For a micro-second after my crash I was stymied. By the time the dust had settled, I had a plan.
While the Good Samaritan I flagged down drove me ninety-minutes to a hospital, I emailed the only person I could think of in Calgary. I’d met him a week earlier at a gathering of adventure motorcycle travellers. If I could reach him, he’d help. His positive email response infused me with great relief and gratitude. I could focus on my medical treatment.
My friend’s kindness and generosity in the coming days and weeks were extraordinary, but not unusual. Riders who travel around the world recount amazing stories of kindness from ordinary people, but it’s not to the same degree as they’ll receive from within your riding community.
Humans are social beings and for millennia, our societal groups have provided the structure for us to survive. Communities arise from a common identity and shared values, whether it’s motorcycle riding, geographical location, or special interests. It’s within our communities that we find acceptance, support, and camaraderie. Membership can be involuntary, such as the one you’re born into, or voluntary.
In spite of the feelings of home and sense of belonging arising from being with your people, there are hazards to navigate.
Communities rely on structure, expectations, and unwritten codes. Conformity. This is particularly vital in times of hardship when events threaten the survival of the group, as my Mennonite ancestors experienced this during the Bolshevik Revolution, Civil War, and famine.
Your birth culture naturally tries to condition you according to its norms and beliefs. It becomes your identity. The biggest danger from a strong culture, whether it’s based on religion, motorcycles, or yoga, is that in keeping the peace you risk losing yourself.
We’ve all come from somewhere that’s molded us. Inner conflict arises when the group’s beliefs and ways of being don’t fit us. Then you need to figure out how to find resolution. Leaving isn’t necessary for everyone, but it was for me. Whether you step away or your nature pushes you away, viewing your culture from the outside helps you understand and value it better. Depending on the group’s significance in your life, it can be an arduous journey, and so worth it.
When we belong to ourselves first, we can explore the strengths and weaknesses of our heritage from a place of wonder and curiosity rather than hostility or judgment. Only then can we find our community and choose how we interact with it. Only then can we know the peace of mind and heart that comes from finding home.
Learn about my journey and how to map out your own in Crash Landing.
Stories have captivated and shaped me since time began. Before I could read, I listened. Dad would hold me on his lap and read from my first collection, The How and Why Program of Child Mental Development.
The hardcover series depicted everything from Nature, Science, and the Alphabet, to the obvious favorite called Stepping Stones. Spine frayed, illustrations scribbled-over, and pages loosened from their moorings, it was a tome mostly of Bible stories and poems. Eventually my repertoire expanded to include books like Nancy Drew, Little Women, and Cherry Ames—a nurse.
Love of reading has been a constant throughout life although my interests have evolved. Once a mystery and historical fiction junkie, I now seek out books that explore spirituality, culture, and adventure; stories that inspire, make me question my thoughts and beliefs, and open my mind to new perspectives.
Books have expanded my world and catapulted me into internal and external adventures. Because they play such a central role in my life, over and above my obvious interest as an author, I thought I’d share my current reads from time to time. They may be of interest to you too.
Links are included for more information. Note that none of these are affiliate links, i.e. I don’t get a kickback for recommending them. There are no affiliate links on my site, other than for my own books and services.
Currently Reading List:
The Invitation, by Oriah. This book changed my life when I got it more than a decade ago and it’s never been far from reach since. Simple yet profound, exquisite, and eloquent, its wisdom reaches right to my soul. Read it to discover the true beauty of life. As if to demonstrate its enormous appeal, biker-dude at the Edmonton Motorcycle Show, spontaneously quoted a verse from The Invitation poem as soon as he saw Oriah’s blurb on the front cover of Crash Landing!
Falling Into Grace, by Adyashanti. Adyashanti teaches mindfulness and how to stop believing thoughts that perpetuate suffering in our lives. This book has been an immense guide for practicing the lessons of surrender and trust—and experiencing grace. I needed to read it a second time with greater thoughtfulness and deliberation, necessary because of its meatiness. The book came along on last fall’s cross-country motorcycle trip. Days of motorcycle travel across open landscapes and putting his advice into practice propelled me through some wild situations.
Prayers, A Communion with Our Creator, by Don Miguel Ruiz. I’ve incorporated this power-packed booklet, which surfaced in my library a week ago, into my morning time. Based on the principals in The Four Agreements, it’s an inspirational collection of topics and how to integrate them into your life. Subjects include wisdom, healing, courage, love, integrity, courage, love, integrity, forgiveness, truth, and happiness.
Now it’s your turn. What books are you currently reading? Tell us in the comments.
Think about medicine today and you’re likely to conjure up images of synthetic powders, pills, and serums. Even today, there’s resurgence in the use of root medicines, including turmeric, ginger, and licorice, to treat maladies like inflammation and digestive disorders.
But if you really want to get to the root (excuse the pun) of what ails you, you’ve got to dig deeper to your roots of origin.
Understanding your roots tells you how you’ve been conditioned. It helps you restore balance, appreciate who you are, and thrive.
My desire to know who I was before my culture shaped me was the impetus for the profound, adventurous, and arduous quest described in Crash Landing. I’m discovering it’s only the beginning of appreciating those forces that live in me.
Crash Landing’s release less than two months ago has connected me with extended kin and community, even as I’ve exposed my truth, which may not agree with theirs. In January, two funerals, a cousins gathering, and a presentation at the Mennonite Historical Museum embraced me with tradition. My motorcycle show/book tour, coincidentally in Mennonite enclaves in western Canada, melded motorcycling and ethnic communities. It reacquainted me with friends I hadn’t seen in more than forty years. They remembered me as I was in my church-going days.
There was a time, not long ago, having spiritual conversations with family would have made me very uncomfortable, to the point of avoidance. That’s no longer the case.
Accepting, then exploring my lineage so I could understand the teachings that were passed down to me, was the first step. That enabled me to see the context in which traditional wisdom originated. I appreciated how teachings that had terrorized and almost suffocated me were the bedrock that had sustained my ancestors through perilous times.
The same medicine isn’t effective in all situations, however. Sometimes it’s merely the dose that needs adjusting. Sometimes you need to move away from it, as I did, to find your way. But first, you need to know what you’re dealing with.
Now I see much more clearly. I’m so grateful and proud of my parents and grandparents who stood up for what they believed in, not only to others outside their community, but also when their beliefs and interests went against a strong internal culture. Their faith never wavered. Yet, it was the exclusionary nature and literal interpretation and application that I couldn’t accept. Still, they taught me courage, independence, and compassion. Trust.
Root medicine opened the two-way door to open, honest, and much deeper heart-relationships. My family may not agree with or understand my beliefs, but they’ve accepted my story. Root medicine has allowed me to embrace the strengths of those who have gone before. Now I can write the story of my life rather than live from a prepared script.
Interested in finding the right prescription for you? Contact me to learn more.
Three days ago I was sitting down to my favorite three-egg-salsa-avocado-breakfast, a treat after being on the road for almost three weeks, when my phone buzzed. It was a text from my cousin/sister Jude, letting me know her dad had just passed away. He’d been languishing and it wasn’t unexpected. It’s still final. A shock.
Aside from the profound grief and loss we feel when our loved ones pass, there’s another loss. The generation of parents, aunts, and uncles, are the story keepers. They know the lore of our grandparents and other ancestors who have gone before—ancestors whose experiences we carry in our energetic DNA.
Crash Landing narrates my physical and spiritual journey to explore my heritage and unearth memories of family and culture. It’s a story of reconnecting to myself by reconnecting with a culture I’d estranged myself from. While many of the memories were personal, or came from my parents, extended kin of my parents’ generation supplemented, and probably embellished, details.
For the first three weeks of January, I had the good fortune to travel to Calgary, Edmonton, and Abbotsford (Vancouver), promoting Crash Landing. Much of the story is set in the west so a trip there is a great opportunity to reconnect with kin.
Tragically, Elvira, Mom’s cousin and a family historian, died in an apartment fire the day I arrived. Rather than visit as planned, I attended her memorial. In Edmonton, I met Bev, a second cousin I’d only become aware of, for the first time. Our grandmothers were sisters and her family has pictures, stories, and records from Dad’s first two years in northern Alberta.
In Abbotsford (near Vancouver), I had dinner with Mom’s cousin Hedy, two months her junior. She and Mom spent much of their first five years together until their parents were forced to move to opposite sides of the country. Hedy and Mom remained friends. While Mom can no longer remember the stories, Hedy emanates joie de vivre and relates a wealth of stories and inspiration. She’s one of the last connections to my ancestors.
This weekend we’ll celebrate another life well lived as we gather for my uncle’s service. Eventually we’ll all pass on. While our elders and we are still here, however, take time to be with them. Embrace them and their wisdom, even if you don’t agree on everything.
They’re our connection to who we are. By understanding our roots, we understand ourselves. It frees us to live our life to the fullest.
How do you keep family stories alive? Tell us in the comments.
Read Crash Landing to help you on your healing journey. “Liz Jansen brings a rich vitality to several generations of ordinary people who become extraordinary through her painstaking research and beautiful writing. The Ancestor Trail is a journey with a difference: part road trip, part spiritual exploration, and part self-discovery, it answers questions that lie within all of us.” Mark Richardson, author of Zen and Now, editor of Canada Moto Guide.
Men and women, familiar with my writing, walk up, and purchase, no questions asked. Others stop to ask what my books are about and often buy one or both books. They share heart-wrenching stories or their face lights up with joy when they tell me how they’ve overcome a life challenge, on or off the motorcycle.
Others glance at the titles, roll their eyes and keep walking. A small minority comments about why either book is not for them, without knowing what it’s about. WMRE gets the most eye-rolls or eye-contact avoidance. I hear, ”I ride. I’m already empowered.” Or a man will grab his female companion’s hand and say, “She doesn’t need your book. She’s empowered enough,” as he guides her away. Conversely, some men try to pressure their partners into buying it because they want them to learn how to ride.
I get that my stories aren’t for everyone and don’t take any comments (praise or criticism) personally. I’m simply the messenger, following my heart and trying to be of greatest service with my gifts.
When I respond to questions about WMRE, I explain that it weaves stories from a diverse group of women into a larger story. These women trusted me with personal experiences where they’ve pushed past their comfort zone, pulled from strengths they weren’t aware of, and shared what that’s opened up in other areas of their life.
Although the stories are told through women who ride, WMRE is about the possibilities that appear when you discover and exercise your strength in the face of formidable obstacles, not about motorcycles or women. Motorcycles just happen to be an outstanding way to push your comfort zone. But it’s not the only way, nor does riding a motorcycle automatically mean you’ve “become empowered” and there’s no more personal work to do.
Empowerment isn’t about trying to make something into what we want it to be or trying to control the outcome. There is no map. Our role in life is to show up for what’s needed in the moment, do our part, then surrender, trust, and let go of judgment or attachment to a particular result. We can’t make meaning for anyone else. We can facilitate, support, and lend a hand, but they have to find it on their own.
Often, it’s good to pause and listen to the words I’ve spoken with others, especially when I’ve repeated them frequently, like describing how WMRE is about pushing your comfort zone and opening up new possibilities. Those words apply to me. I’m also on a journey and need to make sure I don’t get complacent in familiar settings rather than pushing past my comfort zone.
One of Crash Landing’s major lessons is that I may not know the best way to the destination, but as long as I’m on the road, trusting and following my inner guidance, no matter how circuitous the journey, I’ll arrive. This internal journey is often uncomfortable.
All of us hold a reservoir of personal power, even if we don’t/can’t access it. It takes courage and trust to venture into the unknown. All these “empowering” experiences along our journey transform us into who we’re becoming.
How do you define empowerment? Tell us in the comments.
Motorcycles and Mennonites merged at last weekend’s Calgary Motorcycle Show. Events like this connect you with community, culture, and others who share your interests. While you know you’ll rekindle old friendships, common bonds and shared roots quickly transform strangers into new friends.
I’d expected to connect with fellow riders. However, lively exchanges with those who were descended from the same Mennonite background as I am were unexpected. “Mainstream” Mennonites, are indiscernible from the rest of the crowd. (See 10 Things to Know About Mennonites in Canada) The topic isn’t something that typically comes up in conversations, but given the nature of Crash Landing, it’s not surprising it emerged.
Much of the story of both my journey and that of my ancestors, takes place in Alberta. Many Mennonites settled here and still live in around Calgary, including numerous places I visited on the Ancestor Trail. I met two disparate men who’d descended from families who’d lived in the small tight-knit farming enclave of Namaka at the same time as Dad’s family. Dad had lived there between ages four and eleven but left his heart forever when his family moved back to Ontario. One of the men now lives in nearby Linden, where a bowl of Borscht had gone straight to my heart.
Both Mennonites and motorcyclists have strong cultures and are extraordinarily compassionate and charitable to those in need. Both have taught me how to be courageous, and stand up for what I believe in and who I am, although the road to that destination has been circuitous, indirect, and a wild adventure in itself.
There’s a tendency to get lost behind the costumes we wear, the expectations and constraints we’re raised with, and the roles we assume. As soon as we apply labels, we form an image of who we (and others) are, how we should conduct ourselves, or how we think others think we should behave. We risk camouflaging and stifling our authenticity and freedom. That’s true of motorcyclists, Mennonites, and any community. Their role is to inform and nurture but not define us.
Getting to know our roots and the cultures that have played a dominant role in our lives helps us understand ourselves, and that’s when the magic happens. It frees us to be who we are. For years I’d distanced myself from my Mennonite roots, not knowing I was choking myself and stunting my growth. Agree with some of the beliefs and traditions or not, it was only when I began acknowledging them and the experiences that were part of me, disassembling their emotional charges, and reframing them, that I begin to understand myself better.
Crash Landing narrates my internal and external motorcycle adventures, exploring my roots. Get your copy and come along for my ride!
When the phone rang at 6:30 a.m. on New Year’s Day, I knew my plans were about to change. I’d made space for a peaceful, Zen day of meditation, hiking in the woods, and envisioning the coming year.
The nurse from Mom’s long-term care residence, two hours away, had called to tell us there was a noticeable change in her condition. Mom was limp and unresponsive. Things can deteriorate quickly in a frail ninety-two-year-old and I wanted to get there.
First I had to find transportation. I haven’t owned a car since I divested my Toyota Matrix before leaving on my ill-fated adventure in 2014. Instead I rent or ride, depending on the weather. It was too cold and icy to ride Trudy. The car rental agency was closed and rapid transit wasn’t running. Uber had just come to town, but no drivers were available. My options were almost exhausted. After more than an hour of trying to get a response, I reached a friend who offered me his car. I was on my way.
At the same time, other voices of worry crowded in. I was scheduled to fly to Calgary in two days to begin my book tour at the western motorcycle shows. I’d planned for months and would be gone for more than two weeks. What if Mom had a prolonged illness, or died? What should I do?
By the time I arrived and joined siblings sitting around Mom’s bedside, she’d begun to come around. Most likely she had pneumonia. She continued to rally throughout the day and the next morning was up in her wheelchair, jovial, and having breakfast in the dining room.
I smiled to myself. I’d intended to spend New Year’s Day, planning, reflecting on the challenging lessons I’d learned through the last four years of my soul’s journey. I thought the best way to do that was through quiet and solitude. Spirit had other ideas.
Make no mistake. A diagnosis of dementia is not something to put on your wish list. Mom received the devastating diagnosis approximately ten years ago. She did what she could to delay its progression but even her fortitude wasn’t enough to fend it off.
Watching the erosion of independence and cognitive function in someone who was always so fit, smart, and strong has been heartbreaking. The angst of seeing a loved one decline or the strain on Dad as he struggled to understand and care for her was gut-wrenching.
Yet even in the darkness and confusion, as her filters eroded, glimpses of a personality she’d kept under wraps, or comments she’d withheld, have surfaced. It’s those tender moments I cherish so much.
In early 2016, Dad’s personal resources to care for her were stretched. I’d just had my second shoulder surgery a week earlier and had driven two hours to take her shopping. They were still in their apartment, with strict instructions not to leave her alone. He’d escape for brief reprieves anyways, which was where he was when I arrived. During that outing he fell, broke his hip, and was admitted to hospital. I stayed with her that first night trying vainly to sleep, let alone be comfortable, in his easy chair.
Mom spent the night pacing, looking, and asking for him, confused about what had happened. When she padded out of her room again around 6:00 a.m. I pretended to be asleep, hoping she’d go back and rest. Instead, she came over, straightened my blanket and tucked it up around my chin, like you would with a child. She’d never been one to demonstrate affection and I was incredibly touched.
As a family, we made the decision to place her in long-term care, something Dad had been unable to do.
Mom had worked hard to achieve her dream of becoming a nurse, at a time when her family was strained to make ends meet. She’d gone on to complete a post-graduate nursing education, a rarity for those times.
After she and Dad married and started a family, she’d returned to nursing as soon as she could. She supplemented their farm income with work she was passionate about into her late sixties.
Once in long-term care, she resumed her nurse role, always in charge. She’d have to get back from outings so she could work. She still introduces other residents as people she works with. Nurses include her in staff meetings. I’d never appreciated how strongly her identity was wrapped up in her professional role, or how proud she was of her accomplishments.
No matter how bad things got, she was always grateful for what she had. No doubt her father, Gerhard Reimer, handed down that legacy. After being allowed into Canada as a refugee in the 1920s, he thanked God every day for his freedom and the opportunity to live in this land.
My parents prayed at least twice daily, always starting with a list of things they were grateful for. The few times I’ve been with Mom at bedtime, I tuck her in and stay with her for prayers. No matter what time period her mind has taken her to, she expresses gratitude before asking for anything.
A few months ago, she needed dental surgery to remove eight remaining teeth. A general anesthetic was the last resort and we thought she could handle the extractions in the dentist’s chair. She’s good at accepting direction from medical authorities.
The first freezing didn’t take and she became anxious. The oral surgeon hesitated to continue but I calmed her down and he let me stay while he administered the second dose—multiple needles. While he was out of the room giving it time to take effect, she sat with her arms crossed over her chest. “Go and get him and let’s get this done,” she said. She moaned and winced, clenching my hand until I thought she’d crush it, but keeping her mouth open until he finished.
She was raised to be stoic. There was no time to waste showing feelings or pain. Deal with what needs to be done and move on. That can be an asset as well as a liability, but what struck me was how engrained it was in her. She’d lost so much, yet the stoicism held firm.
It carried her through the loss of Dad last year. In the moment, she knew what was happening but then it was gone. She asks for him and we try and follow wherever she’s going. Once she told me, “He died, you know,” and I knew she knew.
The greatest gift of all has been the opportunity I’ve had to care for her and speak openly from my heart in a way I never could until the last few years. She somehow responds to that in kind and those intimidate moments with her are precious beyond imagination.
I tell her how much I love her, what a good mother she’s been, and how it’s now my turn to look after her. Although she doesn’t like being cared for (or being sentimental), it’s such a gift for me to be able to do so. Sometimes she’ll look me in the eye and say, “It isn’t easy living like this.” And I know she knows.
The stoicism and fortitude that carried her throughout life’s challenges now helps her deal with dementia and immobility. Those glimpses that shine through from time to time have helped me get to know her better than at any time before dementia.
As she gives me the gift of who she is, she’s giving me her best. It teaches me a lot about who I am.
“Stories change us. Liz Jansen’s story is both an adventure and a mesmerizing process of excavating the meaning, messages, and magic embedded in our everyday lives. Her journey is an invitation to be awake to the story our lives and the lives of our ancestors is telling. And that kind of story heals the heart.” ~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, author of The Invitation
Interested in learning more about discovering the story your life and the lives your ancestors is telling, read Crash Landing.
In 2014 I set out on a solo motorcycle adventure, expecting to be on the road for twelve- to eighteen months, traveling the Americas. My purpose was to seek the answer to who I was before my culture had shaped me, and write a book about it. That initial attempt ended with a crash in Alberta three weeks after it began, but even before the prairie dust had settled, I knew this was not a detour. What was to unfold was part of my quest.
I turned sixty in 2014. The decision to embark on my journey came about through the confluence of four energetic forces:
Over the previous years, I’d developed an interest in living and working from the road—traveling and supporting myself at the same time. A decade earlier I’d left a long-term marriage and corporate career and begun freelancing. I’d set up my business so I could work from anywhere.
It was time to start my third book. The exploration into my cultural influences would be a nice follow-up to the themes of self-discovery, adventure, and personal power in my first two books—Women, Motorcycles and the Road to Empowerment, and Life Lessons from Motorcycles.
I’d begun studying energy medicine. The teachings I was drawn to were based largely on wisdom handed down from shamans of Peru. Their underlying premise focuses on how the experiences of our ancestors exist in us and influence our choices. There’s also a lifestyle that reveres and learns from the elements and beings of nature, another complementary theme I wanted to study.
Most importantly, I was asking myself who was I and why am I here. How could I best express my inherent gifts to be of greatest service? At 60, there are more days behind you than ahead of you and I wanted to make the most of my life, each day.
I was born into a Mennonite family and culture. Voicing that would not have happened even a few short years ago. I didn’t want anyone to know I’d been raised as a Mennonite.
Growing up, we had a close nuclear and extended family and I always cherished those relationships. But even as a child, some of the religious teachings burdened me. They didn’t make sense. By my late teens, I’d grown ashamed of the culture and moved away from the church—not my family, and not the overarching values, but the religion. I built protective layers around my identity, disguising myself from even myself, and went to sleep for thirty years.
My awakening approaching age 50 led to dramatic life changes, but those were only the beginning of my evolution. By age sixty, I was compelled to better understand who I was.
I realized that even though I’d moved away from my culture, the experiences and teachings of my grandparents and all those who came before, even before I was born, lived in me. Subconsciously, they’d shaped my thoughts, beliefs, and life choices. I was curious to understand them better.
It’s hard to imagine my grandparents’ life from my perspective today. The best way to put myself in their shoes and see through their eyes was to visit the lands they’d lived on. I wasn’t going to the Russian steppes (now Ukraine) that had been their home before they fled in the 1920s. I could, however, go to where the young refugees had lived on in western Canada as they tried (many times) to establish themselves in a new land.
All those energies came together at age sixty and resulted in a motorcycle trip. I’d visit the places my grandparents had settled. I’d also engage with Indigenous people to better understand the energy of the land my ancestors had walked. Since I was studying energy medicine from Peru and could work from anywhere, I’d carry on to South America and study with the shamans.
That’s how it all began. It didn’t take long for my plans to unravel or for me to see the lessons I wanted to learn would come about in a very different manner than I’d envisioned.
That journey forms the story told in Crash Landing.
With all the twists and turns inherent in Crash Landing‘s writing and publication, I shouldn’t have been surprised that a few glitches prevented it from going fully live yesterday. But that’s in the past. After a circuitous and adventurous journey, Crash Landing is finally and officially available!
And so begins the next part of its journey—helping it reach those for whom it’s intended. It’s an exciting time, full of conflicting thoughts and emotions, feelings of vulnerability, and anticipation mixed with gratitude.
I hope you’ll consider purchasing your own copy if you haven’t already (and thank you so much if you have):