How the Time Flies…

It’s hard to imagine that a month has passed since Easter, when I moved into my new flat. I kicked into gear as soon as I got here and have been putting in 30-hour writing weeks since. That may explain my recent online silence. I notice I am doing less writing ‘on the side’ after I put in my daily hours, even simple e-mail correspondence.

But life continues to open up in beautiful and mysterious ways. Even in the midst of what I might have previously called ‘mundane routine’, the stunning gift of simply being here is so clear. It’s crazy that we ever pull ourselves away from this simplest of truths, our very presence. We can never acquire more, nor accomplish anything greater than our own being. It’s already here – the true ‘juice’ of life. It’s completely free. Unencumbered. Unimpressed with our efforts and successes. Yet ever-willing to hold our ‘failures’, softening our hearts into their natural openness.

***

Last week I felt the earth move. Within the relatively small South American nation of Ecuador, I was about as far as possible from the epicentre of the earthquake, but it still shook my home and my body. I scurried about my second-storey apartment wondering where the safest place to stand was. I pulled on some pants and ran outside. By the time I got out, it was done. But it was a humbling experience. A valuable reminder of our tender place on this planet. I can’t imagine how intense the earthquake must have been for those closest to it.

Many people have died. Others have had dreams, plans and properties ruined. But life carries on. The support effort is in full swing throughout Ecuador. All around I see people collecting supplies and others heading for the coast in an attempt to rebuild. I see, once again, the gift of life at work in this. At once subtle and stunningly obvious – the connective fabric of love is driving everything, stirring each of us from the very heart of life. We want to help others in pain. It’s so natural. We want to help others survive, to rekindle their health and hope.

I suppose this is what drives my writing, too. Certainly at the depth level – just love expressing itself. But as it filters through my heart and my life experience, I want to support people on their journey through the mystery of existence. Having trudged through incredible density and darkness (all self-created), I want people to see that we can become free again (realizing we never left) and that we can dance anew in the land of our birth – pure levity and light. There are no lasting walls – they are all imagined.

By entering our softer spaces, by honouring our uncertainty, we can open into ourselves more honestly, seeing this ground to be firmer than all the concrete on earth. This is where life arises from. But we cannot hold it in the way we are used to clutching our ideas and experiences. This ground calls for a continual opening, a blossoming, stretching us out through our hearts.

I am grateful for the freedom to express my heart so casually here. As I move through my daily writing, I am often brushing aside these more ‘esoteric’ stretches, keeping things more ‘grounded’. But even this ‘grounded’ work is only a bridge into the spacious mystery of the heart.

It sometimes feels funny to be pouring myself so earnestly and with such discipline into something that I know doesn’t matter in itself. Like anything else in existence, my story is a vessel at best. Perhaps its lone purpose is growth – a snake-skin to be shed once exhausted. I simply don’t know. But the freedom from any need to know spurs such trust and peace that I can continue pouring love into the project daily without worry.

***

I also feel grateful for friendship here in Cuenca. Since I have been ‘working harder’ and writing more consistently, it has been important to be out and about around town, bumping into friends here and there. I appreciate my weekly writing group. I am grateful to have had the chance to share yet again at the Spoken Word event last week, and another chance to sing songs with friends at Open Mic. And I am grateful for the full house I had here at my place last night…hosting ten for a meal, six of us staying for games night. Cranium was so much fun! 🙂 And of course, lots of music carrying the evening along.

My dear friends, Zach and Kristen, are a wonderful couple that have connected me with countless other good people around town and I am especially grateful for their friendship. And there are always fun people passing through town for a month or a couple of weeks, and it is great to connect with them too! I love the community life here in Cuenca, even as I continue to value my solitude, mining it for its own treasures.

On a semi-related note, I think I can admit (with sufficient humility) that my guacamole is getting pretty darn good. I am looking forward to taking my recipe and patient approach home to Canada in the summer and sharing it with family and friends! Keep your eyes peeled for me, and have your taste-buds ready!

***

I guess that’s about it for today…  As ever, here are some more photos from around town, and out my window, and one from the couch upon stirring from a siesta just about an hour ago… 😉

Panorama from my flat...

Panorama from my flat…

Only Truth Lasts

All I want to do is serve truth. It’s the only thing worth putting my life into. And it’s a complete mystery. It isn’t objective. It can’t be held in any shape or displayed in any singular way. It can’t be figured out ahead of time. This mysterious truth pours through us only when we’re open, when we’re being ourselves. In the end, it isn’t complicated at all…only when we want to figure it out, or try to explain it.

Trusting it is free. I’m still talking about truth. This is trusting yourself, ultimately. The very heart of life itself. Anyone can try it. It will show you how worthy it is of trust. But you can’t taste it beforehand. You can only lean out and give it a shot. No strategy can follow you into this space, even if it brought you to the door. Everything must be dropped.

I have no idea what I’m talking about. Really. 🙂 It can’t be conceived. It is conceiving. These words just tumble out. And I feel so lucky to be so deeply HERE. Nothing else exists. The rest is just memory or projection. These ideas still pop up here and there, but the host is this moment. Always now. Everything rests on this. This is what all the true sages and saints and saviours are pointing to. Right here. Right now. Don’t miss it. (Don’t worry, you can’t…not for long.)

This truth is what Easter is about at it’s heart, too. Conquering death by accepting it. We can be born to something that doesn’t die. It’s who we already are. There are many paths to the pathless present. No need to worry about finding ‘the right one’. It will find you. Just take a step.

Surrender to yourself. Your true self. Not the story. Not the habits and concepts. Your mind is not the doorway…don’t be fooled by passing thoughts. (And don’t get stuck on terminology…catch the drift.) Only the heart truly knows. But it won’t show you any more than the first step. Again and again.

***

I attended Easter worship this morning in a beautiful community of locals and ex-pats. The pastor spoke passionately and the energy was warm and inviting. The music was uplifting. The smiles were authentic…as were a few tears.

The pastor had us hanging on a valuable question from the scripture: “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” The angels had asked this of the women coming to Jesus’ tomb. I had never focused on this phrase before, but it struck me today with considerable force. It got me thinking about where I invest my life. I want to invest it right back into life itself.

I feel that what is destined to die is already as good as dead. We are wasting our lives by feeding death so much attention. Death can be a vessel at best. Let’s not confuse what is truly alive. Why cling so desperately to what will inevitably be taken? Let go and see what is realer.

Some come to the cross still hung up on death. Others rightly see the cross as an opportunity to come back to truth, to serve life from a deeper space of our being. Let’s invest in this truth, this life, unfolding in this mysterious moment.

It’s hard to talk about this stuff. The subject doesn’t lend itself to inspection and intellectual clarity. The path of truth is unique for all. It’s usually obscure. We can’t seize it as we do normal objects and ideas. We are pointing back to ourselves, in THIS moment, right now – never to be captured. But we can allow ourselves to be who we are, to unravel a bit more, to explore our own hearts. This is where we grow.

***

I won’t go on much more now. The last few weeks have been beautiful, even when challenging. My writing routine has fluctuated a bit, but I keep coming back to the desk and chipping away at my work.

I have shared my writing at another Spoken Word event this past week, which went well. And I sang some songs at an Open Mic the night before. I have been connecting with new friends regularly, and seeing my path open up naturally…sometimes despite my best efforts. 😉

I am now sitting back where I was two years ago at Easter, looking out upon the green hills of Cuenca while writing. My then couch-hosts and now friends have left the flat to me for the next two months as they travel the world.

I just felt like sending some love and encouragement to anyone who may see this. That means YOU! Life is so deeply worthy of our whole hearts, our complete trust. Dare to lean out into the raw winds of change and let yourself grow. Become who you are.

🙂

Now, a few photos…

Getting Settled in Cuenca

I cleaned my new apartment this afternoon and it feels great! I gave a thorough dusting and sweeping to just about every surface and then took the mop through every inch of the place. It is feeling especially fresh. I had a shower afterwards to top it all off. Now I think I will have a spinach and avocado salad (with some peppers and olive oil) and settle in for a relaxing evening.

But first I wanted to send a quick hello to anyone who might come upon this. 🙂 Hi! Life in Ecuador is unfolding fairly smoothly so far. Aside from a serious sunburn up at Cotopaxi (reminding me of the necessary respect for the sun at altitude) and a wee bout of Montezuma’s revenge, I have had rather good fortune.

Sunrise at Cotopaxi

On my first day here in Cuenca I not only found a great Spanish school but also the flat that I moved into. It was an unplanned day that opened up effortlessly. I walked from my hostel and dropped almost all of my laundry off to be cleaned (for $2.60!), wandered on and then bumped into The Spanish Institute of Cuenca where I was given an hour-and-a-half free lesson and put in touch with a woman who had a vacant flat. I met with her about an hour later and rode the city bus (for 25 cents!) up to her place to have a look. We are on the northeastern edge of Cuenca and it is rather quiet up here compared to downtown. There is a eucalyptus forest just behind my house and I tend to go out and sit there after my morning writing to enjoy a banana for breakfast. (Is a three-day sampling pool enough to indicate tendency?  Why not?) I saw some cattle grazing there this morning. It is a peaceful spot overlooking the city.

Eucalyptus

Cuenca is a gorgeous city. It is very safe and quite friendly. I can see why there are so many ex-pats down here. The climate is ideal. It is usually about 22 degrees Celsius in the afternoon (occasionally a bit warmer, but not much) and things cool off at night. I can comfortably wear a sweater once the sun goes down, though I have survived without. The cost of life here is obviously a lot less than in North America, though I hear from some of the older ‘gringos’ that the prices have been climbing a lot in the last years as more retirees (both young and old) catch on to the place. The downtown is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the colonial architecture being a big draw for tourists. There are several incredible cathedrals and a handful of other impressive government buildings standing out from the already charming standard structures throughout the city. It certainly has character.

View from Spanish School

I have met a handful of folks already and joined many for meals here or there, whether connecting through hostels (before moving into my flat), buses, or Spanish school. It seems like a very social city. The other day I bumped into an American guy I had met at a country hostel near Cotopaxi Volcano a week before and we sat in the town square playing guitar and harmonica for a couple of hours, being joined by a few locals and passing the guitar around to share songs. It was a lot of fun and we moved through a lot of different styles. Pedro, one of the locals, had a hankering for Cat Stevens and John Denver. We obliged him.

I have arranged to get my teeth cleaned next week and I am actually rather keen. It has probably been nearly ten years since my last proper cleaning, ever since my insurance knocked off after graduating. I heard from a friend that they speak terrific English there (although my Spanish is progressing) and that it only costs $15 US. And it isn’t the hygienist who administers the cleaning but the actual dentist! Imagine that.

So, I am only just getting settled into a routine but things are moving along nicely and I imagine I will be down here until sometime in mid-summer. I hope to have mostly productive mornings and then enjoy the culture and life of the city and surroundings in my afternoons. I have already found a great vegetarian restaurant (Govinda’s) where I get a hearty and healthy lunch for $3 flat – soup, salad, rice, veggies, beans and juice!

There is a lot of interesting music and street art to be found here as well. Though I  have yet to check it out, I hear there are a number of nice hikes in nearby Las Cajas National Park. I am told there are thermal baths not far away…and some Incan ruins to look through too. So I am sure I will have lots of exploring to do…

Curious Street Art

I guess that will do for now…enjoy life everyone! It’s free.

🙂

This Week in Farm Life

View from the window.

View from the window.

The time continues to fly by as I sit tucked into a fold of the rolling hills here. I have been in Italy six weeks already, all but one spent here at Ebbio, my little Tuscan retreat. This used to be a volcano. I feel a powerful energy here and wonder whether it is the volcanic past. Or perhaps it is a personal connection. I have grown so much here. But I am quite happy not knowing. This place feels somehow like a cocoon to me – a womb. I curl up whenever I return, grateful for its nurturing.

We have had some beautiful days this week, though the weather is now becoming cooler. I am still wearing my shorts out most mornings but I am also taking my sweater with me and often a little neck-warmer. Nonetheless I had a few afternoons of work where I had to take my sweater off due to the warmth.

I have been in quite a little groove of late. A rhythm. The last couple of weeks especially. It has been nice. I thought I would have left the farm by now but I am no longer concerned about running around, quite happy right here. Perhaps my wanderlust is changing shape a bit?

Mind you, I did buy a few more flights this week. I went into town for an hour of better internet and bought a flight to New Orleans a few days into the New Year. I will head down to celebrate the 30th birthday of a dear friend with several other friends. I will fly on to Ecuador from there, intending to set up shop for a stretch and see what I might be able to do with the story I have been living and writing over the past few years.

I have been back into editing the story recently – much of it originally born here – as a part of my daily routine. I usually rise a bit before seven and head outside to pluck a lemon from the branches of one of our lemon trees. I bring it back to combine with a bit of ginger and honey (which a local friend collects and shares generously). This honey-lemon-ginger tea is a nice start to the day. I often check my email and look out over the hilly horizon as I slowly sip my way through it.

At about eight o’clock I join Nirdosh, the matriarch of the farm, up in her home for half an hour of meditation, sometimes followed by more tea and visiting, or just restocking her woodpile for the day and carrying on. I follow that with a bit of muesli and banana, occasionally turning on the TV to ‘practice my Italian’ watching Walker, Texas Ranger (or whatever else may catch my eye).

Then I write for three hours. There are little diversions here or there – picking up my guitar for a few minutes – but I have been generally quite disciplined the last couple of weeks. Mostly I have been getting reacquainted with the massive ocean of words that spilled forth well over a year ago, with the intention to rein it all in a bit (or a lot). I want to focus on the core of the story.

After my writing I join the boys for lunch. Luca, who is our chef when yoga groups are here, comes in from helping Costel with olive picking to prepare lunch for us. His lunches are always incredible – almost always pasta and salad. He is a true Italian. His variety of sauces always impress. You can feel that he cooks with his heart, which makes a bigger difference than could ever be quantified. After a little post-lunch rest we resume picking olives for another couple of hours. Occasionally there is other work to do, like today, raking and burning leaves, trimming vines and collecting more walnuts. We will be done with the olives by Saturday.

As the sun begins nearing the treetops on its descent, Costel usually calls it for the day, packing up the olive nets and heading off to feed the animals. I tend to play music for about an hour at this point. Last week I set up the drum kit and have been enjoying having it in the rotation. We also have a grand piano in the big yoga studio and a classical acoustic guitar on hand here. I brought my own steel-string acoustic from home. Overall, I play the piano the least and my guitar the most but I feel quite blessed to have so many options. Yesterday Luca ‘jammed’ with me on the drums for a bit, he tapping away on a large pot with a wooden stick. That was fun.

Then it is off to the showers. The water can get really hot and I love this part of the day. Once I am freshened up I tend to prepare a little salad for dinner, with mixed lettuce and shredded carrot, adding some sliced mushrooms and diced peppers. I sprinkle a bit of salt and pour some fresh green olive oil overtop and wander down to my friend Franz’s vacant apartment to set up for my evening entertainment. He has a wide (and rather scattered) selection of DVDs. Among others, I recently watched Shine; I Love You, Man; Surfer Dude; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Captain America; Focus; Away From Her; Tintin; The Tourist; The Kids Are Alright; and Up In The Air.

Before starting a movie, I usually crack a few walnuts (I have been up in the trees the last couple of days to knock the remaining walnuts down…as I am noticing the crates thinning a bit…) and mix them with some raisins, liking my dessert ready to go. Once my station is all set up I press play and enjoy my salad and dessert. I often supplement the walnuts and raisins with a few rice cakes and honey, and usually an apple to cap it all off. 🙂 I just may be a three-dessert kind of guy.

After movie time I may glance at my emails again and play a bit of guitar as they load (the internet is really slow here), then I head down into the meditation hall for at least half an hour of nighttime meditation. Often more. One night this week I sat for almost two hours, diving very deep, one might say. It has been a very energetic part of my day.

I often stop and stare up into space on my walk up to my house at this point, gazing at the stars (as long as they are not obscured by cloud), bowled over by wonder. Rico, the friendliest dog on earth, usually sits beside me as I do this.

Then it is into my room where I write a quick journal entry and do a bit of yoga before sliding into bed, usually smiling. I tend to read a bit before falling asleep and sometimes listen to a bit of music on my iPod – little bedtime playlists. I love to scan my body as I lay in bed and feel the buzz of life coursing through every cell as I drift off to sleep.

Then I rise and do it all again, amazed at how different it is every day. There is such a freshness to every moment. I feel like quite a lucky lad to be living here.

However, I do wish I could scoot home (if only for a moment) to give my Mom a hug on her birthday – today is the day – but a virtual hug will have to do for now. I love you Mom! We just had a nice visit on the phone. It was great to connect that way.

As for looking forward, we have a one-day group coming for a celebration on Saturday – playing music, dancing, dining and whatnot – which we are welcome to join. That should be fun. Apparently they like drum circles. Then we have a small group coming for the week, starting Monday or Tuesday, I think. Maybe I will wander on after that…though I have invited some friends to come down from Munich and Salzburg for a visit here, so we will see what comes of that…

I hope you all have a lovely week and feel free to be the light you want to see shared in the world. Don’t let the darkness fool you, it’s all light in the end.

Ciao for now!

🙂

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.

Life is a Long Weekend

fireworks

It has been a lovely long weekend here in Toronto. I have been busy with various social events, catching up with family and many good friends. Looking back over it all I see it has been something of a whirlwind. On Friday I caught a buddy’s show downtown at Handlebar, which was awesome. Kurt is a great guy and I was happy to see him performing his music so well. It is poppy with a grungy edge – lots of fun. You can check it out here.  The next day we celebrated the wedding of a friend who is so close that he is more like my brother. He and his lovely lady are now in Italy enjoying their new journey together. Yesterday, after a rewarding morning at church, we hosted a surprise 30th birthday party for my younger brother here at my parents’ condo. We had the party room on the top floor rented out and enjoyed a great gathering and feast, punctuated with an array of fireworks out the many wide windows as night fell. The view from up top is spectacular and expansive. We can see all of Toronto’s skyline from up there, as well as Mississauga’s, and the whole horizon of Lake Ontario between the two. We had lots of fun and laughter as we reconnected and remembered good times, creating more. We finished off the leftovers today at my older brother’s home downtown, hosted by he and his partner and their roommate. It was nice to sit out on their balcony and enjoy an inside view of the city as we visited.

It’s neat to see how the city changes for a long weekend. Things slow down a wee bit (just a bit) and people generally stop to spend time with one another. I like that a lot. It seems to be a nice way to live. I am reminded of a phrase a friend in Italy once mentioned off-hand, celebrating his sense that ‘life is a long weekend’. It’s not as though life stops on a long weekend. It’s not as though people aren’t doing anything of worth during a long weekend – but we seem to relax a bit and do more of what we want. We do what we feel, to a greater extent. I feel this is something we could invite more of into our lives. Productivity wouldn’t grind to a halt. Many people would still feel moved to carry on doing ‘what needs to be done’, but maybe there would be less pressure and heaviness around it all. We would feel a freedom to serve the needs of our lives, reaching out to others as well, but not with any sense of obligation. That pressure might just fade away altogether.

So with this brief reflection, I would love to encourage anyone reading to carry some of this long weekend feeling into the weeks to come. Let’s stretch it out until the next holiday when we can top up the tank and keep it rolling a bit longer. Work will still be necessary but we just might approach it with a bit more willingness and joy, perhaps even excitement and eagerness.

I realize it is not a long weekend for all, but for most of us currently in Canada we are enjoying the spoils of spring and ‘time off’. I hope everyone else can dig deep and find a bit of that ‘long weekend feeling’ somewhere in their heart to tap into. You know that feeling. There it is.

As I look out the window of the 18th floor here I see more fireworks popping, sparkling and spraying around the city, reminding me of the simple joys life and light constantly bring us. We can keep that spark alive! We need not see it outside of ourselves to know it’s still quietly kindled within.

So keep on enjoying this long weekend! It never has to end!

🙂

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

🙂