A Sudden Couple of Months

There have been many moments I have wanted to stop and write over the past couple of months. (And several times I have started…) But time is passing quickly out here on the road. Aside from the occasional photo posted, I realize I have not shared much of my adventures since the day I left Northern Ireland. So here goes… 

My first stop in Scotland was Roslin, just south of Edinburgh. I caught up with an old friend I had not seen in more than fifteen years, Andy, staying with his young family and exploring the stunning countryside there. I was pleasantly surprised by the geology along the River North Esk. I also stopped in to see the spooky and beautiful Rosslyn Chapel (made famous by The DaVinci Code). Following this visit, my days in Scotland slowed considerably, at times becoming somewhat uneventful. I got sick – a heavy head cold that descended into my chest. Yet I was nonetheless blessed in my recovery. After briefly catching up with family friends in Edinburgh, Bob and Sheila generously opened their home to me as they left for ten days in New York. I suddenly had a base in the same home my family had lived in twenty-seven summers before. It was a walk down memory lane (and up a few familiar hills) in the gorgeous and historic city of Edinburgh. I even bought a phone in Edinburgh, realizing in the absence of one what a support it could be to my journey. I am also gladly taking photos now.

After posting the above panoramic photo online, I discovered that a Swedish friend I had met in Rome years before, Sanna, was now living in Edinburgh, and we had a chance to catch up and hang out a couple of times. That was good fun. Otherwise, I rested a fair bit and tried to get over my cold, which proved especially pesky. A doctor prescribed me antibiotics if it worsened any. Even with a week of wonderful weather, I was often home-bound, watching movies and feeling a bit lazy and low at moments, yet randomly laughing at my good fortune in others. I did enjoy a few quality Skype visits with friends and family, which stand out as highlights.

Later in the week, I got a call from a dear friend, Franz, who had frequently hosted and employed me on his family farm in Tuscany over the past several years. He suggested I join he and his wife, Molly, down in Greece to help them run a few yoga retreats. He offered to fly me down, put me up and pay me a decent stipend for a few weeks work, supporting the yoga groups throughout their excursions and other day-to-day activities. Though unexpected, and entirely changing the course that had been gradually developing, the offer proved too good to pass up. 

I first headed south to London (which I had somehow missed in all my travels) and spent a couple of days exploring widely, often walking with an umbrella and raincoat, the English weather performing as advertised. I caught up with another old connection, Adrian, from my days working at Trinity College School. We shared a good visit and a tasty meal, and I saw another slice of London (aside from the touristy bits I had already exhausted). As impressive as much of London obviously was, it was not doing a lot for me. The weather may not have helped its case (nor the museums filled with incredible artifacts stolen from their homes).

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‘Tourist Proof’ I was in London.

I much preferred Cambridge, where I spent a day and a half before flying from London’s far north Stansted Airport. Hosted by a generous friend of friends, Gwen (whom I had met once before), I was given great guidance and found myself walking all over town, popping into churches, museumsand parts of the University campus, also watching rowers on the River Cam. I even found some fresh homemade hummus in a little local market. 🙂 I absolutely loved the calm pace of life in Cambridge, especially relative to London. I could easily imagine setting up shoin a spot like that. It likely helped that the weather had turned for the better by the time I arrived.

Once in Greece – happily reunited with Franz, Molly and their daughter Giulia – I found myself in the peaceful seaside village of Epidavros. Having passed through only briefly years before, I learned much more this time about the heritage of healing in the region. Myths of Asclepius – a hero and god of medicine, with his serpent-entwined staff (still a medical symbol today) – place him as a local. The sleeping volcano of Methana is also renowned for its healing power. Nevertheless, shortly after my arrival, my slowly-mending chest infection seemed to reassert itself, morphing and spreading into my throat and swelling my tonsils. On the first day of our first yoga group, sufficiently aware of the upcoming demands on my energy, I decided it was time to take the antibiotics that had been prescribed to me more than a week before. They seemed to take effect swiftly, enabling me to focus on my work with the group. 

I was quickly swept up into the energy and activity of the ‘yoga vortex’. As smooth and easy a program as we endeavoured to present for our clients, it took a good deal of background work from us. I was glad to be a part of the team. We created an interesting schedule and a supportive space for the twenty-six American college students on retreat, most of them coming to Europe for the first time. We had some truly awesome people in the mix, whom I will not soon forget. (I hope I never do!) We saw ancient cultural and archaeological sites, took dance classes, learned about farming and processing olives, went snorkeling and scuba-diving, cleaned plastic from beaches, and met with historians and mythology experts (also learning of the curious intersection between history and mythology which many subscribe to). I was basically just on board to support a pre-existing framework that my friends had developed over years of running retreats in the area (aside from their other retreats in Tuscany, Amalfi Coast, Portugal, Patagonia, Cuba, and Nepal). It was a lively time. With slight alterations to fit each group, we basically repeated the program one retreat after another. Before I knew it, three weeks (and three yoga groups!) had come and gone. I had driven back and forth from the Athens airport (about two and a half hours away) numerous times by then, picking up and dropping off new faces and fast friends.

I also had moments of frustration in Greece, feeling as though I wanted to write something of value, but not quite having the time, energy or impetus. Knowing my body was still in recovery, I usually took spare moments for rest instead of creation. Having set out on this adventure with an intention to reflect on my path through writing, I had thus far felt either too busy, tired, lazy or sick to begin. I sensed there may have been some connection between my illness and my lack of writing, as though I physically had ‘something to say’ lodged in my throat. As I watched my mind frequently composing ‘something to say’, I gradually acknowledged that it was still somewhat invested in becoming ‘someone’ in the world. The effect of this desire was a freezing up of my natural expression, caught up instead in a search for ‘perfection’. Part of me wanted everything to be all figured out before I began. How many times must I face this same hurdle? I continue to remind myself I can only truly be myself, not effectively plan and present myself. In this light, any form of presentation can only reflect our past, not our true presence.

:)

Random stone Buddha.

Receiving a few acupuncture treatments from Molly (a doctor of Chinese medicine), my body began releasing some of the conflict it was going through. My perspective also clarified a bit, seeing that the body – in its own intelligence – was clearing space for purposes of its own. Whether that would translate into some sort of growth or deeper healing, I had to admit I simply did not know. Around the same time, I began reflecting on a pattern of illness arising on the road. Looking back at past travels, I saw a long string of illnesses emerging while I was away from home. It seemed I never let myself fall so fully apart at home as on the road, whether physically, emotionally or mentally. Strange though it may sound, I value these opportunities to fall apart a bit, to ‘peek through the cracks’ and glimpse more stable ground beneath everything else that comes and goes.

I started viewing illness as a storm, realizing that storms bring new ingredients into our environment, ingredients often essential for growth, healing, release, or re-calibration. A storm is not always enjoyable. (Healing often hurts.) But there is something of value to be uncovered in its wake. Aware that storms eventually clear our atmosphere, I figure there is wisdom in weathering them. We can surrender that which is otherwise clogging our space, opening ourselves to receive whatever other elements life may be ready to offer us. However speculative, these images at least inspired in me a renewed commitment to vigilant awareness and a deeper openness to falling into alignment with life’s will. My sense here is that by listening more intently within, I can speak more freely, fully and surely from my very centre, a source common to all. Speaking from life’s heart. Hardly about being heard, this is about sharing what comes from most deep within. The essence, not surprisingly, is love. And it resonates outwardly. 

Amidst this (ongoing) inner work, supporting the yoga groups was an enjoyable and fitting setting. I loved being tucked into such a pretty little aquamarine cove – a slice of paradise – eating good food that I did not need to prepare, sleeping beside the sea, practicing daily yoga and sharing adventures in and around various Greek islands with fascinating people.

After facilitating our three groups in Greece, I took a van-load of fun folks to the Athens airport (listening to the Grateful Dead much of the way) and then jumped on a flight to Naples, set to lead a retreat at a convent in nearby Sorrento. Shortly after arriving at Convento San Francesco, my illness made a serious resurgence. My tonsils swelled up like golf balls. Though I would love to have weathered it without meds, I had committed to more responsibility for this final retreat (Franz and Molly busy leading another retreat in Greece). So I went for my third trip to the hospital in just over a month. I was prescribed a much stronger course of antibiotics than the first, and after a couple of days, the swelling receded. Fortunately, working alongside Franz’s cousin, Mario, the retreat carried on with only a few ‘learning moments’. It seemed somewhat easier on me perhaps because the group was from Toronto, which offered a sense of familiarity. We even found a few common connections between us. It also helped that the structure of their retreat left me little gaps to sneak away and nap during the day.

After the group fanned out in various directions (some bound for trains, others planes, and still more hanging around the area for further exploration), I picked up Franz’s son, Gabriele, from the family summer home up in the hills overlooking Sorrento and we headed north to Ebbio, the farm in Tuscany. We, of course, stopped for lunch in Naples, enjoying a couple of ridiculously delicious pizzas at Antica Pizzeria da Pasqualino. It was a perfect day for driving and the journey was smooth (though not quite as fast as if Mario had been behind the wheel). We reached the farm as the sun was about to set and I was grateful to be back at a place that feels a lot like a spiritual centre for me. I greeted several friends, human, plant and animal. The horses and donkeys seemed pleased to see me, as I was them. I visited a few of my favourite trees, walking the grounds and stopping to soak in the views. I even saw some day old puppies. 🙂 But after a month in the yoga loop – spinning in Franz’s orbit – I was feeling keen to keep moving, so my stay this time was brief. Franz found me a ride north to Milan with a friend of his and I hopped at the chance, with just under an hour’s notice.

Like many of Franz’s friends I have met before, Angelo was quite a character. Our journey to Milan was full of fascinating stories from a life thoroughly lived. I stayed a quick night in a youth hostel (realizing I was pushing the boundary of ‘youth’ now, as 35 is often a cutoff in some hostels) before hopping a bus to Munich, riding for the first time through Switzerland. I was excited to be dropping in on three good friends in the Munich area, catching up after a few years.

I spent a few quality days with a friend from Toronto, Win, who was now living in his wife Julia’s hometown about an hour west of Munich. They have a sweet setup in the countryside there, and a happy dog, Blue. We walked around and talked about a lot, listening to good music (mostly the Grateful Dead) and eating well. One afternoon, they took me on a ‘health’ walk inspired by a famous local priest named Sebastian Kneipp, where you walk through a circuit barefoot, encountering various elements intended to balance your health. I especially liked the mud pool and the multi-textured labyrinth.

Win drove me to my friend Bart’s place in Wörthsee, where I got to meet his fiancée, Hannah, and their beautiful baby girl, Emma (just freshly one year old). Sweet, smiley little Emma did not take long in warming to me. This was a very meaningful stop on my journey. Bart and I, since we met cycling in Spain in 2011, have a strong bond that calls for little maintenance. We pick right up where we left off every time we connect. I loved my time staying with his family in picturesque Wörthsee. Both nights I spent there coincided with World Cup matches, where we gathered in the beer garden with many from the village to cheer on the underdogs.

Heading into Munich to see my friend Robert (who, coincidentally, also met Bart while cycling in Spain), we similarly carried on without missing a beat. I spent a quick couple of days with him, getting into deep conversations as we always do, having plenty of laughs, and enjoying a bike ride around town. We also stopped into Tollwood Festival to drink in the summer fun of the popular local alternative to Oktoberfest. We also ran into Win’s wife Julia and her friend, also named Julia. It was a nice way to connect the dots and sew up my Munich visit with the same thread it began with. Though the time with my Munich friends flew by, it felt great to share energy with each of these old friends.

Arriving in Salzburg to our dear family friend’s home, no sooner had Edda welcomed me than I headed out to Mondsee to join my friend Ralf for a sunset sail. (Edda had told me she would be leaving right after receiving me…hence my other plans cued up.) Getting to know Ralf when I lived a few months in Salzburg years before, we also have a strong bond that suffers nothing from years between visits. Ralf and his friend Christian, both capable sailors, tended to the needs of the vessel while I enjoyed the breathtaking views, savouring the wind, the clouds, and the mountains surrounding the lake. I also chipped in with a bit of musical support, cheerfully strumming away on Ralf’s mini Cordoba guitar. As Christian prepared to head back to Salzburg later that night, I could not have been happier to hear Ralf suggest we stay at the lake and spend the night on the boat. After the stars came out and the air cooled, we cozied into our bunks below deck and shared tales of the life we had each been living, eventually falling asleep to gently rocking waves. A quick, brisk morning dip woke us up and following a bit of breakfast and writing, another day of sailing began, this time just the two of us. Ralf had me helping out as much as I could, even trying my hand at sailing for a stretch. The conditions could not have been better. This brief window together at Mondsee was an amazing way to reconnect with a dear friend.

From Salzburg, I moved quickly to Bratislava, staying only overnight before hopping a bus for the day’s ride to Krakow. The annual European Rainbow Gathering is happening in south east Poland and I am eager to drop in and see what is going on, connecting again with some friends I got to know when I joined the 2012 summer gathering in Slovakia. That was a potent and positive experience, which was at least thoroughly affirming if not somewhat formative. I am only about 200 KM away now and intend to leave either tomorrow or the day after.

Leading up to this celebration of love and light, it felt somehow fitting that I visited Auschwitz today, reflecting on humanity’s capacity for darkness. It impacted me more than I could have anticipated. It was as though I could feel tiny waves of the suffering echoing there. Seeing the potential for such madness still alive in some corners of our globe today motivates me all the more to share widely the love I feel so clearly.

This is what brings me to writing now. This is what I wish to express from most deeply within. On what has become very much a circuit of visiting friends (and unfortunately missing out on catching up with several others), I can see my core drive at work – sharing love. This is all I want to do here in this life. I hope you can take a moment to stop and breathe it in. 🙂 It is here in abundance, if only we can allow ourselves to feel it amidst everything else that so easily captures our attention. It is so vital to prioritize this love, this peace within, thus strengthening and enabling us to share it more freely in the world. We are capable of creating a unified, loving world, but if we fall blind to our role in this process of co-creation, fear can take control and sweep us up in dreams of division – nightmares of us and them. Understanding our true ground is a clear path to radiating peace in the world around us. We cannot try to control much beyond that. I pray we have the courage to lean out love anyhow and trust its transformative power.

I suppose I will sign off there. I could go on. But silence has far more to say than I could ever put into words, so I will return there for now, from where I came. 🙂

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Rainbow Gathering Theme.

ps…I will likely be offline for a couple of weeks while I am camping in the woods. I look forward to catching up with you once I return! Until then, be kind – to yourself and others! 😉 

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…

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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All About Olives

Olives

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

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

A view from Pushpa's home in the morning.

Mid-morning view from Pushpa’s home.

 

...and later in the day.

…and later in the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

View from Olive Grove

View from the grove.

Here I am picking up in a tree...

Picking up in a tree…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:)

Sending love and light to one and all. 🙂

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

A 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.

🙂

The Value of Solitude

There is an incredible spaciousness within us. It could just as easily be said that we are within it. Semantics aside, this ‘space’ is our birthright, our real home, life’s richest gift. Abundant with effortless peace, it seems to be an inexhaustible source of love. Strangely, most of us are too busy to allow this spaciousness to blossom in our lives. We are caught up in our own concerns, blowing everything out of proportion, denying ourselves the real juice of life. Endlessly craving content, true contentment eludes us.

The willingness to be still is rare. But this stillness is a key ingredient to inviting our inner peace to flourish. One taste of truth is enough to know. After drinking from the waters of our own true being we see clearly that nothing else will ever satisfy. The various shadows and shapes we used to chase fade away. Once we commit to the path of truth, our peace and presence become top priorities. Stillness plays a large part in deepening this presence, giving it permission to wash away outdated ideas of who we are. As we re-establish contact with our deepest sense of being, our perspective on life can shift radically. A period of ‘incubation’ or ‘ripening’ is completely normal here. It is as if the truth wishes to marinate in itself, patiently shedding layers of illusion. Though this can be disorienting, it gradually brings us closer and to closer to who we already are. This correction of perception changes everything, even as everything stays the same. Fortunately there is no need to wrestle with paradox. Simply trusting life and embracing freedom from the ‘need to know’ can carry us along gently on our journey.

But entering into solitude sufficient for transformation can be difficult. Even our ideas about what solitude is can be obstacles to truly accepting it. Solitude is not about loneliness, nor even being alone. We can walk in solitude among millions. True solitude can be understood as a state of grace to accept and embrace. It is freely given, endlessly, effortlessly, and we can recommit to receiving it whenever we notice we’ve slipped from it. Investing in the stillness of this solitude will not isolate us from others, for we come to see that there is no ‘other’, but only various expressions of one life. We are all it. Leaves are not apart from their branches, nor branches from their trees. Walking in solitude is walking in the space where there are no walls. Here we are already one. This is all that has ever been.

And if we have any trace of a notion that we are separate from anyone or anything, on any level, perhaps we can take it as an opportunity to look inward and benefit from further maturing in the solitude of our hearts.

Solitude

The Power of Love Trumps Belief

I watched a very interesting documentary last night – Going Clear. It lays out a rather spooky story of madness and manipulation at work in the church of Scientology. Many of you will have already heard of the film. It was aired on HBO just last week, garnering favourable reviews and a good amount of press. I recommend giving it a peek.

The film got me thinking about how powerful belief can be, and how frightening it can be to stand free of structures of thought that had once surrounded us. Belief structures can act as both safety net and prison. It is certainly understandable how people are pulled into cults. There is a great craving for security in humanity. But living in a feedback loop of relentless reinforcement (whether positive or negative), it seems impossible to allow original thoughts to blossom. Even without overt ‘brainwashing’, most people are quick to dismiss and ‘explain away’ anything that doesn’t seem to fit well with their own story of life. But what about these worldviews of ours? How original are they? Did we consciously develop these views or were they mostly harvested in us?

*   *   *

Yesterday morning I attended an Easter service at a nearby church here in Montreal. I had passed by the church numerous times and even stopped to appreciate its beautiful architecture but yesterday was my first time going in to a service. I tend to enjoy seeing how all people celebrate life and faith in our various ways. Partaking has proven the best way for me to learn. I suppose the church would be called Evangelical, if we are concerned about labels.

As I walked in I noticed there was a relaxed vibe – comfortable chairs and casual dress. There was a lot of expensive-looking technical gear hanging around and big projection screens at the front. I admired the drum-set perched at the back of the stage. It felt more like a rock show than a church setting. Service kicked off with a big praise band. Plenty of people hollered out from the congregation as we sang. There was definitely a good mood in the room. Throughout the service, however, what stood out to me the most – from the music through the sermon – was the feeling that ‘our’ beliefs somehow set us apart from others. This was put forward as a positive. How wide is this ‘us’? I wondered. Why are any excluded? I could see it all came from a good place, these songs and spoken words, but they seemed more likely to divide than unite, at least on the surface level. Why not invest in our common ground? I thought.

As the service came to a close I got chatting with a couple who had been sitting behind me. They were members who attended regularly. The gentleman spoke about a lot of ‘spiritual darkness’ he saw outside of the church. I nodded my head and listened as he carried on, getting the feeling that I might be cast into the same shadow of ‘spiritual darkness’ if I expressed a belief which didn’t match his. Unconcerned about his opinion of me, I didn’t feel inclined to do so, but it got me thinking nevertheless about how we as people so often pool together in little pockets of shared beliefs, collectively sheltering and justifying one another. I am not claiming this to be necessarily good or bad, I am simply observing it. I wonder, though, if we can look at ourselves with the same critical eye we so easily cast on others. Jesus did say, after all, to avoid judgement, lest we be judged. Have we ever truly explored our own bias?

This is difficult work, admittedly, perhaps even impossible if we expect to arrive at any concrete result. But it just might be worthwhile work. We might come to see the ways we limit ourselves, avoiding real connection with others. We might even come to see how we try to impose our worldview on others, in both subtle and obvious ways. But by seeing these things we can become free of them. These patterns will fall away on their own, once recognized.

I sense that there is a way to meet people in total honesty, free of ideas of any kind – a way to connect without any fear or any agenda. It may just be my idealism at work here, but having tasted these precious interactions, I feel we can foster them and see them flower, even allowing them to overpower all the walls we may have imagined into existence.

What an opportunity. But we may have to be willing to stand free of belief, if only for a moment. Can we do this? Is there not a shared ground without these ideas cluttering us? Without judging anyone’s story, I wonder if we can find a reality we are all an equal part of. I sense that if we can step outside of our stories for long enough, all we will see in anyone’s eyes is the reality of love reflected. Do any of us have a claim more legitimate than anyone else? Does it matter? Does love care about any of our distinctions?

I think not. I feel it too.

the-power-of-love

Have a happy week.  Much love all.

🙂