Fifty Shades of Grey

“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.”Henry David Thoreau

Well, I made it. I celebrated my 50th birthday last week, singing my little heart out, surrounded by family and friends. On the day, exactly how I wanted to do it. Stepping to the music.

Many have asked if it feels different, hitting this milestone. I can report that there have been no great earth-shattering epiphanies between March 27 and March 28. But there have been many gradual realizations, especially over the past two or three years. Things slowly coming into focus.

Someone asked me recently if I thought I was an adult. I do not feel grown up, and I am not sure I know what that even means. I still find it hard to believe I have 50 years under my belt. Physically, I have to say that I am not wild about what happens to me as I age, and would happily trade myself in for a younger model at times. Benjamin Button has the right idea. Mentally, I don’t feel like I imagine a 50-year-old should feel. I still think I think young.

But spiritually and emotionally, I would not trade now for any time in the past. Up and down, good and bad, happy and sad, I have tried (and not always succeeded) to do the right thing, and treat others the way I want to be treated. There are things about my life that I wish had turned out differently, despite my efforts, but I have no regrets. Everything that has happened has made me who I am, and overall I am happy with the result. My friend Tommy reminded me of this recently, in a few more words.

I would do it all over again. It has been a good run.

Here are a few more insights, brought on by friends, family, and other great thinkers. As always, these always seem to come exactly when I am ready to receive them.

“It is a mistake to try and look too far ahead. The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.”Winston Churchill

I used to think I had it all mapped out, and everything would happen as I planned it. Not so. There is a much bigger plan unfolding, most of which I cannot control nor understand. So I just keep moving forward, less concerned about figuring it all out, and more concerned about what I wish to create. Trying not to let my past dictate my future.

My friend Rel wrote: “maybe you can move on now and find that big THING in life that will leave you feeling content, my friend.” I have no idea what that big thing is yet, but I am open, and I am ready.

“If you continue to pursue the goal of salvation through a relationship, you will be disillusioned again and again, but if you accept that the relationship is here to make you conscious instead of happy, then the relationship will offer you salvation.”—Ekhart Tolle

Slowly learning this the hard way. Relationships exist as mirrors, reflecting who we are. I understand the concept, but it’s very tough in practice.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”—Rumi

And there are many. Trying to knock them down, one painful brick at a time. The dance of intimacy is and will continue to be my greatest life challenge.

My father said to me recently that he will always support me. Even though he may have reservations about my chosen paths, I am still his son, and he will always be proud of me. He also expressed that he was only sorry that he hadn’t told me this before. I can’t tell you how meaningful it was to finally hear these words.

It reminds me (loosely quoted, unknown source) that “I have and will incur the misunderstanding and perhaps even the wrath of those around me for having the temerity to march to my own drumbeat, which I am finally starting to hear. I will try not to take it personally. We are all on different paths and timetables, but we all seek and need unconditional love and support, especially from those closest to us.” That helps me feel worthy, confident, and better able to accept the good that comes my way.

And from my son Ben: “As always, the flow of life is unstoppable. But my paddle is wide, and my stroke is just. So I go where I need to.” When I asked Ben if this is an original quote, he replied “why of course…I live this shit, yo.” Wow…19 going on 50! Profound words from an old soul. You just never know where the wisdom will come from.

For me, getting older means learning to see things as they are, accepting them, and letting go. Externally, I control virtually nothing. All I can really control is what happens on the inside, and how I choose to experience life. Understanding how, why, and what I feel…a heightened awareness of everything. Learning to live with contradiction and ambiguity, and understanding that this is the way things are. Learning that fear is not something to be overcome, but rather something to face and move through.

Life is becoming much less black and white. I am learning to see the many, many shades of grey in between.

If this is what adulthood means, then I guess I am certainly well on my way.

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Relationships

shadow imageNot much original thought this week I’m afraid, at least not that I am ready to blog about. But here is something I came across by Neil Donald Walsch (one of my favourites who always makes me stop and think). The last paragraph is the real kicker.

“The purpose of relationship may not be what you think.

If you are excited about forming a relationship based on
what it looks like you can get, rather than what you can give,
you have started off on the wrong foot entirely, and you
could be heading for a big disappointment.

The purpose of all relationships is to create a sacred context
within which you can express the fulness of who you are.
And who you are is an experience you have before
you enter relationship, not because you did.”

Into Africa–March 7, 2013

265Before I get into the week, here are a few random thoughts and observations. In many African countries, women still have no rights and are considered the property of men. Once she has been bought, a man is free to use and abuse her as he pleases. This used to be the norm across the continent; now less so, but still far too frequently which is very troubling. I firmly believe that if women ran countries there would be far less violence within and between countries. But I digress.

This does not seem to be the case in Maputo though, and I would guess most urban areas of Mozambique. Women are very aggressive and outspoken here. I have been asked by many local men why I don’t have a girlfriend. That is the culture. Friday nights are “girlfriend” nights. I tried to explain to one colleague why I cannot take part in that. “But you don’t have to tell your wife, she’s not here,” he said. I told him that that was not the issue…that I would know. It might be different if I where raised here to think that way, but I was not, and cannot. But I suppose the practice is not all that different from anywhere else, it’s just more socially accepted here.

Life expectancy in Mozambique is only about 50 years. Although there is hardly any obesity here and most people look healthy, the overall diet is terrible. Rice and potatoes (especially french fries) are staples with most meals, and not a lot of crunchy fruit and veggies. Lots of mushy food.

Part of it is poverty, but part of it I think is that they just don’t know about nutrition. All they know is what has been passed down to them from parents and family. They have not been taught otherwise.

Mozambique is the 4th fastest growing economy in the world. Really hard to believe in some ways, especially with the huge gap between rich and poor. Let’s pray that with a booming economy, increasing focus on education, and tremendous external interest in Mozambique’s natural resources, that gap will narrow in the coming years.

The week that was…

Minutes after last week’s post, I was very relieved to attend the closing reception of the international conference we hosted. It was cocktail party outside the conference centre featuring the same African musicians and dancers I wrote about last week, the same group that opened the conference…and my observation was that the whole thing felt quite unnatural.

IMG_1388Well, the universe works in some very interesting and mysterious ways sometimes. I was standing there, minding my own business, when one of the Zulu dudes grabbed me and led me to the front of the crowd. He put something on my head, and handed me a spear and leather shield and before I knew it, I was chanting and performing a Zulu war dance with them and three others from the conference! I was the only white guy up there, in a seersucker pants and a jacket. What a site it must have been. My body is just not capable of moving the way the Zulu do, but I gave it my best shot. As I have done with every aspect of this incredible journey.

I worked half a day on Friday, then off with my friend Liz, her two kids, and brother Sean235 for a whirlwind tour through Kruger national game park in South Africa and Swaziland. Sean and I went for an amazing three-hour open-vehicle sunset safari Friday night (or as Charlotte says, “safaaawee”…so cute) . Our Excellent guide (yes that’s his name) was a knowledgeable guy with a quirky sense of humour. He was comfortable and relaxed, but his eyes were fascinating–they never stopped moving, as he constantly scanned the terrain, on permanent alert. Like a predator.253

Kruger park is one of the largest in Africa, about 65 km west to east and 360 km north to south. It is home 547 species of birds, 147 species of mammals, and 114 species of reptiles.

I had no real expectations on what the experience would be like and what we might see. But in three short hours, it felt like the park animals gave us a real show, with impalas, hippos, elephants, wildebeest, buffalo, kudus, bush babies, porcupines, water bucks, and zebras all around us. We even spotted, albeit at a distance, a couple of lions and the rare black rhino. Apparently you can drive through the park for days and weeks and never see these. 247Rhinos, lions, elephants, buffalo, and leopards are what hunters refer to as “the big five” because these animals are so hard to kill, a reference that I dislike incidentally. We saw four out of the five, but the highlight for me was an elephant who just appeared on our right side, just feet away from the vehicle. I had spotted elephants at a242 distance a little earlier, but this was a completely different experience. It was MASSIVE, at least 15 feet tall…and so wise and peaceful looking. I stopped snapping shots and tried to just take it in. Magic.

One funny sidebar…about a year ago I bought this great safari-type shirt. Breathable, versatile, well designed and very comfortable. This will be perfect if I go on a safari one day, I thought. Ironic then that I did not have this with me for the safari (in the dirty laundry pile back in Maputo), and instead was wearing bright blue golf shirt! Very wilderness looking!251

Then up very early the next morning for another drive through the park, this time with the kids and Liz. More buffalo, elephants, zebras, as well as giraffes, vultures, turtles and more. Honestly, I wasn’t sure how well I’d fare inside a vehicle with two young kids for hours at a time, but I approached that as I have everything else on this trip, with openness to the flow. That attitude of acceptance changes everything.

The journey continued through South Africa to Swaziland, as we wound our way 110through the mountains of this small country (about 150×100 km), the last remaining monarchy in Africa. Interesting how this landlocked country, one of two in South Africa (the other being Lesotho) has managed to non-violently remain independent from British and South Africa rule. A country rich in tradition. Every year, for example, there is a national celebration where the king takes a new bride (he is about to about 13 now!). It is a showcase event for all the eligible women in the country. Is it a surprise then that about a third of the country is infected by HIV/AIDS.

The countryside is absolutely stunning, and there is certainly a different feel from South 283Africa and Mozambique. More orderly than Mozambique somehow, but not as modern as South Africa. We stopped at a little craft place with beautiful views, and minutes later, a massive water dam. We continued through the mountains, with pavement turning to dirt road. I started to feel that familiar tingle of worry and unease, not sure where we were headed and feeling like we had made a wrong turn. Being in the back with the kids, I had not really been paying attention. And we were beginning to lose daylight. No signage, and everyone we stopped to ask seemed to have no idea where we were. The what ifs started swirling around my head. Anyway, it passed and as it turned out, we were not off track at all. It just felt like we were.

We finally made it to the Mozambique border around 7:30 pm, where we discovered a problem with my entry visa. After about an hour of negotiation and waiting (thank you Liz), we sorted it out and were on our way. Just another part of the adventure. I probably should have paid more attention to the process, and been better prepared. As Sean pointed out, in the big picture it was a good thing because it showed that the immigration system can work the way it is supposed to. But I am so glad that we discovered this then, and not at the airport in a week from now, as this might have prevented me from leaving the country!

It was a wonderful tour, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this with friends.

Sunday was a grey, windy, and unsettled feeling day. It matched the tumultuous feeling I had inside of me. I wandered across the street to the park where an afternoon music and food festival was unfolding. I just wasn’t in the celebratory mood. I was off. It happens. But much less often than it used to. And I know that it passes, and not to let it discolour everything else in the meantime. Learning.

I ran into Vally, a musician I met about a month ago in a club who, at the time, seemed very eager for me to play with him and his band. When I followed up by phone and text a few days later, he never responded. I saw him again about two weeks ago and he apologized and said his phone was broken. Then he asked me for money to get drugs for his sick child. I didn’t buy it because I don’t trust him. Then I ran into him again at this festival on Sunday. He apologized for his phone again and for asking me for money the last time we met. Then he asked me for money again. It really bothered me.

The relationships I have formed here, by and large have not been based on money. And this dude is shifty, insincere, and disingenuous. There is something about this sort of person that really stirs something up deep inside of me. I gave him a few bucks anyway, and off he went. I have since learned that Vally is a drug addict which explains why I felt the way I felt.

Later that day Domingues, one of the hotel receptionists, asked if he could borrow a cable to re-charge his phone. And then he said in his broken English: “I love you Mr. Jonatan. You are the best.” And everything re-balanced.

Monday was a better day. Less than two weeks to go and I feel my time running out. I met with someone from the Ministry of Education about website issues. Before we got to his questions, I pointed out that the average can’t even find or get to the website. Seems obvious, but I need to keep reminding myself of where I am. I keep hammering home the universal message that you must think and act like the audience you want to reach, regardless of where you are in the world.

I returned to the office and had a chat with Alberto, one of my colleagues. He was asking me about my visit, with some very insightful comments abou how difficult it can be in a strange place, far from home, different culture, language barriers, the feeling of being alone. “That describes it perfectly,” I said, “but I managed, with help, to adjust very quickly, and I am very proud of that.”

“Ahhh,” he said wisely. “But your approach from the very beginnning has been very open, and very friendly.” He’s right. I have been. Flexibility, awareness, thoughtfulness, a willingness to help and serve, and finding my rhythm quickly have made all the difference, and made this an experience I will never forget.

Tuesday I was flying, starting to wrap up meetings and reports. I met with Chico at the end of the day, and we practiced together, just the two of us, for about two solid hours at his home. He was sober, rested, and focused. I really loved this particular practice because it was more than just me learning his songs…I was actually collaborating with him, suggesting a few changes in wording and structure to his songs. He was open, appreciative, and into it. We’re working on three songs, which I may perform with him and the rest if the InTransito band next week. After we’d run through each of them about four times, he kept saying: “one more time, for the road.” Then his wife Anita made us tea. One tea bag, three cups.

This practice marked a turning point in that up until now, I have been driving the process. Tuesday night Chico asked me if I wanted to practice at his place the next night as well. He also gave me one of his percussion instruments. I will treasure this always, and hopefully put it to very good use in the coming months.

Wednesday we had another rehearsal together. Again, a very interesting practice…I made suggestions and am becoming more confident, and Chico was doing harmonies this time. The songs are evolving. No ego, no expectations, no agenda…just open. “Very good,” he said. “You are ready.”

This morning (Thursday) I was able to arrange a interview with the Canadian lead of this educational reform program at Radio Mozambique. It was a great 10-minute interview. The host was prepared, had good questions, and Suzanne delivered important key messaging like a pro.

Off to the beach this weekend for the first time since I arrived, followed by a visit to one of the training centers early next week.

I will close with a quote that I really like from Ram Dass which ties it all together quite neatly this week. Something to continue to strive for:

“We are all affecting the world every moment, whether we mean to or not. Our actions and states of mind matter because we are so deeply interconnected. Working on our own consciousness is the most important thing that we are doing at any moment, and being love is the supreme creative act.”

‘Til next week…

MoJo269

Life Lessons From the Road

I often see things more clearly from the road—when I’m travelling or away from home. It gives me perspective and helps me better appreciate what I have. I seem to be more intuitive and better able to listen. And my recent trip was no exception.

My wife Deborah and I drove East along the Northern shore of the St. Lawrence river last week to see the whales, something she has always wanted to do. From Ottawa, it is about an 800 km. journey through Montreal and Quebec City, and then through the hills to the mouth of the Saguenay river which runs into the St. Lawrence. Whales, dolphins, and other marine life make the annual trip from the warm waters of the Carribean to feed on a huge buffet of krill.

Even before I left, that intuitiveness began to kick in. I am not mechanically inclined, but as I was leaving to meet my wife in Montreal, something told me that my brakes were not quite right. And I listened. Turns out the front brakes were shot and had to be replaced.

Two hours later, I arrived in Montreal. I picked up Deborah, and we made our way around the city, on our way to Quebec city. There was heavy traffic and lots of distractions. We came to a major fork in the road, and suddenly I realized I was in the wrong lane. I made a stupid, split-second decision to stop and switch to the right lane. A huge tractor trailer was barreling up behind me, and the right lane was thick with cars whizzing by. I managed to somehow just get out of the way of the tractor trailer, and into the right lane between cars. There was perhaps a two second window for me to make the move without causing a serious crash. I pissed off a few drivers, but I just made it. There was no time to think, just act. And I did. But that little maneuver had nothing to do with me. I know that something intervened.

I had not made any reservations anywhere, and really had no idea where we would end up and when. Deborah loves this kind of spontaneous trip, but this is something I usually have a really hard time with. I am a planner, and I always like to know where I’m going. It was very unsettling, but I did it anyway. I trusted that things would work out OK. There is a freedom in the not knowing, but it takes awhile to not be so afraid of it. And here’s how the accomodation part played out…

We came upon a beautiful little hotel in the heart of Quebec City, and they just happened to have one room left. We would never have found it if everything had been completely planned out. On the second day, we drove beyond the usual whale watching destination (Tadoussac) to the middle of nowhere. But we had heard that there was a gorgeous little campsite, right on the river. They were full, but we had chatted a little earlier with a very nice woman who just happened to be related to someone who ran the campsite. She phoned ahead, and somehow got a spot for us. We pulled in, checked with the person in charge, and wandered over to our site, which opened up through the trees to a small clearing. It was completely isolated from the rest of the site, overlooking the river. And by some miracle (of not planning), we had this little spot all to ourselves.

As we looked out over the river, a whale broke the surface of the water, and we heard the ‘whoosh’ as he cleared out his blowhole. And then another. This went on for hours, and then into the night. These magnificent creatures—so graceful, elegant, and majestic—and there we were somehow with them. There was something very peaceful about the experience. I felt very small in the overall scheme of things, yet somehow connected to something much, much bigger. Nature has a way of doing that.

The next day we went out in a small zodiac to get even closer to them. There were whales, dolphins, and seals all around us at times, coming to the surface, diving back down, gracefully doing what they were meant to do. Just being themselves, as nature intended, and allowing us the occasional glimpse into their world. Whales don’t know how to be be anything other than whales. I wondered what it might be like if I could be the same way. Just being who I am, without all the other things that I allow to get in the way.

We headed for home the following day, stopping in Montreal to visit with her family on the way home. I have trouble with this when traveling because I just want to get to where I’m going. But I surrendered. Well sort of, for a couple of hours. After visiting with her brother, John, she went to visit her aunt while I went looking for a bookstore with John. I had no idea where we were going and became agitated (once again) as we looked around for a bookstore. And then I thought to myself, who cares about the bookstore, and tried to just enjoy the drive with him. I began to let go of the burning need for a destination. We never found the bookstore, but by then it really didn’t seem to matter.

Leaving Montreal we drove through some very unsettled weather. I was anxious—my default state. And I knew it. But this time I tried to just allow the anxiety to happen instead of fighting it. And Deborah gave me some room. And then it passed.

As we neared home, there was a massive dark cloud on the left, and clear skies on the right. Yin and yan like as my wife put it.  And we drove right through the heart of it, together, as the rays of the sun pierced the clouds, an awesome light display of nature’s finest. A metaphor in some way for our marriage perhaps.

Lately I have been somewhat negative about our marriage, focussing more on the struggles and difficulties, and less on the good stuff. Deborah asked me to think a little more carefully about my words. She asked me to just try to enjoy our time together, like we did before we were married. I chose to listen instead of resist. And I remembered what a cool and joyful person she is. She gives me a soft place to land. I think it will be better now.

She also pointed out aspects of my personality that I have never been able to recognize in myself. I spread joy to those around me, apparently. I don’t see it, but I will take her word for it. And I am grateful to have a partner who cares enough, and is interested enough to help me see what I am unable to see in myself. Perhaps therein lies the potential magic of relationships…they allow you to see who you are, who you can be, and they give you the opportunity to work out the issues that are holding you back.

Over the last few days on the road I have been able to practice what I have read and written so much about over the last year or two. I’m not sure that practice will make perfect, but it definitely moves me closer towards the person I want to become.

The road reminds me of how little I really control in the big picture, and how exhausting the need to control can be.

It gives me perspective, as it always does, helping me to appreciate what I have. It reminds me how important it is to be in the moment. It reminds me that once I have set my intention, to let the universe work out the details and to have faith that things will work out somehow. It reminds of the extreme importance of attitude and gratitude.

And the road reminds me, yet again, that there are massive, unknown forces at work out there that are conspiring to help me. “The mysterious guidance that comes when we surrender,” as Anda so eloquently commented below.

I just need to get out of the way and let them work their magic.