return to balance

It’s been more than two weeks since a fender bender impacted (pun intended) an otherwise placid day. I gathered the lessons and wrote about them last week, yet the experience continued to gnaw at me. Although my initial reflections stand, there was more to it than what I admitted, including a reminder to return to balance. This week, assisted by the wisdom of Oriah Mountain Dreamer, my beloved teacher, I unwrapped that experience further to get at what I didn’t want to look at.

No real harm was done, but I couldn’t ignore the unmistakable reminder to pay attention and focus on the course I’d committed to.

Last October, I entered a time of introspection, stillness, and relative solitude. Meditation, walks in nature, and other contemplative practices filled my day. Intuition told me that life was changing. Taking a cue from nature, it was time to hibernate, recharge, and prepare for whatever was next. To make room for the new, I had to leave space and stillness so I could hear.

It was very much like the months following my crash. The direction I expected my quest to head in had changed dramatically, but I couldn’t yet see where I was going. To let that become clear and see the road in front of me, I needed stillness (that time I had no choice) rather than movement.

As much as I thrive on interacting with people, I loved the deeper connection I felt with Spirit—when I left space. But old habits die hard. It’s easy to fall back into recognizable patterns during times of change. The familiar relieves the tension of waiting for things to evolve, for an answer to come.

Gradually I began doing more—blogging, newsletters, interacting on social media, attending two trade shows. I loved it all and it eased the tension of feeling I wasn’t doing anything. But all those activities take time and make me less available to listen and respond to Spirit.

Then, on the eve of virus craziness breaking out in my part of the world came the not-so-subtle fender-bender reminder that I was distracted from my task. It was as if I had received a gentle, yet attention-getting reminder to focus on the singular contemplative practice I’d committed to. That the external environment was about to break into a frenzy did not change the context of my task.

Further reflection also challenged my notion of what constitutes a contribution to the world. Our culture values achievement, action, and tangible results. Those are all fine, as long as they’re consistent with our inner guidance and leave us available to receive grace. There are many other, creative ways to contribute.

Spring Equinox reminds us that we need balance, just as we need the darkness and light. It prompts us to recognize the steadfast cycles of nature that continue regardless of what’s going on in the world.

To return to balance I’ll return to the more contemplative practice I committed to, writing and interacting far less—for now. Although I describe it as stillness, it’s far from a lack of action. It’s the place of insights, serendipity, and magic. Who knows where that will lead?

Photo credit: Theophilos on VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

fender bender

In my dream, I rented a car for the day, got involved in a fender bender on a major highway, rode pillion in a luxury tow-truck, rented another car, the same model as the first, and arrived home six hours later.

Except this was a living dream. Its teachings have been so helpful in the tumultuous ten days since then, and serve well at any time.

I rarely rent a car mid-week but I hadn’t visited Mom in over two weeks. A motorcycle show one weekend and a blizzard the next ruled out making the four hour round trip I do most weekends. So I decided to go on Tuesday. Even when picking up the car, fate intervened. Inadvertently, I’d presented the wrong credit card for payment but realized it in time to switch it for the card that carries the rental insurance.

After finishing preparation of my year-end books and dropping them off with my accountant I headed south on a dreary, cold, rainy afternoon. Traffic anywhere around Toronto gets jammed almost anytime and that day was no different. It was building towards heavy but moving well at a constant pace in all lanes below the posted speed, including the far left lane where I was. A momentary glance at the radio and back brought me to two bright brake lights on a white Honda Civic, so close that a collision was unavoidable. The jolt struck me like a lightning bolt, not physically, but it brought an immediate, clear recognition of profound meaning at a deeper level.

Both cars were drivable, at least to get out of traffic. Slowly, we inched over to the left shoulder and turned our four-way flashers on. The WTF expression on the other driver’s face as she got out of her car was understandable.

There was much to be grateful for even as we stood there getting soaked. True to reputation, the tow trucks were there before I shut the car off, their massive bodies protecting us from traffic. Neither the other driver or I were injured. No one else piled into me, nor did the Honda hit anyone else. We waited at least thirty minutes to find out the police were too busy with other activities to respond to a fender bender. So, once we had clearance, Joe and Johnnie “hooked our cars” and hauled us for another half hour to the nearest accident reporting center. Our business wrapped up quickly, just another fender bender report for the officer to complete. The other woman was very gracious and her teenage daughter, also in the car, thanked me for my understanding, an odd juxtaposition.

Johnnie drove me to another branch of the rental agency where I completed the accident report. He continued to the designated repair shop and I drove home. I parked in the driveway and went into my warm, dry, cozy haven, fed a ravenous Measha, and sat down.

I hadn’t thought to call friends or family as it wasn’t necessary. That came later. The jolt continued to reverberate however. What message was so important that it required a lightning strike?

Pay attention was obviously one of them. Maintain healthy boundaries and a safe distance. We’re hearing that a lot lately! Keep my eyes focused on my path, be responsive to changing conditions, and don’t get distracted by the chaos and fear around me. Focus on the things I can control rather than those (most things) I can’t.

Stop looking elsewhere for solutions when the relevant signs are right in front of you. So often we pray and ask for guidance and miss the obvious. Usually it’s because we’re looking for a specific answer. There’s no need to complicate things and look for solutions from external sources when they’re within us the whole time.

At the same time, don’t overlook those in need. What to us could have been traumatic, didn’t even hit the radar of the probably thousands of people who passed us while we were disabled. In this case, there was no need for their involvement, likely exacerbating the situation. They could see emergency help on site and needed to keep their eyes focused on their path.

Always, help is all around. Sometimes we need to ask; other times it appears. Just be aware of it.

Most of all, express your gratitude for the many things that go right, even during perceived adversity.

Celebrate you

In spite of the deep snow that still covers the backyard and surrounding woods like a thick, downy, duvet, signs of spring are everywhere. With temperatures climbing, daylight increasing, and snow melting, spring flowers will soon be poking their heads through the soil, their beauty bursting as they reach for the sun.

Another sure sign of spring is International Women’s Day, celebrated annually around the world on March 8. The two have lessons in common that apply equally to everyone, not just women.

Crocuses, a member of the Iris family, comprise 90 species growing from corms. That’s a minuscule amount of the 391,000 species of plants currently known to science. Many crocus varieties are cultivated for their flowers, predominately in hues of lilac, mauve, yellow, and white. Others have medicinal properties. The spice saffron comes from the stigmas of an autumn-blooming crocus.

No matter how small any species is, each plant has an important role to play in the ecosystem. Greater species diversity ensures natural sustainability for all life forms.

Each crocus contains within it, the stories of the flower, fruit, and who it is—ancient stories that define the life that emerges from the corm. However, that story can only be expressed when planted in specific soil, climate, and geographic location. Ensuring it gets plant-specific requirements for sunlight, nutrients, and water produces the most robust and beautiful bloom.

You’re probably wondering about the connection to International Women’s Day.

Events around the globe will celebrate the successes of women. Many draw attention to high-profile, courageous, and visionary women— pioneers, leaders, and mentors who have broken through barriers to accomplish great things. We need these women and always will. I’m extremely grateful for the sacrifices they’ve made, often in selfless service.

Then there are the vast majority of us. If you’re like me, listening to or reading about these women is inspiring. On the other hand, it can be discouraging if we aspire to be just like them and measure ourselves against their accomplishments. We aren’t all meant to be CEOs, but we all have a vital role to play, that only we can fill.

Like plants, we carry within us ancient stories and unique gifts, the sum of all our ancestors and their experiences. No matter how much a crocus aspires to be a mighty oak, it will never happen. It’s true beauty, power, and strength—and contribution to life— comes from being a crocus.

Similarly, we live our best and make the greatest difference when we recognize, accept, and nurture who we are. The world needs us. This year on international Women’s Day, celebrate YOU!

Related post: Building a Better World; Gender Equity is a Start

Photo credit: MTSOfan on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC-SA

if not know

Twenty years ago, I began to stir from a thirty-year sleep. Other than the forty pounds I’d packed on, there was nothing to indicate life was anything other than picture-perfect. But I was miserable and felt like I was living inside an empty shell of myself. Something other than my seams had to give.

After several years of looking for a solution through marriage and career counselling, Stephanie Marston’s book If Not Now When? Reclaiming Yourself at Midlife caught my attention.

It gave me the nudge I needed to do what had to be done. I was not going to live the rest of my life as it was and rust away. My only options were to end my marriage and career. I had to take those first two big steps into the unknown. Then I’d be free to move in whatever direction I chose.

I don’t recognize the person or my life from those days, although I’ve got pictures to prove I was there. I leaped into the unknown and never looked back. Life is still life, however, and presents challenges that push me up against my comfort zone.

Like now, when I’m making plans to ride my motorcycle to Alberta this summer in response to the call of the land I heard clearly last September. It’s hard to explain, yet I must go. That little voice propelled by fear uses its outdoor voice to yell familiar rhetoric. Seriously? Are you nuts? What have you started? You’ll look like a fool. Where will you go? It’s a big province. How will you do it? Where do you start? You’ll likely have to ride on gravel! And the list of predictable questions goes on.

A few key questions help reduce the noise so I can hear the stronger calling and make space for for new possibilities.

If Not Now, When? 7 Questions to Help Navigate the Unknown

  1. If not now, when? I’ll be 66 in May. I’m healthy, fit, and have someone I love and trust to look after Measha (my cat). Trudy (my Triumph Tiger motorcycle) is all tuned up and ready to go. I can’t go yesterday. I don’t want to reach a day I can no longer do these things and say I wish I would have. Let’s face it. The older we get, the more likely we’ll meet a life-altering experience.
  2. Does what’s being asked have heart and meaning for you? What else would you be doing with your time and energy? Does it have heart and meaning for you?
  3. Where does your energy want to go? What is your intuition telling you? Honor it.
  4. What are your inherent gifts? In particular, what are your inherent unexpressed gifts? This is different than your strengths. I believe we bring a unique set of gifts into the world and they’re meant for sharing. It can take time to peel back the layers of stories we’ve accepted to find those nuggets. I’ve been going through childhood photos, looking at that little red-headed girl so full of potential (and energy) and trying to imagine what she carried. I wonder what has yet to surface.
  5. What’s the worst that could happen? Without catastrophizing, think about the possibilities. My years in Health and Safety taught me to calculate risks by identifying the hazards, mitigating what I can, then evaluating the probability of something happening and the potential severity if it does. Is that risk acceptable?
  6. How does it feel if you say yes to whatever’s calling you? How about if you say no? Scan your body and you’ll feel different responses to those questions. Your body doesn’t lie.
  7. When you look back at your life, what’s most important? One of the powerful exercises in my shamanic Energy Medicine training was a life recapitulation. We role played, imagining we were at the end of our life. What had been left unsaid? Undone? Unresolved? What were we most grateful for? What accomplishments had meaning? Where did we focus our energy and was that meaningful?

When you look back at your life, what’s most important? One of the powerful exercises in my shamanic Energy Medicine training was a life recapitulation. We role played, imagining we were at the end of our life. What had been left unsaid? Undone? Unresolved? What were we most grateful for? What accomplishments had meaning? Where did we focus our energy and was that meaningful?

Use these questions as a guide when navigating change or the unknown. No two people will have the same answers, and your answers will change depending on what’s going on in your life at the time.

What questions do you ask yourself when making decisions? Leave a reply below.

teachings from trees

Whenever I need to clear my head, especially in winter, I head for the woods where I know I’ll receive teachings from trees. The hardwood and coniferous community within easy walking distance I frequent, even for no reason, welcomes and energizes me. Peace, tranquility, and a softness descend with the snow. I lay my tobacco with gratitude at the foot of the birch and hemlock trees that guard the entrance, cross the bridge over the stream, and I’m in another world.

The tranquility calms me. The onset of change, relative stillness and solitude I welcomed in the fall, persists. It’s not what I’m used to, however. I’ve always been active and bringing things into being throughout the year. I love this quiet time, but shouldn’t I be doing more?

I explain my dilemma to the trees as I make my way along the path. Rounding a corner, the beauty overwhelms me and I stop to embrace the serenity of the sleeping woods. Silence pervades every space. The air is crisp and clear, cold against my cheeks. I wish I could stay all day. I raise my arms and open my heart to the heavens with a resounding thank you!

The answer dawns on me. This human being is a part of nature just like the trees and animals around me. We’re governed by the same laws of nature, the same cycles of seasons. Longer periods of darkness and cooler temperatures in the fall signal the onset of winter and trigger trees to go dormant. It’s a survival mechanism to conserve energy so they’re ready for growth in spring.

Growing up on the farm, winter was a time for Dad to do equipment maintenance, tree pruning, although that tended to wait until closer to spring, and hanging out with other farmers. It was ludicrous to try and force trees to bear fruit in winter.

Here in the woods it’s the same. Trees need to rest. The Earth needs to rest to provide the bounty we need to survive. We need rest too. But teachings from trees go deeper than that. I need to listen to my inner voice that always guides me true, including times of stillness, energy conservation, and growth. Like the trees towering around me, that’s how I live to my greatest potential, whatever that is!

Lifetime of stories

Mom’s taken to examining her hands lately. Advanced dementia refracts her perception and she can’t grasp that those almost-ninety-four-year-old palms and fingers belong to her. Yet those hands hold a lifetime of stories. With her cognitive filter eroded I wonder if, on some level, she sees more clearly, even if she can’t express it.

Those hands have never been idle. She and her younger siblings toiled on farms to contribute to the family coffers as soon as they were able. She worked her way through a demanding nursing education, including a post-graduate degree. Once married, she and Dad cultivated their dreams on a bedraggled fruit farm, nurturing it to maturity and viability. She returned to part-time nursing to do the work of her heart—and pay the bills. At the same time, she filled an essential role on the farm and raised six active children, all of whom participated in extra-curricular activities. Later, she joined in medical missions delivering eye care in Latin and South America.

Sitting together quietly, I watch her quizzical gaze move to her hands as they catch her attention. I contemplate the wrinkles as a roadmap and ask if she realizes how many people have benefitted from their touch? How many peaches have those hands packed? What about those Saturday morning marathon baking sessions? How many Zwieback (Mennonite buns) have those hands pummelled and formed? How many weeds did they pull from her beloved flower gardens? What have those hands done—or not done—that she regrets?

She was never given to deep introspection, at least not conveying it, and shrugs my question off, much like she would have were she fully lucid. Even though her response is incomprehensible, I like to imagine she takes some of it in and considers how much of a difference those hands have made in making a better world. Maybe it’s more that I want her to know it.

And then I open my palms and imagine my life’s roadmap. How have my hands contributed? Are they doing what they’re meant to do? Are they making the world a better place for current and future beings?

Hands deliver the work of our head and heart. They help us maintain balance by giving and receiving. We can never know how far their touch has reached but we can know with certainty that if we follow our inner guidance, our hands, decorated with scars, blemishes, and wrinkles, tell a lifetime of stories.

glider swing

The whole idea behind carving out time and space for stillness and solitude is to realign internal values with external actions. Cutting back on distractions, evaluating how I spend my time and energy and who I spend it with, and challenging the notion of what’s “productive,” clears the way to hear the voice of my heart.

After taking the backward step and getting clear direction, you’d think next steps would be easy. However, as soon as our ego, our small self, gets wind of a change, it ratchets up the mental chatter. I picture myself as a six- or seven-year-old and call her Lizzie.

The call I heard in Writing-On-Stone Park was simple: listen to the stories of the land and share. But what does that mean?

Travel back to Alberta and prolonged contemplative time in 2020 certainly wasn’t part of my plans.

My small self responds frantically, knowing all the right buttons to push. “You can’t stop now. You’re just getting going with your book promotion. You’ve put so much into it, how can you drop it now? You’ll lose momentum and readers. How will you make ends meet? You’ll look like a failure. Like you’re not worthy. Or that you gave up. Or that your story wasn’t interesting or meaningful. Where exactly will you go? How will you pay for it? What will you do?” The questions are relentless and arise from outdated, limiting stories.

I trust the voice of my heart.

The farm my parents bought when I was two, came with a pale green wooden glider swing. It sat outside the dining room window on the lawn inside a lush green triangle formed by two gnarly sweet cherry trees and a towering walnut. I loved spending time there, especially when the cherry trees were profuse with delicate white blossoms and the fragrant lily-of-the-valley carpeted the ground under the walnut.

The swing is long gone, until I close my eyes and envision how it was. It’s where I go now when I need to settle Lizzie down. We go out to the glider and sit on the side with our backs to one cherry tree, facing the walnut and the orchards beyond. I put my arm around her, reassure her that all is well, and we swing.

As we do, the quiet returns and with it, in time, the next steps. Often, they’re answers I would never have considered and they’re far richer and more effective—and fun— than I could have imagined.

It doesn’t take many back-and-forths on the glider swing before peace, calm, and balance return. As surely as those cherry blossoms will produce an abundance of fruit without my interference, so too will my work produce results, even through ways I don’t understand.

We all have a glider swing. Where’s yours? Tell us in the comments.

Photo credit: Cléa, Flickr

backward step
Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park, Alberta

When someone calls our name, we turn in their direction. We look back, not ahead to see who’s calling and what they want. The same thing applies to an inner calling, that yearning that doesn’t go away. Looking ahead for something doesn’t work. Understanding where it’s coming from requires us to look within, towards the source.

Zen Buddhism refers to this as taking the backward step — exploring and understanding that longing that wants us to act or move in a certain direction. Doing so requires regular practice, stillness and quiet, accessible only when we dial down the mental chatter and external stimuli.

Last year I decided it would be interesting to follow my Ancestral Trail back 500 years in 2020, ship my motorcycle to Europe and visit the lands of my ancestors in Russia/(now Ukraine), Poland/Prussia, Germany. Perhaps my experiences would be the fodder for my next book.

In September 2019, while on a three-month moto-book tour, a stop at Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park in south eastern Alberta changed that. I was already questioning whether that big trip (to Russia) was the best use of my time and energy. Sure, it would be fun, exciting, and heart-quenching, but something undefinable niggled in the background.

My answer came while walking through the hoodoos. Clearly, the land spoke, telling me overseas travel in 2020 wasn’t the best way for me to serve. She had stories I needed to hear and share. It was time to be more contemplative rather than taking a moto-adventure in Europe. Although there was plenty more I could learn about my ancestors, I’d learned what I needed (for now).

When I set out on my original quest in 2014, I had several questions:

  • Who was I before my culture told me who I was, and how did the experiences of my ancestors live in me?
  • How did the experiences from the lands my ancestors and I walked, shape me?

During that stroll through the hoodoos, I realized I’d completed part one but the second part remained outstanding.

So, this summer I will again load up Trudy (my motorcycle) and head west, to southern Alberta. It’s where I crashed my motorcycle (not Trudy). Both sets of grandparents crashed there too as they struggled to start a new life in Canada. It’s where eleven-year-old Dad left his heart when they moved east. (Read Crash Landing.)

It’s the land that calls me to return, take the backward step, and listen.

I have a concept of what that may look like, but realistically have no idea where my path will lead. “I Trust,” said Dad as he lay dying, the best parting words he could endow me with. It comes to mind daily and will guide me into unknown territory. The greatest challenges are listening, then acting on my guidance.

The voice of my heart has never steered me wrong. Undertaking this calling, the backward step into an adventure of the body, mind, and soul, will be no exception.

From the oasis

Winter solstice occurs this weekend in the northern hemisphere, marking the end of the descent into night. Winter officially begins and the light starts to gently elongate the day as darkness wanes. It’s nature’s time for deep rest and renewal. Wanting to stay somewhat connected, it feels like time for a dispatch from the snowy oasis.

Profound and sometimes painful lessons have taught me to heed the voice telling me it was time for a break after the Long Road Home tour. I’ve learned to put to rest those old stories telling me I couldn’t take time off. Ironically, this necessary period is not time off.

Just as I knew I was guided throughout the planning, preparation, and realization of an incredible journey, I’m equally certain that for an undefined time, it’s time for (relative) solitude, quiet, and stillness. It’s like arriving at an oasis after a long, exciting, albeit arduous trek. I’ll stay until it’s time to go.

Stillness doesn’t mean absence of action. We need look no further than nature for powerful, yet humble teachers, like the tiny hummingbird. They hover while gathering the sweetest nectar, appearing motionless as their wings flap from twelve to more than eighty times a second. While at the “oasis”, they need to recharge and build stamina for the next long journey. Running out of energy half way across the Gulf of Mexico while migrating is not an option.

Neither is running out of courage to continue their journey. They can’t look down and suddenly develop a fear of heights. Or gravel.

Admittedly, unplugging to a large degree means I’ve missed the usual contact with friends, especially with those from far away. I haven’t missed the distractions of social platforms and even keep radio time to a minimum. It’s amazing how much you can hear and see when you turn down the background noise and incessant sensory bombardment. Gradually, everything becomes clearer.

Recharging has meant focusing time and energy where it’s most needed. Decluttering, with gratitude, has opened nourishing space. Aside from having things in my closet and shelves that I don’t use, there are people in my community that are cold or homeless and could use a warm sweater or cozy flannelette sheets.

Furniture with unpleasant memories and heavy energy that I’ve carried for four decades has been sold or donated. One or two pieces may get replaced but it’s amazing to feel how much better I can breathe.

I’m grateful for the woods where I walk most days. Trees are good listeners. Nature reminds me to walk gently on the earth, use only what I need, and share my gifts.

Even Trudy’s in on the restorative action with major routine maintenance, a new chain, sprockets, and rear tire. We both need to be ready for whatever awaits when it’s time.

I’m looking forward to a few engagements, beginning with the Motorcycle Supershow in Toronto in January. For now, I’m settled in, taking my cues from nature’s consistent cycles, her teachers, and the voice of my heart.

However you celebrate the return of the Light, I wish you an abundance of joy, peace, and good health!

Photo credit: TAWPhotoArtistry on / CC BY-NC-SA

taking a break

For the past four nights I’ve slept in my own bed, yet keep waking up wondering where I am. It’s odd this happens now, but never during the past eleven weeks of camping, staying with friends, and some motelling! In any case, I’m thrilled, excited, and grateful to be back safely after an extraordinary journey.

The impetus for the trip was a cross-country moto-book tour to promote Crash Landing. But to say it was merely a book tour barely scratches the surface of the rich experiences I had from start to finish. The long-distance travel was nothing new. Organizing and orchestrating the book tour portion pushed me out of my comfort zone beginning with the planning. Nonetheless, I knew with certainty this was a calling and I’d be guided throughout the twists and turns of the journey.

The inherent value of a trip like this is not in the distances covered, books sold, or events scheduled. It’s in learning to trust that voice that guides me on, even when I don’t know where I’m headed. As I prepared, I set my intentions and then did my part to realize them. Along the way, I practiced letting go of expectations, attachment to outcome, and trust, even when things didn’t go as planned.

Readers and potential readers shared remarkable personal stories (often in the most unusual places—like gas stations and parking lots). I met a host of new friends and received incredible hospitality from friends along the way. Enroute I faced down personal challenges, dealt with loneliness and fear—my own and others, and managed the unexpected. Trudy, my trusted Triumph Tiger, handled the rigors of the road with characteristic aplomb, including when the wind picked her up and threw her over.

Looking back the whole experience seems surreal. Returning, everything looks the same on the surface, yet nothing is the same. Numerous profound experiences have changed my perspectives and priorities. I need time to process them.

I’m also weary. As invigorating as the trip has been, it’s also been physically, emotionally, and spiritually enervating. For the next while I’m taking my cue from nature and hibernating, honoring current commitments but not starting new projects. I’m also taking a break from social media, blogging, and newsletters. I need the time and relative solitude to renew and nourish myself for whatever comes next, in whatever time.

Pretty sure I’ll come up with a new definition of home, and when I do, will share it and what it means to me.

Photo on Visual hunt