Sunday, 21 May 2017

quiet devotion:PHOTOGRAPHS


Sitting at my computer, I know it's time for a new post. "Why?" I wonder.   "Because" I answer.

As I begin to write, my word-thoughts begin to respond to this question.



A friend came to visit this afternoon to reconnect and to see my new photography work. It came up early in our conversation that we are so very fortunate in our lives: living in Canada, in a beautiful part of the country, having a comfortable home and a warm bed, abundant food and enough money to make choices for our physical and spiritual well being.  J talked about the guilt she can feel, while seeing so many who are less fortunate.

Or less lucky, I added.

Because it is truly by chance, not as a result of my own efforts or abilities, that I was born to Mildred and Lou Ritchie in Montreal in the 1940s.



And I know that guilt sits on the low scale of useful emotions.




I read of Jim Estill, a Guelph business man who put up $1.5 million to bring 58 Syrian families to Canada, helping to find housing and employment for them.  And the investor who, in 1981, was invited to give a commencement speech at the New York Public School 121 in New York.  Looking out at the almost entirely black and Hispanic audience, Eugene Lang realized that the speech he had prepared was totally inappropriate for these students.  Instead, he talked of Martin Luther King's 'I have a Dream' speech, saying that everyone should have a dream.  He then impulsively told his audience that he would give a scholarship to each student in the graduating class admitted to a four-year college. This offer led to the establishment of over 200 I Have a Dream programs, that work with students beginning in grade 3, to support them as they move through school.

These two men and the larger support teams they helped to establish, are a beacon of hope in our often tangled and seemingly hopeless world.

These grand undertakings are a tremendous inspiration, though not a path for me to follow.  How can I contribute to the well-being of my community?  What can be my private giving?




During my conversation with J, I became aware of a subtle way of gifting that I practice.  The careful attention I pay to what is around me. The listening. The noticing. The seeing.

The teenager who walks alone. A woman leaning on her walker.  The disabled man from whom I buy Street News. The client at the food bank who selects a pair of reading glasses, donated by my neighbour.

The patterns that sand and light make.  The tiny tracks left by sea birds. The broken reflection of a pink-tinted cloud in the water. Hoar frost coloured by the morning's first light.

Mary Oliver writes that "Attention is the beginning of devotion."

I am exhibiting my photographs in our Victoria studio in about three weeks: Sunday, June 11.

When I looked on-line, #3 in Mirriam Webster's Learner's Dictionary was the definition I was most drawn to: "devotions [plural] : prayer, worship, or other religious activities that are done in private rather than in a religious service."  If I substitute "spiritual" for "religious" it almost fits.



When I add to this the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi-  “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay” (Altalang.com), it becomes what my camera and I together bequeath to the world.

quiet devotion



To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common--this is my symphony.
WILLIAM HENRY CHANNING.


Friday, 21 April 2017

wonder woman adieu


I'm writing this sitting in a shallow hole in the ground.  Not the dirt and pebble sort of hole but rather the feeling of being not in the sunlight but rather in the deep shade. Is this what depression feels like?  Maybe it's my hypoglycemia?  It's nearly noon and I haven't eaten today as I'm waiting for Brian to bring home fresh bread after his bike ride.  After a week of matzos, the idea of a baguette is alluring.



The feeling of semi-darkness doesn't feel at all permanent; it's not as if the hole will be a lasting dwelling place.  It seems rather as if I'm being pushed to notice and examine what it is in my life that does not bring me sunshine and joy.

To notice what feeds my soul.  To see what chips away at it.



Yesterday I experienced the light and the darkness in the same afternoon. On my way to a constituency meeting supporting the refugee family Congregation Emanu-El sponsored, I saw a pile of cut bamboo laying near a fence.  They were long and beautifully coloured.  To see if they were available to take, I knocked on the door to ask. The young woman said that I could help myself.  A fast text to Brian...would he come after my meeting to load some into our SUV.  Yes, he would.


Then the meeting.  We were 8 sitting around the table and it was clear that the majority  of us were hugely involved.  I was in the minority.  My ancient "I'm not good enough" messages started a relay race around my head. Why really am I still part of this group? I really like the family so I don't want to pull out, but what's my purpose in remaining?  "I'm not doing enough" partnering with "it's not really what I do well" is a powerful duo!

Move ahead an hour and there I was sorting through the bamboo, making a pile of the ones I wanted to take. Choosing by colour and width and appraising each piece with care as if it were essential that I love each one.  While Brian was threading them into the car I chose more and more until even I had to admit that we had enough.

Laying them out on our deck, one by one, I wondered if my singular focus and quiet attention was akin to meditation. While I have read several of Jon Kabat-Zinn's books, and taken a multi-week series of classes based on his teachings, the seated meditations uncovered itches I didn't know I had and thoughts that rolled rampant in my head.

There were no distractions as I sorted and lay the smooth bamboo side-by-side.



I was doing something that gave me joy.  (Never mind that I'm not sure what will become of the 100 and more hollow "stakes"!)

Usually my writing flows easily; not so with this entry.  It is halting, as if I'm afraid of the direction it will take. As if I may uncover a truth that exposes myself, a truth that hurts.

Because of this apprehension, I know I am getting close.

Part of it is staring me right in the face.  For almost a year I have been talking with Brian as he complains that he is unable to do as much gardening, biking and chores as he has been accustomed to doing.

 My response is singular: "You are 70 years old now- you were 36 when we lived in Duncan and spent most of every day outside working on the land."

Could age be a factor in how I'm feeling?  Could it be that I am having great difficulty in maintaining the belief that I am Wonder Woman, the demon who works in 2 gardens, volunteers at the food bank, walks and drives to take hundreds of photographs. An artist who will be exhibiting her work again this summer.  A woman who is on the Board of the co-op building in which we have a suite, which at present involves overseeing the redecoration of parts of the common space there. A Woman who does not crash.

Now, Wonder Woman doesn't get tired and fed up and crabby. Right?

Well,  I am tired. I am nudging towards discontent and more than halfway to crabby.

It may not simply be the chronology.  It is most likely a combination of factors: stamina* choice * desire * self-acknowledgement  * not giving a damn fighting with caring too much *

I am noticing this shift now as we lead up to the crucial B.C. election. Before the federal election, Brian and I erected innumerable NDP signs. I made sandwiches and cookies for the volunteers. I donated much needed money. I was keen and vocal.  This time around I am only donating cash.

I tell myself that I just don’t have the energy.



                          Maybe I am simply rationing it. Saving it up.

I remember that when I turned 59 or 60 I felt a shift: I needed to cut back on heavier physical work.  At 65 I actually hired someone to come and help divide huge plants in our garden.

At 69 I began to simplify our gardens. Now, at 73,  I'm in the process of simplifying my life!



At my life's centre is family. Definitely Family.  Photography has nudged into second place.  It is the concentric circles, like ripples in a pond, that seem less clear.

While I don't have a large circle of friends, I treasure the dear ones I do have. I know that friendships take caring attention and as my stamina reduces, my fear is that they might slip away if I'm not vigilant. I try to remember that attention isn't only my job, but theirs as well.



I am also greatly attached to the clients at St. John the Divine's food bank, so that's a keeper. We had 86 clients today. I have said this before... contact with a caring volunteer might be the single positive interaction of their day.

My time with them is a gift to myself.





I love my garden. It may not be quite as perfect as when Wonder Woman was in charge and when she was on the Garden Tour,  but it's still beautiful in its abundance.  I still love to share plants with my neighbours even though I can't always remember the plant's name!

I say "no" more often and think longer before I say "yes".

I am more selfish.

The Thesaurus offers "egotistical" "greedy" and "self-centered" as synonyms for selfish, but I see it rather as keeping plenty of good stuff to nurture myself.  Not taking stuff from others, but rather replenishing my body and soul with love and careful consideration.


Hello!  I have reappeared into the sunshine.












Monday, 6 March 2017

and everyone eventually dies

As I am on the other side of seventy, and because my genes have not been passed to me by centenarians, I do think more often about how I might feel when my death is imminent.


I knew a woman who died recently and her dear friend said she had been at peace as she left this earth.  M had traveled, hiked and biked during her life.  She was loved by friends and, being in a healing profession, she touched a wide circle of people in a personal way.

M was spiritual. She was kind. Her only regret was that she hadn't found her soulmate.

In my December 20 blog entry, I wrote about the zig-zag road I have been following as I continue to move closer to a place of comfort and joy in my being.

When I approach my death, sometime in the future, I want to be able to say honestly that I have been a caring person with a generous heart and that I have stood up for what I believe is right.  Being a Libra with an Aries moon has influenced my manner of leaping into things with both feet, sometimes treading on toes in my haste.  And then my Libra reprimands me for the injured toes and hurt feelings I may have caused.  I hope people see that my intentions are for good, not for conflict.

It comforts me to know that I have enriched people's lives with my art and, more recently, with my writing.


I welcome mornings with joy, grateful that I'm still here in this healthy body in a wonderful Canadian city. Thankful for my dear husband, Brian, and for my loving family and friends, for my camera and books and my garden.


I have never held a civic office, either in my community or provincially.  I was encouraged to run for the school board when I lived in Vancouver, and responded rather quickly "No thank you." I loved teaching but quite honestly, even then, I preferred working in my garden to attending meetings and sitting on committees and talking about children.

My belief is that holding a position in government or in an organization involves a great deal of responsibility. It demands it, if you are conscientious.  With this responsibility must come the understanding that what you do needs to benefit a great segment of the population.  Leaning towards the hyperbole - it needs to benefit all.

An example of this is the need for stringent legislation relating to climate change as this impacts every living organism.



I try to live a conscious life, making choices based on my values and truth, while being aware of how my decisions may affect others.  I strive to be a citizen of the world, not pursing my lips in judgement, while at the same time being aware that I fall short on a great many occasions.

I believe that many American politicians, most noticeably those members controlling the U.S. House and Senate at this time, are letting their partisanship be totally who they are.  I see many of these people saying and doing things which compromise the values they may have grown up with, the values that they have likely schooled their children in, the values of their faith.  Do they see this, I wonder.

Is the fear of speaking out so great, the fear of losing government jobs with all their benefits so paramount, that party members choose not to deviate from questionable and even false assertions made by leaders of the party.

These observations are not limited to this particular political party or about this specific job, but rather a wondering of how people of great conformity and fear face the last days or even the final years of their lives.


Is there blindness to their particular self-serving
actions or is there remorse.  Are their grown children aware of the determined choices their parents have made and do the siblings' actions begin to mirror those of their parents. Or do the offspring stand apart later in life, carrying the burden of their parent's actions, much like the pain carried by the offspring of Nazi officers.

Perhaps it is so-called accomplishments not peace that some people believe is most important as they age. It may be all about being obedient and doing what's expected, believing perhaps that to toe the line is the easier choice.

When this path is taken, there is little chance of discovering new ways of seeing and being in this fascinating world.


Everyone chooses every moment in their lives.
                                             And everyone eventually dies.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

thank you and please and I'm sorry

I'm sitting at the computer not knowing which key to strike. As I type with only one finger, I have time between each letter, more time between words and lots of time before a sentence is complete.  This gives time for my mind to wander ahead and sideways, discovering the Real Reason for my musings.



The last 10 days have been extremely unnerving and painful.  While I have made a pact with myself to keep this site politics free, the way that I have been impacted by political events is relevant blog material.

On January 20, Donald Trump signed the formal documents at the US Capitol to become President of the United States, minutes after vowing to give “power to the people”, “put only America first” and “eradicate Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth."

10 executive orders have followed in quick succession.

Fascination dances with fear.  Fear partners with judgement. And judgement seems to push me into a corner where I see only the wall.

I've signed petitions that may reach the Prime Minister, or not, cheered when a federal judge in Seattle suspended the President's executive order banning immigration from 7 mainly Muslim countries, and immediately wrote a loving text to  the Syrian family we are sponsoring.  

I have spent an inordinate number of hours online.

While earlier my Facebook page had been a place to share my photographs and some quotations, it now has posts that are both angry and frightened.  I'm notified by an email when Facebook Friends share these negative posts and so the chain grows longer.

It is hard to admit that finding something truly outlandish to post becomes a bit of a challenge.

The Secrets of a Fire King by Kim Edwards sits unopened since the January transfer of power in the United States.  Before that time, I had allowed myself to read only one short story a day, to stretch out this wonderful book. Why have I neglected these stories that have given me such pleasure?   I make up that I need to save the book for when I'm in a good mood so that I will appreciate it more.   hogwash!

Hmmmm...am I keeping myself from feeling joy?  Does my rightful indignation feed a piece of myself?  And, if that is true, why is it so?  What happens to the loving and compassionate part of myself when the anger takes up so much room?

I have been feeling exhausted this week, pale skinned and weary.  My body and mind feel as it had when I was first diagnosed with fibromyalgia. My body hurts.  I'm not eating well. I'm at the computer too much. Today, I feel I've accomplished something when 2 loads of laundry is done...but now I realize that I need to make up my bed with these clean sheets.  I'll ask Brian to help.

Okay.  The letters the words and the sentences are typed.   And reread.

Once again I realize that my job is to touch with kindness and care those in my community: the clients at the food bank at St John the Divine, who may cherish my smile and welcome as the single gift of acceptance they experience all day and those who are experiencing homelessness and who sit on the wet corners of our downtown streets.

 I have warm socks to give and the kind courage to look directly into their eyes

On Tuesday I gave my seat to a young mother and her infant son in a crowded airport.

I said "Thank you" and "Please" and "I'm sorry," and meant it.

I'm going to cook comfort food for dinner- scrambled eggs with sautéed peppers, bitter greens and onion, alongside toasted challah that a dear young friend made for us.

Afterwards, I'm going to leave the computer in 'sleep' mode and read a short story.  I've just checked where my bookmark rests: the story is titled Balance.





Tuesday, 20 December 2016

a new year




"We have focused on a return to our essential spiritual nature during the High Holy Days just concluded, casting off the burdens of old unfulfilled dreams, engaging in inner and outer acts of forgiveness, and stepping renewed into the New Year."
            -Rabbi Ted Falcon

The New Year mentioned here is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, (Hebrew רֹאשׁ הַשָּׁנָה‎, literally meaning the "beginning"), however I am using the term here to encompass not only this spiritual beginning but also the onset of 2017.  Still more  significant, I am welcoming my own step into newness.    

Though less dramatic than the snake shedding its entire skin, we notice that our old skin over time dries and flakes off exposing a new, softer layer. In this casting off and regeneration we expose who we truly are. We let our imperfections show. We are sincere.


   "... the word; ‘sin’ means without and ‘cere’ means wax. So even though we may be banged up and blemished by life, we allow ourselves to be seen without polish." * .  By looking deeply and honestly into our non-perfect selves we open the window for others to truly see us as well.  

Referring again to Rabbi Ted Falcon's teaching, I see some of the magical dreams I have released and some that still cast a faint shadow on my being.

I remember many decades ago when I realized that I actually wasn't going to be a marine biologist. I  understood that it had been an "if only" dream that I really truly wasn't interested in fulfilling.  It was the fantasy of turquoise water and marine life tucked beneath the white grains of sand.  It was a place far removed from the city and its smell of gasoline. Far removed from the norms surrounding me. An escape from being me.


 It was a a dream so far-fetched that I didn't need to feel defeated for letting it go.  My parents and sister didn't even know of my fantasy.

Another story I repeatedly told myself was that my sister was far more capable than me. She had a real and important job as a professor at McGill University.  I was just a dabbler.  A teacher for several years, antique store owner in Vancouver for another few, farmer/herb grower (Harvest Herbs in Duncan) artist, AIDS support worker. Mother, wife, community volunteer. 


I wondered what I had really achieved.

'A reporter at the magazine Vanity Fair asked David Bowie, "What do you consider your greatest achievement?" Bowie didn't name any of his albums, videos, or performances. Rather, he answered, "Discovering morning."' 

In his Newsletter, Rob Brezsny's continues:
'Delve into the thrills of beginnings. Magnify your appreciation for natural wonders that you usually take for granted. Be seduced by sources that emanate light and heat. Gravitate toward what's fresh, blossoming, just-in-its-early-stages.'

Perfect!

I am forgiving myself for years and years of self-deprecation and I feel myself opening to the joy that comes from casting away old chains. There are a few tiny rusted bits still clinging, but they are on their way to the bottom of the sea!  

Let this be a year of joy and renewal, a time of light and the mystery of shadow.  






A  time to feel the mist and the wind, the smell of the sea and the gentle touch of loved ones. 






A time to recognize the brevity of life and to embrace it fully with hope and honesty and love.



"Since we never know we are asleep until we wake up, awakening is always a surprise."
             -Rabbi Ted Falcon







                                                  * in my notes with no reference!

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

what can we do?



This has been a painful month for many of us. While the near steady rainfall in Victoria has further dampened my spirit, I am asking myself how my pain and anger can be converted into constructive acts. 

Rob Brezney writes: "How do we refrain from hating other people even as we fight fiercely against the hatred and danger they have helped unleash?".


My niece Andrea teaches at Occidental College in Los Angeles.  She and her students  are feeling battered and fearful.  Through tears she told me that when her daughter goes away to university in the fall, she will become politically active, working to return hope and power to the disenfranchised.  Working for the change she believes in.




                     This is a constructive direction for disappointment & anger.

These few weeks of November have taken their toll on my art. It is my routine that as I leave the house, I double check that I have my keys, license, Visa card and camera.

This month, my camera has remained at home.










This has got to change!

David Levithan reminds us: "Remember that at any given moment there are a thousand things you can love."




In my March 13, 2016 posting I mused about 'what's important'.  I have just reread the entry and I can feel my heavy heart begin to lighten.  It is as if I wrote it to comfort me now.

In this spring time blog, I noted the importance of  'hope following disappointment'.  Hope, the essential ingredient for positive change.  Hope to motivate and guide us away from despair and negativity.


'A feeling of trust' is the archaic definition of hope and the one I am holding on to.

I am walking with a friend in about an hour ~ I will have my camera with me.








Thursday, 6 October 2016

5777







Yesterday, my daughter Sat-Sung asked me what I would like for my up-coming Libra birthday. After barely a pause, my answer was "I don't need anything and I don't want anything. What I would really like for my birthday is for you to do a conscious act of kindness for someone. This does not involve money. It is (simply) a kind act."

Our world needs kindness and compassion so add some extra for my birthday!

With the arrival of ‘our’ sponsored family from Syria this month, I am more aware than ever of the importance of reaching out with love and of countering injustice with compassion.  Aware, as well, of the kind generosity of people who are helping these future Canadians.

With the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, I realize again that life is transitory and uncertain.  I see that I must consciously examine my life and act exactly as if this is my one chance.  "Every person born into this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique..." *




My journey is to actualize my very own potential, following my own path, not walking in the footsteps of another, attempting to achieve what has been already accomplished.


There is a beautiful passage in the Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, edited by Rabbi Jules Harlow and published by The Rabbinical Assembly in New York.

"Rabbi Susya said, a short while before his death: 'In the world to come I shall not be asked: ' Why were you not Moses?' I shall be asked: 'Why were you not Susya?' "




My challenge in this year 5777 of the Jewish calendar is to open myself with more daring. To breathe more deeply into my being. To own my uniqueness. Not everyone will like this mirror of me and my biggest challenge will be to stay on course, to ignore the media's persuasive slogans whose messages infer the "if onlys" and the "not quites".

When authentic selves meet we can listen and be heard. When we meet we can honour without either of us being "the other."  We can move towards our fuller selves rather than leave ourselves small and unexamined.





For Rosh Hashanah my wishes were:

  ~may love & compassion guide us
  ~may there be peace within us and throughout the world
  ~and may the work of our hands, heads and hearts be for tikkun olam**




When I was assisting clients at the Food Bank at St. John's last week, I chatted with a new volunteer.  I shared a thought that I bring with me each time I come. My way of being and my caring may be the only kindness this person experiences during this entire day.

We are the fortunate ones.

 It is essential that we embrace compassion and kindness and share it generously.















*Mahzor published by The Rabbinical Assembly in New York 1998 Printing
** repairing the world through human kindness and action