A Path To Kindness

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“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did,
they will remember how you made them feel.”
[Maya Angelou]

There is truth and wisdom in Ms Angelou’s statement. Thinking back on some of my favourite memories, they are special because someone was kind to me.

It is important to me that I behave kindly.

In my last post I wrote about charting a new path towards living a kind life. In some (many?) instances, kindness does come naturally but thinking back, there have been times when a reminder may have been in order. So now, and to keep this intention front of mind, whenever Cam or I leave the house, after kissing goodbye I always say be kind out there, people will remember how you made them feel. First step on my crooked new path…

A close personal friend is a Buddhist majjhima. He truly lives a life of kindness – without fail. He is the one who taught me meditation; at first Mindfulness of Breathing and more recently (a continuing process) Mettā or loving kindness. This week when we worked together, he mentioned having read about me choosing a new path. He suggested I might like to learn the path Buddhists follow. Second step on my crooked new path…

The Noble Path

  1. Right Views – to keep ourselves free from prejudice, superstition and delusion and to see aright the true nature of life.
  2. Right Thoughts – to turn away from the evils of this world and to direct our minds towards righteousness.
  3. Right Speech – to refrain from pointless and harmful talk to speak kindly and courteously to all.
  4. Right Conduct – to see that our deeds are peaceful, benevolent, compassionate and pure; to live the Teaching of the Buddha daily.
  5. Right Livelihood – to earn our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences.
  6. Right Effort – to direct our efforts incessantly to the overcoming of ignorance and selfish desires.
  7. Right Mindfulness – to cherish good and pure thoughts for all that we say and do arise from our thoughts.
  8. Right Meditation – to concentrate our will on the Buddha, His Life and His Teaching.

At first glance it reads as common sense, as decency, and as being easy to follow. At first glance. Upon reflection though I realize that combined, these eight steps are perhaps the most difficult task to master and to live, without exception. I wrote that an ultimate goal and definite plan eluded me, but now the plan includes studying and learning the noble path in ever-increasing increments and hopefully with a little more success, day by day.

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“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
[Henry David Thoreau]

‘Til next time, y’all…

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Pursuing My Path

“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
[Henry David Thoreau]

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Thoreau’s words resonated with me as I reread Walden this month. Choosing one’s path is much more rewarding (and scary) than randomly drifting along.  Choosing a path to walk with love and reverence, though, is blissful.  This I know from experience.  Another thing I know is that changing paths requires both courage and commitment because friends, partners and family members may – quite strongly, in fact – resist that change.

Eighteen months ago I cheated death.  The blood clots, mesothelioma and lung tumour gave me the fright of a lifetime and, trite though it may seem, forced me to reevaluate my life.  We, none of us, know how much time we have left in the span of our lives but it became crystal clear to me that I needed to make the most of every single day and have no regrets.

Thus began my journey down this narrow and crooked path which I am committed to walking with love and reverence.

Crooked perfectly describes my new path.  An ultimate goal and definite plan still elude me and there have already been several ‘corrections’.  The bare bones include having less possessions but more experiences, loving more deeply, caring more fully and living a humble, respectful, kind and spiritual life, day by day.  Some days it seems that nothing could be simpler and some days it proves to be an enormous challenge.  I am committed to this, and I am trying very hard.

Path:  Have less. Do more. Be more.

The Problem:

Like so many D.I.N.K.S., we lived a long chapter of our lives rife with materialism, and we had the houseful of goods as evidence of that self-indulgent path which was, most regrettably, not walked with reverence.  Our joint 2017 New Year’s resolution was to aim for a more minimalist existence. True that it’s early days yet, and that we’re not aiming for monk-like habits, but to be surrounded by only those things which are essential or which give pure pleasure is the goal and the hope. To simplify and to find contentment in that abstemious universe is enormously appealing.

The Solution:

Watching “Tiny House Big Living” awakened us to the key tenet of minimalism: Keep only those things you cannot live without (because, of course, in a tiny house there is no room for any more than that).  Our major purge actually took place during the past summer. We sent to auction pretty near three quarters of our basement’s contents preparatory to construction of our new recreation room. I was very apprehensive lest I’d regret giving up those items – many of which were my Mum and Dad’s – only after it was too late for second thoughts. In truth, as more and more boxes made their way out of the basement, I felt freer and elated with a sense of accomplishment and progress.  Thus far, though it has been a mere six months, I neither miss any of those objects, nor do I regret the selling.

My Advice:

Correct your course!  If your lifestyle is no longer meeting your needs or expectations or if your path is leading you away from your bliss, make a change.  Life is way too short to live with regrets.  Be brave, not stuck.  Be creative, not mired.  Be hopeful, not resigned.  After all, in the words of Allie Evans*, “Paths change.”

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“Pursue some path, however narrow and crooked,
in which you can walk with love and reverence.”
[Henry David Thoreau]

‘Til next time, y’all…

*Allie Evans, played by Danica McKellar in “Crown for Christmas”.

Blue Monday

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Presqu’ile Bay Blue Monday 2017

Today is Blue Monday – the most depressing day of the year! Although many scientists consider this notion mere pseudoscience, a researcher at Cardiff University claims to have arrived at this date using a scientific and mathematical equation. Factors including post holiday let-down, winter fatigue and credit card bill misery combine to make this the saddest day.

What???

At Presqu’ile today, the temperature soared to a delightfully balmy 6℃, and it was bright and sunny with only the gentlest of breezes blowing. No sign of the dreaded Blue Monday. The opposite, in fact, of such a depressing day; I had a delightfully happy time walking the trails, snapping some photos, eating lunch – outside – and best of all, there were Robins…

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Robins, Atkins Lane, Presqu’ile PP

Hundreds of Robins, in fact. No exaggeration, promise! Fields full of them, foraging like mad for seeds on the ground. A merry site indeed.  Full candour – I had no idea it was “Blue Monday” until I watched this evening’s newscast, nevertheless it is amazing just how much a walk through the trees, by the lake and in the sun can boost one’s spirits not, as I wrote, that mine needed boosting today – I’m definitely rosy not blue.

Whorls, Bubbles and Stria

Despite the warm sunshine and abundance of birds, what caught my eye in the woods today was the ice and all the pretty patterns therein – no two alike.

‘Til next time, y’all…

Trees, Version 1

“It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something, that quality of air, that emanation from old trees, that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.”                                 [Robert Louis Stevenson]

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Regardless of where you search for their meaning – in religion, folk lore, mythology, native legend or literature, the symbolism of trees is completely positive. They represent beauty, permanence, protection, stability, abiding strength, beauty, wisdom and, most well-known of all, life itself.

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate is our current read for book club. Written by German forest manager Peter Wohlleben, it is simultaneously whimsical and scientific, diaristic and encyclopedic. According to Mr. Wohlleben, trees have social networks, are social beings, can count, learn, remember, nurse sick neighbours, warn each other of danger and, for reasons unknown, keep the ancient stumps of long-felled companions alive for centuries by feeding them through their roots. It sounds fantastical, non? Yet this information is not news; it has been known to, understood and documented by biologists for a long time – even though most of mankind is barely in the genesis of understanding non-human consciousness.

Hidden Life encourages readers to look with fresh eyes on an ecosystem we have long ignored at worst or taken for granted (sadly) at best. Mr. Wohlleben’s wish for humanity in general and his readers specifically is for us to really look at our trees, spend more time studying them and ultimately, to care more sincerely and productively about them. In short, as Mr. Stevenson wrote all those years ago, to allow our woods and forests to wonderfully change and renew our weary spirits.

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Broomfield Marsh January 2017

Welcome to the first of twelve observations about trees, woods and forests, from my highly untrained but keen perspective.  Thanks for reading.

’Til next time, y’all…

PRAISE FOR THE WOMEN

Hello, and a belated Happy New Year to you, your families and your friends. I wish you peace, love and above all, good health.

As the old year ended and the new one began, the well of 2016 think pieces seemed bottomless, each one lamenting the catastrophic year – some going so far as to call it the worst in history – referencing terrorism, Pulse nightclub, Zika virus, Brexit, racism, Syria, refugee crisis, opioid epidemic, Grab ‘em by the pussy, etc., etc., etc… It was depressing enough to make this self-professed news junkie turn off the CBC/CTV news channels, CNN and MSNBC with their constant stream of in-your-face, emotionalistic and stressful chyrons.

Time for a pause and for some reflection. What occurred to me is that this abundance of harm and hurt was especially bad for women and yet, amid the catastrophic and wretched events, it was women who rose and shone. They are the ones I admire and the ones I’m choosing to remember. To praise.

THE HERO

Convicted rapists (especially those of the caucasian variety) continue to be treated with extreme leniency both in the court room and in the press. The Stanford sexual assault case is a perfect example. Jury-convicted sexual assaulter (and soon-to-be registered sex offender) Brock Turner was found guilty on three charges:

  1. Assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated or unconscious person; and
  2. Sexual penetration of an intoxicated person; and
  3. Sexual penetration of an unconscious person.

The presiding judge ruled he should be jailed for six months. He served three.

Lest you think sympathetic leniency is the sole purview of the US, please don’t forget the Dalhousie Dentistry School’s “Gentlemen’s Club” – misogyny at its finest. Dalhousie wanted expulsion of the thirteen guilty dentistry students. Instead, they were offered (and accepted) a chance to participate in a “restorative process” which afforded them the privilege of graduating alongside their fellow DDS students.

The Stanford case introduced us to the woman I consider to be the hero of the year: Emily Doe. Her victim impact statement was powerful, feministic, demanding, brutally honest, and both a call to arms and inspirational to other rape victims. It went viral on You Tube. It was read in Congress. Emily’s life will forever be influenced by this despicable assault, but her spirit was not cowed. Just in case you have not read the statement yet, here is the link:

http://news.nationalpost.com/news/world/stanford-swimmer-rape-victim-statment

Emily was named a Woman Of The Year by Glamour Magazine in November 2016. At that celebration, her impact statement was read aloud by Gabourey Sidibe, Freida Pinto, and Amber Heard. Her award was accepted by Stanford Law Professor Michelle Dauber who has been working tirelessly during the past year to have the judge recalled. Michelle read Emily’s acceptance speech:

http://www.glamour.com/story/stanford-sexual-assault-case-survivor-emily-doe-speaks-out-at-glamours-women-of-the-year-awards

Emily Doe will always have my deepest respect and admiration. She is one of my heroes and is absolutely my woman of the year!

THE STORYTELLER

Ever since 2002 when her first book, a collection of short stories, was published Vancouver-born, Chinese-Canadian Madeleine Thien has been gaining popularity and esteem for her writing prowess. I love that Ms. Thien originally studied dance at uni before beginning her literature programme. Her books have won numerous awards but during 2016 she gave us Do Not Say We Have Nothing which won both the Governor General’s Award and The Giller Prize. In a year of news items fraught with refugee crisis issues and human rights’ violations, Ms. Thien wrote this sensory tale. Set against a tapestry of classical music, Li-ling’s story is a beautiful, sorrowful work that encompasses the refugee experience on a small scale and, to a greater extent, the Chinese government’s oppression of the arts (musicians). Ms. Thien illustrates for us the suffocating atmosphere of 20th-century China, complete with passages detailing the savagery of the Red Guard (which I struggled to read and assimilate). Inevitably, Do Not Say’s crescendo is the Tiananmen Square Protest. This novel, destined to become a literary classic, is a poignant scrutiny of and commentary on the Chairman Mao era. If you have not already done so, you ought to read Do Not Say We Have Nothing.

Madeleine Thien is one of my new favourite authors and a Canadian storyteller extraordinaire.

GOLDEN FLAG BEARERS

The story of the Rio Olympic Games is, sadly, blemished by scandals (Zika prior and Lochte afterwards) but for Canadians, and Canadian women specifically, the Rio games were golden. Two heroes emerged, head and shoulders above all others, gold medal repeating Rosannagh (Rosie) MacLennan and pool superstar Penelope “Penny” Oleksiak. They gave Canadians two irreplaceable and beloved images as our flag-bearers. If you have daughters, granddaughters, nieces or Goddaughters, encourage them to follow these two amazing athletes on social media – finer role models would certainly be harder to find.

Canadian golden girls – Rosie and Penny – champions, fine young women and Olympic darlings.

THE MODEL

Do you know Chantelle Brown-Young? No? Perhaps you know her by her professional name, Winnie Harlow? She is beautiful. She is strong. She is intelligent. She is #BlackGirlMagic. She is a supermodel. And she has Vitiligo.

Winnie Harlow was born in Toronto on July 27, 1994. As a very young girl she was diagnosed with the depigmentation skin condition known as vitiligo. Most of us were introduced to this condition by Michael Jackson. There are white patches all over Chantelle’s skin, noticeably on her face – around her mouth and eyes – and because of her irregular skin colour, she was bullied by the other kiddos at her school. The taunts included “Cow” and “Zebra”. Sadly, the endless and merciless teasing caused her to contemplate suicide. But she didn’t make that attempt. Guts over fear!

This gorgeous Canadian was first discovered on Instagram by Tyra Banks who signed her to appear on America’s Next Top Model. From there she has gone from strength to strength, appearing in/covering all the top glossy fashion mags, strutting runways around the world, being named brand ambassador for casual clothing brand Desigual and earning a very public platform for her activism – speaking out against bullying and discussing life with Vitiligo.

Speaking on her show Tyra said: “Her skin breaks down barriers of what is considered beautiful.”

Appropriately, Winnie appears in Eminem’s “Guts Over Fear” music video and made a cameo appearance in Beyoncé’s Lemonade.

Another Canadian woman shining brightly on the world stage, doing good works in a year full of horrible events. Winnie is, indeed, #BlackGirlMagic!

THE LEADERS

I (almost) feel that the last woman on my list ought to be Justin Trudeau, and somehow I feel he wouldn’t object to that distinction. In August of 2015, in a move that sent shock-waves vibrating through government offices all around the world, The Right Honourable Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had the audacity to appoint fifteen women to his new Cabinet, with those women making up fully half of that governing body.

Throughout 2016 these women worked diligently at their new posts to effect change and implement their government’s policies both in Canada and, as appropriate, around the world. Have there been growing pains? Of course, yes. As with any new group. But have they been successful, absolutely so! These women, some of them novices, have risen to the challenge and have made Canadians proud of their efforts, their conduct and their dedication.

Here then, are the leaders, without whom this list would be incomplete:

CAROLYN BENNETT, Indigenous and Northern Affairs
MARIE-CLAUDE BIBEAU, International Development and La Francophonie
BARDISH CHAGGER, Small Business and Tourism
KIRSTY DUNCAN, Science
JUDY FOOTE, Public Services and Procurement
CHRYSTIA FREELAND, International Trade
PATTY HAJDU, Status of Women
MÉLANIE JOLY, Canadian Heritage
DIANE LEBOUTHILLIER, Revenue
CATHERINE MCKENNA, Environment and Climate Change
MARYANNE MIHYCHUK, Employment, Workforce Development and Labour
MARYAM MONSEF, Democratic Institutions
JANE PHILPOTT, Health
CARLA QUALTROUGH, Sport and Persons with Disabilities
JODY WILSON-RAYBOULD, Justice and Attorney-General

Was 2016 a horrible year? Yes, there is no doubt about that. Was there reason and opportunity to choose hope? Indeed there was. Will 2017 be a better year? No one can be certain of that, but with women like the ones listed above, we have hope that cannot be denied.

Praise for the women!

’Til next time y’all…