Tag Archives: positive energy

Share the road, people

During my morning walk, I passed a sign this morning that made me pause.

Share the Road

Is not our whole life’s journey about sharing the road?

Perhaps our politicians and world leaders need to take a pause and reflect on the mantra share the road.

As part of a cycling campaign to promote road safety and well-being for everyone – cyclists, motor vehicles, and pedestrians alike – not only do our roads become safer, but our communities and cities evolve when we cooperate and support each other.

When we become aware of the power of these three little words – share the road – their meaning or significance to our world’s health and well-being becomes central to our actions.

We share ourselves with others every day. We share our ideas, our creations, our kindness and compassion, and our love. And we share our energy. If we exude a peaceful or balanced energy, we share a peaceful presence; if we are angry, we share our anger.

Like road rage, toxic energy hurts all of us. Toxic energy lingers and when it settles in for the long stay, real harm occurs within our bodies, and later, spills into our families: our health suffers, as well as our circle of influence. An angry co-worker taints the workplace. An angry parent damages a child.

Many of us read blogs that motivate us to do better – writers share ideas, experience and expertise that teach us, expand us, and push our boundaries. In sharing, bloggers and writers share pieces of themselves in every post, article, column or book. As faithful (and interested) readers, we accumulate and expand our knowledge, our creativity, and our perceptions as we assimilate these new, and sometimes, provoking ideas and thoughts.

A shared idea or expertise is an opportunity to transform another being – that’s a pretty powerful thought.

From my experience, every day when I tune into another how-to paint video posted on-line, I am not only grateful for these gifts, I am truly motivated to share my joy of learning how to watercolour from these talented people. (Check out videos and tutorials on YouTube – watercolour painters, Peter Sheeler, Grahame Booth, Steve Mitchell, and Grant Fuller…the list is endless.)

We  significantly impact others when we share the road.

The verb share, I believe, is an exchange of energy – giving and receiving – an energy that reflects only one part of the bigger whole. One part. Share means partnership or a connection to another part. A connection.

One part. A connection.

What if when we share, we are connecting to another part of the whole – the whole being the Oneness of the universe?

What if when we share, we are connecting to the Oneness – of you and of me? Perhaps that connection to the Oneness of life is why we feel such satisfaction and joy when we do support others?

When I share my ideas or my creativity, I can feel the expansion within; that expansion comes from my inner self which is realizing (in part) my potential. When you share something of value – your ideas, thoughts, creativity, experience, expertise – begin to notice how you feel. Does it give you a sense of well-being, a sense of purpose, or joy? If the answer is yes, you are sharing (connecting) to a greater part of the Universe – you are impacting others, and your soul is loving it which is why it is so satisfying!

For those of us who volunteer, we already are aware of our impact – we share our time with others and benefit greatly from the interactions. Volunteers will tell you that it’s about sharing; sometimes, as volunteers, we feel selfish as we receive so many benefits, more than we give! It’s an exchange of energy that is like nothing else on earth. (And if you are not feeling it, then you are probably in the wrong kind of volunteer work.)

My daughter-in-law and my son are very creative people (art and musically inclined) and they are keen on weaving their careers, their home, and their passions with the care of the earth. Every decision is based on the sustenance and well-being of the environment. They buy in bulk and store beans and legumes, rice and staples in plain, glass jars with screw-top lids. When I offered to plant their front-yard garden with perennials from my garden, they gratefully received my offerings, as long as I allowed for plenty of space for home-grown vegetables. If last year is any example, peppers (all varieties), kale, spinach, cucumbers and squash will find homes in friends, neighbours, and fellow staff members’ kitchens. Old, past their prime shrubs, are pruned, instead of dug out and discarded. Every decision is based on a careful philosophy of reduce, re-use, recycle.

Their shared philosophy of environmental awareness has spilled over to our lives. Here’s the thing: their actions have influenced my own decisions. We are constantly re-thinking purchases: Do I really need this? (Don’t I already have a set of watercolour brushes?) Can I re-use these old shutters or give them to a vintage store? Do I really need to replace my worn cloth napkins?

I no longer buy cases of water bottles or coffee filters (a reusable one is just fine); we’ve reduced our weekly trash bags to one small bag; we’ve reduced our cleaning supplies to only those that are natural or home-made; soaps and shampoos are chemical-free; and we’ve reduced water to minimal usage (alas, my hydrangea are thirsty often).

Small actions, but as I mature, my actions grow, and so does my influence. Small actions are like seeds – they sprout.

Our philosophies impact others every day. I may not embrace everything that my son and his wife do, but their actions have taught me to pause before I act or commit.

We share the road from birth to our last dying moments. Surrounded by family and loved ones when we give birth,  the circle of life continues when our loved ones join us at our final good-bye.

When I sit with a resident who is dying at the long-term care home where I volunteer (and where my mother lived for two and a half years), I share many moments with either family or friends who drop in, or other residents who want to say goodbye.  Staff, and sometimes other volunteers from the palliative volunteer team, join me during our vigil.

And always I walk away from the experience with a humble, but wondrous feeling that I have shared in a transformative moment. In those hours (or days) of sharing, I am humbled by the gifts that the staff, and others, and I share – compassion, kindness, love, generosity, wisdom, and giving. Each of us has this capacity to give and share, even when someone is dying. Perhaps because someone is dying. Even at our most vulnerable, we share.

Even at our most vulnerable, we want to connect. When we share a piece of ourselves, we expose our vulnerabilities – and that is when we are our most honest and authentic. We connect with others because they sense (sometimes at a subconscious level) that we are sharing a piece of our true selves, and their vulnerability recognizes our vulnerability.

One thing I do know: that it is in the gift of sharing this road – that the transformation occurs. It is in the sharing that we meet our greater selves.

In awareness, let us move throughout our day and take note of how much we share the road. We cannot move through our lives without it. We cannot meet our potential without it. We cannot transform without it.

Share the road. Share yourself. And you will find yourself accepting an endless supply of gifts.

If only world leaders could learn this simple act. Just share the road.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

The intention behind the dog-eared piece of paper

calligraphyWhen the Chinese man placed a long sheet of white paper onto the wooden table, I couldn’t help but notice that the paper was dog-eared and stained. The paper looked old; my first thought was that he was recycling the paper.

During our recent visit to China, we were asked if we would like to have a calligraphy lesson. Yes, please!

So we found ourselves in the middle of a hutong (a cluster of homes in winding, narrow alleys) at a round kitchen table, surrounded by would-be calligraphers. Our teacher sits within us and paints the Chinese characters onto the paper – his strokes are quick: some end with flourishes, and other strokes end with whispers of ink. I am in heaven.

There are many things that give me joy, and watching an artist create is clearly at the top of my list. (I think that when we create, it is really the best of us. That thought gives me joy.) Our calligrapher’s hand is upright as the interpreter explains that one holds the brush perpendicular to the paper. Fully upright! The exact opposite of how a Westerner would hold a brush or pen. His five fingers are grasping the brush as he dips the brush into the ink bowl.

He starts at the top and brushes downwards. He moves from the left side to the right side. Oh, wait. He moves down the centre of the paper and draws a line, but now he surrounds it with two flourishes – one on the left and the other on the right side of the downward stroke. When he draws two boxes – one inside the other, he completes the inside box before he makes the final stroke of the outside box. (Will he give us instructions when we leave? A how-to book? Guidelines? A YouTube site that we can visit?)

The strong black strokes and trailing feathery lines on the white paper contrast greatly, and I know immediately that I am going home to learn this ancient art. I find it beautiful and exquisite.

I’d already bought calligraphy brushes in a beautiful box and now realize that the intended recipient of the souvenir was never going to see them. I knew that I would keep them for my own personal use.

Before I went to China, I had looked on YouTube for videos of calligraphy painting and was rewarded with a prolific number of sites exhibiting the beautifully skilled artists. I also knew that Westerners call the white paper, rice paper, which is not what the artists use. The paper they write on is called Shuan (Xuan) paper. It is rather expensive, so beginners do not usually use it. (My hunch is that our own teacher is using cheaper paper.)

Our interpreter, our own Chinese guide, told us that the calligrapher calls his tools, The Four National Treasures: ink, ink stone, paper and brush.

Wherever we visited one of the many ancient sites in China, my sister and I were always looking for works of calligraphy. Often tables were set up among the vendors and artists were working. Sometimes scrolls were used and the writer would dab at the paint to ensure it doesn’t smear; the painted scrolls were then flung over  string hung from tree to tree, or wooden dowels used as a drying rack. We spent many of our few, precious minutes allowed for shopping, just watching the artists.

Calligraphy prints drying out

Calligraphy prints drying out

Painter selling his art

We noticed that the artists differed in their techniques and I learned when I returned home, that there are five different styles: Seal (Zuan), Clerical (Li), Running (Tsao), Walking (Hsin), and Standard (Kai). I also learned that beginners usually employ the Kai Shu style or Li Shu style.

I read that the success of a piece or the value of a work of a calligrapher is measured by the strength of the stroke or the power within the stroke. In other words, how the calligrapher holds the brush and makes the stroke (where the pressure on the paper is made, or when the brush is lifted) expresses the uniqueness of each piece. And, those strokes and the power within the stroke or the subtlety of the stroke is what differentiates the masters from the others.

Calligraphy

Our own Chinese teacher ignores most of our questions, as he is intent on painting each of us a personal keepsake, or gift.

I ask our Chinese guide if I may receive a piece of paper with the word Longevity inscribed on it as I know immediately that I am going to give my gift to my friend who has cancer when I return to Canada.

When the artist drew the characters onto the piece of paper, I can see that he is pleased to be asked to write that particular word: longevity.

The Chinese are very superstitious, and therefore, many of the Chinese calligraphy works that we have seen translate into prosperity, love, fortune, abundance, long life and health. Not taking any chances, the Chinese surround themselves with tokens that symbolize the good life, the healthy life; hence, works of calligraphy are revered by all.

The broad strokes symbolize different words… short and long sweeps of ink, short flourishes, long flourishes, boxes, dabs, dabs with smears…each denotes part of an object or a thought. Some of the strokes make sense to me – three strokes denotes the number three. (One stroke means the number one; two strokes – two.) One word looks like a pictogram that looks familiar – a tree. Then, he draws two trees, side by side. The one tree does denote the word tree. But the pictogram of two trees actually denotes forest. (Hey, I wrongly assume, isn’t the Chinese language difficult to learn? This is easy.)

Then he draws so many strokes within other strokes, that I am confused and cannot distinguish the end from the beginning. I shake my head. I’ll stick to learning and drawing one, two, three. (Because the number four is not four strokes.)

Finally our calligrapher hands over to me a torn, dog-eared piece of paper and I am grinning from ear to ear when I realize that the beautiful black strokes spell Longevity because I believe everything (especially old, dog-eared pieces of paper) have an energy and I am certain my keepsake is pulsating with the energy of all of us squeezed into that small room: the excitement and appreciation of our group, the ancient history of the art, the knowledge and experience (and gifts) of the artist, himself; the superstition of the Chinese people, along with their well-wishes, and their pride and honour in teaching us something about their country – all these positive energies are stirred together with curiosity, openness, and hope. Each of these energies is powerful when alone; mixed together – super powerful.

All of this accompanied me home when I rolled up my paper and tucked it into my suitcase.

In Canada, my friend accepted my gift in the spirit in which it was given – she overlooked the stains on the paper and only saw the intent of the inscription. And the intent of the artist. And my intent.

Giving and receiving. Both are gifts. And they exist everywhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winnie the Pooh has all the answers

The Tao of Pooh

A successful person is one who loves his life that he is living.

I’m reading The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff for the umpteenth time. My kids or sister gave it to me years ago; so long ago that I don’t remember who gave it to me.

I store it in one of my desk drawers and I pull it out every year to re-read it. The author’s simple explanations of the principles of Taoism by way of A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh never fail to inspire me. Hoff (and Pooh) remind me that happiness lies in how we live our lives and not in our successes.

“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,” said Piglet at last, “what’s the first thing you say to yourself?”

“What’s for breakfast?” said Pooh. “What do you say, Piglet?”

“I say, I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?” said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully. “It’s the same thing,” he said.

A basic Taoist principle is that we appreciate life as it is – the sweet with the bitter; that we savour the sweet and that we learn from the bitter. Pooh Bear has that figured out, except he doesn’t know that he has it figured out. After all, he is just a simple bear who lives his life in the Now. He doesn’t waste time thinking about why is he happy? He is just happy.

He often tells his friends who include Christopher Robin, Roo, Piglet, Owl, Eeyore and Rabbit that he loves honey, but he will often admit that he isn’t sure if he loves the actual taste of honey more than the anticipation of the taste of honey. Both are so, so sweet!

When we enjoy our everyday moments fully, we, too, realize that we can enjoy the journey as much as the destination. Like Pooh, the anticipation of arriving at the destination is just as sweet to us as is the final quest.

And The Tao of Pooh reminds me that nothing and doing are equally important. Because in Taoism, doing nothing signifies something.

For me, I can’t arrive at inner peace if I am too busy (or too distracted) doing something…I can only arrive at inner stillness if I do nothing. (Oh, oh. I am sounding like a simple bear now.) Of course, the goal is to arrive at our inner stillness even when we are busy doing something. When we can mentally slow down and become aware of our busyness, that’s when we can do nothing while doing something.

The Taoist principles are based on Oneness, balance, cyclical growth (endless cycles) and harmony. Those are principles that I find are universally accepted when on a spiritual journey (no matter what our religions are).

Nature is an important part of Taoism because it represents the flow and harmony of the earth or the rhythms of life – each of the elements: wind, water, earth, fire and air are interconnected and dependent. For example, the element of water flows through, well, everything: it doesn’t resist and yet it is so powerful.

Harmony is born when opposing elements come together: birth and death; young and old; male and female; hot and cold; yin and yang.

Harmony or balance is the path to happiness or contentment or peace. That resonates with me. And it is a daily reminder that attention or awareness on all things will bring me to peace. And it is a reminder that awareness allows me to stay in the moment or the Now. One of the true gifts of awareness in all things is that we become open to the possibility that all is beautiful. Under the microscope, the simple dew drop is stunningly magnificent, complex and awesome. In awareness, we recognize that all is nothing; nothing is all.

To arrive at awareness, we have to let go of our resistance to perceived reality. In true awareness (in paying attention) we take note of our emotions, our feelings, our bodies’ signs of stress or relaxation. Because when we are in resistance to what is going around us (reality), we tighten and constrict. We are not in harmony; nor are we in balance.

To let go of the struggle or to let go of unhappiness, we have to become  observers (according to E. Tolle) and we do this by meditation, contemplation and awareness. Tolle reminds us in his spiritual teachings that our inner self is always at peace and in stillness – it is our outer self that is a mess. (Okay, he doesn’t actually say mess.)

When we are in the middle of chaos, tumult or drama, we need to become still and quiet our minds; we need to back off. We need to become aware of what is truly going on within our emotions, feelings, and bodies. And then, we need to find courage to remind ourselves that we do not have to add to all of this negative energy. In just those few moments of awareness, we can change our own energy – to one of acceptance and balance. In a small way, we can begin to flow (like the element of water) with the reality of the situation; instead of fighting and struggling with it.

On any spiritual journey we learn that balance and harmony within our bodies and minds will lead to balance and harmony in our lives, and most importantly, that balance and harmony will lead us to our beautiful, spiritual, inner qualities of love, compassion, unconditional kindness and acceptance.

In short, balance and harmony lead to Oneness.

Hoff is genius, I think. He gently reminds us over and over that we are enough…just as we are. No one realizes this more than Pooh Bear. Pooh just does what he does and all the while, happy while doing it.  And if a simple bear can know this, surely, we can, too?

 

 

 

How much is too much?

You say you want happiness but you are addicted to your unhappiness.   E. Tolle

My new friend that I met at the long-term residence where my mother used to live before she died, asked me if I thought stress and fatigue caused dementia. I gulped. I really didn’t know how to answer her.

I wanted to tell her that long-term stress can be one of the many factors that causes a myriad of diseases, including dementia.  But I didn’t have the heart.

I have watched this woman (who clearly has her own health issues) visit her mother who now lives in the long-term care residence where I now volunteer. I have watched her from afar – her body language and her face tell the story. She is burnt out.

She tells me that she visits each day since her mother arrived in the home – she stays from early morning (before breakfast) to early evening (after dinner). Every day.

My heart goes out to her. She cannot continue this pace without harming her own health (although I suspect her daily fare has already taken its toll on her).

How much is too much? Where do we draw the line?

I don’t have the answers. But I do know this from my own personal journey of caring for both my father and my mother, both who had Alzheimer’s disease: when I truly became aware and began to pay attention to my emotions, I learned to let go of my need to control and my resistance to what was happening.

That’s when everything changed. I accepted my new reality – and I began to live in the present moment.

I began to make better decisions – I gathered more information, I asked questions, I accepted support and help.

I dropped all of my expectations – I no longer made plans that were unrealistic; I lived one day at a time, one moment at a time.

I dropped my need to control – I accepted that if I went with the flow of the day, instead of trying to map out the day, minute by minute, that everybody was calmer, less stressed; yes, happier. (When we try to set an agenda, other people do not fall into line, and that makes us unhappy. When we let go of the need to set the agenda, we begin to live in the present.)

When the hospital staff and her own personal physician determined that our mother’s needs would be better met at a long-term care facility, we discussed it with reason and love (for our mother and for ourselves!). We made the difficult decision to agree to the hospital’s suggestions, even though we wished we could care for her at home (as we had for our father). Difficult decisions, but made with care and love. And we forgave ourselves.

Once our beloved mother was at the new residence, we did visit daily and we did stay for many hours but we knew from the very beginning that we would need to let go in time. After a few weeks we let go. We made the pact that we would only visit her and bring loving energy – if one of us was over-tired, fatigued, or stressed we would ask the other to visit. We would rest and allow ourselves to re-nourish our spirits before we visited again.

In time we learned to visit when our mother was alert and ready for company – we would often take her for walks or sit outside in the gardens of the residence where we spent many hours, sitting in silence watching the birds.

She enjoyed music therapy, drinking multiple cups of endless tea, or just sitting with us in the lounge looking out the large windows.

And we learned to let go – we learned to be daughters again; not caregivers. That is the most difficult thing to do…to stop being the caregiver. We recognized our need to control everything when she first began to live in the residence. Oh, sure, it’s necessary to be their advocate and to ensure they are properly cared for and attended to, but at first, we wanted to control everything! We don’t want our mother to wear that outfit – she doesn’t like it. We don’t like music played in her room, please turn it off. Don’t leave the door open. Don’t leave our mother unattended in the lobby. We don’t like her dining table companions; please move her to another table.  Do you have to serve that for breakfast? She just likes toast and tea. 

Oh, the list was long. So much control, so little time.

But in time we learned to let go because we learned what was important. Does our mother still feel safe? Does our mother still feel cared for? Does she feel loved? Does she feel that she matters?

When you can answer yes to the above questions, then you can be assured that you are doing the best that you can. (And that means if our mother does not like the new residence (which she didn’t) that we have to accept that. And let that go, too.)

I often tell people who are struggling with how much time should they spend with their loved one that the answer lies within: Do you bring your loving energy when you visit? An hour or two a few times a week or even less is much better than a daily visit that is filled with resentment.

We are not here on earth to heal our loved one. It is no one’s fault that someone is ill. But, nor is it our job to fix the situation. If our loved one does not like their new home – we have to accept that what is, is. And for those of us who think that the longer we stay and visit, the more our loved one will like the new home – that doesn’t work! Take it from me – in nearly three years, I have never seen the parent finally admit that they like their new home. Never! That doesn’t mean the residence is not nice and comfortable, it means that the resident just doesn’t want to be there.  (And they have a right to their own opinion. And besides, in a perfect world all of us would like to stay in our own home with multiple caregivers to attend to us.)

All that we can ever do is visit our loved one with a full and loving heart.

So when we ask ourselves how much is too much? The answer lies within us. Are we at peace with our visits? Are we enjoying our visits? Are we bringing joy and laughter to our visits? Do we enjoy and meet the other residents? Do we sit and talk to others – enjoy a laugh or a story? Do we share our stories? Do we share our gifts? Do we join in the activities with our loved one? Have we spent time getting to know the staff? Do we memorize their names? Have we listened to the staff – really listened? Do we join in, mingle, tag along on outings? Playing bingo with your parent may not seem very exciting, but it is an excellent way to get to know the other residents, staff and volunteers. Your parent might enjoy the companionship more than you will ever know. And family members begin to form bonds and friendships that become a support system…truly worthwhile!

If the answer is yes to the above questions, then you are probably visiting your loved one with plenty of love and peace.

But if the answer is no, then ask yourself why not? If you have real concerns, then advocate for your loved one. If necessary, find another residence.

But don’t allow yourself to visit many long hours and be completely miserable. Because your loved one (whether they have Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia-related disease) can read your energy. That’s when I would humbly offer to you: that’s too much. You need a rest. You need compassion – for yourself. Your health matters, too.

How much is too much? I don’t know the answer to that. But I suspect that you do.

 

That’s a good bingo!

That's a good bingo!

That’s a good bingo!

On Wednesday afternoons at the long-term care facility where my mother lived, you will find me in the community hall (or according to my mother – the big mall where people sing) volunteering at bingo.

I go with an open mind and an open heart.

Every week I learn something new from my peeps at the residence. (My sister calls them my “peeps” and I like that so I use the term often.) The gifts that they give me are many and I cherish them.

If you want to meet people who are truly authentic…then visit a long-term care facility. Even those who have Alzheimer’s or a dementia-related disease are real and authentic. When you least expect it, the true essence of each of us shines through; the residents are no different.

My peeps inspire me, and teach me to live in the Now. Often they are so thankful and grateful for the smallest of kind gestures that I just want to weep. Whenever I am with them, I find myself laughing and full of joy.

Today at bingo, my beloved friend (who sat at my mother’s dining table and kept an eye on my mother) joined me. She is full of spirit and enthusiasm – she meticulously cares for her attire, hair, and make-up and always looks so wonderful that I sometimes have to re-check what I have on…am I appropriately dressed to visit her? She visits the chapel daily, she confides, as she is deeply spiritual. She didn’t have to tell me that – I guessed it from her loving and positive energy that she emits every time that I visit her. (I want to be just like her when I grow up!) In spite of a difficult past that I uncover in bits and bobs (as my mother would say), and because she is so strong and determined at the age of 92, I so want to hear her story and record it. But she’s skeptical and isn’t ready yet. I accept that because I have learned that she has withstood many terrible events and grief, and I am deeply aware that perhaps I, too, am not ready to hear her story. I trust that when the time is right, we will recognize that moment and she will share her story.

Another one of my peeps at the bingo table has had a full and rich life in the public eye. I know that because I recognize the people in the photos in her room when I pick her up to go to bingo. She is remarkable, in spite of her dementia. She loves music – I would call her a music aficionado – and often rates the music in the community hall. Her face tells the story – she frowns and says oh, no, that isn’t music, or  she’ll sway to the music, tap her feet, and smile at me and say, yes! When I am with her, I am reminded that each of us (no matter how old) has a rich and colourful past. We must not underestimate anyone. (And I would like to capture her story, too.)

I love the residents’ honesty! They don’t hold back. They don’t mince words. Many people don’t like that but I suspect it’s because we are all so used to such mediocrity, such blandness, such hypocrisy in conversations…that when a real and honest conversation takes place, well, we are confused.  We see that as oh, auntie is having a bad day.  In reality, auntie is just telling it how she sees it. And it isn’t always pretty.

When they are so honest, I think they are more authentic than ever. I have learned to read their faces and the emotions that sit there…words not spoken, but humour, love, distaste, disgust…all blatantly evident.

When the residents play bingo (I overstate that), most are not actually active in the game. Instead, volunteers or staff members sit beside them and help. The volunteers/staff point to the called numbers or actually cover the numbers as the numbers are called aloud.  At my table, there are only two of us to help the residents – the other person is a staff member who is a student. She is leaving tomorrow as she has graduated from her course and so this will be the last time I see her.

She is a special person. I am in awe of her. First of all, she is young, happy, full of joy and she is not afraid to express those traits with the residents. She leans in and kisses them on their hands; she often hugs them; she laughs loudly all the time. When someone yells bingo! (no one actually yells bingo!…it’s more like a whisper because the residents are often too weak or too shy to yell) she will jump out of her seat and start jumping up and down, often dancing! Oh, I just want her to stay and play bingo with us the rest of her life! Please don’t go, I tell her, which just makes her laugh more.

She has a beautiful singing voice, too. I know this because once a month there is music therapy at the residence and I volunteer. Since I am not a very good singer, I was terrified to sing alone the first time that I volunteered. But here’s the thing about music therapy at a long-term care facility – it’s the music teacher (who is a talented volunteer) and the volunteer who do most of the singing. Usually when I round up the usual suspects for music, we have only two or three residents who will join in the singing as most of the other participants are unable to sing (for various reasons). I have learned that one does not have to actually sing…to enjoy the music. I have witnessed many a toe-tapper whose eyes are closed.

My mother sang beautifully and sang often in our home when we grew up so I am pretty sure (once again) that I am drawn to music therapy for deep, psychological reasons (Ha!) and to get over my fears.

So I sing.

And I love it. (I love the fact that I choose to sing even though I cannot.) Here’s the funny thing: the residents think I have a lovely voice! (Okay, peeps – we are going to get along just fine.)

But I digress. Our student worker (the one who is leaving at the end of this week) once started singing the hymn that we were trying to sing during music therapy. She was in an adjoining resident’s room and just chimed in.

Oh, even the residents in wheelchairs who barely move or show any emotion, woke up. It was like a miracle! I practically burst out crying, with joy. And so did the woman who leads us. We looked at each other with knowing eyes and we (all of us in that small room) were connected – by the joy of listening to the student’s beautiful voice.

Oh, yes, we will miss her. Wherever she is going, lucky them.

At my bingo table the two of us are attempting to keep track of twelve cards or so, with help from a couple of residents who actually do play bingo, but are hard of hearing. Four? No, fourteen. Forty? No, fourteen. You get the picture.

Well, eventually someone whispers bingo! and then the tables all respond…we help the bingo card winner yell it out….BINGO!

When it’s my turn to check the winning card and give back the called numbers, I am always a little nervous – many of my peeps cover more numbers when I am not looking. I think they feel like they are doing something worthwhile – if I cover one number, why not ten other numbers?

So keeping my eyes on all of their cards, pointing to numbers, and ensuring that no one is “cheating/helping” takes a lot of attention on my part.

I always remind myself to just go with the flow of the afternoon.

Once it has been established that the card is good – that is, all the numbers have been correctly called and identified, the caller yells, “That’s a good bingo,” and we all cheer. As if we have really won the lottery.

Inevitably, after we do a victory dance (whether or not we win), the two of us help the residents to the smaller activity room (the room as my mother used to call it “where the whirling dervish lives,” the high-energy activity director) where the whirling dervish, oops, I mean, the activity director has prepared coffee, tea and cookies for the participants.

When we sit at the round table enjoying our coffees, I often think of my younger life as a mother, sitting with other young mothers, talking about our daily lives and keeping one eye on our kids. I’ve come full circle. Life has an unexpected symmetry, I think. Here I am with residents, keeping one eye on them as they sip their hot drinks, and talking about our daily lives. For a few moments, I know that I am in the flow.

And I think to myself... that’s a good bingo!

 

 

 

 

Creativity is about creating oneself

Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it…Chinese Proverb

We create our lives. Most of us have heard that a million times – so many times that it almost sounds trite.

How can that be? If I have a crap life, is that my own fault? Why would I create a crappy existence? Reasonable questions, I think.

But the answer is pretty simple, if not profound. It is in our awareness, our perception. It is in our energy that we put out. It is in how we see the world.

Creativity has been my 2015 intention, along with explore and expansiveness, and so I’ve been reading about creativity these past few months and I have learned that creativity is so much more that a work of art… creativity has many faces, not the least of which is creation. Creation.

Creation of one’s life. We are all co-creators whether we buy into this, or not.

 

Life is about creating yourself

Life is about creating yourself

Our attitude and our energy makes all the difference. An open, curious mind will more easily accept and not judge events so harshly, and an open, curious mind will explore the more difficult, challenging times – delve into the pain and look for answers and meaning.  An open and curious mind will not accept that one is a victim of circumstances.

Our attitudes and perceptions colour our lives – one can either look at the harshness and starkest of life’s events, or soften the hard edges. Our daily choices of how we encounter life is the part we play as co-creator.

What I am discovering (aha! my intention to explore) is that each and every one of us is creative – it’s in our DNA – and it’s our creativity that defines us and makes us who we are. And the funny thing is that the more we become aware of our own unique creativity within, the more it grows and expands. (Aha! my intention expansiveness.)

Our awareness of our own personal creativity leads to more creativity, more growth, more expansiveness and that attracts more, more, more. We begin to grow into the person that we were always meant to be, and we begin to realize that our potential is unlimited. Or, as Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

But  it begins with awareness.  First, awareness of your own gifts. And then in awareness of others. You begin to see the creativity (and gifts) that are in others. And that can lead to acceptance and non-judgment of others. (And in my book, that’s always a good thing.)

I have been reading a number of books on creativity, written by creative people. Some are artists such as Nick Bantock who wrote The Trickster’s Hat; others are writers: Julie Cameron, The Artist’s Way, The Prosperous Heart, Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine. I read Twyla Tharp’s, choreographer/dancer’s book, The Creative Habit  – lots of insights from her! And I still have an unfinished, to-read book list. The subject of creativity is prolific!

What I have discovered is that creativity is our own personal portal to our authentic self. But it all begins with recognition or awareness. What are my strengths and weaknesses; my talents and skills; what am I most passionate about; what are my interests and non-interests?  How do I see the world?

l. Mindfulness – pay attention

2. Awareness leads to recognition

3. Discovery: the aha moment

Creativity is your own personal slant or take-away of what you have focused on. (You have turned the spotlight on something…now, what did you notice? What did you discover?) Our personal slant is our self-expression. The act of creation is in the aha! moment – it’s in the discovery. And, it is in that very moment we are truly authentic.

When I see a wild and untended garden, I see nature at her very best. She (nature) has sprawled out because that is what Nature does…she takes back the controlled landscape as if she is proclaiming this is mine and see me grow! When I see the spent blossoms of the cone flowers or rudbeckias, I see seeds (life!) and the return of birds, bees, insects; I see beauty in the untamed chaos. Someone else might only see the neglect and the waste.

I didn’t always see a messy garden as beautiful chaos. I had to spend many hours in my own garden observing the errant anemones growing in odd places or watching the “thugs” of the plant world bully their way into ordered pathways before I became aware that the mistakes in Nature were not mistakes at all. In truth, some of my favourite spots in the garden are now areas where havoc reigns. But, the hummingbirds visit those spots; the bumblebees and the fire flies are frequent visitors; yellow finches and butterflies, too.  I trust these uninvited, but welcome guests! If they favour those unplanned areas in my garden, then I think I’m onto something! I see my garden with a new perspective now and I am enjoying it oh, so much more. I have let go of my need for order and plans. And that is my point…we need to let go of order and control to allow beauty in.

Every author of a how-to-be-more-creative book encourages us to be more open, to clear our cluttered minds, to open and change our old perceptions and misconceptions. An open and uncluttered mind accepts new ideas because it is more spacious.  And new thoughts, new perceptions, and new ideas require space to grow and flourish.  New thoughts, novel ideas, new perceptions…this is creativity!

There is a funny scene in a television series Corner Gas that was very popular here in Canada, in which Brent and Hank are talking. When Brent tells something to Hank, suddenly Hank is seeing an image in his head…the audience sees a truck in a warehouse and it is loaded with filing boxes. The truck begins to reverse. The audience realizes the warehouse is Hank’s brain and the filing boxes are the boxes of stuff (useless knowledge) that is going to the waste. Hank tells Brent that he has no room for any more information.

I love that scene because I think our brains can become like warehouses full of useless stuff and that sometimes we have to let go of the old to make room for the new. (The old stuff in our brains no longer serves us.) I think the metaphor is clever and apt.

We are able to clear out junk in the brains when we practice mindfulness and awareness. Some of us meditate; others sit in stillness. The important thing is to allow ourselves time to do nothing; time to rest our brains.

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine – How Creativity Works, explains it in his book: “Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our brains are at ease – when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain – we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. When we become quiet or still, we begin to listen to the quiet voices.”

Ed Catmull (Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) in his book Creativity, Inc. uses mindfulness (and meditation) as another tool in helping him manage and encourage creativity in his staff. He reminds us that in mindfulness, we clear our minds and we let go of control and resistance. Control and resistance are the antithesis of creativity!

For me, letting go of resistance and control is in understanding that life has a flow and when I am aligned with that flow, I am happier, more content, at peace and more creative. I am aware that what is, is.

In all its forms, creativity lives within us and each of us in recognizing our gifts – that is our strengths, our passions, our talents – in essence, by paying attention to them – we begin to be grateful for them. That gratitude expands them. When we truly accept (in awareness) our gifts, we begin to enjoy and share them with others – and that is the true purpose of gifts. What we do with our gifts or creativity is what matters. It makes me, “me,” and you, “you.” How we live our lives reflects our creativity because creativity is in the creating…of our own life.