Tag Archives: gifts from Universe

Why continue to blog?

For the past few weeks, I have not blogged much. An intended short respite from blogging became a two or three-month break.

Since my mother (and my father) have passed away, and I no longer care for parents with Alzheimer’s, I have struggled with my new blogging role. Yes, I still blog about people with Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease, but I also am finding that I return over and over again to the topics of mindfulness, awareness, creativity and expansiveness.

I wonder if I am defining myself as a carer, when I clearly no longer am a carer. That part of my life is over.

I have friends who think I volunteer at the long-term care facility where my mother lived for more than two years for the sole purpose of hanging on to my past. That is, they wonder if I am still clinging to my role as carer for my mother and father when they had Alzheimer’s.

They make a valid point. When a person’s role in life is a full-time caregiver, it is natural and human to feel a loss of identity once death ends that role. I understand that.

My friends mean well. I know that.  But when I listen to their words of concern, I always counter with I am where I am supposed to be.

I know this without any doubt.

How do I know? Because when we are doing something we love, we feel such joy. I visit the residents who have Alzheimer’s or other dementia-related diseases (and some do not have any diseases – their bodies are just slowly breaking down) and I receive many gifts from them. They teach me patience, wisdom, strength, compassion, generosity and more. I find myself laughing out loud to their insightful remarks or clever retorts; yes, Alzheimer’s does not rob them of humour and laughter.

I have learned to pay attention and listen more. (To listen is my 2016 intention.) I have honed my mindfulness practice. I have learned to just go with the flow – not to take things personally or to react when a resident screams at me or turns on me. I quietly respond or I walk away and find a personal support worker. (My cardinal rule is: I am not here to fix anybody or cure them.)

And I have learned to stay in the present moment – to give up expectations. Expectations is about living in the future.

And I have learned that impermanence is the only constant in life, and while I still dread death and disease just as others do, I am accepting change more easily. Living in the now and being filled with gratitude eases my fears.

So, when I think of my volunteer work I know that I am living a purposeful life – one that I would never have realized if it were not for caring for parents with Alzheimer’s.

My past journey has led me to this new journey. And so I have learned to trust life, even in my darker moments.

Many years ago while watching television,  I heard a group therapist say,

“Every time you tell your story, you give away a little piece of the pain.”

According to this therapist, telling our story (owning up to it, accepting it, and saying it out loud) is the basis of healing.

When I volunteer at the care facility and visit with the residents, I am capturing a little piece of each of them. With luck, I will have a better understanding of who they are now and who they were in the past. I have found that the more they learn to trust me, the more they are willing to open up and share their story. And when they share (even a small chapter of their life), I can visibly see the impact on them: they relax, they smile, they sigh, and sometimes they shed a tear. I have learned that everyone wants to be heard. And to know that they matter. It’s universal. And I have learned that when we are listened to…we heal.

When I sat and recorded, and later transcribed, one of the residents’ life story, I was struck how much I became connected to this woman after I learned of her story – where she came from, how she got to Canada, how she built a life and family here; her sorrows, and her joys. I felt such a connection to her when we finished her life story. And still do. I rarely miss an opportunity to visit her when I volunteer. And I know (because she has told me) that she feels the same connection to me. I am grateful.

When I visit the residents, I hope that each of them knows that they matter just as they are. Many of them are at the end of their journey – they are in the last innings of the game (as my baseball-loving husband would say). The last stages of the residents’ lives are as important as the last innings, albeit for different reasons. Last innings are about last chances to win the game. In life, last stages are about reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. On second thought, perhaps not so different, as peace is a powerful win.

I have a hope or an intention that everyone can understand Alzheimer’s with more compassion and kindness. It is such a misunderstood disease; no wonder because it is complicated, complex and incurable. It is mysterious: Why do some have severe personality changes, and others do not? Why do some become violent and angry, while others recede and become quiet? Why do some talk more (in early stages), while others fidget and cannot sit still? Why are some residents (seemingly) normal during the day hours and yet affected by sundowning during the evening hours (their moods swing or they become cognitively diminished)? Our brains are not one-size-fits-all.

That just scares the hell out of all of us. So we cringe when we even just hear the word dementia. My mother used to react to the disease cancer in much the same way.  She would lean into my ear and whisper,”the C word.” Strangely enough, even with Alzheimer’s and living in a long-term care home, she would whisper to me, “Poor man. He has the C word.” Bizarrely, she didn’t realize that she, too, lived in the same place that he did, with another disease that people whispered about.

So I write about my experience with caring for parents who had Alzheimer’s in this blog. Not because I am an expert; not because I have any answers. My journey was difficult and I struggled with it.  But I had a second chance to do it better.  And so I did. And that made all the difference in the world.

And I write about my encounters with the residents at the long-term care home so that people will understand that they do not lose their essence when they have Alzheimer’s or other dementias – they are still here! If a reader learns nothing else but that someone with dementia still matters, then my intent is fulfilled.

If I can change my thoughts and accept disease and learn to live with it in loving kindness, then anyone can. And I believe that we need to accept the disease, so that our time with our loved one can be one of quality and love, not fear.

So I write about mindfulness and acceptance because that is how I changed. And I write about creativity and joy because that is what I experience now. Who knew that my journey would lead to such joy and expansiveness? But I shouldn’t be surprised: Compassion and an open heart always leads to more love, more joy, more insights. Joy leads to more gifts.

When we share our gifts (no matter what those gifts are) we connect to other people – and that is how each of us makes a small (but significant) change. And I believe that is how together, we will heal humanity and our Earth. One person’s small act at a time. One small connection at a time.

We change the world when we realize that we cannot change the world. We can only change ourselves.

“Yesterday I was clever so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise so I am changing myself.”   Rumi

My blog is a small act. And so just for today I will continue. Tomorrow – we’ll see.

But here’s a last thought: Am I not still a carer? Are we not all carers? Are we not all caring or protecting or comforting someone or something? Are we not all carers of our earth and humanity?

 

 

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Sighting of the tundra swans and mindfulness

 

Tundra swans

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I go to Nature to be soothed and healed. And to have my senses put in tune once more.   John Burroughs

On Friday I awoke with a sharp pain in my shoulder blade. I must have slept in some awkward position; either that, or hunched up like a whale – beached and not moving, I slept in one position all through the night.

Later that day we drove to the Thedford Bog, an hour’s drive, to behold the annual return of the migratory tundra swans. In past years we have witnessed thousands of these stunning white birds (their white bodies accented by black bills and short, black legs) – some arriving with their co-pilots in flight, while others have already landed in the marshy, wet farm fields. Their annual road trip takes place bi-annually and is nearly 6,000 km, round trip; in spring, their destination is the Canadian Arctic. They will take the longer, scenic route and fly over the western provinces, first.

The majestic swans land in our territory for rest and fuel – Thedford Bog is just one of their many pit stops on their route. Like the swans, my family (many years ago) took to the highways and drove east to the American coast, in summer (not fall), often refueling at coffee shops or cheap, discount restaurants. Instead of coffee, eggs and bacon, the discerning swans dine on corn stubble left-overs from last year’s crops.

The flooded farmer’s fields (which many years ago were wetlands and marshes) is now arable land, but water-logged in spring – an enticement for the tundras.

But as soon as we turned off the highway onto the narrow, country road, a short distance from the landing area, we knew something was missing. In past years one can hear the sounds of the swans, in perfect harmony, the hoo-hoo-hoo that is so loud, even when car windows are rolled up.

As the car approached the fields (on both sides of the road) there were no parked vehicles – a sure sign there were no swans. And as we surveyed the wet land, we could only discern some white dots in the far off distance. Even with our binoculars, we could not clearly see them.

My friend in Toronto had texted me a few days earlier that as he walked his grandchild to school, a flock of tundras flew over his head; he counted 29 of them.

Now, I turn to my sister and husband and announce that the same 29 tundras have arrived. A far cry from thousands.

Later, I check out the website and learn that thousands had arrived earlier in the week, but by Friday they had flown the coop…er…bog.

Disappointed, we drove home.

But on the way home, we took the back country roads and my sister yelled out, “There they are.”

Yes, the tundras had landed in a different farmer’s field – land still water-logged and marshy this early spring. We were so thrilled to finally sight them, as my husband avoided a ditch when he pulled the car over. It was a skinny shoulder, to say the least; no room to get out of the car.  (I tried to remember if sudden movements topple cars over into ditches.)

I grabbed my binoculars and hung half way out of the window, contorting my body and suffering more pain from my shoulder blades and back. To hell with the pain, this sight only comes once a year, so I was determined to view it.

There was a national bird conference – tundras, seagulls, mallards, red heads and Canadian geese – all swimming in the newly made ponds; corn stalks and stubble spoiling the glassy effect.

There were a number of birds that we couldn’t identify: some with green heads and colourful bodies; perhaps, wood ducks or northern shovelers? We were not certain since we do not normally see them in our neck of the woods, er… bogs. (Although they can be seen in the summer months, I am told.)

My sister and I were frantically holding our binoculars and juggling our bird books, flipping through the waders and dabblers sections of the books – shouting out “no, no, it can’t be a wood duck.” These are the few times that I wished that I was not a loner. If I had been with an actual bird group – the seasoned pros would have identified the ducks. Instead, I’m a newbie, and my sister wasn’t much better at ID-ing the mystery birds, either. So I had to rely on Google and bird apps that were too slow. (And I was hanging out a window, remember?)

Finally my husband (who is not a birder) wryly observed, “You might want to just watch the birds, instead of wasting time trying to label them.” (I so dislike it when he is so right!)

A sigh. Recognition. Awareness.

Sometimes I need that reminder that in my quest to capture the moment (or label it) I forget to pause and appreciate it in its fullness.

My husband reminded me of something that I deeply know – that it is in the silence and in the stillness of Nature, that the sacred is felt. The sacred, that feeling of Oneness with the Universe, will only grace us when we are being, not doing.

It is why we stop and look above us when we hear the hoo-hoo-hoo-ing of the tundra swans or the honking chorus of the Canadian geese or the melodious sounds of the ubiquitous sparrows.

Because when we pause, we feel the Sacred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colour loading, chili and mindfulness

In art, there is a painting technique called colour loading. One loads one side of the brush with one colour and the other side of the brush with a second colour. Two colours. Skilled artists can load the brush with three colours. What makes this colour loading so fascinating to me is that the painter can now make strokes, side by side, of two (or three) distinct colours. Neither colour impedes on the other. Each colour runs beside the other; clear and well-defined.

When we walked along the river two weeks ago, we noticed hundreds of ducks and geese in the bay. The ice that had formed the previous week had begun to melt and there were fissures throughout the ice floes, or ice islands, as my husband calls them.

The ice fishing huts that had sprung up had disappeared and the ruts and tracks in the snow on the ice made by anxious fishermen were filled with water. Only the ducks and geese dared to brazenly walk across the floes.

That day the sky was  two tones of Easter egg blue and multiple shades of dove grey, while  white clouds drifted by – cumulus, cirrus and stratus. There was a fourth type of cloud in the sky but I hadn’t watched enough of The Weather Network to name it; I am no climatologist. Take my word for it: the sky was filled with fluffy, streaky, and wispy clouds.

The muted sun hid behind the cumulus, cirrus, stratus and mystery clouds, but the streak of vivid blue sky that peeked through was a sure sign that she would make a showier appearance before the morning was done.

During our walk I halted often to watch the geese fly overhead; their honks could not be ignored, much to my husband’s annoyance when I chose to stop often.

Later, I made chili, and I changed up my recipe: I added one big dollop of honey –  honey that my husband had bought at the farmer’s market. Also, I roasted the vegetables (onions, garlic, carrots, pepper, celery, hot jalapenos) instead of sautéing them.

When we sat down to watch Sunday afternoon football, we began to text our sons who live in Toronto. Our texts were colour-commentator worthy as we are all football fans. (Although my one son and his wife have watched a documentary about concussions in football and sports, and have been most decidedly turned off of the sport.)

My sister dropped in on her way home from visiting her friend who now lives in a long-term care home in London, laden with gifts. I am not exaggerating; she entered and yelled, “I have come laden with gifts.”

She stayed for chili and crusty bread and we opened a Chinese beer for each of us – the same Chinese beer that we enjoyed on our recent visit to China.

In turn, she presented me with two sketch books and a package of charcoal pencils. Her friend who she visited earlier that day insisted she buy them for me. Turns out her friend has a Fine Arts degree and knows about these things. I was so moved to receive my sister’s gifts. She had not forgotten my husband and presented him with a bag of candy. My husband (who was not moved) tore the bag open and called the candy.. dessert.

I was moved because more and more I am aware of the gifts of each day – ducks and geese on melting ice bergs; blue and grey streaky skies that change as we walk (Nature has perfected the colour-loading process); home-made honey by one of our local farmers; chili; sweet candy; and art supplies.

When people ask me about my experience of looking after both parents, and then visiting them in a care home, I am often asked how I coped. And my answer is always the same – I try to live mindfully, each day in awareness. When we live in the Now, and are mindful of each and everything around us at all times, we live more fully. More alive. Healthier. More joy.

When I visit the long-term care facility where I now volunteer, mindfulness is my intention. When I go through the doors, I stop at the window display, inset in the wall by the hairdressing salon, just so that I can appreciate the creative talents of the staff and the residents. The art is beautiful and it is beyond comprehension how residents who have a dementia-related disease are so talented, artistically.

At my weekly meditation class, we talk about how a person in their eighties, and even nineties, with no prior experience in art, suddenly draws or paints with perfect symmetry, balance and proportion. How does that happen, we wonder? We suspect that the fears and misconceptions about our own unique talents disappear with a dementia – as if the veil of doubt that we carry around all of our lives  (Oh, I wish I could draw, but I can’t; I have no artistic talent, none!) is lifted.

As I continue down the hall towards the area where I visit (there are four pods in the care facility – I visit one of them), I stop and greet personal support workers, kitchen staff, nurses and cleaning staff with recognition and delight – many of these people are the same ones who held me in their open arms when I grieved beside my dying mother’s bed. We are forever connected; we have a bond that love and compassion (and grace) has created and it is a bond my mindfulness honours.

Later, I may spend time helping residents go to the bingo room or to music therapy; or I might read to residents during our weekly reading session.
Last week I laughed along with the residents when Charlie, a Golden Retriever, and his owner stopped by for a visit just as we finished reading John Grogan’s Marley and Me. Charlie is a four-legged volunteer, and a favourite with the residents. One of the residents told me that Charlie must have known that we were reading about Marley. It did seem serendipitous, and the same resident pointed out the similarity in their names, Charlie and Marley.

Charlie’s owner intuitively recognized that she had arrived at the perfect moment and so she sat down and initiated a Q&A session about Charlie. Some of the residents asked her if Charlie is frightened of thunderstorms, like Marley. When she answered no, she had her dog perform some tricks, all of which delighted the residents. Charlie then visited each resident, taking time to lay her head on either of their knees or in their laps, sniffing them completely, and allowing the love to flow. Charlie is mellow – she has this mindfulness thing mastered.

When we are in complete awareness of the moment that we are in, we are mindful. Dogs get that. Dogs are not worried about any issues or fears – their full attention is on the person who is sitting in front of them (or who is giving them a treat).

So if a family member is visiting someone who has a dementia-related disease, I suggest mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to appreciate the person fully, and not the disease.

Appreciate the staff who care for them; take time to learn their names and ask about them. Learn about the home’s activities and take part in some of them. Visit the gardens or go for a walk. Learn to savour these sweet moments – life is short, embrace each day.

Let go of the fears that surround disease and illness; instead, recognize that the time you have left is about living, not dying. Time is a gift.

When I looked after my father, I tended to his daily needs: toileting, dressing, feeding and transferring him from bed to chair or chair to bed. So one of the most important lessons that I learned was about our bodies and our health, and from that I learned never to underestimate the ability to take care of ourselves. From the moment I open my eyes, I am thankful to be here, to be healthy, and to be able to go to the bathroom – alone, without support. I can feed myself and choose what to eat; I can dress myself; I can walk down the stairs without support; and I can walk. These are all gifts – begin to recognize them as gifts.

“the miracle is to be alive”   Thich Nhat Hanh

Like a paintbrush that is loaded with two or three colours, our emotions sit side by side: love, fear, and sorrow.Three distinct emotions. When we recognize that our emotions exist side by side, and that it is human to feel all three simultaneously, we begin to have more compassion for ourselves and our emotions.

Awareness will lead us to appreciate the distinct colours of our lives: side by side, each clear and well-defined. Each colour more beautiful because of the colour that lies beside it. Sweetness beside sorrow; joy beside grief.

All gifts.

Birch trees

There are two birch trees that grace the front lawn of the cottage we rent each summer.

The story is that when the previous owner’s wife died, the trees were planted in her memory.

Birch trees in the front yard

The story and the birches have captured my fascination. I spend mornings contemplating life and the stillness of the hour from my faded pink and white macrame lawn chair on the back porch.

Life teams within the boughs and the branches.

White, peeling bark, trunks marked with black streaks, black notches, black smears – the nuthatch scours the inky crevices for insects. His upside-down trademark gives him a unique vantage point.

The downy woodpecker is another frequent visitor in the early am. I can close my eyes and hear his distinct tap against the trunk of the trees. Sometimes he finds a cache in the hollowed out niches; black holes that are not so empty.

In the tops of the birches where the leafy branches hide all, squirrels and blue jays duke it out. Both of them are loud and squawky, their angry, bullying cries puncture the morning’s silence. Some mornings the blue jay is victor; on others, squirrel reigns. I watch from my macrame chair and just laugh at their antics. I haven’t yet figured out their fight strategies. I suspect finders, keepers might be the rule.

When my husband finally joins me, he has a different routine – he will jump into his white pick-up and drive off down the dirt road, taking care to drive slowly – the sign beside the road warns Drive Slowing, Children at Play.  Fifteen minutes later he returns with his newspaper. Now he will sit beside me in a matching faded pink and white macrame lawn chair, coffee in one hand and paper in the other.

Only the rustling of the pages breaks the silence of the day.

Sometimes there is a rustling in the shrubs that demarcate the property line of the neighbouring cottages. A glimpse of a warbler, a cardinal, or the ubiquitous sparrow.

Occasionally my husband lifts his head when a chick-a-Dee-dee-dee rings aloud.

The birches stand as sentinels in the front yard which is actually (according to the seasoned cottagers) the back yard (even though it is facing the street). The back yard faces the water (the beautiful Lake Huron) so the insiders (the ones in the know) call it the front yard.

Confused? Don’t be. Think: water is beautiful, and therefore, the front! while the street is not so beautiful, therefore, the back! My husband says that is crazy talk, but I notice that he refers to the yards as tourists do (backwards), not as true cottagers do.

Sometimes I’ll sight an unknown visitor – a bird that I cannot identify – in the grass of the yard where I sit; I pull out my bird book, binoculars, and sketch book and make notes. I use the term grass loosely as the soil is too arid and the shade is too deep so the grass grows sparsely in patches only.  Once a week when the neighbour mows the grass for the absentee owner, dirt clouds follow his footsteps. From my comfortable perch on the porch, I would wear goggles, I often think. We like our neighbour (who is kind) and often cheer him on – we hold up hand-made signs that rate his work like Olympic judges: A perfect 10! or Sloppy lines – 6!  Our homemade signs that rate his lawn prowess always make him laugh – he has a nice laugh; it’s infectious.

After lunch we move to the front yard (on the water side) where we will read and drink some wine. Just in time for the afternoon matinée where a cast of cedar waxwings perform in numbers in the trees that grow on the slopes of the cliff. Theatrical costumes of black masks and feathered crowns are worthy of an encore.

If your seat is on the wrong side – back yard (street side) – you will miss the show. Performances last only an hour or two and always take place on the shore side. We always have front-row advantage – perfect viewing. The drinks aren’t bad either.

Our silence attracts more bird life. When our (invited) human guests arrive, the echoes of our voices carry and the birds fly away. So it is our stillness and silence, we have learned, that is rewarded.

I can sit quietly for hours. Once my husband was reading and I was studying the bird life from the porch, when a hummingbird visited the two of us. It hovered in the air within a few inches from my face. I sat still and didn’t alert my husband. Eventually the humming sound broke my husband’s attention and together we froze in awe and reverence. After what seemed minutes the hummingbird zipped away; just in time we caught glimpses of iridescent red and green. I have a flash memory of when I was little and I would stare for hours at our Christmas tree lights. I would squint my eyes to blur the lights – I thought they were prettier when unclear. Indistinct and blurry.

Silence is a source of great strength. Lao Tzu

I looked around the porch – not a plump flower. Flower boxes, one on each side of the steps, lined the railing – worn-out petunias, an ivy or two, dried out. No attraction there. Since hummingbirds like scented colour, I can only assume that my husband’s body scent of cinnamon toothpaste and neem soap  (both scents I highly recommend) lured our vibrating, shimmering guest.

An errant ox-eye daisy or two in the soil that surrounds the porch is the extent of the garden. Absentee owners do not water plants or amend soil. The flowers that were planted in the early spring are now forlorn-looking as neglect has taken its toll. Other than the two of us the only living, vibrant thing on the porch is a pot of basil – a necessity of life that I always tote along with me when I visit the cottage. My basil is alive and green. Perhaps the hummingbird is attracted to its aroma – an aroma that hints at pesto, bruschetta and sauces.

On the front porch is my throne – a faded pink and white macrame lawn chair – where I survey the abundance of the property and contemplate the possibilities of life. I can write and sketch birds from this perch; I can meditate in ease and stillness from this perch. I can dream of planting birch trees in my own garden at home.

Birch trees. Gifts from the Universe.

 

 

 

 

A sunrise, hoarfrost, and a doctor’s appointment

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Hafiz…This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.

I am  fiercely protective of my morning rituals – watching the sky turn pink behind the dark outline of houses, trees, and hydro poles; my first cup of steaming, hot coffee; writing three pages on my foolscap pad; some yoga stretches; completing my 108 set of tai chi; my breakfast green drink; and our daily walk along the river – so when I find myself in the early hours driving along the highway to my yearly appointment, I am quiet.

On the lonely road our solitary car is zooming along; we pass utility poles that loom at us at evenly spaced intervals. On day trips we would normally sight a gathering of birds perched on the wires – red-winged black birds, crows, starlings, mourning doves or sparrows, but the dark sky hides them this early dawn (although I suspect the birds have finished their wee hour morning birdsong and will return in the daylight).

I close my eyes for a few minutes and when I reopen them the sky is beginning to pinken along the far off horizon; the subtle pinkish glow contrasts the dark blurry shapes of trees, shrubs and brush. The farm fields, one rectangle after another, are covered in hoarfrost as the last remnants of fall harvest – stubbles of corn stalks amid the tilled soil – stick out like coarse cotton threads among the white blanket. The hoarfrost is indiscriminate and has painted everything in its path.

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In the light I can now sight the barrel-shaped hawks crouched in the high branches of bare-naked maples, ashes and sycamores. I am too far away and the car is moving too fast so I cannot discern if the hawks are Sharp-Shinned or Coopers. The green conifers hide other inhabitants so I am robbed of the thrill of bird identification. Tangles, thickets and brush are also hiding places. All are white this morning.

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Only moments ago my husband and I were moaning about the early hour and our lack of sleep. We become silent. We watch the magnificent view and we give thanks.

When we arrive at our destination, we find that the waiting room is full. My husband who thinks ten people make a crowd opens his book and he does not lift his head for the next two hours.

I forgot my book and my Kobo is not in my bag.

The lady who is straightening the piles and piles of old magazines is intent. At first I think she is a volunteer or she is part of the staff. She hovers over the magazine piles and adds to them – used magazines that she takes out of a cheap plastic bag. She is wearing a zip up jacket that screams I Love Christmas! It is red and green with patches of Christmas stories all over it, and Rudolph’s requisite bright red nose – glowing – flaunts the middle of her chest. Her earrings are Christmas bells (of course!) and when she moves across the room, they clink and clank. When she finally takes her place beside another patient, I catch a glimpse of her socks – Christmas-themed, too. Later, she removes her Rudolph jacket to reveal another long-sleeved top and it, too, flaunts holly and berries.

(Later, on the way home, my husband comments about Christmas lady, and I say, I thought you were reading?)

Christmas lady has settled in to read one of her precious magazines, so I divert my attention. I comment aloud to no one in particular (like Shirley Valentine, I often talk to the wall) that the huge clock on the wall tells us it is 8:10. It has been 8:10 for the last half hour. Some people chuckle.

The man who is sitting beside me (who I now will forever know as man who is sitting beside me) tells me that he has been fooled by that darn clock over and over since he arrived at 7 am. Now there is a collective sigh in the room: we all realize that our doctor is at least one hour behind schedule.

Man who is sitting beside me begins to talk. I recognize the signs of a story-teller.

And so he begins..

He should be in Florida – the northern part on the side of the Gulf of Mexico – but he is waiting for a diagnosis about his wife’s health. They will not make their yearly trip to their beloved trailer in the woods by the cove. Now I sit a little straighter; I lean in. (He had me at the mention of woods and water.)

I sense a man of nature (my joy button is resonating!) and he does not disappoint me. For the next half hour he regales us about oyster catchers, plovers, terns, pelicans, cranes, and herons. They are so bossy, he says. Where we kayak in the Pineries, the herons are graceful and elegant, so I have learned something new.

pineries heron

Great Blue Heron, Pineries, Ontario

His trailer is nestled in a wooded area where he and his wife enjoy the deer, bald eagles, and even black bears. I thought black bears was a Canadian thing…so I am learning more things. When I confess that I didn’t know bears lived in Florida woods, he continues to tell me about more of his sightings in his little piece of heaven.  Monarch butterflies, as they return home during March and April, are abundant and loons grace the cove with their heavenly song.

Another lady interrupts his tale and adds that she saw a number of camouflage-suited men with guns along the road beside the woods on her way into the city.  (Clearly, we are all out-of-towners.) Man who is sitting beside me informs us that it is deer season. (People who live in the woods by a cove know these kinds of facts.)

Interrupter lady, who is a farmer we learn, picks up the thread of his tale and she, too, talks about wildlife – foxes, deer and wolves.

The clock tells us it is 8:10.

Now the nurse yells out a name and man who is sitting beside me jumps up like he has won the lottery. Interrupter lady (the farmer) and myself and others shout Good Luck!

A new patient sits beside me and turns to me and announces that she is 89 years old and sincerely hopes that the doctor is on schedule because she has an exercise class at noon.

I laugh out loud and heads turn.

I sense she is a talker. And I am correct.

And so she begins…

Later, she pulls up her sleeve and exposes her thin arm to me and inquires, Do I know what this rash is?

I tell her that I have no idea what the rash is and that I am not a doctor.

She laughs so loud and so beautifully that all heads turn and many smile.

Many hours later on the drive home, my husband answers one of my questions, Do you mean the farmer, the man who lives in Florida for six months, or the 89-year-old lady who tried to give you shingles?

I thought you were reading?

This I know for sure…joy and reverence come in all shapes and sizes. Life is short. Look for the joy within each and every moment, whether the moment is deeply profound or mundane – a sunrise, farm fields covered in hoarfrost, a clock that perpetually marks 8:10, a room full of people waiting to see their doctor.

Joy and reverence begin in awareness; it begins in the conscious decision to be mindful. It’s how we co-create each day.

I turn to my husband and simply say, That was a good day. 

It’s not over yet, he reminds me.

As the car hums along the old highway, I look around and see that the birds are perched on the wires of the utility poles.

 

 

 

Too many draft posts?

My draft posts need…hmm, how shall I word this? More work? Prayers and intentions? Germination time? Yes, that’s it. My draft posts need more germinating time. Yes, time is a relative term.

Some of my drafts were inspired during morning walks; others arose during meditation or quiet time.

But many of my posts just popped into my head. Sometimes a family member of a resident who has Alzheimer’s disease will approach me and ask me a question. Other times, when I am visiting at the long-term care residence where my mother resided, a resident will say something that sparks an idea for a post. Often, my encounters with residents are touching and those posts practically write themselves. I know this because I know my encounters with the residents always come from the heart. (It is one of the reasons why I love to volunteer and work with the residents – they are truly honest and authentic, all of the time.)

And there was the time I was at a Tai Chi class when in the middle of wave hands at clouds, an image of my mother laughing as she waved her hands back and forth came to me, and later that day I was inspired to write about her in one of my posts.

Many of these draft posts are sitting in the back of my mind…my greenhouse…planted under the heat lights. And as the posts sit in this draft stage, I just ignore them when I go to the “Add New” section. The posts in the greenhouse need work. So I let them germinate.

I am content to allow myself to sit back and give those posts some time. After all, creativity needs a rich soil, a rich place to sit and grow. Our own creative juices expand when we read more, learn more, and yes, when we do nothing. Our body, mind and spirit needs enrichment so I believe that self-care is a necessary component for our ideas to grow. During this time of rest (or germination), a change in our routines might be in order: change our habits, enjoy a new hobby, take a course, visit friends, volunteer, go to the museum, read a book. When we are open to learning something new, we allow ourselves to stay curious. Curiosity is a big component of creativity. When we are curious about…well, everything in this world, then we learn and gather more information, and it is this information that helps us form new associations in our writing.

Or just do nothing. I am a big proponent of doing nothing. In fact, the art of doing nothing is integral to achieving a true balance in our busy, hectic lives.

The growth of ideas needs a lot of down-time. Whenever I read a book about the process of creativity, the author always espouses the importance of solitude, silence, quiet time, meditation, contemplation…that is, down time. We need to rest our minds and getting away is the perfect antidote. Go for a walk, sit in nature, kayak, jog, dance, turn off the electronics. Learn to go inward. When we focus on an activity that gives us pleasure, it leads to blocking out the world and the mind’s endless chatter. It takes a lot of focus to steer a kayak, or to dance. Everything else falls away.

We allow our right hemisphere of the brain to wake up. This is where our creativity and new ideas spring from, and it is the reason why often we get an inspiration in the middle of a walk along the river. One of my draft posts is all about the colour blue – the many shades of blue – because I am infatuated with water. Every day the water changes and I am obsessed by its changing shades. I read once that Monet was obsessed with water, also. I feel I am in good company.

In the act of doing something that is totally unrelated to our writing, something arises. An idea. The seeds are sprouting.

So my many draft posts sit in my mind’s greenhouse, doing nothing. And I am okay with that.  Because in the act of doing nothing, I am really doing something. I am allowing for the germination time.

 

 

 

Writing leads to peace and contentment

When I write, I process my world. And I know that most writers write because that’s what they do. And it is through this process that I figure out what really matters to me. It’s as if my writing pares down my life; as if my writing gets rid of the stuff that no longer matters to me, or serves me, or feeds me.

So I write about the things that matter to me: self-care, caring for our loved ones, compassion, love, awareness, acceptance, creativity, expansion, nature, joy, my spiritual journey, Grace, Oneness, and gifts from the Universe.

Pare down or detach. What remains? What matters to you? I’m guessing that most of us care about our families, love, contentment and happiness, health, our pets, our homes, and how we spend our time here on earth – jobs, careers, occupations, service to others, our purpose or life’s work.

Fulfilling our life’s  purpose or destiny is what really matters to many of us. But in a strange twist or irony, I find that letting go or detaching from this pursuit of finding my life’s purpose has taken me to a place of contentment and peace within myself.

When we focus too much on our need to find our life`s purpose, we forget that just in living our daily lives, that is – to live in the Now and appreciate each moment; to become aware of the beauty that surrounds us in all things; to fully appreciate our activities and the people that we meet each day; to listen to others and respond from our hearts, authentically; to accept our reality and let go of control and the need to orchestrate our day; to just flow with the Universe – this is how we live our life’s purpose.

Our life’s purpose is to just be. Doesn’t that sound simple? Well, it is. To just be is authentic and honest. Each of us will just be differently…and that’s why when we accept this humble, so simple act of just being (our best that we offer) that the light bulb turns on! Wait a minute. If I am enough just as I am, then that means that you and you and you are also enough (just as you are!). Whew. That’s mind-blowing. We no longer have to compete against each other. We can let go of the need to be smarter than others, richer than others, or thinner than others. We can let go of the fallacy that we are meant to be the best or to outdo everyone else because the reality is that we are already perfect – we are enough (just as we are).

And since we are enough just as we are, then clearly we are already fulfilling our life’s destiny. We are already on the path. We are clearly doing what we are supposed to be doing. Today I am writing about what matters to me. I am supposed to be writing – I know this because I found my writing passion while caring for my parents who had Alzheimer’s. It was one of many gifts that I received (and now share) during that challenging journey.

It’s why I remind people when they are caring for loved ones, that they are on a journey of discovery – yes, today it is difficult; but tomorrow will be full of possibilities and gifts – all ready to be learned (and then shared) because of the journey that you walk today. I remind them that they were meant to be on this journey of caregiving and I know this because of one simple fact: They are on this journey. It is their reality. The Universe makes no mistakes.

When I looked after my father and then my mother, and when I now volunteer at the long-term care facility where she lived, I know that my simple acts of kindness are directly related to my fulfilling my life’s destiny. I am meant to be there – with my peeps. (My sister’s term when she refers to the residents.) I know this without a doubt for one simple reason – I am truly happy when I visit my peeps. I feel such peace and contentment within.  This is the gift that I receive each time that I visit them.

Whether you are laughing with your loved ones, reading a book to your beloved child or grandchild, teaching students, showing someone how to fix a broken object, telling someone a joke so that they will smile, running an errand for a neighbour…it matters not what you do…but how does it make you feel?

When you are feeling joy well up within or you are grinning from ear to ear (and you don’t even know why) or you are feeling so peaceful, then I am pretty certain that you are fulfilling your life’s destiny.

Ah, the sweet gifts that come from writing: recognition, awareness, attention. All gifts.