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November 30, 2009

Are you a Guru in Training?

sculpture by Peter McFarlane

Some time between 1999 and 2003, I lived in a teeny weeny bachelor suite  in the West End of Vancouver in a building called The King George. It had a lot of character. In fact, the biggest character in it was the landlord. His name was Dave. He was this short, wiry, three-pack-a-day, tattooed guy with a long grey beard. He always wore one of those boxy caps that are usually sold in stores that sell stuff from developing countries. His long scraggles of grey/black hair would hang out from under the cap.

When I first met him and I sat talking to him in his kitchen as he looked over my rental application. I was a little afraid of what I might be getting myself into if I rented from this guy. I thought he might have some Hell's Angel's connections. He had a really scratchy smoker's voice and he talked in a way that gives new depth to the meaning of the word cynical. He knew the entire neighborhood and he walked in a way that's hard to describe but imagine the letter I leaning kind of fluidly from one side then the next.

It was a pretty small building with only about 25 suites and my suite was right next to his. Well, it was right next to his before he moved out and took up residence across the hall from his girlfriend, about 5 feet from mine.

I can't recall his exact words but usually when he was doing some really shitty job like picking apart the recycling which too many people are too lazy and stupid to sort accurately (ya that sounds negative but it's accurate) or cleaning up some mess that some derelict had left behind when they moved out in the middle of the night, he'd comment on how it was okay. It was okay because this was the work of the soul and how he'd learned everything he needed to know about human nature and himself because of the worst paying job he'd ever had in his life. It didn't pay well. He barely survived himself but he was in daily reality guru training. My term not his.

He didn't have a big office. He didn't have a car. I'm not sure he even knew how to drive. He didn't have any degrees. He used to say that he'd lived as a monk but I always wondered what he meant by that exactly. I never quite got the full story. He also said he worked as a social worker with street youth which I believed.

In contrast to his own appearance, his apartment could have been in an architectural digest magazine It was medieval heaven. Dark wood. Rennie Mackintosh designs. Embroidered pillows. It was spotless and full of interesting artefacts from another time handcrafted and often adorned with brass.

On more than a few occasions when I was going through some rough times, Dave just seemed to materialize, sit down, have a cup of tea with me and listen. He's one of those people that come across your existence that will never know how much you appreciated them.

I was thinking of Dave today.  I was thinking of him as I listened to someone who couldn't stop talking about herself; all her accomplishments, none of which were all that interesting and I thought to myself, there's something to be said to be of that age when you don't really give a shit anymore what someone else has or hasn't done because it has nothing to do with you because your journey is not theirs and their accomplishments, however impressive, are rather meaningless to you if you know what I mean.

Life is no longer about what the outside world sees.

There is something about looking after someone as a parent or as a caregiver -  in relationship in all its complexity - that any artificial job title or accomplishment that all the world can see seems so uni-dimensional in comparison to what they can't see in the tiniest moments between two people - in conflict, helping, kindness -the interpersonal connections that act as the invisible sands on the road to the pearls of self actualization.


November 27, 2009

Christmas Window Competition

The Driftwood is holding a downtown Christmas Light-up Competition and I'm not sure why but my co-worker and I really got into the idea for the Care Employment Centre  on Salt Spring this year.

I scoured the local Thrift Shops for some Teddy Bears: Garfield, a monkey, a sad looking brown teddy were just a few of my finds.  A friend of Suzanne's brought in a tiny old-fashioned red wagon. Suzanne brought in some big Christmas-type bags and holly from her mom's tree. One of our clients had the perfect Santa and she also gave us the creative ideas related to the little signs.

We pocketed stir sticks from Salt Spring Coffee Company to make the little wooden signs for our bears to hold up which say things like: "Hire Me" or "Better Carpenter than Mike Holmes", "Care aid at your service", "15+years experience as a server", "Computer Whiz Kid", "CEO, Presents Inc." (for Santa to hold up) and  "Employers Needed. Spread the Joy."

Cotton batten is our snow. I'd purchased some white window shutters at the Fulford Flea Market a week earlier and they became the backdrop. I raided my own Christmas box for some stars and a few other things. About five trips to Mouat's Hardware later and we had the lights up and working.

We really got into this and voila, as you can see above, we have our cute little window display.

We can win $50 or $100 but even if we don't win, we had a ton of fun creating it and it might catch the attention of those people in town who have never really thought to drop in.

Tonight the judges will wander Ganges from window to window and decide who wins. 

Wish us luck!

November 24, 2009

The Chi of Fortuitous Meetings

It has taken me a very, very long time but I no longer question or doubt my feelings or inner awareness when I meet someone who right away I know will have some impact on my life or will be a part of my life in some way.

It doesn't happen often. I can count on one hand the number of times it has happened in 48 years but in each instance, when I look back, I was completely aware that at the moment I met them or at the first meeting that they were "different", "special", a soul-mate in the non romantic sense of that word.  There was always some tug, a space that demanded attention to give your inner awareness a chance to catch up with what was happening externally as your consciousness processed what was taking place in the physical world.

It's hard to explain in words the awareness that takes place if you have never been truly conscious of such a meeting but in almost every instance in the past when I have tried to negate the connection, I have been thwarted and it has risen to be front and centre in my existence in either a very positive way or a negative way or a little-of-both.

I have become aware in recent years that when I need something or someone to materialize, it or they inevitably does.

The other week I was at an event alone where about 100 people were in attendance. It was a concert. I was sitting there and a man walked into the room with his wife. I looked at him and I felt completely compelled to talk to him but as a single female, I'm not about to start chatting up some stranger, accompanied by his wife, at an entertainment event especially if it meant going out of my way to turn around.

To be clear, I'm not talking about a physical attraction, not that he wasn't physically attractive, but the compulsion was so strong that it was as if an invisible hand was pushing me towards him. This is not usually, never has been for me, the result of a one-way energy field.

The proof? Without any focused effort on my part, at intermission, he began talking to me. In a very short time we exchanged e-mails and today met up. He's from L.A. He lives here six months of the year. He treated me to a coffee and we had a very interesting exchange related to possibilities for writing work and I have no doubt that at some point in the future, I will work with him or gain work through him.

The trick is to learn when to surrender to the connection and be open to its possibilities instead of doubting it.

If you've never had this happen, you probably wonder what I'm talking about. Perhaps surrender is the topic of this blog post actually. Today, during meditation with my lady, the topic focused on surrendering, knowing when to surrender and to look, throughout your day at your choice of response.

There is always in every situation the highest possible response and a low-level response that will only add flames to the fire so to speak.

Throughout the week, when you're faced with challenging circumstances, people who push your buttons, or you feel unconsciously compelled to react without foresight, you could take a breath, get conscious, and
remind yourself that there is a choice.

There is the highest possible response which is a detour from your usual response and of course there is the lowest common denominator response.  It's a challenge we could all benefit from I think. And some people, perhaps those who are our biggest test, will inevitably always force us into the reactive behaviour until we finally learn to surrender, even if it takes more than one lifetime to get it!

November 19, 2009

Homeless on Salt Spring

I see him sitting in the cafe soaked to the bone. His curly hair hangs in damp rotini spirals and water drips off the dark brown tips adding to the sheen of his face. His eyes always seem a bit wild to me. Piercing. On alert. Stuck in the fight or flight response. On Monday, the beginning of the torrential rains, he freaks out in the office first thing. "I hate this fucking island," he yells right at me.  He lives on a boat that someone gave him that has mold and no heat or electricity but he won't go out there because the only way he has to get to it is via a canoe and he's afraid he's going to drown trying to get there in the dark and the winds.

At first, because he's been coming into the office for the entire year and I know him - or at least who he presents when he is in my presence - and it is as if his behaviour is the definition of insanity - doing something over and over again and expecting different results - instead of feeling the compassion I should, I head off in a very wrong direction in my response.

"And what's different about this winter?," I ask.
"What do you mean," he says?
Suddenly it dawns on me. Don't go there.
"What's your point?" he asks more aggressively as we stare at each other.

Another man, barely holding it together, on the phone to the Ministry of Housing and Social Development, after being on hold for at least 20  minutes gets the bad news.  No, that place isn't going to work. It's too expensive. They won't pay. The desperation that he has been keeping well hidden and at bay rises and in its place arrives a palpable hopelessness on today this International Men's Day 2009 in which the theme is  positive male role models. I expect neither of these two men had any when they were little boys or they wouldn't be so lost. Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know their stories. I would like to know their stories.

In a split second, when it dawned on me that trying to make someone who is stuck "see the light" by repeating what seems obvious to you is just as unconscious as expecting them to change a lifelong pattern and the only useful and available response has to be compassion. I quickly got that. I remained silent.

He continued to vent.  I looked at him and I said I couldn't imagine how horrible that would be. I couldn't imagine how cold that would be. I was sorry that he was in this situation. And it worked. He suddenly went quiet. He seemed appeased. He just needed someone to feel SOMETHING for him. He left.

The next day he comes in and I ask him how he is. I tell him that I was thinking about him last night and wondered how he managed. He seemed much better.
"I spent the night on a friend's boat," he says.
"I got in the canoe at 6:00 am. It was now around 1:30 pm."

When I thought of Salt Spring, before I lived here, I'd think artists. But, really, in addition to the marvellously lucky or successfully ingenious or hardworking wealthy and all those artists, there are a very large number of people living on the edge. People who have babies when they have no jobs, no high school education and skills that will keep them poor forever.

Until I moved here, I had no idea what a priviledged existence I'd led. I had no sense of the absolute lack of education and workplace skills that still existed out in the "general population". Maybe because I've spent so many years in the past, working at The University of British Columbia" with my last stint at the Department of Computer Science, that the lack of computer skills on this island by people in need of work is not just unbelievable but it's actually downright frightening. It says a lot about Canada's future and where it's headed.

Knowing how to use a computer, regardless of what you do for a living, is a basic skill for the 21st century. And, yet, there are people who have never touched a mouse. They approach it the way you expect them to, the same way we all did when first confronted by manouvering it.

I would like to kill the interface designer at Microsoft who came up with that pretty round and user-antagonistic icon in Vista that hides all the operating functions because when luddites sit down in front of a computer, they are completely baffled by what to do after they get their bottoms into the chair and suddenly I feel like I've become tech support for people who have come from some other planet in some other century who act as if computers were just invented last week or at worst, that they are evil and the cause of all the social ills in the world. I can't relate to either group. But, I can have compassion for them. That can be my lesson today.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
Wisdom to know the difference."

November 15, 2009

True Love Comes in So Many Varieties

On this very quiet, saturated with grey and rainy Sunday, I went to the big annual booksale put on as a fundraiser for Salt Spring Community Education. I walked away with a bagful of books for $5 but I want to share with you a story I found in a book called True Love by Robert Fulghum because it made me feel so good after I read it.  The author simply asked people to tell him a short love story. Not one that they'd heard but one that they'd lived.  Here's one:

When I was a junior in college I took a course in the writing of D.H. Lawrence.  I know this sounds really stupid but I thought this was about Lawrence of Arabia, you know - the eccentric British desert warrior guy. I had seen the movie and I wanted to be him. I was not fully alert in college.

I went down to the local used book store to get everything they had. I was a little surprised by the titles: The Rainbow, Women in Love, Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover.  There was a side of Lawrence of Arabia I didn't know about. The clerk explained. Whoa. Bad news, but I had registered for the course and now I had the books and I needed the credits, so I was stuck, I went home to read.

Like  a lot of college students, I bought used books hoping someone else would have already underlined the important stuff. The Lawrence books I bought were thoroughly underlined, and when  I flipped through and read some of the paragraphs about making out, I was blown away. This was really hot stuff. To hell with the other Lawrence and the desert, this Lawrence was my kind of guy. And, I figured that any girls who were taking this course would be my kind of girls.

All the books I bought had the same female name in the front. I figured this girl must have taken the course and then sold the books. She really knew what to underline - not only the juicy parts, but the really beautiful passages that were about love, not just sex.  I looked her name up in the telephone book and she was there. I figured I'd just call her up and see what happened. I was hoping for anything from a date to copies of the papers she had written. College guys play all the angles.

I called her up, introduced myself and told her what I wanted. Shoa again. She was not a girl but a retired college professor of English literature. These books were extras she had sold when she moved to a smaller apartment. She laughed and said she would be glad to have a date with me and she would explain about Lawrence and tell me how to pass the course.

We liked each other right away. She lived alone and her eyes were failing. She said if I would drive her to the grocery store once a week, she would tutor me in Lawrence. During that semester she woke me up about love and sexuality and women. I spent a lot of time with her. I'm a better man because of her. A long time later I told her that if she had been 20 instead of 70 I would have asked her to marry me. She said she would have accepted.

She's dead now. I still have her books and her wisdom and her kind of love. I got an A in the course too.

November 14, 2009

Continuous Assessment and Renewal

Arbutus Trees. They're one of the reasons Salt Spring Island is so beautiful. They lean dramatically, their branches sometimes hanging out over the ocean from tiny cracks, dramatically twisting like dancers performing a modern dance, each dancer's body unique in its positioning.

They keep their leaves all year round and their reddish, mahogany bark sheds by peeling away from the trunk, dropping off in curled slivers and giving a peek to the various shades of new green bark underneath.

That's a lot like moving to a new place. At first, if you like where you are, you're ecstatic to be there. You're excited. Everything is novel and your motivation to participate in ALL of it, is at an all time high. And, then it's done. You look at what you've been doing and you begin to re-assess knowing that you better get a lot smarter in your approach if you're planning on enjoying your life on this island or anywhere so that your sole focus is not on money.

Talking to a friend last night who has been here a year longer than me, it's clear that this process is something that everyone goes through. Have a plan for the future. Don't spend time on things that utilize your talent and pay you next to nothing. If you're going to spend that type of energy, why not go after scenarios that pay well.

I've lost my focus these past 6 months all my energy being scattered between the part-time job, the Market and photography, writing for next to no money for The Driftwood and Aqua. It was fun but it's now time to get serious.

It's now time to get back to the reason I came here, to try and develop a way to live off my writing by tapping into contract work (mainly off island) so that I can eventually remove myself from being where I am four days per week as soon as that's feasible.

My friend and I have both noticed that a significant portion of Salt Spring is populated with underachievers who are okay with that. People who are okay with just getting by and are always looking for ways to just get by because they are conspiracy theorists, anti-government/establishment in a seriously unhealthy way based solely on their emotional biases and perhaps bitterness related to their personal failings.

I spend 18.75 hours a week interacting with a huge number of them. People who think computers are evil. People who are clinging to the past refusing to take personal responsibility for learning and moving forward. In short, victims who refuse to change.

Use this time, says my friend very wisely, as motivation to focusing on moving toward the reason you came here in the first place and stop underselling your own talent, in the same way you keep telling me to stop undervaluing mine.

November 12, 2009

Living with the challenge of a "Been There, Done That" Mentality

This time last year I was positively gushing about Salt Spring and the fact that I was living here on this paradise of an island.

I was going on about how I didn't want to lose sight of how I felt when I was driving and how the views from the car took my breath away. I was so busy writing and I hadn't even found my job yet but I was interacting with so many people and I was really renewed after a previous year of frustration and uncertainty.

I honestly (sorry to say) did not miss my friends from Vancouver when I moved here. Partly because most of them visited, some more than once, and partly because I was so busy and engaged.

It's a shock to miss them in this second year in a way I never missed them at all when I first got here. I just wasn't expecting that.

Now, a mere year and one month later, I'm thinking I'm feeling the way one feels when the initial infatuation of meeting someone new wears off. When suddenly all the things that you didn't want to lose sight of you've somehow managed to lose sight of.

I'm wondering if it's my usual November faced with four months of grey and rain "blahs" or is it that when you do something that you've wanted to do and you have a certain type of personality that can be summed up through "Been There, Done That, What's Next?" then you can't help but look around and think okay, now what? What's next?

On the one hand I can recognize this current discomfort as a positive feeling because once you've experienced what you hadn't experienced previously, then you can tell yourself that's the definition of progress and you are forced to begin to look around to think and feel out what your next step should be even if you have no idea what that might look like. I guess my discomfort is coming from the fact that I didn't think that would happen so fast.

Like a lot of things, the first step is really the easy part. It's beginning to feel that moving to Salt Spring was the easy part. Trying to find a way to live here and be happy and stimulated and not poverty stricken, that's a whole other challenge.

November 11, 2009

One Thing in This World

- photo taken in 2006 in New Mexico, The Painted Desert, Ghost Ranch

The Master said: There is one thing in this world which must never be forgotten. If you were to forget everything else, but did not forget that, then there would be no cause to worry; whereas if you performed and remembered and did not forget every single thing, but forgot that one thing, then you would have done nothing whatsoever.

It is just as if a king had sent you to a country to carry out a specified task. You go and perform a hundred other tasks; but if you have not performed that particular task on account of which you had gone to the country, it is as though you have performed nothing at all.

So you have come into this world for a particular task and that is your purpose; if you do not perform it, then you will have done nothing.

From Discourses of Rumi

This feels like a very timely little piece for me to read. I thought I'd share it with you. What is that one thing that you think your soul has come here for?

November 01, 2009

Halloween Torch upstages Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch came to Salt Spring yesterday. The paper said one time. The reality was another about an hour later. As a result, like a lot of other people, I spent quite a bit of time just wandering around "down town", drinking coffee, enjoying the fantastic weather and chatting.

Now, when this type of event happens in a small town, it's just another excuse to socialize, complain, be cynical, joke and look around to see who's there. The pipe band figured out that they better entertain. A crowd began to gather.

Soon a rainbow of balloons materialized to become an archway. The girls gymnastics team sang Oh Canada. Official Driftwood photographer Derrick was there waiting to take the official photos. Salt Spring Community.com had their video camera ready to get footage to go on the web.

The torch was coming in via floatplane. People in Olympic outfits were being passed on the street by grown men wearing cow outfits and zombies with blood running down their face, little girls in angel costumes and skeletons. It was Halloween afterall.

Finally, after what seemed like a few hours of waiting, a Harbour Air floatplane landed. The anticipation rose. An RCMP officer told us to make a break in the crowd so the torch could go straight up the center of the road.

I really couldn't see much. I had my camera ready. Suddenly out of nowhere a young guy with his long brown hair flowing wearing a maroon-coloured toga came running, a torch raised high above his head. There was only one problem, this torch was made of tin foil. It was his Halloween costume.

After the split second confusion - nope, this ain't the real torch - the crowd let out a unanimous cheer. That was the highlight. It was really funny because he looked the way I think we all want the Olympic runners to look, like they used to look way back in the day, when the Olympics first began. Tradition! It happened so fast and was so unexpected that I didn't even get a photo.

Then, the real torch came. The real torch looks like a boomerang that somebody got seriously wrong. It's sleek and white with a strange little crook in it. It's sterile and kinda boring. You could barely see the flame coming out the top of it.

A woman in her 50s was carrying it for the first leg of the island journey. There was a very small RCMP presence but they had brought in enforcements. I heard there was a lone protestor. I heard that someone threw red paint and hit an innocent bystander.

The Olympic torch has been to Salt Spring.

Thank you to whomever that creative guy was. He made the wait worth it.