New year, new humanity

The New Year has entered more with a splash than a bang, where I am, as wet, winter weather cascades around me. It doesn’t feel like the most inspiring time to make resolutions or feel that things will change for the better, but it is also a good time to take stock and plan for the future in the best way that we can.

Having worked in retail over the holiday season, I saw all forms of human life at work – quite literally. I interacted with people from all backgrounds and walks of life. There’s nothing like the craziness of holiday shopping to bring out the vast array of human emotions – anxiety, frustration, exhaustion, but thankfully, elements of patience and kindness too.

It’s these last two that I want to carry over to the new year. Let’s learn to be more patient with one another and more forgiving of imperfections. People will make mistakes – it’s a natural part of being human. And while computers are potentially quicker and more efficient, they won’t greet you with a smile or a personal conversation. As computers continue to replace humans at an alarming rate, let’s savour our myriad of individual interactions while they last.

And what a difference a little bit of kindness can make to someone who may be having a bad day or is lonely and in need of contact. It’s easy and costs nothing to smile and show a bit of empathy to another. There are times you may need it too.

Everyone is talking about a buzz word for 2023. I think the one we most need in this world is ‘share’. We need to learn how to share more with each other, and with all the creatures of this world, to mete our resources more equitably, more fairly, and with more generosity and compassion.

This planet is home to more of us now than ever – human, plant and animal species. Let’s work on improving the way we live together and to be more mindful, respectful and more compassionate to one another. Perhaps then we will be inspired to focus on turning the Earth’s problems around and maybe, just maybe, this year will be the start of a brighter and healthier future for us all.

Tis the season

Many of us are gearing up to spend a bit more time than usual with various family members over the holidays. While some people are looking forward to the extra time together, for many, the prospect fills them with dread and anxiety. I don’t celebrate the holidays, but for me, get togethers with my family can often make me feel like I’ve missed the boat or was on an entirely different journey altogether.

Amidst all the angst over getting the right presents and the right food, perhaps the most valuable thing you can bring to a family gathering is your best self.  In other words, to be patient, kind, compassionate and understanding. Most importantly is the ability to reduce, if not eliminate your expectations altogether. It’s having high or unmet expectations that often causes the most grief at family gatherings. Individuals may act out their well established roles, but if you reduce your expectations and have the ability let go, you’re less likely to rise to the bait.

Of course, no one should tolerate poor or abusive behaviour, and calling it out, as well as an apology is perfectly acceptable. But if you lower your expectations and stay open and unfazed, it creates pathways for family members to respond in a positive manner.

It may be a challenging ask, but what a difference to be able to come away from familial interactions without having said things your regret, and maybe even you’ll have bridged a gap that you didn’t think was possible. Never underestimate the power of active listening, without judgement or qualification. I think if you can listen in the silence, you will intuitively know what to say or do that can make things better. And by far, listening is the biggest gift you can give your family members this holiday season.

The Three Mouseketeers

I often go to a monthly pub quiz, as I enjoy trivia and the chance to chat with people around my own age, which is the main focus of this particular Meetup group. Although the ethos of these aptly named groups is, in fact, to meet new people, there are many who want to be with the same team members each time. On this occasion, when I arrived, there were only two five-player teams with space, yet both contained people who, for whatever reason, didn’t want me to play with them.

So, I ended up joining with one other straggler and the event host, making up a diminished team of three, which I readily dubbed the ‘Mouseketeers’. There was none of the one-upmanship or cattiness (being mice?) that I’d experienced on previous teams and my two teammates couldn’t have been nicer. One of them was a repository of obscure bits of information, most notably curiously about military matters. So we worked together, discussed things, had a good laugh and a lot of fun. And, despite there only being three of us and our having made a few mistakes, on the strength of the tie-breaking question – we won the quiz! True karma indeed, David vs Goliath style. Even with the cold shoulder I got from several people on their way out, I still left the place on a high. I’d a lovely evening with two kind individuals, while absorbing lots of random factoids and surprising myself with the tid bits I pulled out of the recesses of my mind.

Trivia matters aside, the biggest question of the night is – how hard is it to be nice to people? It’s not necessary to love everyone, but some basic courtesy and respect go a long way. You don’t have to live with these people, but you do have to live with yourself and your actions towards others. Being mean to other people has the effect of rebounding onto your consciousness and eating away at your spirit, so you literally lose, as was the case on this night. Conversely, showing kindness to people enables our hearts to broaden and our worlds to expand into new experiences, and at times we visibly reap the rewards – a $25 gift certificate in this case. 😊

Cat caper

The other day, I was cycling in a park by the river. It was a mild, beautiful day, full of rich autumnal colours shimmering in the sunlight. I stopped to sit at a picnic bench – not somewhere I ever sit – usually favouring a spot further down the river, but as this bench was bathed in sunlight, I decided to sit there for a short while. When I got up to leave, I looked behind me and was amazed to see a cat carrier – with a fully grown cat sitting quietly inside. The door was partly open, but the cat wasn’t making any moves to get out.

What on earth was a cat doing here – had she been abandoned? The signs looked like it – a broken carrier, the door left ajar. A better question was, what was I going to do about it? I didn’t feel I could just leave her there to her unrequested fate. I immediately thought of calling cat shelters, but while I had my cell phone with me, I had no means of looking anything up.

I decided to call a friend who used to have a cat, to see if she or her partner could source some numbers of shelters for me to call. It was lucky I caught them, as I only had their home number, and they were on their way out. Every shelter I called greeted me with an answering machine. I called back my friend, and though they lived the other side of town, they decided to hop over and fetch the cat.

I guarded the cat over the next hour as I waited for them, while the sun retreated behind the hills, bringing a cold chill to the air. When my friends arrived, they duly coaxed the cat into their sturdier cat carrier and cared for her at home until they could take her to a vet – a visit which yielded a healthy cat but with no microchip to establish ownership. I went back to the area where I’d found her and neighbouring streets, but could see no trace of any ‘lost cat’ signs or any indication that she had been there.

So, through a series of ‘happenstance’, my friends – who were apparently considering getting another cat (when the time was right) , now have a beautiful feline who, having recently visited her, seems content and to be settling in well to her new home.

While there are so many questions about how and why this cat had been left by the river, in some ways, the bigger question is, had I not come along, what would have happened to her? Would others have stopped to help or just left her to her fate? It raises the question of what our responsibility is to one another, including animals. Is it possible to care about such creatures, without having a vested interest?

Maybe this cat wasn’t directly a part of my world, but I feel that I’m a part of hers, in that we’re all living and breathing and sharing this earth together. To abandon a creature in need – especially when it is possible to help – is to abandon a part of ourselves and our humanity. And next time, we may be the creature in need of help and hoping a passerby will help us too.

Creating the space for magic

It’s a while since I’ve written an entry. I had a difficult transition back to Canada and only now, following an exhausting stint working at an international film festival, I once again have time to write and to be out in nature once more.

I’ve been feeling particularly sad, having left all of my animal friends in England and have been trying to visit my local beauty spots, to be amongst all the splendorous local birds and the cheeky red squirrels. The other day, I went to one of my favourite places along a river, especially a quiet stretch in the woods, with the sound of the gushing water downstream usually my sole companion. But not this time.

Apparently, there was a charity school run going on, and there were lots and LOTS of kids huffing and puffing through the woods and cheering each other on. While I appreciated their enthusiasm, I berated myself for my bad timing, and cycled on, struggling to find some peace and to connect with some animals. But there was very little of such activity, even at a usually busy set of bird feeders,.

Finally, on my way home, prepared to leave without making much of a connection, I went past the feeders again, just to leave out some seeds and peanuts. While I was taking them out of my bag, all of a sudden a load of chickadees appeared, hopping on my bike and trying to come to my hand. So I duly put some seeds in my palm and the chickadees (and one emboldened nuthatch) flew to and from my hand.

When I grabbed a moment to fill up the feeders, scores of other birds came – woodpeckers, cardinals, mourning doves, ducks and blue jays, along with a chipmunk and a scrappy red squirrel, and to top it all, a very naughty racoon, who proceeded to scoop up everything he could get with his dexterous hands. My heart filled up once again, immersed in the magic.

But how do we bring this magic into our lives? You need to ask for it, sure, but we can’t necessarily produce the exact circumstances for it to occur. It’s not so much being in the right place at the right time, but being in the right space within ourselves. We don’t so much create magic as create the space for magic to enter. If we demand magic, instead, we are projecting and filling up the space with our anxieties, leaving nowhere for the magic to find its way in.

It can be hard to step back and let go of our overwhelming desires. But in my situation, it’s only when I ‘let go and let God,’ as the saying goes, that there was space for these beloved creatures to find their way to me. Or, for the racoon, to find and fill everyone else’s space too. 🐺

A watery darkness

I talk a lot about the importance of generating joy and what could be more joyful than a trip? I especially thought Sweden would be a naturally joyful place. But the trouble is, you take your baggage with you, sometimes oversized with emotional items, as in my case, where my anxiety and fuzzy thinking packed themselves and came along with me.

They emerged in full force one day when I went for a walk in the countryside. A local told me about a nature reserve with a lake about an hour’s walk from where I was staying, continuing straight along one road. It sounded simple enough, but of course, I should have known better. Due to the aforementioned fuzzy thinking, I didn’t even double check where I was going on a map or write down the name of the place or even take the phone number of the people I was staying with. Worst of all, while I followed the signs to the naturreservat, I didn’t confirm with the very few people I passed that I was, in fact, going the right way, and missed an unexpected turn and got incredibly lost. It was a hot, sunny day and I’d been walking for two hours. I proceeded to have a meltdown, and was incredibly upset, crying out and raging against the universe, while also pleading with it for a solution.

I eventually encountered a cyclist, who kindly put me back in the right direction and then I met another girl who confirmed that a sign I ignored (thinking it was for somewhere else) was the one I should have followed. After another bout of walking, I eventually found the reserve and a very serene lake, in which two figures were bobbing, mainly a young couple that was also staying in my accommodation. I was not only very surprised to see them, but also immensely pleased, because I had already decided I couldn’t face walking another two hours back in the hot sun and was not looking forward to testing the Swedish attitudes to hitchhiking. But the universe came through, as it always does, and my two rescuers even told me on the car journey back that they were originally headed to another lake, but at the last minute, decided to try this one.

There are so many things I could learn from this experience, other than the importance of being focused and prepared, and of course, asking for directions. But most of all, the essentialness of being fully present in one’s situation. I was too busy fixating over finding the lake and freaking out over being lost, that I couldn’t enjoy all the wonderous creatures around me on my walk – the beautiful flowers and tiny blue butterflies and even a snake. How much better would it have been if I could have accepted my predicament, appreciated the nature around me and just CALMLY turned around and retraced my steps.

Sometimes we have to work hard at not letting a situation shatter our peace. Because without that peace, you are immersed in your agitation and are separated from everything and everyone else. And without the joy and openness that comes from being at peace, you leave yourself vulnerable to darker emotions creeping in and can’t access the beauty and magic of everything around you.

Flight of faith

Recently, I’ve been planning a trip to Scandinavia – somewhere I’d always wanted to go. But I was having working out the details, and I found myself wracked with doubt, confusion and uncertainty about whether I should be going at all. The stress and anxiety got so bad that I was on the verge of cancelling the trip altogether – and forfeit all the hundreds of pounds I’d already invested in various bookings.

Finally, one night, when the anxiety was crippling me, I went to one of my special places in nature. I knew the roar of the rushing river would help calm and steady my nerves. Plus, I went to ask for a sign. This river is potential place to see kingfishers, though they’re definitely not easy to spot. I asked the universe to send me one as a symbol that I should be doing this trip at all.

 I spent nearly an hour amidst barking dogs and loud children, scanning the river and seeing nothing.  I prayed very hard to show me this sign, and was on the point of giving up and leaving, when I suddenly heard the elusive bird’s distinctive whistle. I stood on a raised mound and seconds later, a shot of brilliant, iridescent blue flew past right in front of me, followed immediately by the roar of a plane overhead. I felt an immediate release of pain and a healing flooding in. All the mania and uncertainty fled from me as swiftly as the bird and gave me the first bit of peace I had felt in a long time.

Faith is such a fundamental aspect of our being, and yet, how many people engage with it? Whatever it is that you believe in, having the strength of that connection is invaluable. Sometimes, when things get bad, faith is literally the only thing I have left to keep me going. It helps me to access that sometimes small inner voice and give me guidance on what to do when I’m plagued with indecision.

Even so, messages can get blocked or obscured by the wheels of doubt and confusion spinning round, and sometimes you have to outrightly ask the universe for a sign of what to do and then make the space to receive the answer. It’s a way of asking for help, by reaching out to something bigger and more powerful than yourself.

Faith is also what creates the bridge between your ideas and desires and the ability to enact them. It can boost your fears with a belief that you can succeed and give you the confidence to propel you forward. Faith is what anchors you to the bedrock of the earth, while letting you reach for the stars.

Joy from above

Following up on he heart and soul divide, I had another incident recently where I was torn between them. One plan was helping my friend with his monthly musical group in another town, serving tea and chatting with the participants, the other option staying put to attend the local carnival and once-a-year opportunity to climb to the top of the church bell tower, an experience I had done once before and absolutely loved. I was really torn until the last minute, fully expecting to abandon my plans and go with Trev and then surprising myself by watching him drive off. Though I felt quite guilty, ultimately, it proved to be the right decision.

I had so much fun climbing the never-ending winding staircase to see the amazing views over the town and watching the cutest – and shortest – carnival procession ever. By the time Trev came home – having managed fine without me – I was bursting with energy to tell him about all the quirky encounters I’d had that day. My joy was infectious and lifted him up too from his exhausting afternoon.

It’s always worthwhile to want to help, and there are times when choosing to be on hand over fulfilling your own wishes is the right way to go, even if it results in crushing disappointment. But sometimes the greatest gift you can give to someone is your joy. When you have followed your heart and have honoured your deepest desires, it generates a buoyancy and joy which you can pass on to other people to give them a boost and raise their energy too. And a gift of happiness coming from the depth of your inner being is so much richer than one delivered from guilt, as it has the potential to be given again and again, knowing no bounds.

Walking the line

I’m back again in England, visiting my dear friend in the quaint old market town where he lives. I like to go for walks in the early morning along the river when the sun is shining. One morning, my friend wanted to come along, and although this is usually my ‘reflecting time’, he seemed keen to join me, so I acquiesced.

We went past the quarry and were en route to the river, when he had a strong desire for us to divert and venture through what I call ‘the weird woods.’ This is a bit of woodland which should be nice, but has such odd energy, partly because it borders on a huge aggregate processing works. I usually avoid it, but he had such a strong yearning and I didn’t want to let him down. The woods were – as expected – very weird, dark, overgrown and uninviting, with slippery, unnavigable paths. I couldn’t wait to escape back to my usual walk and regain some of my inner peace.

We often feel torn between our head and our hearts, but equally, I feel, are the struggles between our heart and soul. Many times, family, friends or loved ones pull us in one direction – out of loyalty, obligation or genuine love – while our spirit calls us to go in another direction, driven by an inner compulsion.

It’s a tough choice and at times, unwinnable, often involving an unsatisfying compromise. While we need heartfelt connections, if you neglect your soul too much, it can whittle away and begin to die. The best scenario is when your heart and spirit align – where you are on a similar path with those closest to you, or where you can divide your time between being with them and having the space to follow your soul’s journey.

It’s an ongoing tension and one that’s rarely easy to resolve. For me personally, I only feel my alignment of heart and spirit when I’m out in my special places in nature, with the birds, the water and the trees, the only time I can feel a sense of calm and contentment and not feel pulled in a hundred directions. I think the more you can find that place – be it somewhere external or internal – where your heart and soul come together – the greater the opportunities you have for finding a sense of lasting inner peace.

Not ducking out

The other day, while walking in my local park, I had to stage a ‘duck intervention.’ Not as dramatic as it sounds, but what I felt to be pretty important, nonetheless. A family was perched over the pond feeding the wood ducks. When I saw the telltale bag of bread in the father’s hand, I knew I had to overcome my hesitation and stage an intervention.

I hate ruining others’ enjoyment, especially when they’re interacting with nature, and honestly, people always think they’re doing something nice feeding ducks’ bread. I did it too as a child. But really, it’s the worst thing for them. It swells up their stomachs and has little nutritional value for them, so they could end up malnourished and unable to fly. Better alternatives are corn, peas, oats, seeds, lettuce or rice.

No one likes to be told off, and I don’t like chastising people either. But neither did I want the ducks to suffer unnecessarily. So I tried a different tack, by approaching the man and saying, ‘Hi there. Do you happen to have any corn?’ When the man obviously said no, I explained the above scenario and how such vegetables or grains would be better alternatives to bring next time. I then invited him and his family to enjoy the ducks and went on my merry way. He was fine and, most of the time – though not always – people are receptive, as they generally don’t want to harm the ducks that they’re taking pleasure in feeding.

I’ve had a few other incidents lately where my initial reaction would have been to rush in and fix a problem by criticizing the action, but it’s far better still to offer a solution, vis a vis the ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness’ response. This is especially challenging for me living a vegan, surrounded by meat eaters. It would be easy (and tempting) for me to criticize people for their food choices, but if people are open, I feel that it’s better to offer what I perceive are healthier and kinder alternatives.

Everyone wants to feel that what they’re doing is right and it’s natural to want to correct others who you feel are doing wrong. I think, where it’s warranted, it’s okay not to ‘duck out’ of a potential confrontation and to inform and educate people, but with a view to offer a viable alternative instead. It makes the situation better for everyone – especially the ducks.