The Audacity to Not Be Good at Something and do it anyway

“We treat our plans as though they are a lasso, thrown from the present around the future, in order to bring it under our command.” Oliver Burkeman.

It would be nice, at least on the surface, if this were true about plans.

I have two dates in the future when I am prepared not to be good at what I have signed up for.  The first one is this Sunday when I am registered to walk the 1/2 Marathon during race weekend in Ottawa. Although I have walked eight of these, I haven’t done so since COVID, and I am not confident I will complete it in the allotted time.

I am, however, confident that I will exert myself to do this walk and stop if I need to.

Why bother, you might ask? I have asked myself that question, and although it is not a cakewalk, there are things about it that I do enjoy—the company of my cousin Sonya, who has accompanied me on most of these walks; the collective effervescence of the Ottawa community who run, walk and cheer on the sidelines; the satisfaction and gratitude I experience that my body can do so. However, I know I am not as fit as I was in 2019, but if I wait to get fit enough, I may never do this again.

This leads me to my second purpose, where I cannot predict how well that will go either.

I am hiking the Kumano Kodo in Japan in October with my daughter and eight Japanese friends. So, this first walk on Sunday will give me information about the state of affairs of my body and where I need to focus my preparation. Of course, the Kumano is more or less straight up and down, and the course in Ottawa is flat. Nevertheless, it will be informative.

The Kumano is a walk I have always wanted to do, and to be able to do this in the company of my kind, gracious and hospitable Japanese friends and my daughter is kind of unbelievable. They are accomplished hikers, yet they are willing to include me in their circle, knowing I will slow them down. I am not being falsely humble here; this is reality. I am also prepared to do this pilgrimage trail as best I can, even knowing I may hold our group up. So, this Sunday is the beginning of my preparation.

What I can do is – do my part.

That is entirely up to me. And thanks to the internet, everything I need to know about preparing is as close as my keyboard. I can even see the terrain and long stretches of the hike. How amazing is that!

And all of us, other than my daughter, are between 66 and 80 as of today.

Something about stretching ourselves mentally and physically builds resilience, courage and well-being. I knew this theoretically from the literature but experienced it firsthand from my bike trip around the Cabot Trail when I turned 65. I came off that mountain thinking I could take on the world, and the euphoria lasted for several weeks. For my regular readers, you know that I am not suggesting that you all climb mountains, although I can safely suggest that we all consistently move our bodies.

This idea of trying things where we know we won’t shine applies to everything new and/or old that you haven’t done in a long time. To be a lifelong learner, to cultivate hobbies, and to have fun and adventures, we need to be prepared not to be good at it. We get better the more times we do whatever it is we want to do. The sad thing is to live our lives with regrets for something you really wanted to do and could have done, and you didn’t give it a shot.

Inertia is a powerful force. This is a good reason to find friends to do things with. My chances of going to Japan by myself to hike the Kumano are not impossible but highly improbable. I can count on myself to take a walk or a bike ride but for new or harder challenges, the company of others up our chances of following through.

Notes:

1:) A big thanks to Sonya for flying into Ottawa tomorrow so she can walk with me for 21.1 km on Sunday. And a big shout out to Yoshie and all my Japanese friends who will accompany my daughter and me on the Kumano in October. I can hardly wait for both of these events.

2:) Let’s sing while there is voice left. (do the things that are important for you to do while you still have the chance)

3:) The eight people walking the Kumano are in the banner photo. This beautiful photo was taken when they were here to hike the Rockies in 2019. The shoes belong to me and three cousins in Halifax, 2019 – my last 1/2 marathon.

4:) Thank you for reading my blog! I appreciate your encouraging words and your good company. A reminder to turn over every stone as we work to resolve the problems that come and go throughout our lives. And to take the time every day to notice the beautiful. All my best wishes, Trudy

 

 

 

 

Fresh Strawberries at Midnight 2024

May

I LOVE the month of May, anywhere I have ever been. May is the beginning of the blooming season in Ottawa, beginning with the Tulip Festival on Mother’s Day weekend.  Choir and Maypole Month in Austria, plus spectacular vineyards in full bloom.  And a continual onslaught of nature’s over-the-top palette in Vancouver and Victoria – to name a few.

And I must not forget Calgary and its surroundings. This is the place that reminds us that everything changes. During my wonderful time there, I experienced every kind of weather, from snow to blooms, from cold to hot, and the weather fazed no one. It is not the centrepiece of their day. What is consistent is that the spectacular mountains remain, and 100% of every person I know is wonderful! Why? I am either related to them, or they are associated with Wellspring. I am biased, but my bias is based on my personal and professional experience. It’s wonderful. :-))

Grateful

The truth is that I love my work, and I leave rejuvenated and refreshed because of all the wonderful Wellspring Members with whom I have the honour of being in their company. Also, the collective effervescence of what goes on in that community of dedicated people devoted to a common purpose. Plus, those twin great-granddaughters who recently turned nine months old and who are exceptionally adorable. :-))

Mothers Day

In the early morning hours of Mother’s Day, my plane touched down in Ottawa. I noticed how I bent the ear of my seatmate talking about all the qualities of my mother, none more critical than her gratitude and kindness. To my surprise, during the weekend retreat, a lovely participant (J) asked if I would tell the story of my mother and “Strawberries at Midnight.” As it turns out, this is a favourite story I wrote about my Mother, and she wanted the rest of our group to hear it. Coincidentally, the following Sunday was Mother’s Day, so I obliged.

It goes like this –

Aldous Huxley wrote the novel “Brave New World.” Toward the end of his life an interviewer asked: “Dr. Huxley, perhaps more than anyone else alive, you have studied the great spiritual traditions of the world. What have you learned?” Huxley replied, “I think we could just be a bit kinder.”

Fresh Strawberries at Midnight

It was June and it was strawberry season. It was also the season when I was finishing up Grade five and my new best friend, Peggy Jane was finishing grade six. We were having our first sleepover at my house and I was happy. Peggy and I were kindred spirits who explored the world through books, and imagination and here we were in my four poster bed surrounded by Vogue magazines that my New York aunt gave to my Mother each year at Christmas.

Mother considered my Aunt a little  frivolous to give this magazine as an annual gift to a housewife, in a small Nova Scotia town. I, on the other hand, loved it. My friend and I pored through the treasure trove of the back pages, reading every word about the boarding schools in Switzerland and France and other parts of Europe that sounded perfect for us. (side effects of being voracious readers)

As the clock inched close to midnight, the two of us laughed and talked about the schools we would choose, the books we loved, the diplomatic and literary careers we would one day have. We both felt the ease of kinship and simple joy that only two young enthusiastic girls can have.

Our contentment, however, was suddenly interrupted by the sound of my Mother’s footsteps on the stairs. Peggy Jane looked at me, concerned, assuming my Mother would be angry that we were still talking and laughing after midnight. To her surprise, my Mother knocked on the door, opened it, and presented us with a beautiful white tray laden with small sandwiches made from homemade bread and filled with lightly mashed strawberries that she had picked from the garden earlier in the evening.  There was a single rose in a crystal bowl on the tray, linen napkins and a glass of milk for each of us.

“I thought you girls might be getting hungry,” she announced and to my friend’s amazement, she placed the bed tray between us and went back downstairs.

I remember, still, how my heart was full of happiness and pride to have a Mother so kind. Years later  I met my friend who had a successful career and travelled far and wide throughout the world. She reminded me about that night and how it had become one of her most treasured memories and “the best example of kindness,” that she had experienced.

As for me, I felt happiness deep down in my bones as well as in my heart and fully knew in that moment that I had won the Mother lottery.

I am one of the lucky ones with a mother who lived to be 100 years, three months, and 13 days old.  This is amazing in and of itself, and I am deeply grateful.

Notes:

1:) The timing of the request stuck with me, and it gave me an excuse to post it here for you. Thank you, J.

2:) Many people are outstanding at mothering, although they may not have had children. We all know who they are. 

3:) A special thank you to the team at Wellspring Alberta for their generosity and kindness. And to our donors, You make all these programs possible for people impacted by cancer and their family and friends.

4:) Thanks to Rob for the flowers and the turtle.

5:) A big thank you to all for showing up here. I am beyond grateful that you stop by weekly to read my scribbles. Take care and all my best wishes, Trudy

 

A Very Short Greeting

Too Much to Write About

I have been in Alberta for 11 days and a few more to go before I return to Ottawa. It has been a whirlwind of joyful and meaningful moments with work, friends,  family and colleagues, Wellspring volunteers and members old and new. And the great honour of being able to facilitate these programs for people impacted by cancer.

Let me say that I am grateful from the top of my head to the tips of my toes for the kindnesses and generosity that greet me everywhere I go.To say that I am lovingly spoiled is an understatement.

But for tonight I will leave you with the mountains and the reminder that “We are born and we die, and in between we get the chance to keep each other company and that’s the thing that counts the most.” John Tarrant

PS – I spent my unexpected day off, today, visiting with friends and family. It was wonderful. Now I will say goodnight to you, and go do what I need to do. And I will be back next week with my wordy self.  :-))

First a tiny poem.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.
Wu-Men (1183-1260)

Notes:

1:) Tomorrow, May 9th, is my grandson Rowan’s 14th birthday. He and his Mom will begin  with a sunrise bike ride along the canal and through the tulip festival. Sounds beautiful to me.

2:) I have missed the early May birthdays and other celebrations of wonderful people I love. My greetings will come later and with just as much heart after I get home. 

3:) I know there are people reading this blog who are going through challenging times. Please accept my best wishes for what is best for you. I have been deeply inspired by the people I met on this trip and return to Ottawa humbled and in awe by our fellow humans. Take heart.

4:) Thank you for reading. Warmly, Trudy

 

We Teach Best What We Most Need to Know

Equanimity is on my mind.

It is amusing to me when my topic for a particular webinar program seems to coincide with an incident forcing me to practice my own advice. This is happening more frequently and it is a great reminder of easier said than done.

Take this past weekend.

I was booked to fly to Calgary via Toronto (that is another story) in order to have a few days with my twin great granddaughters and have a few days to adjust to the higher altitude and the time zone before I started work at my beloved Wellspring.  The plan was to be up at five, with a ride to the airport at 5:45 from my daughter.  But a text arrived  from the airline at 5:15.

Flight delay until 10:45.

I did a quick calculation and realized I would miss my connection from Toronto to Calgary. Did a little research and it looked like a second flight could get me there by late afternoon. Yay!

I went back to sleep and my “driver” came at the later time and dropped me off at the airport.

I lined up to get my new boarding pass for the Toronto leg only to discover that there would be no flight for me until the next day and not arriving until 5:30 PM

Derailed

Essentially this change derailed my beautifully planned weekend. Pick up by my grandson in Calgary, time with the babies, a lovely dinner, visit to my favourite Farmers Market with the whole family etc.And precious time with the twins and their parents.

Called my daughter and she came back. This was inconvenient and disappointing to say the least.

It just so happened that I had been talking about the importance of calm under stress and that very day I read an article by a favourite writer on – guess what – equanimity.

One of the best questions ever posed, in my experience, when we are studying personal and professional development was one posed in a program I attended –

“how does this apply to you?”

Well, that set me back on my heels. The question wasn’t “does this apply to you?” Rather, “how does this apply to you.”

The starting point of the article I had just read that morning went like this:

“Equanimity is said to be an anchor. It protects you against the wordly winds” – pleasure and pain, praise and blame, gain and loss, and fame and disrepute – by keeping you anchored so you’re not tossed about by those winds.” Daisy Hernandez

 I asked myself how does this event apply to me?

Will I spend the day sulking, feeling sorry for myself, wishing things were different or would I use my time to do something that I don’t often have time for? It was like a free day, all of a sudden. Unwelcome but still a precious day.

So I thought about what I have wanted to do for awhile and haven’t done and came up with a plan. Here is a sample of my first three hours.

I chose to begin, this is now mid morning, by going downtown to the market and having brunch at a lovely french bistro. And it was delicious and the best americano I had had in a long time. This small hidden bistro – beautiful atmosphere, eclectic patrons, interesting art and lighting, great service and delicious food, was filled within ten minutes of opening. I was the only solo in the room and I enjoyed every second of my surroundings.

Minto Bridges

Following this I took the time to walk across my favourite scenic three white bridges, (the Minto Bridges) that span the Rideau River, connecting two islands. I have driven across many times and walked on one but this time I did all three over and back with simple enjoyment.

Finally, back to the Byward Market where I visited a beautiful, luxurious, and old fashioned Paper Papier – stationary and pen shop – with a tiny, exquisite floral division, Fleurissant,”at the back. By the time I left with my small purchase I was at ease with myself. Disappointed still, but good.

Next day, back to the airport, five hour wait in Toronto, and arrived after six. A delicious dinner was underway and I had a short visit with my beloved family before the girls went to bed. So, the bottom line -it was a trial getting there and it was worth it.

Two things

1:) Travel is uncertain, much like weather. I now think it is best to lower my expectations for what travel means and be prepared to wait. When we have an uneventful flight consider it special.

2:) There is no point in shaking a stick at the clouds. We can line up, do what we need to do to get to where we are going and also have something to do while we wait. Write a letter to the airline if that helps but yelling at the agents is not helpful and unkind.

3:) Mindset – My sweet friend on the west coast will tell me that it sounds like I am bragging, which always makes me chuckle, because I am not. what I am doing is looking for ways to reduce unnecessary suffering, when things do not go according to plan. (there are many, right?) basically when our plans get ruined, we have that to deal with. Why waste our precious energy about how this shouldn’t be; it’s unfair, etc etc.

So what did I do with my five+- hours?

Card  making. I make photo cards for people who come to my programs and I needed more, so, I found a corner in “that” airport with a table and enjoyed myself. My cardstock, glue and photos were in my backpack and before I knew it, I was in the zone, enjoying myself.  Suddenly, it was time to board. Mind you, it took me two hours of wandering around to find this great spot but still…you get the picture. (pun intended)

Always remember there is no formula for getting through annoyances, grievances or tragedies. There isn’t always forward motion but how we approach things makes a difference. Not denial but full on acceptance of the trials and tribulations of life. Yet, always with the question, “what can I do now, with things as they are.”

Notes

1:) I am currently in the mountain town of Canmore, near Banff and there is snow on the ground. In this location it actually looks good. What is more, we arrived at my friends cabin and were greeted by five deer, one of them a fawn, and three relaxing under a tree in the front yard.

2:) Thank you for following this blog. I love your company and appreciate your encouraging words. I will still be in Alberta next week and will be in touch once again. Warm greetings and best wishes to all, Trudy

PS I don’t always manage this – equanimity- just letting you know how satisfying it is when I do manage.

Making Excuses Isn’t Necessary

“Maybe the first rule we should begin with, if we want meditation (change this word to anything you want to do) to be in our life for a long time, is: Don’t make a rigid structure and then chastise ourselves when we don’t live up to it. Better to keep a limber mind and develop a tenderness toward existence. “—Natalie Goldberg

Good grief

it is hard not to make excuses and beat ourselves up. I am too busy, too tired, not feeling well, and having an emergency, the pipes burst…it goes on and on. What would it be like to live an excuse-free life?  “Do or do not,” says Yoda, and that’s the end of it.

I often feel compelled to give an explanation or explain why I am saying no, for instance, or why I am late or why I didn’t do what I said I would do for the simple reason that I don’t want to fracture my relationships. I’m sure I’m not unusual in this regard. I think most of us want others to think well of us. We don’t want to believe, and we don’t want others to believe that this is our typical behaviour. It “feels” better if we all agree that this behaviour is, well, not MY norm. Heavens, no!

I have been thinking about excuses and explanations lately as I encourage others to free themselves from “should.” You know those things you think you should do, should eat etc. I love the advice from Natalie Goldberg in the opening quote and Oliver Burkeman’s “dailyish” advice.

Dailyish

If you’re prone to making yourself miserable by holding yourself to unmeetable standards, like me, “dailyish” probably sounds a bit self-indulgent. But it’s the opposite – because it involves surrendering the thrilling fantasy of yet-to-be-achieved perfection in favour of the uncomfortable experience of making concrete progress, here and now. Besides, it isn’t synonymous with “just do it as often as you can”; deep down, you know that if you never average more than a day or two per week on your novel/fitness plan/meditation practice/side business/whatever, then you won’t acquire the momentum to move forward. “Dailyish” involves applying more pressure to yourself than that. But (crucial distinction coming up!) it’s a matter of pressure rather than of forcing.

I used to think that the “excuse and explanation” response was typical of adolescent behaviour as well as being an adult response to navigating those areas where we don’t want to say yes or we have let someone, including ourselves, down. But I learned differently many years ago after spending a week with my granddaughter Sophie, who was two years and seven months old at that time. I learned that excuses seem to be built into our human nature. I suspect that the excuse comes from the desire to preserve the relationship by finding an acceptable way to say “no,” as an example.

Let me tell you a Sophie story:

Sophie ordinarily was willing to share what she had. But this day was different. It was the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, and I had cut several cherry tomatoes in two and given them to her in a small dish. We were outside enjoying the sun, and I thought those tomatoes looked rather tasty.

I said, “Sophie, could Nana have a tomato?

She looked in her dish, saw only two halves left, and looked me in the eye and said, “Nana, they’re not quite ripe yet.”

I mumbled something profound, like “oh, okay then,” and she cheerfully ate the rest of the tomatoes.

I was speechless that this toddler had not wanted to appear unwilling to share, so she gave me a rational explanation to allow her to keep the tomatoes for herself and avoid saying no. She didn’t think this through, as it all happened in a few seconds. But I was flabbergasted and amused.

If this happened again, I told myself I would be prepared and tell her I like unripe tomatoes. “I’ll take my chances,” I would say. But at that moment, I was too surprised to have an alternate response.

I imagine that at one time, she must have asked her parents, in the produce section of the grocery store, for sour berries, and they would have told her that they weren’t ripe yet, and she recalled the explanation and the result was that she didn’t get the berries. She has now discovered that this explanation works for her, too. Logical and harmless in this case. She wasn’t being devious. It is a sweet story of “underripe” cherry tomatoes and a two-and-a-half-year-old who loves them and wants to eat them all—every last bite.

A child is truly the perfect teacher.

It started me on my path of being more conscious about my excuses and explanations, even to myself.

Many years later, I have made progress in this department. For example, I  discovered that I like short bursts of exercise, and the fact that I don’t want to go to the gym for 90 minutes three days a week is not a moral failing. So, I changed my exercise. I said no to what no longer worked for me and yes to a 30-minute teacher-led Gi Gong practice once a week.

We don’t need to be against explanations. They can be appropriate and appreciated and still understand that we don’t need to do everything we are asked to do. And we don’t need to come up with an excuse. No is a perfectly acceptable answer.

This applies to ourselves when we get overbooked, and somehow we have the notion that we must be doing things all day long. However, we can change our minds and make a new plan even after many years. Try something new. Invite curiosity into our lives – try it and see what happens. Unencumbering ourselves from the shoulds and the can-nots

He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven.” Hindu saying (a quote from Life Is a Verb)

Notes:

1:) I leave for Calgary and the surrounding areas on Saturday and will be gone for two weeks—in-person programs in Calgary, Lethbridge, High River and Red Deer. And, of course, a few days with my twin great-granddaughters.

2:) I like the banner photo from Unsplash. Original image: robert-collins-tvc5imO5pXk-unsplash.jpg

3:) The next two posts will be on the road. I look forward to staying in touch and to seeing in person the wonderful people I know in Alberta. Thank you and best wishes, Trudy

PS I just remembered a story I wanted to leave you with:

Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson wrote a book 14 years ago and called it, Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, and Hurtful Acts

One of my favourite stories from the book:

“A friend, returning from a day in traffic school, told us that as participants went around the room, reporting the violations that had brought them there, a miraculous coincidence occurred: Not one of them had broken the law! They all had justifications for why they were speeding, had ignored a stop sign, ran a red light, or made an illegal U-turn. He became so dismayed by the litany of flimsy excuses that, when his turn came, he was embarrassed to give in to the same impulse. He said, “I didn’t stop at a stop sign. I was entirely wrong, and I got caught.

There was a moment’s silence, and then the room erupted in cheers for his candor.”

 

 

 

 

 

TGIW – Thank God it’s Wednesday

I know it sounds corny but the truth is I appreciate every Wednesday:

  1. It is blog day.
  2. My favourite bakery has my favourite bread on this day of the week. (Rye/walnut)
  3. City workers come and pick up our garbage/recycling/compost and yard waste.
  4. I have my 30-minute Gi Gong practice with a favourite teacher.

Already, I am off to a good start.

This week I also got to pick up my new glasses and sunglasses. I hadn’t realized how old my prescription was until I looked in the mirror with my new specs and saw a ton of wrinkles. Yikes. That was a shock. I thought the mirror had developed cracks or some strange thing. But no such luck. For research purposes, I removed my new glasses and put my old ones back on and voila – wrinkles gone. A new marketing strategy for getting rid of wrinkles- wear slightly blurry glasses.

All kidding aside, it has been a fantastic day. I interviewed a colleague for a new podcast launching this fall and thoroughly enjoyed it. At this point, after two guests, it is good enough and will hopefully keep improving. I said yes to the invitation to take this on. And I am glad.

I also discovered a wonderful new book of poetry, but I will wait for a later date to tell you about it. (For poetry lovers who can’t wait, you can always ask me.)

Why bother to mention these things, you ask?

I am of the mind that we improve the quality of our everyday life when we take nothing for granted. Naturally, there are many things that we overlook. Still, when we can improve our attention skills and notice the small, everyday things that go on, the lovely people we meet and the wonder of being alive, it can be transformative.

Here is a tiny practice that delivers big returns. I wrote about this elsewhere and here is an excerpt:

The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life

As I was thinking about ordinary things in my own life and the many lives of people I know, I recalled a recording I listened to from one of my teachers.  The recording is called The Art of Living Every Minute of Your Life by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. Lucky me, I got to hear it in 2008, the year I was diagnosed with cancer. Coincidentally, a friend mentioned it to me, who thought I would like it, so I went looking to check it out once again.

There was one section I remembered that stood out for me – three questions. Dr. Remen called it a heart journal and designed it for medical students and doctors as a psychologically sophisticated way to rediscover meaning in their work, a reminder of what they were capable of doing and a sense of gratitude for being here to do it. In truth, it was transformative.  Her books with the humble titles of Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings along with her curriculum, The Healer’s Art, are now taught in more than half of all US medical schools and several European schools.  Her devotion, expertise, vision, and generosity have impacted thousands.

Three Questions

Like myself, many have found the three questions a gentle way to end each day and provide ourselves with a new lens to view our lives, even when things are not going according to plan. They go like this:

 

  1. What surprised me today?
  2. What touched my heart today?
  3. What inspired me today?

You take ten minutes at the end of the day and reflect backward with the first question until you come to “What surprised me?” Write it down and start with the second question: “What touched my heart?” Write it down. Finally, the third question, “What inspired me?” Once you find it, write it down. Close your book and go to sleep.

I found it interesting to begin the reflection for each question during bedtime hours and work back towards the morning. You may want to try it and see what you discover.

Notes

1:) One more discovery today – 26-year-old Hayato Sumino, who caused a sensation with his Chopin piano solo. Fresh out of science and engineering, he debuted at the prestigious solo piano competition in Warsaw. You can read about him and listen to his mastery here. Besides his classical piece, you can watch him play 7 levels of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. It is great fun to see this massive talent.

2:) Thank you for stopping by. The magnolia trees are blooming, and I am smitten with spring fever. May it be so for you. Warmest wishes, Trudy

PS Thanks to Rob for today’s photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Path With Heart

Path With Heart

Wouldn’t you love to step onto this path and see where it ends up? My friend Karen , many years ago, sent me a picture of her garden path  and wrote –  “This particular pathway is meant to slow you down, carefully putting one foot in front of the other, leading to a beautiful place, a place of rest.”

The path on my banner photo, taken in Japan 10 years ago, serves the same purpose—one step in front of the other. No rushing.

I know how important moodling is because I have been tightly scheduled for the past few days. And here it is, our season of delight. Miracles are sprouting up out of the soil everywhere we walk right now. Overnight – sprouts, buds, blossoms, and when the light catches that particular branch with the beginnings of new life, and you are there, it is a gift.

And there were other wonders, along with the eclipse, this week. To be up close to the sheer joy experienced by my grandson and his love of life was pretty magical today. It reminds us how we benefit from spending time with people passionate about everyday wonders.

I love this old quote by Thich Nhat Hanh.

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — and our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

This made me also think about how lucky we are to have an immune system. Although I have always been grateful for my health, I sometimes take mine for granted. Yet I know, from going through chemo, how the life force wants to work for us. I also hear from others how the body strives to bring us to equilibrium and fight infection tenaciously. I continue to find this process amazing.

More recently, Rick Hanson, one of my favourite neuropsychologists, wrote this about perspective:

Without minimizing one bit of whatever is awful, it is also true that humans like you and I have been walking this earth for nearly 300,000 years. I see the trees, the land, the ocean – all of it here before me and lasting long after me. Empires rise and fall. Sometimes the center does not hold – in a body, marriage, or nation – and still. And still people love each other, go out of their way for a stranger, and marvel at a rainbow. Nothing, nothing at all can change this. We keep putting one foot in front of the other one, lifting each other up along the way.

Honestly, this is miracle enough for me. And speaking of miracles, it must be time for an update on my great-granddaughters, who turned eight months old this past week.

Notes

1:) I am thinking about my Mother, who loved her birthdays and was an April 13th baby. Imagine, it is coming up four years in July when she died at 100 years, three months and 13 days. Unbelievable, how time moves on. I thought of her when I wrote the title for today’s post because that is how she lived. Every day, she woke up with gratitude and joy, ready to walk and respond with outstretched arms and a loving heart wherever the path led.

2:) I hope you immerse yourself in Spring and do not miss it. I awaken to the birds these days and saw my first cardinal, pileated woodpecker, robin and eastern bluejay. Take care of your dear selves, and may you have what you need, plus an armload of joyful and meaningful moments. With gratitude, Trudy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom Is not Always how We Imagine

“Freedom is not silence and peace,” an excerpt from Passing Through the Gateless Barrier, translated by Professor Guo Gu. Freedom is being at ease in noise and chaos.” 

I happen to like koans – paradoxical anecdotes to refine insight and to be applied to everyday life.

This early morning, I drove to my Toyota dealer to have my snow tires removed for spring. This is also the day a snowstorm was announced for our area (questionable timing).  At the same time, I needed to discover what was causing the squeaking and clanging noises for the last month. Of course, all I could think about was the unwanted expense that this discovery may entail. So, my mind was doing its little ritual dance as I drove along.

Once I checked in, sat down and pulled out my phone to check my emails, I read my daily email from Tricycle.  And this is what it said.

Freedom

“Freedom is not silence and peace. Freedom is being at ease in noise and chaos.” (the original is from the 13th century)

Ah, I thought, this is a message for me right now as I sat in the waiting room, ruminating about the worst. Everything I had read about the noise in my usually quiet car indicated trouble and expensive trouble, at that.

As I continued to read, I came to this paragraph.

“When you encounter a difficulty in your life, an impasse, solve it.  If you can solve it, it’s good. If you can’t solve it, it’s still good, as it’s no longer your problem if you can’t solve it.” Guo Gu(another provocative koan and one I suggest is sensible in our daily life and relationships with others  and not applicable to devastating situations)

My mother, who knew nothing of koans, would say that when you encounter a difficulty, and you can do something about it, do it.  If you can’t do anything, adapt and/or let it go.

Reminders

I often find these messages applicable to me, even though they are easy to forget.  It is such an ordinary event to take your car in to see if the rattle and squeaks can be repaired and to change the tires. What could be more ordinary than that? Still, the unexpected reminder, perfectly timed, helped me to step back and focus on what I could do rather than waste energy fretting about the what-ifs.

I did the first part, taking my car to the service bay. This was followed by a delighted YES when invited for a lemon poppyseed scone and a coffee with my friend at the Scone Witch. It was a great second start to my morning before going to do the things I had planned and wanted to get done. However, by noon, and hearing nothing from Toyota, my mind spun a few new tales that I quickly interrupted by calling to see how things were going. (checking it out)

Things were going great. An $85.00 part fixed the problem; my spring tires were still in good shape for another year, and the six-month service was uneventful. So, as the ancient wisdom earlier stated – the “problem was solved, and because it was solved, it was good.” I suspect, like me, you have experienced many occasions where that was the case, in both big and small ways.

However, the next part of that message, ”  If you can’t solve it, it’s still good, as it’s no longer your problem if you can’t solve it.”

I can think of many occasions where this is true, especially with our relationships and our human penchant for wanting people to be different than they are.  However, I am also sure this is not the case in the immediacy of a crisis or devastating news.  Once again, this is a cautionary reminder about words, koans, formulas, and advice, which I write so often.

There are some things that although they need to be accepted, will take a long time. Some things you never get over, but eventually you learn to live with.

The poet David Whyte describes it well:

“Anyone who has suffered real loss, the loss of a child, a marriage, a well-loved home, has always had difficulty conveying the absolute sense of devastation to those who are at present more fortunate. As if standing on fishes, Rilke described it, as if the ground had a life of its own and were swimming away underneath him. Many of us who take the solidity of the world for granted have had glimpses of what it would be like to have that ground taken away, ” he writes.

Please, please remember there is no straight line.

We wobble along, this way and that, trying to figure out what to do.  For all the words that get written there are no formulas. There are no experts that know exactly what you should do. Nor is there a definitive playbook. However,  hand rails and sign posts exist that can offer direction and rest stops along the way. There are our beloved humans who can act as bumper cars to keep us from falling over the cliff. And even if we do wear the victim mantel for awhile  do not be mean to yourself, as you will toss it off in your own good time. It is each of us who gets to figure it out – this crazy, wondrous, painful, privileged, and amazing thing we call life.

In other words

I point this out because I think it is important to remember if you or a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness or there is an accident or death, this is not a problem to be solved. It goes way beyond that, and you will be standing on fishes until you can regain your equilibrium and figure out how to survive. And you will! And that is good.

Something else:

When I saw those koans this morning, I knew I would want to write about them. But early in the afternoon, I learned that a dear friend had recently received a cancer diagnosis, and I immediately saw the inadequacy of my more ordinary tale. And that is the trouble with words. They are so powerful and can soothe and heal, but they also bring hurt, pain, and misunderstanding. Ultimately, whatever we do, the most important thing is to opt for kindness. Kindness to ourselves, which can be challenging, and kindness to others. Don’t forget to trust yourself!  Ask for help and more information, and do not hesitate to ask questions. Out of the blue, life can change.

Many of you know my favourite quote from John Tarrant – “We are born, and we die, and in between, we get to keep each other company, and that’s the thing that counts the most.”

I am always aware that I don’t know the details of your lives, dear readers. And there may be more than one person here facing heartbreaking news and difficult choices. Please accept my best wishes and encouraging words for the best of what can possibly be for you in your circumstances. Take heart.  Thanks to all of you and sent with love, Trudy

PS Thanks to Gottfried for these photos today.

 

 

Leaning Into it Once Again

Bad Luck Good Luck

I have been thinking about March 2020, when all hell broke loose, at least in Ottawa. Yet, that is when I received the wonderful gift of facilitating weekly webinars for Wellspring Alberta. All in-person programs ground to a sudden halt, and we went online. Four years later, I still do this wonderful work with wonderful people. How fortunate! I am blown away when I think of how the Wellspring staff and program leaders “leaned in” to that new reality and transitioned overnight.

What was an emergency intervention has become a beloved and vital part of the Wellspring Community, with many unexpected benefits for its members.

And because I have a mind that looks at dates, patterns, and memories, I remembered an article I wrote back in 2008 called Leaning Into It.  The timeline goes like this. Sixteen years ago this week, I began my first round of chemotherapy at 61.  Sixteen years before that, I learned to ski in Switzerland at 45.  Learning to ski at the age of 45 gave me an approach to my cancer diagnosis and treatment that I called “leaning into it.” On a magnificent slope in the Swiss Alps, with blue sky and the best snow in 50 years, I was an eager and reluctant novice skier (yes, we can indeed be many things at once) Often shaking with fear, and tears streaming down my face, my spouse and ski instructor gave me advice that served me well then, served me during cancer and is serving me well now as I am well into my late 70’s – lean into it, he kept saying. You will have more control if you lean into it.

Lean Into It

When you learn to ski at 45 the fear factor is high. I would watch three year old Swiss children barrelling down the mountain while I stood frozen to the spot. My natural reaction when I got scared was to pull back and what happened, as all skiers know, my speed would increase and I would lose control and crash. Learning to lean into the mountain and staying over my boots slowed me down and gave me a modicum of control. And so I learned by falling down and getting up again and again so that by the end of the season I was even able to make perfect eights in my instructor’s tracks.

When I received a different “winter shock” in January of 2008 – another sixteen years had passed. When I learned I had cancer my first reaction was to pull back. The fear factor was high and my entire life spun out of control. All of a sudden, there was a steep learning curve rather than a steep slope, and this time the vocabulary consisted of words and terms like “grade of tumour” not to be confused with “stage,” mastectomy, risk of recurrence, bone scans, MRI, ultra-sounds, Her2, ER and PR and yes, the dreaded chemo. All of a sudden, I went from rarely seeing a Doctor to having several and armed with copies of reports and tons of literature; it occurred to me that since I was setting out on a new, unexpected, and even dangerous journey my best bet (for me) was to “lean into it.”

Looking Back

Looking back, however, I chose to  “blog” it out rather than slog it out.  Every day, I got up, posted a photo, and wrote a short post about what I was learning and what was still working, surprisingly well. I intended to post for 100 days to help myself and, hopefully, others living with illness might find some encouraging words,  humour,  beauty, and quiet space., along with the challenges of cancer, in particular.  And as I became adept, perhaps links to other wonderful and glorious sites.

Patti Digh inspired me at 37 Days and my friend Patricia Ryan Madson at Improv Wisdom to take up blogging. When you get a cancer diagnosis it is not a death sentence but it is a reminder that all of our days are numbered. Patti Digh asks, what would you do if you only had 37 days to live since one day that will be true for all of us?

With that in mind, I began writing a 100-day blog primarily for my children and grandchildren and, of course, for the rest of my amazing family, friends and colleagues and members at Wellspring. Writing down what matters. Weaving that golden thread through it all so that they will have something to pick up and move forward with, and so that I would not lose track of where I had been and where I want to go.

The End Zone

Now, I have entered a new terrain of life in the end zone. I like that expression from a palliative care physician at Harvard – Dr. Muriel Gillick, And I am “leaning into it” even now as I write after the passage of another sixteen years.

Two  important points in one of her  blog posts, which fit with my experience:

“Without regular exercise, Jane Brody opines, “you can expect to experience a loss of muscle strength and endurance, coordination and balance, flexibility and mobility, bone strength and cardiovascular and respiratory function.”  Translated into geriatric lingo, what she is saying is that to preserve function, the ability to walk, to do errands, even to dress and bathe without help, regular exercise is important.” Jane Brody on her 80th birthday, quoted in “The End Zone.

The idea of successful aging has been the subject of both intense criticism and passionate enthusiasm. One problem is that we all want to lead a “good life,” but we may have very different ideas of what that looks like. Sometimes, what we think we need for a good life turns out not to be what we need at all: people who have a life-altering medical condition, whether Parkinson’s or osteoarthritis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may wish they hadn’t developed that disorder but find that they are nonetheless able to lead rich, enjoyable lives. Dr Muriel Gillick in her early 70’s

Still, I find it a learning curve because I am fully aware that I am not 77 with a 50-year-old body and excess energy, no matter what the ads imply. Furthurmore, I am learning to treasure the quiet spaces. I no longer want to be on the go all the time, and I find my interests gravitate more to the contemplative life: nature, poetry, beauty, friends and family  and zentangles. And, of course, my webinars and blog. I feel so very fortunate to be able to do these things that I love. Plus, learning to let go of things I no longer want or need.

A new Country

This, too, is a new country, and we can learn to navigate it one step at a time. It helps to pay close attention to what enhances our daily lives and what detracts from them. We then learn what to do more of and what to do less of.
These are just a few musings as we come to the close of March. Thank you for stopping by to read my blog. See you next week. For those of you who celebrate Easter, may you have a lovely weekend.  Warmly, Trudy

Notes

1:) There was an interesting interview on CBC this week for those who may be interested in a provocative and important conversation about common sense oncology and why some people choose to end cancer treatment. If this sounds like something you don’t want to listen to, please don’t. Common Sense Oncology

 

 

 

 

Gratitude for Spring and the Photographers in my Life

Gratitude

I love living in Ottawa and being part of Sophie and Rowan’s daily life. And I love the early spring on the West Coast.

As our mild winter is trying hard not to exit this week, I revel in the bounty of images from Rob and Gottfried that genuinely bring me the joy of their early spring. 

Perhaps because I lived there for most of my adult life, I look at these scenes and am delighted, if not transported. They add to my treasure trove of grateful moments.  

I often put Gottfried’s cherry blossoms on my banner to enjoy their lusciousness, but today, I have one of Rowan’s photos from Cinque Terre, Italy. Yes, the camera came back along with many beautiful photos.

I love this old photo of Rob’s taken a few years ago outside of his apartment in Vancouver –  a scene I never tire of since  I am smitten with water taxis and reflections.

Rob also saw the beautiful heron in Van Duesen Gardens on  Sunday.  I have much gratitude to the photographers in my life who take the time to see, capture and share with me.

This is a short and sweet post tonight, reminding myself to take note of the beauty of my surroundings and to express appreciation for the generosity of my family in showering me with spring beauty. I wish I had a way to show them all to you, especially the flowers—however, I will slip some in over time. Here, in Ottawa, we are still a few weeks away from blossoms.

Thank you for stopping by. I sincerely appreciate you all. Warmest wishes, Trudy

PS I wasn’t going to make a note tonight, but old habits are hard to break.

Notes

Note 1:) I read this on James Clear’s Atomic Habits Newsletter.

Physician Lewis Thomas on the importance of making mistakes:

“Mistakes are at the very base of human thought, embedded there, feeding the structure like root nodules. If we were not provided with the knack of being wrong, we could never get anything useful done.

We think our way along by choosing between right and wrong alternatives, and the wrong choices have to be made as frequently as the right ones. We get along in life this way. We are built to make mistakes, coded for error. We learn, as we say, by “trial and error.” Why do we always say that? Why not “trial and rightness” or “trial and triumph”? The old phrase puts it that way because that is, in real life, the way it is done.”  Source: The Medusa and the Snail