Technology and Nature

I am riding a train at the moment, traveling from Toronto to Montreal. It was a quick turn-around trip. But it was packed with activity. I arrived around noon on Saturday and had a brief meeting regarding my summer job as a pilgrim coordinator for the GO Project, then enjoyed a couple hours of basketball before heading home for a shower and some family time. I met up that evening with a handful of good friends for a game of cards and a lot of laughs. I attended a stirring worship at Islington United Church on Sunday morning, enjoying various visits during the following coffee hour, and got downtown for a longer meeting about our cross-country pilgrimage this summer. Twelve of us from across Canada met online and chatted with the aid of a conference call and various little video windows on our computer screens. It was pretty cool – a bit overwhelming at first, but eventually just great that we were able to connect in such a way.

It amazes me how connected we are today. And yet the balance remains. The more absorbed we are by our devices, the less available we become for those around us. The gifts always seem to come with challenges. Not to say any of our technological capacities are not worthwhile. It obviously boils down to how we employ them, ever-mindful of the need for balance. Here I sit on a moving train – passing through small towns, crossing softly rolling rivers, sliding beside golf courses – and I am able to be typing a blog post which will instantly reach anyone who wants to see it. That is pretty incredible. And yet the reflection of the setting sun on my screen reminds me to be mindful of the really important things in life – the light, namely. We wouldn’t have much without the power of the sun pouring upon us. I am grateful to keep perspective as I engage with technology, remembering the real foundation of life. The more immersed we become in technology the greater the risk of slipping into a strictly mechanistic view of life, wherein we more easily lose touch with the reality of nature (and the nature of reality?), in some ways so delicate, in other ways capable of teaching us harsh lessons for our ignorance.

So I suppose this is a call for awareness. If we were all more aware of our natural foundations, I feel we would be living in a more harmonious way with our environment and our neighbours. If we truly understood how connected everything is we couldn’t help but respect our surroundings, honouring the delicate and dynamic balance of nature, upon which all else rests. But life teaches us when we find ourselves wandering ‘off course’ – are we listening?

Nature&Technology

I think I will wrap it up there for today, keeping it short and sweet. I want to watch out the window as the countryside slides by. I wish everyone a wonderful week. For those celebrating Easter, may you have a blessed Holy Week! I fondly recall Semana Santa both in Spain and South America. Enjoy the revitalization of the spring season! I am relieved to see most of the snow melting, certainly feeling ready for the renewal of green over grey.

🙂

Advertisements

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

🙂