The Beauty and Wonder of Being

It’s quite a gift just to be here. I am blessed to frequently find myself ‘stunned by wonder’. I have surely shared that before and I trust I will do it again. But it’s pretty wild just to be alive. In the midst of whatever the world may hurl at us there remains this incredibly calm centre – a spot to set up shop and just watch it all, even while apparently partaking.

It’s a party, this life. We’re all invited. None are judged. Nobody will be turned away from this door. It’s inside, so to speak. But all such distinctions fall apart here. Inside or outside, up and down, far and near – all of these words will be seen for what they are – just words. They are symbols. They attempt to express feelings. But we can easily become encaged by these words. Even enraged. When we take them too seriously, definitions will wrap us up. We choke ourselves for nothing. But I digress.

Though who doesn’t? Maybe I’ll carry on. Couldn’t life itself be seen as a great digression? So many of us get distracted from the simple truth in our hearts to chase trails of memories and expectations, reaching out for approval and acceptance, instead of just enjoying what we already have – everything! That feels like a digression.

But we can always come back. To where we never left. To where we already are. Though so many don’t see it. It takes time, it seems, for some of us to step out of our stories to see how free we have always been. And it can be an enjoyable journey, for sure, this life. But when we start pressing and squeezing it – scratching at the very heart of life itself – asking it to be something else, we are wrestling with what simply is. How can we fight reality? It seems ridiculous to even ask. It’s been said that the ultimate truth of life can neither be courted nor shunned. We can’t pursue it any more than we can avoid it. Consider that. How might this understanding lead us to live?

It’s all so simple that most kids already get it, only because they have yet to be convinced otherwise. It’s not to be figured out in our heads. It’s so natural. It pours out of our hearts. It’s just life – play – lila, some say. Yet so many of us are running around wildly bumping into ourselves, or walls we have imagined into existence, you would never know how fun it is. Just being here is a gift. Existence is inherently positive. Yet so many of us live in hiding, waiting and wondering why. It’s as though we’re hoping to break through to somewhere else.

It’s already all here. Patience and process is a part of that, too, mind you. So we can be very forgiving with ourselves as reality becomes clearer and clearer to us. A tree doesn’t struggle as it grows. It may lean and creak in the breeze, but it lets life unfold. A river rolls along as it is allowed, as it is able, demanding nothing. Whether growing wider or deeper, or once in a while running dry, it goes with the flow.

Our intellect, seen as such a gift (which it is), comes with a flip-side; it is an unruly master. Much better to let it serve. Come back to the centre – our heart-centre – and let everything stored up pour out. Then the silence can guide us forward. It may be wise to stop once in a while and check in. But know that life is supportive. Trust it and you will be shown the way. Humility is unavoidable on this path. Walking without it leads to a fall. From there we can dust ourselves off again and carry on.

Walking toward the light, we can set everything else down. Love is tending itself.

Light

The Snow Falls Still

I guess I got a bit excited last week when we had a couple of warmer days. The snow was melting and I was leaning myself optimistically into spring. But the winter spoke up again and reminded me that it is not yet through with us. Montreal saw a good deal of snow fall early yesterday, though the bitter cold of the past weeks seems to be gone. I remain optimistic as the days grow longer and the sunlight feels warmer. We make our official transition into spring this Friday as we reach the equinox.

Just about six months ago I wrote a post on the equinox – the balance of night and day – while trying to ride the momentum of the shifting seasons in ‘turning the corner’. I still find myself trying to ‘turn the corner’ now and again, often related to my food or work habits (input and output). ‘One more day of indulgence,’ a voice says, ‘and then I’ll get back into my discipline.’ I sense this voice would go on forever if we let it. Even in my most productive and disciplined phases, this voice constantly pushed for more, never satisfied. I trust we have all seen these conversations taking place in our minds. I feel it shows the duality of life. There seem to be two of ‘us’ taking part in our internal chatter. Doesn’t this seem odd? Who are we talking to? Who is responding?

In the midst of our inner tangling, however, there is a silent observation that often goes unnoticed. This is simply clear sight, not leaning one way or another, but just observing all that pops up. We are usually so caught up with our thoughts and where they might take us that we seldom appreciate the quality of pure awareness itself which makes cognition possible. But this quiet awareness – completely unbiased alert observation – is nonetheless the foundation for every thought, word and deed. This ‘ground floor’ is where I have been endeavouring to invest my attention of late. This is the process of meditation, essentially, a return to the wholeness that we already are (but may not see).

In this space all dualities come to union and rest. Their continuing play of apparent opposition is seen from a place where they never left. Every equinox and solstice, whether in our skies or in our lives, can be seen as a sign of balance, expressing itself through our oscillating nature. Every season, every tide, every ebb and flow, high and low, can come and go in this space with ease and freedom. Every duality and division, all conflict and contradiction, can be understood more deeply, equally embraced by the loving silence of clear sight, unconditioned and uncreated.

This Friday’s equinox falls in line with a new moon and a total solar eclipse. There will be no shortage of opportunity to ‘turn the corner’. Perhaps we can recommit to clearer sight and see what happens. Though only those in Greenland or Iceland will get anywhere near the full effect of the eclipse, much of Europe and North Africa will be blanketed in the shadow of the new moon, itself leaning close to earth on the perigee of its elliptical orbit. It all seems to be a chance to respect the rise and fall of seasons, on every imaginable scale – from the rise and fall of our every breath to the expansion and (inevitable?) contraction of our universe – and come in contact with that which remains solid and unswayed by the winds of change.

I try to keep this sort of thing in mind as I cross any kind of threshold.  Because on the surface, transition is all there is. It is truly constant. But just beneath our surface experience of life, it is all quietly embraced by the ‘everlasting arms’ of presence. There is a deep peace and grace issuing endlessly from this space, given freely by this inconceivable presence. This is where I want to hang out. This is where I’d like to meet you.

Seasons

I wasn’t planning to get ‘deep’ when I started writing today. I am planning to make a juice today (a lengthy and involved job) and I have a few other errands I need to run, so I was just trying to rattle off a wee entry for the week…but this is what happened. So take it lightly and in stride. I’ll do the same. :)

And I’ll close with a quote of Rumi’s, which I love:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Waning Winter

It’s been a beautiful and bright sunny Monday here in Montreal. I was out for a nice walk this afternoon and I am encouraged to see we are slowly but surely emerging from the wild winter we have had. This was the coldest February on record and it makes me all the more grateful for every bit of warmth afforded us. It was above freezing today for the first time in quite a while. The breeze still kept it feeling cool but I was out and about without my toque on and my ears weren’t frozen when I got home. That seems to be a sign of progress. I’m also pretty sure I heard a few birds flitting about as I sat and meditated this morning.

The weather predictions show an upward trend and I couldn’t be happier. I have always felt like more of a summer soul, never overly fond of the cold. I can handle the heat. I have recently been dreaming of Ecuador for next winter. I can picture myself settling in there for a stretch, awaiting spring back here in Canada while basking in the South American sun and relative warmth. The lack of light just might be the hardest part of winter for me. I really love the sun. I spent a good while laying in the sun this afternoon, in fact, rolled out on my yoga mat on my bedroom floor. I slid over bit by bit, following the sunshine as it drifted across my floor, and got rather toasty before the light was shielded by the building across the alley.

As I look out the window now, at just after 6:30 PM, I am happy to see light still filling the sky, playing on the underside of a few passing clouds. The blue behind them is still clear and bright. This is one obvious upside to the daylight saving ‘Spring forward’. I didn’t mind giving up an hour on Saturday night. I have time to spare.

Though tomorrow, mind you, I will be rising before 3 AM, catching a night bus up to my first official job as a cleaner. I will be cleaning during the off hours of a climbing gym, between 4:30 and 7:30 AM, ensuring it is good to go for their 8 AM opening. I will be meeting a new colleague there who will ‘show me the ropes’. I don’t expect to do any climbing, though I am looking forward to figuring out what the job is like.

I guess by now you can probably tell that I had no real plan for today’s blog entry. I just started writing. I usually get at it a bit earlier than this but here we are. I did do some writing this morning also, finishing a Lenten daily devotional for my home church. They have been posting a little slice of inspiration every day during Lent. I have been happy to offer a couple, otherwise enjoying various other devotional musings. Even though I currently live about 600 KM from Islington United Church, it still feels like home when I show up. It’s nice to look forward to visiting a place you grew up, keen to see familiar faces. I know this isn’t the case for many. I feel blessed.

Well I suppose I will wrap it up for now. Nothing earth-shattering to say today, apparently. It is now just after 7 PM and the sky is losing its colour. I am grateful the days will be getting longer now. I think I will have an easy evening tonight and try to get to bed early, as my alarm is set for 2:45 AM. That will be quite the wake-up call! Such is the life of an early-bird cleaner. But I couldn’t be more grateful.

:)

In the spirit of the waning winter, here is a painting I found by Homer Watson, painted in 1924:

Moonlight, Waning Winter, 1924

Becoming a Cleaner

This morning I went for an informal interview for a job as a cleaner. The company is Zenith Cleaning. A friend recently recommended it to me as an organization befitting my ideals. The man who started Zenith is a most fascinating person. He goes by Tolu. We sat in the upstairs kitchen of Zenith’s office and talked about life. The mood was casual from the get-go. It was unlike any job interview I have ever had (not that I have had all that many…). We talked a lot about forgiveness and gratitude. We talked about presence. We talked about ideals and truly embodying the act of cleaning, treating it as a foundation for any other kind of work or play. Tolu smilingly referred to Zenith as “a metaphorical enterprise”. Clearly, for him, being in tune with the people he works with is far more important than any sort of ‘relevant work experience’. We got on quite well and ended up chatting for about an hour (likely a bit more), punctuated by a few phone calls he had to take.

Our visit ignited a lot of thoughts and feelings about cleaning, especially about how our world sees cleaners. It seems that many in our society consider cleaning a very ‘low’ position. I can see how this idea has spread, having long been drilled with notions of social standing. But the ‘social ladder’ we live with is not nearly as important, nor even as real, as many of us take it to be. The more I think about cleaning the more confounded I am that so many look down upon the work (and worse, upon the workers) as beneath them. It seems crazy. I see it as an honourable job. Cleaning is making things better. It’s very simple.

We spoke this morning of how cleaning is basically removing obstacles, revealing the inherent beauty of a given object, or space. In this way, it aligns nicely with the meditative frame that I have come to appreciate over the past few years. I see many ways this sort of work might better equip one for deeper service. The idea of developing one’s humility and capacity for service feels honourable. Thinking back over my life, picturing many ‘cleaners’ I have come in contact with – whether in schools, churches, homes or elsewhere – I see the quiet dignity of the work. Doing jobs that some have come to see as ‘dirty’ and ‘undesirable’ may in fact be of deep value. They may well be sources of enrichment. Tolu spoke at length about ‘cleaning the cleaner’, describing some of the spontaneous and surprising ways in which this work often benefits the worker. We talked also about the value of deep cleaning, distinguishing it from organizing or merely ‘staging’ a space. We acknowledged that we, as people, still do an awful lot of ‘staging’.

As we sat and spoke it suddenly struck me how vital the world’s custodians are. ‘Custodian’ is a title full of honour, even if many today have come to see it as something less than dignified. Custodians have been given custody. To be a custodian is to guard and protect, even to usher others safely through a given space. I can think of several custodians I know who embody their work and their role, embracing being a cleaner and showing the honour and dignity of service. I find it inspiring.

As the ‘interview’ went on, wandering off on various philosophical and spiritual tangents, we always brought it back to the simplicity of cleaning. With all that lofty talk, Tolu mentioned, some may forget to scrub the floor with sufficient vigour. We must stay in touch with the work itself. Other practical matters like money and schedules emerged only peripherally in our conversation, popping up long after we had already covered everything from scripture to physics. We agreed that we would work well together. Without setting any firm timeline we agreed to be in touch soon to see how I may be of service. Tolu had not necessarily been looking to hire anyone at the moment but he mentioned that new jobs and projects are popping up regularly. An opportunity is likely to open up just around the corner.

In the meantime, I am being more forthcoming with my gratitude for the wonderful cleaners in my life. I encourage you to do the same. They are all over our towns and cities – found in every building, most parks, and on our streets and sidewalks – and it is easy enough to thank them in passing. Try it out! I trust you will be glad you did. After making a few of these human connections, we may even feel like cleaning up after ourselves a bit more. Imagine if this idea spread… What a world we could be sharing… Custodians working together.

Cleaners

:)

Shorter and Sweeter

If last week was short and sweet, this week’s post will be even more so. It’s been a wild week around here. On Tuesday morning my Grandma had a serious seizure and we spent the whole day in the hospital with her.  She was showing signs of a stroke and we were wondering if it may be the end of the road for her but she made an incredible recovery. We had a lot of people praying for her and we are so grateful for the love that was surrounding her. The doctors could not figure out what had caused the seizure but they sent her home that night. We were surprised at her recovery already at that point and were glad to get her into her own bed for the rest she needed.

The next night I got last minute tickets to see Father John Misty down at the Danforth Music Hall. The show had been sold out for months and I was really excited to get tickets. I told Grandma what I was up to when I left and I was very surprised in the morning when she remembered what I had been up to. This was unusual.

We were all shocked over the next few days to see an incredible improvement in her working memory. She was suddenly able to read the paper and discuss current events, which she hadn’t done for years. She was well enough to attend my cousin’s wedding on Saturday and the whole family was very happy to see her so well.

The incredible energy we felt as she was in mid-seizure and we (my Father and Aunt) were praying around her must have ‘knocked something loose’ within her and awakened dormant capacities. It was so amazing to see her back in a way that we hadn’t seen in years.

She has since settled back into her very peaceful and forgetful frame of mind that we had been accustomed to over the past few years. She stayed with my Aunt and Uncle last night as the rest of our family headed off for my other Grandmother’s 80th birthday dinner. There was a great spirit in the air and it wrapped up the whirlwind week in fine form.

We watched the Oscars after we got home and slept well. My brother headed back to Montreal this morning and I am heading back to Montreal tomorrow.

This didn’t really go anywhere, but there’s the rundown. The sequence of events. In all honesty I just wanted to get something up before midnight, as I had forgotten about blogging today. I had a nap before dinner and it completely left my mind.

This is it for today! Have a great week all! Catch you next Monday.

:)

Short and Sweet (Winter Retreat)

Wintry Woods

I have just come home from an incredibly refreshing weekend in the woods with about eighty amazing people. We were inside, mind you, most of the time. It was an especially crisp and cold weekend, but very bright and alive. The sky was clear and the sun was strong. Five Oaks was our host – a gracious space to sing and dance, dream and plan, love, play and pray. I feel as though I have been bathing in waves of love buzzing all around us – within us and through us too – vibrating endlessly, breaking down walls and building bridges. This morning I watched a thin sliver of moon blend into a bluing sky as the sun rose on our final day. I saw it all as one – the grand play of light. We all partake, awake or otherwise.

Now home, our Family Day dinner digested, the last four days seem like a blur, a whirlwind. My mind feels like mush and I am ready for bed. But I want to write a few words reflecting on this wondrous weekend. I was blessed to participate in the Youth Forum Winter Retreat leading up to the United Church of Canada’s 42nd General Council. Many of us will reconnect there this summer, some of us making a cross-country pilgrimage. I feel honoured to be among those going on the journey from coast to coast, heading west to east, arriving in Newfoundland in early August. There is a lot of change on the table and I am inspired to see so many youth with the wisdom and will to work for new ways to express and connect with our sense of spirit.

It was such a gift to meet so many authentically spiritually-engaged youth. I feel excited and encouraged. And happily exhausted. Now doesn’t feel like the moment to dig much deeper into it all. I just wanted to put a few words up here before I lay my head down for a long rest. I hope my new friends from all over Canada have returned home safely (or are at least on course) and that we keep our heart’s fire alive!

Lots of love.

:)

Guess Who’s Back?

This has been quite a cold season. I hear a lot of people have been hit hard. Apparently I’m not the only one who was laid up for more than a week. And word on the street is that it can pop up again even after it’s gone. I had a few days of bronchitis in the wake of my cold. I figured that was the final wave. And it seemed to be the case for a week or more. I was back to full strength and more or less normal activity, eating what I usually do, and then BAM! Guess who’s back? The pesky old cold. I thought it was completely gone. I don’t know if it’s a different bug or just one more wave of the same. Does it really matter?

I must say I am taking it well. I don’t have an intense fever as I did before. I am not achy. But my throat is swollen and it hurts to swallow. I even wonder if tonsillitis may have been triggered this time around. I am still producing a lot of that thick yellow stuff every morning as I cough wildly upon waking. (Too much information?) At least I am getting it out of me. I feel like I am taking it all in stride.

I hope this isn’t taken as a complaint. I’m just rambling away here, getting whatever this is out of me, not unlike a cold expels whatever it needs to. I’m not wrestling with much. I accept the process as it is, and I even stop to appreciate the body’s natural healing intelligence. I am doing what I can. I am resting more than normal, gargling hot salt water several times a day, drinking honey-lemon-ginger tea, chewing garlic once in a while and eating a lot of soup.

Today, however, I opted to make a juice. It had been a while since I had done so and I felt like having some concentrated nutrients. I juiced a bunch of kale and spinach, one cucumber, twenty carrots, one bunch of celery, six apples, one lemon, one grapefruit, some ginger, and added a healthy spoonful of turmeric after it was all done. It was quite a project. It took nearly three hours altogether.

I cleaned everything up once I finished and poured myself a pint of powerful immune-boosting juice. I sat cross-legged in a large comfortable chair to enjoy it. I rested my whole body, which had been up and active for several hours in grocery shopping and juice preparation, and I immediately felt the juice doing its work. It was as if I could feel the juice spreading throughout my veins. It was a rush. I sat in a semi-meditative state and let my entire body fall into rest. I could see so clearly – my awareness was incredibly broad, and yet single-pointed. It swallowed everything – thoughts, my body, every sensation. It was quite a reboot.

Sitting here writing (having taken a break mid-stream for another hot water salt gargle) my throat is still sore, but I don’t mind. It’s doing what it needs to do, and I will help it as best it can, largely by staying out of its way. I don’t feel contagious. I feel like things are just in process. So I will let it work. And I might drop in to a doctor if this persists much longer.

I’m off to Toronto this week and I am happy to be checking in with my family and friends there. It will be Family Day holiday in Ontario next Monday, so it will be nice to share it with family. I will be writing to you from there next week. And then we’re off to a family wedding later in the week. Should be a fun one.

Well, there is another off-the-cuff blog post. Nothing profound to share today. Just what’s what.

For the moment, though, I am going to enjoy a nice healthy glass of juice. Why don’t you join me? I wish I could share some of mine through the computer…

Juice

(That’s just a stock image… :) My juice is green…)