Saturday, December 31, 2011
"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
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
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]
[photo via Al Nickle]
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
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.