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.

Cleaning is Loving; Respecting Our Spaces

cleaning

I learned a lot while cleaning. I was only working with Zenith for a couple of months but I had ample opportunity to explore the practice of revealing beauty. I sense that every space has an inherent beauty of some kind. But without our care and attention these spaces so easily become dusty and cluttered, often falling into decline. Of course, if left to nature, a beauty of its own would take over, but for as long as we build self-contained spaces we are also left with the responsibility to maintain them. This can be taken on as an honour. We can become stewards of our spaces, a job so widely neglected, cleaning not only tangible dirt but generally preparing spaces for purposeful and productive use.

As I touched upon in my first article about cleaning, the title of custodian is actually one of great dignity, despite what our society may have come to think about it. A custodian is not merely someone to pick up trash. They are guardians of spaces. A true custodian cares. This makes more difference than we could ever know. An appreciative presence goes a long way.

In whatever work we may be doing, we need not act as if we are robots, locked in a strict task-oriented mode of operation. We can be carried by a spirit of wonder and love. This gives life to our activities, subtly perfuming the spaces we perform them in with love. Living like this can become an act of service. When we move through spaces with the wisdom and will to serve, working with patience and persistence, our entire landscape changes from the inside out. We become calmer and more present. A natural extension of this attitude expresses itself in the form of more caring behaviour, benefiting the very spaces themselves.

See for yourself. Take time to appreciate the spaces you move through in your day to day life. Your attention will create a stronger connection with the spaces and thus a greater care for them. After some time you may find yourself seeing through new eyes in every space you inhabit. You may also begin to notice things you once overlooked, gaining valuable insights into your own life.

I found that as I cleaned – occasionally catching myself preoccupied with speed, working in a mechanistic frame of mind – simply stopping to appreciate the space again found me working more smoothly and efficiently. Since coming home to my parents’ condo in Toronto, my sharper eye for detail has spotted little bits of dirt in various places I had never before noticed. And my care for this home space has found me moving from awareness to action, if only simply and briefly, gently tending the vessel holding the life of my family.

The act of cleaning can change the lens through which we see life. I encourage you to clean something and see for yourself. Make a new habit for a few weeks to clean spaces you usually don’t. Experiment with this and see what you reveal in your home and your life. I’d love to hear what happens!

🙂

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.

🙂

The Snow Falls Still

I guess I got a bit excited last week when we had a couple of warmer days. The snow was melting and I was leaning myself optimistically into spring. But the winter spoke up again and reminded me that it is not yet through with us. Montreal saw a good deal of snow fall early yesterday, though the bitter cold of the past weeks seems to be gone. I remain optimistic as the days grow longer and the sunlight feels warmer. We make our official transition into spring this Friday as we reach the equinox.

Just about six months ago I wrote a post on the equinox – the balance of night and day – while trying to ride the momentum of the shifting seasons in ‘turning the corner’. I still find myself trying to ‘turn the corner’ now and again, often related to my food or work habits (input and output). ‘One more day of indulgence,’ a voice says, ‘and then I’ll get back into my discipline.’ I sense this voice would go on forever if we let it. Even in my most productive and disciplined phases, this voice constantly pushed for more, never satisfied. I trust we have all seen these conversations taking place in our minds. I feel it shows the duality of life. There seem to be two of ‘us’ taking part in our internal chatter. Doesn’t this seem odd? Who are we talking to? Who is responding?

In the midst of our inner tangling, however, there is a silent observation that often goes unnoticed. This is simply clear sight, not leaning one way or another, but just observing all that pops up. We are usually so caught up with our thoughts and where they might take us that we seldom appreciate the quality of pure awareness itself which makes cognition possible. But this quiet awareness – completely unbiased alert observation – is nonetheless the foundation for every thought, word and deed. This ‘ground floor’ is where I have been endeavouring to invest my attention of late. This is the process of meditation, essentially, a return to the wholeness that we already are (but may not see).

In this space all dualities come to union and rest. Their continuing play of apparent opposition is seen from a place where they never left. Every equinox and solstice, whether in our skies or in our lives, can be seen as a sign of balance, expressing itself through our oscillating nature. Every season, every tide, every ebb and flow, high and low, can come and go in this space with ease and freedom. Every duality and division, all conflict and contradiction, can be understood more deeply, equally embraced by the loving silence of clear sight, unconditioned and uncreated.

This Friday’s equinox falls in line with a new moon and a total solar eclipse. There will be no shortage of opportunity to ‘turn the corner’. Perhaps we can recommit to clearer sight and see what happens. Though only those in Greenland or Iceland will get anywhere near the full effect of the eclipse, much of Europe and North Africa will be blanketed in the shadow of the new moon, itself leaning close to earth on the perigee of its elliptical orbit. It all seems to be a chance to respect the rise and fall of seasons, on every imaginable scale – from the rise and fall of our every breath to the expansion and (inevitable?) contraction of our universe – and come in contact with that which remains solid and unswayed by the winds of change.

I try to keep this sort of thing in mind as I cross any kind of threshold.  Because on the surface, transition is all there is. It is truly constant. But just beneath our surface experience of life, it is all quietly embraced by the ‘everlasting arms’ of presence. There is a deep peace and grace issuing endlessly from this space, given freely by this inconceivable presence. This is where I want to hang out. This is where I’d like to meet you.

Seasons

I wasn’t planning to get ‘deep’ when I started writing today. I am planning to make a juice today (a lengthy and involved job) and I have a few other errands I need to run, so I was just trying to rattle off a wee entry for the week…but this is what happened. So take it lightly and in stride. I’ll do the same. 🙂

And I’ll close with a quote of Rumi’s, which I love:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

Short and Sweet (Winter Retreat)

Wintry Woods

I have just come home from an incredibly refreshing weekend in the woods with about eighty amazing people. We were inside, mind you, most of the time. It was an especially crisp and cold weekend, but very bright and alive. The sky was clear and the sun was strong. Five Oaks was our host – a gracious space to sing and dance, dream and plan, love, play and pray. I feel as though I have been bathing in waves of love buzzing all around us – within us and through us too – vibrating endlessly, breaking down walls and building bridges. This morning I watched a thin sliver of moon blend into a bluing sky as the sun rose on our final day. I saw it all as one – the grand play of light. We all partake, awake or otherwise.

Now home, our Family Day dinner digested, the last four days seem like a blur, a whirlwind. My mind feels like mush and I am ready for bed. But I want to write a few words reflecting on this wondrous weekend. I was blessed to participate in the Youth Forum Winter Retreat leading up to the United Church of Canada’s 42nd General Council. Many of us will reconnect there this summer, some of us making a cross-country pilgrimage. I feel honoured to be among those going on the journey from coast to coast, heading west to east, arriving in Newfoundland in early August. There is a lot of change on the table and I am inspired to see so many youth with the wisdom and will to work for new ways to express and connect with our sense of spirit.

It was such a gift to meet so many authentically spiritually-engaged youth. I feel excited and encouraged. And happily exhausted. Now doesn’t feel like the moment to dig much deeper into it all. I just wanted to put a few words up here before I lay my head down for a long rest. I hope my new friends from all over Canada have returned home safely (or are at least on course) and that we keep our heart’s fire alive!

Lots of love.

🙂

Expectations

DANGER-expectations

I have likely spoken of the dangers of expectations before. It is something I am well aware of, having learned time and again (often the hard way). And yet I continue to catch myself building expectations fairly regularly. Fortunately, I tend to choose gratitude over guilt or anger these days, glad to at least catch and discard them. But I still get side-tracked now and again.

Even with the best of intentions, I find I can build up a subtle narrative and then watch myself slip back to reality with a hint of disappointment. Last week, for instance, I wrote what I felt to be my best blog post in months. Having followed my blog’s recent traffic trends (encouraged by steady growth), I was excited that several new readers would get to enjoy the wonderful piece I had put together. Excitedly, I imagined the wave of peace and love that might spread out from my inspiring message. Instead, readership dipped down to the lowest I had seen in a LONG time – many months. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself as my expectations were exposed. The high I had felt came crashing down to the ground. I didn’t feel discouraged or anything, but just humbled again. Back to reality.

All I was trying to share was a bit of wonder at the mystery of life, encouraging others to honour life’s balance and beauty, accepting little miracles and big obstacles alike, growing in spite of uncertainty. I figured that would be something to spread. I hadn’t been particularly proud of my recent posts, having rattled them off the cuff rather quickly and without much thought. But this one came out with a feeling of purpose and clarity, expressing my feelings and ideas in what I felt to be a beautiful way. So it seemed natural that others would engage with it also.

I don’t pretend to know why the post went largely unnoticed (generally speaking, I don’t invest energy in assumptions), but I immediately saw an opportunity to practice what I preach and simply let it be. I could accept it and move on. A couple of days later it occurred to me that I might use it as an example for my next blog post – THE DANGERS OF EXPECTATION. So here we are. I admit that a hint of my bringing it up today is a hope that some may be curious enough to look back and read what I am referring to. HERE’S ANOTHER LINK TO IT! 😉

But whatever it may affect on the surface – enabling some to trust their lives more deeply, empowering others to step up to face a challenge – I know that the real value of life, the quiet space we share in the depth of our hearts, remains untouched. This is a good thing. Honouring this pure, untouched part of ourselves can free us to be who we are and to express our hearts more deeply. Granted, it can be tricky to lean back on the ineffable, but in time we may come to see that it actually holds us up, along with everything else. By exercising courage in the face of doubt we can create habits of faith and bravery, paving a way to living lives of substance. Paradoxically, this substance often enters our lives via a realization of life’s impermanence. What is there to hold on to?

We are here. It is now. This we know without ‘needing to know’. This is too true to break down. This is where to invest our attention. No need of endless cycles of expectation and disappointment. Of course we can continue to learn and grow, letting mistakes inform our continuing attempts to connect, create and express, but we can become freer to lean out and make mistakes in the first place. This is a sign of a healthy heart.

So that’s it for today, I think. I’m ready to rest.

Happy Monday all! 🙂

Catch you next week…  Any topic suggestions?