Monday, November 30, 2009

love thy neighbour...

"love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you........"

The other day, I had a conversation with a friend about the difficulty we humans have in applying "love thy neighbour" consistently.  We agreed that it is one of the most trampled on golden rule in life.  Why do people behave the way they do?  Why is it so difficult to accept how some people behave the way they do?  Let me turn it onto myself.......... why do I behave the way I do?  And why is it so difficult for people to accept how I behave the way I do?

What gets in the way of acceptance....... of living a life of loving thy neighbour?

Ego driven reactions.......
A sense of feeling threatened.....
Misread actions....
Perceived aggression.....
Lack of Confidence
A sense of Bravado..... used as a defence.
Misinterpreted intentions....
Confusion and oversensitivity.
WE take things too personally.
Unforgiving attitude

Past hurts stirred up

We impose our responses from a place of pure feeling, and if our emotions are flooding our brains, its difficult to think straight..... to interpret the messages in any other way except through one narrow lens sabotaged by heightened emotions.  Our filtering systems grow dusty particles from past exchanges, past triggering experiences.  What seems like a separate incident during an interchange is often just the tip of deep iceberg feelings.

Love comes in a variety of flavours.  CS Lewis places Love into four categories.....Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity.  Affection rings out to give to another.  We express our affection to everyone from strangers, first encounters and people on the street to others whom we know within our circle of community.  Friendship is companionship with someone you have much in common with.  Eros is intimate love.  And Charity represents the unconditional love we pass on as God does.  This is where "love thy neighbour" derives from.   

The four loves are not separate entities.  They really aren't like petals.  Rather, they are intertwining links that impact and enhance one another.  They also have much in common.  Lewis writes,  "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket — safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable."

"Love is a doing word," wrote Pip on his blog yesterday ....... If you don't exercise it, it will lose any strength, any ooomph, any magic.  You run the risk of never fully living out loud, surprised by joy.  Like Lewis states, if you don't risk giving love, you will become impenetrable.  

The problem with the doing is that it may leading to the bruising.  It's a bit of a conundrum.   Entanglements weep frustrations...... if you've been burned by experiences when love led to your heart being wrung out, there's a good chance you will be very hesitant to do it again.  Love thy neighbour FEELS like an impossibility.  Charity is held back, embraced by the fear of being hurt.   Can't DO if you can't see beyond the barriers brought one by those misinterpretations of behaviour. 

I don't know how one can undo past weeping entanglements that produce the feelings that choke the ability to reach out and love their neighbour, except to let them be.  Easier said than done, but sometimes its the only way.  Let those past hurts be, and step away.  Drop the predictions.  Unwarp the expectations.  Let them be.  I think thats called being charitable to yourself. Maybe charity comes with the ability to forgive?

Love is a doing word.... an action ........... both outwardly and inwardly..... What a shame it would be to remain stuck in an old moment and miss out on making a difference in the life of another by reclaiming the ability to be vulnerable. Now, if we only had the guts to give it a whirl.....

"love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you........"

Sunday, November 29, 2009

poker face....nah!

Is there really such a thing as a neutral facial expression?  Is it possible to hide all of our emotions from another person?  If all it takes is one little cheek flutter, one speck of a face tic, one blink longer than the other, a lick of the lips, a downturned look, a quickening flush of colour.........just one of those finger on the nose movements to communicate that something is afoot, how can anyone boast about having a poker face? 

Stare into the eyes of another a little longer than you usually do, and the game is on to figure out the thoughts of another.  What are trying to convey?  Interest? Sexual desire? Are you trying to intimidate the other person?  If you turn them away too quickly, are you hiding something? Feeling uncomfortable? Lying? Or are you just taking a break and thinking about a response?

More times than not, we aren't even aware of our own message projections.  They become so much of our pattern of communicating, they spill out unthinkingly.  When was the last time you consciously thought about the messages you inadvertently passed on?  When was the last time you read the person's face talk and got it completely right??? 

The human interaction game has some rules, but retains a sense of puzzling mystery........ enough to keep us interested in playing because we all hold different cards based on our comfort level, our personalities, our skills and gifts.  It is fraught with underlying motives, layered in with a level of attraction,  repressed feelings, thoughts and past experiences.  Wounds from broken down attempts at connecting with another play a part too.  As do our past successes in smoothly going where no one else has penetrated before. 

Some people exude a sense of confidence, an attractiveness which acts like a magnet, pulling others into their space.  Do you know anyone like that?  Are you like that?? Charisma.  Energy. An alluring smile.  They are masters at the game of human interaction, moving from a flirtatious coyness to a determined yet friendly approach that can make someone else feel like they're the only person in the world that matters right then and there!  Fascinating!  Where do they learn this skill?  Is it an inherent thing, or do we learn through modelling and observing other's expressions as children?? Not one word need to be spoken, and yet the energy emanating between two people radiates with such an aura that it seems to be in colour.  

According to Eric Berne, the Transactual Analysis guru,  "games are a compromise between intimacy and keeping intimacy away...." The game of interaction holds many rules.....but it comes down to how close you want to be with another, and how close they want to be with you.  Sometimes it is a cat and mouse game...... I'm OK, You're Not OK.......  Sometimes it can be a mouse and cat game ..... I'm not OK, You're OK.  Sometimes the energy between two people is so repelling or perhaps the opposite, so electric that its too frightening to contemplate intimacy, and it turns into two bears vying for the same cave... I'm not OK, You're not OK.   

Ah, but then there are times when two people, under the right circumstances, in the right moodlight, with the right chemistry and with the ability to read the facial expressions, the body language, the intentions behind the game that they drop the pretences, relax and move into a place of spiritual intimacy that can only be considered a perfect match.  No more games......... Just an I'm OK, You're OK checkmate.  It's lovely when that happens........... 

Today's writing prompt from Sunday Scribblings is "games."  Though I do love a good game of cribbage, and have been known get all heated over a game of scrabble.......... the human race game is the one I prefer to play.  For more game playing interpretations, check out Sunday Scribblings.....

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I awoke from a tossed up dream and made my way in the dark to the room where the warm embers lingered.  Surprisingly, the last flame from the evening before had held on, throwing off leftover heat as the grate filled with its ashes. Like it was waiting for me to find it again.  It was a lonely sight, a lonely glow with little strength to hold onto.  For a while, I let it die down and was going to let it simply settle into cooling .... I didn't think I should start it up again at this late hour.  But, something inside me felt the need to rekindle the flame.... to bring it back to life again.  I don't know why.  I guess I needed its company.  I needed reassurance. 

Layered with dry sticks crisscrossed on top of the embers, the fire took no time to re-ignite.  I heard it at first.... the puff of it catching its breath, of it choosing to transform from dying to rebirth.  Flames, young and tiny at first,  leapt between the sticks and wrapped around memories of long ago hearth blazes.  With an ancient yearning, it stretched up as I fed it larger limbs and listened to it draw more strength into itself.  

I sat warmly close to the rekindled flame and listened carefully. I could hear the last vestiges of life in the timber... lickwhistling haunts from the tenderdrops of moisture, hollow winds pulling up into the flue, tinkling sparks crackling a melody only a fire can speak.  I watched the bark curl up with taut precision, arcing like stretched toes out and away from protective limbs as the wood noisily snapped in defiance.  As the relit fire reached a new crescendo, its heat forced me to step away to observe it from a safer distance.  I realized how delicately dangerous it is to rekindle a flame.  I realized too just how soothing it is to sit close and bask in its affirming melody.  

I know this song.  I know its nostalgic voice as it echos the same thoughts simmering inside my own staring mood.   As I finish writing this piece, there are two small flames left billowing...... one is flickering from the last limb and the other is dancing in its reflection..... Let me feed it again.  
I don't want it to die out.  I don't want to be left holding ashes of what may have been ..... Ever.   

Friday, November 27, 2009


Tears find me easily.  They always have.  Stick with me long enough in person and you will see my waterworks.  Sometimes they are so surprising and I stand there, my breath caught in a moment, wondering where they even came from.  Sometimes they are the logical response to a moving situation.  Tears spill out in anger, frustration, in sadness and in complete and utter joy.

Memories can conjure up a good cry, as can a regret.  A moving story, new to me, can generate a pool of salty liquid sitting right on the ledge of my eyes. Deep frustration over a head banging situation has the capacity to alter my demeanor.  I've cried at weddings, concerts, funerals......i've spilled tears over a new baby, over a moving story of determination, when I'm tired and have lost the ability to maintain my sense of independence.  I've cried big whopping tears of joy too with my senses are overwhelmed by the face of beauty.  Put on a song that moves me and I often close my eyes and let the tears leak through............. If I'm misunderstood, and misused time and again, like I was in my previous job, I seem to lose all sense of decorum quickly.  Harrassment does that. 

No matter what kind of tears they are however, their genesis comes from a rush of emotional heat. A harkening sign from my body.  A flushing whoosh of out of control energy invades my logic, my clear head and leaves me feeling like a tiny little girl in need of someone to look at me with a softening understanding.  Its rare that they feel empowering.  Rather, they soak the core of vulnerability and leave you feeling naked......with no guard.  No guard......... Many don't like that feeling.

There are situations when I don't like to be feeling that raw.  It gets in the way of functioning with both oars in the water when you need them most. Crying is a natural reaction, though some people are fearfully uncomfortable either crying themselves or being in the presence of someone else whose feeling so deeply that it pours out and spills down their cheeks. I rarely care about someone else's reaction to my tears though becuase I've learned that I can't control how my tears make them feel.  It's their stuff, not mine. When the streaks come trinkling down their cheeks, I'm fine with it......... how effective would I be as a counsellor if I couldn't accept someone else crying?  Yes, the tissues are plentiful in my office.

Tears communicate both outwardly and inwardly and its the inward stuff I am most interested in because they are such big cues to whatever has been triggered inside.  They find you and send up little rays of light to help you figure out what is happening in your core..... a refreshed irritation moment perhaps?  Grief, loneliness, lost love....this is one side of the gamut of reasons.  Joy, of being understood, of realizing you are loved by another....this is the other side. Grace is often packaged inside a teardrop don't you think?

My list is tears flow when they need to.  How about you?  Are there certain memories or situatioins you find yourself at a loss a point where tears find you?  What are your triggers?  And if you don't cry openly, why not?  Where do the tears go if they are turned inward?

And yes, I had a good cry today...............right in the middle of it, leaving me with streaky mascara and a sense of soul fatigue afterwards.  How about you?  Any tears flowing on your end?

Monday, November 23, 2009


when night stirs tangled secrets
my mystic smiles the blues
his soul seeps out of his knowing eyes
from the music others can't hear
and moves to the pulse of creation.

tangled sorrows wracked in parched emptiness
call out behind lonely shadows

desert wanderings leading to lost steps
frightened by illusions caught in the wind.

come, come.....join me, he entices...
Let me take you on an adventure
deep into the holy cavern of the heart.
where mysteries unravel in song and dance....
where comfort embraces vulnerable souls
where judgment holds no key
where touch heals.
touch heals.....
loving touch heals.

he wraps his arms around my sadness,
his gaze looks straight into my eyes
while I spin into the rhythm of this journey
where tears and laughter are one in the same

where love gestates 
and blossoms into the ability 
to see through that lens called beauty.

"If you fail to love, is it because you don't have enough? or - do you keep it all for yourself?"  This is the question posed by my emerald friend Pip.  Like many of his questions, both on his blog and on that oh so silly satirical place called facebook, where friends meet..... I was left pondering.  I can always count on Pip for a blink and a think.  Of course, it left me tangled up in additional questions...... like a good ponder should.  For anyone who fails to love, is it because they have never been invited to the holy bottom of the heart where beauty dwells?  Or is it because they've never been offered the map to this vulnerable island? 

Though we are all born with the ability to express our feelings, we all require guidance.  If we miss out, we are left standing off to the side of the road without a hope of finding our way.

All it takes is one human to hold out their hand to another human ........
To say out loud.....
You are a beautiful gift from God. 
The key is to help the person believe it... 
It's an unconditional thing isn't it? 

Fail to love?  Maybe temporarily. Everyone has an abundance to give. Sometimes life's stumbling grumbling messes clog the passageways with the belief that they don't deserve love, therefore they can't give it? Or maybe they've tried too many times and it was left untethered or worn out abused?  Whatever the story is behind the feeling of failure...... as far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter.  When it comes to giving love, may we have the awareness to give it to the ones who feel like they don't know how to themselves......  without question.......

Friday, November 20, 2009


4 am feeds on a loneliness wrought with serpentine emotions .  Night watches time differently as it moves in a dream state, filtering our reflections and fears through glass altering truth. We may have moments of clarity in the deep forest of the dark night, but for the most part the monsters of internal doubt blur our sleep deprived imaginations. Lost love wraps itself in the misery of wet tears and the curling smoke from the end of the last cigarette.  Echoes of accusations, crawl under the skin, spreading goosebump guilt inside a broken spirit. Alone.  Tormented by a ballad ripe with truth. 

Someone turn the lights back on
I'll love you til all time is gone
You haven't looked at me that way in years
But I'm still here.
Tom Waits

Thursday, November 19, 2009

out of the blue..........

 the old craft shop, where it all began.

sometimes a smile finds me when i'm least expecting it
I may not expect it, but I always know where it has journeyed from.
It comes from you.

Out of the blue, I'm captured by a twinkling moment
when you squeezed my shoulder as you walked by
when you looked over at me from across the noisy room
when you were sitting beside me and all at once we turned our heads at the same time
like we knew it was time to really look into each others eyes

My smile arrives when I remember how my heart felt
like a shooting star in a sky so full of night magic.
it still skips a beat
when the smile from you arrives..........

sometimes a smile finds me when I'm least expecting it
but when I need it the most.
out of the blue, it comes from you.
it's like you know when to send me reassurance
that I matter.
still matter to you.

sometimes i find myself stopped in mid stride
my focus is beyond the farthest point I can see with my naked eye
to where you are
out there living
Can you feel me there with you?
out of the blue, I return a smile to you.

it's what kindred spirits do for one another.
without even thinking twice.....

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

what does it mean?

Silence is not a void of noise and activity.  Rather, it is filled with the grace of interconnected thoughts and feelings, wishes and desires.   It can be manipulated as a control seeking weapon to create an off kilter feeling for others or released as a soothing hand of peace. 

Kept to oneself or shared with another, 
silence can be

calculatingly frosty
life ending
life affirming
hushed in hesitation


restful even breathing

breathlessly loving




reverentially refreshing

Is it no wonder we struggle to interpret the silence of another? Its meaning is so broad.  Why?  Is it because silence is always tied to cause and effect...........? What precipitated it?  What is the reason behind the silence?  Why have you chosen to be silent today?  Silence is not a void of noise and activity.  The type of silence we choose communicates messages to all..........

What does your silence mean today?  How do you think others are interpreting it? How are you receiving the silence of others around you?  How does it make you feel??

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

a walk around the block.....

When mornings are heated by the intensity of counselling sessions, a noon hour walk is a must.  It clears the old noggin, and allows me to lose myself a bit through the lens of my camera.  Somehow the very act of seeking out colours, lines, designs, angles with my own internal lens, I can draw out all that I'm withholding in my cluttered brain.  It helps me refocus for the afternoon portion of my job.  

I often feel like I travel many miles within the course of a day interacting with other individuals.  Sometimes it feels like a very bumpy road.... sometimes it feels like the trip takes no time.  Sometimes it is draining, filled with more rest stops than normal, just to catch one's breath. Many times, there is relief, progress, change, happiness, anger.... heart touching stuff, all of it.  

Broken and beautiful.......healed and stronger.

Travelling with another through snippets of their lives is always astonishing.... always a blessing.  It's a blessing because it doesn't happen if trust isn't established.  It doesn't happen unless a connection is made between the two of you.  To me, this is the most fulfilling type of travel I can think of.  To learn to walk a mile in someone else's shoes.  

When I'm involved in listening to someone's life story, I try my best to concentrate as much as I can.... in order to absorb the nuances and meaning behind what someone has decided to share.  Cues from the non verbal stuff feeds the intuitive nature of counselling.  As much as I love it, in order to continue on, I have to seek out balance..... I have to clear my head in order to be ready for another trip with someone........... 

A walk around the block with my camera companion is always the best way for me to find that balance again.......... that and a good cup of tea.   These chosen photos are my favourites from today's little jaunt under blue, blue November skies........

Travel is the photo theme over at Carmi's this week............for more travel shots, check out his blog.  You won't be disappointed.......... I always love that trip to Written Inc.

Monday, November 16, 2009

whiskey soaked silence

stumbling here on this endless night

trying to wrestle getting it right
numbed by reality
tired of it all
can't get you in focus
can't get you to call

fogs rolling in blinding the trees
naked bare boned knuckles and knees
scraped by its wake
bloodied and bruised
no one will want me
torn battered up used. 

I'm numbed by reality
tired of it all
can't get you in focus
can't get you to call.
I guess I don't blame you
there's no second chance
when hurt has replaced
a broken romance.

i lay here shackled wondering if He
pays any attention, hears my deep pleas
cried out sorrow
tattered old song
your love I have wasted
your trust has all gone.

night crawls with echos of your tender voice
I long to forget, I messed up my choice
yearned and forgotten
i lie here alone
aching for nearness
chilled to the bone. 

sleep is a memory fading away
replaced by loud silence covered in grey
ripped from your faith
blame shares my skin
even Jesus has left me
distrust soaked in sin.

I'm numbed by reality
tired of it all
can't get you in focus
can't get you to call.
I guess I don't blame you
there's no second chance
when hurt has replaced
a broken romance.

my tip of the hat to Mr. Waits.....

sometimes, i just wish my feelings could sleep and not continue to flood.  that's never been the case, though.  they lead me more than i even admit to myself..... sometimes to a point where i end up sitting in a thick fog with too much vision.  it's ugly.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


If our roots aren't dipped in empathy, how does one acquire it?  If we have only experienced insufferable emotional blows as we grow from our roots, and never have had the experience of empathy immersion, how do we know what it feels like to be bathed in compassion?  If our soul has been pummeled by angry fists and hoofed by steel-toed boots, how do we learn to love ourselves?

We only learn survival behaviour.  Nasty retorts, cowering fear, rage fueled outbursts, or complete emotional shut down numbness..... all for self protection.  No win-win here.  Just a series of serious stumbling over bad decisions, poor choices, ineffective means of connecting.   Still there is a deep hunger to be loved.

Lose-Lose equals  Lonely-Lonely

There's a spiraling effect, which turns into a self fulfilling prophecy.  Believe you're unloved, you will act like you're unloved.  Believe you deserve to be treated poorly, you will act like you don't give a damn about yourself or others.  Sometimes, if you believe you're owed a better life because of all that you've endured, you demand it in a way that stomps on others.  Entitlement overkill.  This perpetual unlovely behaviour squeezes any semblance of empathy right out of touch. It distorts clear minded thinking.  It spoils the sweet aroma of sensitivity and compassion.  It twists logic until it chokes on bile.

If there is a continuous taste of bile and a stomach churning up angry acid, how can you feel empathy?  You can't.  The pain is too red raw........... there is no lining left..... no protective tissues to console.

Is there any way to feed those  roots....the same ones that have been neglected since childhood? Sometimes, it's impossible.  Damage is so deeply embedded that it seems to chemically alter the brain somehow.  Though I am no scientist, I have met my fair share of people who are either born with the inability to feel empathy for others, or whose reslience has been worn down, forced by a life of abuse.  The capacity to dig into the soulpocket where empathy dwells just isn't there. Maybe the learning issue is more than making a choice to look through the eyes of another.  Maybe there is a physical manifestation of psychological damage?  Maybe the roots are dangerously tainted by psychopathology.

Sometimes it IS possible to help someone by feeding their roots.  How?

By choosing to love the unlovely.  
By allowing them to listen to the stories of the people they may have negatively impacted.
By allowing them to tell their story.
By encouraging and encouraging their willingness to change.... to reform, transform, stand on a new platform....... 
By accepting vulnerability as a state of mind worthy of our trust in learning and growth.

By mentoring through actions and guiding....... role modellng the softening melt that happens when forgiveness is the goal.
By recognizing that every single human being is made from the same fabric, the same ingredients.
By wrapping our faith around the belief that we are all players within the Body of Christ. 

It's a lot of work........a lot of effort.  Our natural inclination is to stay within our own belief system... our own way of seeing the world and how it impacts us.  If only we can step out and look through a different lens.  

It's a Grace of God go I thing.........even if you believe there is no hope in empathy transformation. 

ps.... this theory is in the process of being tested.........and continues this week.  

Friday, November 13, 2009

tangerine pink kisses

"Hey Muskie, can you encapsulate your week in one sentence?"

"Sure!  It was a week when I have been emotionally absorbed by funerals, cartwheels and human spirals.  In other words, I was captured by deep sadness, relieving gladness and challenging madness."

"That's two sentences."

"oh.  Clearly I need an editor.  Can I add a bit more?"

"Why not?  You're the one with your fingers on the keyboard...."

"True....I AM the master of this domain.   No matter how sad, glad or mad it was, the serenity I felt at the end of today while driving home along the tranquil Saint John River towards the glorious setting sun filled me with awe.  Like I was smothered in tangerine pink kisses. Thank you God.  You blow my mind.  Daily."

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Bath, UK

This week's photo theme is Travel.  If I had my druthers, I'd be a travellin' fool.  I haven't explored near as many places as I had thought I would do by this point in my life and I hope the my future will offer up the chance to.  I did have the wonderful fortune though to spend a week in England at the end of the summer.  The majority of my time was focused on attending the Greenbelt Festival.  The first two days, however, was spent ambling around the city of Bath, which I absolutely fell in love with. The history, the architecture, and the whole feel of it being the land of Jane Austen novels left me smitten to return for a much longer visit.

Above, was the view from my room at the YMCA hostel.  Wow.  I absolutely LOVED it!  It was interesting staying at a hostel again, though this time I chose to have my own room rather than sharing it with 20 others like i did when I backpacked across Europe in the 80's.  The room however had no amenities.  Nada.  But, it was clean and the bed was comfie and given that I hadn't slept on the plane over etc, I figured I was just going to crash anyways.

Well, that was the plan until the fire alarm woke me from a deep sleep at around 10 pm and I had to get dressed and get my butt down to the front courtyard.  Not many even left the building and in fact the cafeteria was FILLEd with Spanish students singing and playing a loud clapping/cheering game.  They were having a blast, but oblivious to the amount of noise they were making.

The only people outside were older folks, all off whom seemed disinterested in starting up a conversation with anyone else.  It was kind of strange.  I had expected a lot of interaction, but there was none.  Couples stayed within themselves.  Groups were focused on eachother.   Given that I was wide awake at that point, I took the risk of entering the cafeteria to make myself a cup of tea, and then went back outside to enjoy the warm summer night....... and to listen to the chattering cheering Spanish kids.

There was a man sitting beside me whom I presumed was another traveller staying at the Y.  I made some comment about the incessant cheering.......... a conversation starter little joke.  He volleyed a comment my way and before I knew it, I was into a chat with him.  Very quickly, he informed me that he wasn't staying at the Y.  Phil, in fact, was a homeless person who had slept on the same bench for the past 8 years.  Well, he got MY attention!! I was full of questions.!!   And once I told him that I used to work with people on social assistance in Canada, Phil too was full of questions.  Our conversation took off in many directions.

I learned about the welfare system, about his family travails, about his struggles with alcoholism.  Phil described his bench, how it was contoured to fit his body.   He talked about the animals that live in the area and how he had tamed them.  He described the whole area, and the other towns I had passed through from Gatwick to Bath and shared a few stories of growing up in Swindon, which looked so worse for wear when I travelled through it earlier in the day.

When I asked him about subsidized housing, he admitted that he couldn't live inside.  He felt too claustrophobic.... to closed in.  He had tried, but it never panned out.  Consequently, he had been living outside for most of his adult life.  Given that he is the same age as me, that means he's been homeless for over 25 years. 

It was a true two way conversation......... Phil was very curious about life in Canada and about why I was travelling alone, why I was in the UK.  When I told him I was going to the Greenbelt Festival in Cheltenham, to meet up with friends I had met through the internet, he was ALARMED!  Once I elaborated a bit on the friendship connections and how long they had been nurtured, he shook his head and told me he thought I was a risk taker!  This from a man who lives hand to mouth every single day!!  It made me laugh...... and I pointed out that his life was risky on a daily basis.

I also described the vastness of the country and how cold it gets in the winter..... how there are a few homeless people in my city who somehow manage to find a place to sleep outside even in -20 degree weather.   I told him a little bit about my family, and about the beauty of it.   Phil then described his dream to me.  If he could, he would have his own cabin in the woods in Canada.  I wasn't surprised and told him so.  There is a sense of freedom and independence captured in a dream like Phil's.  No neighbours, no interuptions, no structured routine.  Surrounded by nature, and left to your own survival skills, a cabin in the woods would be the perfect dream place for Phil.

We talked for an hour or so...... long enough that the Spanish cheering squad had finally called it a night.  There was never a moment when I felt uneasy or in harm's way.  Phil was a true gentleman.  Polite, and just as interested in connecting with another human being as I was, he shared so much of his personal story with me, and when he asked, I shared some of mine.  It was an amazingly open and interesting conversation.... two people who from an outsider would appear to be so very different, found common ground within minutes of meeting.  Our lives have evolved in such different ways. Our experiences, stresses, struggles, opportunities were polar opposites.  Where we met was at a place of hopes and dreams and feelings...... we shared an interest in humanity.

When it was time for me to head back in to try to catch some sleep before a full day of sightseeing and then catching the train to meet up with Pip and Paul in Cheltenham, I stood up to say goodbye.  We hugged like friends do, and wished each other well.  He turned and walked towards the dark alley leading to the road and eventually to his bench, and I headed inside the YMCA hostel feeling very lucky to have met him......... feeling very lucky that my week travelling on my own was no doubt going to be interesting. 

Phil continues to linger in my thoughts.......... I wonder if he's found any comfort tonight?

For more photos on Travel............and maybe a couple of stories to go with them, check out Carmi's blog. 

The view I had while sitting on the other side of the Avon River having a picnic lunch.  Bath Abbey looms large over the centre of this absolutely beautiful city.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, May 1915

We wear the red poppie on dark lapels in remembrance.  Inspired by Dr. McCrae's poem which he penned after losing a friend during the Battle of Ypres, we wear the poppie as a way to keep the faith, to keep the stories alive for those who sleep.   My last contribution this week to the photo theme, RED.  For more photos, check out Carmi's blog. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Under the stark florescent lights of the classroom found amongst the labs and library of the science building at the university, I stood in front of my evening class conducting the increasing ebb and flow of the discussion on motivation. Tentative at first, no one wanted to initiate..... to offer their opinions on the questions I had lobbed out as thinking calisthenics.

Who inspires you?
Where does motivation come from?

Most of them remained quiet.... but I could see their ticking brains working. I could feel a change in the classroom. To generate a sense of safety, I shared a few of my own stories ... quick sketches of one or two people who inspire me. I chose carefully as I tried to open up the way to sharing.

Who do you motivate? Who do you inspire?
Where does motivation come from?

Energy was being stirred under those artificial lights. This was new to them.... to be asked such questions .... to be asked their opinions in a classroom on something personal.... to step out a bit into a place of vulnerable openness. In all the years they have been attending university, rarely have they been asked to move the desks to form an open circle forum as a full class to share their personal feeling stories. No one has prompted them to reveal this stuff. They have told me so.

I stretch the silence past the comfort zone to offer them room to grow.  Room to generate their thoughts and perhaps find a story from the pictures in their personal memories.

Pause......... a question ............ pause ........... room to grow.

Who in your life motivates you? How does it make you feel?
 What if there is no one in the whole world to pump you up..... to fill you with hope, what then? 
Where does the drive come from? 
When you are at your lowest ebb, where does the incentive to rise up come from?

More silence..........a smiling kind.  I wait for this very quiet class to find a voice, and wonder if they will ever offer up something for the story collection plate.  

Is motivation more important if it is intrinsic or extrinsic?
Inside or from the outside?

I knock it up a notch by introducing them to Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, who wrote a terrifyingly powerful autobiographical book entitled Night. It was a descriptive account of unrelenting suffering while trying to survive living in a Concentration camp. I described how he and others, including his father were forced to walk many kilometers in a snowstorm at night after days without any food, after months and months of being worn down physically, spiritually, emotionally, dressed in threadbare clothes, stripped of humanness.

Elie Wiesel and his father kept moving foward, one painful step at a time, not knowing where they were going, not knowing if they could find the stamina to continue, fearful that if they slowed down, they would be trampled by the moving herd of humanity. Men dropped dead all around them, left in the accumulating snow. Somehow he and his father kept breathing .... kept alive under the most horrendous circumstances.

What can we learn from the stories of human beings who have faced adversity beyond our comprehension? How did this man at age 16 find the fortitude to keep alive, I asked? Where does motivation come from? Why is it important to read stories about real people and real events even if they are jarringly disturbing? Or should I say ..... ESPECIALLY if they are jarringly disturbing??

I shared my thoughts with the class as a way to guide them into looking inside. This man's story stirred my feelings, filling the air with purposeful feeling words...... as a way to guide them into looking inside themselves. What was reflected back to me from their looks, faces....? Rapt attention. I could feel the energy behind the silence. Churning thoughts, touched upon feelings.

"Where did this man's motivation come from?"  I asked, not really knowing the answer.  I shared a Jean Vanier quote and told them about his work with L'Arche.  "When we tell stories, we touch hearts. If we talk about theories and speak about ideas, the mind may assimilate them but the heart remains untouched. It is the story of a specific person that is the way to the heart."  Jean Vanier's values and proactive being motivates me daily, I told them. 

Thoughts, opinions and most importantly, stories came pouring out... they let go of their self-conscious protection. Their doubts about sounding stupid were replaced by sharing opinions, feelings, and a few personal stories. Comfort in the cocooning feeling of belonging began to happen at that moment..... under the stark florescent lights. 

Motivated to share.  Motivated to listen to one another's offerings.......they transformed an institutional classroom into a place where hearts were being touched.  It was magical. Comfort can happen anywhere if people are engaged.  Comfort to feel discomfort..... to learn and to grow.

As I drove home that night, my head full of thoughts and feelings on what had been shared, I was lifted to a place of inspiration where everything seems possible. It seems to happen every Tuesday night this fall.  I love teaching.

Monday, November 09, 2009


 Monday morning sky, November 9, 2009

Under the soft clouds quilted in miraculous hues, morning has broken. The infant sun sends rays to dapple light upon the fields across the river, gently touching treetops and chimneys curling smoke from woodstoves in warm busy kitchens. Streetlights, still burning night oil stand tall like candles on a landscape hearth that stretches along this part of the Saint John River Valley.

I am in awe as I stand on my quiet street to snap a few photos of the light show.  All is quiet.  The birds have moved on.  Trees stand bare on this November morning.... silouettes of their former selves. This air, fresh, crisp, not as cold as it could be fills my lungs as I happily give thanks to my life, and the freedom granted to me. 

Lucky me.  Why I am so lucky and others are not?  Do I even grasp how blessedly lucky I am to be able to take in the sunrise while standing freely in my thoughts, feelings and actions?    

We know nothing of freedom in this part of the world.  Freedom is only fully understood when you have lost it.  We are aware on one level........... thankful that for some reason we were graced with this gift.  Of freedom.  And for that awareness alone, we are responsible to fight for the rights and freedom of others.  Our gift to them. 

20 years ago today, the Berlin Wall came down.  It was a sunrise surprised by joy.  After 28 years imprisoned in barbed wire fear and concrete enclosure, freedom was granted.  

May we recognize this anniversary as a sunrise of possibilities..... as a motivator to work towards tearing down other heinous walls built by human beings that imprison other human beings. Let us all have the freedom to catch the glorious possibility of  the sunrise rather than feel too far away to be bathed by the beauty of the dawning of a new day.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Natures red carpet.

"The wound has left an imprint....labour and discipline of creativity refines our blemished seeing, and gradually an unexpected gift comes to light.....nothing is said directly in creative work; it is obliquely suggested. Perhaps creative expression is a way of telling something indirectly that we could never tell out straight...."  
John O'Donohue,
Beauty, The Invisible Embrace.

Creativity is never linear is it?  Come to think of it, neither is love. They both contain complicated riddles that act as cues to peak our curiosity, and to hook us into delving deeper into the world of human imperfection.  

Life is full of surprises.  Amazing how often we see reality through the lens of an illusion.  Amazing how often we settle into an illusion convinced its reality only to be surprised by a confession.....a truth. 

My leap of faith is wanting....... I wish sometimes it was simply a linear journey where the destination was at the end of a red carpet and the gift was sitting at the foot of an old maple.

Life is a riddle.  So is creativity.  So is love.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

just plain sad.

Off balanced.
Five words to describe how I'm feeling right now. Thank you Pip for this really helpful exercise. Sometimes you just have to start with the feelings.... to dive right in there to be able to figure out where to go from there eh, my beautiful emerald friend? All those feelings of imperfection....

What a sad confusing day it has been. Surreal too. In a very strange way, during that sickening whoosh of emotions when you're first informed that someone you know and care about has died and responding/reacting to the news, there are thinthreaded silver moments when bits of light come through to touch you on your temples and in your heart.... moments which add a gloss to what is otherwise a very emotional time, which moisten your tears with the salt of life. It takes a while to see them though. The taste of the salt helps. Its a reminder that suffering and pain and death all play roles in life lived.

There are a few cultural and religiously based rules and rituals we follow when we are faced with the stark cold realization that only a death can initiate. Thank God for these, as they act as a guide to follow when darkness is so deep we are blind to the next steps to take. We'd flail even more if we weren't supported by specific steps we must take. But, there are no rules for the emotions are there? People react so personally at different points of awareness, over different stages of the initial grief, in a fog of disbelief so thick its difficult to know when the waves will hit. Don't ever believe they will be held back........ even the calmest harbour is drenched with the waves brought on by the news that someone you know, you care about, you have just spoken to has died.

There is no preparing.
There is no typical way to react.
Is there ever an answer to the "WHY?" No. There isn't.

Tonight, as I sit quietly in my livingroom, as still as I have been since I first heard the news last night. My good friend Barb has lost her husband after a sudden, terrifyingly short struggle with cancer. Like everyone, I'm stumbling to make sense of his death. Leigh was a bear of a man.......... STRONG, and healthy as a horse! He was never sick. But, when the cancer arrived, it took hold of him with such vengeance. We all just kept shaking our heads in disbelief. Shocking.

I spoke to him yesterday afternoon when I called to make plans for lunch on Sunday. Barb was out at the store...... one of the few times she has left his side since the diagnosis and subsequent major surgery in September.

I asked him how he was feeling, knowing he was coming out of dealing with the massive side effects of his first round of chemotherapy...... "Not good," he said. I could hear his fear and his sadness. This was a man who fixed things. He fixed people things. He fixed around the house things. People relied on Leigh for being there..... relied on him to say, "don't you worry, I'll fix this...." And OH, MY, GOD....... He couldn't fix his illness. He couldn't pull the rabbit out of the hat for himself. I heard the disappointment, the surrender in his voice. But even then, I surely didn't expect to get the call last night. Instead, I just felt awkward..... I had no idea what to say....... What do you say besides...... "I am so sorry."

Life is so painful at times. Death is so damned frightening. What can you say over the phone to someone so distraught and lonely in their dying? There are no words. Just shared sighs.

A couple of weeks ago as I was sending out a group email to update friends and co-workers, all of whom are like family to Barb, Leigh and myself....... we had all worked under the same government department umbrella for years, before they had retired and I had moved onto another job.

I impulsively suggested that we put together a basket together for them. There was so little we could do except to send our love and hope and best wishes, so why not fill a basket with those things. Maybe it would give them new energy to enter into the chemotherapy.

The idea literally formulated in my head as I wrote the email. I was feeling so helpless, and assumed others were feeling the same way. Within minutes, I had a few replies from folks who were willing to collect donations from their worksite. I sent out another email with a list of ideas, including the suggestion that perhaps a few would write out some stories, or include a few funny jokes, their own news....

The items poured in! POURED!! Everything from wine to homemade jams to books to beautifully wrapped parcels filled with "in jokey" things the friend knew would make Leigh laugh. Money too....... many donated money to go towards the yard work and winter snow plouging that Leigh wouldn't be able to do. Friends who had moved on into other jobs with other government departments heard about the basket too and showed up with gifts and money and cards and letters....and STORIES of humourous "remember whens..."

It blew my mind! When I saw it all, I knew that everyone was feeling the same way...... We all wanted to reach out. We were all so touched and rattled by that intense feeling of helplessness. It was the best we could do.... simple gifts in a communal basket wrapped with our love and our hope.

The next day, I phoned a mutual friend and asked her if she would come with me to surprise Leigh and Barb. I wanted her with me to see their surprised looks, and to experience the moment, and to add her open wide heart to it all. So, we made arrangements to arrive at the same time, later on that afternoon. What transpired was an emotionally joyful, heartmelting couple of hours of laughter, GALES of laughs, of honest fear shared, of remember whens..... of moments when there were no words, just tears in response to the loving, lovely words that were tucked into the cards, inside the packages........ the four of us sat around the kitchen table and let the feelings out freely. It was a beautiful, beautiful afternoon. Human beings connecting at an emotional place so raw and real.

Afterwards, I sent out another group email and tried my best to encapsulate it for them. I wished they could all have been there and we could've had a spontaneous party! I sent a picture too of Leigh and Barb standing by the basket and the overflowing gift bags. They needed to see their friend, who had changed so radically in such a short amount of time. I only heard back from a couple of them, because it was all too much to process. But, I knew the impact and I didn't expect replies. It was all so awkward because there are simply no words.

Today, I hugged my grieving friend. We stood and hugged for a long, long time. Her life has altered so drastically and she's in shock. We sat around the same kitchen table piled HIGH with food and pots of tea, but this time with different people, surrounded by the intensity of the moment.

The big strong bear of a man who fixes things for people and fixes things around the house is gone. Over the mountain. May he find peace. May we all let go of the "Why's" so that we can eventually recognize the bits of light. In the meantime, let the rituals guide the way through the darkness, as we taste the salt of life.