Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year Resolution?


"Fifty million is just enough to get me into trouble," my friend remarks as we gave him a Lotto Max ticket for part of his Christmas gift. We sit in his fabulous new house up on his private hill, overlooking a sprawling twenty acres, his horses in the barn snugged up against the winter cold, his three vehicles and a new farm-quad ensconced in the great garage, a log fire ablaze before us, glasses of excellent and very expensive 'Two-left-feet' red wine being quaffed, a delicious meal being digested, and the two young children now quietly abed. "You see," he continues, "I want to invest in a spaceship."

This much from the same man who at the start of dinner tells the delightful story of the happy fisherman who sits every day fishing from the dock, selling his fish to have just enough money. A high- powered financier tries to inspire him to invest in boats, a factory, specialized outlets, all in the name of eventually being so well off that he can retire to fishing from the dock, ...and be happy. Ha! Yes, we spoke of the value of giving others' work, and we spoke of economics, but in the end it was the worthiness of one's moment by moment existence that became our predominant focus. How to sustain that?

New Year's resolutions are a strange mix of wishful thinking and taking stock. There is the gratefulness we express for what we have, for what we've accomplished, and for the immediacy of friends and family and food and warmth. But there's more. There's this wish that gets articulated, albeit reluctantly, vulnerably, for the things one does not yet have. One person wants to quit smoking; another to lose weight; to take time to play more; to do more exercise; to watch out for too much alcohol; to stake more personal boundaries; to claim more personal rights; to learn to manage obligations. To...

...And you? All eyes turn to me.

"Well, I want to develop more of a sense of worthiness whether or not I'm being productive," I say. "Just watching ducks ought to be validation enough for my existence, or how can I validate someone else who does not appear to produce much? My life for too long has been predicated on trying to prove myself. Ha! Is it not enough just to be?"

Silence. Our hostess, a look-a-like for the intelligent young Emma Thompson, raises her glass: "To a human-being, not a human-doing, ha!" Indeed, such is the stuff of kismet.

Interesting that among our gifts for them and their children were three things that with this writing take on symbolic meaning. Not Frankincense, Gold, and Myrrh, but for the little girl a snow-globe containing a porcelain butterfly reposing on a dandelion; for the young lad a professional yo-yo complete with an encyclopedia of its tricks; and for the adults a calendar of the insights of Tic Na Hahn. The nature we live with; the topsy- turvy of our physical being; and the very spirituality of our progress are among the cares and interests and loves of our lives. It is effortful. Can worthiness be without effort too?

Worthiness arises out of the harmony of being in the moment without necessarily needing to skip stones across still waters, or needing to shush the children, or feeling less than any given circumstance. We are indeed human-be-ings. But then again, for me, I'll get to just be-ing just as soon as I finish doing what I do here! Happy new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Winning Ways


We are seriously cramped. Elbow room, road room, line ups, seating for all, food for all, fuel for all, water for all; Huston, we have a problem. Our space age may well produce food-replicators and a new bio-diversity, and we may yet indeed live in geo-spheres and explore worm-holes and even travel back in time (thanks to the CERN experiments under Switzerland), but for whom will the proverbial bell not yet toll? We are being crushed by the weight of our needs, of our indifference, of our lack of care for others or our lack of compassion for the whole. Crushed by our greed. It lies in a man's seed.

The mid to late-couple we met over a Canadian dinner on Boxing Day were of the New Age. Handsome and exquisitely beautiful. White teeth, evenly spaced. Lithe bodies, he about a head and a half taller than she. Very intelligent. Very articulate. Very travelled. He a Caucasian Canadian, she a Pakistani princess. Their company felt like a privilege. Married in Lahore, they painted a picture for us of oppressive bodies clustered at train and bus and airport terminals. I felt very uncomfortable at the sense of push and shove and at the grubbing for place and privilege and the winning over others. Survival drives an individual within masses. Density and crowded streets makes for no traffic rules, little compassion for the feeble, less compassion for the weak, and the sheer pressure of the constancy of physical bodies around oneself is everywhere, but for the singular moment perhaps of privacy on a privy. It's oppressive. Smells and stench. Such is the new world.

A day later my real brother, Andy, wrote: "We intend to spend the New Year on a beach camp on Masirah Island just off the coast of Oman. It will take us 4 hours drive and a ferry crossing of about one and a half hours with a fight to jostle for a position on the ferry as I believe that there is no order or rules! It is who has the gumpf to push in front of the other and fight for a place with the locals and camels and goats and anything else that they can drag on board or you are left behind to wait for the next ferry! I have been told that it is an experience that you have to live through at least once in Oman!"

Well now, for persons pained by physical movement, who hardly can afford to be jostled or bumped, and who find it aggravating to turn the neck, what of such ones? And when our roads are too full, and the 7,000 pedestrians killed per annum on the streets of Lahore are still not enough to enforce traffic rules, or at least to deter an irresponsible driver, then how does one exist within a paradigm of such rush and crush? When riots over the luck of a puck turns us into rats in the streets, and when the belly-bloated kids in desert-reduced countries are too many to aid, at which point do we realize? Enough!

Last night, after a Calgary dinner with friends in a Korean restaurant in the burgeoning Bowness neighborhood, and them telling us of a third-world North Korea versus (despite its denser population) the pristine South, we visited another set of friends who'd recently returned from Bali, and who spoke of India, and of China. Our friends had a set of statues, Buddha and the elephantine Ganesha, procured to remove all obstacles. On our leaving the lady of the house unexpectedly stooped to zip up each of my new winter boots (since I struggle to reach my feet), and in that small humble act she showed the essence of the winning way: Compassion is realized, moment by moment. One for one.




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Sharks and Shivers



The shark, its teeth as menacing as white hot spear tips, floated among the children. Some screamed in fear. One little girl was actually crying. Many of the older kids just laughed, tried to poke at it, enjoyed the Canadian fun. It was just a video, but I shivered.

Boxing Day in East London, South Africa, is a go-to-the beach affair. One takes a picnic and an umbrella, sun-tan lotion and bathing suits. The summer solstice just five days afore heats things to their zenith, and the sea gleams and the waves come crashing in and the froth bubbles and scurries its way up the sand. Children squeal with apparent delight in the sea-saltiness. Teenagers play beach ball and frisbee. Adults read, sleep, eat, slather lotions on and the air is scented with tropical oils and laden with the sounds only humans make.


In the sea the shark was unseen, or surely people would have screamed. In the sea the shark was silent, or surely my sixteen year old brother, Mark, might have shouted enough to be heard. And in the tumult of Boxing Day bathers and the beach-game players his disappearance went unnoticed. Father and Stepmother were there. When they looked for him, called for him, began their walks up and down the beach, asked questions of others, made phone calls, even contacted the police Mark was nowhere to be found. Only, some hours later, some parts of the boy, chewed off, washed ashore. That this all should have taken place in a matter of hours, and that I only write about it now, nearly thirty years later, somewhat goes to show just how long a shiver can be. (Even my sister in law, Brenda, brother Peter's wife, writes just now, May 2012, to say they were there!)


But the hydrogen-filled radio-ballon sharks that floated in the video, as well as those that I was asked to assist in assembling from the two kits purchased for our Christmas festivities, were harmless. Silent, despite the mechanized ballast that moved the huge five-foot-long life-like-looking menace though the air, the sharks hovered upstairs in the bedrooms until the propitious moment. Once all seventeen people's presents had been opened, the great blundering things were suddenly amongst us: Surprise!


It struck me that my story needed no telling; it would perhaps cause our hostess to feel sorry for me, to be embarrassed, or would unnecessarily draw focus away from her intention that we have fun. And how many other triggers are there not always for all of us? A friend's wife died two days before this Christmas. Another friend gave up smoking, yet there were cigar-smokers on the deck. Another had given up alcohol, yet there was wine and drinks and bottles of booze. One person, often catching my eye, hoping to give no offense, quietly but certainly did not sing carols; her atheism not yet uncurbed sufficiently to be completely integrative. Another person, their pet having recently died, was rather gloomy in the presence of the two dogs. Who else was hurting, was reliving some baggage, some memory, some secret in the closet? How can one be expected never again to hear a gun-shot on the TV, see army fatigues, hear of some seedy uncle fiddling with children? Sharks swim around us in many guises; it is our ability to be larger than the present or the past, to take care of ourselves that matters in the moment, even though there be lifeguards and psychologists and loving others. And sometimes, it is but a shiver that forewarns us; we guard against being harmed, or doing harm in turn.


                                                                                     [photo via Al Nickle]

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Confusions



Guilt! Will this missive miss you? Or will you get it, and with it feel relieved that you've been included, not forgotten, overlooked, or neglected? We each have such long lists of friends to contact, to buy for, to be sure to contact. There are people in this very special season who once upon a time treated me with such kindness, gave me gifts, included me into their festivities, made me feel welcome; and now? They do not even appear on my list; not that I keep such a list any longer, for the sending of Christmas cards clouds my sense of obligation every December. To whom? There are simply too many people. 


Where are you now? Do you still think of me and the time when...? But that's another story. We each have our stories. We each have so very many people we'd be glad to see, glad to let know we care. But then again, where does the congregation end? Do we simply pass by those in other pews, nod at those close enough, shake hands with those in close proximity, and even get to hug the ones closest to us? Do we sign and send all and sundry a card, give some a present, overspend on the budget? Merry Christmas!


I am confused. Deep in my bones I know I should try to contact each of the persons on my list of people, or at least because we are in some sort of correspondence, or those I knew in the past and always owe a sense of care and interest in their lives, but... There are well over one thousand people on my Facebook list alone, and then all the students and colleagues and theatre people and family and ... You! How are you now, really?


Deep in my bones I worry about the lack of contact, the apparent lack of interest (in the sense that lack of contact appears like a lack of interest), and deep in my bones I ache with hope that you are well, are happy, have forgiven me my trespasses (for Lord knows I can think of no one who has trespassed against me,) and deep in my bones I wish you love and peace and happiness and contentment.


My guilt stems from the inability to express those sentiments to every person I know, easily, economically, freely. I have no need to have the gift of care returned, the reach out toward another reciprocated, the warmth of my thoughts of you felt back. But my confusion arises out of the apparent generalities of such sentiments now. Or does an 'about me' letter (in January we did this; in February we did that) really reach out more?


Right now I am here, as you are there, and we have arrived together at a moment in which (if you're still reading) you may know I am speaking directly to you and caring for your happiness and welfare. Now if this was a card in my own handwriting with a stamp that I had licked you might altogether be more convinced, even if the words in the card were generally generic, sappy, and of course, appropriately seasonal. Hence my guilt!


Christmas with its guilt confuses me. How come I do not feel so guilty about the lack of contact during the rest of the year? Why should the sentiment about care for you and your welfare and happiness only be expressed during this season? Why not let you also know that I care whenever the thought strikes me? Well, let me tell you, in that case, I'd hardly be able to stop contacting you! Merry Christmas! In fact: Happy Every Day too!



Monday, December 12, 2011

Noisy Neighbour



Vociferous Verbiage during Vespers


Something there is that does not permit sustained silence. Few of us may have the privilege really to hear it. Silence. I recall, about a decade ago, being on cross-country skis out in the Canadian backwoods and creaking to a stop, then holding my breath, and there was nothing but silence. Silence. Its magnificence is omnipotent, omniscient, omni-present. Heart beats. And then some chipmunk chatters, or a bird tweets, or a far off airplane growls through the blue. Our world is an orchestra of seemingly unrelated sounds, from car doors slamming through feet scraping through angrily shouting.


Such was the young man, even at a considerable distance across the trestle bridge, disturbing the quietude of the glorious sunset layering itself over the Victoria Gorge. Yet Canadians tend to be softly spoken. Generalities are often wrong. We know it takes only one example of the obverse for most of us to raise a contention. Yes, Canadians can be noisy too. And indeed, the vociferous verbiage came closer and closer.


Sunset over the gorge occurs in these wintry December weeks soon after four-thirty p.m., and it lingers long, often mesmerizing us with its hues. The Gorge, a wide lake-like inlet from Victoria, stretches in a long goose neck toward parts unseen, and as viewed from my balcony the sun loves to come hover over the wooden trestle bridge most late afternoons, silencing the waters, making mirror-smooth the glassy reflections, halting up  even a breath of wind. People bicycling and walking on the Galloping Goose pathway below appear as if outlined in gold, huddled romantically into themselves, their voices no longer heard when they seem to murmur in reverie. I think of Virgil: "Sacro tandem carmine vesper adest." Sacredness attends with the red-hue of vespers. Why disturb?


But the voice of the approaching young man was really angry, really loud, really vulgar. He yelled into his cell-phone in a vituperative stream of verbosity, his violence a blazing prism in which he, at twenty-something, advanced upon my landscape, head down, free hand gesticulating, his red parka open and swishing about with his erratic pedaling at his bicycle on the solidness of the pathway. Why did his listener not just hang up? He wielded an argument as though he was solely in the right, and given the ugly language, the swearing, it had all the earmarks of a foul-mouthed fellow fighting with his girlfriend. He wended his way past my apartment block, past the adjacent old-folks' home, along the seafront, and was smothered in the hollow sounds under the road-bridge archway.


I recall a time when I was that age, and in wanting to dominate a girlfriend's unruly Alsatian, I yelled at it and shouted and used my Big Voice. My landlady said she could hear me down the block! I, I who now cares that we do not chase the robin off its nest when we slam a car door have made plenty of untoward noise in my time. I have not thought about who was sleeping, who was ill, who was disturbed, nor upon what silences I was intruding. We live in a world of noise, and we give out sound, sometimes, with a sense that the louder we are the more important we are. Still, it surely suites one more to watch the ducks, to see sunsets, and in compassion quietly to allow for the belligerent and intractable. Still, preference being what it is, something there is in the magic of hearing only a heartbeat in the silence. Silence. A Privilege.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Courage and Cowardice



Hurting Courage and Hurled Cowardice


How many times have we not wished we'd spoken up? The dastardly deed takes place before us, the thing being said is harmfully wrong, the person about to make a mistake might be redirected. But we do not speak up, intervene, correct, step out of our own comfort zone. We demur. Such was my cowardice, this winter week of December, 2011.


On the beach the playful golden Labrador was perhaps only three or maybe even two years old. Although I could not discern his features, the dog's master was about my age, a man in his early sixties, late fifties, tall, grey bearded, wearing a woolen toque and black leather gloves, with a thick parka zipped against the wind. Even at a long distance he appeared a friendly enough sort; there was no aura of dominance, aggressiveness, nor even stand-offishness about him. In his right hand he sported a white sling-throw sort of oversized sausage-shaped flotation appended to a short rope, the which he lifted, twirled in an arc, then helicoptered above his head. The dog eyed it and jumped eagerly about. And then the man let it loose, and it zoomed up and away, straight out into the onrush of the frigid sea. The dog hurtled down the beach, hesitated for the slightest moment, then plunged in after the contraption. The tide was already taking the white floater out, but the dog swam, gained on it, grabbed it, gagged slightly in the salt water, then churned back. And within moments they both were ready to do it again.


Bits of intermittent sunshine reflected off washed up logs, glinted off rocks, layered itself in the foam of the ocean. But it was generally a cold gray day. I'd already walked some thirty minutes by the time I saw them, dog and man. My being there was something of its own miracle; it was the first long walk I'd taken in over eight years. Back in 2003 when I crushed my discs, my hiking days were over. And power-chairs do not handle beaches, nor do push-chairs for that matter. Ever tried riding a bicycle in deep sand? But over the last three months I've gradually increased my endurance, and though I cannot escape the nerve-pinching, the jolts and stabs and burning, there was a thing about the length of that beach that lured me along. Besides, many tossed-up logs against the shoreline provided resting spots, and the isolation from people allowed me time to meander at my own pace, step after step. I still had about twenty minutes back to the car to make. But I did not see myself easily stopping to talk to the man and his dog, even though I might've leaned heavily on my cane, there being no log right there for me to rest on where he was busy doing his throwing.


There was a certain courage in that dog. He evidently loved to chase after the throw-thing, despite the frigid water. There was a certain courage in my walking; I love to hike despite the payment my body exacts on me. Better to be there and to do, than not to be, in my mind. But does the dog know that it most likely will suffer from arthritis and joint discomfort at an early age due to the extreme temperature? Would the dog make a different choice if it did know? And more importantly, would its master? I should have told him. I could have told him. Cowardice! I've read enough, seen enough to speak with authority, with kindness; to be seen to come from compassion. But in that moment, albeit in the yoke of my own circumstances, I threw my golden chance away. And now, do I just wish to have done differently, or do I go plunge in and alter the future, hm?



Monday, November 21, 2011

One's Cup of Tea



The Currency of A Cup of Tea

Expectation has no rights. Another's reaction is theirs. One might intend in one's work or   writing or product of some kind to evoke an appreciation, but to expect to control the outcome is possibly to face disappointment; many a cook, comedian, actor, writer, singer, or artist has had to face into the unrewarding responses of stolidness, silence, disfavour, or worse, an evident disinterest.

The monks make a sand pebble picture that is a painstaking pebble for coloured pebble placement of precision on a part of the floor. And no sooner are the days and days and hours of work done than they sweep it all into a heap; the performance was the thing, not the product. Well, such is my ongoing lesson. If my door-sized paintings are to be appreciated by another, as opposed to my being sufficiently engaged in brush stroke after brush stroke (one of them a fifteen year project in particular) then I am certainly yet to be completely disappointed. Not everything is everyone's cup of tea.

Rendered in Renaissance oil-glazes and many taking several years each to complete, some twelve or so of my canvas works made it safely, just yesterday, to my apartment. I stacked them in various bedroom locations, the two largest along the lounge wall, where I happen to be working on my current canvas. Admittedly, these are works of intricate and apparently overwhelming dimensions; they challenge rather than entertain. "That long band of thumb-sized miniatures along the top are copies of the great works of art throughout history," I usually explain. Surrealism is not quite readily read; it takes mental acuity, esoteric or at least extant knowledge, a willingness to piece together the many juxtapositions, and an energy of concentration that we are not easily given to, unless we perhaps have paid the museum entrance price and specifically are there to view the paintings. Analysis takes effort. Ask Salvador Dali. My paintings are not pretty pictures.

Perhaps the most insulting term to me about them was delivered by my mother. About fifteen years ago. I had not seen her in over twenty years and I sent her a few photos of my work. The reply came in Afrikaans. The phrase that hurt, that was to teach me to withstand the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, was "grotesque". It is spelled the same in the Afrikaans language. Coming from my mother, it corroborated what I had expected from her, and therefore it actually hurt more. But it served to galvanize me toward producing my own product, being my own man, choosing my own visions, and depending less and less on the approbation or appreciation or approval of others.

Then why bother to write this essay?

A cup of tea takes energy to make. The steps involved are multifold. The blend chosen, the vessel in which it reposes, the artfulness of skilfully putting it down, or not, all of which combine, especially socially, to serve another. Even a child likes the currency of respect, of appreciation. Few artists of any genre truly do things just for themselves. Yet as these works of mine sit here, still chiefly unheralded, I am reminded of the lessons of my mummy. The true art of living is in making such a product as even a cup of tea with a consummate care from the first, whether or not the result is truly to be appreciated.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Fish Tails



Fish-tails and Floundering


"You've got to know your purpose in life," my friend said, expertly maneuvering his big GMC half-ton on the snow-laden mountain road past the slower long-haul lorry. "If I wake you at three in the morning, eh, you need to be able to state it just like that!"


"Wonderful," I smile. "And what would you say?"


He pauses. "That's my problem. I just am not sure. Used to know. Used to think it was about making money and having things, eh, but then that changed a couple of years back. Now I know it's important to be helping people. But not to enable them. Just to help people out and to give them a leg up. But I know there's a better way to state that, a bigger purpose, eh, just not sure how to express it."


All around us the world is white with November's heavy snow. The road is sometimes only visible thanks to the balustrades on either side. Occasionally vehicles headlights beam at us from the opposite direction. We've a ten or even thirteen-hour proximity together in the cab of his solid-feeling vehicle, and as relaxed as my 62 year old friend is, he is focused yet casually alert on the treacherous road. Other vehicles here and there have slid off, some vacant as abandoned igloos, one or two with occupants now outside and digging unrewarded. Emergency vehicles have lights blinking. Police cars, like snow vultures, hover around the carcasses of some stranded vehicles. A semi-trailer lies alarmingly tipped over onto its side, right in front of Three Valley Gap. Further on an abandoned car lies upside down, somewhere along the Coquihala. But we progress onward in our quest to get my paintings from Calgary to Victoria, until...


"Here we go!" he gives me the forewarning, even as the half-ton's backside slides out from under us on a patch of black ice. "Uh oh!" and the vehicle suddenly points toward the drop of the valley far below with a sickening wrench, but almost instantly my friend corrects the alarming fish-tail and we're cautiously continuing the long descent onto the narrow bridge over the Kicking Horse River. "Long hill ahead of us," my companion nods at it, and the engine growls slightly as it takes the incline.


"Seems to me you express it very well," I venture.


"What's that?"


"Your purpose. It's expressed in your actions. You're a superb driver and a most helpful friend. I couldn't have brought all these paintings with me on a plane, and they're too big for my own vehicle, and I certainly couldn't load them alone, so thanks! If your purpose is to help people then you do it, as another good friend of mine says, with action. He says love is a verb. So thanks for the love, buddy!"


He chuckles, and grows silent. I think to myself, I know what I'd say if woken at three in the morning and asked what my purpose in life is, it is... But then again, your knowing what mine is is not nearly as good as knowing your own, eh? So? So what is it, hmm?








Flights of Fancy



"I didn't know you are an artist," he said. "Got anything to show me?"

"Not yet," I responded. "My calling cards are stacked away in an Alberta basement."

And so the plan was born.

We have high hopes. We trust. We intend to succeed. We take risks. We invest in an uncertain future and brave the odds and fake it 'til we make it. We are driven by our want, by our idea, our concept, our ego's need to have its ends met. And in our very fancifulness we do indeed achieve yet more. Past success teaches us as much. But to what extent are we identified by that which we do, versus that which we are? And must 'versus' be the operative word, or can it be changed to a sense of 'conjoined' in the doing and the being? I am what I am?

As I write on this 17th of November I am at the Victoria airport, awaiting the flight. Snow is in the forecast and it's already snowing in Calgary. And within the roughly 1300 kilometres between here and there is a winter-bound road awaiting our return. My friend will pick me up at the airport later this afternoon and by 6:00 p.m. we shall have loaded my paintings in his vehicle and head back over the Rocky Mountains on the long road to Victoria. Somewhere tonight we'll get a motel. Sometime tomorrow we'll arrive back at the seaside. The flight booking for the whole journey was made several weeks ago. Once committed, we never did discuss whether or not we should let things depend on the weather.

Without the collection happening now the paintings will stay unseen until the spring, in April or maybe even March. Risking the winter drive would not make it worth it. But the difference between then and now is that the weather was not supposed to close in quite so quickly, nor so severely. Still, we persevere. Even my plane is now 20 minutes late. As I look out through the huge glass panes of the terminal the sky is black, foreboding, but all around me, life goes on. We humans want what we want. Some of us perhaps are ineluctably bound to schedules and expectations, but in the end we make a choice to stay with the commitment or to play it safe.

At issue is the reason I am convinced that fetching my canvases is worth it. It has to do with showmanship. It has to do with impressing others. It has to do with providing others with a product so that they may choose to buy the original, purchase a giclee copy, or commission me to do another work. It has to do with my being identified for what I do, can do, might do, like to do, and want to do. Yes, it is all because of my want.

We are creatures of want. In the smallest of things we manifest our wants. Eventually some of them become needs. Yet at which point can one let go and just be? Does it really matter if I never paint another painting? Does it really matter that another knows that I am an artist, once proven, and yet again to be? Does our fancy really matter, for a thee, or for a me?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bathing Beauties


People such as these are indeed beautiful. Would that many others would see them as well, coming out of the swimming-pool water, going in. They wear bathing suits and for the most part with an unselfconscious air, amble solo alongside the water on their way to or from the change rooms. I try not to stare. Others too seem not to notice. But then again the unstated atmosphere under the glass and steel dome of the swimming bath is one of absolute acceptance of half-naked attire and bare skin.

The changing-room for men is always the first challenge. The proximity of completely naked and unabashed bodies at the wooden benches in front of the pay-lockers can be overwhelming; one does not want to be touched by a naked or wet backside, however accidentally. And then there are the showers, both before and after the swim, where many men, sans bathing suits spend untold time soaping themselves from the chlorine. I admit I've wondered if the women are as free in front of each other. In the pool though, where everyone wears at least a swim-costume, neither men nor women, I notice, greet or show signs of recognition. In fact, since I have gone about eight times by now, there are some women and men who appear to give me the very slightest of nods, as though they recognize that our exercise schedules coincide, but that might well be speculation.

It's the beautiful bodies I wish more people could see. Perhaps because of the late afternoon hour, or perhaps because younger persons do not frequent swimming pools as much, very many people are somewhat closer to being seniors. Some are quite a bit older than me, some younger. But the bulges and the bellies and the wobbles and the veins and the hirsute and the bald and grey are all together in the water, or apparent on the walkways, or in the change rooms, and we all appear to accept and understand that bodies are bodies. That's the beauty of it. I see such different shapes and sizes as to make of us a species as interesting as any animal. We have such varied gates, such varied swimming styles, such different ways of being represented. And it's beautiful.

There is hardly space for vanity or pride in the swimming pool. One is what one is. A hair-do and makeup and clothing and jewelry is of no consequence. Whether one can even swim well is of no matter, as long as one is safe; it is the bravery to be there, to let others see you at your age and at your stage of physical development that is beautiful. It is the allowing of oneself simply to be. The pool water is of course the metaphor for our rejoining with the elemental; underwater the sound possibly resembles what it was like in mummy's tummy! Why then or now care what one's body, or another's, looks like?

There are people who are aided from their wheelchairs and let down on seat-crank-cranes into the water. There are other people who are heavy and lumpy according to what is popular, but who appear to be accustomed to the tight fit of their swim-pieces and come enjoy the water too, beautifully free in their acceptance of themselves. So too for a group of developmentally challenged young men and women who sometimes come, their limbs and body shapes and abilities different than others, but they're there, participating. True, once in a while there's a lithe-limbed young man or woman, but one hopes they're not being too aware of themselves. The beauty really resides in the freedom of the self just to be. Bathing beauties. Would that it were so outside of the pool too. Being beauties. Just people allowed to be.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mastery of Musical Mystery

Words were unnecessary. Michael Waters walked up to the platform in the small venue, picked up the guitar, and began to play. And notes, sweet music, the elixir of life poured around and about and through us. Easily it surged to engulf the shores of attendant souls and spirits, sweeping individual accords along, until as an audience we became ensconced in an ethereal harmony, attuned to every chord. Masterful music indeed.


Michael Waters is a consummate world-class guitarist. Music is his spiritual mission, not something he does to earn his way. After some thirty years of playing and evolving his style to its own unique evocation of hearing the spirit sing, without any words, Michael Waters has mastered the instrument to a level that makes it an extension of himself. His guitar is not some object on which one plays a song. His performance began as a mere trickle of sound, pooled into a melody, spilled over into a stream, gathered momentum to become a river, negotiated rapids and canyons and waterfalls, and then immersed itself into an ocean. We became as comfortable as babies in the amniotic fluid of a moving womb, taken wherever our repository of ethereal sounds drifted in its own wont.


Being in the venue, a small church in Victoria on Vancouver Island, November 5th 2011, quickly became a distinct privilege. It was as though sitting inside a cosy dome. Why only 40 or so others were there was a mystery; advertising had been good; tickets were only $10 apiece. Was our city such a mecca for 'things going on' that we were just a small representative of the many people attending other artistic venues? But thoughts like these merely disrupted the purpose of my being there; better to enjoy the music.


And the man, this artist, spoke French. English too. Before the concert he moved amongst us, chatting freely. His guitar on its stand waited on the candle-lit platform. Michael Waters was charming, sincere, warm, gracious, casually sophisticated, a man who's been places, seen things. It reflected in every composition, particularly when he shifted from the minor to the D major tuning in the second half. During intermission he spoke to us individually. Immediately afterward he opened the second set with the story of his life, told us of his mission to engage the spirit, spoke of his Oldfield, Renbourne, and Santana influences. And then he played, hardly ever looking up, with an intensity of flow and with his delightfully distinctive erudition of composition throughout to the close.


Austrian, Bavarian, Chinese or Zambian, people come together within music without need of words, of language, of awareness of syncopations, harmonies, or chords. Music has a spirit that reaches beyond the technicalities of grammar or spelling or precision. We conjoin our souls in sound. Music matters, yet needs have no specific meaning. We were not given the title of any one tune. No words evoked interpretation. Imagine a tune called The Trout, or Traffic, or Wichita Falls. Titles precondition us. But music that arises of itself has its own meaning, and that which I imagined, to be sure, was not that which others necessarily experienced. Our interpretation is naturally coloured by our own life's journey. And in the end, for me to describe Michael Waters' influence with and on music is likely to give my words an unnecessary intentionality all of their own, see? Or would you rather really just hear? Go buy his CD. He has four if not five of them. A treasure! (see: www.ladybirdmusic.com)

Monday, November 7, 2011

Above it All



How to stay above it all? The lottery might do that for us. Being rich (and usually 'famous' ) puts us in the right style, we hope. Such heights of glory are easily ascribed  to those who live in penthouses, to those who live much above our own means, both literally and figuratively. Sometimes we deem such lofty-living beings to have a higher degree of intelligence or energy, a greater degree of cleverness, of fortune, of acumen, of birthright, nobility, and even street-smarts. After all, perhaps such people work harder or are smarter to earn the right to live way up there. Envy, at root, has many tendrils.

Well, our lunchtime visit to our new penthouse friends, a beautifully attired and retired septuagenarian couple, was as if being hosted on a ship's prow. From far below the massive expanse of deck the sunlit sea glistened through the guard rail. He is English, tall, handsome. She is Swedish, beautiful, graceful. The apartment itself was the epitome of cultured elegance. Ivory, teak, silver, gold. Original oil paintings of all sizes adorned each room, some dating back three-hundred years or more, still in original frames, and many depicting a long- standing family heritage. Colourful Persian rugs festooned. A grand piano waited, a violin as ancient as time atop it. White leather couches and antiques complemented the decor in a tasteful sweep of genteel and sophisticated apportionment throughout. Variously sized glass showcases housed a variety of china, ivory figurines, a ship, and coloured stemware. Refinement of taste, dignity, and decor permeated; a magazine-like picture of picturesque perfection.

And then came lunch time. A virtual Delacroix of August-hued artistic delights decorated the table, with tapered colour-coded candles circumscribed by miniature garlands and an unobtrusive centre piece of low lying exotic flowers. Twin pairs of silvered ring-doves reposed at the top of each of the four place settings. Yet intimacy and ease abided, despite the formality of setting. A large gold doubloon of chocolate rested on each serviette. And then came the meal. A delectable cheese and broccoli soup with a wafer of biscuit was followed by a plateful of delicious gourmet delicacies, laid before one like a Gauguin masterpiece of colour and culinary expertise, topped off by what appeared to me as a special Swedish creamy pastry. Our genteel hostess seamlessly interchanged plates, prodded the conversation in a balance of interests, and ensured our every comfort. Our engaging host was the epitome of good humour and mindful considerations. Whether courteous about James the Fourth (or was it the Sixth I mistakenly blurted) or Bloody Mary, or the modern day marvels of computer evolution, we discoursed without censure. Our caring observations were of integration, of acceptance, of interest for more knowledge and of compassion for others. Attitude, we concluded, is not easily a matter of choice. And then our hostess was asked to play.

During the sonorous and exquisite tonality of the blend of piano and voice, it came upon me, privileged to be there, that these are people who indeed are truly above it all; people who live in appreciation and grace and acceptance and inclusion of the diversity and complexity and hardships of life, for their story also was full of the surmounting of many hardships on the way from a past to a present. And far from being in some sort of lofty overlordship, they were so evidently happy to host us. To see us. Just happy to be.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Friend's Haircut


My Friend's Haircut

"Problem is, I have to get my haircut" my friend says over the phone. I think a moment. "Then I'll come with you," I say, "I can wait in the car or perhaps even have mine done too." There is a pause. "We'd have to make an appointment for that, I'm afraid," he says, "but if you'd like to come along I'll pick you up and we can go swimming afterwards, that is, after we've also been to my dealership. I've got to get the car quickly checked before we leave for Phoenix tomorrow. But I do want to go to the gym, okay? See you at three."

He arrives on the dot, as we say. He parks as near as possible to the entrance of my building since I have to use my cane to get to his car. And then we set off. We talk with the easy familiarity of two people who've known each for nearly thirty years. Phoenix rises up in our conversation within the gamut of what we did yesterday and slides into whatever happened to This person and then That person, along with which we analyze the paths least or most trodden, depending on the circumstances. After all, that one became an alcoholic and this other one became a womanizer, and then there's yet This Other fellow who is a closet introvert, given that his impeccable manners would not have the public suspect as much. And next my friend nudges his car into a spare parking spot. But the block he has to walk, albeit with his own limp and the ever-present boot-brace he needs is too far for me, and I let him know I'll happily wait. He hands me the car keys so that I may listen to the radio, or adjust the windows for air.

Some forty-five minutes later he is back. I'd used the time to tap at my iPad, to watch the passersby on an autumnal October Wednesday, and to enjoy the moments to myself. "What have you been working on?" he asks, easing himself into the driver's seat and then starting off. I close up my machine. "Been working on this essay called Room for a View," I offer. He picks up on the phraseology. "Ah, not with a view but for a view, eh?" And next we 're into reminisces about the four panes of the Johari Window (the which he'd first let me see into, back in the 80's) and our continuing inability to see ourselves completely. Our chatter meanders along and then he turns into the dealership where, once we've left the car, we continue talking in the waiting room about the pitfalls of myopia, of closed-mindedness, of absolutes, of certainties, and of unbridled egotism.

The car ready for us, we drive back toward the indoor pool complex, and we pay our entrance fee and he goes to the gymnasium and I go to the change rooms and prepare for the pool-water, do my weightless exercises, my workout, my challenge of increasing my endurance, my attempts at overcoming the perpetual nerve pinching pain, and then at last come out of the changing room again. I am exhausted. He is sweating but uses a towel to dry his face and is ready to go. I tell him of my having to do my math classes immediately after swim class back in school days, and how the slightly nauseous feeling now puts me back in that time. Yes. We are our past and our present and our future too, we know. Yet that which we now do prepares us for that very future. In that case, for both of us, we're getting fitter for it, ha! Finally, he drops me off at my place. Good-bye!

And now, three days later, I realize: I never even thought to look at or say anything about my friend's haircut!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Room for a View?


"Declare your point of view, please," my friend challenges, "absolutely! Completely!"

Absolutely, I respond. It's the sort of word one sometimes uses, even though it's about a specific view-point held, an apportionment of the whole, a segment of the truth as one knows it, an avowed verification personally understood. Totally! Even by such a word we mean within the context. For some such partiality of view is just not good enough. Yet, how possibly to be conscious of Everything, The Totality? Even our Gods have many names, differing adherents, diverse religions, faiths, beliefs, and many disclaimers too.

Perhaps, given that we innately and essentially have the potential to be entirely, totally integrative in our intuitions, interests, feelings, understandings and intentions, some of us are not readily drawn or given to being a This or a That. Such seeming fence-sitters are neither blue nor red nor an eagle nor a bull to frustrated political, religious, or sports-team builders. Yet to the eclectic, being a This or a That is to be curtailed amidst the galaxies of our entire universe to a given planet, moon, or star. Within universality the conscription of the self to any one co-ordinate indeed circumscribes. By contrast to this ease of accommodating variables, by contrast to having an esemplastic sensibility in its growing willingness to encounter myriad generalities, there are some who practice strict adherence to specificities. Some even proclaim a particularized reservation at the proverbial pearly gate. Some expect a room with a view. Others believe that they'll be served by willing vestal virgins. Pedigrees especially. Such are some of mans' beliefs.

Mongrels, mayhap, are more integrative. They are not too choosey, nor too selective; a simple preference guides them as opposed to inbred habits of selection. Integration’s essence is an accretion of acceptances. Whomever, whatever, whichever, whenever is all par for the course, an anathema to those attached to tradition. Integration has it that one has predilections, choices, practices preferred principles, yet becomes comfortable that all practices and principles exist. Even the worst. By such inclusion even of evil integration absorbs, contains, and minimizes the apparent ubiquity of the negative. To push against it is to encourage its pushing against you. So one works with dark and light, and the balance is in the very art of living. Mongrels tend not to be specialists.

Integrative preference leads naturally to Godliness over Hellishness, Light over Dark, Positive over Negative. Enlightenment is a journey, not a product. Choice is paramount. Degree and predominance of choice habituates us. We are works in progress. Which part of Everything is not? We all are in the classroom of life, communing together, evolving as conscripted, or as we will, or choose, or think, or even as we prey or pray.

Prayer, OMG, is like a natural connection to malleable potential. Belief in God, for an integrationist, is a belief in Totality, in Everything, in One, in Plurals, and even in All the Fragments too. Humans basically bind under the spell of love, community, with intention to be kind, honourable, caring. But? And the divisiveness commences. Christ, Buddha, Mohammed, and Zoroaster among others were men who inspired millions; yet we but peep mostly through the holes in the solidness of fences around ourselves to take in a bit more of the view at a time, and so too investigate yet more light. Would a room with a window not otherwise have its vistas, absolutely, completely obscured? Hmm?

Monday, October 24, 2011

What's in Your Jeans?



Contributing to The Whole, hmm?

"You can't do that!" they say. And yet someone swam the channel, flew the plane, broke the previous record, went to the moon. Indeed, where would some of us be without the surgeons who experimented with cornea or titanium implants? We evolve! In an essay entitled "Intelligence and Energy Fields", hereby truncated, scientist Jim Francis talks about changes to our group-genetics, our evolution. A friend of mine responded: "I find it to affirm that which I feel to be true. Though not necessary, it feels good that one's assumptions are corroborated by science." Indeed, yet its contentions are controversial:

"Over the past 5-10 years, hard evidence has been produced which is having its effect on the scientific skeptics. Dr. Karl Pribram, a prominent American brain surgeon, sees the brains neurones 'out-picturing' the physical universe, similar to the holographic process. He suggests that our brains are exposed to the entire concept of the universe in the same way that any minute part of a hologram contains basically the same information as the whole. British scientist, David Bohm came up with the same Holographic Theory... But probably most amazing of all is the theory that British physicist Rupert Sheldrake has proffered. Basically he has proven repeatedly through laboratory controlled experiments that different species of animals appear to be "plugged" into a dedicated intelligence field which is universal to that particular species. For example, when enough mice in a group have learned a maze, they ALL suddenly know the maze - whether they have run it or not! It now appears, after a BBC television experiment, that if enough humans have learned something, then it becomes easier for all humans to learn it. Sheldrake calls this shared intelligence the Morphogenetic field.There is an interesting parable about this called the '100th monkey'. A very bright female monkey on a small Japanese island was taught to wash potatoes in the seawater. She then taught other members of the tribe to do this. When approximately 100 monkeys had learned this procedure, many other remote monkey tribes started washing potatoes in the same manner. But the interesting thing is that they were situated on other remote islands! That is, they had no possible way of acquiring this knowledge other than by some form of intuitive universal "sharing". The BBC in London tried out Sheldrake's Theory on 8 million viewers. They showed on prime time TV a difficult puzzle that only a very small percentage of their viewers were able to solve. Then the correct answer was also given. Shortly after, the same experiment was repeated in another country. A far higher percentage of these foreign viewers were able to get the puzzle right the first time. In the form of a universal pictorial concept, language and customs were not considered to be a factor. The BBC and Sheldrake concluded that as the correct answer was now existing within the human morphogenetic field the human race now "knows" the answer. Basically Sheldrake's Theory explains how we develop intuition and 'intuitive' functioning to a degree. What Sheldrake is saying is that there is a 'larger' mind for each life-form and each individual life-form 'programs' that larger mind. But probably the most startling experiments came from Cleve Backster, a polygraph (lie detector) expert. Operating from his San Diego, Californian laboratory he found that plants react - at a distance - to human thought. He initially connected his polygraph equipment to a Dragon Plant to test for possible "plant stress". He decided to generate stress by burning the plants leaves and sure enough the polygraph machine registered a strong reaction. But he hadn't actually burnt the leaves - he had only intended to do so, with emotion and intent! Skeptics who tried the same experiment without genuine intent couldn't get it to work. Backster scraped human cells from a volunteer's mouth and connected these to medical EEG equipment. He found that these cells reacted instantaneously to the donor's emotions, even when they were geographically separated! White blood cells were found to be particularly susceptible to emotion. (This may explain for the first time why people with strong positive emotions have better health). This intelligence field could explain how Subjective Communication (the ability to connect with other people's minds) works to create win/win situations, as well as remote viewing works (the ability to see people, objects and places in the past, present and future) as well as remote influencing (the ability to transfer emotions and heal people from a distance)". End of Jim's essay.

Well now, reductio ad absurdum yields that no given group of gifted students would relieve the rest of us from being in school! Yet I am galvanized by the concept of our collective intelligence residing within each holographic unit of individual genetic makeup. Although we may not know the caring ways that most of life's gardeners tend to any given maze, our collective intelligence is quite evident in the historical meme structures of our evolutionary stages, from primitive man through familial bondage to warlord ego to societal divisionism to inclusionary didacticism to egalitarian expectations and so on.

Now then, how many people will it take to regrow an amputated limb before we believe we too can do it? How many strangers have to prove themselves before we freely can be trusting? How many Dulcinea's have to rise up in our consciousness before we comprehend life to be greater than what we see? What, indeed, is our sense of life?

A "collective consciousness" said Jung. "I just want to know God's thoughts, the rest are details," said Einstein. And "Thinking about our thinking?" say I, the better to understand our collective quest, our individual purpose, our reason for being. Knowing a bit about gene changing we may indeed more purposefully increase our conscious intentions to contribute to the health of the whole. Yes, our Gods gave us reasons for our being here (we've been taught) but we tend to diversify and to quantify and to separate and to en-culture and to fragment until, paradoxically, the individual takes on a paramount importance without necessarily noticing its need to nurture itself with responsibility to a whole. Seldom do we truly conceive of that whole as Everything. We tend rather to see the whole in terms of Humanity, with everything serving us. We claim our Intelligence and our Energy Field as our own. And we lose sight and touch and the feeling of living in grace and flow with the universal prayerfulness that is our psyche exercising its psychic powers, albeit subconsciously or not. Challenged by the vicissitudes of our evidently unfair lives, we move from our preferences to choices to entrenchments to a need to isolate our self-progress, spiritually, mentally, and psychically as we seek to fulfill our own cellular and molecular psycho-epistemic sensibilities, knowingly or not. We are rather sperm-like in our atavistic selfishness, are we not? After all, we beat out a billion others to be born!  So then, let us think carefully what it is we carry in our genes.

Now then, come, let us pray. Hmm?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dulcinea and Quixote


Dulcinea and Don Quixote

My seventy-one year old friend cuts a quixotic figure atop the adult-tricycle. Lean and tall and oversized for the trike, he wobbles ahead of me like a proverbial Quixote aboard a small donkey. Aware that he might look silly, he does not care. He is fixated on trying to get the rhythm right, given his last hip surgery, but more especially, given the oversized prosthesis-looking boot on his right foot. Since his stroke my friend has had great difficulty putting any weight on that ankle. He's gone through various programs and seen various experts, but with no relief. The knee high plastic boot slides into an oversized shoe, but the dimensions of his foot won't allow now for the front wheel safely to steer. His life now very truncated from being an active sportsman, hiker, and cyclist, my friend soldiers on. His immediate concern, however, is to get the contraption under him to obey his will. But after several tries we give up. The trike is too small. And then she appears on the corner, a woman of his age, the sunlight in her silver hair. Dulcinea.

Somewhat behind him, and being a faithful sort of smaller Sancho these past twenty-plus years of our friendship to my friend's height and age I note the interchange between the two. Living in the same neighbourhood complex they know each other and each other's spouses from several years past; I am the new face, but I am not here introduced. The distance between Dulcinea and Quixote is too great, and as they pass pleasantries across the road of the familiar I busy myself with adjustments to my own trike. She is perhaps eighty, tall, stately, silver-haired, carrying a shopping basket, and neatly attired in a dark below-the-knee skirt and a white collared blouse that flutters in the breeze from under a petite jacket. She radiates an interest and energy in the new contraptions, smiles across the distance at me, then excuses herself and glides away. She needs to get back to her husband, I learn. He has Parkinson's disease. She is his main care giver.

The next morning my friend phones. Dulcinea is in the hospital. Last night she had a stroke. Her husband is alone. My friend and his wife will visit the hospital again in the afternoon; my friend's wife was there last night. Our poor golden-lit lady of yesterday afternoon's sunlight is now paralyzed on one side. Life is not fair.

My friend can still drive. He picks me up in his car in front of my apartment and we go to our mid-day rendezvous at the swimming pool. We've discovered this joint get-together that gives us exercise, immerses us now in the amniotic-like fluids of getting our old limbs re-co-ordinated, that rejuvenates our being. We get lung-fulls of air. Life is not fair.

Dulcinea perhaps never knew the impression she had on me. She perhaps did not give that quixotic moment of our meeting a second thought. Nor did I. But now, from where I sat upon my creaking steed she represented an essential vitality that still resonates with me: an older person, beautiful in her energy, interested in others, interested in things, in life, and caring to reciprocate a smile across the distance when she didn't need to. That she should so be struck down seems so very unfair. But then again we needs accept that which is. Still, I wonder, did Quixote himself not find his very passion riding upon the view of seeing things not as they are, but as they might or at least ought to be? Hmm?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Lizard Tale



The Lizard Tale (A rather Personal Tail): October 15th, 2011

The horridly squirming thing in my seven year-old hand was very real, visceral. I let it go but the lizard was already skittering away from me. The wretchedly broken off part kept wriggling and writhing like a living little snake on the bare concrete. Fascinated, I looked at the lone tail's wild gyrations, but caught a glimpse of the damaged creature's bleeding stump just before it disappeared. I felt a resonating remorse. All I'd wanted was a pet.

At twelve years old I had my own tail removed. The coccyx (embarrassing word) was rubbing against my pelvis and causing me great jolts of pain; in fact, the stenosis and disc degeneration of my life had begun. But I was determined to overcome this congenital condition; my bedridden mother and her plethora of pills as well as the care she needed bothered me. So despite pain I played rugby, cricket, tennis, and rather stupidly, showed off in weight-lifting. I bicycled, tried gymnastics, and even ballet. Then the South African army conscripted me; the real torture to my spine was to have little surcease. Five years later I was a stowaway aboard the S.A. Oranje, biked my way up Britain and worked cattle and hay and potatoes and cemented in a massive bollard on a dock in the Orkney Islands. Then I found refuge in Canada, but at twenty-five I needed a spinal-fusion with chips from my hips. Regrowing that old tail was not going to be easy. Initially with a contraption under my chin (to keep it up, ha!) and plaster-casts and braces I again hiked and biked and canoed and kayaked and cross- country skied and then even played squash, but the chronic and inescapable pain increased quite dramatically. After eight years of seeing various gurus who all told me I'd have to live with it the rest of my life I decided no more meds, no more docs, no more babying myself. So even at fifty-two I danced in shows, then pushed a car, and crushed my discs. They put two rods and ten screws in me, and as Titanium Man I tried to walk again, but it was short lived. These past six years I've been in a power-chair, since I cannot push myself. I've lectured and theatre-directed from it, and gave up my bike, my kayak, my skis, my squash and tennis racquets, my hiking and my dance shoes, and I've gone through successive jerks and jolts and stabs and burnings and unending pain in the name of what? Karma? Ha! Would that I had never done that lizard wrong!

That they regrow their tails now invigorates me! More than half a century later I recall that bereft lizard and get excited by the possibility of our regaining that which we've lost, not just metaphorically or psychologically, but physically! Imagine if we were to know of enough people who regrew their amputated limbs? Imagine if we, like the lizard, were simply to believe we could grow it back? Imagine if I were to stand and walk again, go longer, dispense with my chair, my cane, my lean on things, and my need of some help.

Well, a long languid curve of pier, like a giant lizard's tail stretches out into the sea and on past the ships' berths here in my new hometown. Broad and flat, it beckoned. It took me half an hour or more to walk its concrete length to the lighthouse and back, albeit with my cane and many rests along the way. I pay, yes, but from hardly able to stand I've been increasing my walk, step for step, over the past three months. And now I'm trying not at all to rely on my old crutch-stick. The quest for yet more endurance grows. Imagine, one day the x-rays may even show that I've regained my old tail! Ha! Now wouldn't that be a positive tale to tell!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Sense of Life!



My friend struggles to articulate it. He sips at his 'Habit Cafe' coffee in our hometown of Victoria, B.C. His brother in England is really living! He has a life! That's what my friend envies, that's what so few of us have, he says. And it's not about what he does or who he is, but what his life is about, and when you see it you know it, my friend concludes. (I want to ask him if he sees it in me, but my ego is not ready for him to say no.)

I keep giving thought to my friend's meaning. A week or so later I see him at Habit again and still the answer remains the same. It's complicated. It's a quality of engaging life that you seldom see, that is missing in most, that one ought to lead. And again I cannot ask if he sees it in me. I wonder, why should I be so bothered by another's approbation? Surely what I think of myself is more important than that which another thinks of me?

My own brother still in South Africa, Peter, younger than me, often used the phrase: A sense of life. He determined an other's worth by it. He predicated the phrase on a person's passion for life, their interest in things, in others, in knowledge, in gaining, acquiring, collecting, doing, contributing, and being aware of the potential within. Were he to see this paragraph he may well add more precisely to what he means by his use of 'a sense of life,' but my understanding of his meaning is what I've gone by.

So too for each of us. We go by our own understanding of what it means to have a sense of life. We seldom necessarily need care what another's is, until their own sense intrudes on our own sense, and then the conflict begins. Problem is, we don't really know our own, don't really articulate it, own it, appreciate it, perhaps, until threatened.

So the challenge arises in me. How do I own my own sense of life? How do I take each moment and accept or invigorate it, invest it with intent, mindfulness, meaning, grace, dignity, value, worthiness? Is there any one thing we do, any moment that we are, that we exist, that does not deserve such a sense of being in communion with a greater whole, a greater sense of conspiring with the universe? (If conspiring be understood as 'breathing along with,' the which I learned from the song: "...by the fire, we'll conspire.") Well? The depth of that which we are is seldom tapped. Perhaps my friend intimates as much subliminally; I have to own up to my own sense of life. At what levels am I simply cruising with that which I am, undeveloped, unfulfilled, unquestioned, unleavened?

There arises in me a greater compassion for those similarly stricken; we are the afflicted. Lest we are self-aware we are ineluctable victims of our self-centric base needs, our familial upbringing, our ego-centric self-fulfillment, our societal structures, our ego-ic need for control of others, our pretence at egalitarianism, and at last our wrangling through the disproportionate unfairness within the whole of realizing our own enlightenment at being an essentially Integrative Being in the first instance. A sense of life? I would submit that it arises in the very sense of being responsible for each breath we take, rather than letting breathing itself simply stay automatic. In this living metaphor, thanks to suffocating a little, and then getting some air, there is indeed gratitude for a sense of life! Thank air! Thank breathing! Thank God! Ha!

Guest Response: Brother Peter's Sense of Life!


On 2011-10-16, at 3:53 PM, Peter Pentelbury wrote:

My Dear Brother
Much as a drunk stumbles through life inebriated - he is still making an explicit statement: that life is not worth coping with; not worth the effort of facing a daily grind and being aware that, no matter what the circumstance - life is still worth fighting for. Worth living.
A quality that even the most flea bitten street dog will hang on to tenaciously without conscious cognition.
So, too, sadly, do most people live their lives. Hopeless heroes clinging on to whatever vestiges of what was perhaps once their expectations...when I grow up I'm going to be a fire-fighter... an astronaut... a famous writer...sculptor...musician...actor...philosopher...all of the above - so that the world will recognise and adore me as the next Clark Gable...Tom Cruise......Einstein....Picasso...all of the above....anything but the true me.
We seek endless approbation when we are uncertain of our own worth - an acknowledgement no matter the value from the source given. Like mindless lemmings the world seeks to emulate the "Hollywood Stars" and ignores the day to day true heroes.
Theirs is an explicit sense of life that threatens to drown those few heroes who do not manage to recognise their own implicit self worth.
I walk into a room or a house and immediately I can tell the IMPLICIT philosophy - the psycho-epistemology - of the person inhabiting that room by the things he EXPLICITLY surrounds himself with - whether he is consciously aware of it or not, his surroundings are a reflection of his innate implicit philosophy- his personal "Sense Of Life"
Show me what you read, paint, write, collect, find of interest, hobbies, friends, love..... consciously chose to do - and I'll show you the epistemological motivation that drives you implicitly - and thereby unwittingly- explicitly, making a statement of what and who you are... the drunk on the street corner - or the man who takes each chapter of life and, whatever it delivers to him, makes the most of it; learns and grows from it; and moves on stronger and wiser - or cowers more and more into a corner seeking escape from the bottle... blaming the inevitability of the hopelessness of it all...
I think it was Descartes who wrote: All men live their lives in quite desperation...victims of circumstance - I may be mixing my metaphors and philosophers - but such is my explicit nature of what I hold implicitly within:
On my tombstone I want the following words to be en-scribed: "He refused to live life either quietly or desperately - but on its own terms.."
We all seek some form of approbation in the end...do we not? Whether it be from a "God" or from the loved ones left behind.. or from our artistic works and expressions - we need to leave a stamp of proof of our existence that says: I am somebody of worth...was somebody of worth..... explicit statements of what we are implicitly within.
Which brings me back to unconscious - unwitting day to day heroes.
So few of us have a conscious inner defined philosophy of life. We pretend to have: by the craven idols and the worship of whichever deity is fashionable for the decade or the millennium - no matter the contradiction in logic. But that is so seldom a conscious cognitive choice - more often an inherited social or parental one. It takes a brave intellectual being to stand up and explicitly question all the so-called value systems that he has been force-fed his whole life - and that implicitly, within, he is unable to put an exact finger on, but says: Wait, stop ... I disagree, because...I can think for myself.. these are my carefully considered and rationalised thoughts... given as objectively as I can... based on the following concrete cognitive observations... (explicitly stating what he implicitly has learnt and thought about and given due consideration to and therefore objectively and rationally deduced - not just: "inexplicably feels...")
And few are articulate enough or certain enough to be able to outline their own Sense Of Life for themselves - or to be able to rationally and articulately object to the enforced subjugation of the Sense Of Life imposed on us by others ...(Church, family, teachers, institutions, governments...) In other words - we are either victims sucking at a bottle - or we are helmsmen taking the oar, no matter how severe the storm, determined to make a conscious statement and choice for ourselves...
I remember a previous missive written to you ...by whom would you like the top hat doffed by - the mindless masses - or the single individual who can recognise the value of the action and the full cognitive value, respect and worth it implies...? i.e an explicit action prompted by an implicit cognitive rational value system...
So, yes, when we "see it" in others - we instinctively "know it" - but thereby lies the conundrum - from whom would you like the hat doffed by... explicitly...implicitly.. thoughtfull consideration... or mindless approbation...?
And the answer to that is also a reflection of each of our own personal, implicit, "Sense of Life."
So yes, we do need to articulate and "Own" our own Sense of Life - and explicitly " live" what we implicitly feel, think, rationalise within... with or without the approval of others... It is our own consequential lives for which we must take our own consequential actions. Whether we do so rationally - or mindlessly sucking on a bottle - again depends on the worth of the individual.
And no, we do not have to articulate our own brand of philosophy and Sense of Life - like a preacher from a pulpit with hellfire and damnation - but by our own quite actions, works, deeds ... One painting, book, musical composition - can motivate and move one other person to achieve their own goals and life path determinations ... and leave a thousand other people indifferent - it is your own implicit philosophy that made the explicit statement in that art form that reaches somebody...and perhaps reached nobody. And if it reached nobody - it is not a reflection of our own self worth - and that is the most difficult criteria of all to face up to... what if nobody likes it..? Nobody appreciates the intellectual and artistic and epistemological value of what I am trying to say.. express....? Well, why care? The work stands as its own monument. Its own statement. As do our lives... We need to accept value from within .. and perhaps, yes.. one moment of "recognition" from an individual of cognitive worth...after all, we are creatures forever looking in mirrors, are we not?.
And so we conspire...
Colin Wilson in The Outsiders outlined succintly the endless dillemma of all men of great artistic and intellectual abilities - how to maintain and sustain that level of "intensity" that drove them to create their great works of literature and art and music and science - for somewhere in-between there had to be a "down time' - and that I think, is what we all struggle with - the down-time of self doubt and uncertainty and ... what if...
And yes, the depth of what we are, and are capable of - is seldom tapped...
Indeed we are the afflicted ones ..
But, as said ... I refuse to live my life either quietly or desperately - I own my own "Sense of Life" because I know what it is, and I have defined it for myself, and I am comfortable thereby...
I do not need to conspire with the universe - the universe needs to conspire with me (post script to the tombstone).
And no, unfortunately, God is busy blinking, so, thanks to Ayn Rand for some cognitive rationality in the universe...
My hat is off...
Much love, Peter

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fear or Favor?



The loneliness of the far-away runner was very evident. He runs through my thoughts still. As my vehicle swept around a steep curve of the rocky-mountain road in the heart of British Columbia, the golden sunlight glittering off the autumnal yellow of the larch and aspens, I have on the long slope of the valley road ahead of me this sudden image of the backside of running jeans, a red plaid shirt, a brown leathern vest worn by a twenty-six year-old with longish dark hair bouncing from under the ubiquitous dark blue, or was it a black Canadian cap? He had the hurried lope as of someone not out for exercise, but rather as of one anxious to be somewhere else. Entirely alone in a landscape that had no towns in either direction for very many miles, he heard our onrush and turned and stopped and stuck his thumb out, but as we whizzed by he momentarily dropped his head in a dejected way and stooped over with his hands to his knees for breath (I saw in the rearview mirror,) and then continued running after us.

The instant of indecision was upon me. A fellow traveler in distress? A fellow human needing help, assistance, a lift? A hitchhiker as I too frequently had been at his age? His face appeared unkempt, unshaven; mine oft does so too. His eyes appeared searching, rather than friendly, as can mine, but perhaps because he focused on my wife in the passenger seat and then glanced into the car, rather than catching my eye, I did not feel the connection between he and me, brief as the encounter be. Some delicacy of my sensibility was awry, and in that slight fear the moment took over, and I did not stop, but left him to deal with some other fate. Does he run still? Did someone else stop for him? Was a murder reported on the unforgettable autumnal day of that far-away highway?

What fear has not been inculcated in us all by the movies we see, the news reports, the stories told, the warnings given? We are no longer easily able to offer a stranger at the door a non protective stance. We are afraid of the unknown. We wear helmets and belts and even carry mace and have identity cards and cell-phones and money belts in the name of protection. We are F.O.I.P. obsessed in meetings over the privacy rights of individuals without even knowing precisely what the acronym stands for. We wear tags and bracelets identifying our belonging, our permission to be, our declaration or proof to others that we are safe. And distrust is a state of dis-ease as we encounter the other, the stranger, the lost or the anxious or the... god forbid, the shifty-eyed. We clutch up our closest, clutch our hands into fists, firm our jaws, and get ready to fight or take flight. Fear of otherness, unusualness, alien-ness, and even difference drives us away.

Approximately ten kilometers along we passed a faded red civic doing only about 90 in the 110 km/h zone. The lone older man looked like an upset father, his large face staring grimly ahead from behind thick black-framed glasses, and as I zoomed by I imagined him looking in his rear view mirror to see if his errant son had been taught sufficient of a lesson. But that last bit is very much my construct, my story, my imagining of how that distinctly out-of-place young man came to be. Still, how many other vehicles passed the runner by? Why was he out there? And when, for me, will he no longer be my singular moment of fear pounding over and over at an everlasting pavement? Or is prudence, at any time, the better part of a pretence at being virtuous? Was he, is he... okay? Hmm?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lazy Lying: Culpability's Children



"Two hours wait? We hoped to reach Calgary," I blurt up at the ferry terminal attendant. Even as I speak it I know I'm lying; right from the start we'd planned only to drive half way. Why do we say such things? What provokes the exaggeration other than to bolster the ego, elicit sympathy, gain favor to be put in the fast lane, to put another in their place? The attendant looks slightly hurt, as though she's tired of passengers laying the blame directly on her. But I receive the docket, go to lane seven, and switch off the engine. Two-hours wait-time instead of driving is a long way.

Those little lies we tell have their origins in deep wells. As children we learn to cover up our mistakes once the consequence is perceived as too harsh. I submit that we have a natural wont for consequence, an awareness that we've done wrong or should own up to something, particularly once we've gained the use of language, independent mobility, awareness of thought. Dogs can act guiltily. A cat I had knew it should not be in flower pots. But once the punishment, the result, the consequence for my actions taught me that prevarication eases things, it became a ready escape. Without a mentor to take me in hand in terms of the honour and integrity to be had in a greater wisdom, the little lies sometimes evolved into big ones, and the spirit gets sullied by the pathway of deceits.

Integrity as a concept is more difficult to come by than we may at practice imagine. A myriad choices lie before us at every opportunity to satisfy our investigation into our personal power. Almost always we are con-scribed to action due to being social beings within a social context of expectations inculcated by our conditioning. But all by oneself becomes the real test. As a lone castaway we may indeed make of a basket-ball head a social consort, but we will devolve into less and less good manners in front of it as we perceive its immutable stare to eventually become harmless. We react based on expectations. So we learn that truth has great value, or we learn that truth can be harmful to ourselves, to others. Truth as truth is most tested in situational-ethics. After all, ethics has as its first tenant that the least amount of harm be done.

Subtly of lying is the art of the survivor. Not wanting to face the music (though what music except the death march should be so harsh as to deter one from truth?) we create a background reality of relief from guilt. "Did you take your pills?" the nurse asks. "Yes," I answer, thinking of the last time I took them long ago but she didn't precisely specify. After all, she so berated the fellow next to me for not taking his that I do not choose to have more of her wrath. And therein lies the crux of the issue: were she to have been sweet and gentle, reminded him how crucial to his integrity the contract with the condition he is in be taken (along with the pills) then I more readily would've faced the music. But who wants a bassoon-full in the ear?

As for the ferry-lady, she did not deserve my lie. I think to have my crippled self wheeled by my partner back to apologize, but the chair is tied to the rooftop, the distance too far. Yet I remain guilty; in so leaving off, or not even thinking again about the lie, who and what else may become crippled? When is a truth best not told? What harm may not be done by untruth? Mia culpa per diem per se. (Such are my daily faults.) Truly! Ha!