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. 🙂

Welcome-Rainbow-keck-vpr-062816

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! 😉 

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.

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.

Leisure of the Season!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leisure

🙂

Scatter Joy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ScatterJoy

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

🙂

Finding Balance in Paradox

During my years on the road, I have been blessed to meet many special people. Among them, there is a handful of people who made a powerful impact on my life. As I sit down to write today, one very special soul comes to mind. This adventurer truly stands out. I had heard about Sacha before I met him, but when he showed up on the farm where I was working one afternoon in late May, 2012, I didn’t know who he was. He was just a friendly hitchhiker with bare feet. I didn’t put two and two together. I had been living on this farm in Tuscany for more than three months by the time he arrived, but now I could finally put a face to the name and many stories I had heard.

As we became acquainted, I marveled at the light in his eyes. With great zest and vitality, he spoke of a life of adventure and misadventure, and valuable lessons learned in the strangest of places and ways. Sacha was almost 50 when I met him, and he had just been living and traveling in India for two years. He spoke fondly of all it offered. His life oozed inspiration. He had traveled 10 years without shoes. He had traveled two years without using money. He had traveled at length without any bags or documents of any kind, managing his way through international borders by grace alone. But even more exciting to me than his many exploits were talks we had about the wisdom that ripened within him as a result of living as he did.

Of all we discussed, one idea really stayed with me, coming up more than any other; Sacha talked about locating our own paradox – a point of tension unique to every person – and operating from that dynamic centre. He claimed this to be life’s sweet spot. But first we had to make peace with ourselves – we needed to reconcile this tension. It was a confusing idea at first, and yet as soon as he brought it up, I sensed it was full of wisdom. Intuitively, I knew he was on to something. Slowly, it settled in and began making more sense.

As I contemplated his thoughts on paradox, I realized that paradox is not incompatible with consistency. For so long, I had struggled with contradiction and paradox, but suddenly I could see that they were just part of an overarching truth. I saw that paradox represented two sides of one coin. It is only our rational minds that struggle with the division – and we are so much more than our rational minds. Rationality has an edge. We can examine rationality rationally to discover this. The truth resides beyond.

I began to see that this greater truth could not actually be expressed in words or ideas, because as soon as it was attempted, it would be sucked into the dualistic nature of language – the duality of the material world; divisions in the mind, black and white. And though this line of thought quickly became more complicated than it needed to be, it eventually led back to utter simplicity. I saw the futility of trying to define the indefinable, trying to express that which cannot be expressed. We only end up spinning in circles.

So, after chewing on all of these ideas, what does one do? In my case, finding my own paradox became of paramount importance in my life. I had long thought of myself as my own opposite, and the tension was often unbearable. Locating this ever-active and elusive point of central tension proved difficult. And once we contact it, and think we have it, it’s gone again. It seems there is no arrival – at least not in these mortal frames. But eventually we can develop a greater confidence in this practice, living from our own point of paradox, and we can gradually anchor ourselves in this delicate balance point.

The peace that is born from all this confusion is a simple understanding, which dawns on us as we step outside of these spiraling thoughts. We see that this intangible truth is the pure potential behind and within any expression. It is the pure potential present before, after and beyond all expression. This accounts for all art, all relationships, all creation – everything we have ever seen, smelt, tasted, felt, heard, said or thought. It is all creation. Every thought, word and deed is actually an attempt at connection. It is love reaching out to itself, through us – through all life. The surface story so easily distracts our senses. Don’t be swayed. Only the love within is deeply true.

Ultimately, our paradox is balance, and I know of no better way to realize it than meditation. Allowing the mind to settle, we learn to burn through our pains and fears to see with simplicity just how beautiful life is. The lessons of silence are our only true teacher. This talk is all just bubbles and fizz. See for yourself. Be still. Go deep.

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