Introspection

COVID-19: The Mother of all staycations

I keep finding messages. First I found a whole street of fairy houses I didn’t know existed in Victoria and then this (above), in a tree, near my apartment. I like it. Sweet.

I can take no credit for sourcing what I’m about to share with you.

My friend Susan in Vancouver sent it to me yesterday and someone sent it to her. Please share it if you are so inclined.

I started reading it while I was still in bed, early in the morning, worrying that using an IPhone in bed that I hadn’t wiped down upon waking would surely come back to bite me. You see how my brain has changed in ways that I’m not okay with?

Of course the topic is COVID-19. But it’s something that’s written with so much insight.

Yesterday, (today right now as I write this) was the first day I was feeling like, ‘oh, this, this is for real! This isn’t just some mother of all Staycations.'”

Here’s the article, The Coronation (15-30 minutes)  https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/

Here’s a link if you’d like to know more about this person, Charles Eisenstein.

Hope you’re staying the course, physically distancing at 2 meters, socially connecting, keeping up some weird new routine, taking time to go inside yourself, and think about what you might want to change once the crisis part is over. I hope you’re doing okay.

Shut the Front Door to stay sane during COVID Crisis

Monks on the street in Phnom Penh.

For the first week, I couldn’t put down my cell phones.

I couldn’t stop watching the news.

I was watching the daily updates from Dr. Bonny Henry and Adrian Dix, B.C.’s Minister of Health, which I feel obligated to do as a government employee, and because I love watching how Dr. Bonnie Henry relays the information.

But then, come today, I felt like enough already! I know everything I need to do at this point. Wash my hands. Distance myself 6 feet when outside or around anyone. Stay home as much as possible. Get outside in the fresh air, maintaining the recommended distance.

I got out for a walk the past two days and it was so wonderful to feel the fresh air and to see spring beginning to bud all around.

But it’s when when I’m in my own space that I need to control myself in terms of watching media of any kind.

I’ve been on Zoom. I’ve been on messenger chat. I’ve been checking in and staying connected to others that way. It’s good. It’s almost a novelty at this point.

Deepak Chopra announced today that he is removing himself from all social media and is going into a room in his house to meditate and find and cultivate inner stillness for an entire week beginning today.

I’m not going to do that. I couldn’t do that even if I wanted to, which I don’t. I do however feel the need to get some quiet from the noise and to think about some of the things I’ve learned from the stress reduction courses I’ve been taking since January and focus on extreme self care.

It’s time to put the old practice to the practice!

By the way, Deepak Chopra will be hosting a worldwide meditation next Sunday, March 28. Check out his Instagram page.

I want to share with you this fantastic chanting of Tibetan monks that I love. So sit yourself down, plug in, take a few deep breaths in and out, close your eyes and just listen to shared humanity focused on a single intention: https://youtu.be/0D4V5awe-PA

And afterwards, if you haven’t already, you could download Calm and Headspace

One day at a time peeps. Just one day at a time.

Whatever you do don’t stand still

Lately, and I guess it’s totally related to aging, its becoming a little too clear to me that we really are all just lined up like airplanes on a runway waiting for take-off, except we have these invisible expiry dates stamped onto each one of us and we don’t find out our own Best Before date until it’s game over. Thank you ma’am. Boom. Done. Next.

I know what you’re thinking. Oh oh. This is a tad morbid. 

Lately too many people I have known are flying off into the big airport waiting room in the sky. They’re like missing luggage from United Airlines. It’s never coming back. And that is causing me an existential crisis that’s actually a little more disturbing than all the other crises I’ve already overcome in the past 20 years.  

Clawing my way back from depressions? Been there. Done that. Overcoming heartbreak as a result of bad choices in men? Ack. Whatever! Unemployment? But would you look at all that free time I had?

Now that I’m older and wiser, I actually find it amusing when people refer to a mid-life crisis, as if there is just a single crisis and once you get that baby under your belt you’re home free. Not true.

The mid-life crisis is like the beginning of the Bible. One crisis begets another crisis begets another crisis and so on and so forth until the ultimate end of life crisis. That’s how it feels to me these days.

My crises right now, at least, are a little less drama filled than in the past. No sex, drugs or rock and roll. In this phase of the crises, which is a total drag for sure because it’s so boring, albeit easier on the mental health and the blood pressure.

Maybe because of my birth order as youngest in a family of people who were a lot older, or because I’ve always befriended people that are older than me, aging is constantly on my mind these days. It’s like a third character shadowing my monologue.

I can no longer make any decisions without thinking about the fact that I have X number of years, barring early onset dementia, to work at a “real” job, before I have to give up that real job and become a greeter at Walmart for which I’d surely last maybe half a day before being fired.

I try to think of the kinds of jobs I might do, when I have to give up my “real” job, and it’s as if I have no useful skills at all. I’m like one of those people who can’t use common sense to get around the corner to the 7-Eleven because their GPS has led them astray even though they’ve lived in the same neighborhood for 35 years.

I used to quit jobs I didn’t like on a dime and worry about it later. And in a blink of an eye, over the last 10 years, later IS now. So, even if I don’t like the job, I could quit, like my younger self surely would right this second,  except experience has taught me that impulsivity can lead to even bigger crises.

As a result, the ugly reality of aging is beginning to turn me into the kind of person I used to disdain. That is, the kind of person, who at 30 years old is factoring pension into any equation. In my former world, if you were thinking about your pension at 30, you were leading the kind of life that surely must have made it feel as if you’d already died before you were dead. I had nothing to say to you.

Trying to make decisions along the time versus longevity continuum is like one of those mathematical word problems in Grade 3 I could never solve correctly and would now  have a totally different twist. 

My new mathematical word problem would go something like… If you get to be 60 years old and you don’t have cancer and you quit your job to go to the Ashram in India where you could theoretically live out your days working harder than you’ve ever worked doing some form of selfless service, how many fewer regrets might you have? Answer _____!

If you sold everything you owned and bought an RV and just drove in the direction of a hot beach, stopping on a whim, would you really be happier? Freedom being just another word and all that…  Wherever you go, there you be.

Except, that statement isn’t totally accurate because sometimes wherever you go, if it’s the right place, really shakes things up and changes life for the better. Of course, leaving can do the exact opposite as well. 

We’re supposed to live in the moment. Be present. Breathe. And that sounds good except when you begin to wonder what happens if your choices based on living in the moment mean you’ll be lining up at the food bank in 10 years? What then?

Does life really work that way? You might not even be here in 10 months. And then all the decisions you never made, the adventure you opted not to take, means you didn’t meet the love of your life or end up, through a detour, doing the best thing you’ll ever do, meeting your tribe or having experiences that create the kinds of memories that will overflow from your heart and fill it up until your very last sentient breath.

When I worked in Computer Science at UBC, I recall interviewing a prof whose research revolved around something called game theory or decision theory or something like that. I remember I couldn’t believe such a thing existed. I still can’t. It was like having a fortune teller in a machine except smarter.

You mean I can put all my questions into a computer with a special fairy godmother algorithm and have it spit out my next course of action knowing that something way more logical than me has done a risk assessment for me and then it has decided I should head that way? Over there. Keep going. A little to the left. Don’t look back. Don’t look too far ahead. And whatever you do, read my lips, definitely don’t stand still.

Making time for the benefits of doing nothing

This will sound strange to anyone who is currently raising children but when I reflect back on my childhood, in spite of being surrounded by adults, very few of those people consistently intersected in my daily reality in a way that felt as instructive or as memorable in the same positive way as the kids I interacted with back then.

Now that might be directly related to my own personal experience or it might actually be related to all children’s degree of freedom back in the 1960s.

Because of my birth order, later than the rest of my siblings, by more than a decade, what I recall most about my childhood has to do with my own time: how I spent that time, the time I spent with other kids and especially the time I spent with my best friend then. We were like a world unto ourselves, the most important humans in each others lives. That realization surprises me as I write it down and I question myself. Is my memory accurate? I think a little harder about important people: my parents, my twin brother, my older sisters, and yes, I think my memory is painting the hierarchy of their priority accurately.  

I remember having a lot of time to myself, especially in the summer, to do whatever I wanted. We made our own decisions when to come and go, when to play tennis across the street or go to the playground at the other end of the park, or to peer into our empty classroom windows across the park. We would go to Woodward’s a few blocks away, to the library a few blocks over, to the vacant lot where big kids would tease us about the mythical spotting of Big Foot. Our circumference of exploring in a city the size of New Westminster was relatively small but still allowed for ample freedom.

Other than eating meals with my family, the occasional special outing, and camping in Osoyoos for a few weeks in August, I was a free agent. I could and was expected to amuse myself. To read. To play the piano away from the rest of the family in our basement “rumpus room.” It felt in some way like there was an understanding that adults were not to be bothered because they were too busy with their own lives and had no time to waste, or at least that’s how it seemed to me as a child.

As a result, I seemed, like all kids then, to spend a lot of time in my own company or the company of other kids.  We’d explore their basements. We’d climb backyard willow trees. We’d play tag with all the neighborhood kids spreading out like the enemy across yards. We often played board games or sat and did nothing on the couch, to daydream, to negotiate what to do next, to think of ways to amuse ourselves in those endless stretches of summer days.

When we took off from the house in the morning there was no consideration of adult interventions due to cellphones or any of the compelling feelings of urgency we now have around checking e-mail. Technology’s advancement had been paused in our lives and was stuck then at the good old rotary dial phone or the Walkie Talkies we got for Christmas that only really worked between very short distances.

I’ve been reading this book, Solitude, In Pursuit of a Singular Life in a Crowded World, by Michael Harris. The author refers to UBC researcher, Kalina Christoff, Ph.D., who studies spontaneous thought and mind wandering.

“Given enough solitude and enough time, the mind shifts into default mode and begins to pan through connections that at first seem wholly random,” she says, adding that the “randomness is crucial.” “The power lies in the fact that in this state the brain censors nothing. And it then makes connections that it would never otherwise make. Mind wandering is managing much more than personal memories and a sense of self. The wandering mind is also solving problems in the real world.”

Think of how little time, if any, most of now spend just sitting and staring out the window or being without our cell phones in hand or very nearby. We have no time in our day for mind wandering as a health conscious, creativity-boosting decision.

And certainly, it seems that most children have almost no down time. Every minute is filled with video games, scheduled activities, organized playdates, parents checking in on their whereabouts or directly by their sides.

When I compare my childhood experience to that new reality, it brings me such feelings of absolute claustrophobia on behalf of today’s children. Luckily, they don’t know what they’re missing.

On my recent trip to Quebec, I sat on the plane, a seat apart from a little girl from Salt Spring Island who was traveling on her own. Her relatives would be waiting for her in Toronto.

She was such a self-assured child. Calm. Confident. Able to meet a stranger and engage. Able to use her time and remain okay. In chatting with her, I learned she is a young student at a special school on Salt Spring called Wolfkids an outdoor education school. At her young age, she said she’d even participated in an overnight in the woods, as part of the school’s experiential learning.

I wondered if that is what made the difference in her maturity levels and independence or if it was just related to her own family? I was sure she had spent time daydreaming for extended periods of time even though she was mostly glued to her IPad during the flight.

Christoff speaks to daydreaming as an inherently creative process because the daydreamer is then open to bizarre new thoughts and options. The book refers to some of the greatest inventors: Einstein, Isaac Newton and how retreat and solitude can and have led to intellectual advancement.

It made me wonder how such lack of downtime might be impacting the creative thinking of today’s children. Or has the advancement of technologies merely shaped it in more sophisticated ways? More importantly, how has the lack of solitude, away from the influence of adults, impacted their ability to shape a truly unique self, to create boundaries that prevent some pathological merging of parent and child to such a degree that the child might take even longer to define a unique sense of self.

When was the last time you allowed yourself to just sit and observe, to notice the scents in the air, to pay attention to your random thoughts, cumulus cloud ideas, that inevitably drift by, the occasional one stopping you in your mental tracks with that feeling of an epiphany found?

And then I wondered, would it be philosophically wrong to add such unproductive time use to a weekly To-Do list?

The emotion of Art

I was at the Jane Siberry concert in Victoria last night. And she was singing Calling All Angels.

In the row in front of me,  there were what I guessed to be three generations of women in a family. A grandma. A mother. A daughter. And when Jane Siberry started singing her song, Calling all Angels, the daughter in her late 30s started to cry.

She was wiping tears away from first the right side of her face and then the left side with the fatty palm of her hand and she made those motions for quite a long time. Had she not been doing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that she was crying. I was wondering what had caused her feelings to push to the light. I noticed her mom didn’t even turn her head. Was that because she didn’t notice? Or was it precisely because she had? And when I found myself mesmerized by this young woman’s emotion, I realized how much it made me feel better to experience her crying.

Just seeing her response quickened something in my own chest. I closed my eyes and reached for it. I wished I could take that journey right alongside her. I was envious. It was like a memory I’d lived so many times before but have now pushed so far down, again.

Earlier in the day, I went to Chelene Knight’s presentation about home related to her book, Dear Current Occupant. She was speaking about what home means and how do you know when you’re there? Do you feel at home because of a physical place or what factors make somewhere feel like home? Afterwards, a woman in the small audience couldn’t get through her comments to Chelene without her voice quivering and the tears pouring out. Chelene’s book and the thoughts about home she’d evoked were able to touch this woman so deeply that she couldn’t help but be there in that moment fully, emotionally, in feeling.

So to that woman and to the young woman last night at the Jane Siberry concert, I bless you for your tears.

You’re alive and you can still feel it.

Here’s the beautiful song in case you’re not familiar with it:

Childhood memories through a pepper shaker’s glass

I was doing the dishes the other night and once again, I took out one of those small wiry brushes that allow access to inaccessible corners of glassware or ceramics. I purposely bought those little brushes so I could see if I could get the inside of a small glass pepper shaker clean. For reasons I can’t explain, the pepper residue just won’t come off the inside of this tiny shaker. And as I was doing that it occurred to me that I’d been trying to get this little thing clean for about 2 months and I still hadn’t got there.

In the midst of doing what’s become almost a habit as part of doing the dishes, I stopped and asked myself, What are you doing? Why does this tiny little glass pepper mill that has no financial value matter so much to you, and apparently it really matters!

And when I thought about that I realized that this small object, smooth to the touch with rippled diagonal lines, elicits such strong memories for me of Sunday dinners in my childhood when there was almost always someone coming to dinner, an occasion at a time when having people over, not going out, was how special occasions got marked.

As a little girl, the child size of these must have been what appealed to me. I would often be asked by my mother to put them on the table from their usual resting spot in the china cabinet in the dining room, as if I was putting the cherry on top, the final accoutrements on the white linen table cloth as the guests arrived.

If it was Sunday, there was almost always someone coming for dinner. Uncles and aunts, my father’s parents, sometimes one of my eldest sister’s boyfriends and dinner, it seemed to me, would last a very long time.

Good china. White linen. Cutlery laid out correctly. The special silverware taken carefully from that heavy wooden box with the red velvet lining. My three older sisters moving back and forth between kitchen to dining room as a trio of servers  in that big old house in New Westminster, three storeys high. A fireplace in the the dining room, another one in the den. Beams on the ceilings. A sunroom. Window seats. Awnings. The kind of old house that few are lucky enough to live in now. The only time I’ve been able to call a house mine even if it was my parents who owned it.

After my parents died and their things were sorted and given away, I realized that these little glass salt and pepper shakers represent the feelings of togetherness, of family, that I have not had for a very long time. I made the decision to keep them when I could just as easily have given them away. And every time I look at them, they represent a link to a past that is a testimony to my mother who worked so hard as a home maker, to feed her family and mark special occasions properly. I never use them. They don’t work very well but that’s not the point.

It would have been my parent’s 73rd wedding anniversary today if they were still alive. They got married on February 25th, 1945, in Holy Trinity Church in Winnipeg at 6pm by a Reverend Findley. The reception was at the Marlborough Hotel. I only know this because I have my mother’s bride book and it has the details, along with details of what she wore and all the well wisher cards and strange long white ribbons with women’s names typed onto them, which must have been a custom at the time, the names of the attendees at the bridal showers held for her.

My parents eventually moved to New Westminster and they rented rooms in a house at 215 Fifth Avenue near Queen’s Park. There’s a receipt in this bridal book that details the cost of the monthly rent for these rooms. They paid $22.50 per month to a Mr. Taylor who, when he died, left them furniture and his son gave them a good deal on the house to buy it.

Maybe you have something that represents so much more to you than its physical value and even though it’s special, you haven’t explicitly acknowledged it yet, out loud that is. You haven’t really made it known to yourself even though your actions say it’s so.

All good de-cluttering books speak to keeping only those things in your life that you love. I de-cluttered before moving to Victoria and I can say that it’s good to look around my living space and have my eyes fall only upon only things that are meaningful to me and that I’m pleased with. Your mind engulfs the beauty and the joy of what those things represent and feels satisfied, not distracted or irritated or forced off balance which is what happens when your house if full of stuff that has no reason to be there.

In my life, and I expect in yours, these are the kinds of objects – the ones with much more meaning than that which is visible on the surface – that matter the most. Think about it a while and see if what I’m saying makes sense for you.

Camino de no thank you

The only person I know to have walked the Camino de Santiago was an acquaintance from The SFU Writer’s Studio, Barb Kmiec. Before I heard a few stories from Barb, it was something I thought I might like to do one day.  I was impressed that a) she did it alone, and b) she survived it. I’m not positive she did the entire route, but I do believe she did complete enough of it to get the certificate.  After hearing about it, I made a decision right then that I could check off this quasi-desire and label it, Camino de no thank you.

The walking appeals to me. The hordes of peregrinos (pilgrims) and the sleeping options would preclude my taking the first step. Not to mention that lately, my weak right ankle, (an old basketball injury), and one crooked toe that I’m guessing has some minor arthritis, would have to get sorted out. The thought of sleeping in a room full of others, in a bad bunk, after a day of walking 15-25 km, reminded me of the worst hosteling experience I had in London in 2001 and in Edinburgh somewhere on the Royal Mile.

In London, just after arriving, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed because I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a long time at that point, I was kept awake all night by man in the bunk above me. He was non-stop snoring. He didn’t speak English. We couldn’t communicate and we were the only ones in the two-bunk room. This went on for three nights. By the third evening, I was practically homicidal. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to just ask for a different room. Duh!

I do not want to re-experience that or sleep in a room full of people in an uncomfortable bed that thousands of others have slept in before me. I do not want to deal with disgusting, painful blisters to do a pilgrimage that, from a spiritual perspective, I don’t really know at this point why I’d do, and for me, the spiritual, not the physical, would be the point, although I gather they’re inextricably linked.

I’m telling you this because last weekend I found myself ordering a small guidebook, Camino Francés, written by Bryson Guptill, from P.E.I., that I’d seen referenced recently on social media. I’ll call it a no frills guide. You can read it in a night or less. You’ll get the route he took with tips, some photos, and exact GPS-plotted distances. If you’re looking to whet your appetite, this could be one book to have in your arsenal. I do have to give a warning about the quality of its binding however. It would probably not survive more than a few days in a pack. Maybe he’ll rethink that on the next printing and use a cerlox bind instead.

“Are you going to walk the Camino this year?” he asked me in an e-mail that he wrote back to me when I ordered the book.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not this year. Probably not at all. But just in case.’

And it was that part of the sentence, ‘just in case’ and the fact that it had popped out of my mouth, [where the heck did that come from?], that left me both curious and a little worried. I mean, that I actually took the time to order the book did not escape my curious attention either.

Then yesterday morning after reading his book, I was up, unintentionally,  way too early, and I decided I must re-watch, The Way, with Martin Sheen. But it wasn’t to be found on Netflix.  Instead, I came across another film, Footprints: The path of your life, a documentary about 10 American guys led by a young Catholic priest from Arizona. I thought it was really good because of its focus on spirituality (in this case Catholicism) and besides you don’t often see a movie about 10 guys, with at least one who’d had some major losses to overcome, make it happen.

At some point, past the halfway mark, the group realized that the slowest members had to come first, regardless of how slow they might be. Halfway through they found a unique solution for making that happen on the major inclines. You’ll have to watch it to discover what that was. Apparently seven of the 10, just in case you’re still romanticizing such a trip, had to seek medical attention during the 40 day experience (this little tidbit runs quietly across the screen at the end of the movie).

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friend Dave Brent when I watched it  For all I know, he’s way ahead of me and he’s in training for it with all the walks he leads around the Lower Mainland as a secret warm up.  Dave, are you holding out on us as to your ultimate walking motivation?

So just wondering, how many of you secretly desire to do the Camino de Santiago? Have you already done it? Got any unique tips?