Keeping commitments

It snowed one day this week. The kind of wet, rain-like snow accompanied by wind that seems to blow in your face, no matter what direction you’re facing – at least on a bicycle. I found myself in this predicament because I had committed that day to deliver some charitable gift bags on my bike.

It was a long cycle to the pick-up point, which took me 40 minutes, as I had to cycle extra slowly through the snow, with visibility being very limited, as the snow careened into my face. Then two hours doing deliveries and back again. By the time I got home, face dripping, I was thoroughly exhausted physically and mentally.

Part of me wanted to write this off as a ‘bad experience’ but then, I have this blog to write! Actually, while reflecting on what I was going to say, I ended up repeating the above scenario another day, this time in winds which developed suddenly up to 50km/hour – very scary! But I’m still keeping to my original thoughts, that while both experiences were a struggle, I don’t think this kind of adversity is necessarily a bad thing. Rising to such challenges can show you what you’re truly made of, and the achievement can strengthen and give you a boost of energy which you can then hold in reserve.

But on top of that, I also think it’s extremely important to try and keep whatever commitments that you have made. First off, to consider very carefully what you commit to before doing so, and then to treat these endeavors seriously and with respect. We live in an age now where we click and unclick onto items and experiences, and where there is a tendency to drop out of things that don’t suit our mood at the time they come round. Of course, there are instances that arise where you have to change your plans or withdraw from commitments, but I don’t think it’s something we should approach lightly.  

If anything, I feel that keeping our commitments is a muscle we all need to exercise more because not only do the people around us need this level of care and commitment, but so does the world, if we have any hope of fixing any of the problems that need addressed. We should all strive to be part of the solution, in whatever way we can, starting with providing the help that we say we will. In the meantime, I’m very much hoping for some mild days of sunshine…

Snowflake cardigan

Much as I think this would make a great name for a band, this story is actually about a sweater. I was in the market for a new cardigan to replace one I have that’s falling apart, and I wanted a light material with a zipper, surprisingly hard to find. However, while the aisles of a voluminous thrift shop, I found one – not black, like I’d wanted, but purple with pink and white snowflakes. It was so pretty that I couldn’t resist, but when I tried it on, it looked completely different and just not right. I went to put it back and then was transfixed by how nice it was and so tried it on again – off, on, fuss – repeat, until I had finally decided that it just wasn’t going to work.

At the moment when I was putting it back on its hanger, a saleslady came by and remarked on how lovely it was. I explained my dilemma of the on vs off scenario, and when I tried it on, she immediately proclaimed, ‘Oh, you look frumpy in that. Don’t buy it!’ I was surprised at her candidness but was actually relieved that she confirmed what I’d been thinking too.

Later, I got to thinking about how something can seem so right and then when we ‘try it on’ it doesn’t suit us at all. This isn’t that unusual, but maybe what’s more surprising is how often we still want the item regardless, perhaps because we feel we ought to. Or maybe the object or experience genuinely looks appealing from the outside and so we feel that we should want it – maybe because societal pressures make us believe that we need it in order to be happy.

I think if you try something and it doesn’t work for you, no matter how objectively desirable it seems, it’s perfectly okay to reject it. We are all the architects of our own lives and must construct the details of our own dwelling according to what feels right to us. And just like snowflakes, this will be unique and different for everyone, so we must tailor our experiences to what better fits our own sensibilities or beliefs. This last metaphor would work better if I could actually sew a button, which I can’t. Thank goodness for zippers, or in desperate times – safety pins – until the right fit truly comes along.

Go to the flow

Like many people over the course of the pandemic, I’ve become very socially isolated. While I’m grateful for the myriad of online opportunities and meetups, for me personally, they don’t replace in-person contact or leave me with the same depth of connection or degree of fulfilment.

I was glad, therefore, that on a recent weekend, a meetup group I’d been a member of for a while but hadn’t met with for a long time, opted for a session on the patio of a restaurant. It was a chilly day, and though the heat lamps provided were valiant in their efforts, they didn’t succeed in providing much warmth. However, a dozen of us huddled at the tables in our jackets, scarves and hats.

In the conversations that followed, I didn’t feel that I was really connecting with anyone in terms of them ‘getting where I was at.’ However, there was one woman I felt drawn towards for some reason. When we finally spoke, I discovered that, like me, she has a parent suffering from Alzheimer’s, but was earlier on in the journey of care. After listening for a while to her story, I found that I could provide her with some suggestions and advice, based on my own experience.

This act of helping immediately boosted my energy and made me feel less alone. Though I had wanted someone to listen to my problems, by listening to those of another and offering what I had to give, I suddenly felt completely full. It’s a strange paradox, to receive by giving, but one that always seems to ring true.

For me, the way it works is that the universe has an infinite source of love readily available when we open ourselves up to it. When we offer our help to another with kindness, courage and compassion – the wellspring of our humanity – we become an embodiment of this pure love, and so it fills us up.

This is why I feel grateful whenever opportunities arise where I can give, both in pre-arranged volunteering, but also in spontaneous encounters, because I know that these opportunities will nourish and fulfil me, connecting me in a way that I am indivisible from my whole environment.

Karmic currency

Last week the main zipper on my backpack broke. The bag was still functional but not as much as it was before. It seems hard in these days of our disposable culture, discarding and replacing damaged items, to get things repaired at a reasonable price. Personally, I prefer to use things as long as I can, and I was really fond of this backpack, especially since as I age, I need to put everything in the same places or I will never find anything or remember to take things with me. Sound familiar, anyone?

Having called up a few places that were asking for crazy prices to replace the zipper, I gave up and went for a walk. I’m new to the area where I’m currently living, and I decided to walk up a different side street. Lo and behold, in front of one of the houses was a sandwich board advertising clothing alterations and repairs. When I called the number, the very friendly woman said yes, it was no problem to fix the zipper and she charged me a fraction of the price I was quoted elsewhere. Result!

Other than the added benefit of supporting local initiatives – something so vital in our post-pandemic age, for me, this episode the system of putting out to the universe what you need and trusting that it will come to you – though not usually in the way that you expect.

I’ve had several incidents of this happen lately, the most wonderful one being the rental of a digital piano, me currently being a pianist without a piano. The main shop that rents keyboards told me they had nothing in stock and no idea if and when any would be available. I left it for a few days and went back to look at a keyboard I was willing – in desperation – to buy, though it was pricey and not quite what I was looking for. I mentioned to a (different) salesman how I would prefer to rent and he told me that a digital piano had been returned that very day – a beautiful Roland which I snapped up with immense joy.

Though of course, I’m not suggesting this is the only way to obtain things, I think the beauty of what I call ‘karmic currency’ is that things are infinitely available, if and when we’re willing to give up our impatience and control in acquiring them and just trust that the universe will provide what we need.

The flip side is, of course, that we also need to ‘pay out’ when opportunities arise. So not knowing if we’re in ‘karmic credit or debt’, you end up with an ever-flowing dance of reciprocity, reinforcing not only our bond of community with one another, but also a communion with greater powers beyond our reach. So in addition to populating our world with unexpected surprises, this web of interconnectedness will hopefully make us feel less alone and uncertain, as we wend our way through our own particular challenges.

Creating space

I think one of the hardest things to let go of is an injustice or wrong you feel has been done to you. We can actively try not to think about the situation, but reminders can re-enter your world that stir it all up again and make you question everything that has passed before.

I received such a stimulus a week ago by way of an email regarding a book I had devoted an entire year working on and putting together, but due to the existing power dynamics, had been actively shut out of the final processes of its publication. So although I was the primary editor, I never actually saw or heard anything more about my work and only discovered by accident that the book had gone to print and was due to be launched. This email was from the publisher asking where to post me a copy of the book.

It’s hard to summarize calmly about the hurt, anger and indignation I’ve felt at the cruel and shameful way I was treated over the course of several months of this project. However, while I feel it is absolutely right to stand up to injustices where people are being treated unfairly, when it is your own battle, there is also the time to know when the fight is done –where the act of fighting is causing more harm to you than good, and to start the painful but necessary process of letting go.

For me, if I know that I’ve acted in the best possible way, with honesty, conscientiousness and integrity, it is this that gives me the strength to walk away. The battle is only truly lost when we allow whatever negativity to poison and consume us, to take over our world and leave us with little space for anything else.

 Letting go is often a process, akin to grieving. But the more we are able to let go – to summon up our resilience and move forward and beyond our grief, the more we are creating space for new energy to flow in, which will heal our souls and take us to better places with further opportunities to grow.

Animal magic

Yesterday, I was feeling a bit down, struggling to deal with a situation I’ll attempt to write about next time.  I was out on my bike, and although it was decidedly grey and a bit cold, I decided to go to come home via a big park to take in the splendor of the autumn colours. The dazzling hues of yellow, orange and red were truly uplifting, but I had an even greater surprise that awaited me.

I was feeling hungry, so stopped on my bike in a field near some bushes to dig out a small granola bar I had brought with me as a snack. No sooner had I unzipped my backpack than a red topped downy woodpecker landed on my bag, peering in, as if to say, ‘And where’s my treat?’ I was quite surprised and then immediately sorry that I didn’t have any nuts or seeds with me, as I usually do when planning an outing in nature.

Well, there was nothing for it, but to share my granola bar, hoping it was suitable avian fare. I broke it up into little pieces, and the woodpecker, which had flown away, soon returned, popping onto my hand to snatch the little nuggets. He was soon joined by other chickadees and nuthatches – some feeding out of my hand, some on the ground, along with the ubiquitous black squirrels scurrying about for any missed offerings.

The scene instantly transformed me into a joyful, timeless space. It never ceases to amaze me the restorative power of animals – of all kinds – to our wellbeing. It put me in mind of a donkey sanctuary I visited recently, run by a dedicated older couple, who care for rescued donkeys. It’s truly a labour of love and heartening to see how well looked after the donkeys are, but my most recent visit taught me something more. The man has dementia, and his wife said that looking after the animals gives him a purpose and a focus to his everyday life and that the animals have truly rescued him.

Animals give by just being – by exuding a strength just from existing in their true natures, pursuing their basic needs with a clarity and focus we humans could benefit from emulating. The donkeys, like the birds, were engrossed in eating – delighting in their treat of pickled hay, and my just watching them eat was soothing and grounding, reminding me of the basic necessities of life and being present within them. Such moments release my fragmented thoughts to flee in the wind.

The gift of nature – of wildlife – is that it is always there, always available, always giving of its presence, ready for us to receive and lift us from our fractured state and join and be part of an eternal whole.

Tickled pink

I had a lot weightier things I’d planned to write about this week, but instead, I’m going to write about a pink hat. This venturing off piste from something a bit more serious to a more lightweight and fun entry kind of sums up the story too. Before I set out the other day, there was, needless to say, no thought about a pink hat entering my life in any description, but enter it did, despite the fact that I set out looking for more practical things like a kitchen colander and shoes. 

Somehow I ended up (as I often do) looking at hats, which hold a strange fascination for me, perhaps because I metaphorically wear so many different ones in my life. At least this time, I was drawn into looking at useful, warm hats, unlike the wildly impractical Downton Abbey style cloche hat I recently bought in London on a whim and then had a bedevil of a time packing and carting back to Canada without wrecking it (cue – schlepping it with me on board the plane). So at least I thought, as I plunged into the alluring array of cozy looking hats, this would be warm and practical, especially a non-nonsense black hat. So how did I end up with a bright pink one? Suddenly in that moment, I didn’t want to be practical and sensible. I wanted a bit of colour and life and joy exuding out of the top of my head. And so, the bright pink hat is what ended up in my basket.

Needless to say, I didn’t come home with shoes or a colander (though I did look for them, truly) but instead, unintentionally making an outward statement of what I internally would like to manifest – exuberance, happiness and light – and perhaps the pink hat will also succeed in making others smile too. I think it’s important to be the change we want to be, walk the talk, or in this case, wear the hat that speaks your truth to the world. And that truth can also entail veering wildly off a sensible course and just living and breathing and celebrating life – spontaneity being the gloved hand of creativity. Ah gloves, but that’s another story…😊

The act of giving

I think we all face difficult decisions trying to live our best lives while fulfilling what I call ‘karmic responsibilities’ to other people and commitments that we’ve made. Sometimes it can feel like a constant pitched battle of having to choose between situations that impossibly conflict with one another, and that whatever choice we make, we will either feel guilty for neglecting our responsibilities or disappointment at missing out.

 I think the truly fortunate people are ones whose passions align with their responsibilities, such as those who care for animals or children, for example. But for many of us, responsibilities like those to family or community members can often result in us feeling robbed of spontaneity, freedom and joy.

There is certainly no perfect fix for this, and it can be a constant struggle to get the balance right, so that we are not always feeling anxious or unhappy. I think at times when we feel that we have chosen to sacrifice our time, our energy over doing something we truly want to do, the most healing action we can take is to try and step back and to view it as an opportunity to revisit our shared humanity. This can be hard when we’re immersed in the midst of a challenging situation, but it’s worth considering that we are all in a continual dance of giving and taking, and the act of giving can be in response to a time when you have taken in the past, or more pertinently, you are making the space for reciprocity to occur in future when you need to ask for help and will receive it from others.

Though it can feel upsetting or draining or even a wrong choice at the time, I think when we meet our karmic responsibilities and give, we are embodying humanity’s greatest treasure – the gift of compassion. And while it is equally important to have compassion for ourselves and our own needs, and not to neglect them and to honour them when we can, when we can give with compassion, we are actively engaged in a process of liberating our souls. And if we can develop the ability to give with compassion in a way that also brings us joy, this is the time when we are truly free.

A bridge of sighs

I wish I could say I’m writing this from Venice, but for me, Chipping Sodbury has equivalent charms. As I was looking at a little bridge over the River Frome on my early morning walk, it occurred to me what a wonderful name for a bridge this was. What is it about bridges that makes us want to sigh when we see them? Is it the hypnotic flow of the water rushing past underneath? Or is it the significance of the melding together of two places and the transition that takes place between them?

I’ve always been very drawn to bridges, especially old stone bridges, which must have seen an enormous amount of traffic of all kinds over the centuries. I’m sure it’s because I’m someone who lives in two different places of the world and is always trying to straddle the substantial distance between them. I think also that most of us have some kind of divisions in our lives that split our affiliations and loyalties. It’s human nature – to be a part of a family and move away from it or be divided between a job and a relationship – so many ways we section ourselves, especially as the world has opened up and is full of infinite possibilities.

In this way we all need effective bridges in our lives – something that helps us navigate between two areas over what is often a turbulent, unsettling divide between them. I think if we can all find what can work for us as a bridge and how we can use it to safely navigate across our different realms, we would find these transitions less harrowing and fraught. Whether this bridge is a specific location, activity, person or even state of meditation, we all need a safe divider to help us translate, transform and to be in peace in the different spaces of our lives.

On the road

My friend and I recently attempted another road trip. We enjoy ourselves – much of the time – but the driving aspect is always stressful. He drives, I navigate. And we’re talking paper maps – no Satnav. Sometimes it works and a lot of the time it doesn’t, as I’m directionally challenged and he won’t get involved in figuring out how to get somewhere. So we often get lost and sometimes turn up late for things – another source of stress. I also have to plan everything and he just goes along with it without any input into what we do on these trips. Fine, but when there’s a problem, he tends to overreact.

So such things cause me to be annoyed with him, but I’ve started to realize that when problems arise, reacting negatively doesn’t remotely help the situation. It’s hard, but with some newly acquired self-restraint, I’m learning that instead of lashing out, to take a step back and try to approach the situation calmly. Not always easy, especially in the spur of the moment, but what helps me is to look at the situation from an entirely different perspective. Many people behave negatively or overreact because they are suffering in some way internally. We all have our own particular anxieties and issues that lead us to act in outward negative ways – myself included. Wouldn’t I want someone to show compassion to me in these moments, not anger or irritation?

So this is what I (try to) do now is to modify my own reaction – to act instead with compassion and to focus on finding a solution to the problem. This decision to let go and approach the situation calmly has brought me so much peace, and more profoundly, into a whole other realm of humility – the realization of how vulnerable we all are and our sense of connectivity and responsibility to one another as members of humanity. I’ll write more about humility another time, but please don’t get annoyed with me for leading you on and not saying more about it now. 😊