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…

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.

🙂

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

🙂

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!

🙂

Leisure of the Season!

Well. Here we are. In the thick of the season. December 22nd. I finished my 10-Day Vipassana meditation retreat yesterday morning and caught a ride with my roommate back to Toronto. It was strange to finally speak to these people I had been sitting beside, living and eating with for the past ten days, and I felt a lot of energy light up in my body, having become so sensitive to my insides throughout the process of intensive meditation. Ten hours a day for ten straight days. It can really put you through the ringer. But it feels great to come out the other side. Everyone is all smiles as ‘noble silence’ gives way to ‘noble chatter’. I would highly recommend anyone check out Vipassana for themselves.

I don’t think I will go on too long today. I just finished writing a long letter to a friend, having felt urged to do so during the silence of meditation. While there we are not permitted any distractions from the work at hand, so without pen and paper I found myself composing this letter to my old friend in my mind and I feel much better having put it all down. I told my Mom yesterday that Vipassana is almost like popping zits in your mind. I have also described it as bloodletting for the unconscious. Either description will do, as far as descriptions go, but only direct experience can really teach you anything.

Some might imagine one would emerge from such intensive introspection with grand insights on life, but I don’t feel like rattling off any of that today. I’ve been through enough of that for a few lifetimes, I suspect. It will surely still stir and surface from time to time, but right now I am just happy to be home with my family and eager to meet up with my friends. I came out of my 10-day sit with a deep sense of gratitude and simplicity, and further strength to monitor the vicissitudes of my mind with calm, detached clarity. We don’t need to take our own narratives too seriously.

After these day of quiet meditation (based upon the Buddha’s meditation technique) I didn’t even think it strange to head straight to church. Love knows no walls. I feel no contradiction between any religious tradition with love at its core. It’s all the same song. So after rising at 4 AM and meditating, the transition was surprisingly smooth as I found myself in the familiar pews of my home church buzzing with the wondrous music of the fourth and final Sunday of Advent. I grew up attending Islington United Church (my father being the Senior Minister there for 22 years now) and felt a renewed sense of blessing yesterday at the great gift of community and music we share there. I felt as if I was a tuning fork just vibrating in that pew. I sensed great communion with those around me. But it wasn’t in any magical or mystical way. Life is already magical and mystical enough without me trying to build it up with fancy language. We were just sitting there sharing the beautiful experience together very deeply, in complete simplicity.

This is a wonderful time of year for reconnecting with friends and family as everyone comes ‘back home’ for the holidays. Tonight I will head back out to the east end for some more soulful, groovy organ jazz at Sauce, just as I did two weeks ago before my retreat. Funky Monday is a strong draw whenever I am in Toronto. It will surely be a fine night.

So I think I will keep it simple, short and sweet today. I just want to wish everyone a lovely Christmas season, no matter what tradition you may come from, or what you may believe or celebrate. I don’t have trouble taking any excuse to pause and reflect on my blessings, no matter what the cue may be. Love has no story to sell us. It isn’t trying to convince anyone. It just shines like the sun, for one and all. Any chance will do to stop and receive the rays seems wise to me. I hope you let them in.

As I say to my friends this time of year, encouraging everyone to lean back and enjoy the calm at the ‘centre of the storm’, a hearty LEISURE OF THE SEASON!

Leisure

🙂

Scatter Joy

Today feels like another off the cuff kind of day. I am staying at my parents’ condo in Mississauga for a few days, having arrived on Friday. I will be away from my room and routine in Montreal for about a month. My writing has been up and down in waves in the past months. When I got somewhat settled in Montreal six months ago I imagined I might soon be done revising the book I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. Nope. Just a bit more than 10% of the way there. Time to shake things up in the New Year, I think. Perhaps a new approach. I can’t say I’m all that concerned about it, either way. Those old feelings do pop up from time to time, but I don’t take them too seriously. I’ll just keep chipping away at it. I trust I can find a way to increase my efficiency.

A friend recently suggested I look at it as if cleaning out my drawers. I don’t need to fold every shirt meticulously in my first pass. Maybe I would be wiser to dump everything out on the floor first to see what is essential. I like this idea. I think taking a step back to look at the bigger picture is helpful. No need to get every hair in place if you’re about to cut it all off.

But enough about that. I am heading off on Wednesday for another 10-day silent meditation retreat. Vipassana. It will be my third sit. I finished one just six months ago. It will let out on the winter solstice, December 21st. I feel as though it is a nice way to lean into the wild Christmas season. I just guided a breath-centred meditation here in the condo building this morning, and many in attendance expressed their gratitude for this taste of ‘calm before the storm’. I think it is important to keep in touch with this fundamental silence, especially when life is about to ramp up into full gear. Everybody seems to get a little bit crazy this time of year. I am inclined to honour the calm at the heart of the season, no matter what else may be buzzing around the periphery.

As we sat together in meditation (along with a number of ‘first-timers’), I felt subtle vibrations emanating from my body. It felt joyful. It also felt intuitively ‘right’. I can’t pretend to understand it, but I simply sat there in a state of surrender allowing everything to be ‘as it is’ moment to moment, as I encouraged everyone else to do the same. We made a connection. It was a great start to the day.

Walking around my parents’ condo later today I bumped into a card on my mother’s bookshelf which declared “SCATTER JOY” in big letters on the front. It is a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson. He has long been one of my favourites. When I first encountered his writing it hit to my very core, and it continues to stir me from the same depth to this day. Bumping into this phrase today felt like a little reminder.

I went for a walk in the cool air and felt like I was doing the simple work of scattering joy all around me, nodding and smiling to those I passed, even stopping to chat with some. It was all so effortless, so natural. None of it was planned. It just popped up in the moment.

It’s been a strange week – packing up shop in Montreal for a month and coming back here. I have had a busy few days with a variety of events since coming home; I attended a basketball game with friends on Friday; I attended a funeral for a friend (far too young to leave us) on Saturday; and I attended a family Christmas party yesterday. It’s been quite a broad range. But all the way along, scattering joy seems to be the best work I have done. Tonight I am off to meet a cousin in the east end of Toronto for some groovy, soulful organ jazz.  It’s called Funky Monday at a bar called Sauce. I trust I’ll have the chance to scatter some joy there, too.

Maybe if we all scatter some joy in our wake, wherever we go, life will brighten up for everyone around us and reflect back for us. That seems to make sense. It even sounds obvious. No need for any profound insights or ‘big ideas’ today. I’m just encouraging myself (and anyone else up to it) to scatter some joy. Get at it!

ScatterJoy

I won’t be online next week as I am heading off for a meditation retreat. So it looks like it will be my first missed Monday post in six months. See you again on Monday the 22nd!

🙂