5 Lessons From Life—To Last a Lifetime

by Liz Jansen

Lessons from LifeAnniversaries of significant events are good signposts upon which to reflect on the lessons from life. And so on the anniversary of my motorcycle crash, I find myself thinking about my journey over the past three years.

It’s as if I’ve traveled light years since then, yet from my soul’s perspective, I’m closer than ever to where I started life on earth.

Five Lessons Lessons from Life

  1. Realize I’m not in control. Life unfolds miraculously without our intervention. When we try to control it is usually when we end up in a mess. By surrendering to it and acting on our inner guidance, our ride is much smoother. As much as I tried, or willed my motorcycle to stay upright, I couldn’t control it and crashed. We don’t have to inform our physical bodies how to function. Our hearts beat, we breathe, and we digest food without any voluntary input from us. Why do we think we have to control other events? Or that we even can?
  2. Accept I’m different. We’re meant to be different than everyone. Just as our bodies require a diversity of cells, each with a unique composition and function, so too does our human community need people with a variety of interests and talents to be robust. It’s our diversity that makes us strong.
    We come to this earth configured with unique gifts. Recognizing, nurturing, and sharing them is part of our purpose here. They don’t have to be grandiose or elevate us to a level of prominence. But they’re there, waiting to be expressed.
  3. Follow the leader—i.e. my intuition. We never know the ripple effect of our deeds, or how a simple act of kindness has changed a person’s life. We don’t have to know. All we need to do to make our own life joyful is to trust and follow what’s in our heart. The rest looks after itself. I trust with certainty that I’m being guided in the direction that’s best for my soul’s calling.
  4. Acknowledge the independence I once prided myself in, is a myth. We’re interconnected with all life. We need each other for survival—water, food, shelter, and love. Our thoughts and actions create a ripple effect of whatever message we sent out. It makes me want to live simply and compassionately, not taking more from the earth than I need.
  5. Embrace the journey. We’re all on one. Like any trip, many routes arrive at the same destination. Our mission is to find the way that suits us best. I am a part of others’ journeys, just as they are part of mine. Honoring who I am, means being authentic to myself, and with others, not trying to pretend to be someone to avoid hurting another’s feelings. It’s the utmost way to bestow honor.

Like the storms in nature, life crashes can create havoc, but as intense as they can be, they don’t last forever. Always, they leave us with lessons for life. Storms, or life’s crashes, are often the catalyst for restoring balance and furthering our spiritual growth.

What’s your recent lesson?  Share in the comments.

Posted in Life Lessons from Motorcycles

Taking the Trip of a Lifetime—by Train, Plane, and Motorcycle

by Liz Jansen

Trip of a Lifetime

Beaverlodge canola field. Log house once stood behind us.

Looking at the same scenery during the trip of a lifetime, three generations had differing views. Flying north from Edmonton to Grande Prairie, my father stared out at the wilderness below. He was fixated on the fish and wildlife that called it home. Ninety-one years ago, his father had watched as the train clickety-clacked through these forests. He was headed to his new home in a new country. Last year, I’d ridden my motorcycle through the same terrain on a trip tracing my ancestor’s migration through the west.

Knowing my father, who was born in Alberta, had always yearned to return to the prairies, and knowing how much last year’s trip meant to me, I offered to accompany him to the places he’d lived as a child. He’s in pretty good health for his 91 years, but frail. He thought about it only briefly before jumping at the chance—metaphorically speaking.

Aside from paying homage to his parents, my grandparents, I was hoping it would trigger memories and stories I hadn’t heard.

Even as the flight was taking him back to his infancy, I was delighted to hear his inner child speaking, a voice I’d rarely heard.

“I wonder what it would be like to land on one of those clouds,” he mused as we flew high above them.

Looking northeast towards Beaverlodge.

Not surprisingly, he had no memories of his home in Beaverlodge, in Alberta’s northern Peace River country. After all, his father died before he was two and his mother moved south with their toddler. His only recollection from that time was his mother lying in bed, holding him, crying. Still, his affinity for the area’s open farmland was definite. And it strengthened as we moved south.

By the time we arrived at the farm southeast of Calgary where he lived between ages 4 and 11 after his mother remarried, his countenance spoke volumes, even if words were scarce.

In 1925, an eight-square-mile tract of land known as Namaka Farm was neatly partitioned into quarter-section (160 acre) farms. Thirty-six immigrant Mennonite families (100 people), including dad’s stepfather, settled here.

As I gazed over unending fields of grain, I tried to imagine the community that existed here in his time. Each farm had a log house, barns, and granaries, all long since razed. There’d be pigs fattening up and cows for milking. A variety of horses used to work the land, pull the wagons, or ride for transport, hung around the barnyard. There was the schoolhouse where dad learned English, down the road just south of the railway. All that was left was the grove of poplars that shaded it.

It took his family seven years to concede they couldn’t survive on the proceeds of 160 acres, even in the absence of drought and dust storms. But in the mean time, it was a vibrant community with lots of visiting between families, children getting together to play, and regular church services.

Southern Alberta

The prairie years set the stage for the rest of my father’s life. Out of necessity, he learned how to be frugal and stoic. It’s how he cared for his mother and younger siblings, and later raised his own family and successfully managed his fruit farm.

Those qualities pervaded his life—how he responded to hardship, handled his finances, and eked out his emotions.They were physical, emotional, and spiritual survival techniques he learned from his parents, and passed on to his children.

How that played out is a story for another time. Understanding the lives of my ancestors, the times they lived in, and how they managed helps me understand how their experiences and beliefs shaped me. It changes my perspective on their lives and mine. Most of all, it allows me to be the author of my story, rather than living from a script.

Thank you dad!

Have you had similar experiences? Share them in the comments.

 

Posted in Adventure

Understanding the Matter of Perspective

by Liz Jansen

A Matter of PerspectiveThe young couple disembarked from the train, squinting in the bright prairie sunlight. Their clothes, tattered and threadbare, were creased and wrinkled after nearly a month of travel from the other side of the world.

They too were tired and worn. Only days before leaving, they’d buried their 8-month-old daughter. During the past seven years, they’d endured civil war, famine, terrorism, and poverty.

The man scanned the station, his eyes quickly fixating on the figure running toward them. His brother would take them to live with him until they could find a place of their own.

In July, 1924, arriving in Saskatchewan was a chance for my grandparents to start life again in a new country, one that promised peace and freedom. They would have a family, worship, and be patriotic. They would work and contribute to their new community and country.

While they had the highest intentions, not everyone saw them like that.

To those already settled here, often referred to by immigrants as the ‘English’, they were a threat. In 1919, a Government Order-in-Council edict stated, “Owing to the results of the war, a widespread feeling exists throughout Canada, and more particularly in western Canada, that steps should be taken to prohibit the landing in Canada of immigrants deemed undesirable owing to their peculiar customs, habits, modes of living, and methods of holding property, and because of their probable inability to become readily assimilated to assume the duties and responsibilities of Canadian citizenship within a reasonable time after entry.”

By the time my grandparents arrived, Canadian laws had changed to allow railway companies to recruit immigrants from countries previously designated as non-preferred. The resentment, however, remained.

As compassionate as they were, the railway saw them as a means of revenue. Transporting tens of thousands of people filled their ships and trains. Selling off some of the land they’d purchased during the construction of their railway and helped recoup part of their investment.

To the government, more settlers meant ‘unoccupied’ land could be settled and turned into productive farms, augmenting the nation’s economy.

The arrival of more colonists, like my grandparents, deepened the wounds of the First Nations people. After being herded onto Reservations and having their children sent off to Residential schools, they were struggling for physical, spiritual, and cultural survival. Watching helplessly and hopelessly as their ancestral lands were ‘settled’ by immigrants must have been extremely painful.

Everything we see, the opinions we form, and the choices we make, is processed through our personal filters. Often we don’t appreciate the power of the beliefs and myths that live in our subconscious, even though they’re calling the shots.

As I write, edit, revise, and rewrite Crash Landing, understanding the matter of perspective becomes critical for conveying my stories in a meaningful way. Not only does it make my writing clearer, it teaches me about myself and the others who share my world.

Understanding the matter of perspective is the foundation for living in peace and happiness.

What’s your perspective?

Next week there will be no article as I’m away. Until next time, I wish you health, happiness, abundance, laughter, and adventures.

photo credit: Bernal Saborio G. (berkuspic) folding road via photopin (license)

Posted in Liz's Stories

Encore—Following Last Year’s Ancestor Trail

by Liz Jansen

EncoreFollowing up a life-changing motorcycle trip with an encore, especially one that doesn’t involve motorcycles, isn’t typical. But I expect it to be at least as meaningful. Next Saturday, August 5th, I’ll fly out to Alberta with my 91-year-old father. We’ll spend a week reliving memories more than 80 years old.

When I first proposed the idea, his first question, before agreeing, was, “How are we going?” He fully expected I meant by motorcycle so was relieved when I said we were flying.

Last summer I spent seven weeks on the road with Trudy, my Triumph Tiger, following what I dubbed the Ancestor Trail. The giant loop through Alberta and Saskatchewan followed the migration paths of both sets of grandparents after they landed in Canada as refugees in the 1920’s. I wanted to walk on the land they’d walked. By putting myself in their place as best I could, I hoped to better appreciate their life and choices. Mostly I wanted to understand how their experiences had shaped me—research for Crash Landing, my upcoming book.

I had exact locations for four places, but in spite of searching at municipal archives, was missing details for two farms. Since then, I’ve obtained documents showing their exact locations.

Our first stop will be in Beaverlodge, in Alberta’s northern Peace River District. This is where dad’s parents homesteaded and where dad lived from birth until age two. That’s when his father, age 28, died from Tuberculosis. He was buried in a private, now overgrown, Mennonite Cemetery on the land he had such dreams for. Last fall, the Alberta Genealogical Society unearthed a Probate file, which is how I learned where their land was. I’d been close. Dad was in the area and visited the cemetery around 2000. This is the first time he’ll know with certainty where he’d lived.

After that, we’ll fly to southern Alberta to continue the trail. From Beaverlodge, his widowed mother took him to a farm outside Beiseker, a small town near Drumheller where she’d found work as a housekeeper. They were there for two years, until she remarried and moved to a farm in Namaka, very close to where I crashed. My experience at both of these places, which were stops on last summer’s ride, will be very different being there with my dad.

Mom’s parents farmed just north of Drumheller, approximately 120 km/80 miles northeast of Namaka. Last year I’d had to guess at where that land was. Recently I learned my cousin had the original sales transaction so now I can go directly to the farm where my maternal grandparents, with three children, tried to establish their family. As much as she’d love to join us, mom’s dementia precludes her from living independently, let alone traveling. She’s contributed by recalling snippets of stories from that time that help me understand their life there.

Those are but some of the highlights of what promises to be an action-packed and emotional week. I’ll try to keep up with photos on the Heritage Trails Facebook page or my personal Facebook page.

This encore will be at least as engaging as the main performance.      

Posted in Liz's Stories Tagged with: , ,

Discovering Gold in Chaos—Adapting to Change

by Liz Jansen

discovering goldMy house move is over and I settled into my new place within a day. As upsetting as it was to get evicted (slight embellishment), it’s been like discovering gold in chaos.

There were two ways to react when I was asked to leave—get angry over the disruption to my life and unplanned expense, when I was trying to finish writing the first draft of Crash Landing, or accept it and move on as quickly as possible. There was no sense diverting and wasting energy on the former. The best thing to do was to pack up and move on.

Realistically, I wouldn’t have discovered had this place had it not been forced on me. Just five doors down from where I was and backing onto the same ravine, it’s much brighter and filled with joyous energy. That it was even available when I needed it was another gift.

It’s quiet and my motorcycle has a special space in the garage. My landlady pours her heart into her family and gardens. Front and back yard are a profusion of vibrant blooms. The back yard, where I walk out, is a delightful place of whimsy and beauty. It’s perfect for the creative lift I need now.

Measha (my cat) loves it too. She was feeling trapped at the old place because of the dog and had stopped going outside. After four days here, she was ready to patrol the back yard again. I let her wander while I was working in my outdoor office and she was back within 10 minutes with a gift of gratitude.

The process of moving has been another gift. Although I’ve pared down on stuff over the past 15 years, I’m nowhere near minimalism. Touching and packing everything you own is a good exercise to assess whether it’s really necessary.

And so I lightened the load even further. For example, I realized I’d moved a big plastic bin of yarn I’d collected from my years of knitting four times. That yarn could be keeping someone warm so I sent it to a place that knits for those in need.

Anything I’d lugged around for more than one other move and hadn’t used, also got donated. There wasn’t that much, but I filled my panniers twice and shuttled stuff to a second-hand store in town where all proceeds go to a local charity.

It’s so liberating to let things go. It was even more meaningful and easier this time as I write about how the experiences of my ancestors have shaped me. Through extremely challenging times, my grandparents learned early in life how little material things meant, and how important relationships—with others, self, and Spirit—are.

I still have one big area to tackle – and that’s my digital collection. It’s easy to save and store files and I have a minimum of two back ups of everything. All of that takes room and creates clutter. But that’s a job for another time.

How have you discovered the gold in what at first seems troubling? Tell us in the comments.

 

 

Posted in Personal Growth Tagged with: , ,

Breathing, Packing, Purging, and Moving

by Liz Jansen

BreathingIt’s been a monumental week. I’ve completed the first draft of Crash Landing. Two-and-a-half years in the works, with a focused and intense three months of writing since March and it’s done. There’s still much to do but it’s a major milestone.

Now I’m taking a brief breather before going back and starting the revisions. After that, the manuscript will go to a few beta readers for more feedback, and back to me for more revisions. Then it’s time for professional editing. The words that make it to the printer have to pass much scrutiny.

Coincidentally, I’m moving next week, right during a strategic break in my writing. Not by choice, but because I’ve been asked to leave. That’s right. I’ve been evicted from my lovely place. Sadly, my landlord is ill and needs a live-in caregiver.

The good news for me is that I’m staying on the same street, which I love, and only moving up a few houses. My new place is even more to my liking and walks out to the same treed ravine.

It’s still a move though, requiring cleaning, packing, and hiring movers. Although I try not to accumulate much, stuff creeps in. Or something I’ve been storing hasn’t been touched in more than a year. At the same time, I’ll be doing some soul-searching for outdated thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.

Going through the moving exercise is a good chance to declutter, purge, and divest of anything, on any level, that no longer serves me.

There will be no posting next week but expect me back the week after. Until then, I wish you health, happiness, abundance, laughter, and adventures. Safe travels, wherever your Road leads.

 

photo credit: Theo Crazzolara paarl nature reserve via photopin (license)

Posted in Liz's Stories

How to Train Car Drivers and Achieve World Peace

by Liz Jansen

train car driversI’ve been experimenting lately in a variety of traffic situations. Remarkably, I’m convinced there’s potential to train car drivers to make our roads safer.

Initial results are promising and the drivers don’t even know it’s happening.

Anyone who rides a motorcycle, including me, can tell tales of aggressive, distracted, and otherwise inconsiderate behavior that ratchets up our risk of a crash.

The solution is simple. Training car drivers is achieved through being a responsible and courteous rider. Demonstrating proficient riding skills, knowing and following the rules of the road, and maintaining awareness of your environment are minimum starting points for this training to work. So is being visible.

There’s no room for either aggressive or passive behavior. Those only escalate the responses you don’t want and increase your risk of injury.

Consider these examples:

  1. While riding on a two-lane road, with a lane of traffic in each direction, it’s correct to ride in the left tire track. When there’s an oncoming semi or similar behemoth, I temporarily shift to the right tire track. Although they don’t have as much maneuvering room, in most cases, the other driver shifts slightly to their right. You can see the gap between the vehicle and the center line widen. It’s called mirroring. Whether they do it because your movement catches their attention or they’re subconsciously following your lead, doesn’t matter. They’ve just increased your safety cushion.
  2. Riding in traffic and maintaining a safe following distance can be a challenge. Someone often wants to cut in between you and the vehicle in front of you. When that happens, I back off and recreate that space between the interloper and me. Consistently, other drivers notice. Again, it may be subconsciously, but they respond in kind. Invariably, the vehicle behind me is following at a safe distance, not right on my tail.
  3. Smiling, waving, or nodding in response to courteous behavior goes a long way in converting a driver who’s oblivious to the world around him, to one who drives more responsibly. Like when someone is about to move left into your lane, notices you approaching at the last moment, and waits for you to pass before executing her lane change. Or when you’re trying to merge into bumper-to-bumper traffic and someone lets you in. When the situation allows it, thank them in person. At a traffic light, I’ve even pulled up beside a stopped vehicle who had been maintaining a safe distance while following me and thanked him for his courtesy.

Pollyannaish? Perhaps, but it works. Psychologist B. F. Skinner came up with the concept for sustainably modifying behavior in the 1930’s, using positive reinforcement to strengthen the behaviors he wanted. It’s much more effective than cursing or flipping someone the bird.

Learning to train car drivers is just like attaining world peace. They’re both long-term projects, require consistent attention, and begin with me.

Peace out.

What have you found to be an effective way to train a car driver? Let us know in the comments.

Related Post: 12 Tips for Riders During Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month


photo credit: Free Grunge Textures – www.freestock.ca Peace Grunge Sign – Sepia via photopin (license)

Posted in Leadership, Life Lessons from Motorcycles Tagged with:

How to Ride a Motorcycle Across the Country in One Step

by Liz Jansen

ride a motorcycleIn 2003, at age 49, I walked away from a 25-year marriage and a long-term corporate career. What’s a motorcycle rider to do when faced with open-ended time off during the summer? Go for an extended ride, of course.

I closed the office door behind me on August 1. Three days later, I was heading west for two months on the road. There were a few places I wanted to see and people to visit, but within that was lots of leeway. My route would take me generally across Canada to Vancouver Island, south along the Pacific coast to San Louis Obispo, California, and then wind back to Ontario.

“Aren’t you scared?” people routinely asked, referring to riding across the country by myself.

It hadn’t occurred to me to be frightened. “Of what?” I wondered.

They’d offer a number of reasons, the main ones being personal safety and security, rain, breaking down in the middle of nowhere, and being alone for so long.

Certainly those are factors to consider and prepare for, but they’re not showstoppers. I was an experienced and skilled rider, had a new and reliable motorcycle, and was sticking to paved or hard-packed gravel roads. My riding gear, including rainwear, was in good condition. I was riding in countries where English is the primary language so communication was straightforward. I knew how to look after my motorcycle and how to ask for help if I needed more expertise.

Most of all, my heart was asking me to go. The trip was something I wanted and needed to do. There was no reason not to go. Furthermore, I’d have been disappointed in myself had I stayed home.

These prerequisites were no different than what were needed to ride the roads around my home. I had them all. I just had to go.

Rather than being overwhelmed with the thought of two months on the road and all the things that could possibly go wrong, I focused on one day at a time. Dealing with situations as they arose consisted of realistically evaluating the circumstance based on facts, the likelihood it would materialize, and assessing the potential severity. Based on that, I made my best decision.

Before I knew it, I was across the plains, through the mountains and at the Pacific coast, and ready to head south—having the time of my life!

Anything you’re called to do will bring opportunities and trials. You won’t know the details of either until they happen, and then you draw from within to meet the challenge. That’s how we grow.

Here’s the key. All we ever need to do is take one step—the next one.

Then it’s just like being able to ride a motorcycle across the country to the Pacific. You’ll look back from a new place of strength and wisdom and wonder what all the fuss was about.

How do you deal with self-doubt? Tell us in the comments.

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photo credit: sniggie Riding redbud road via photopin (license)

Posted in Leadership, Personal Growth Tagged with: , ,

Connection with Nature, Moms, and Motorcycles

by Liz Jansen

connection with natureAnyone who rides a motorcycle knows the powerful connection with nature you feel while riding through the countryside. It expresses itself as freedom, exhilaration, and joy.

It nourishes our soul and connects us with our Higher Being. And even if you don’t believe in that, you can’t discount the connection with Nature we’re a part of here on this earth walk.

I love living in a climate that experiences all four season. While each has it’s energetic specialties, there’s something particularly enlivening about the energy of spring. New life bursts forth as we emerge from our winter hiatus when nature rested.

When trees were barren and snow covered the frozen ground.

It looked like nothing was going on.

Trudy, my motorcycle was parked in the garage, covered and hooked up to a trickle charger, her life support.

Recently, as I walked through the parkette at the end of my street, it gave me great joy to watch a young mom with her preschool daughter, walking hand in hand. I glimpsed them just after I’d crossed the footbridge over the stream.

Hand in hand, mom and the little blonde, curly-haired girl stopped to check out the blossoms. Mom let her take her time, demonstrating how to touch the delicate blossoms gently. You could feel the little girl’s delight as she felt, smelled, and sensed, awed by what she was experiencing. Her curiosity satiated for the moment, they moved on to the pond to check out the frogs.

When I returned, mom and daughter had meandered back across the bridge. Still hand in hand, they were discovering the mysteries waiting along the edge of the woods. Mesmerized, the three-year-old bent over to take in the fragrance of a blossoming lilac.

What a joy for all three of us to share, even though the little girl was lost in her own world.

Last weekend, after forgoing the express route and riding through the blossom-scented countryside, I visited my mom in the long-term care facility where she now resides. It’s not often she gets outside but I know she thrives on it.

My parents farmed for 55 years. While dad tended the orchards, mom’s pride was her sumptuous gardens. A bank of lilacs along the driveway, interspersed with forsythia and spirea bushes laden with blossoms in lavender, yellow, and white were highlights of spring. Between the lily-of-the-valley, peonies, irises, roses, chrysanthemums handed down from her mother, and a mix of annuals, something was in bloom until the snow returned.

Walking any distance has become difficult so a wheelchair’s become mom’s alternate transport. Once outside in the courtyard, she wanted to get up close to the flowering foliage. As I contemplated how to best get the wheelchair across the lawn, she solved the dilemma. She’d walk.

I held her arm as we moved tentatively from one vignette to the next, mom stopping to admire, touch the blooms, and stoop to take in their fragrance. The lilacs gave her particular joy.

It took me back to the scene earlier in the week where the mother was showing her daughter the marvels of spring. Now with roles reversed, the daughter was leading mom around so she could experience that timeless energy. Even though my mom may not always recognize me, her heart connection with the life around her was unmistakable.

Three times that week I’d been given poignant reminders in vivid technicolor. No matter what our age, state of mind, or method of transport, experiencing that connection to nature, even for a few minutes, connects us with who we are and feeds our soul.

What’s your favorite way of dialing in to nature? Your favorite ride?  Tell us in the comments.

 

Posted in Personal Growth Tagged with: , , ,

Wisdom from the Child in the Woods

by Liz Jansen

wisdomMotorcycles aren’t the only means of transport for inner journeys.

Now that spring is here, I follow a loosely defined path when I walk to nearby plazas for errands. My place backs onto a greenbelt of mostly cedars I love walking through. Usually it’s a tranquil respite, but occasionally wisdom arises out of innocuous encounters.

Walking home last Friday, I caught the attention of three young girls, ages six and seven, out exploring under the supervision of a caregiver. I was on the side of the stream they were trying to reach by clambering across a logjam.

“How did you get over there?” they screeched in their little girl voices.

“There’s a path,” I responded, “but it’s a little hard to find. I’ll show you where it is.”
Like a shot, they were off the logs, running towards the parkette we’d all come from. They ran across the bridge and I met them at the not-so-obvious entrance on my side of the stream. Running, jumping, and chattering non-stop, they followed me into the woods. The caregiver followed slowly and silently at a distance, a shadowy apparition.

“She’s scared of the woods,” said the alpha-girl, pointing at her friend, although it looked like it could have applied equally to their adult. “Her name’s Faith.”

“Faith,” I addressed the shy little girl kindly, wondering what stories she’d been told. “There’s nothing to fear out here with us. And with a name like yours, you shouldn’t be afraid anyway.”

It was the alpha-girl’s response that blew me away.

“Her parents gave her that name so she’d learn how not to be afraid,” she said, while turning towards her friend. “She needs to take her name and hold it here,” she concluded, patting her right hand over her heart.

We continued on for a bit, them chatting and me listening until their adult, having decided they’d gone far enough, reined them in. I continued on, smiling, pondering the message from the wisdom of a child.

 

 

Posted in Liz's Stories

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