Suited to a tea

Now that we’re back in semi-lockdown again, things like indoor dining are banned. The night before these rules were reinstated, myself and my dear friend visiting from England were discussing how we ought to frequent the local café we kept talking about and walking past, as this would be the last possible opportunity for at least three weeks and during the time that he was here. So, although it was now dark and cold outside, we stirred ourselves from the cozy nest of my home and walked the several blocks to the cafe, only to find that it had been closed that day due to unforeseen circumstances.

Disappointed, but undeterred now that we were out, we decided to take a walk round the ‘hood, including a visit to the local library, where my friend managed to find an excellent book on his current topic of study. Then we walked down a side street and had an encounter with an adorable and friendly 4-month old Siamese kitten, who was being taken for a walk by his owner. Then we popped into the local mall to see the Christmas gingerbread installation, along with passing various other twinkly lights in the ‘hood. So, we ended up having a really nice little jaunt, though far from our original plan of action.

This is only a little story, but it illustrates something I’ve encountered many times in my life – that it’s always good to start off with an idea that that touches your heart in some way and then be open and see where it takes you. It may be off in an entirely different direction, but if you are open to discovery, you are then able to enter the realm of magic, joy and infinite possibilities.

Learning to ask questions

Happy New Year everyone. This past year has been very challenging and still more uncertainty looms. This past week held additional challenges for me, as my dear friend from England was due for a visit. There was already mounds of stress in getting him here amidst all the Covid regulations which severely restricted his movements initially. So tensions were high by the time we decided to rent a car and take a few day trips throughout the province. Trying to rush around to places in the limited daylight, combined with paper-map navigation and poor signage led to the subsequent inevitability of getting lost and we ended up immersed in conflict which I felt was directed at me. At one point, it was so bad, I wondered if our 20-year friendship was in danger of ending for good.

When we got home that night, I decided instead to take a massive step back and distance myself from all of my cascading feelings of anger, disappointment and upset and to take a different approach. I actually wanted to understand how we had got to that point and decided to ask questions. Not pointed, accusatory questions, but open, enquiring ones, to genuinely understand where this person was coming from.

The results were incredible. From just asking questions, I found out things about my friend that I never knew, even though we’ve been close for such a long time. It helped me to understand things much better and to empathize with some of his struggles. And the healing was profound and we were able to move forward and beyond. Knowing what I know now will help me to stave off any potential future problems before they escalate.

As we begin a new year, where many tensions are rife and uncertainty bounds, perhaps we can make things better just by learning to ask questions. We can’t heal or resolve things until we have more information and can better understand what someone is trying to tell us. Undoubtedly, there would be a lot less conflict in the world if we just made the effort to understand each other better and I always say there are more sides to any story than most people are willing to acknowledge. Perhaps we can make this the year that we move out of being immersed in our own stories and learn to make room for the stories of others.

Better together

I had abuse hurled at me a few times this week. Ah, Christmas must be upon us, where emotions get ramped up – of all kinds. Road rage torrents against cyclists are year-round, but being shouted at while I grapple through snow – I mean, really?

An even more unnerving encounter was when I was delivering a food package and had trouble contacting the recipient or gaining access to his building. Another resident saw me and started railing off quite vehemently how I shouldn’t be providing such a service to this particular person. But within minutes of Mr. Grumpy’s departure, several nice people appeared and helped me gain access to the building and to deliver the food parcel. So I always think there are more people willing to help and be kind than those who are surly.

It’s in this way that we can always achieve more with the help of others. It’s like when I’m out with birds, I often feel dismayed when I see other people gathered about in one of ‘my’ spots. But when I get chatting to them, I hear all kinds of interesting bird stories and gain useful tips before these enthusiasts soon depart.

I often feel I need to achieve things on my own. But I’ve learned that we can achieve so much more if we work together, positively helping and reinforcing one another with dignity and respect. Our world needs us working together, not apart or in opposition. Over the holiday season, it’s more important than ever to make the effort to be helpful and kind, as we’re all feeling additional stress during our uncertain, fragile times.

The presents of presence

As the holiday season is upon us, so with it comes the stress and scramble to buy the perfect gifts for everyone close to us. Saying that, the more time I spend with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s, the more I realize that the greatest gift you can give is yourself – your time, your listening ear and your positive, patient presence.

I occasionally buy my mom gifts, like cookies or colouring books, but not very often, since she doesn’t understand what many things are for. Most of the time she doesn’t know exactly who I am either. In a way, it doesn’t matter. She’s always happy to see me because what she does understand is my smile, my laughter, my caring eyes and compassionate reassurance when I talk or play a game with her or just sit together. She picks up on my warmth, and in turn, she smiles and even chuckles sometimes, even if she doesn’t know why. But my presence makes her feel calm and secure and this is the best of what I can offer her.

I’ve repeated this act of sitting quietly with other friends and family members, and have seen the difference that it can make. We’re often so quick to rush in and want to fix things for a person and it can be very hard to stop ourselves from trying. Usually the person just wants to express themselves – to be heard, to be listened to and for their problems and concerns to be acknowledged and validated as real.

I’m not saying to never give a gift to someone – of course, as long as it is thoughtful and appropriate and given with your heart. But never underestimate the value of your presence to another person. The one thing that we can never get back is time, especially time with the person when they are gone. The pandemic has taught us the pain of being apart from those we love. When you can, give the gift of your presence to someone who is in need of your company. Because this can include all of us at some time in our lives and it is something that we can always cherish, no matter what the occasion or time of year.

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.