Thursday, March 19, 2015


India’s greatest commodity is her abundance of people. We in the Western world rely on technology and machinery. India multiplies the human work force, forgoing modern machinery and convoluted inventions. In her most basic form, India relies on co-operation amongst her people.

In Varkala each morning, way before I wake up, the wooden fishing boats loaded with men and a huge net set out into the Arabian Sea. Energized by manpower, rowing with extended paddles they brave the wild waves to set out nets for gathering fish.

By 8:00 am the neighbourhood men gather for the harvest. Lined up along the long ropes they create a live tug of war effect, joining their muscle power to pull in the harvest of fish in the nets. As each man reaches the final pull, he moves to the front of the line, positioning himself strategically to continue his efforts. At the back, the used rope gets wound up, readying for the next day. Whistling, singing, yelling, laughing, they continue to pull. After a good hour and a half the empty net lays dormant on the sandy ground. Each man has a small bag of catch, perhaps ready to sell at the local restaurant, or a meal to take home for his family.

Malayalam is not a gentle language, so the interaction often sounds like angry yelling. The broad smiles, however and the vibrant shared laughter assures me of their joy and shared congeniality. They know there’s enough food for the day, and they trust in the good intentions of each other.  That understanding of mutual respect is essential to work productively.

This same co-operation is evident everywhere! Riding on the streets of Fort Cochin one afternoon, I stop peddling my bicycle to watch a crowd of people working together to build a second floor on one of the neighbourhood houses. Positioning themselves on each rung of a ladder spanning from the ceiling of the first floor to the top of the second floor, men and women pass cement bricks from one to the next. Beginning from the cement mixer on the ground the brick moves to the next hands. Each brick gets passed until it finds the next appropriate space in the wall and is put in place. It all happens with the joint effort that comes with teamwork.

In India, the largest commodity of the country is her people. India’s population is one of the largest in the world.  The economy is weak and many individuals struggle to survive. That’s why people power fuels the growth of the country. People are the country’s wealth.

In schools in Southern India, it is not unusual to have 70 students in an elementary classroom with one teacher present. Students are engaged, respectful, seemingly happy, and the literacy rate in the state of Kerala is 97%.

In North America, teachers in our system struggle with 32 students in a classroom, complaining that it is impossible to teach to the various needs. I say, let’s take a lesson from India. Teaching our young teachers to develop lesson plans that include students teaching students is imperative and healthy. Research about co-operative learning supports the notion that many of us thrive on making sense of the material by interacting with others. Making the content meaningful, sometimes more personal, by having conversations with peers and colleagues, helps to bring meaning to a more practical level.

I see this in many places I go. On Gabriola, many of us care deeply about the wellbeing of our neighbours. Nobody needs to go homeless or go hungry. Sometimes individuals can be ‘down and out’, in need of support and extra resources. In a strong community, there’s a dance that happens that provides space for shared leadership and also helplessness.

Steven Covey talks about attaining peak level of cooperation by establishing a ‘shared vision'. Once all participants ‘buy in’ to the end product, cooperative interaction becomes more reasonable. As our children were growing up, preparing meals became a cooperative endeavour. I remember the first time our (then) 10-year-old daughter gets into my car on the way home from school, and she says “What are we making for dinner tonight?” That expression of “we” reinforced for me the cooperative nature of our family. It was a simple need that each of us had a part in. And, if someone had too much homework one day, or simply wasn’t home to participate, it was forgiven, because that person would certainly be available at another time. Meals were a pleasant opportunity to gather and share and eat. We all enjoyed it, and, we all benefitted.

Cooperation requires skilful development that doesn’t happen by itself. Establishing a sound mutually respectful foundation must be grounded in a clear understanding of expectations and roles. Ongoing interaction for clarification and  ‘check in’ is essential. Whether it’s for building a house, or dragging the fish in for the day, or planning and making a meal together, or ensuring that the whole class understands the times tables in math, cooperative communication can only enhance the process for all. Here, in Canada, we have a lot to learn from India’s people!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Just Plain 'Thank You'

I am psychologically preparing myself for our return to home. Life is different for me now somehow. Since I left Canada I turned 60 years old. I feel a transition happening for me into a stage of permission. What does that mean?

Permission to relax some. I have earned the right to take care of my self. I want to try to avoid working so hard and not only love what I’m doing, but also love what I anticipate doing.

I feel confident in the love I share with others. I give from my heart when I’m not sure of the best place to find the answers. I do what I want and seek what I desire, and I still live the idea that ‘if I don’t get what I want, I don’t want it anymore’. I live with the notion of Ahimsa, non-violence. I do what I want as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, including myself.

My work still fulfils me. I am satisfied with a playful balance that allows me to work a few days a week. Organizations seek me out for workshops, and although I can say “No”, I love working so much, I usually say “Yes”.

I am available to my children (they’re not really children anymore) and loved ones. Although it never is really enough, I do spend time with each one of them in special and unique ways as often as we possibly can. We continue to create memories. Ultimately that’s all we are left.

I anticipate quiet. As our house goes up I dream about nesting again. It will be different from when we were growing up our family and careers. Our new home will be a chance to settle. I look forward to that.

So…thank you once again, India for the inspiration to reconnect, to settle down and to reinvest. You fill me up and help me go on.

Recently one of my daughters ‘shared’ an article written by Oliver Sacks, neurologist and best selling author, and a tremendous inspiration in our culture. In his article, 80 year-old Sacks informs the public about his imminent death due to cancer. His article is an expression of gratitude for his life and a continued thrust for living fully, right until the very end. At 60, I feel like that a little.

I am NOT dying! 60 is not old! And it’s also not young. I am past ‘middle age’, and I am far from ready to ‘give up’. In some places in the world, I benefit from senior citizen’s rates. As a woman in India I’ve been eligible for ½ price rates on trains and buses since I’m 58, and in other places I’m not quite old enough to be considered an ‘elder’.

I feel extremely healthy in my body. I practise Yoga daily, spend several minutes in inverted postures, and maintain a solid balance of physical, psychological and spiritual health. I run, ride my bicycle and walk often. My muscles are tight and solid, and although my flesh is ‘fleshier’ than it was even 10 years ago, I feel slim and trim and fit.

I still crave learning and giving and participating in the world. I still feel an abundance of wealth to share with others material and spiritual and intellectual.

The second habit of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin With The End In Mind”. I have always taken that habit very seriously, and through my life regularly ask myself, “How do I want to be remembered by others?” What do I want people saying about me when I die?”  Each action I engage in, throughout my life is driven by these questions. I don’t want to wait until I’m old or dying. I want to do it now, slowly, intentionally and meaningfully.

So sometimes, when I read through my own writing, I think… “Cheesy”! Too much gratitude. Too much love. Too much of the “same, same”! Then I am reminded of an incident during one of my workshops in a corporation in Toronto. In facilitating participation by all involved, I remind participants about the requirement for mutual respect and listening with heart, spending time engaging in clarifying conversation. During one session, a woman in the group said, “Enough, enough! We know all about this!  It’s just silly to keep coming back to the same thing! We’re grown ups after all!” My immediate response at that time was, “What’s silly about treating each other with respect? We can never learn it enough!”

There are some things in my life I never want to take for granted. (“When we assume, we make an ass out of u and me.”)  Oliver Saks reminds me about the kind of person I want to be throughout my life. I never want to assume gratitude. I want only to consider new ways of expressing it. I want to share it with others and remain open to change if necessary because I want always to be as close to contentment as possible.

Monday, March 2, 2015


Our trip to India this year hasn’t been all about fun for me. My dentist here, in India has been encouraging me for years to consider dental implants and fixing those teeth that have been creating problems. Though I’ve been procrastinating, this year I could hold out no longer. Knowing that our trips to India might be limited in the next few years and knowing the cost here is a quarter of the price of the same treatment in North America, I decided to do it.

Two front implants, a back molar crown, and an extraction of another molar that has been infected for some time were the focus for the ‘heavy’ work. A night guard for further prevention and a general dental cleaning also are included in the plan.
The surgery was a bit brutal. My teeth are older (as I am) and the roots were difficult to clear off the bones. Grafting was necessary and the recuperation has been slow. Our travel time has been seriously hijacked with the process and ‘vacationing’ has been out of the question.

So journeying to Varkala is a treat and offers me an opportunity to heal. Varkala is a beach village in Southern Kerala. It is, like Goa, Gokarna and Pushkar, a place where East meets West in a respectful and mutually beneficial manner. Indian gift wear and clothing is available all over the city, especially on “The Cliff”, a long pathway of shops, restaurants and spa centres offering travellers anything they could desire during a vacation. Below, the Arabian Sea roars, lined with luxurious white and also black sandy beaches. People from all over the world take advantage of sun and beach time.

We’ve been here several times before and our accommodation of choice is a small beach resort one and a half kilometres from the busy “Cliff” part of the beach. A small room with a private bathroom and a working fan is simple and very quiet. For 425 Rupees ($9.00) a night, who can beat it?

Yesterday, forgoing morning Yoga practice, Paul and I wander in the opposite direction from the touristy area to revisit a Hindu Temple from an earlier stay. At that time we experienced a festival with elephants and horses and competitions whereby groups of men attempted to knock over a huge decorated wooden horse. At that time, new to India, we didn’t even question the purpose of the event. Yesterday, music drives us towards the same temple.

As we arrive, thick clouds of smoke envelop us, and the smell of burning wood alerts us that something grand is happening. Our approach exposes us to rows of Indian women dressed in elaborately adorned saris. Hundreds of beautiful women, each standing in front of a cauldron of water, are feeding banana and palm leaves to fuel the fire and keep water in the pots boiling. Water from the nearby well cleans the rice. The sound of singing and drumming and reed pipes permeate the area. Individual devotion and prayer keep each woman focussed and participating. Eventually with loud ululations, the cleaned rice is poured into the pots for cooking into paysam and then made as a sweet offering in the Temple. The celebration honours Devi, the female expression of the divine and, according to Hindu tradition, one of the five primary forms of God.

We stay for quite a while, observing, engaging and communicating with the women without words or language other than smiles, soft touch and signs of Namaste. I continue to feel so blessed to have these experiences and to participate with others of such diverse culture.

The cuisine here in Varkala is exquisite. We’ve eaten everything from biryani to fish in banana leaf to pizza to sashimi. Each morning the nets are pulled in on to the shore. You can see line-ups of men tugging on the thick, solid ropes hoisting the fishing nets out of the water. As we pass the men on our way to Yoga, it is not unusual for them to invite us to help. Playfully we join their efforts pulling the ropes. You can’t get fish any fresher! At night the fish are displayed at the front of each cafĂ©. “What is his good name?” I joke with the proprietors as I point to a large red snapper. Paul looks at me with his ‘you’re so obnoxious’ kind of eyes. He calls it “western humour”. They don’t understand me! It doesn’t even matter how they cook the fish. It is always delicious!

My teeth are healing. I’m feeling better. It’s been a wonderful beach vacation! Tomorrow our evening train ride will carry us back to Fort Cochin. Our friends there await our arrival to spend our last days in India together. We are almost ready to go home again!