Plans Change

Just a very quick one today. The light is fading from the sky and I am still hoping to sit out on a stone wall and crack open a few walnuts and almonds for a bit. I was up in the olive trees again today after about a week off the job. We had a few days of rain here at Ebbio, which effectively stops all olive picking.

But today was gorgeous and the rest of the week is supposed to be much the same. I thought at this time last week that I might be in Munich by now. But not yet. We shall see. I was due to visit a shaman in the north of Italy with my friend and host here but apparently some snow fell and he was not so keen on the outdoor ceremony and camping with limited supplies. My idea was to hop north to Munich from there but now it looks like I will be here at least another week helping with our olive harvest. I can’t say for sure at the moment if I will even head north anymore. Part of me is more keen to head south for the warmer weather. However, we have another yoga group booked in a couple of weeks and I may just hang around to help out with them.

Front of the big house.

Front of the big house.

Either way I am in good shape. I have been enjoying the alternating days of labour and leisure here. I went to the spa yesterday with my host and his family. My fingers were well pruned after a day in the thermal springs. It was a most relaxing day. Then I sat to send some love and ‘good vibes’ to my family who were gathered for the burial of my grandfather. Even after more than two years since his death, I felt his presence very strongly in my heart as I opened myself to gratitude and warm memories of him. It is endlessly amazing how powerful love can be. I wish I could have been with my family in person, also, but I was happy to support in spirit. Grandpa would understand that I have to go on living, wherever it may take me.

Well, that’s about it for now…short and sweet! Have a great week all! I hope to touch base again in about a week…

🙂

All About Olives

Olives

I have spent the last five days climbing up in olive trees and stripping branches of all they offered; olives big and small; deep, dark red olives and light green ones; some plump and taut-skinned and even olives beginning to shrivel. The weather has been friendly. Yesterday I think I got a bit too much sun. It is beautiful to be able to say that at this time of year. We had a bit of wind one afternoon, which cooled things down noticeably after the sun tucked itself behind a wrinkle in the hills. But overall it has been an ideal week. The joy of such simple seasonal work is its own effortless reward…including room for a bit of sweat.

I was ‘farmed out’ from my home farm, Ebbio, to come and stay with a friend and her family at their home near Volterra. They live in a place of such character and unfathomable beauty that my head nearly spins upon rising to greet each morning as the sun spills over the hills unfolding before me. It is called Borgo Pignano…a special gem, even for Tuscany.

A view from Pushpa's home in the morning.

Mid-morning view from Pushpa’s home.

 

...and later in the day.

…and later in the day.

My friend and host, Pushpa, has been heading up this project from its inception through the past fifteen years, coordinating guests, gardens, parties, families, animals, on-site schooling, sacred ceremonies, countless crops and various other interesting and progressive programs and dreams. The ownership seems to have recently shifted gears, apparently selling out their ‘bohemian chic’ dream in search of five-star style, pursuing a specific clientele. Pushpa is now in the planning stages of building another community (likely still in Tuscany) that will hold truer to its core values, not getting caught up in the money game she sees spoiling the soup here.

So as their family transitions from their beautiful home here at Pignano, it has been a pleasure to pick olives with all of them, the kids chipping in too, along with a cast of other friends and relatives. We have been putting in long, full days, stopping to enjoy hearty picnic lunches, always with real food, usually quite fresh.

Pushpa amazes me with how much she can accomplish in the mornings and evenings, baking bread, toasting apple slices, picking pears, making grape jam and juice, making cheese, baking sheets of focaccia (both sweet and savoury varieties), among a dozen other things. She feeds her family, a cat, four chickens and a horse (and me!), hosting friends for dinner and occasionally overnight, gifting loaves of bread and other goodies to neighbours. She is an incredibly active mother, for far more than her own family.

But back to the olives. We picked on a few properties. Pushpa’s friend, Susan from San Francisco, owns a property near Volterra and told us to help ourselves to her tools and her trees. She had no other plans arranged for anyone coming to pick them. There were a lot of other great treats on this property, aside from the lovely Tuscan cottage which hosted a couple of ‘up-scale’ picnic lunches. A healthy vegetable garden sat a ways down from the house, grapes hanging from a trellis leading downhill towards it, and two or three persimmon trees sprawled out just beside the garden. I had never tried persimmons before and now I am in love! They are incredible. And never better than fresh, organic, right off the branch. So juicy and sweet!

We have also been picking a bit further afield with Chris, who used to work in the garden here at Pignano, stripping a few of the trees on his mother’s property. While we were picking there the other morning, Pushpa came running past me, grabbing me by the arm, saying, “Hurry, come hide in the bushes with me.” Having grown accustomed to trusting my hosts out here and not questioning much, I leapt into some nearby bushes as a pair of helicopters passed overhead. Pushpa explained that she had heard of people being fined for having extra pickers on hand. Apparently the olive harvest is being watched more and more stringently, the government keen to get a slice of the action wherever possible. We kept our heads down until the choppers were out of sight, laughing a bit at the ridiculous scene. Chris, son of the rightful landowner, carried on picking, seemingly alone…if seen from above.

Vito (Pushpa's husband) and I corralling a few olives in the net.

Vito (Pushpa’s husband) and I corralling a few olives in the net.

View from Olive Grove

View from the grove.

Here I am picking up in a tree...

Picking up in a tree…

The week has sped by, and I feel both fit and well-fed. Normally steering clear of dairy and wheat over the past few years, I have been embracing the fresh, local and organic cheese (made right here) and bread that is not only fresh, local and organic, but from a strain of grain that Pushpa and Vito carefully selected as they planted the crops here. They have a stone mill on site and I experience none of the bloating and heaviness that I often feel with other breads. The goat cheese and sheep cheese is fantastic. She has so many fresh jams, marmalades and other sorts of spreads (including delicious organic honey also from Pignano!) that breakfast, lunch and dinner always roll out with almost embarrassing abundance…each meal seems to have its own dessert! I am a very happy helper here.

One of the greatest joys I have found in the fields during the days, even considering the stunning views and sweet, warm air, is giving my all without asking anything in return. I am working hard without a dime in mind. It is so freeing. Of course I am being well hosted and certainly well fed, but I am putting in solid days of work without any idea of ‘personal gain’.

A number of insights have come to me this week while working in this way – some new, others reminders – but the only way (it seems to me) to really connect with them is to live them. What is the value of selfless labour? I can tell you, and yet it cannot truly be conveyed in words. Find out for yourself.

What does uncaused joy feel like? I can tell you with great conviction that all the joy you have ever felt is actually uncaused, but this may just sound like a bunch of words to you. We are so quick to capture our joy and label it, tying it to external stimuli, that we limit our capacity for real freedom, convinced we have needs outside of ourselves. I assure you we have all we need within us…this even includes every meal coming our way. Perhaps our self-definitions could embrace a bit of broadening? We are much more than we imagine…and also less. 😉 And we don’t need to try to figure that out. I don’t understand it.  I just feel it.

We can engage life with a receptive heart, ready to hold the moment as it flows through us (or we through it, as you like). Instead of holding on to or holding out for anything, we can trust life, holding our hearts open to its endless wonder. Living this way cleans our sight.

Before long, we realize that all seeking is seen. In moments when we want something other than what we have – reaching out for anything in life we apparently ‘need’ – we can acknowledge that the very sense of ‘lack’ is itself observed. All seeking is seen. But from where? Where indeed…

If we allow the silence of this truth to ripen, giving it a bit of space to spread its wings and whisper its wisdom, our habits of seeking and needing can soften and disappear altogether. To be without want is a wonder beyond anything we can conceive. We can dance freely with life and allow everything to blossom in its own course, offering itself as it is ripe and ready. With patience, we realize more and more deeply that the only way to get to any ‘there’ is through here. This is where to invest. But don’t try to figure it out – the very attempt to understand it all is itself an escape. So have a breath. Let go. Lather, rinse and repeat.

:)

Sending love and light to one and all. 🙂

Back to Ebbio tomorrow and soon heading north toward Munich. Will try to touch base in about a week.

A Wonderful Week in Tuscany

It has been a wonderful (and wonder-filled) week here at Ebbio – my European home away from home – tucked safely away in the Tuscan hills northwest of Siena. The sun is shining and the animals are all out playing. I layed on the trampoline for a wee rest after washing the morning’s dishes and now that our guests are gone (having finished their week-long yoga retreat) the farm is quiet and I am left to reflect on these beautiful days gone by.

Shanti the cow gave birth to a cute new calf the day I arrived. That seemed like a good start. We had a few days of rain, but a lot of sunshine also. The smell of ‘after rain’ is so rich in the Tuscan countryside. There have been several clear nights to stare up and drink in the stars, their light so strong here, the sprawl of the milky way so well defined, that one can only be stunned by wonder. The air is cooling with autumn’s fall, but the sun is still strong and warm in the daytime.

Yesterday I went hunting for mushrooms with a friend. It was fun. It has not been the greatest season for mushrooms, apparently, with the summer having been rather dry. But we filled a basket and returned to the farm to crack some nuts open. We have a lot of walnuts here and some almonds too. It takes time to get at them, but it is enjoyable, espcially with some good company. We found some decent rocks to crack the nuts open and sat chatting on a stone wall for a couple of hours as the chickens clucked and scrapped over the bits we cast aside.

The donkeys and horses have been out and about this week. The geese are on the loose daily, even getting caught taking a swim in the pool yesterday. The chickens, too, can regularly be seen scouring the land for snacks. Rico and Rocco, our farm dogs, are always on hand, ready to greet guests or bark at wild boars.

My friend Felix, who generously picked me up from the airport in Rome last week, came by to help out here and stay a couple of nights. We went out for a fancy dinner in San Gimignano on Tuesday (I had a mushroom risotto), and then I was invited to join our yoga group the following night for a nice dinner in Castellina in Chianti (I had gnocchi in pecorino cheese sauce). 🙂 I know I am a lucky lad.

I was also invited to join this beautiful group for a number of their classes, enjoying both meditation and singing. We did several sessions of heart-opening Kirtan chanting (singing Sanskrit mantras), which was highly energetic and wholly enveloping. We also did some very casual sing-along-style oldies one night after dinner. Just the classics. The Beatles. Buddy Holly. Simon & Garfunkel. Cat Stevens. Bob Dylan. Bob Marley. John Denver…oh, those country roads…they get me every time.

The group here was really into the retreat. They came to work. It is great to be around such growth. There was a very powerful energy at work here this week and I was glad to support it, keeping everyone fed an ready to dive back into the studio. I washed a lot of dishes and sang and laughed a lot. I felt a lot of love.

Next week looks like olive harvest.

I will keep you posted as I am able…

Off to Italy

Pizza

Here I sit in Gate C32 at Pearson Airport awaiting my flight to Rome. I was hoping to get a quick blog post off earlier today but I was busily tending to final chores before leaving. I am traveling with only a small backpack and my guitar this time around, knowing I need very little to get by.

Once in Italy I hope to return to a regular blogging rhythm. This summer sped by with very little writing to speak of. But it has been quite a summer indeed. I travelled across Canada with an awesome group of youth and we had ourselves quite a time. It is a bit of a blur looking back, but I am so grateful for the opportunity to explore our country in such a way. I am surprised I didn’t get posting more about it sooner. I got out of the habit of blogging and let it slide. Some further reflections will likely emerge over the next little while.

So get ready for more stories from the road! Here they come… This will be a simple start for now. I am writing on an iPad for the first time, as they are sitting here at the airport in abundance, open to any and all.

My plans are pretty basic for the next few months. Home base will be Ebbio, a farm in Tuscany that I lived and worked on a few years back. I will work a bit and wander as I feel led. I hope to say hello to a number of friends here and there, though I won’t likely wander too far north for now. I intend to return to Toronto for Christmas, and have a return flight booked for just that. So maybe I will stay warm in the south of Italy for a while leading up to that. We shall see.

The boarding has just begun, so I will sign off for now.

Enjoy the journey everyone! 😀 We’re all on an adventure whether we know it or not…so ride the road you’re on! See how it goes…and let me know.

I Only Missed a Month

GC42Pilgrimage

Well, a month has passed since I last posted anything here. Working in an office for most of that month made it easy to let the days slip by. I was in by nine and back home by about five, then quickly off (on Mondays and Tuesdays) to facilitate evening meditation. I saw how a routine can develop so naturally. Lather, rinse, repeat. But important things can be overlooked in the course of being ‘busy’, even preparing for this ambitious pilgrimage. And so now that our journey is underway, and we are free of the office, I feel suddenly compelled to check in here again.

I am with a group of thirteen youth, from all over this beautiful and broad country of ours – Canada. We are in Vancouver, having arrived two days ago, and we are set to explore this vast land from west coast to east over the next six weeks. We are sleeping on the floor of Shaughnessy United Church. I am up early this morning, having rested fairly well. Some of us will be meeting soon for some morning yoga before breakfast.  And then out into the day.

Breakfast will be a bit simpler this morning, setting ourselves up a basic bagel and cereal buffet. A bit of fruit, too. Yesterday we rose to a beautiful spread of yogurt, granola, fresh blueberries and raspberries, scrambled eggs and waffles. It was prepared and served to us by Ian Hanomansing (CBC Broadcaster) and his family. He and his wife, Nancy, and their son, James, are involved with the church here and volunteered to serve us breakfast. I found it funny to hear his booming, broadcaster’s voice describing the contents of the buffet as opposed to the events of the day, as I am accustomed to; “the blueberries and raspberries were freshly picked just yesterday…”

As we emerged from the church after breakfast we were stirred by a curious and almost ominous yellow sky. Looking to the north and the slice of clear sky above the mountains, we realized we were beneath a huge cloud of smoke. The wildfires are burning in the bush nearby and smoke is hovering above us. There was an air quality advisory posted for the city yesterday and it is still in effect for today. We will do our best to breathe lightly and not push ourselves too far.

I will sign off for the moment, happy I had a chance to post this Monday, welcoming any and all of your warm thoughts for our adventure across Canada. It will be an incredible time of growth and exploration for all of us.

Keep up with us here on Facebook: General Council Pilgrimage

There are links on our FB page to our other social media accounts also – Twitter, Instagram, and our blog…

Keep on Traveling Light.

I’ll do what I can…

🙂

I Almost Forgot

I almost forgot it was Monday. I have had a day of activity, albeit modest. Now back at home and winding down, it occurred to me that I almost missed my Monday post. I have been doing it consistently for just about a year now. Aside from one missed Monday (December 15th) I have been posting every Monday since late June or early July of last year. I have found it a valuable exercise. Even in phases when I have not been writing much I can still sit down and churn a little something out for Mondays. Occasionally these posts end up being thoughtful reflections. I have often learned as I have written. Sometimes I am taken with the turn of a phrase that pops up on its own. At times these posts are nothing more than a brief rundown of a given day, or week. I won’t predict much about this one. Other than its brevity. It will likely be brief. And unedited.

I saw my folks off to the airport this morning. They are off to California for two weeks with some friends. I returned home to pick up our Austrian houseguest (and dear friend) to turn right around and get her to the airport. We had a full car on the first run and her flight was a couple of hours after my folks and their friends. I almost sat to write my Monday blog post when I got back home but I got caught up in a few other jobs I wanted to do around here.

After a bit of grocery shopping, I took a bunch of things down to the locker in the basement in an effort to de-clutter cupboards and storage spaces up here in the condo. I made a run to the beer store to return a collection of bottles and cans, tucking $10 in my pocket for the deposits.

Now that this condo is almost empty of people (just Grandma and I for a while now), I tidied up the condo next door and moved my gear back here. I had been based there for about a week as my Aunt and Uncle are away on an Alaskan Cruise. They are due to return on Thursday. After a few loads of laundry, hanging out and chatting with Grandma (and getting her lunch), and a quick nap, the time came for me to head to the church for a meditation.

I have been offering meditations there whenever I am in town and able to do so. I did one last week and will do a few more in June while I am around. I have been offering them here at the condo also, on Tuesdays. We had a great group out and a nice quiet meditation. Though it took me a little while to settle into it, I found it to be a beautiful sit.

Once I got home I sat down to check a few messages and almost dozed off before realizing that I ALMOST FORGOT TO POST! So, this is it, I guess. I will mention that I may not be posting with consistency throughout the summer. I have a summer job starting next Monday which will see me traveling across Canada with an awesome group of youth on a Pilgrimage. I am excited to be adventuring with these brave souls and I look forward to the fun and growth we will all share together. We are going all the way from Vancouver to Newfoundland – coast to coast! You can follow our progress here. Though the journey is not until July, my contract starts next week. There are plenty of final details to organize. I imagine my post frequency will fluctuate along with the journey. I may well be able to maintain some consistency but I am relinquishing certainty in order to let everything unfold as it will.

So that’s it for today! Maybe see you next week. Thanks for reading!

canada

🙂

A Brief Reflection on Resilience

resilience

Meditation is a valuable tool to keep ourselves fresh. It can ready us for difficult tasks, calming our minds and bodies as we face life’s challenges. I am consistently amazed at the peace and perspective even twenty minutes on my cushion can offer. It doesn’t matter if I have been caught up in my mind chasing my tail for hours, when I sit down for a few quiet minutes everything can fall into place effortlessly. I am endlessly grateful for the resilience I have discovered through meditation. All it takes is a simple recognition to realize the benefits of this gift.

We all have access to this resilience, of course. Every second is a fresh start. But many of us so thoroughly busy ourselves that we seldom give our resilience a chance to ripen. We feel beaten down by life, too exhausted to do what we want. We hope to recover, at best, and usually just enough to make it through another onslaught of a day. But we need not feel deflated or defeated. All we ever have to do – and indeed all we ever can do – is start from right here. This is incredibly liberating in its utter simplicity.

Here we stand. We are free. We can choose how to live, how to express ourselves. We need not let our past dictate our actions today. There is no such thing as failure. We can step out to see for ourselves. Everything leads to further learning and growth. Believing in the finality of failure is only a limited view of the truth. In the long run it is only an idea.

So wipe the slate clean and have another crack at your dream. Work out the will of your heart. On this path you can only go right.

Be easy.

🙂