Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Getting By With A Little Help

Tell me about a time when kindness touched you and made it possible to face the unknown with hope. Years ago, physically depleted and confused, I braved the drifting snow and drove into the city. I had no plan, I only knew I had to do something. I was becoming increasingly ill and isolated in the rural property I shared with my then-husband. 
Intuitively, I drove to a neighbourhood I knew near the University of Toronto. Parking on a side street, I thought, "Now what?" I phoned a friend who lived nearby. She was at work, but her husband, Jim- who I did not know well at all- answered. I mumbled something about being in the city. . . .not being sure why. . . . and wondering what to do. 
Without hesitation Jim invited me to drive over to their apartment building, saying he'd arrange for me to park there. When I arrived, the doorman directed me to the parking garage, and Jim came downstairs with a printed list of apartments for rent in the area.
I wasn't sure i was looking to rent something in the city, and if I was what that would mean for my marriage or my life. But I spent the day looking at apartments and, to my surprise, I gained energy as the day went on.
The thing is, what touched me most that day, was how Jim- this man I barely knew- had responded. He had not treated me as if I was crazy, had not tried to sort out my confusion or solve my problems. He'd offered what he could- a place to park (no small thing in downtown Toronto) and a suggestion of places to look at so I could explore my options. He was kind, and his kindness was a reminder that I was not on my own, that I was connected to and supported by the Life we share.
I think we tend to underestimate how small acts of kindness can make a big difference. We sometimes feel we need to find or give complete answers when, in fact, there are no once-and-for-all answers There's just life, in all it's wonderful messiness filled with opportunities to extend or receive the kindness that helps us through.  
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

I looked at this beautiful photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming and thought- if kindness had colours this would be it.






Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For My Dad

Today, was my father's birthday. He died last April- on Earth Day- which seemed appropriate since he was the most in-his-body, connected-to-the-earth person I've ever known. Because he had suffered horribly with Alzheimer's, it's been hard to grieve his passing- I was relieved for him, glad he was free. Recently I wrote a little story about my father. It just bubbled up one morning. I share it here to honour him and to honour the sweet ache of missing him.

My childhood was shaped and scoured by the Spirit of Winter. In 1963 my family moved four hundred miles north to a small town set between trackless wilderness and an incongruous patch of flat farmland.

I loved the cold, the sharp edge of the wind at forty below zero that cut through mental defenses and made me feel deeply alive in my body. At night the darkness held the hum of frigid power lines, and the house cracked and moaned on its foundation as the frozen earth heaved and sighed.

Once, in the midst of high winds, the wind chill was calculated to be seventy-five below zero. We dressed in layers and covered every square inch of exposed skin to go out and shovel drifting snow so a hearse could retrieve the recently deceased body of someone’s beloved from the hospital across the street.

I remember stepping outside, shovel in hand, swaddled in long johns and itchy wool and a one-piece skidoo-suit, toque on my head and a scarf covering my face. I may just as well have been stepping outside naked- the forty mile per hour winds at forty below zero cut through all layers and whisked away my body heat in seconds. Shocked I just stood there until my father hollered above the wind, “Keep moving!”

But he was the one who cleared the way that day. My brother and I, both in our early teens, lasted five minutes tops before he sent us in. I remember watching from the kitchen window as he dug in front of the vehicle one foot at a time, motioning the driver forward little by little until they could get to the street where a plough waited to clear the way.

That was my father: a burning coal against the power of ice and snow; a man who trusted his physicality and threw himself against the elements when someone was in need; a man who reveled in working to provide, who did not fear sweat or frigid cold or the need to do what had to be done.

Not too long after this l I started getting up at five am so I could serve breakfast and do dishes at that hospital across the road before school. It was my first real job. My Dad took me aside. He said, “This is up to you, but remember, you’ll be working for the rest of your life- don’t be too eager to get started.”   

I replied, “But I want this job, Dad.”

He nodded and smiled a little sadly. “Okay,” he said.

I get it now. He valued the ability to work, but he wanted me to have more time without that pressure. But I was my father’s daughter, and off to work I went. He was right of course- it was the beginning of a life of work. I love how he wanted me to know it was okay not to start so early, and how he acquiesced to my determined spirit.

For this and so much more- thanks Dad. I miss you. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

(Deep thanks to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this beautiful photo of a cold dawn.)


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stealth Strategies

Sometimes you have to get sneaky to get around your own defenses, have to use stealth if you want to know the truth about your life, no matter how hard and wonderful that life has been. The new book is a memoir, so it is deeply personal. I know, if you’ve read the other books I’ve written you’re probably wondering how it could get any more personal.
But it can. And it does. And some of it is not pretty. Some of it is hard.
For a while, each time I wrote for a couple of days, I would get very sick, and that’s not a fun way to live.
So, now I write fast in small pieces, no edits, no reviewing. And then I go out and walk. I walk for miles after I write one of the stories from my childhood. I walk to feel my skin, bones, muscles and sinew meet the earth and the icy wind on my face. I listen to the sound of my inhale, the release of my exhale, the rhythm of my beating heart echoed in my blood.
I walk to make sure I stay here, because here is where I want to be.
As I walk I invite another story to come. Sometimes I walk for a couple of days before the same story pops up frequently enough to let me know it’s next. I write an identifying detail about the story on a post-it note and put it on my desk, because it is amazing how easily I can “forget” – can go completely unconscious about what story is next.
The next day I get up and go about my day- doing my practise, making a smoothie, putting in a load of laundry, answering emails. And the whole time the neon coloured post-it calls to me like a prayer I offered yesterday that will be answered today.
Today’s post-it says, “Dad’s Funeral,” which is more of an adventure story than that title might suggest.
And at the right moment- like right now, after I write this- I will quickly open the Word document and write about what happened that day and how it left me in awe of our ability to survive and thrive in dark places. Writing like this is like slipping through a door someone left ajar, being careful not to set off any alarms. I’ll slip in, write fast before the inner censors show up, and then slip out.
And then, I’ll go out and walk.
And, Spoiler Alert: it works out well. Even though some of the journey is tough, it lands in a place of joy and gratitude. Sometimes I can't believe it myself, but it's true; the act of writing, of creativity however it manifests in our lives, makes room for more Life to rush in and fill us with awe for simply Being here.
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

I love Karen Davis' photos at Open Door Dreaming. The ones of docks always make me smile as I spent a lot of my best dreaming time as a child sitting or lying down on docks feeling myself amongst the clouds or the stars.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Not Knowing

Sometimes you have to leave
what you think you know
behind.
No one ever really wants to do this.
Knowing things
thinking we know things
can be very comforting.
All day, soul whispers
what I need to know.
I don’t hear her
until I lay aside
cherished beliefs and assumptions
until I dare to be with the not-knowing.
And then. . . .
Well, that’s the risky part, isn’t it?
There is no telling
what living an ensouled life
might ask of us.
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016
So this is where I am in writing the book, "The Choice" -on the great plain of not knowing, offering myself- pen in hand- anyway. Each day, the darkness yields to the light, and words hit the page, surprising me. When I saw this photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming, I smiled- because this is what it's like: the light coming again and again, the darkness making the illumination breath-taking.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What We Work With

I saw this quote on Jihan Barakah's Facebook page yesterday and thought of my word for the new year: "inclusivity." I've been thinking of the practice of leaving nothing behind particularly in terms of those aspects of self and experiences that feel uncomfortable, unpleasant or downright painful.
I was having one of those experiences when I stumbled across Jihan's post- I was having a day of pain and the kind of exhaustion that is hard to describe. Let's just say it was a day where I had to lay down on the kitchen floor to wait for the kettle to boil (please no alarm or health advice- this does happen sometimes with the chronic condition I have.)
What I liked about Tolle's quote was that he was not claiming to know something we cannot know- was not declaring that we choose every thing that is in every moment. Given that there are so many things beyond our control that claim always feels like it springs from an inflated need for and sense of being-in-control.
But, he does suggest that we start from the point of accepting what is AS IF we had chosen it. This helps mitigate the feeling of being a hapless victim and gives us a shot at being with whatever the moment contains. It opens us to real inclusivity.
Tolle is not suggesting passivity- he encourages us to "work with" what is, instead of against it. I admit, this sounded less- than-inspiring in my state of pain and exhaustion, but the truth is working against it was only going to increase the discomfort.
So, I softened to the pain, allowed myself to feel the immobilizing weariness. I took a warm bath, had a cup of tea. I started to rest, really rest- without any inner ranting about unfairness, and without any need for an explanation as to why this was happening (the unpredictability of these bouts are probably the hardest thing about them.)
Did working with what was result in my springing to my feet full of energy and pain-free? No. But I did rest in compassion for my body-self that tries so hard to continue past the point where laying down would be wise. And what had seemed unbearable and unwelcome, became okay. ~Oriah


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Being Faithful To What We Love

Contemplating the gifts of 2015 and what 2016 might bring, I consider a post I put up almost a month ago: "Find what you love & let it teach you how to live." Sometimes (often?) it is something (a way of living, a creative aspect of life, an involvement with community, a personal practice. . .) that we could not have imagined. So it might be just as accurate to say that it finds us. For me, writing has been like this.
It is a kind of grace, this being "found." And we have a choice- we can say yes or no to that which finds us- and sometimes there may be reasons to say no (or "not now.") 
When we say yes, we are committing to an unpredictable unfolding. Being faithful to what we love means we need to protect it from distractions, from idealized versions (ie- I can only write if I have months of solitude and silence- ha!) and from well-intentioned pressure to turn what we love into a means to other ends (like making a living.) What we love may bring all kinds of things into our lives, but our task is to simply give ourselves to it faithfully and receive what love is here to teach us. ~Oriah 
With gratitude to Karen Davis for her generous willingness to let me use and share her photos from Open Door Dreaming.







Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Encouragement

Here’s the good news and the bad news: human beings can be greatly influenced by those around them. It means that when we behave badly (and we all have our moments,) we encourage others to do likewise- and when we have a moment of remembering our shared humanity, that too can ripple out.

Walking down a main street in Toronto during rush hour, I paused to help an elderly woman who was walking toward me, crossing the street. She was vibrant and shining but a little shaky on the uneven pavement. No big deal. To my amazement, the bumper to bumper traffic not only paused to let us cross slowly, but then waited until I returned to the other side of the street to continue on my way.

I hadn't expected that, had turned prepared to wait for cars to go through, but several drivers smiled and waved me across. I waved back in thanks. Honestly, I could have been in the village of twelve hundred close to the rural home where I lived for a decade. But I was in this huge, noisy, busy city where drivers were jockeying for position on crowded roads at the end of a long work day.

It lifted my heart to be reminded that we all have generosity within us and a thousand little opportunities to take turns encouraging each other to behave well every day. I know it was a small thing that did not ask much of anyone in the moment, but It felt like. . . we might just pull this living together thing off after all.

~Oriah (For some reason, starry skies always make me feel hopeful, so this seemed like an appropriate photo by Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming to put with this little story.)