Category Archives: Spirituality

Happy Birthday Dad

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My father was born eighty-two years ago today. He died almost thirteen years ago, still so young and vibrant that I have trouble imagining him as an eighty-two year old man.

I’ve just finished writing the ‘fairytale’ of my life, the culminating project of my two-year Spiritual Guidance course and my dad features prominently in it. He appears as a potter who lives in the spirit realm who both formed my own spirit and also watches over me as I go through a dark night of the soul.

He was a potter in real life and my first spiritual teacher, although I didn’t recognize him as such at the time. Very early on, shortly after the birth of my first child, he began initiating conversations about parenthood, our relationship, and about life. Existential conversations. Conversations that examined the whys of decisions made in my childhood and how those decisions affected my life. We probed and questioned. He showed me how to take a step above the ego to look without judgement. We apologized and forgave each other when we found wounds.

I learned and experienced transcending forgiveness for the first time.

I feel him in my life everyday. Even now, as I type these words honouring his existence, his energy swirls around me. He is my teacher, still.

A Potter's Legacy

A Potter’s Legacy. Artist: Patrick O’Neill

 

 

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WAKE UP! Transition to Trump signals time for inner change

There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in. ~ Leonard Cohen

A dream woke me up, as they often do.

It’s the wee small hours of the morning and the last refrains of Rufus Wainwright singing Hallelujah is hugging my heart. I need the sacred poetry of Leonard Cohen. To calm me before I write about my rage and sorrow.

I dreamt an old story of Betrayal. I wrote an article about it for the Vancouver Observer. Read it here. Please share the article. I’ve never written anything more important.

“We must all wake up to the power of the divinity within us, and this takes work. It will be the most important work you will ever do”

This election has cracked us wide open.

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Meeting Karma

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I began to seriously study Buddhism about ten years ago. And by study, I mean reading copious books, highlighting and taking notes and incorporating various practices into my spiritual life. I’ve attended dharma talks at the Kadampa Centre but didn’t really connect to the community. It felt like everyone knew what they were doing except me. The myriad of Buddhist disciplines confuses me.

I’ve been to hear the Dalai Lama talk on several occasions and have even taken my first Bodhisattva vow in an elaborate ceremony over which he presided from his golden throne. And yet, I’ve received no formal teachings apart from the few dharma talks I’ve attended. For years I’ve longed to find my own teacher.

One of my favourite authors, Natalie Goldberg, studied with her Zen Buddhist teacher, Katagiri Roshi, for twelve years. It formed her life and infused her writing with powerful messages. I read her first book, Writing Down the Bones, almost thirty years ago, and have read almost every one of her fourteen other books she’s written since then. She has merged the words practice and writing and birthed a spiritual movement. Writing is a spiritual practice, not a craft to master, and this is both permission to let go of the critic, as well as a call to discipline. I’ve long wanted to study with Natalie, to attend one of her workshops to sit zazen with her and to write.

The Great Spring, Writing, Zen and this ZigZag Life is her latest memoir and her most intimate book yet. In her mid-sixties, with a bout of cancer newly behind her, she writes of how she is nearing the time to leave her body.

And I think, “Not yet! Not until I’ve had a chance to study with you!” With a new grandson pushing me even further away from my own birth, I’m imbued with the feeling of time pressing.

Yesterday evening I had the opportunity to listen to Natalie read from The Great Spring and answer questions. I’ve had this date marked in my calendar for weeks and wanted a good seat at this free event. I arrived at the Vancouver Public Library an hour before the 7pm start time to find over fifty people already lined up along the wall outside the room. Dratigan. I stand behind a woman in a silver parka and geometric leggings just as the line curves back in on itself. She swipes her finger along her phone and I watch as more and more people join their friends in front of me. Oh well, I think and smile to myself, I would do the same thing if I had a someone joining me.

I have an hour to wait, but instead of pulling out my own phone I take the time to gently meditate, feeling the energy vibrate through me and down into the floor. I scan the crowd and write silent stories in my head, eavesdropping on conversations around me. I wonder if it is too obtrusive and obvious if I take out my notebook and actually write. Will they know it is them I am transcribing?

The door at the front finally opens and the line slowly shuffles forward. I move into the already crowded room and begin scanning the back rows of chairs, looking for an empty one with optimum viewing. Lots of seats are being saved and just as I’m about to turn into the centre aisle I feel a hand and see an older woman leaning forward to block my path.

“Are you alone?” she asks.

“Yes,” I nod.

“Sit here.” She instructs, removing a rice-paddy-straw-hat from the seat beside her. “I need someone with calm energy to sit beside me. The energy in this room is too excited.” She slides the hat under her seat.

I thank her and sit, folding my puffy coat onto my lap and resting my purse on top of that.

“I’m a Buddhist nun.” She says, leaning towards me.

I truly look at her now and see the familiar burgundy garb and the shaved head covered in an orange knit toque. I can’t believe the incredible synchronistic happenstance. I’m sitting beside a Buddhist nun in the first row directly in front of the dias behind which Natalie Goldberg will soon be standing! Seriously! Ask and ye shall receive.

“I don’t know why I’m here,” she confesses several times, “I’ve only read part of a book she’s written….Bones?”

 “Writing Down the Bones.” I affirm. I know exactly why she’s here.

I go with what the Universe has handed to me and make my own confession. I talk about my interest in Buddhism and my scattered studying. She stumps me with question after question, whereupon I finally sigh my ignorance.

“All the different forms of Buddhism really confuse me.”

She smiles, “Everything is confusing.”

And so begins a remarkable conversation. She shows me picture after picture of her teachers on her phone. We share our thoughts on how energy affects us. She asks if I’m a writer and I find myself telling her about the book I’m working on, about how it’s about going beyond forgiveness.

“Beyond forgiveness?” she asks.

Oh no”, I think, all of a sudden it feels like I’ve stepped into a world in which I’m wholly inadequate. Who am I to talk about going beyond forgiveness to a seventy-two year old Buddhist nun?

“When you’ve reached a level or an awareness that transcends forgiveness, where you realize that there is no need for forgiveness because there was no injury in the first place.” I’m talking about soul to soul contracts, but in the whispered confines of our conversation there is no time to expand. I wonder if I’ve jumped off the deep end and have lost my nascent connection with her.

“No injury…” She repeats, leaning back slightly, and then nodding her head she begins to share her own story about a physical injury she’s being challenged with. Now we are simply two women sharing tips on healing physical injuries and operating on an energetic level within a potentially litigious world.

Just before Natalie Goldberg takes the stage, my Buddhist nun friend takes my contact information and forwards me an email containing dharma talks that may interest me. She promises to text me and we make tentative plans to have tea together.

I spend the next hour listening to Natalie Goldberg read and share bits of writing-practice wisdom. I smile to myself. I’m sitting in the front row listening to one of my favourite writing and spiritual teachers, and beside me Karma quietly murmurs. The Universe has placed me exactly where I asked to be – both in front of and beside a Buddhist teacher.

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Falling Into Books

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Sometimes when I’m reading a book, I have to lay it down because a certain sentence or a phrase has just passed through my body and forever altered me. It takes a few minutes or a few hours to adjust to the frisson of energy carried by those words.

I have to stop and breathe those words deep into my body. The soft caress that comes with a phrasing so beautifully gentle it’s as if they are growing down from the heavens and up from the earth at the same time. The first green shoots of the daffodil in January, the crocus in February (here in Vancouver anyway). Strong and resilient, yet tender and vulnerable.

Sometimes they are the sudden crashing of a heavy spruce into the ground. My body shudders with the strength and fury of the sentences driving deep into my being.

They are words that meet and grow in my heart.

Oh, how I want to write like this!” I think, as I lay the book across my heart, hoping to infuse myself with the talent through some kind of magical osmosis.

For as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to be a writer. And then I wanted to be a dancer on the Carol Burnett Show. And when I was introduced to the world of plays I added Actor to that list. To me they are all interconnected threads of creativity, cut one away and my entire world begins to unravel.

I feel so at home surrounded by words. Surrounded by the world of storytelling. I grew up the daughter of a broadcaster, playing among sets at the TV studio, appearing in TV shows, specials and commercials. By the time I was six years old I was winning public speaking contests, too young to even know to be nervous. It was as natural to me as breathing.

I wrapped my imagination around me like my own favourite blanket. I still do. Whenever I am feeling lost or alone, I reach for a book and immediately ground myself in the wonders of the world within.  Reading and writing (and acting) are as integral to my spiritual practice as is meditation and prayer.

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Magical Mystical Mystery

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I love travelling and exploring new places.  Some voyages are planned months in advance, like my pilgrimages to Brazil and others are spontaneous trips to take part in workshops or to study with my teachers in New York and Los Angeles. The last couple of years all of my travel has been centred around my work and my spiritual journey, which are very much intertwined, so my exploration of new places has been inward focussed.

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My first pilgrimage to Brazil, which began in the Amazon, opened me in a completely unexpected way. Any and all fears I had softened and melted away the minute I woke up in the warm humidity and dipped my toes in the river.

My world has expanded far beyond the borders of Greater Vancouver. I have such close friends and community in so many different places now, people and places I love to visit. My heart and world have grown and I think this has helped me to let go of this house I live in and the land that I love so much.

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Part of me longs to put down deep roots in one spot, but a much larger part of me wants to experience as much diversity in this life that I can, knowing that by opening my world and dissolving my borders and boundaries, I am burrowing my roots deep, deep into the soil of my own spirit.

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I’m excited about the days ahead. I’m excited to see where my next home will be. I dwell in the magical mystery of my journey.

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Balancing In The Sea of Creativity

I find I am unable to focus on multiple projects at once.  Multi-tasking between creative platforms seems beyond me, and so while I’m immersed in the world of acting, my writing becomes the forgotten child crying for attention.

It feels like I’ve been in rehearsal for forever, there are so many characters living inside me, like multiple personalities, that it’s beginning to feel a bit over crowded.  It’s a high-class problem, but my writing child is crying louder and louder and it’s getting harder and harder to put her back to bed.  I’ve got one more play, one more character to bring to life before I can slip out the backstage doors of the theatre and bring my writing child out to play again.

Finding balance is always a challenge for me.  Living a creative life can be exhausting instead of fulfilling.  As an actress I never know when the next gig is going to come, each job feels like it might be the last, each opportunity too good to pass up.

I’ve gone from Queen Margaret in Henry VI and Mistress Page in Merry Wives of Windsor, to Blanche DuBois in Streetcar Named Desire, to Annie in Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests.  Great characters, all of them!  And now I’ve been given the opportunity to bring a character to life for the very first time in a two-hander written by a wonderfully gifted playwright friend of mine for the upcoming Vancouver Fringe Festival.  Grace, in the world premiere of Slumming, written by Barbara Ellison.

I’ve gone full out since early spring doing what I absolutely love, and jumping with both feet off the highest cliff into my deepest fears and my biggest, thickest blocks.  And I really feel in need of a deep rest.  This month of rehearsals and production meetings, heading towards our opening night September 6th, I’m working to find balance.  Giving myself permission to sit quietly and read out-side, surrounded by my over-run garden and allow my physiological, spiritual and creative batteries to recharge.  Finding balance.  Creativity needs some alone, quiet time.  Simmering time.  Meditation.  Balance.

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Dreaming of Forgiveness

I’m in Starbucks ordering a chai tea latte, I think it’s the one on Ambleside down the street from Gyra’s office, my therapist during those dark days full of hurricanes and touch down tornadoes.  Or maybe it’s the one in Caulfield village, in the same plaza as the Safeway where I used to run into her, where we would stop and smile and talk in the cereal aisle, me on my way to the vegetable section, she on her way to pick up bread, or perhaps something from the cold meat section.  She’s a carnivore, I know that.  No vegetarian could wield a flesh cutting knife with as much precision as she.

But I’m allowing myself to become sidetracked.  My Judge quickly backing up my Victim.  It’s good to give them a voice now and again, to let them speak, to hear them out.  To acknowledge them before gently guiding them back to their seats.  It’s my Avenger’s turn to manage the show.

So, back to my dream.  Did I mention I’m dreaming?  It actually begins in that trance world between awake and sleeping, the best birthplace of Active Imagination.  I’m lying on my back in the wee hours of the morning, warmly comfortable nestled under my blue and yellow quilt and I’m barely aware of the early morning dawn birds just beginning their Spring concert.  I’m floating in that magical realm of almost, but not quite awake, slowly replaying the film of my last dream, which must have included elements of my used to be marriage because suddenly and seamlessly I’m in Starbucks ordering my soy, no-water chai tea latte and in walks S., otherwise known as The Other Woman, or during those dark tsunami days (and some days since) as Witch Woman.  So named because even then, even so wounded and full of unrecognized anger I could not bring myself to give her the name that rhymes.

I’ve been here before, in this netherworld of Active Imagination.  In this particular scene.  Always in Starbucks.  Always ordering or waiting for my chai tea latte.  Sometimes with a friend, but most times alone.  And always, always, always unprepared to run into her.  Mirroring my awake fear.

What will I say to her when first I see her again.  After.  After she deceived and lied and manipulated and connived and betrayed.  So many Ands.  After she lived for two years having an affair with my husband while making nice Safeway small talk with his wife.  So many Afters.  What will I say to her?  It’s been six years since I woke up to see the Red Bird of Betrayal flying over my life.  Six years since my marriage blew up and six years since I’ve seen Her.  We live not far from each other, yet since I gave her my husband, I have yet to run into her again.

In all my other reverie world Starbuck encounters, my words don’t come as I want them to.  In that, I mean my shadow self always steps forward and disempowers me by blaming and shaming.  My Wounded Child and Victim join hands crying out and pointing fingers,  “You are a Black Hole sucking energy from everything around you, spewing out toxic free radicals in your evil witchy wake!”

Once again I’m at Starbucks, this time I’m waiting as the barista makes my drink, when I turn around and there She is.  I’m the director in this Active world of Imagination, so she stands silently.   Caught.  There is no more avoiding me.  I have my BlackBerry in one hand, to appear important, supported and needed.  I hold the silent support of all my contacts in my hand, my big, huge team is fanned out invisibly behind me.  My other hand is warmed by my soy, no-water chai tea latte, a symbol of my own self-love, care and nourishment.  I’m standing in Starbucks, where I often sit to journal or to write.  We are on my turf here.

  I turn to her and say, without attachment, as if observing my thoughts as in meditation, “What you did     was wrong.  The pain you caused was overwhelming, not just for me, not just for my four children, but it rippled out further than you can imagine.  You acted without any care or compassion.  You lied, deceived and betrayed.”  I look at her and shake my head, turning to leave, “It was inexcusable and so very, very wrong.”

“Can’t you let it go already?” She demands, “You should learn to forgive and forget.”

This time my answering words come without force, without conscious thought, through a channel of Grace of understanding.  I am looking at her with sadness and compassion, finally seeing that she is buried so far underground that she can’t see the light of Truth that surrounds her.  “You have no idea whether I’ve forgiven or not.  Forgiveness has nothing at all to do with you; it’s something I do completely for myself.  The truth of what you’ve done can live side by side with Forgiveness.  One does not negate the other.”

Then I’m climbing a sturdy, narrow, wooden ladder and with a hammer I have broken through the ceiling so that the ladder can now rise higher and higher through the jagged opening into the sunlight above.  “I’ve broken through!” I exclaim with a smile just before I wake up.

I chuckle as I think again of the ladder leading to my “break through.”  I’ve been searching and working on Forgiveness for years and finally ‘get’ it.  I don’t need to forget the Truth of my wounds in order to Forgive.  I don’t even need to release the pain of those wounds, I need only to detach.  To release means simply to ease out the hook of attachment and let my emotions swim and swill in the swamp with the rest of life’s injuries.  If needed for my work as a writer or actor, I can cast a hook into that swamp and reel it back up.  But this time I’m in conscious control of the fishing rod and can choose which worm to catch and when and where to release it.       

I’m not finished with my forgiveness work and it will remain a daily practice, but now I have a strong foundation to support me.

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