Is it Really “All Good?”

imageThis is an expression that has always bothered me. I hear people say it and it just gets under my skin. It feels to me like a very simplistic way to look at the world, and that it glosses over the intricacies and complexities of life.

I do think we all have choice in how we view things, and that seeing the glass half full is a better, more helpful, more evolved approach than seeing things half empty. But being positive at all cost ignores what is real. It denies the feelings of being human, and for me, this is the rub. It represses.

For most of my life, I denied that I had feelings, and tried to pretend everything was OK. I felt somehow that I was not allowed to have feelings. And I can see now that this did not serve me well. They would end up coming out eventually, in mostly self destructive ways.

So I am learning to acknowledge the feelings, and allowing myself to feel them. And as a result, they are not able to grip me the same way they used to. They seem to pass through me more quickly now. Most of the time. I still am not always able to articulate what it is that bothers me, nor do I always know what I like, don’t like, or want.

I see shades of grey where others see black or white.

But at a very deep level, that I can only sometimes tap into, I know that it is in fact “all good,” and that I have so much to be grateful for. I know that everything happens for a reason, and for my highest good, even though I may not always understand what that is in the moment. I recognize, at times, that I am not always able to see the forest though the trees, as the saying goes.

And this recognition in and of itself, is progress. I am learning to trust that things are unfolding as they should, even though it tests my faith time and time again.

Advertisements

You Just Never Know

A few days ago I was playing cards with some people I had only very recently met. I laughed and joked and tried to be friendly. One of them, Dick, an elderly man of about 70, barely acknowledged me, and was actually quite rude. “Crusty old bastard,” I thought. “What could he possibly have against me? He doesn’t even know me. Why doesn’t he LIKE ME?” My first instinct was to lash out, but I didn’t. Instead I began thinking about how I would be rude back. I lost focus on the game, and this thought began to consume me.

A few minutes later, he left the table to get a beer. While he was gone, Earl, one of the other players, told me that Dick had cancer “real bad,” and had only about six months to live. All those negative thoughts that had been swirling around in my head immediately dissipated. Instead, I redoubled my efforts to be friendly and took every opportunity to compliment him on his play. Then he calmed down and was a little friendlier. Only a very little mind you. He still is a crusty old bastard.

But I am so glad I held my tongue in that moment.

In the days since, I have been thinking about that episode. How I almost fell into the trap, and contributed to its escalation. Why it took hearing about his illness to let go of my negative thoughts and change my approach with him. And why is it so freakin’ important that I feel liked by others?

Giving people the benefit of the doubt and showing them love and compassion is always a better option than fighting fire with fire. Easy to do when the love is returned. Far more difficult when it is not.

I suppose we’re wired to see the world through our own lens. I am trying to be more compassionate. It’s hard sometimes. I continue to be a work in progress.

But you just never know why people do what they do, and what they may be going through.

What's Love Got to Do with It? - Rookerville | Rookerville rookerville.com What's Love Got to Do with It? - Rookerville.com

Kiana

IMG_5339I recently returned from Halifax, Nova Scotia, visiting my son at university. We had a wonderful time together and I was pleased, and proud, to see him thriving in this new environment away from home. I also stayed with friends that I have not spent time with in many years.

There are a few moments in life where you can feel something shift, that cause you to see things differently. What follows was one of those moments for me.

One couple I stayed with, Tina and Sean, have a five-year old son, Hunter, and three-year old daughter, Kiana. This kid, in her short little life so far, has been through hundreds of medical procedures and surgeries to try to correct a serious intestinal disease she was born with. She recently underwent an ileostomy, a procedure that allows intestinal waste to be collected in an external pouch stuck to the skin. She is deaf in one ear. She also at high risk of brain tumours.

Most of us would feel sorry for little Kiana, and think how unfair all this is. How from the get go she has had the deck stacked against her. Some would say she is strong. Others might say she is brave. And I guess she is all of that. But Kiana knows no other way, and she is definitely not sorry for herself.

She has almost died several times. She has spent most of her life in the hospital, her parents worried sick each time she goes in that she may not come home. I simply cannot imagine the toll this must take, and how they somehow manage to cope. She has been through more adversity in the last three years than most of us will ever see in our lifetimes. Or in several lifetimes.

And yet the light that emanates from her is almost blinding.

I wonder how this is possible. How can a kid so young, who has been through so much pain and hardship, be so joyful? But it’s as though she doesn’t even realize the seriousness of her situation, and how tough she has it, compared to many of us.

Inspired only begins to scratch the surface of how little Kiana and her parents made me feel. And now when I think of them, it changes my perspective on my own life. Something shifted.

They say that there is always a silver lining, a gift hidden beneath the pain, struggle, and suffering. I find this really tough to accept, especially in someone so young. But still it makes me wonder if it is precisely the intensity of her journey that fuels her powerful flame, that makes her shine as brightly as she does?IMG_5337

To me, Kiana’s gift is that she is fully, truly alive. Through her life-threatening illness she has somehow gained the freedom to live.

And through this freedom, she offers her gift to the world.

And her gift to us is light.

Harmony

filepicker_OqunFNQ0Qkaw9hnXvCWA_harmony[1]Harmony can be so elusive, but I am forever searching for it. And sometimes I reach it. Usually when I let go and let things be as they are. But I know it is always within my grasp, because in the end it begins and ends with me and how I choose to approach life.

My vocal coach showed me this by Sam Robson, and incredible acapella piece in which he does all nine parts of the harmonies. And his vocal range is off the charts. A wonderful metaphor, I think, for life. I better get practicing!

Enjoy the magic.

Out Into The World

Equipped with all the essentials of university life--Nutella, canned chicken, and Frank's Hot sauce--Ben heads out into the world.

Equipped with all the essentials of university life–Nutella, canned chicken, and Frank’s Hot sauce–Ben heads out into the world.

My son left for university last week. It was very emotional on so many levels, representing the closing of one chapter of life and the beginning of another. After he left with his mum, he sent me a note. I will not quote it verbatim, but essentially Ben thanked me being there and giving him everything he could have asked for throughout the entire time we have known each other, and for taking on my role with him wholeheartedly. “You’re a great guy,” he said “and you will always be a welcome face in my life, whatever my role may become in the future.”

I know in my heart of hearts that I have given parenthood everything I have, but I was very touched to read these words. Brief, but so very poignant and powerful. And then I wept. But these were tears of joy, hope, and accomplishment for a change.

But the truth is, I feel like the lucky one to have had him in my life for the past nine years. It has forced me to dig really deep–emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. Difficult and frustrating at times, to be sure, but he has helped me push beyond where I never thought I could go. Bringing me face to face with all sorts of issues. Raising him has forced me to try to filter out all the crap, and pass on only the good stuff. Ben has brought life and richness and insight to my life that I could not ever have imagined. I haven’t always had all the tools, but I know I have done the very best I can, and I always have done what is in his best interest.

I think about what an exciting time this is for him. The wind is at his back. His life is a big empty canvas laid out in front of him, his to create whatever he chooses. At times, I have felt that there might not be much room left on my own canvas, but he reminds me that that is not so–it is a state of mind and heart that I have created through the accumulation of all kinds of psychological debris and emotionally clogged filters.

And although he may not see it, I can see so clearly that he has what it takes to take on anything he wants. He is very advanced for his young years, grappling and mastering life concepts and skills that I am only starting to glimpse. He is a very good, mature, and wise soul.

And despite other difficult areas of my life that I am struggling with, when it comes to Ben, I am so proud of who he has become. And I am so very proud to have had the opportunity to have played a role in that.

I will close with a song he introduced me to just before he left: Wake Me Up by Avicci. A coming of age song that will always remind me of him.

Good luck as you make your way out into the world, Bennie and the Jets. Know that I will always be here when you need me, and that I will always be with you.

When Things Fall Apart (part 2)

Life continues to be in a tremendous state of flux on so many levels, and will likely continue to be for some time. More on that in the coming weeks. In the meantime, I continue to read Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart. Central to this insightful and inspiring book are the ideas of impermanence and groundlessness. Boy does that hit home, especially now!

Maybe it’s time to stop fighting it, and maybe even begin to relax and lighten up a bit, as impossible as that may seem right now. Maybe that’s the lesson.

Here are a few more profound passages from the second half of that book.

“There are three truths–traditionally called three marks–of our existence: impermanence, suffering, and egolessness. Impermanence is the goodness of reality. Just as the four seasons are in continual flux, winter changing to spring and summer to autumn; just as day becomes night, light becoming dark becoming light again–in the same way everything is constantly evolving. Impermanence is the essence of everything. We regard it as pain, but impermanence is a principle of harmony. When we don’t struggle against it, we are in harmony with reality. When you fall in love, recognize it as impermanence, and let that intensify the preciousness. When we recognize impermanence, this is called mindfulness, awareness, curiosity, inquisitiveness, paying attention. Our suffering is based so much in our fear of impermanence. Whoever got the idea that we could have pleasure without pain? Pain and pleasure go together; they are inseparable. Ego could be defined as whatever covers up basic goodness. Ego covers up our experience of just being here, fully being who we are, so that we can relate with the immediacy of our experience. Egolessness is a state of mind that has complete confidence in the sacredness of the world. We experience egolessness when we’ve lost our reference point, when we get a shock and our mind is stopped.”

“What we call obstacles are really the way the world and our entire experience teach us where we’re stuck. Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality. The maras provide descriptions of some very familiar ways in which we try to avoid what is happening. There are four. The first Mara is called devaputra, and has to do with seeking pleasure, how we are addicted to avoiding pain. The second–skandha– has to do with how we always try to re-create ourselves, try to be who we think we are. Instead of struggling to regain our concept of who we are when the rug is pulled out from under us, we can touch into that mind of simply not knowing. The third Mara is klesha. It has to do with how we use our emotions to keep ourselves dumb or asleep. A simple feeling will arise, and we panic. We begin to weave our thoughts into a story line, which gives rise to bigger emotions. The fourth, yama, has to do with fear of death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self contained and comfortable, sits some kind of death. We are killing the moment by controlling our experience. Death is wanting to hold on to what you have and to have experience confirm, congratulate, and make you feel completely together. But the essence of life is that it’s challenging.”

“Whether we’re eating or working or meditating or listening or talking, the reason that we’re here in this world is to study ourselves. The challenge is how to develop compassion right along with clear seeing, how to train in lightening up and cheering up rather than becoming more guilt-ridden and miserable. Honesty without kindness, humour, and goodheartedness can be just mean. When we look into our hearts and begin to discover what is confused and what is brilliant, what is bitter and what is sweet, it isn’t just ourselves that we’re discovering. We’re discovering the universe. When we begin to just try to accept ourselves, that’s the beginning of growing up.”

“Everything is ambiguous; everything is always shifting and changing, and there are as many different takes on any given situation as there are people involved. The whole right and wrong business closes us down and makes our world smaller. The middle way involves not hanging on to our version so tightly. It involves keeping our hearts and minds open long enough to entertain the idea that when we make things wrong (or right), we do it out of a desire to obtain some kind of ground or security. Could our minds and our hearts be big enough just to hang out in that space where we’re not entirely certain about who’s right and wrong?”

“When inspiration has become hidden, when we feel ready to give up, this is the time when healing can be found, in the tenderness of pain itself. We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole.”

“Tonglen reverses the usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In the process, we become liberated from very ancient patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others. Tonglen awakens our compassion an introduces us to a far bigger view of reality. This is the core of the practice: breathing in others’ pain so they can be well and have more space to relax and open–breathing out, sending them relaxation or whatever we feel would bring them relief and happiness.”

“Prajna is a way if seeing which continually dissolves any tendency to use things to get ground under our feet, a kind of bullshit detector that protects us from becoming righteous. There are no promises that everything will be OK. Instead we are encouraged to simply look at joy and sorrow, at laughing and crying, at hoping and fearing, at all that lives and dies. We learn that what truly heals is gratitude and tenderness.”

“The first paramita is generosity, the journey of learning how to give. When we feel inadequate and unworthy, we hoard things. We are so afraid–afraid of losing, afraid of feeling even more poverty stricken than we do already. We wish for comfort, but instead we reinforce aversion, the sense of sin, and the feeling that we are hopeless. The more we experience fundamental richness, the more we can loosen our grip. At the everyday, ordinary level, we experience it as flexibility and warmth.”

“The paramita of discipline allows us to be right here and connect with the richness of the moment….to find the balance between not too tight and not too loose, between not too laid back and not too rigid.”

The paramita of patience involves relaxing, opening to what’s happening, experiencing a sense of wonder.”

The paramita of exertion is touching in to our appetite for enlightenment. It allows us to act, to give, to work appreciatively with whatever comes our way.”

“The paramita of meditation allows us to continue the journey. It is the basis for an enlightened society that is not based on winning and losing, loss and gain. We connect with something unconditional–a state of mind, a basic environment that does not grasp or reject anything.”

“The sixth paramita is prajna, that which turns all actions into gold…it cuts through the whole thing. It makes us homeless. We have no place left to dwell on anything. When we work with generosity, we see our nostalgia for wanting to hold on. When we work with discipline, we see our nostalgia for wanting to zone out and not relate at all. As we work with patience, we discover our longing to speed. When we practice exertion, we realize our laziness. With mediation we see our endless discursiveness, our restlessness, and our attitude of couldn’t care less. We keep taking off the armour and stepping further into groundlessness.”

“You may have noticed that there is frequently an irritating, if not depressing, discrepancy between our ideas and good intentions and how we act when we are confronted with the nitty-gritty details of real-life situations. We continually find ourselves in that squeeze, where we look for alternatives to just being there. The place of the squeeze is the very point where we can really learn something. At that moment of hassle or bewilderment or embarrassment, our minds could become bigger. In that awkward, ambiguous moment is our own wisdom mind. Right here in the uncertainty of everyday chaos is our wisdom mind. We can move toward difficulties instead of backing away. Invite what scares us to introduce itself and hang around for awhile.”

image http://semmickphoto.com/image/conceptual-image-of-a-man-falling-apart/

When Things Fall Apart

IMG_5269It has been perhaps the toughest week yet, with separation emotions running very high. I have spent most of it at a very good friend’s cabin, allowing the painful reality to wash through me. I feel like I have been run over a few times by a train. The worst part is knowing how badly she is feeling and knowing that I am the cause, or at the very least, have contributed to it. And that I cannot fix it.

I drift in and out of sleep. I read. I cook. I work on my music. I exercise. I eat. I bounce around. I sleep some more. I hope that when I wake up it will be better.

I have not been very “up.” I thought of apologizing for the quality of my company, but there is no need with a good friend. He just gets it. Rather, I am very grateful for being given the space to just be. A gentle nudge now and then to get up and do something, but he never pushed me. Thank you Dan-o.

There is a small bookshelf at the foot of the bunk bed, and one book title jumps out at me, like a neon sign: “When Things Fall Apart” by Pema Chodron. Timely. And certainly not coincidental. Things seem to come to me when I need them most. When I allow them to come.

Here are a few passages that left a mark. Maybe they will resonate with you.

“When things fall apart and we’re on the verge of we know not what, the test for each of us is to stay on the brink and not concretize. Yet spiritual journey is not about heaven and finally getting to a place that’s really swell. In fact that way of looking at things keeps us miserable. The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last–that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security. From this point of view, the only time we really know what’s going on is when the rug’s been pulled out and we can’t find anywhere to land. To stay with that shakiness–to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting revenge–that is the path of true awakening.”

“We regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors–people who have a certain hunger to know what is true–feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape–all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

“We can learn to meet whatever arises with curiosity and not make it such a big deal. Instead of struggling against the force of confusion, we could meet it and relax. When we do that, we discover that clarity is always there. In the middle of the worst scenario with the worst person in the world, in the midst of all the heavy dialogue with ourselves, open space is always there.”

“Our personal demons come in many guises. We experience them as shame, as jealousy, as abandonment, as rage. They are anything that makes us so uncomfortable that we continually run away. We do the big escape: we act out, say something, slam a door, hit someone, or throw a pot as a way of not facing what’s happening in our hearts. Or we shove the feelings under and somehow deaden the pain. We can spend our whole lives escaping from the monsters in our minds.”

“Underneath our ordinary lives, underneath all the talking we do, all the moving we do, all the thoughts in our minds, there’s a fundamental groundlessness. It’s there bubbling all the time. We experience it as restlessness and edginess. We experience it as fear. It motivates passion, aggression, ignorance, jealousy, and pride, but we never get down to the essence of it. Refraining–not habitually acting out impulsively–is a method for getting to know the nature of this restlessness and fear. It’s a method of setting into groundlessness. It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately filling up space.”

“To think that we can finally get it all together is unrealistic. To seek for some lasting security is futile. Believing in a solid, separate self, continuing to seek pleasure and avoid pain, thinking that someone “out there” is to blame for our pain–one has to get totally fed up with these ways of thinking. Suffering begins to dissolve when we can question the belief or the hope that there’s anywhere to hide. Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together.”

“In a nontheistic state of mind, abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning. You could even put “abandon hope” on your refrigerator door instead of more conventional aspirations like “every day in every way I’m getting better and better.” Hope and fear come from feeling that we lack something…from a sense of poverty. We can’t simply relax with ourselves. We hold on to hope, and hope robs us of the present moment.”

“Death in everyday life could also be defined as experiencing all the things that we don’t want. Our marriage isn’t working, our job isn’t coming together. Having a relationship with death in everyday life means that we begin to be able to wait, to relax with insecurity, with panic, with embarrassment, with things not working out. ”

“One of the classic Buddhist teachings on hope and fear concerns what are known as the eight worldly dharmas. These are four pairs of opposites–four things that we like and become attached to and four things that we don’t like and try to avoid. The basic message is that when we are caught up in the eight worldly dharmas, we suffer. Becoming immersed in these four pairs of opposites–pleasure and pain, loss and gain, fame and disgrace, and praise and blame–is what keeps us stuck in the pain of samsara.”

“Usually we regard loneliness as an enemy. Heartache is not something we choose to invite in. It’s restless and pregnant and hot with desire to escape and find something or someone to keep us company. When we can rest in the middle, we begin to have a non-threatening relationship with loneliness, a relaxing and cooling loneliness that completely turns our usual fearful patterns upside down.”

“The experience of certain feelings can seem particularly pregnant with desire for resolution: loneliness, boredom, anxiety. Unless we can relax with these feelings, it’s very hard to stay in the middle when we experience them. We want victory or defeat, praise or blame. For example, if somebody abandons us, we don’t want to be with that raw discomfort. Instead, we conjure up familiar identity of ourselves as a hapless victim. We automatically want to cover over the pain in one way or another, identifying with victory or victimhood.”

“Not wandering in the world of desire is another way of describing cool loneliness. Wandering in the world of desire involves looking for alternatives, seeking something to comfort us–food, drink, people. The word desire encompasses that addiction quality, the way we grab for something because we want to find a way to make things OK. That quality comes from never having grown up.”

IMG_5271

Letting Go

…it could seem like you are losing something
right now, but do not be fooled. This is simply
a turnaround orchestrated by your soul.
–Neil Donald Walsch

It’s Saturday morning of the August long weekend. I would usually be on a camping trip into the wild with my friends and family–an annual tradition I started about 25 years ago. And yet here I sit alone, typing away, at home. My wife and son are away, as are many of my friends.

There was not really much interest in the trip this year, but if the truth be told, I really did not put much effort into organizing it. My heart was just not in it. But it’s probably better this way.

The camping trip is a microcosm of the upheaval that is happening in the rest of my life. It is a very odd, uncomfortable, and difficult time of transition.

Part of me still wants to cling to what was normal and familiar, even though it no longer is.

But part of me thinks that I have to learn to let go, to stop fighting it, and allow life to happen.

To make room, and allow myself to hear whatever it is that’s calling me.

Let go. Have faith. Let god.

Letting go is different than denying or repressing. To let go of something is to admit it. You have to own it. Letting go is different than turning it against yourself; different than projecting it onto others. Letting go means that the denied, repressed, rejected parts of yourself, which are nonetheless true, are seen for what they are; but you refuse to turn them against yourself or against others. This is not denial or pretend, but actual transformation.–Richard Rohr

Let go

I Cried

I cried more than I ever have before
Cried for all we created, all that we healed together
Cried for what we no longer were going to be
Feeling beaten and bruised, like I had gone 12 rounds in the ring

The emptiness
The grief
The gut-wrenching ache
Coming in waves

The profound sorrow I never knew could be
Somehow we lost each other, and we lost ourselves
All we have is now, moment by moment
Nothing is permanent, nothing is forever

The unresolved anger
Insidiously becoming resentment
I can’t pinpoint a moment when it all started to turn
When we began to drift apart

Looking back on all that was good
Staying with the pain of the present
Ahead is uncertain and unclear, but perhaps a faint glimmer
So I put one foot gingerly in front of the other

Knowing it will be better this way, in time
And that the only way through it is to feel it
Then darkness again
And I cried some more

imagesCAC6F48T

Image by Princess Pana

From the Mouths of Babes

Well, not exactly. From my teenage son Ben. My immediate family is going through a very difficult time at the moment. And my 18-year old son came up with this little gem recently, seemingly out of nowhere. I often marvel at the clarity and maturity of his thinking.

“When you live in a world of pre-set expectations and ideas, you deny yourself the opportunity to renew and re-invent yourself.”

imagesCA6YCTF9