How the Time Flies…

It’s hard to imagine that a month has passed since Easter, when I moved into my new flat. I kicked into gear as soon as I got here and have been putting in 30-hour writing weeks since. That may explain my recent online silence. I notice I am doing less writing ‘on the side’ after I put in my daily hours, even simple e-mail correspondence.

But life continues to open up in beautiful and mysterious ways. Even in the midst of what I might have previously called ‘mundane routine’, the stunning gift of simply being here is so clear. It’s crazy that we ever pull ourselves away from this simplest of truths, our very presence. We can never acquire more, nor accomplish anything greater than our own being. It’s already here – the true ‘juice’ of life. It’s completely free. Unencumbered. Unimpressed with our efforts and successes. Yet ever-willing to hold our ‘failures’, softening our hearts into their natural openness.

***

Last week I felt the earth move. Within the relatively small South American nation of Ecuador, I was about as far as possible from the epicentre of the earthquake, but it still shook my home and my body. I scurried about my second-storey apartment wondering where the safest place to stand was. I pulled on some pants and ran outside. By the time I got out, it was done. But it was a humbling experience. A valuable reminder of our tender place on this planet. I can’t imagine how intense the earthquake must have been for those closest to it.

Many people have died. Others have had dreams, plans and properties ruined. But life carries on. The support effort is in full swing throughout Ecuador. All around I see people collecting supplies and others heading for the coast in an attempt to rebuild. I see, once again, the gift of life at work in this. At once subtle and stunningly obvious – the connective fabric of love is driving everything, stirring each of us from the very heart of life. We want to help others in pain. It’s so natural. We want to help others survive, to rekindle their health and hope.

I suppose this is what drives my writing, too. Certainly at the depth level – just love expressing itself. But as it filters through my heart and my life experience, I want to support people on their journey through the mystery of existence. Having trudged through incredible density and darkness (all self-created), I want people to see that we can become free again (realizing we never left) and that we can dance anew in the land of our birth – pure levity and light. There are no lasting walls – they are all imagined.

By entering our softer spaces, by honouring our uncertainty, we can open into ourselves more honestly, seeing this ground to be firmer than all the concrete on earth. This is where life arises from. But we cannot hold it in the way we are used to clutching our ideas and experiences. This ground calls for a continual opening, a blossoming, stretching us out through our hearts.

I am grateful for the freedom to express my heart so casually here. As I move through my daily writing, I am often brushing aside these more ‘esoteric’ stretches, keeping things more ‘grounded’. But even this ‘grounded’ work is only a bridge into the spacious mystery of the heart.

It sometimes feels funny to be pouring myself so earnestly and with such discipline into something that I know doesn’t matter in itself. Like anything else in existence, my story is a vessel at best. Perhaps its lone purpose is growth – a snake-skin to be shed once exhausted. I simply don’t know. But the freedom from any need to know spurs such trust and peace that I can continue pouring love into the project daily without worry.

***

I also feel grateful for friendship here in Cuenca. Since I have been ‘working harder’ and writing more consistently, it has been important to be out and about around town, bumping into friends here and there. I appreciate my weekly writing group. I am grateful to have had the chance to share yet again at the Spoken Word event last week, and another chance to sing songs with friends at Open Mic. And I am grateful for the full house I had here at my place last night…hosting ten for a meal, six of us staying for games night. Cranium was so much fun! 🙂 And of course, lots of music carrying the evening along.

My dear friends, Zach and Kristen, are a wonderful couple that have connected me with countless other good people around town and I am especially grateful for their friendship. And there are always fun people passing through town for a month or a couple of weeks, and it is great to connect with them too! I love the community life here in Cuenca, even as I continue to value my solitude, mining it for its own treasures.

On a semi-related note, I think I can admit (with sufficient humility) that my guacamole is getting pretty darn good. I am looking forward to taking my recipe and patient approach home to Canada in the summer and sharing it with family and friends! Keep your eyes peeled for me, and have your taste-buds ready!

***

I guess that’s about it for today…  As ever, here are some more photos from around town, and out my window, and one from the couch upon stirring from a siesta just about an hour ago… 😉

Panorama from my flat...

Panorama from my flat…

This Week in Farm Life

View from the window.

View from the window.

The time continues to fly by as I sit tucked into a fold of the rolling hills here. I have been in Italy six weeks already, all but one spent here at Ebbio, my little Tuscan retreat. This used to be a volcano. I feel a powerful energy here and wonder whether it is the volcanic past. Or perhaps it is a personal connection. I have grown so much here. But I am quite happy not knowing. This place feels somehow like a cocoon to me – a womb. I curl up whenever I return, grateful for its nurturing.

We have had some beautiful days this week, though the weather is now becoming cooler. I am still wearing my shorts out most mornings but I am also taking my sweater with me and often a little neck-warmer. Nonetheless I had a few afternoons of work where I had to take my sweater off due to the warmth.

I have been in quite a little groove of late. A rhythm. The last couple of weeks especially. It has been nice. I thought I would have left the farm by now but I am no longer concerned about running around, quite happy right here. Perhaps my wanderlust is changing shape a bit?

Mind you, I did buy a few more flights this week. I went into town for an hour of better internet and bought a flight to New Orleans a few days into the New Year. I will head down to celebrate the 30th birthday of a dear friend with several other friends. I will fly on to Ecuador from there, intending to set up shop for a stretch and see what I might be able to do with the story I have been living and writing over the past few years.

I have been back into editing the story recently – much of it originally born here – as a part of my daily routine. I usually rise a bit before seven and head outside to pluck a lemon from the branches of one of our lemon trees. I bring it back to combine with a bit of ginger and honey (which a local friend collects and shares generously). This honey-lemon-ginger tea is a nice start to the day. I often check my email and look out over the hilly horizon as I slowly sip my way through it.

At about eight o’clock I join Nirdosh, the matriarch of the farm, up in her home for half an hour of meditation, sometimes followed by more tea and visiting, or just restocking her woodpile for the day and carrying on. I follow that with a bit of muesli and banana, occasionally turning on the TV to ‘practice my Italian’ watching Walker, Texas Ranger (or whatever else may catch my eye).

Then I write for three hours. There are little diversions here or there – picking up my guitar for a few minutes – but I have been generally quite disciplined the last couple of weeks. Mostly I have been getting reacquainted with the massive ocean of words that spilled forth well over a year ago, with the intention to rein it all in a bit (or a lot). I want to focus on the core of the story.

After my writing I join the boys for lunch. Luca, who is our chef when yoga groups are here, comes in from helping Costel with olive picking to prepare lunch for us. His lunches are always incredible – almost always pasta and salad. He is a true Italian. His variety of sauces always impress. You can feel that he cooks with his heart, which makes a bigger difference than could ever be quantified. After a little post-lunch rest we resume picking olives for another couple of hours. Occasionally there is other work to do, like today, raking and burning leaves, trimming vines and collecting more walnuts. We will be done with the olives by Saturday.

As the sun begins nearing the treetops on its descent, Costel usually calls it for the day, packing up the olive nets and heading off to feed the animals. I tend to play music for about an hour at this point. Last week I set up the drum kit and have been enjoying having it in the rotation. We also have a grand piano in the big yoga studio and a classical acoustic guitar on hand here. I brought my own steel-string acoustic from home. Overall, I play the piano the least and my guitar the most but I feel quite blessed to have so many options. Yesterday Luca ‘jammed’ with me on the drums for a bit, he tapping away on a large pot with a wooden stick. That was fun.

Then it is off to the showers. The water can get really hot and I love this part of the day. Once I am freshened up I tend to prepare a little salad for dinner, with mixed lettuce and shredded carrot, adding some sliced mushrooms and diced peppers. I sprinkle a bit of salt and pour some fresh green olive oil overtop and wander down to my friend Franz’s vacant apartment to set up for my evening entertainment. He has a wide (and rather scattered) selection of DVDs. Among others, I recently watched Shine; I Love You, Man; Surfer Dude; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Captain America; Focus; Away From Her; Tintin; The Tourist; The Kids Are Alright; and Up In The Air.

Before starting a movie, I usually crack a few walnuts (I have been up in the trees the last couple of days to knock the remaining walnuts down…as I am noticing the crates thinning a bit…) and mix them with some raisins, liking my dessert ready to go. Once my station is all set up I press play and enjoy my salad and dessert. I often supplement the walnuts and raisins with a few rice cakes and honey, and usually an apple to cap it all off. 🙂 I just may be a three-dessert kind of guy.

After movie time I may glance at my emails again and play a bit of guitar as they load (the internet is really slow here), then I head down into the meditation hall for at least half an hour of nighttime meditation. Often more. One night this week I sat for almost two hours, diving very deep, one might say. It has been a very energetic part of my day.

I often stop and stare up into space on my walk up to my house at this point, gazing at the stars (as long as they are not obscured by cloud), bowled over by wonder. Rico, the friendliest dog on earth, usually sits beside me as I do this.

Then it is into my room where I write a quick journal entry and do a bit of yoga before sliding into bed, usually smiling. I tend to read a bit before falling asleep and sometimes listen to a bit of music on my iPod – little bedtime playlists. I love to scan my body as I lay in bed and feel the buzz of life coursing through every cell as I drift off to sleep.

Then I rise and do it all again, amazed at how different it is every day. There is such a freshness to every moment. I feel like quite a lucky lad to be living here.

However, I do wish I could scoot home (if only for a moment) to give my Mom a hug on her birthday – today is the day – but a virtual hug will have to do for now. I love you Mom! We just had a nice visit on the phone. It was great to connect that way.

As for looking forward, we have a one-day group coming for a celebration on Saturday – playing music, dancing, dining and whatnot – which we are welcome to join. That should be fun. Apparently they like drum circles. Then we have a small group coming for the week, starting Monday or Tuesday, I think. Maybe I will wander on after that…though I have invited some friends to come down from Munich and Salzburg for a visit here, so we will see what comes of that…

I hope you all have a lovely week and feel free to be the light you want to see shared in the world. Don’t let the darkness fool you, it’s all light in the end.

Ciao for now!

🙂

Mundane Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mmmmm…pizza.

Pizza

🙂

Honesty

honesty

Honesty is the best policy. We have all heard it many times before – and it seems a reasonable code to honour. But how often do we really live it from the depth of our hearts? I guess I can start by sharing that I don’t really know what to say today. Yet here I sit writing – for its own sake, I suppose. I have been in the habit of publishing a post every Monday for a while now, and I wish to keep my rhythm rolling. It is a routine more for myself than anyone else.

Even as I intend my writing to be an act of service, I am aware that relatively few people are reading these words. Perhaps my service is starting out simply – I don’t know. Either way, I try not to get caught up in chasing some vision of the future. I feel I can best serve others through complete honesty and unconditional acceptance of this moment as it is. As grateful as I am for every person reading these posts (THANK YOU!), I have to admit that just getting myself into the habit of outward self-expression is a large motivating factor. I feel it is a healthy habit, aside from what I might actually be saying.

Someone recently asked me (in reference to my blog) if I minded ‘hollering into a vacuum.’ I didn’t know how to respond. I wondered for a moment if we are all doing just that, on some level – hollering into a vacuum. At least we’re doing it together, I thought. But does it really matter if we get any notice for our work? For the most part, I don’t seem to mind doing my work without getting any attention or recognition. I am grateful to express myself. And if someone tells me that my post meant something to them, it is a feather in my cap, icing on the cake.

So when I came to face the blank page today, wondering what I wanted to holler out into this particular vacuum, I found myself looking over some old notes on balance. ‘A return to balance is inevitable. A departure from balance is impossible.’ I thought about re-working my notes into something for today’s post, but had to admit that I no longer feel the same way I felt when I wrote it. Not exactly, anyhow. And I also admitted that a part of me wanted to recycle my old writing just to get the ball rolling, just to have something on the page. That didn’t feel like a very honest motivation for self-expression. So I let it go.

As I slipped off to sleep last night I thought about how I was feeling (that being uncomfortably stuffed with hummus and mixed nuts), and I wanted to strip down any remnant layers of pretence and protection to be as open and honest as possible. I had been dreaming, the day before, of constructing a post that would inspire people and maybe relieve some suffering, but as I tossed and turned last night, mildly disappointed with myself, I didn’t feel worthy of standing on any soapbox and saying much of anything. I slept poorly and skipped my 5 AM alarm.  When I finally awoke at 8:30, I didn’t give guilt any room to roam. After a surprisingly strong yoga session and a very quiet and calming meditation, I arose to write.

Honestly, I have no idea what’s going on. I’m only just journeying through the mystery as we all are. These days, my certainties seem to crumble as quickly as they are built. I can’t say I mind. Even though well-intentioned, I recognize that I sometimes slip into some sort of ‘preachy’ tone in my writing. Though I want to share words of truth, nuggets of wisdom, seeds of peace, freedom and love – all born of my own experience – I don’t feel I have the right to tell anyone how to find anything in their own lives. I know there is something deep within us which we all share, but my saying so, and my desire to show people where ‘to find it’ may not mean much to anyone but me. At best, I can just speak my heart, whatever it seems to be saying at any given moment, and trust that to be sufficient in itself. Whatever it may spark in others is simply not up to me.

And in the spirit of total honesty, right now as I sit here and write, my body responding to our home growing colder with the seasons’ shifting, a bit of sunshine has made its way to my window and I am going to lie down on a sheepskin on the floor and just enjoy the warmth of the light for a while. I don’t want to waste this precious sunlight, abundant though it is. As the colder seasons approach, I am suddenly moved to take full advantage of every ray of light reaching through my window. I’ll return to my composition shortly. 🙂

peace

Hours have passed. I have combed through the above text now and dusted it up only slightly, and the sun has faded from the window. A thin ceiling of cloud now passes by, little blips of blue showing signs of the open space beyond. I am feeling fairly easy. I have not had the most motivated Monday, but I am at peace, and that seems good enough for me. I hope that, on some level, this simple slice of honest peace is serving the wider world.  See you next week.

Routine: A Double-Edged Sword

power generator

At the end of this long weekend, as we dive into what is essentially a new season, I feel inspired to share a few quick thoughts on the power of routine. This moment seems a valuable opportunity to become more conscious of our daily routines, as so many of them shift from ‘summer mode’ back into ‘work mode’. Though it remains business as usual for many, so much of our western society runs on the momentum of the school year. We can scarcely avoid its effect. So perhaps this is the perfect chance to take stock of some of our routines, both individual and collective, and to consider a bit of tweaking and trimming.

The more we examine our lives, the more we come to see the staggering influence routine has over us. I feel it can be our greatest ally or our most dangerous enemy. Like anything else, I believe it exists in balance, and we are free to do with it as we see fit. The more aware we are, however, the more effective we can be in intentionally developing healthy habits in service of growth and well-being, both for ourselves and others.

***

Sculpting and practising new routines can be very difficult. It can even be scary. For many of us, routine is a blind comfort that we don’t even question. It seems to us as though it has always been there, and we would feel naked and lost without it. But maybe there is some value in rocking the boat a bit. Why not stretch and test ourselves with a few experiments? Perhaps we are capable of more than we imagined. One positive flip-side of developing new routines is the sense of accomplishment we can derive, aside from the greater positive impact we can have on others. Beyond that, simply discovering a strength or a skill in ourselves that we didn’t see before is a reward in itself.

So where do we begin? Well, it helps to be aware of which habits we have taken on unconsciously and which habits we have chosen to exercise. This can be the first sorting station. Is there some behaviour that we repeat simply because we have always done it? Can we remember why we do it? Is it serving anyone or anything? These are questions we can ask ourselves to get closer to the roots of our routines.

Beyond that, we can further examine our routines, whether conscious or otherwise, and discern which are self-serving and which are in service of others. This can be a sloppy process, and is not necessarily cut and dry. I feel, from my own experience, however, that the more we serve others, the more we ultimately serve ourselves. (Beware –  it may not work so well the other way around…) If we simply do something good for someone else that nobody will ever find out about, we will automatically feel the good we’re doing for ourselves alongside. Another writer referred to this as ‘enlightened self-interest’ – a fitting term, I feel.

This project of exploring our routines and their foundations need not be a major overhaul, though it could end up taking some much further than they imagined. In my case, I felt compelled to go deep, exposing well-cemented selfish patterns (work ongoing…) and bringing their folly to light. It becomes hard to continue investing in such habits when their fruitlessness is clearly seen. Throughout this process, I have identified and eradicated many extreme habits and stances, including a negative view of routine itself, which I once held firmly.

For the longest time, I was trying to escape from routine altogether, evading what I felt to be something imprisoning me. The more I grew aware of the influence of routine the more I wrestled with it. Now that I have accepted the balanced nature of the power of habit, I strive to develop healthy habits and continue to identify and eliminate old patterns that no longer serve anyone.  Regular ‘check-ups’ can be helpful.

I have found that the so-called ‘mundane’ routines so many of us lead can dull our senses. This is one of the dangers of routine. It can blind us from the beauty and interconnection of life, simply because everything feels ‘the same’. We see the same people, go to the same places, and do the same things, and our senses become dull as a result. When we meet new people, in new places, doing new things, we perk up and become sharp, exercising our attention – we become alert and awake. This is not necessarily an anxiety-based wakefulness (which many mistake it for), but there is undoubtedly an element of vigilance at work. This heightened awareness, once habituated, can then be turned inward to observe ourselves and the various dysfunctional patterns and habits at work.

This is precisely what happened with my first year of cycling and traveling around Europe. After habituating this heightened state of alertness, having travelled widely and steadily, my attention was turned suddenly inward (due to heartbreak), and I finally surrendered all of my schemes and routines. I had to exercise this surrender again and again (even still I recommit), emerging afterwards to continue aiming for the lofty ideal of healthy habits in service of love.

We need not necessarily expect to accomplish anything specific with our routines (they are cycles, after all), though I feel it is important to work toward something. Understanding the subtle difference here is important. Redeveloping our routines for maximum efficiency and effectiveness is not necessarily about a finite, concrete outcome.  Nevertheless, in assessing and reshaping our routines, understanding our intentions becomes paramount. Expecting a particular result can actually become an obstacle here. Instead, we can find ourselves a less-tangible (though no less bright) guiding star and carry on working in service of our dreams.

Routine

Working from this little image above, perhaps we can blend the two, honouring the power of routine while still seeing the beauty of ‘the new’ always around us.  The ideal may well be to routinize as many healthy habits as possible without losing our awareness of their ongoing novelty as we move through them – we don’t want them to become empty rituals. With this approach, we can free up more space in our lives – more space in our hearts and minds – and we can offer this free space to those in need, through simple acts of service and love.

***

I don’t really know anything, mind you – I’m just spit-balling here. I’m simply expressing myself honestly in the moment, with the intent to incite and inspire, through relatively gentle means.  But maybe a shake would do us some good, too.  You should look inside and be your own judge.  Test yourself, if you feel called.

For instance, I just finished a 12-day juice fast, not eating any solid food the whole time – just juicing vegetables and a bit of fruit (…not blending…JUICING…a big difference). It proved to be a great test and cleansing process, and I feel so clear and clean after, even more ready to recommit to my lofty ideals, unafraid of the failures I may face along the way. I continue to trust patience and persistence to guide me.

However simply it may be, perhaps it’s time we all have a look at our routines (and our intentions) and readjust them for wider service of the greater good.

Healthy-Habits

PS…Love is always the answer.

🙂