we love. We return to Gabriola in spring just in time for planting our gardens.

Paul and I are building our house on Gabriola. After living in tents, then our yurt, and existing mostly outside, we’ve decided to build a house with real walls and a more obvious separation from the outdoors. Our friends, who are accomplished builders, are the primary builders. Paul and I intend to help. So far the planning and dreaming process has brought us all closer together. In November, the process begins for real.

I will be in my 60th of life during 2014! For me that inspires deep reflection and contemplation. I look forward to creating new ways of getting out there in my world. I intend to be the best ’60 year old’ person that I can be! This coming year gives me time to reflect and plan for that. I see big changes in my future. A desire to ‘nest’, spend time with my family, and cultivate the creative essence of who I am, are all plans for this coming year.

I continue to recreate myself in my work. As I plan on being here continuously through the year, I can accept more ‘permanent’ positions. Creating a learning community for a full year is different from dropping in for a few days. I look forward to cultivating long term relationships with groups of teachers and with young people in various learning environments. And I want my work to continue to enhance the lives of others.

I have committed to a nine-month intensive Yoga programme on the island. Regular retreats and weekly classes of focussed practice are ways for me to more thoroughly integrate Yoga into my life. Working with Flo will enhance my own practice and also give me the confidence to share what I know with others. By the summer months I want to be teaching two separate classes. One of them will be for older women and the other for people who might benefit from simple practice and the understanding of how Yoga can fit easily into their lives.

This year I want to be physically healthy and strong. That means focussing more on what I eat, and trying not to eat (and drink) some things. I want to remain active and concentrate on turning 60 gracefully and strong. Yoga, running, bicycling, weight bearing exercises are all activities I want to enhance in my life.

Travel will be different this year. Shorter trips perhaps more often. We’re planning to take trips with our kids and meet up with friends in different places of the world. My ‘nesting’ desire leads me to want to be close. I also want to go to places I’ve never been! And I want to explore the world with my best friend and husband, Paul.

I find myself in a place in my life, where I think “It can’t get better than this”! I have the most wonderful partnership in marriage than I could even have asked for. My children are all happy, self-sufficient and loving. I have close friends in so many places who welcome me and love me and with whom I share many adventures. I have good work to do. I live in a most spectacular place.

I have everything material that I could possibly want. On the one hand 2014 can’t get better than this! On the other…..anything is possible. Anything is possible!

To all….may your year also bring joy, adventure, love, growth and good health! Happy 2014!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Pondering the Christmas Spirit

Bah Humbug! 

It’s not that I don’t like holiday time. How can I not! People generally seem more joyful, more considerate, more generous, and caring. Shopping for gifts, being influenced to think about others’ desires are all ways for us to practise the ‘giving spirit’. Colourful lights sparkling sporadically as we drive down the streets. Twinkling charms that beckon us to come together, share hot soup, sing in song, join in celebration of life.

It’s not that I don’t like holiday time! I just frustrate about the fact that we can’t be like this with each other all the time.

It’s like my distaste for Mother’s Day. I discourage gift giving and special treatment from my kids on Mother’s Day. I want them to practise that respect on other days of the year too. Not just one! And I don’t want only one day of the year when we spend time together! Why wait for public pressure to express love for mom!!!

And Valentine’s Day! Is that the one day of the year that we openly express love for lovers and friends? We could do that every day, and it feels so good to share that love! Imagine... sending a card to someone you care for just for appreciation for another day of being able to love them! Or receiving a delicious box of chocolates in June, just because you are loved and cared about!
Thanksgiving Day can be a bit wearisome too. Is there only one day of the year when we sit down together with family and friends and give thanks for all that the world has to offer us? I think not! We could only benefit by doing that everyday!

I suppose, on the one hand, if we don’t have these holidays that help us ‘model’ how to appreciate our lives, many of us would never have the practice. Highlighting days that remind us to show thoughtfulness and gratitude and expressions of love for people in our lives, is a little like taking an exam. The purpose of an exam is to show what we know. Sometimes we cram for the exam, making sure we regurgitate the content to satisfy the system. Sometimes we learn for the exam, and the content becomes completely integrated into our lives. When that happens, exam taking is easy. We know how to do it. It becomes innate to our being and practising what we learned becomes more authentic. The content becomes integrated.

Sometimes though, we 'cram' and our objective is simply to pass the exam. We put effort in to getting the answers right, sometimes without really learning the material. We pass the exam all right, but, do we really understand the content? Have we really learned what the exam set out to test in the first place? Does giving the ‘perfect gift’ on Christmas provide enough depth to continue to give even when the holiday isn’t here?

I want to live in a world where practising appreciation and caring happens every day. I want to be able to pass any ‘pop quiz’ that comes my way, and be ready to achieve passing grades in life at any given time!

Bah humbug? Not really! Just Happy Holidays to all and sincere hopes that we can share love and joy together and make each day a special holy day.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thank You Eric!

There’s nothing new! My undergraduate degree from university was in English Literature with a minor in Psychology. I was, even then, aware of the infancy of the science of Psychology at that time. Although there were several theorists with ideas about psychological development, there was still uncertainty and confusion about what is ‘normal’ and what is ‘deviant’ behaviour.

I remember learning at that time about Eric Erikson’s theory of The Eight Ages of Man, a structural theory of human development that is based on generalization and age appropriate expectations. Even then, I was leery about those generalizations and questioned the authenticity of the stages. As I grew and continued my studies in education and child development, I began to understand that these generalizations provide a basic framework for understanding and not a definitive structure. Instead they allow for a context for emotional and psychological growth within one’s own social environment. Throughout my life so far, I have referred to Erikson’s theory to help me ground myself in ‘normal’ and help me understand my self in relation to the world around me.

Today, as I hike through the mountains of Ojai in California, I ponder the idea:  “What am I really doing in this lifetime?” As change becomes the only constant in my life I continue to question what I’m doing. Once again, I find solace in his theory.

Next month I turn 59 years old. That means I will be in my 60th year of life. I have raised 7 incredible human beings and continue to be involved in each of their lives. I have forged an incredible career in education and continue to share my experiences and expertise with youth and educators all over the world. I am socially conscious and actively involved in trying to make our world a better place. In Hebrew we call that ‘Tikkun Olam’ - repairing the world. I am grateful for my life thus far and excited about exploring further, learning more, expanding my own possibilities and remaining aware of how to help our younger people develop a sense of efficacy and a realistic approach to possible changes to address.

For each stage of development, Erikson provides two possibilities for age acquisition. (For the complete explanation of the eight ages, check out Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development). Basically, Erikson suggests that at each stage, there is possibility for crisis or for healthy development.

1.  TRUST VS. MISTRUST (BIRTH- 18 MONTHS)                                              5.   IDENTITY VS. ROLE CONFUSION (12- 17 YEARS)
2.   AUTONOMY VS. SHAME AND DOUBT (18 MONTHS - 3 YEARS)                   6.   INTIMACY VS. ISOLATION  (17- 35 YEARS)
3.   INITIATIVE VS. GUILT (3 - 5 YEARS)                                                       7.   GENERATIVITY VS. STAGNATION (35- 65 YEARS)
4.   INDUSTRY VS. INFERIORITY (5 -12 YEARS)                                             8.   INTEGRITY VS. DESPAIR (65 - DEATH)

Ideally, individuals who live through this 7th stage with a sense of generativity, find it easier to transition into the last stage (Integrity vs. Despair) with a strong sense of achievement and satisfaction about accomplishments and progress.  Appreciation and gratitude help us feel a sense of satisfaction, even a sense of completion. “I have lived a good life. I have done well. I am satisfied.” Alternatively, if a person is not finding contentment in these years, the final stage leads to a sense of regret and despair.For me, at this point, I focus on my current stage of development. The second stage of adulthood (ages 35-64) Erikson calls Generativity vs. Stagnation. These are the years of concentration on career development and immersion in our work world. It is the time to give back to our society and help improve the world through vocation and healthy life style choices. It is also, for many, the time for family creating, giving birth to and growing up children to be strong, happy and independent human beings. Marriage, family, social life and work provide the social structure that guides our world during these years. All of this gives a sense of purpose.
One thing I’m very aware about is that I am undoubtedly in the 7th stage of the eight ages identified! In fact, more modern theorists even suggest that the stage of Generativity vs. Stagnation actually finishes at 55 years old. That’s an amazing realization for me… am I that old? At the same time, I’m okay with that. I feel healthy and strong. I remain excited and curious about my immediate world. I am full of love for most of those people around me. I am still often awe struck by my natural (and often unnatural) surroundings. I want to find love where I am, seek inner strength when necessary, and maintain good health. I want to have a sense of worth always, and nurture my desire to help others. In fact, I want to keep doing and being all of those things, right through the end of my life! I want to continue to feel positive about living and maintain a wholesome place in this world. And if and when that stops, I think I’ll be ready. But, for now, I think I’ll just get ready for my next adventure. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Moving Through Change

Paul and I just spent a week in Toronto. We packed up our house that we have been renting out for the past 2 years. 
The packing included all of our own belongings from the past 7 years since we moved into that house, the 15 years of cohabitation before that in our big suburban house, the 40 something years before that, and even remnants from both of our parents’ homes collected after their deaths.

It took us four days to pack up, give away, send off, sell and move our stuff! The job is done!

I’m not sad about leaving Toronto. It’s a very busy city! I feel it the moment our airplane touches the ground. There is a constant buzz in the air and people walk around seemingly planning their next step each move they make. Miserable faces lead me to believe there is little ‘living in the moment’. If happiness is based on being content, how can we be content if we’re constantly looking towards the future? I am noticing more and more the beauty of living in the moment that is now! Toronto served its purpose during all the years we lived there, brought up our family, and nurtured the relationships that have enriched our lives. It is definitely time to move on.
I have many incredible friendships in Toronto. Those relationships will change, no doubt! Some of them will even become deeper because of the ways in which we’ll need to connect in order to sustain them. I welcome that. Phone calls, Skype conversations, simple and quick ‘chats’ on email and Facebook will be the ingredients for more intimate and ‘quality’ visits. For those friendships I feel deeply blessed.

This morning I woke up so early, I needed a lantern when I went to the washroom. It was windy and quite cold and damp. I had stoked the wood-burning fire before I left the yurt. Inside it is toasty warm and oh so comfortable. Outside the winds howl, the trees dance and the darkness smells of the lingering night air. Now I can say, “I don’t have a house.” Of course, now that we have the cash, we intend to build a house on our property. We want to do it slowly, carefully and with precision. We want to be completely involved in the process and we expect to be fully ‘hands on’. That’s why we intend to hire our friends to be the builders.

We’re in no rush. For now, life in our yurt is just where we want to be. Building will come in a timely manner, and, along with our needs, it will include the desires and needs of our many children. We want our home to continue to be a gathering place where all feel welcome and safe and comfortable. Our son says, “That’s easy. Just make sure there’s a real toilet!” We’ll have to think about that one!

From bustling Toronto to quiet and wild Gabriola Island, from a downtown, spacious brick, 5 bedroom house to the simplicity of a yurt, from the hubbub of people scurrying from one ‘thing’ to the next, to the peaceful and calm delight in Nature….I have to say….I’m happy!

Next steps… Bring it on!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

There's a Kinda Hush

There’s a kinda hush on our land this morning. The power has been shut down to replace the Hydro poles that stand on South road and provide electricity to the entire island.

We’ve known about the power outage for a few weeks. There have been several reminders to help us anticipate the 12 hours that power will be shut down. We’ve been preparing a little. Last night we filled jugs of water to use throughout the day. We made extra coffee yesterday morning, so we could reheat it on the propane stove today. We’ve done all our laundry so we can pack for our trip to Toronto starting tomorrow morning. And we’ve cleared our computer ‘desks’ of all work that needs to be done before we leave.

I am aware of how heavily I rely on electrical power. And, although I appreciate all that electricity provides for us, I think I take it a little too much for granted. So I am grateful for the reminder of how our life used to be. It feels a little bit like Yom Kippur. For one full day we fast, doing without food and water for about 24 hours, so that we might un-clutter our souls and pray with clarity and simplicity. Today I intend to pray differently.

I am writing! I have somehow cleared my ‘busyness’ to allow for time to express. Lately I have been feeling unmotivated and blocked. Sometimes I think I just have nothing to say that’s worth sharing! That stops me from writing! Recently a good friend gave me a book to read. It’s called, Wabi Sabi For Writers by Richard R. Powell. Using beautiful poetic prose, Powell glorifies the imperfect beauty in the world and the ways in which we choose to relate to it. We are, in fact, all imperfect, and our imperfect natural surroundings are profound in their beauty and power. Sometimes, it is the absence of beauty that makes it so beautiful. I wonder if that is also true with the absence of electrical power for a day!

Today we’ll work outside in the gardens, tending to last minute harvest and lovingly putting the rest of the grounds to bed for the winter. It’s a great day to be outside. There are no electrical currents flying through the air. The gentle breeze does not carry electrical charges that energize our phones and wifi, and pass through our bodies and brain cells in the process. There is no buzz that permeates the atmosphere. The birds’ cackle seems clearer, and echoes through the emptiness of the breeze. There is a kinaesthetic calm and no unseen interference. I get to ground myself, quietly and undisturbed in the earth.

There is anticipation that some people might react poorly to the absence of electricity.  The organization I work with on the island (PHC-People For a Healthy Community) is providing a special lunch and social gathering for anyone wanting to come out. In one of the buildings with a generator we will be making soup and sandwiches and will be available for people to come together. For some, just the disruption in ordinary daily routines creates stress and angst. As a community, it is wonderful to be able and willing to anticipate the challenges that others might experience and do something proactive and generous to deal with it together.

Paul and I leave in the morning to begin to make our way to Toronto to finish the closing pieces of the sale of our house there. Our early morning ferry will get us to from Gabriola to Nanaimo for the big ferry ride to Vancouver where our flight originates. Today is a perfect opportunity to pack and ready myself for the week we plan to be away. I look forward to seeing our kids who live in the east, visiting with friends and community, and closing up a wonderful and enriching chapter of our lives on Vermont Ave.

Life is busy right now. Juggling the move, preparing our living space for winter, working during the week, carrying on a rich social life, and also making plans to travel starting next month is sometimes overwhelming. For now, I think I’ll just enjoy the hush and know that all will get done in time. For now, I will simply enjoy the moment….quiet and still.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

There's A Change A-Coming!

 The moon streamed straight across our land last night and illuminated my path. It doesn’t always appear like that. Sometimes as I walk outside, the black of the night is blinding. Then I have to stop and adjust to the darkness. But last night, the moon shone and my path was clear. This moon’s new path reminds me that the season is changing. With it brings adventure.

I am aware of the change everywhere. Our garden, recently dripping with fruit, is shrivelling and shrinking. Slowly I respond by placing layers of manure collected from a nearby horse farm, covered with another layer of compost collected from our many wonderful meals here, and then a hefty layer of sea weed from our beaches atop the tired soil. This will keep the soil warm, clean and enriched. Next spring it will be ready and healthy for growing new seedlings.

Our summertime has been eventful and serene. I have learned a lot about gardening, meditation and Yoga, learning and teaching, people, and myself. It has been a time of growth for me. I have put time into being alone, sitting quietly and focussing on my own power and strength. I realize the benefit that provides for others and for myself in my relationships and in my life.

The changing of the seasons brings on new adventures. We have decided to sell our house in Toronto and focus on building a house here on Gabriola. That’s a big step for us! We love living outside and a bit off the grid. We revel in the beauty and simplicity of our yurt, and welcome the challenges that come along with having to venture outside for everything else. It rationalizes our travel in the winter months and provides for easy transition through the seasons. I’m not quite ready to give up living like this.
At the same time, circumstances encouraged us to sell, and the cosmic direction just seemed to present itself. We are moving on, I suppose… slowly. We’re guessing it will take us 3 years to build our home here, considering the fact that we don’t want rush, we’re not ready to make a drastic change, and we still have the ability and desire to keep going. Building a house lends some sense of permanency. We’ll be more ready for that in 3 years.  
Change is exciting! For some, I know, change is abhorrent. I know many people who like things just the way they are. They prefer staying home to exploring the outside world. They resist travelling and like to keep things orderly, predictable, and sound. I like that too sometimes, I have to admit. That’s what summers, for me, are about. I enjoy watching the sunflowers grow tall, and the zucchini plants spread across the garden floor. The calm air keeps everything still. Nothing moves. Just the upward growth, the sounds of sunshine, and the energy of visitors that surround.

But I have to say, change brings newness to my life. It inspires inner growth and outreach. It provides new inspiration for learning and seeking and satisfying the curiosity that drives my mind and spirit.
New adventures keep me interested and excited. The unknown keeps me aware. I am forever delving into the depths of my soul to discover new ways of being and seeking love and compassion everywhere.

So bring it on, change! I’m ready. As I keep my mind’s eye on the silent path of the moon.

Saturday, August 31, 2013


Tonight begins the period of Selichot in the Jewish practise. Selichot, in Hebrew, means forgiveness. Selichot service begins a time that spans from Rosh Hashana to Yom Kippur. Metaphorically, the Gates of Heaven open up to welcome prayers of praise, appreciation, supplication and forgiveness. It is a time to reflect, with absolute humility, before God, and ask forgiveness for any wrongdoings we might have committed during the year. During these 10 days of ongoing contemplation, the Gates of Heaven remain open. The final service of Yom Kippur, Neilah, provides one last opportunity to be heard before the gates close. Prayers, music, poetry, prose and meditations, bring us deep within ourselves and focus on forgiveness and appreciation and change. These are the Days of Awe.
As I think about Selichot this year and connect with its’ meaning for me, I recognize the possibilities of awareness available to me. My Jewish background, recently enhanced with Yoga, meditation and Sanskrit chants, enhances my spiritual practise. Recognizing similarities between these different practises is rewarding. For instance, in Jewish prayer, we say “Amen” at the end of the prayer. That is a way to say: “Really and truly - I really mean it”. At the end of a Hindu chant, the final words are Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. The first recitation of Shanti is about self, the second is for family and close relations, and the third is for the universe. May we all find peace within, in our relationships, and in our world.
So Selichot for me this year is about the following:
Shanti #1- ultimately, I have to love myself. I reflect on my own integrity and find the love and compassion within that helps me accept and unconditionally love others. When I truly love myself, it is natural to reach out to others with love and compassion. I no longer feel the need to sympathize or even empathize with others. Just to listen and find compassion. There they too might find forgiveness.
Shanti #2- India Arie says in one of her songs “No one can hurt you like your kin”. I am finding more and more that when I hurt in my heart it is usually related to my immediate family. My role as mother, daughter, sister, wife, and cousin brings me my greatest joys, and my deepest pain.
I have made many mistakes in my various familial roles. At times I have been too young, too ignorant, or even too selfish to know how to ‘do the right thing’ with those whom I care about the most. Maybe, at times, I tried too hard, and created bad outcomes that might have been better to leave alone. Perhaps I have spoken words that were hurtful, and allowed my emotions to reign. I might even have caused damage that has become difficult to repair.
I can only ask for forgiveness. I cannot expect forgiveness because I might not receive forgiveness from those I ask.  Again, I return to my own integrity. When others might stay angry with me, I have only myself as a reminder that I am a good person, that I love with openness and compassion and that it is never my intention to hurt my loved ones. That doesn’t mean I don’t. It just means I try not to, and sometimes I do anyway! For this, I am truly sorry. To move through this, I have to forgive myself, even if others don’t forgive me when I ask.
Shanti #3- I feel responsible for others in this world. I leave my arms and heart open for people who have difficulty trusting the world around them. I want to be a constant source of love and strength, obvious and bright, so others experience unconditional acceptance. That doesn’t mean that ‘everything is all right’. Sometimes it’s the love that could motivate an alcoholic to stop drinking, or a student to work more diligently, or a daughter or son to consider alternative behaviours in life. My quest to be ‘my brother’s (or sister’s)’ keeper is meant with only the best intentions. Even this has sometimes caused others pain. Sometimes those closest to me feel abandoned and forgotten.
Ultimately I seek love and compassion and want to be a loving and compassionate person. I strive to forego judgement and focus on the behaviour, not the person. “I don’t like what you’re doing, and I love you anyway!”
As we settle in to these Days of Awe I want to begin my transformation with simplicity. If I have done anything in this world that has hurt anyone or anything, I am truly sorry. I love myself enough to know that I can’t know everything. What I know for certain is that I am not perfect. I have made, make, and probably will continue to make big mistakes. I want to strive to be a good person, to find love within, to share it unconditionally with those closest to me, and to do what I can in this world to make it a better place.
Shana Tova, and G’mar Chatima Tova to everyone and everything, everywhere! Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Staying Grounded

Tomorrow is the first day of June, 2013! I have certainly been neglecting my blog lately! Writing has not been something that keeps me grounded right now.

So what has been keeping me grounded? 

The ground mostly! I’ve been pulling and digging and cutting and raking and moving and cleaning. Living outside means that everywhere I look is a place for organization and beauty. Possibilities are limitless. The boundaries become self-imposed. Each day I establish exactly which area and how much of that area, I will ‘tidy up’. After the Winter, the grounds need to be cleared. Trees shed their extra weight all over the ground. There’s a thick blanket of fir cones, needles, broken bark that I either mix in with the soil or gather with a lawn rake for burning. It’s what I call “cleaning the dirt.” It’s endless, if I want it to be. I don’t. I concentrate on the little patches of gardens that we have established over the years and the small clusters of space for sitting and meditation. We decorate our outside as if each area is a room for inhabiting. With no walls, our living space is endless. So is keeping it neat and tidy. It is exterior decorating as opposed to interior.

I have moved from ‘looking for work’ to ‘looking for work that needs to be done’. I watch for job opportunities for teaching and facilitating and respond to them professionally. I am realizing that there is a great deal that can be done right here on the Island. Homeschooling parents who struggle with the task of educating their children, young adults who leave school before they have completed their diploma, middle school students who benefit from someone to help them through the coursework that simply has no relevance to their lives. I spend hours a week with young people who need help. An old Principal friend of mine (and mentor) once taught me, that if you want to be hired for a job, it’s best to be doing the job first. That makes sense to me. I intend to do the job I want to be doing right here on the island. 

Yoga! I find my daily practise grounds me; to my self, to my natural surroundings and to my purpose. In the warmth of our yurt, in front of the burning wood stove, and facing outside our window, I meditate through the asanas, stretching, flexing, bending, twisting, and breathing. These (and others) are all practises that I want to strengthen in my life and learn to integrate into a neatly woven and beautiful pattern. To become more flexible in my thinking, and to ‘stretch’ my self further than what is typically comfortable for me are concepts that I get to focus on during my asana practise. Becoming less rigid and learning how to twist will help me become less sensitive. I don’t break as easily and others can feel confident in my strength and support. That takes exercise. I want to be strong for others and give compassionately and securely! 

My varied relationships with others, keeps me grounded in my world. Maintaining connections with family members, building friendships, and caring for others around me is gratifying. I do truly believe that we need to take care of each other. Cooking and delivering soup to a sick friend or driving someone to the doctor’s for a treatment or spending an evening with friend who recovers from surgery are all ways of making this little world just a bit more pleasant and beautiful. I am in the process of organizing a group of people to care for a friend who is has serious health challenges. We are trying to help him maintain normalcy of life in his own home, here on Gabriola. There are enough loving people around to make it work. I feel inspired to work diligently in my own small world, and, as I travel, share my skills and talents with others as the need becomes evident.

I am hoping to write more, although I am reluctant to make promises I might not keep! Stay tuned….just in case!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

My Mother's Hands

My mother’s hands were slim and tapered and were soft as velvet. It was a sign of being feminine and petite she used to tell me. “Your manicure reflects the type of person you are”, she used to say. Hers were sleek, softened with hand cream, meticulously primed and precisely shaped.

Mom used her nails as an insignia. They were unusually hard and extremely strong. She would intentionally tap them on the tabletop to accentuate the beat in a rhythm or create the pattern for a rhyme. It was her way of getting attention.

My mother’s nails shone vibrant colours. As the times changed, so did the hue. Red, brown, white, green polish covered the smooth sloping curve of the enamel. Her nails conformed to the era.

Sometimes, her hands looked smooth and supple and I knew she was calm and rested. When she had time to ‘do her nails’ they reflected the attention that she was able to give them. Sitting close to a table with emery board in hand, she strategically placed a Kleenex sheet close by to clean up any mistakes as she worked. The two small bottles of polish sat nearby…one clear for the undercoat and nail hardener, the other whatever colour she had chosen for the week.

My mom grew up wealthy in a time when wealth was unusual for a Jewish immigrant family. Her father provided well for her and her older sisters and mother. As a furrier, his emigration from Poland proved to be lucrative. He got here earlier than most of the Jews of his time, and as a young man, learned the trade of buying and selling furs. He knew how to mingle with and socialize with those of influence and wealth. He knew how to look polished and sculpted and to gain acceptance from a culture that relied on first impressions and that formed opinions based on visual presence. Morris learned to do what was necessary to fit in.

And money was important. Rose, my mother’s mother, wore wealth on the outside of her body. Proudly she walked through the streets of New York wearing furs and diamonds. Her solid, strong, poised body reflected a false pride through her adornment. She wore her wealth with ease, hiding the inner poverty that plagued her soul.  My mother’s mother taught her to glide through her world without having to deal with the inner issues of life.
The Depression crashed my mother’s family’s world. As my mother grew up, manicured fingers and polished nails helped disguise the ragged, bruised and bleeding state of their lives. What could not be displayed on the outside remained buried.

My mother learned to stuff her worries within. “Make sure that you don’t get involved.” “Keep your secrets to yourself.” “Mind your own business.” “Blend in with the crowd.” “Don’t make a scene.” “Present yourself well.” That’s why my mother’s hands always looked so delicate and vulnerable and tense.  So was she. The manicure could not hide what I knew to be true.

Years have passed. My mother’s hands tell another story.  They lay quietly in her lap. The palms face upward and her fingers are spread as an offering to the heavens. She sits upright in her cushioned seat, both feet planted firmly on the floor in front of her. Her eyes are gently closed as her head tilts slightly down.

When I ask mom now what she is doing when she is in this posture, she quietly answers “Nothing”. “Are you sleeping?” I persist. “No,” she says. “Are you thinking, then?” “No,” she continues.
“Then what are you doing, mom?”
“Nothing,” she insists.

I have come to understand what my mother does as she sits quietly all day. She sits content in a state of calm and meditation. She is happy. For the first time in her life, my mother is satisfied to simply sit. She no longer needs to paint her nails and show something to the world. She doesn’t have to be doing something all the time. And she need not present her self.

My mother’s hands no longer shine with colour. They don’t wave the way they used to and the pale dry flesh is blotched with brown spots of age. The skin around the nails is soft and smooth, and the cuticles no longer bleed and crack. She doesn’t paint her nails with bright colours any more. My mother’s hands lay natural and soft. The skin hangs loosely on her knuckles. They are beautiful and real…my mother’s hands. Just the way God intended them to be. Just the way she is.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Passover in Our Yurt- 2013

We’ve been back now almost two weeks. It feels like we are just starting to gather the edges of our parachute together after landing.

seder in our yurt
Gabriola welcomes us with a wide embrace. The rains subside after the first few days and the sun begins to shine brightly on the day our friends from Toronto arrive to be with us for Passover. Though we haven’t really had the time to settle in, I feel the comfort in the familiarity of our forest home. As I wander, I notice which trees have survived the relatively mild winter, and which have fallen. I begin to plan a clean up and preparation for planting. Living outside means that our home is never clean, and that it is always clean. It’s Nature. It is what it is!

I’m realizing how easily my spiritual expression emerges in my daily life. So much of who I am is expressed in my relationship with my natural surroundings. I think I’ve always been this way, and, in my attempt to not think so much, I make more opportunity to experience. I think my relationship with India and Indians has further inspired that.

We lost our seder plate this year. Typically the seder plate holds the same items, no matter on whose table it sits. There is an egg symbolizing new birth, eternity, beginnings and endings. There’s karpas (a green vegetable) to remind us that Spring is here and it is a time of new growth. There’s maror (bitter herbs) to represent the suffering that our people experienced while being enslaved in Egypt. Charoset (a mixture of dried fruits, nuts, red wine and honey) symbolizes the mortar that the Jews had to make in order to build the pyramids. And, matzah, the bread of affliction and simplicity.
This year to replace our lost seder plate, we invited tour guests to begin our seder with a scavenger hunt in search of personal meaning to the traditional components of the plate that sits on the table all evening.

By early afternoon on Monday, everyone coming had arrived on the island. We gathered together to burn the chometz (last bits of bread) and begin the eight days of Passover, a holiday dedicated to freedom. We presented everyone with a list of words for consideration for finding items to add relevance to our seder plate.  Simplicity, Opening, Sacrifice/Letting Go, Building/Creativity, Bitterness, Celebrating, were all concepts that we created derived from the original meanings.

For the next two hours all of us carried on with our day. We cooked and went for walks. We set the table for seder. We talked together and sat, and all through the day, with the list of words in our thoughts, we collected items that we each considered to be representations of the words on the list. Each item got added to the seder plate.

Paul, Micah, Seyna, Maeve, Lindsay, me,
Jacquie, Gabriella, Elyse and Baruch
The seder plate that evening was a reflection of our own personal understanding of the meaning of Passover. We had fresh flowers and entwined branches from trees.  Twigs with new buds and seeds dug up by animals from last year’s planting. There was a clay statue of a dancing woman and an avocado pit. Sparkles and dust, and shells from the ocean, each representing meaning. It was traditional in a way, and personal and alive. Using the Haggadah to follow the order of the seder, we were all involved. Each person participated fully.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Recently I had a conversation with someone about organized religion.  “How can I be thankful for freedom when there are so many enslaved people in the world?” he questioned.

Our world is not perfect. There are bad things that happen everywhere, and people who do bad things.

In my life, I can only strive to be a good person. I want to live with love for myself, for my family, for my community and for my world. I want to give compassionately, intentionally and openly. I want to continue to learn, teach and explore. I want to work towards fairness, peace, and happiness for everyone, all over our Mother Earth. I don’t have to be Jewish to do that. I don’t have to be Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim. And, I could be them all! I just need adhere to the basic criteria of being a good person. Religion, then, becomes a way of practising those skills.

I am grateful for these next few days of Passover. As I restrict my diet for the next 8 days, I am mindful that there are people in the world who are not free. I remain grateful for the opportunities to give of my time, energy, wisdom and love, to connect with others to encourage change toward fairness and respect and eliminate suffering everywhere. I appreciate the many friends and acquaintances I have throughout the world and the amazing technology that allows us to connect and maintain those relationships. I feel strong and eager and intend to keep healthy so I can continue to learn and teach and give. I am energized and inspired by my family, who each, in their own way feeds me with love and the security of support and confidence. And, as I sat down at the seder table that night, I gave thanks for the bounty of my life. Chag Sameach to all!   

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Keeping On Keeping On

Birthday dinner and Shivarathri
Auspicious, a little, that our last night in India is in Fort Cochi, back to where we started. It is Shivarathri tonight, an annual Hindu festival dedicated to Shiva and celebrated by thousands of people by fasting all day and staying up all night. We spend the night, also celebrating Aji’s birthday. A wonderful dinner out on the water, a drive to Aluva to spend time with Sajee’s family and then a short car ride to the airport for our 19 hour flight back to New York.

It is difficult to leave, and yet, as always, I know that what (and who) awaits me at my next destination is where (and with whom) I want to be. My life is like that. I love where I am, and I love where I’m going. If I don’t like it... I leave. I can do that now. I’ve ‘earned’ it!

Landing in NY we are met by Sandy our friend from Brooklyn. Louise and I have been friends from childhood. Sandy and she open up their home to us each time we come to NY. It is one of our homes away from home. We just chill and relax when we’re here and usually manage to get together with a group of childhood friends for a dinner or something. It usually precedes a few days’ visit with my mom in Connecticut. We spend days with mom in her nursing home and then evenings with my brother, Michael and sister in law, Lisa. These family times are meaningful and rich! I appreciate being able to have them. After those days we are back at Louise and Sandy’s before our trip back home.

Shira, me, Paul and Julia (Howie's at work)
This time, after a wonderful dinner together with friends in Brooklyn, Sandy drives us to the bus station for an overnight bus to Montreal. Our daughter Julia lives there with her boyfriend, Howie. Shira, who lives in Toronto, came in for the weekend. It was another weekend of family. We slept a lot, hung out talking together, went to several yoga classes and just had a wonderful ‘home’ time. Living on the west coast, we grab at every opportunity to spend time with our ‘East coast’ kids. This has been a treat!
Howie and Julz

Next, we flew to Vancouver to spend the night at our daughter Jacquie’s house. We got to spend (at least) 20 minutes with her during her busy schedule of school and work and cross fit training before our ferry ride to Gabriola. It has been 88 days since we left Gabriola Island.

Our experiences during these months of travelling have been abundant. Each day has offered some form of excitement, some kind of learning, another opportunity to make sense of my world. It has been a time of adventure, openness and erudition. I have met and developed unique relationships with so many people, become familiar with places that are rich in culture and spirituality, and firmed up connections for possible work and deeper learning opportunities.

Our trip finishes exactly where it started, like a fan that opens and closes providing symmetry to its’ design. And as the fan expands, the two opposing sides get filled in with the story. I can only feel a deep sense of gratitude, an immense appreciation and such wonder for this incredible world in which we live. There is so much out there to explore and learn.

This morning, our daughter, Jacquie, asks me “So…what’s your plan now?” I ponder that question deeply. I actually want to not plan right now. My work, my play, my family, my self, remain my focus for now. I’m interested in learning more how not to do and to just be. I want to continue to work towards a future of compassion, support and consideration for all beings in the world and to let that inspire the way I live. I want to practise this with every breath I take. And I want to shift towards a more positive, happy life, for my family, my universe and myself.

Last 'sit' on the water in Fort Cochin
For now, however, I think I’ll just settle back in my little yurt on Gabriola Island, make a fire in the wood stove, and rest for a while. I want to be ready for action when the time is right. Shanti, Shanti, Shanti!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Holy City

Shiva Temple at Banaras University

Om Nama Shivaya!

How can I even begin to understand the devotional integrity of the Hindu people? Ingrained in their very being, it seems, is the devout connection with God. It is expressed everywhere in the country, evident on the busy streets of the cities and in the little laneways of the villages. Farmers stop while reaping their crops, to pray. Deities are found throughout and people stop to connect with God regularly during the day.

The Shiva Temple lies in the midst of Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi. Here there are many rooms that provide opportunity for ritual and prayer.

I sit back on a small carpet against a wall on the floor to observe the devotees enter the small pooja room. They ring the bell that hangs from the threshold as they enter. Then they place their hands together at their heart as they bow their heads in reverence. In a sort of processional, each person walks slowly around the deity platform several times until they make personal contact with the priest who places a red bindi on the forehead of each person. Sometimes participants bring offerings of garlands of flowers. Coconuts, spices, grapes are all gifts for the Gods.

I watch with utmost respect and curiosity. “How many times does each person walk around? What is the significance of each gift to the gods?  What do the various colours represent?”

The priest notices me in the background and he beckons me to come closer. Without a word, he puts his finger in red ash and places a bindi on my forehead. He throws a garland of marigolds around my neck.  I feel a deep sense of welcome and acceptance. He wants to answer all my questions.

The Temple stands in the middle of the university and many students are hanging out on the grounds, studying, doing homework and gathering together in small groups. Mind, body and spirit are tightly integrated here, and I sense that.  Even as I write, several people approach me and ask, “What are you doing?’ “I’m writing,” I answer. “Trying to understand”. “Understand what” some of them ask. “I’m trying to understand what’s in my heart.”

The Ganges after dark
The Durga Temple, just a few kilometres away, offers a whole other experience. Loud bells clanging, numerous smoke pits burning and incense present everywhere, it offers a quite intense sensory experience. Here there is more activity… more movement. It reflects, to some degree, the character of Durga; active destroyer of evil, represented with 6 arms and the colour black. I am guided by a slight Hindi woman who offers me her elbow and wants to show me here world of prayer. I am once again immersed in another world. She and I speak for a while. She tells me she feels so comfortable here, in prayer, amidst the hectic activity of the temple.
Peaceful Paddle on The Ganges

The Ganges is a holy water and holy things happen here too. Raj takes us out in his rowboat so that we can participate in the sunset ceremony at the shore of the (Shiva) Temple. The Arti ceremony offers classical music, elaborate costume and devotional chanting. Boats pack into the shore and people crowd the shoreline to watch and listen.

Paul and I light a candle that is placed in the middle of a garland of flowers. We say a prayer and carefully place the small tray in the flowing Ganges. “What did you pray for”? Paul asks me when we are done. “I prayed for peace in my family”. I answer. “Me too!” he says.

These are the final days of Kumbha Mela, a festival that occurs every 3 years, this year in Allahabad, in Uttar Prudesh. The Naga Babas have come to Varanasi to camp out, smoke chillum, and invite visitors into their small tents to share their beliefs and life style choices. They remain here until Sunday, when the festival of Shivarathri happens. For me, it’s a bit intense. Men’s naked bodies, rubbed completely with ash that is supposed to remind us of the ashes of Lord Shiva. I wonder, “How come it’s okay for these men to be parading around naked, and it’s not okay for a woman to expose even her head?”  I am definitely having problems with the gender issues that are evident here.
Naga Babbas Camping Out

The Naga Baba scene reminds me of my annual Bonnaroo festival in Manchester Tennessee, just without the music. Freaks, drugs and bizarre behaviours are completely acceptable here. I don’t really pick up the spiritual energy. It’s more like a show, and I’m a part of it.

Tall buildings, almost like a solid wall of concrete in various designs and colours comprise the architecture of the old city. They provide a solid backdrop to the sacred Ghats where Hindu people come to bathe and revel in the spirit of the holy waters. As we glide through the river I feel like player piece in a board game. The visual surroundings are a bit surreal, the motion of the paddling creates a dreamlike sensation, and the variety of sounds intensifies the experience. Varanasi… another world, indeed!
Raj our rower
Early morning on the Ganges