Life is a Long Weekend

fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

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

🙂

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

Reflect On What You See

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This is a time for reflection. It need not be loud. It need not be wordy. But with an earnest heart, this time of reflection can lead us to see more clearly. We can come to see ourselves more clearly, as well as our place in this world. We can come to see just how much has been sacrificed for us to live as we do today. Realizing the incredible freedom so many fought for, we can begin honouring it by living lives of integrity and service. They need not be flashy. We can even serve in silence. But before running around ‘putting out fires’, I feel we would be wise to take this opportunity for remembering.

I started this blog on Remembrance Day last year.  My first post was about Remembering. I talked about the two sides of memory and the importance of remembering wisely – remembering with perspective. I won’t say much today. If you really feel like reading, look at last year’s post. There are a lot of words there. They are heartfelt, even if a bit pointed. But right now I am more interested in inspiring silence. This is where the real work of remembering is done. Silence is the invisible ground we’re all standing on, so to speak, whether we know it or not. This is the space we all share. We each have equal access to this silence in our own hearts. There are no borders or boundaries here. I am not speaking metaphorically. I encourage you to take ten minutes to unplug and listen to yourself. Remember who you are. This is perhaps the most powerful way we can honour the fallen. By remembering ourselves more deeply we broaden our capacity for service.

As we remember more of ourselves we become freer – freer to see and freer to serve. By allowing ourselves to see into our own hearts more deeply we release the chains of ignorance and reclaim our clarity and strength. This is an effortless process – which can nonetheless be very hard work. The willingness to be truly still is rare, but if we try we’ll see this willingness grow – and it is vital to carry on.

If we allow ourselves to be truly still – in heart, mind, and body – everything we have failed to face will step forward. This may be frightening at first, but the more light we shed on these shadows the stronger we’ll grow, building courage with every step. As we face these neglected parts of who we are, allowing ourselves to remember more fully, we gradually become freed from the clutches of fear.

So I encourage you to brave your own inner-silence, facing whatever battles you must face to break free. In this brave endeavour we can remember that the wind is forever in our sails. All we can truly do is allow everything to unfold for itself.

Mundane Monday

This Monday will be a quick one. I sense it will roll off the cuff and be what it is. No looking back. That sounds like an interesting exercise. What if I agree now not to edit a single word of today’s post? I have done a few of those, though with minor tweaks here or there. And I have posted many of the opposite sort. But right now I feel like letting it all hang out, hang loose.

I’m a Godfather now. Yesterday little James was baptized, along with his twin sister, Josie. It was a great day. Their Mom, my friend Michelle, shared the sermon from the pulpit, and it all felt very fitting. They are undoubtedly very cute babies and they are fortunate to be surrounded by so much love. It made me reflect on my own childhood, and all the love that I had the benefit of bathing in as I was raised. Yesterday was also my Dad’s 63rd birthday, and we had a nice dinner out with the family, minus brother Stephen, who is still out in Montreal. I will head back there tomorrow.

I plan to dive back into work on my book, revising and editing the occasionally overwhelming mass of words I have gathered. But the story inside it all is so pure and simple. I can feel it. I can see it at times. And I think that is pretty much like all of our lives – simplicity at the centre, wrapped up in clutter and occasional drama. We often oscillate between the extremes. I know I have.

But that’s all just a story, too. The real source is quite silent, so it seems here and now. It amazes me how much music and bright colour issues forth from such a deafening emptiness. On Saturday night I went with a dear friend to take in the Mississauga Symphony. I had won tickets from the radio, having called in one morning last week. There was a young Russian soloist on violin who transported me with his incredible expression of emotion.

I got interrupted during that last sentence. There was a knock at the door. It was my uncle from the condo next door. He was checking that Grandma would get some lunch. So I am warming up the oven and I will put in a gluten-free pizza for she and I to enjoy. It was plain cheese, so I put some tomato slices and fresh basil leaves on top. That’s what’s going on. For the moment.

No great aspiration to say anything particularly ‘special’ today. Just laying out what is going on around me. I feel pretty calm at the centre of it all. In recent weeks I have been feeling a great deal of energy coursing through my body, at times with incredible intensity. And when it is flowing free of any intention on my part it is very peaceful.

But that’s neither here nor there. Maybe it is everywhere. It could be both. As far as I understand that’s all there is here – energy flowing. It rises and falls, vibrating at varying frequencies, taking various shapes, and we are watching it all pass by, occasionally identifying with and investing in shapes and names that are empty vessels. This fleeting nature is rather beautiful. It can be very freeing. Nothing in life need be so heavy. We can let it all fall as it will.

It’s wonderful to watch. The leaves descending. I see out of the window from my parents’ 18th floor condo and look at all of the lovely colours of these autumn trees. Even on this grey day. Even in the midst of what could otherwise be called a ‘Mundane Monday’, there is such peace and beauty. Everything is full of light. We need not see it to know so. We need not know so to feel it. We need not feel it for it to be. We are already here, calm and centred, seeing the play of life dance by. It’s pretty special – this gift of life. There’s nothing we need ‘to do’ to make it all work. Allowing it to be is not an action.

The oven is warm enough to receive the pizza now. It will be transformed by the time it slides out. But I am in no hurry. I think I will go play some music with my cousin today. That feels about right.

I hope you all have a lovely Monday, mundane or otherwise. Maybe take some time to stop editing everything you do and say and think. That said, I look forward to continuing editing my book when I get back to Montreal….unlike this piece, which I have not touched. It is a river of words representative of the feelings and thoughts as they flowed over the past hour or so.

Mmmmm…pizza.

Pizza

🙂

Even Atheists Believe In Rainbows

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I have always loved rainbows. I can recall staring out of a car window at a massive rainbow painting itself on the landscape during a long family drive through the countryside. As a youngster, rainbows completely amazed me (as is likely true for all kids). I always wanted to get closer to them. I wanted to touch them. I wanted the colours to spread themselves across my skin. This was before I knew about so-called Leprechauns (as far as I can recall). I didn’t care about any pot of gold, or any supposed prize at either end of the rainbow. I just wanted to touch it, to hold it, to know it.

My fascination may have faded as I grew older, but it never died, and any time a rainbow spread itself across the sky, it reignited the wonder of my childhood, awakening my innate sense of awe. I can’t imagine anyone growing tired of rainbows. I love to see adults regard them with the same child-like glimmer in their eye that they so often used to see the world through. It’s as if a rainbow can cleanse and renew us, freeing our sight, allowing us to look at life through a more magical lens. It doesn’t mean that we should curb our curiosity and instinct to understand, but perhaps we could leave enough room to absorb a rainbow’s unspoken majesty before digesting it into blocks of knowledge, distinct units of colour and symbols or stories. Look at the blurred lines binding the colours together and see how fluid they all are. Try to suspend your storytelling and analyzing for a moment and just be bowled over by its incomprehensible beauty.

Aside from their grace and charm, rainbows can bring people together. Taking in a shared rainbow can strengthen bonds between people, adding a hint of mystery to the moment. On the day of the mighty rainbow in Istanbul (which I mentioned in last week’s post), I saw countless people stopping and staring together, smiling and commenting to those around them, making momentary companions of previously complete strangers. For days after the rainbow it was a topic of conversation, people sharing their excitement and experiences of it. I met a number of people in book shops and cafes still talking about it throughout the week. And as much of a shared experience as a rainbow can be, it is also perfectly personal.

Nobody looks at the same rainbow. It is a matter of perspective. Moving either to the left or the right changes the rainbow. Every set of eyes gazing up in wonder at these astounding displays of light and colour is observing their very own rainbow. I began considering this interesting quality of light as I was traveling through Italy. As I watched the sun setting over Lago di Garda (just west of Verona) I marvelled at the movement of the light, playing on waves, rolling itself out to me, inviting me, as I sauntered along the shore. I realized that everybody looking at this sunset had their own direct slice of light unfolding across the water, dancing, shimmering and playing on the subtle waves. Its never-ending nature humbled me. It just kept on pouring over us, feeding us its abundant energy. I couldn’t help but be grateful. I felt as though the light were speaking to the light within me, warming, softening and nudging me toward further growth. I sat on a bench and pulled out my journal to scribble a bit of verse, or whatever else might come through me in the moment.

The light slips through cracks in our consciousness. Conspiring to gather again, to mingle among itself. To grow and spread. Some allow its flow constantly, others grab and grasp, but just fall short of holding on. We cannot contain or frame. Even as the blood flows through our veins. Our vines. Forever moving. In the mind, knives align, design and slice. But boxing up in sizes can never hold for ever and all, nor water in blocks of ice.

I rambled on even less coherently after that, but had approached an interesting pivot point – the paradoxical notion of light’s fleeting and endless flow. It is both ephemeral and constant. I loved it. A couple of weeks later in the south of Italy, I was moved by the subtle wisp of a rainbow hinted in the mist of the sea spraying up from the rocks along the shore. The light played upon the tiny droplets of water, and I sensed a kinship. With each wave rolling in and crashing upon the rocks, a new rainbow would emerge in the mist, whispering itself to my heart and fading away. I suddenly loved that a rainbow could never be proven. I no longer wanted to capture it, but just wanted to admire it for as long as it would let me.

That evening I met a Polish physicist and we got talking at length about light and energy, and the wonder of rainbows. We spoke also of faith and how so many scientific minds require hard evidence before permitting belief in anything. While I could understand this, I also felt that there was something inside me, inside all of us, that could not be proven – something before knowledge. The rainbow and its endless source of light seemed an apt analogy. A phrase was born in my mind; ‘Even atheists believe in rainbows’. It seemed to say that even apparent disbelievers are capable of belief. As I saw it, even expectation of the sunrise is taken on faith. Probability does not guarantee it, despite its strong likelihood based on past experience.

As I was leaving the seaside town of Salerno, I caught a subtle sense of the spectrum of colour glimmering in a dark grey cloud. It was just about to rain, and as the heavy, grey cloud approached, I could see the whole rainbow hiding inside of it (though only ever in my peripheral vision). It stirred up even more wonder in me. How incredible, that even in darkness light and life is all-pervasive, that rich colours can dance in the most dense and dark clouds. I was positively buoyant as I left Salerno.

I don’t know that there is any clear point to this rambling, but maybe it can serve to remind us of the miracle of life that is always all around us. It can remind us to look up into the sky once in a while without a feeling of ‘knowing’ what everything is, and just allowing ourselves to wonder. We need not be dragged into seeing life through a mundane lens. Just look at a cloud and see if you can watch it without reinforcing your regular ‘cloud-related’ concepts. Watch sunlight cut through clouds and splay itself out in all directions, as though the rays of light had found a new source to broadcast their pure energy from.

Maybe we can be such vessels, emptying ourselves of clutter and allowing light to move through us toward others. Every rainbow is a reminder that life and light are free and ever-available – never departing and never arriving, just enjoying the journey. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s OK to be stunned and catch ourselves without answers once in a while. After all, there’s no need to know how. We can only ever know now.

rainbowspectrum

By the way, perhaps it’s time to listen to Rainbow Connection again.  🙂

Thanks for reading!  Tune in again next week for something a little bit less hippie-dippy, I think.

Truth Is Fluid

Happy Monday all!  I am back from the wonderful woods and still digesting the beauty of the week.  Instead of rushing and posting my immediate impressions, I am going to let them marinate a few more days and see what comes out through the week.  So for today I am posting a portion of a note I sent out as an email circular last year.  It somehow felt like the right moment to revisit it.  If applied, there is some valuable practical wisdom below which can change your life for the better, or at least help you to see that it needed no changing, aside from your perspective.  Enjoy!

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What we think we know, what we are certain of, is already passed away.  We have passed through it.  It needs no maintenance.  Certainty is a hollow construction.  We can let it go and continue growing.  Nothing is lost.  The unknown is the home of the real.  The deepest truth is found, unspoken, in the empty tension between the poles of paradox.  Contradiction is balance, albeit broad – a balance beyond perception, perhaps; but by exercising faith in life, we can see this balance at work everywhere – all around and within us.  By acknowledging this balance, and by living this faith, we can grow in courage, wisdom and willingness, resting only long enough to gather breath for the next step – deeper into the mystery, forward toward the source.

Every outward journey is an inward journey.  All movement is toward our home, a blinding abyss of transcendent stillness.  If we are uncomfortable in this space it is due only to our conditioning, our habituation.  The beauty of life is that we can consciously free ourselves from these limiting attitudes.  We can transform ourselves.  We all have the gift of consciousness and the freedom to choose.  We are aware enough now to see that life has filled us with so many limiting conditions and habits, and we are strong and wise enough to recondition ourselves with more beneficial principles.  We can choose to embrace the mystery of life and free ourselves from the need to know.  This is when we are granted real sight, far beyond our eyes or the horizon.  Herein we find another paradox, as always, in perfect balance; the more we surrender, the more we are granted.

But don’t expect a moment.  It’s a process – full of moments.  Ultimately, there is only the one; now is forever – and we can never hold on to it.  “Ok, James,” I can hear you thinking, “thanks for your philosophizing, but what am I supposed to do with this?”  Well, I am with you – philosophy can’t do anything.  I am not all that interested in philosophy – not as I once was.  What I am most interested in now is the practical application of living wisdom – in regular, old (though ever-new) daily life.

So how do we use the power of our word?  How do we use our intention?  Although we have discovered that unconscious forces govern our thoughts, feelings and behaviours much of the time, we don’t need to feel bad about this, nor frightened.  Instead, we can be grateful for our awareness that we have an unconscious.  Express that gratitude, out loud or in your own silent dialogue.  We can do it right now.  This is exercising our gift of consciousness – with intention.  Furthermore, we can catch ourselves upholding limiting beliefs through unconscious self-talk: “Oh, I can’t do that…I’m not _____ enough.”  We say it, and we make it true; the power of our word, fencing us in, blindly.  But our awareness weakens these old patterns; it is in the nature of a mistake to disappear once discovered.  Why not try flipping that story around, consciously?  “I am strong enough to accomplish anything.”  Say it again.

What is this but another expression of the placebo effect?  It is a well-tested and documented phenomenon and yet it seems that few explore the depths of the mechanism beneath, which allows it to function.  Consciousness.  Is the glass half-full or half-empty?  We decide.  In the simplest terms possible, this is the gift of life: we are free to choose.  In truth, the glass is both half-full and half-empty, and we have the power to create our experience of reality.  The real gift cannot be seen with our eyes, and it has nothing to do with the glass nor whatever it may be half-empty or half-full of.

The nature of our consciousness is malleable, infinitely creative and highly suggestible.  Try telling yourself you love yourself.  Do it now.  It may feel funny.  At first, it may not even feel completely true.  But do it every day for a month.  Many times.  Write it down.  Repeat it.  Drill it into yourself.  Feel the change in your life.  Continue playing with this power and watch your confidence soar – fake it until you make it.  Tell yourself, ‘the search is over’.  This is powerful.  One day it will be true for you – I promise.  Feel gratitude for this gift.  Exercise it.  Be grateful for your self-awareness and watch it grow.  IT WORKS!  Anyone can do it and it’s completely free!  Your mind will try to tell you that this is not working, that you’re not cut out for this, that it’s a waste of time – but this is merely a defensive reaction to its loosening grip over you, the mind fighting for control the only way it can.  Eventually you will recognize these moments as nothing more than echoes of former ways of thinking.  Exercise patience and persistence – what have you really got to lose?  This is a failure-free experiment.

We can take control of our lives, and no longer be swayed by the myriad voices of the world.  Of course, this can only be taken as far as the inner voice, still and silent, when the time comes to surrender once again.  But now surrender is intentional.  Informed.  The paradox here is that total control leads eventually back to total surrender.  Always in balance.  But one step at a time is all we need to manage – slowly, slowly – gradual expansion and patient integration.  There is, of course, no obligation to do any of this work, but we can choose to consciously join the trajectory of evolution – also known as life.  It’s happening with or without our active participation.

Now that we are aware of this ‘river of life’, we can choose to: a) swim against the current; b) grope for branches on the banks; c) let go and roll with it; or d) even swim with the current, at times, when we can sense its course.  But we must continue to live in awareness.  The wild and lazy mind desperately wants to find some rule of life to apply as a blanket solution to every situation – to simply ‘set it and forget it’.  But life is not a Ronco product.  Every moment is unprecedented and calls for new and different responses.  An appropriate response in one instance could be wildly inappropriate (and potentially dangerous) ten minutes later in a slightly different context.  Much of this is common sense, of course, but the further we journey, the more we develop, our faculty for finer discernment needs sharpening.  This takes discipline.

And the more discipline we exercise, the more freedom we can enjoy.  Balance.  But only inner discipline counts here.  In every action we perform, we can ask ourselves what our intention is.  To impress?  Do we want credit?  What for?  Is there anything that any one of us can take full credit for?  Investigate.  We can examine ourselves and discover all we will ever need to see.  Do we work harder in front of others, or alone at home?  Are we more interested in expressing ourselves or being heard?  Which is more important?  There is a subtle but vital distinction here.  Consider it.

Ideas are inert.  Knowledge itself is limp.  Imposing stories upon people is ultimately useless.  But we can activate our understanding, with love and expanding compassion, allowing the power of our word – the very force of life itself – to ripen into living wisdom.  Consider the relationship between belief and behaviour – it’s a two-way street.  We can chip away at either side; our work is open to two paths of approach, both headed for the centre.  We need not try to transform others.  We can simply do our work and display whatever treasures life grants us.  With purity of heart, clarity of mind, and strength of will, we can humbly shine.

So be a beacon.  Be the star you are – a conduit channelling light into the world.  But always remember: the work starts on the inside – fruit is not grown from the skin inward.  And it can be sloppy at times.  So be forgiving, with yourself and everyone else.  We may appear a mess once in a while, but this is the nature of growth – the nature of healing – and we are complete at every point, in process.  Embrace it.

Although some of this seems complicated, I assure you it arises from and returns to perfect simplicity.  Life is indeed a beautiful gift – more colossal, more intricate, and more interconnected than the mind will ever fathom.  There is nothing we need to figure out.  It’s all taken care of.  So if any of this feels too far out of reach, don’t worry, just breathe.  And pay attention.  Oscar Wilde very wisely said that “Life is far too important to be taken seriously.”  Although I care deeply for life, and explore it meticulously, I realize that taking it, or ourselves, too seriously is most definitely a mistake.  Please save yourself the trouble.  This may be the best lesson I am learning.

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