Tag Archives: sharing our gifts

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.

 

 

 

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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?

 

 

You are amazing!

You are amazing!

When I open the card, it reads You are amazing!

My husband and I just celebrated another anniversary and we exchanged cards. And even though it’s been a few days since I received his card, I am still enjoying the afterglow. Ha!

Because a funny thing has happened since he gave me the card – I feel really amazing!

When he enjoyed the simple tomato sauce on his pasta that I had made last evening, I tell him well, I am amazing!

When I screwed something up during the day, and then fix it later, he says well, you are amazing. We laugh over the screw-up.

When I discover a box of half-eaten ice cream in the freezer, we both exclaim hey, I am amazing!

So while I am walking along the river this morning, trying not to leave rivers of sweat on the sidewalk (because it is so humid today), I remind myself well, sweat or not, I am amazing!

Hmmm. Apparently compliments – in writing – have a lasting effect. But only if we pay attention and give the words awareness. Because it is in the reflection of the words, I realize that we are all amazing beings.

I think I am onto something here. I think we should begin to tell other people how amazing they are. Maybe we could distribute little cards – business cards – that just say, “You are amazing!”

We all know amazing people – my hairdresser who juggles a job and four children (whenever I see her she is smiling) – she is amazing! She has the funniest stories to tell about her children; I sit in her chair and belly laugh throughout the whole visit.

The woman who owns the tailor shop where I take my pants to be hemmed – we always have a nice chat. She is from Scotland and has interesting stories. We share a love of birds and birdsong – she reminds me to Google warblers and nightingales. I think she is amazing!

My neighbours on either side of our house – one is blind in one eye, and always tells me interesting facts about the weather, birds, squirrels and raccoons. He grew up on a farm where he watched the changing sky and birds come and go;  his weather predictions are so spot on – I have no need to turn to the weather forecast on television.  So is the family on the other side of our house – they are raising two children; their daughter has special needs. They are all amazing!

When I watch the personal support workers at the residence where I volunteer, I know they are amazing…their acts of kindness go above and beyond their daily routines. I once sat in a room with a resident and heard a personal support worker singing You Are My Sunshine to a resident who has Alzheimer’s. When I went into the hallway to see who was singing (and who the lucky resident was) I found them walking arm in arm. She is amazing (as is the resident)!

And I think my husband is pretty amazing – after all, he gave me the card. Ha.

No kidding…it takes attention and awareness to see the beauty within each of us. We have to begin to look beneath the superficial, to listen to the words and intonations, to become more insightful and understanding of others. In short, we have to stop and spend some time with people, instead of rushing by them without a glance. When we begin to spend our time enjoying people and their stories, that’s when we begin to live in the moment. And we’ll surely begin to see how each of us matters, how we are all interconnected, and that we are all  awesome.

In Neale Donald Walsch’s Communion With God he writes:

“Which snowflake is the most magnificent? Is it possible that they are all magnificent – and that, celebrating their magnificence together they create an awesome display?  They melt into each other, and in the Oneness. Yet they never go away. They never disappear. They never cease to be. Simply they change form. And not just once, but several times: from solid to liquid, from liquid to vapour, from the seen to the unseen, to rise again, and then again to return in new displays of breathtaking beauty and wonder. This is Life, nourishing Life.”

Let’s begin to appreciate one another for the simple pleasures and the simple gifts that we all hold. Whether we are loving parents or grandparents, creative artists, kind neighbours, inspiring teachers, helpful volunteers, cheerful postal workers, supportive counsellors… oh, the list is just endless…we all are unique, beautiful and amazing in what we do and who we are.

Let’s shout it out: You are amazing!

 

 

 

 

Music, tours, and a mother’s pride

My morning rituals – tai chi, meditation, yoga, walk along the river – were interrupted. A phone call from our son who has alerted us that he and his brother will be on the Internet – radio wfmu.org-  at 8 am.

Recently our sons took time off their day jobs and visited the east coast in the States where they ‘hooked up’ with some new friends (from Kevin’s website) to connect and make music. My son’s wife is an integral part of his music; they often collaborate.  My other son calls them “a formidable team.” But on this adventure, it is just the two brothers.

As we tuned in, we agreed with the host of the show, our sons’ acoustic guitars made some “beautiful stuff.”

As the notes of their music lingered and rested in our living room, my mind drifted to a time when our sons were in grade eight (a lifetime ago), their taste in music above and beyond our understanding or reach. Later in university, the two of them volunteered on the Uni’s radio station and put in many hours until they were rewarded with their own radio show – late, late night shift (or early morning hours). As a mother, I was puzzled by their acceptance and excitement of the ungodly hour – I saw it as a punishment; they – as the highest reward. The two of them relished the time slot: “Mom, that’s when the true music aficionados listen and appreciate music.”

Their old band, The Riderless,  took to the roads after graduation – they left tracks in the east and in the west of Canada. The five of them improvising both music and gigs as they toured the country.

As parents, we sent unconditional love and pride – they would have preferred cash. They grew tired of sleeping on couches and floors and ordering eggs (the cheapest on the menu) each meal.

Their music isn’t mainstream by intention, they tell me, although I often meditate to it; it’s evocative and its sound fills a space elegantly.

My husband listened to this morning’s offering with an open heart and an open mind, a true music lover. I listened to it as a mother with deep satisfaction and love, recognizing that my sons’ musical life reflects a creativity, a deeply enriched right side of the brain – the side of the brain that many of us want to expand through meditation and mindfulness.

When we can explore and experiment within our art, that is, grab opportunities and push our limits of self, we expand on our gifts and we become more integrated as a whole. I believe that is how we begin to live the life that we were meant to have.

So as I listen to the guitar notes (their gifts) this fine Thursday morning, I am deeply gratified.

Music is soul-satisfying, as my husband often repeats.

Yes. A gift.

https://wfmu.org

https://radiofreemidwich.wordpress.com/tag/east-of-the-valley-blues/

https://powermoveslabel.bandcamp.com/

https://eastofthevalleyblues.bandcamp.com/

 

 

Migratory geese and lessons

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There is a small park along the shores of Lake Huron just outside my city – a park in between the city and its bedroom community. The park is a public park although there are many days one can visit and be completely alone.

When we were a young family, my sister and her children, my mother, my father and my aunt and uncle would convoy our long journey – twenty minutes in the car – to this park where we would set up a mini-kitchen on wheels, barbecue and briquets, lawn chairs, badminton net, coolers, and fold-away picnic tables. If we could find a shady treed area, we settled in. Back then the trees were not so tall and protective (many young saplings), so we would erect the large umbrellas that we had borrowed from our home’s backyard.

On other occasions in the summer and fall, we would set up our tents and trailer and camp for a few days or more. A short walk in our flip-flops and bathing suits, the blue waters beckoned. Long days on the beach; evenings spent around a bonfire. Idyllic.

These are true gifts that we pass on to our children.

My mother died one year ago and I find myself these last few days in an in-between state – between grief and contentment. Between letting go and holding close.

A year before she fell and was hospitalized, my mother gave me a scrapbook that she had made. The scrapbook reflected my life from childhood through the decades: baby, graduation, wedding, pregnancy, my children as babies, their childhood, their graduation, a son’s wedding; she had included newspaper clippings from when I had opened two stores. This simple, unadorned scrapbook reflects a life-time ago. A life before dementia.

In one of the old photographs, my father and my two sons are holding hammers, wearing hard hats when the three of them knocked down a doorway in our home. My boys are four, maybe five, years old – their hammers are yellow.

Today one of my sons (after university and working) is now a carpenter, too. He went back to learn the trade a year after my dad died. Papa would have been pleased.

My son framed a copy of this photo and hung it on the wall of his apartment; beside the photo, he hung his papa’s tweed cap on a large brass hook.

Many of the photos show our family celebrating holidays – paper streamers crisscrossing the ceiling; Christmas cards hung on simple white string; tables laden with Christmas crackers and noise-makers. And always present in my childhood photos sit an older couple who rented the upstairs apartment of my parents’ old house.

I remember that my mother always invited them for holiday gatherings and Sunday roast beef dinners. My mother was kind and thoughtful. Even as a young child I instinctively knew that my mother was compassionate – I believe the seeds were planted then, in me. I saw it in all of her actions.

When the couple grew older and older, and one by one disappeared from our family gatherings (and the photographs), I have keen memories that it was my mother who took meals to them on a tray with pink flowers. Sometimes I would trail after her up the stairs to see what mysteries lay in this apartment (that we were told was off-limits).

Once I followed her into the bedroom and found my mother consoling the wife. I was too surprised to see an adult crying in plain view to ask any questions. Later, the ambulance arrived and I did not see our tenant again.

Another snapshot captures my family dancing – chairs and furniture pulled back against the wall to make room for a dance floor. My mother and father, my aunt and uncle, and my cousin, my sister and me…all of us dancing with joy and abandonment. Arms flailing, bodies gyrating, Christmas red and green paper hats still on our heads.

We danced a lot in our house when we were growing up. We used to dance before the war, during the war and after, according to my mother. We danced our sorrows away, she would say. My aunt used to win dance competitions in their home town in England; years later, she and my mother would dress up in their fancy frocks (that spun when they twirled) most Saturday nights. We would be heart-broken because we were left behind.

One time when my mother lived in a long-term care residence, we picked her up and brought her to the cottage that we rented on Lake Huron. My sister and I (as my mother and her sister) love to dance and we often turn up the music and let loose while preparing our evening meal. While our mother stayed at the cottage with us, she required a lot of care and attention, but every afternoon at four, we cranked up the music and danced. One on each side of her, holding her upright, we sashayed, cha-cha’ed, line-danced with our mother. If we had let go, she would have crumpled to the floor.

The neighbour photographed the three of us attempting the Electric Slide – not even dementia could steal that piece of joy from my mother as she swayed in perfect tempo. She has her sunglasses on, and her head is thrown back with laughter. In the photo she looks younger than her age (90); she looks happy. I make a note to myself to include that photo in my scrapbook.

My mother insisted that she wasn’t very smart in school, that her brothers and sisters were the brains of her family. But when I find an old Bible of hers and I open it, I find an inscription in blue ink: To Gwen, for perfect attendance.

My daughter-in-law was standing beside me when I opened the book, and we looked at each other and our eyes welled up. I gave the Bible to her and my son as I know they will honour my gift. It is evident in their home and in the well-worn items that they still cherish that pieces of the past mean something to them: an old vintage chair that we gave them when they were in university many years ago; another old floral chair that was her grandmother’s – both chairs made the final cut when they moved from rentals into their first newly-bought home.

I sense and see traces of my parents in everything, in all, like wisps…

I text my sister, It’s time, and the two of us drive to the green park that is along the shores of Lake Huron, the same park where we have spent so many seasons of our lives, and where now my father’s and my mother’s ashes are strewn. Some under the pines; some flung out in the blue waters of Lake Huron.

We get out of the car and we are silent. We walk under the pines and stand still. We have each wrapped ourselves in our mother’s shawls (one pink, the other peach); it is a damp day but a mild one.

We stand still and breathe in the traces of fall and winter, and after a few minutes we return to the warmth of the car where we have decided to meditate.

Twenty minutes later my cell phone app chimes that our meditation time is up, so we decide to walk along the paved road that trails the lake’s shoreline. As we turn the bend of the road, we sight hundreds of Canadian Geese along the water’s edge.

Many steps later and we sight first, a solitary Snow Goose, then  Canvasbacks wading alongside the Canadian Geese. The further we walk, there are more geese. It’s migratory time. (The Snow Goose is clearly lost.)

The geese are hard-wired to set off to far-away places in the spring and in the fall. These birds will follow their instincts, the sun, the moon and the stars; they will ride the air currents that flow above the winds and the waves.

There is a time and a season for all things. A time for balance. A time for harmony and Oneness.

Joy and laughter; sadness and sorrow. I am learning that the two states are not exclusive of each other. They are interconnected.

I look around at the geese perfectly aligned along the shore lines of Lake Huron’s blue waters – a blue that always takes my breath away.

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Occasionally we stop and share my binoculars to study the birds, the sky and the water; we snap some photos.

And then we continue walking along the path that trails along the shoreline of Lake Huron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.