Warm and Welcoming Alberta

Here I am in beautiful Alberta having completed, as of tonight, a public talk, a weekend retreat for Wellspring members, and an afternoon program. I started in Calgary last week and today wended my way north, driving three hours to Edmonton.

Mind you, I wasn’t driving, rather I was driven by my dear friend and colleague Nancy. The truth is, I have been supported every step of the way by loving colleagues and friends, even before I stepped off the plane.

 It is hard to explain the profound impact of seeing beloved Wellspring members, once again, in person. And new Wellspring members that I have only known on Zoom for three and a half years. There they were, standing before my very eyes! Plus brand new people who I met for the first time, on this trip.

What a privilege for me to get to spend time with all of these wonderful people and to pass on what I have learned over the years about Living Well with Illness.

Tonight, as I write, I am sitting on a chair in our hotel room in the small city of Red Deer writing this post on my phone. Everything has fallen into place when in reality all kinds of things could have gone wrong – tech issues, weather issues, other drivers …(we escaped the first snow storm of the year and a probable accident by seconds.) how lucky.

And such kind and thoughtful people in every program and everywhere we went. Tomorrow will be the last program on this trip, here in Red Deer.

And of course I did meet those beautiful baby girls – my great granddaughters. I got to hold Evelyn all morning on Monday and Isabelle all afternoon. Talk about happiness!! Tomorrow night we will meet again, and have another two days together before I return to Ottawa. Besides the amazing twins it is a joy to see their parents in action – heart bursting moments.

Now dear readers I will say goodnight. This day was perfect, and it was long, and it is time for sleep.

I leave you with a poem by Carrie Newcomer called Three Gratitudes. I found this thanks to Gratefulness.org

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
Three things that I’m grateful for,
All the significant, insignificant
Extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It’s a small practice and humble,
And yet, I find I sleep better
Holding what lightens and softens my life
Ever so briefly at the end of the day.
Sunlight, and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
My father’s good health,
My daughter’s new job,
The song that always makes me cry,
Always at the same part,
No matter how many times I hear it.
Decent coffee at the airport,
And your quiet breathing,
The stories you told me,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
Wood Thrush and June bugs,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat,
A new poem,
My library card,
And that my car keeps running
Despite all the miles.

And after three things,
More often than not,
I get on a roll and I just keep on going,
I keep naming and listing,

Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder
At the sweetness of it all.

Click here to listen to the poet, Carrie Newcomer, read her poem

Thank you so much for stopping by. Three gratitudes out of hundreds that I have is getting to visit my friend’s mother who I also love, three times. Experiencing the prairie fields covered with snow and the light and the shadows creating magic outside my passenger window. And seeing the incredible art and art studios in The Edmonton Wellspring House. And always the people. It is always the people, fellow humans who make life worth living. (I know that is four😊)

All my best wishes, Trudy

Guess Who I Get to See This Week?

I will fly to Calgary early in the morning for two special reasons – to meet my beautiful great-granddaughters, Evelyn and Isabelle, for the first time, and to do in-person programs for my beloved Wellspring. How lucky can I get…10 days of joyful opportunities and endless possibilities.

So, tonight, I will not write a blog post as I still have several things to do. ( I am attempting to be realistic.) Life often has other plans than the ones we carefully craft and I am thankful to be able to respond. Usually, my karma is to have a sleepless night, before I fly, but this time I am attempting to modify that trend, in a minuscule way. :-))

“Little snail,

slowly, slowly,

climbs Mount Fuji

by Issa (1762-1826)

 

Thank you so much for stopping by. I will see you next week from Calgary, actually Edmonton on Wednesday. I hope these little ones (10 and 1/2 weeks) make you smile. All the best, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Uncontrollable Events

Worry

Recent world events do not leave us much wiggle room for optimism. Every day, from one continent to the next, terrible things happen that affect us. It can be beyond devastating when our loved ones are in the firing zones – everything becomes more pronounced. And it isn’t only weapons of mass destruction, but it includes climate change, financial uncertainty, and fear of what the future may hold for our children and grandchildren. The erosion of trust and confidence in our institutions and elected officials is exacerbated by fake news and the influence of commercial influencers. No wonder so many people are sleepless, suspicious and at the same time, lonely.

Rilke describes it well – “as if standing on fishes as if the ground had a life of its own and were swimming away underneath (us).”

This sounds pretty dire coming from me; I know that. And it isn’t exactly what I mean, either. I am a realistic optimist, but I am not an everything will turn out ok kind of person. Furthurmore, I am discouraged, as the news worsens, and especially because I know people impacted by all this awfulness. I am finding it challenging to write my blog post today for fear that anything I say will be trite. Nevertheless, my default is to start where I am, right where I am sitting, vulnerability and all.

Worry is natural.

Clearly, we can’t turn it on and off like a light switch, and when terrible things happen, why wouldn’t we worry? Our brains are designed to focus on problem-solving and find ways to overcome the problems. We want to reassure ourselves about the future and do what we can to have a good one. The problem, however, is so much of what we worry about is out of our control, besides the world stage,  politicians and the weather…

Take other people, including those we live with, our health (yes, our health), the unexpected expenses, the loss of a job, a phone call that changes everything… Don’t get me wrong, there are myriad ways in which we can influence outcomes, including our health, but we cannot prevent, control or guarantee results.

 

Uncontrollable Future

Much of our worry is fueled by our desire to control the uncontrollable future. We want certainty and guarantees. And sadly these are not available to us. As Oliver Burkeman writes in Four Thousand Weeks, “you can never be truly certain about the future. And so your reach will always exceed your grasp…  a surprisingly effective antidote to anxiety can be to simply realize that this demand for reassurance from the future is one that will definitely never be satisfied—no matter how much you plan or fret, or how much extra time you leave to get to the airport. You can’t know that things will turn out all right. The struggle for certainty is an intrinsically hopeless one—which means you have permission to stop engaging in it. The future isn’t the sort of thing you get to order around like that, as the French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal understood:

‘So imprudent are we,” he wrote, “that we wander in the times which are not ours…We try to [give the present the support of] the future, and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.’

Yikes! It is so true.

I also found this excerpt from Darlene Cohen to be a good reminder when we are in a vulnerable and emotionally laden situation. Of course, without practice, we can’t turn this better response on and off, which is why we may want to work with the smaller everyday intrusions on our plans that can sometimes send us into a tizzy. Handling the “grain of sand in our shoe” teaches us how to scale the mountains ahead, one foot after another.

Here is Darlene’s reflections:

Many of us tend to bombard a difficult situation with a compulsive and blind effort that buries its particulars in all the flailing about.  Making much too much effort all the time in every situation is not only exhausting, but it is a way of avoiding true engagement with our lives.  We’re so involved in our response, we can’t tell what’s actually going on in the situation we’re reacting to.  This strategy has all the earmarks of panic.  We strive and we struggle and apply ourselves utterly, which eliminates all opportunities to actually experience the often distressing hills and gullies of a demanding situation.  
My own experience of doing this is that it protects me from feeling my fear at not being able to handle the situation; I can’t bear to actually feel that twinge of terror that seizes my stomach, especially if the outcome is important.  
A big part of what you must learn if you’re to be less worried about controlling everything is how to let go of your compulsive need to feel in control.  You might be better off making the effort it takes to learn when to stop making effort, when to allow things to just happen.”
– Darlene Cohen

This also is True

We do keep trying and making an effort, but maybe Cohen is right. There may come a time when we need to allow things just to happen. Take health. Even when we do everything right according to our best information, we can still get sick, have an accident, grow old and eventually die. However, when we live moderately,  we improve the quality of our everyday life, and when we have a health challenge, we are in a better position to work with it. When we do our part, we up our chances of better outcomes but no guarantees. And a day will come when we may decide that the right effort is no effort and to stop the treatments that aren’t helping us or to decline treatment.

Present Moment”

I like this final reminder that Burkeman gives us: “much of what you value in life only ever came to pass thanks to circumstances you never chose.”

Having said all this, it is important to acknowledge our common humanity. We are not unique in the world of worry and wanting security. This is the human condition. I did a little research on the state of the world through the eyes of history. Sadly, we have never had world peace. There are always wars and trials and tribulations.

So, this takes me straight back to where I always land. We can’t count on tomorrow; life is the “full catastrophe,” and our best bet is to do what we can, where we are. to cheer each other on. Be a little kinder,  lend a hand and never forget to do what we can do. Laugh often and love much as my friend says. Spend time in nature to rejuvenate and notice the gifts all around us. Today and every day is a precious and special day. Let’s make the best of it.

Thank you for reading along. Best wishes for you and your loved ones, Trudy

Notes

1:)”This world is full of conflicts and full of things that cannot be reconciled. But there are moments when we can… reconcile and embrace the whole mess, and that’s what I mean by ‘Hallelujah.” Leonard Cohen

Savouring Autumn Days

Today’s post is a lightly edited reprint from Thanksgiving, two years ago. In Canada, we celebrate this special holiday early in October, during the height of autumn. Of all seasons, I am most thankful for this one. And I just spent last weekend at my friend’s tree house by the lake. Her six-year-old grandson named it thus; I think he is on to something. This beautiful lake house is full of windows, and you see stunningly gorgeous deciduous trees everywhere you look.

As the seasons change, sunlight, moonlight, a hundred shades of green, multi-coloured foliage (ooh, the oranges and red this year), bare boughs, and snow all create their own magic at the lake. It feels like you are nestled into a tree house, even though it can sleep 18 kids, grandkids and assorted relatives and a couple of dogs. It is, in a word, magical. And this past weekend, pre-Thanksgiving 2023, I had the joy of savouring the splendour of all this beauty. This autumn is the most spectacular that I can remember.

So, I was awestruck in gratitude and wonder for the quiet and splendour wherever I turned my head. The scale was so heavily weighted in my favour.

As I wrote, two years ago, if you ever want to do a reality check, based on your own standards, turn your attention to what is going right, and how you have been helped in your lifetime. These things are easy to miss because problems demand our attention. They require us to do something.  Things that are going well or how we are helped can easily slip through the cracks or fade into the woodwork. Not that we are unappreciative, but we can easily miss the ordinary.

Life is Something Like the 84th Problem

There’s a story about a farmer who came to see a sage, and to tell him about his numerous life difficulties. He told the sage about his farming troubles– drought or monsoons made his work difficult. He told the sage about his wife, for even though he loved her, certain things about her could use some fixing. Likewise with his children – yes, he loved them, but they weren’t turning out quite how he wanted.

So, he told the sage all of this, and when he was done, he asked the sage how he could help him with his troubles.

And the sage said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

What do you mean? You’re supposed to be a great teacher!” railed the farmer.

To which the sage replied, “It’s like this: all human beings have 83 problems; it’s a fact of life.”

Sure, a few more problems may go away now and then, but soon enough a few more will come. So, we’ll always have 83 problems.”

To which the farmer indignantly responded, “Then what’s the good of all your teaching?

To which the sage replied, “My teaching can’t help with the 83 problems, but perhaps it can help with the 84th problem.”

What is the 84th problem?” asked the farmer.

“The 84th problem is that we don’t want to have any problems.

That Wide-angle Lens

If the power goes out or the hot water heater breaks down, we notice how great a shower feels because we are now deprived. I think about my computer and how it helps me to do my work, write this blog, meet up with friends online, pay my bills…order a book or put one on hold at the library. Many known and unknown people are responsible for me having a computer on my desk. And if the internet stops working for a day…Yikes! Who gave us our first job or taught us to read? Or who saved our lives with surgery, medicine, or other life-giving opportunity?

One walk around the block this morning was filled with beautiful colours. And the people who smiled and said hello also brightened my day. I’m not speaking of rose-coloured glasses, but rather that wide-angle lens. A way to capture the whole scene and not just what needs fixing, solving or learning to live with.  Bringing some balance to the mistaken view that if you do everything right, nothing will go wrong. Rather, even when things go wrong, as they inevitably well, many things still go right.

I find it remarkable that we have a national holiday to celebrate what we are thankful for.

Each year at Thanksgiving dinner, we have a tradition of speaking about what we are grateful for. This includes the youngest through to the oldest. However, in the last twelve years or so, we added a small tree (some years it was paper, now it is metal) and a stack of handmade construction paper leaves, in fall colours,  where we each write out what we are thankful for and attach our leaf to the tree.  Before dinner, we each read aloud what we wrote. It is a special ritual that our family and friends look forward to.

 If we want to decrease suffering, gratitude is pretty much a foolproof method of doing so.

My friend Patricia  sent me this quote from one of her artist friends, and I think it is perfect for just this occasion:

I want to spend the rest of my life rejoicing in the beauty of this world and finding a million ways to say thank you.” by  Anne Schrievogel

Notes

Note 1:)  A special thank you to Dr. Jinroh Itami, and his teachers, thanks to whom I have something to offer and to live by.  I am always grateful to Wellspring Calgary, The ToDo Institute, and all the wonderful people I am honoured to spend time with through my work. This includes you, dear reader. And to my precious family and friends, including inlaws, outlaws, and my 42nd cousins once removed.

Note: 2)  I wish my Canadian readers a special Thanksgiving weekend. It is my favourite holiday and allows us to count our blessings formally. You, dear readers, keep me company as we navigate this tender, wondrous and oftentimes difficult life.  Your encouraging words are heartfelt and appreciated. Please accept mine, as we cheer each other along.  A deep bow. Warmly, Trudy 

PS A little extra from the well-loved Brother David Steindl-Rast A Grateful Day