Christmas (markets) in the Air

As daylight fades behind the crisp outline of visibly distant snowy peaks, the twinkling lights of Munich’s Christmas markets draw us in. People gather together in circles, smiling and laughing, sharing good cheer. What better time for some hot wine and sausage…maybe some french fries and chocolate to follow? Big pretzels and beer always seem to be in season here. Sounds like a bit much, doesn’t it? Hot wine? Really? But everyone here seems to be eating it up. Drinking it in, too. 🙂

I have shared in it as well, of course, minus the beer and sausage. And I have to say that it is all rather charming, especially through tourist’s eyes. Almost everyone’s eyes are lit up, whether from the booze or the beauty. Hand-crafted Christmas trinkets seem to be available from every wooden hut that isn’t selling food or drink. Roasted nuts fill the air with a special scent. Folks are out shopping in droves. They seem to come from everywhere.

Munich has been hosting Christmas markets since 1310. That’s more than seven hundred years! The locals call it a Christkindlmarkt – Christ child market. And not all of them are crazy about it. My friend Robert was happy to break free of the crowds and head home after visiting two different markets with some of his friends. But even he would have to admit that we enjoyed ourselves. As we left the last market I was taken over by all the simple joy of communion, wonder and anticipation. I felt so much love as I looked around, being washed by this beautiful and fundamental feeling as we made our way out.

But there is a flipside, too. I woke up feeling pretty flat the next morning. I had eaten a lot of bready and cheesy foods and felt sluggish and heavy as I arose. I hadn’t even been able to finish my little mug of glühwein (hot spiced red wine) but I felt the glow…and its after-effects. An early taste of the Christmas hangover. It just feels like balance doing its job.

So maybe I won’t get too caught up in the Christmas chaos. I can enjoy the twinkling lights and excitement as it passes without investing in it all, hoping it will bring me something more than the joy that is already here. There is already a fullness here – this love feels maximal. Why hope for more? What if doing so plants a seed of lack in our minds?

Of course it is beautiful to share our gifts with one another and to enjoy the presence of our loved ones – and anticipation can surely be a part of that – but there is a risk of getting caught up in ‘want’ this season. I won’t point a finger specifically at the capitalist/consumerist model of Christmas, but it seems well wrapped up in it all. So perhaps just being aware of this element of the season is enough to not let it take us over. We don’t need to go over the top. We can just enjoy watching it all unfold.

And this ‘watching’ can include pain and struggle. We don’t need to look away from it. There is no shortage of pain to see in our world. Walking the streets of Munich I notice a lot more beggars than a few years ago. They seem mostly like recent immigrants or refugees. Their pain is our pain, too. And we need not avoid it, nor judge it. But we can grow simply by observing it. We need not despair. We can feel the feelings and let them pass. This can be a bigger hep than we will ever know.

The ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the pleasurable and the painful, alternate in equal measure in this life. But this need not discourage us. It can inspire us to be more honest with ourselves and to share our hearts with those now in need. We can realign our lives with the natural lightness of being, even during what seem to be dark hours.

We can come to recognize that there is a bliss beyond all that changes. It is our very being. All true celebrations of spirit – of any path, any person, or any religion aimed at righteousness – are pointing us to this very being. This purity. It’s right here – even closer than in our hearts. Everything else is temporary.

Let the light of Christmas guide you back to yourself. Don’t get so caught up in what the light seems to shine on. See from where it shines.

***

I will be home in less than two weeks now, and happy to be with my family and friends there. I am off to Salzburg in a couple of days and then back to Italy, perhaps as far south as Naples. We shall see. I have been visiting several friends from the road here in (and around) Munich, including two cyclist buddies I first ran into in Spain…and here are a few more photos from the past days.

🙂

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Life in Transition (Up in the Trees)

It has been another beautiful week here on the farm. The weather has returned to ideal conditions, favourable for olive picking. It has been a pleasure to be back up in the trees. We were loaned two machines to help us pick, along with some better nets. The machines are like long, gyrating forks that jostle the branches and knock the olives to the nets below. A friendly farmer, Michele, offered us his tools while he caught up on a variety of other chores on the nearby land he tends. He even loaned us a worker, Federico, a young shepherd. I had never met a shepherd before – not knowingly at least. He was a nice young guy. Fresh-faced and wide-eyed. He stayed a few nights here in the ‘worker house’, joining us for meals as well as a few days of olive picking.

We were very productive this week. We have already been enjoying the spoils of our labour. The freshly pressed olive oil is so delicious, with such a crisp and clear flavour, and a deep green colour. Apparently the leaves that mix in with the pressing process add to the green. The chlorophyll is still so fresh that it will take a few months before the green fades into the yellowish colour we tend to expect of olive oil. Whatever the colour, it is perfect for dipping fresh bread into at the moment.

I have found myself smiling and laughing quite a bit this week. Sometimes quietly to myself and at other times howling with my friends here. As I work in the trees the peace of the countryside mingles with the peace within (ultimately blurring any distinction) and I find it so easy to breathe. I can feel peace and express it so effortlessly. It just comes bubbling up to the surface. Joy seems so natural. It is strange to me that so many of us let joy become so obscured in our lives, and so rare. So caught up in our ‘serious’ stories. We seem to have forgotten that we can be earnest without being serious. It feels to me like joy is the ground floor. It’s right here. I wonder what we are chasing up in the penthouse that is any better than this?

I admit a view from up top is nice. I’ve been enjoying climbing the trees and looking around for a few moments at the rolling hills and golden light, the Cyprus trees and linear vineyards standing out in sharp relief. The trees are often fullest at the top, olives bunched together in great masses, and the picking is highly satisfying. The machines make quick work of it but I prefer to pick by hand up in the higher reaches of the trees, the branches supporting me with surprising strength.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

Sun setting on another day of olive picking.

But things are shifting again on the farm. My friend, Franz, who has been running the farm for the past fifteen years, has gone off to Cuba with his wife, Molly, to organize a few yoga retreats there. They will be gone for about a month. Franz’s mother, Nirdosh, who owns the farm, is slowly taking the reigns back. She has a very different vision for this space than her son has implemented over the past decade and a half. It is a tender energy at times, here, as life moves through the friction of transition. Some of the other workers (one live-in and a few who come and go) are wondering what their place will be here moving forward. All parties are wondering about where loyalties lie, and where they should. I feel like a free agent here, my only loyalty to love (which is also truth, or presence), and I sense I am serving as something of a bridge between others here, supporting open communication and any necessary airing of concerns. Perhaps I am here to be a witness. I don’t need to know, though.

Transition can be tough. That seems to be why so many of us hold on so tightly to our various life rafts. I see it at work in myself, every day. But I also have developed such a strong commitment to truth, through presence, that I am constantly leaping from my own ‘safety’ (or insulation) into the mysterious heart of life’s uncertainty. It is very raw and vulnerable out here. But unmistakably real. That is the attraction. No more hiding. Yet quick forgiveness when old patterns pop up. Breathe in and recommit. Release.

Life, when allowed, is a natural disentangler. But it first forces us to face our entanglements, not an altogether enjoyable ride. But it is ever-so worthwhile. And ultimately unavoidable. This is the process of liberation. This is how we become free of our limitations, by recognizing them for what they are. Perspective comes through the clear sight of all we are afraid of, all we are avoiding. We are nudged (or jolted) back to our true ground, seeing the impermanence of all we had attached ourselves to. The very ‘act’ (or ‘experience’) of truly clear sight implies that everything seen cannot be who we are. Consider this. There is a gap here – perception itself. It feels paradoxical. Can a tongue taste itself?

No need to figure any of it out. It is not to be ‘understood’, not in the way we often try to ‘understand’ things, anyhow. But it can knock the cloud from under us and see us fall back to the ground of reality. This ground cannot be conceptualized. It seems to be ever-unfolding. It allows no pause, and yet invites full rest. So come back to yourself and rest a moment. Take a breath. See where it may take you.

I guess I’ll come back to myself now and wrap it up for this week. 😉 I plan to check in again in about another week. I will likely still be here on the farm. But who knows?

Lots of love to all…keep it flowing. 🙂

A Hazy May Monday

This will be a quick one. I have had a few of things on the go today and my Monday writing will only get about an hour of my day. Looking out of the window of my parents’ 18th floor condo here in Mississauga I see a lot of fog. This morning almost everything was covered by it. The big towers I normally see quite clearly were completely obscured by low, heavy cloud.

Now I see a similar heavy, dark grey cloud skimming the sky, though there is a gap beneath it, light from the western horizon sneaking through. I can see the bottom section of the downtown towers, though the tops are still consumed by cloud. It has been an interesting transition from winter into spring. It almost feels as though it suddenly became summer and we skipped spring altogether. I was up at a friend’s cottage for a few days last week and we even got into the lake because it was so warm out. The water, however, was not quite ready for us. Or us for it. My heart nearly stopped (or so it felt) when I jumped in. But the sun warmed us up quickly once we were back on the dock. It felt like a real summer day.

Now the transition of seasons is more apparent. There was some humidity in the air yesterday as we celebrated Mother’s Day with my Mom’s family. Rains poured down briefly as the sun continued to shine. There were severe storm warnings in the general area. Nothing serious hit us here. But it was brewing.

Without much of a plan for my writing today, it seems like storms are a suitable point for reflection. They are quite common in the middle ground of transitioning seasons. So in our own lives, as we grow from one phase into another, some chaos can be expected. But all storms pass. This is something we learn throughout life. And this awareness can help us to accept the ups and downs of our journey through life, not resisting the pains that may come, not yearning too strongly for something else to replace our present experience.

As we exercise this ease with life, simply letting it be as it is, we habituate a peaceful heart and mind. Where does all our progress take us, after all? To eventual decline and decay. Seasons rise and fall. Just like every breath. Civilizations do the same. So why not accept the gift of peace that is freely given here and now? It need not be earned or accomplished. Just recognized. (It will snowball if you let it…)

I am headed to my home church (Islington United) to guide a meditation tonight and I must leave shortly, so I will keep it brief today.

Catch you again next week! Take it as easy as you can. Life is light. No need to be so serious.

hazy

🙂

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.

🙂

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.

On Alignment

Flower of Life

Life can line up in funny ways. Especially when we let it. I have been blessed to frequently find myself in the vortex of life’s synchronicity. I have seen life reveal its inherent balance, seeing outside mirroring inside, sensing deeply that everything is connected and quietly in tune. ‘As above, so below’, as the phrase goes. But we can so easily get in the way of this blissful harmony and find ourselves struggling and striving in vain, experiencing only discord. Eventually, however, whether due to exhaustion or insight, our efforts fall back into rest and we can reflect on the beautiful mystery of symmetry.

It could well be argued that balance is the law of the universe. Of course, there is little need to argue anything like this. I imagine those who sense this balance deeply, honouring it with gentle vigilance, are aware also of the futility of trying to convince anyone of anything through argumentative means. Discussion is one thing, but disagreement often backfires and strengthens stances. We can check our own intentions when challenging anything or anyone. Are we truly trying to help or are we just trying to be right? We would be wise to allow others’ wrong ideas to fall away on their own, from the inside out. Simply living in balance, modelling one’s peace and ease with life, is far more effective in showing others how to trust life’s leanings and learn from its endless lessons.

We already have all we will ever need. It’s just a matter of coming to see it that changes our whole experience of life. This realization may flicker and fade at times, and then rage forth and burn up old ideas and beliefs, past habits and stances crumbling under the lens of pure light. Real sight is a gift we have already been given. All we can do is relax and receive it. It turns the world on its head. It lays all battles to bed. It forgives all we have said. All we have done. Because we are already one.

This balance in life, this synchronistic alignment, can guide us through letting go of everything we have been carrying. It can help us to see what is essential and encourage us to set aside all that is not. Which is a lot. But in the place of all we had gathered and dragged we are given so much more. At least it feels that way. Soon we may come to see that we already had it all. The real juice of life is right here. Right now. All experiences are equally fleeting, despite the degree of debris left in memory. We can allow the deepest joy of life to step forward this very moment, completely uncaused, solely for the sake of itself. And then it spreads. Effortlessly.

RadiantHeart

As I traveled through Europe, falling in deeper alignment with life’s wonder and its nudges, I began to see through clearer eyes. Without trying to decode or unravel the mystery of symmetry, without trying to crack open each miracle and extract its meaning, I simply smiled and ‘tipped my cap’, grateful to feel as though I was on course. This seemed to accelerate my awakening to a truth that is so close it can’t be spoken. It’s so close it can’t be known. Not in the way most of us imagine we can ‘know’ things, at least. It can’t be held. It does the holding, so to speak.

On Friday night my brother and I watched Interstellar with our roommate and we shared waves of shivers as the story culminated, leaving us awash in tingling wonder. We talked afterwards of experiences in our own lives that went deeper than the obvious, deeper than that which made ‘sense’ to our logic. Our goosebumps grew as we shared, as if the room was full of the very vibrations which incite such sensations, as if an invisible string had been struck, and rung through us, reverberating and revealing our innate interconnection with everything.

We went on to a few readings from a beautiful, intuitive book by a friend, Dancing in the Mirror, and found it speaking with crystal clarity, reaching through to the very moment we stood in. My brother stood changing a light-bulb in the bathroom, then re-fastening the fixture to the wall, as I stood beside him reading through three brief passages, each echoing from a place of depth and truth, miraculously mirroring the moment. We laughed and hugged afterwards as I felt continuing connective vibrations rooting a subtle yet certain sense of presence. It was already there. It’s always here.

At the best of times I am without doubt about this presence. These, too, are just passing experiences, of course. But I feel in these moments a taste of the eternal. I find it expressed in life’s beautiful and broad balance, well beyond any framing. It is mysterious even when we embrace it, elusive and evasive when grasped at. But by trusting life, even in apparent contradiction, we can be carried through to moments of clarity where we can habituate intuitive understanding, past clouds clearing, and we can see through our illusions to realize who we are and release all we are not.

So let’s trust life’s alignment and try not to figure it all out. We can humbly embrace balance and let love lead.

Have a happy Monday!

🙂