Prime Time for Hiking

I will keep today’s entry brief. It has been a beautiful sunny day here in Montreal. I didn’t want to waste much of it inside. It has not been this warm in quite some time. It got up over 20 degrees for the first time in months. I enjoyed a good dose of sunlight, grateful to be free of the heavy clothes our winter demands. It is great to see the regeneration of life all around. The parks are perking up, both in colour and activity. People generally have a pep in their step, keen to be out and about. The collective avoidance of outdoors seems to be over.

I spent most of yesterday out in the sun as well, hiking out in the Eastern Townships. It was a full day. Though not quite as warm as today, it was clear and pleasant. My friend, Jacques, called me on Saturday afternoon to inform me of his plans to head out early Sunday morning for a solid day of hiking – aiming for either Mont Echo or Mont Singer. We would play it by ear. We got moving at about 6:30 AM and got back to Montreal at about 7:00 PM. We were hiking for more than seven hours. It was a beauty of a day. We only saw two other people on the whole trail, crossing paths with them as they left the summit. Jacques, a former MEC employee and general outdoor enthusiast, was outfitted with all the gear one could imagine. I showed up with hiking boots, jeans and a t-shirt. He suited me up in extra gear he had brought, including snowshoes. Somehow I had never trekked in snowshoes before, but I took to it rather quickly, growing to enjoy it.

Stopping to savour the quiet scenery and open space around us, watching creeks carry away melting snow, we shared a wonderful hike through the trees and up the mountain. It was an ideal day for such an adventure. We got up to about 800 metres elevation and sat at the summit to soak in the view and have some more snacks, consisting mostly of fruit and trail mix. On our descent we noticed the effect of the day’s sun on the snow, which was noticeably softer, and soggier. Little snow bridges were caving into the creeks that surged to life, likely peaking in these first few days of real warmth. It was a great time to climb. Signs of life were already springing up in certain spots, ferns and moss near warming rocks breaking through the heavy snow. I was truly ready for a break from the city. It had been a while since I had been wrapped in nature like that. What a treat.

mont-singer

I didn’t bring my camera yesterday. I found this picture online. It was a lot whiter yesterday…but just as beautiful. A photo can’t do it justice.

That’s it for today. I am off to work EARLY in the morning and I will soon head to bed.

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.

Becoming a Cleaner

This morning I went for an informal interview for a job as a cleaner. The company is Zenith Cleaning. A friend recently recommended it to me as an organization befitting my ideals. The man who started Zenith is a most fascinating person. He goes by Tolu. We sat in the upstairs kitchen of Zenith’s office and talked about life. The mood was casual from the get-go. It was unlike any job interview I have ever had (not that I have had all that many…). We talked a lot about forgiveness and gratitude. We talked about presence. We talked about ideals and truly embodying the act of cleaning, treating it as a foundation for any other kind of work or play. Tolu smilingly referred to Zenith as “a metaphorical enterprise”. Clearly, for him, being in tune with the people he works with is far more important than any sort of ‘relevant work experience’. We got on quite well and ended up chatting for about an hour (likely a bit more), punctuated by a few phone calls he had to take.

Our visit ignited a lot of thoughts and feelings about cleaning, especially about how our world sees cleaners. It seems that many in our society consider cleaning a very ‘low’ position. I can see how this idea has spread, having long been drilled with notions of social standing. But the ‘social ladder’ we live with is not nearly as important, nor even as real, as many of us take it to be. The more I think about cleaning the more confounded I am that so many look down upon the work (and worse, upon the workers) as beneath them. It seems crazy. I see it as an honourable job. Cleaning is making things better. It’s very simple.

We spoke this morning of how cleaning is basically removing obstacles, revealing the inherent beauty of a given object, or space. In this way, it aligns nicely with the meditative frame that I have come to appreciate over the past few years. I see many ways this sort of work might better equip one for deeper service. The idea of developing one’s humility and capacity for service feels honourable. Thinking back over my life, picturing many ‘cleaners’ I have come in contact with – whether in schools, churches, homes or elsewhere – I see the quiet dignity of the work. Doing jobs that some have come to see as ‘dirty’ and ‘undesirable’ may in fact be of deep value. They may well be sources of enrichment. Tolu spoke at length about ‘cleaning the cleaner’, describing some of the spontaneous and surprising ways in which this work often benefits the worker. We talked also about the value of deep cleaning, distinguishing it from organizing or merely ‘staging’ a space. We acknowledged that we, as people, still do an awful lot of ‘staging’.

As we sat and spoke it suddenly struck me how vital the world’s custodians are. ‘Custodian’ is a title full of honour, even if many today have come to see it as something less than dignified. Custodians have been given custody. To be a custodian is to guard and protect, even to usher others safely through a given space. I can think of several custodians I know who embody their work and their role, embracing being a cleaner and showing the honour and dignity of service. I find it inspiring.

As the ‘interview’ went on, wandering off on various philosophical and spiritual tangents, we always brought it back to the simplicity of cleaning. With all that lofty talk, Tolu mentioned, some may forget to scrub the floor with sufficient vigour. We must stay in touch with the work itself. Other practical matters like money and schedules emerged only peripherally in our conversation, popping up long after we had already covered everything from scripture to physics. We agreed that we would work well together. Without setting any firm timeline we agreed to be in touch soon to see how I may be of service. Tolu had not necessarily been looking to hire anyone at the moment but he mentioned that new jobs and projects are popping up regularly. An opportunity is likely to open up just around the corner.

In the meantime, I am being more forthcoming with my gratitude for the wonderful cleaners in my life. I encourage you to do the same. They are all over our towns and cities – found in every building, most parks, and on our streets and sidewalks – and it is easy enough to thank them in passing. Try it out! I trust you will be glad you did. After making a few of these human connections, we may even feel like cleaning up after ourselves a bit more. Imagine if this idea spread… What a world we could be sharing… Custodians working together.

Cleaners

🙂

On Alignment

Flower of Life

Life can line up in funny ways. Especially when we let it. I have been blessed to frequently find myself in the vortex of life’s synchronicity. I have seen life reveal its inherent balance, seeing outside mirroring inside, sensing deeply that everything is connected and quietly in tune. ‘As above, so below’, as the phrase goes. But we can so easily get in the way of this blissful harmony and find ourselves struggling and striving in vain, experiencing only discord. Eventually, however, whether due to exhaustion or insight, our efforts fall back into rest and we can reflect on the beautiful mystery of symmetry.

It could well be argued that balance is the law of the universe. Of course, there is little need to argue anything like this. I imagine those who sense this balance deeply, honouring it with gentle vigilance, are aware also of the futility of trying to convince anyone of anything through argumentative means. Discussion is one thing, but disagreement often backfires and strengthens stances. We can check our own intentions when challenging anything or anyone. Are we truly trying to help or are we just trying to be right? We would be wise to allow others’ wrong ideas to fall away on their own, from the inside out. Simply living in balance, modelling one’s peace and ease with life, is far more effective in showing others how to trust life’s leanings and learn from its endless lessons.

We already have all we will ever need. It’s just a matter of coming to see it that changes our whole experience of life. This realization may flicker and fade at times, and then rage forth and burn up old ideas and beliefs, past habits and stances crumbling under the lens of pure light. Real sight is a gift we have already been given. All we can do is relax and receive it. It turns the world on its head. It lays all battles to bed. It forgives all we have said. All we have done. Because we are already one.

This balance in life, this synchronistic alignment, can guide us through letting go of everything we have been carrying. It can help us to see what is essential and encourage us to set aside all that is not. Which is a lot. But in the place of all we had gathered and dragged we are given so much more. At least it feels that way. Soon we may come to see that we already had it all. The real juice of life is right here. Right now. All experiences are equally fleeting, despite the degree of debris left in memory. We can allow the deepest joy of life to step forward this very moment, completely uncaused, solely for the sake of itself. And then it spreads. Effortlessly.

RadiantHeart

As I traveled through Europe, falling in deeper alignment with life’s wonder and its nudges, I began to see through clearer eyes. Without trying to decode or unravel the mystery of symmetry, without trying to crack open each miracle and extract its meaning, I simply smiled and ‘tipped my cap’, grateful to feel as though I was on course. This seemed to accelerate my awakening to a truth that is so close it can’t be spoken. It’s so close it can’t be known. Not in the way most of us imagine we can ‘know’ things, at least. It can’t be held. It does the holding, so to speak.

On Friday night my brother and I watched Interstellar with our roommate and we shared waves of shivers as the story culminated, leaving us awash in tingling wonder. We talked afterwards of experiences in our own lives that went deeper than the obvious, deeper than that which made ‘sense’ to our logic. Our goosebumps grew as we shared, as if the room was full of the very vibrations which incite such sensations, as if an invisible string had been struck, and rung through us, reverberating and revealing our innate interconnection with everything.

We went on to a few readings from a beautiful, intuitive book by a friend, Dancing in the Mirror, and found it speaking with crystal clarity, reaching through to the very moment we stood in. My brother stood changing a light-bulb in the bathroom, then re-fastening the fixture to the wall, as I stood beside him reading through three brief passages, each echoing from a place of depth and truth, miraculously mirroring the moment. We laughed and hugged afterwards as I felt continuing connective vibrations rooting a subtle yet certain sense of presence. It was already there. It’s always here.

At the best of times I am without doubt about this presence. These, too, are just passing experiences, of course. But I feel in these moments a taste of the eternal. I find it expressed in life’s beautiful and broad balance, well beyond any framing. It is mysterious even when we embrace it, elusive and evasive when grasped at. But by trusting life, even in apparent contradiction, we can be carried through to moments of clarity where we can habituate intuitive understanding, past clouds clearing, and we can see through our illusions to realize who we are and release all we are not.

So let’s trust life’s alignment and try not to figure it all out. We can humbly embrace balance and let love lead.

Have a happy Monday!

🙂

Surviving the Season

All we have to do is keep breathing.

Clark

This time of year can be very stressful for many of us. It is joyous as well, of course, but there is no doubt that it can be quite trying at times. We often find ourselves stretched rather thin. There is so much to do, so many people to see, and so much to eat that we can catch ourselves wondering, in the midst of the whirlwind, how we’ll ever make it out alive. But there is a calm at the centre of the storm, and it’s as close as our every breath.

I am blessed to enjoy the company of all of my family, but even still I have caught myself in moments where my patience is being stretched and tested, wearing thin at points. It’s at these moments that I stop and take a conscious breath, feeling it pass through my nostrils, reminding me that all things pass.  This is a valuable reminder, and can help us through even the most stressful experiences.

As fun as it may be to take a break from work to reconnect with old friends and to indulge our appetites, the flip side is that we can feel as if we are falling behind in our responsibilities, losing touch with people who once meant so much to us, and gaining weight all the while. But we need not add extra stress to the flurry of thoughts and mixed emotions that can pop up at this time of year. We can simply accept whatever is happening at any given moment, coming to appreciate that it is all equally fleeting. This is a beautiful realization. Even if we harp on things or harbour resentments, in the end they will pass. The joys pass just the same as the pains. By acknowledging this we can develop a greater ease with life, enabling us to broaden our sphere of compassion and undertake greater challenges.

With this wisdom, facing a week of excitement and occasional strain doesn’t seem so overwhelming. We can keep the Christmas craze in perspective and instead honour the stillness at the heart of the season. It’s here to appreciate, if only we’ll give it a chance. It won’t assert itself as all the Christmas music, movies, decorations and advertisements will, but it is likely the greatest gift of all.  So take a deep breath and feel your shoulders release as you exhale, letting go of any other remnant tensions that have accumulated. You don’t have to give everyone a Christmas card or a box of chocolates to maintain contact. But if you’re rested and relaxed, you may be able to offer them your real presence when next you meet.

Take it easy on yourself. Enjoy the coming New Year and dive back into whatever comes next rejuvenated and ready to roll.

I wish you all a wonderful 2015, abundant with love, laughter and a light heart!

Happy New Year 2015

Time – Fixed or Fluid?

It’s Monday again. So I’m told. As I watch our pair of young brother kittens wrestling on the rug I wonder whether it really matters. They don’t seem to notice. Is their life worth any less as a result? Are we any better than they because we know so much? I’m taken back to a thought I jotted in my notebook from the road – did dinosaurs have weekends? It sounds ridiculous, and perhaps it is, but it points out our collective obsession with time. We learn very young to name the days, counting out minutes and hours, plotting months in blocks. Does this in any way add value to our lives? I don’t know. I’m not insinuating that it doesn’t, I’m actually asking.

Obviously a day is a noticeable event. The sun comes up and it goes down. Similarly, a year is one full journey around the Sun. The cycle of the seasons is not to be brushed aside. But what I am getting at is our ‘knowing’ of these frames and the possibility that this apparent certainty might be blinding us to something we wouldn’t want to miss.

There seem to be a lot of people pulled into these frames and dragged through time as if they had some great obligation to it, as though they were indebted to time itself. As kids we didn’t take any of this nonsense seriously. It was all imposed upon us. Now, again, I am not claiming there is anything wrong with our awareness of time’s passage, but I sense that taking it so seriously can hamper our lives. Living happens right now. This is effortless. No frame or scale is required. There is no other arena for life than this very moment.

This sort of talk is perhaps becoming clichéd these days but it does not diminish its truth. Taking time too seriously actually limits our lives. It limits our happiness by cramping our availability for the magic of the present. If we are constantly trying to reach the next moment, anticipating the future with either excitement or anxiety, or caught up in the past, looking back with fondness or regret, we are ignoring what is actually real. Living like this, the truth of the present moment is being hidden by the illusion of time.

What do we actually know about time, and in particular, these cycles? If we are totally honest with ourselves we have to admit that we take it on faith. We look at our past experience and assume it will continue as it has. Sun up, sun down, repeat. But there is no guarantee. We also invest a lot of faith in information given to us from outside. Have we done any personal research into these matters or do we simply accept what is given us? Just because everyone else has bought into the same story doesn’t make it real. Are these cycles static? What if our years are even incrementally (almost imperceptibly) growing longer? What if these ‘hard and fast’ frames are actually fluid? What are we sure of then?

I don’t want this to come off as otherworldly or anything. I admit to playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, but only to get us thinking about what we really know to be true. If each of us investigates our experience of life in complete honesty we will come to see the same truth – and it only exists right now. Time is purely conceptual no matter what sort of collective momentum it has gathered in our culture. All I am suggesting is that perhaps our so-called certainty of it is actually blocking us from our infinite potential.

Right now the sun has begun pouring through my window and I would like to stop writing so I can simply sit back and enjoy it. I don’t know that this post says much but I felt like keeping up with my Monday momentum. Is that a paradox? Honouring the same calendar I was challenging? Maybe. I don’t mind. I began writing somewhat begrudgingly at first, to be honest – mostly due to the sense of duty to time – but it eventually came tumbling out as I felt myself simply expressing feelings and thoughts, totally free of time. Funny how that works. Maybe striking a balance is the ideal? And remembering that we can never arrive at it…

Infinity&Time

De-cluttering Our ‘TO DO’ Lists: Honouring Responsibility Over Obligation

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WHAT TO DO?

What do you have to do today? Really. Look it over. Whether you have an actual list in front of you or just a stack of tasks gathered in your mind, have a good look at it. Ask yourself; is all of this necessary? Is any of it necessary? Who says so? Even if that voice in your head barks back ‘I say so!’, inquire. Who is that voice? Is it really you? Or might it just be a collection of expectations and obligations that a life of conditioning has imprinted upon you? This may be a frightening thought, that some entity other than ourselves is driving our minds. But this ‘conditioning’ need not be seen as intentionally oppressive, as if some evil perpetrator were sitting in a wingback chair, laughing, hands held together in a pyramid, fingers dancing back and forth while we silly mortals fall prey to some grand evil scheme.

SEEING THROUGH OUR CONDITIONING

Conditioning has just happened. This is simply how life has developed so far. It’s a part of our growth. And not all conditioning is bad. But when we are blind to it, it drives us. It fills up our ‘to do’ lists with endless things that we feel we must do. The extent to which we can see this conditioning at work is the extent to which we can become free of it. After all, it is in the nature of a mistake to disappear once we discover it. And then we can watch our ‘to do’ lists thin out significantly. They may go blank altogether. And they may remain that way for a while – empty. And that’s ok. After running a marathon, whether finishing first or last, it’s reasonable to take a moment to gather our breath, maybe have a sip of water and walk it off. Similarly, when we wake up to see we’ve been running in circles for most of our lives, we are permitted to take a bit of a breather, to walk it off. We may feel aimless for a while. (We’ll certainly appear it!) This is ok, too. Gradually, we can begin introducing new items to our ‘to do’ lists, when we feel up to it, and especially when we feel inspired to act from a place of conviction – a place of deep truth. We are no longer merely following commands, but seeing action arise from our natural impulse for love. We do what we want to do, what we love to do. We can begin developing ‘to do’ lists with intention. It’s our inattention that has kept us spinning in hamster wheels for so long. It’s time to rise and shine.

CLARIFYING OUR UNDERSTANDING

What I am talking about is a subtle but vital distinction which can revolutionize our lives. This is the fine line between obligation and responsibility. But what’s the difference? How do we discern which is which? Sometimes it’s a razor’s edge. And it’s more often not even about what we do, but how we do it. Are we doing something because we have to or because we want to? It is not always so simple, though this can be a good place to begin our inquiry. Fortunately, for fuzzier matters, a bit of patient reflection can help us understand which voice we should be honouring.

So what is obligation? Well, to feel obliged to do something seems to imply some sense of pressure, some external force, whether from the expectations of our family, our work, or society at large. These are tasks we would seldom take upon ourselves to perform. But responsibility is literally the ability to respond. Response-ability.  It’s all right there. This is an uprising of our truest self, a deep moral sense of right action, appropriate to the moment. And it always comes from within, expressing itself in a completely unique way through each of us. Still, it can be difficult to strain through the many voices chattering inside of us to figure out where each voice is coming from, where they would have us go and what they would have us do.

TRIMMING DOWN OUR BIG ‘TO DO’s

This is where thinning out our ‘to do’ lists can be so helpful. It’s a two-way street. It may feel a bit scary, at first, and maybe even a little crazy, but by stripping away our excess ‘busy-ness’ – if only for a few days, allowing ourselves to breathe and relax – we can begin to see what is truly important in our lives. It will emerge all on its own. And we can learn to prioritize more wisely. As we do this, we may hear old voices rising up inside, telling us we are letting people down, or letting ourselves down. But if we can weather this storm, perhaps we can stop worrying about ‘let downs’ and learn to let up and let go. Maybe we’ll realize that what we want is not what we need, and what we need is not what we want. Facing this can be disorienting. But if we can exercise a bit of bravery – just enough to take a small step out of our comfortable routines, letting go of our ‘to do’ lists for a while – perhaps we can become more of who we truly are, surrendering the rest, and ending up a greater help to ourselves and others, growing and serving in ways far beyond what we had ever imagined possible.

TAKE A CHANCE – RELAX

Why not try letting go? Maybe all you have to lose is all you need to lose to be truly free. Take a deep breath in and let go of everything else. Exhale and feel the release spreading through your entire body. This is our natural state. Inner peace is our effortless inheritance. There is nothing it asks us ‘to do’ but let it in. So be still. Go deep. And ask yourself, what do I really have to do today?

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