Thin Places

“The Celtic church had a word for these moments of transformation. They called them thin places. “A thin place is anywhere our hearts are opened. They are places where the boundary between the two levels becomes very soft, porous, permeable. Thin places are places where the veil momentarily lifts and we behold (the ‘ahaah of The Divine’) all around us and in us.” Marcus Borg

There exists a place, a place so thin we are barely aware of it’s existence but it exists within our minds. A place of consciousness, a place of knowing, a place of reality, a place of truth. Yet many of us choose to block out this place as we move through our daily lives.

Many of us are aware that we are unhappy, but we continue to walk the same line everyday quite often choosing to drown our sorrows rather than face our consciousness. We let the awareness slide or choose to blur our vision as if we are walking through a forest on a foggy day adjusting our eyes to see the faint lines of the trees and the branches that grow in so many directions, much like our hearts during difficult times.

At times we may feel trapped in this unhappiness but the reality is like the trees in the forest as we can move through the branches. Our feet are our roots, are bodies are our trunks and our souls are our branches; always reaching outwardly and embracing our soul’s divine purpose. To reach that thin place we must reach to each branch and explore the depths and heights that each branch has to offer. We have to move through the branches that cause us to fall and the branches that assure us sturdiness. The branch that causes us to fall has as much to teach us as the branch that assures us sturdiness. There is no way to reach that thin place, where the boundaries between the two places become one, without exploring the branches that let us fall. And when we fall, the only thing we can do is dust off the leaves and dirt that we picked up from the ground and start the climb all over again.

My parents divorced when I was very young. My mother was devastated and this devastation turned into bitterness, anger and hatred. Our home was filled with her unhappiness and at times it seemed wrong to be happy. She was blinded by hatred, jealousy, envious, longing and loneliness. Her unhappiness was understandable as it was a difficult time, but she continued to move through her life as if in a fog for a long time after the divorce. She absorbed much resentment and hate for my father and she wanted me to believe that not only did he abandon her but he abandoned our family. She encouraged hate and outrage toward him and it was difficult to live with these emotions on a daily basis as the dark cloud was heavy and hanging above us in everything we did.

When the courts finally awarded my father visiting rights, he was only allowed a weekly visitation which fell on a Saturday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. There was no staying a little later, there was no visits during the week, there was no “hey I’m in the neighbourhood do you want to go for a quick bite.” All normalcy was gone, both my younger brother and I were strictly scheduled with no exceptions to the rules. It was during this short time we were expected to heal, bond and find a relationship with our father. At the end of every Saturday, my father would ensure we were all ready to go and drive my brother and I home by 8:00 pm sharp. I dreaded the drive home because I knew that once we reached our destination, I would be grilled with 20/20 questions about the day. One wrong answer could lead to more devastation for my mother so I avoided the situation at all cost. I used the excuse that I was tired and go to my room, close the door and put a record on the record player and listen to my favourite music.

One Saturday, it had been a rough week and I was upset while at my father’s house. My father wasn’t one to pry but he found me in tears and wanted to know what was wrong. At the age of nine years old, it’s hard to express exactly what you feel in your heart. I had secretly absorbed so many negative emotions that I wasn’t completely aware of and when I answered my father’s question I blurted out; “did I do something wrong and that’s why you left?” I had taken all the difficult emotions between my parents and absorbed the hatred and resentment into blaming myself and believing that I must have done something to cause him to leave.

The statement was a blow to my father and I could see the tension in his face. He took a step back, suddenly his jaw softened and his eyes welled up with tears as he bent down to my level and ran the back of his hand, with much tenderness, across my cheek. In a very calm voice he then said, “No honey, this has nothing to do with you or your brothers or sister. It is between your mother and I, but that doesn’t mean I will ever stop being your father nor will I ever stop loving you. You are my daughter and I am proud of you and always will be. Do you believe me when I say that I love you?”

At that moment looking into his eyes, I could feel the love that he had for me as his daughter and the veil momentarily lifted letting me feel his love to the depth of my soul. I said “yes, I believe you dad” and he said “good, let’s get some lunch .” We never discussed the divorce again after that, we chose to spend our time together catching up with each other or engaging in conversations about subjects we both found interesting. Throughout our relationship, he never once bad mouthed my mother to me and if I did utter a complaint about my mother, he told me to be good to my mother and reminded me that she had been through a lot.

Yesterday, I read an article about children of divorce and how some couples choose to train their children to hate and despise their spouse rather than teach healthy boundaries and emotions. The article explained that parents who choose to unleash their hatred and anger toward their spouse onto their children, are giving their children a life of unhappiness, poor self-esteem, low academic standings and trouble with addiction. The energy of anger, hatred and unhappiness can cling to a child for a lifetime and parents who pass this energy to their children only create a legacy of self-doubt and unhappiness for many years to come. Many don’t find the thin place or the sturdy branch as they continue to move through the branches that causes them to fall. Once they fall, they are unable to dust off the leaves and the dirt from the ground, nor are they able to continue the climb to the branch that assures them sturdiness.

When the veil is lifted and you find yourself in a place where only love and faith in one another exists, it is the start of the climb to that sturdy branch, to a place of love, a place of truth, a place of contentment, a place of acceptance, a place of forgiveness and a place of knowing, truly knowing your heart; it is a transformation into that place the Celtic church calls a thin place…

Johanne Fraser

PURPOSEFUL MIND

“Our true nature is stillness, the source from which we come, the deep listening of pure contemplation is the path to stillness. All words disappear into it, and all creation awakens to the delight of just being”.

Fr. Thomas Keating

Stillness, it seems like such a simple word. Stillness, to sit still and just be, how hard can that be? As a Reiki Master and mindfulness and meditation teacher, I can assure you it is no simple feat. You can ask a person to talk about themselves and most will divulge their passions, their family history and their stories. Ask them to be silent and still with you for five minutes and watch the fidgeting, the facial expressions and the body language that tells you they would rather be anywhere but sitting still for five minutes. Why is that, I often wonder, why are we so uncomfortable to just be? Is it because we have to face our fears, our worries or our shadow self? The side of our personality that contains all the aspects of ourselves that we don’t want to admit to having.

Meditation is the one place that you can sit with your being and sort through so many of your issues. You don’t need anyone to tell you how to be with yourself or how to use your mind for your own purpose. You can use meditation to climb deep into your mind and face your shadow self and do so on your own terms. To understand your shadow is to give you a more purposeful mind and peaceful soul. Combined with counselling or therapy, meditation is a powerful source to reach a peace of mind and well being which can transform your daily life and help you lead a life with more purpose. To list just a few of the proven benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, reduced anxiety, decrease pain, ease symptoms of depression and improved sleep.

When I first started meditating, I often felt worse after my meditation session because I would beat myself up about the fact that I couldn’t meditate without a cloud of thoughts and worry coming in and out of my mediation session. I came away frustrated and feeling like a failure at sitting doing nothing. Monkey mind gets to all of us. It is said that the average person has six thousand thoughts every day. Honestly, I think I have double that amount of thoughts in one day and those thoughts often take over my peace of mind while I am trying to sleep. Fear, worry and insecurities love to invade our conscious as we try to rest and recover from the day’s events.

My mother was a worrier and I use to say to her, “mom, all the worrying will not change the outcome.” I often think of that advice I gave her as I lie awake worrying about things that I can’t do anything about at that moment or even worse, about things that haven’t even happened. Frustrating as it’s a total waste of time and it seems when we are at the peak of those worries, meditation can be very difficult. However, through meditation you can change the language you use with yourself even during those sleepless nights where it seems like every fearful and insecure thought has robbed you of your sanity. By simply going to your breath and focusing on your breath you can feel your breathing getting softer and the tension leaving every fibre of your body until before you know it, somewhere in that darkness you are given a bit of light and you find your peace to go to sleep.

There are many types of medications you can take to numb the mind and the body to help you sleep, but using your own mind through meditation gives you a greater sense of freedom and strengthens your resolve to master your mind for a more purposeful sense of being. Meditation is like sleeping as we often take sleep for granted, yet the more we sleep the better we feel and meditation is the same. I often feel I don’t have time to meditate but I’ve learned that I can stop and meditate anywhere just by slowing down my breath and focusing on my being. I try to meditate for at least twenty minutes each morning and night. The first time I tried to meditate for twenty minutes, I felt like it took forever, now I find before I know it the twenty minutes are up and often go back to meditating for at least another ten minutes.

I practice spiritual, focus, progressive relaxation, mantra and visualization meditation. My favourite time is to meditate is in the morning, especially if my mind is well rested. First thing in the morning everything is anew and you don’t have an entire day of thoughts sitting on your brain. It’s during this time that my senses and mind are clear, more focused and images, visions and thoughts just seem to come to me out of the blue.

The other morning as I was using my mind to scan and relax every part of my body by imagining a source of white light shining through every part of my body and being when suddenly I envisioned the back of an indigenous man on a horse. He was riding bareback and the man’s long dark hair was flowing in the wind in tune with the horse’s mane as they rode as one. I wasn’t riding on the back of the horse with him but I was part of the scene as if I had jumped through the screen of a tv and was experiencing the moment, but I wasn’t really there. It was a surreal experience as I was aware of every muscle in the man’s back as he and his horse were riding furiously through a meadow of wildflowers and I was in awe of the colours and as I looked ahead, the sky seemed to be a sea of never ending blue and white as the wisp of clouds went sailing by.

At the moment I was not asleep, nor was I dreaming, I was given a vision and within that vision I was aware of just being. The man on the horse was completely one with the horse, the meadow, the sky, the clouds and the valley and it was then that I realized the importance of that vision. We are one with the universe and with each other, yet we look to distractions to take us away from our purpose; gossip, judgment, politics, unhappiness, sadness, dissatisfaction. Yet, that moment spent with the indigenous man riding bareback on the horse through the brilliant meadow into the unending sky where man, beast and earth was one, was the most astonishing moment I’ve ever known.

You may be saying to yourself “but the moment wasn’t real” and this is true but until you experience meditation in it’s full form, you will understand when I tell you that the moment was as real as if I was riding on the back of that horse. That day I made it a point to notice my breath, to notice my movement as I walked, to notice the trees and the sky as I drove to work. Usually, the trees are all but a blur as I drive by to get to my destination. That day not only did I notice the trees but I noticed the birds that inhabited those trees. So many birds filled those trees and I noticed one tree was full of crows and the next tree was full of smaller birds and few blocks down I noticed a barn where there was a crowd of seagulls sitting on the barn’s roof gazing toward the sky as the day was opening allowing the light to flow; our source of energy, our source of being, showing us how to just be and let the day unfold.

If it hadn’t been for my few seconds with the man riding the horse through the beautiful meadow into the unending sky, the trees would have all blended into the background. I would have rushed to work to spend the day in a mist as I pushed through the work like a robot on a methodical rhythm as if numb to my inner thoughts and sense of space. Riding as one through this life can give us purpose in our everyday lives and meditation can take us there, we just have to give it time and space. “Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. Purpose is what creates true happiness”. Mark Zuckerberg

Johanne Fraser

TIME CAPSULE

The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself, the ones who express inexpressible, without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt, their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and don’t have to draw. They are artists of being alive.” Donna J. Stone

As my eyes adjusted to the light in the room, my husband snuggled up behind me and ran his fingers through my hair. As he snuggled closer and we laid skin to skin, I enjoyed the sensation of the very first touch of the day. I thought this moment is the moment of what life is about, what we as beings are made for, to touch skin to skin and soul to soul. Often when I wake up, I fill my head with the to-do-list and feel the urge to rise and get busy right away as there are only so many hours in the day.

After 911, I remember reading a memory from a woman who lost her husband the day the planes flew into the twin towers. She wrote, “as he left for work, he bent down and kissed my cheek and said I love you, and I remember being half awake and half asleep feeling annoyed that he was disturbing me from my sleep. Only if I had known a few hours later I would lose him, If only I had known that my husband would be at work and the building would come down all around him. I would have pulled him back into bed and held onto him forever.”

I’ve never forgotten her words and the act of her writing those words changed my life from the very moment I read her passage. I never take any moment for granted; I linger in the moment, I forge in the forest, I walk slower than I need to, I say “I love you” every time my boys and my husband walk out the door, even if they are just running a quick errand. Our voyage in our time capsule takes many twists and turns and as much as we try to steer the vessel and control the mechanics, the journey is not within our control. We don’t always see the hill, the mountains the bumps, or the fork in the road. Our body just rides the waves and we feel the shock of every twist and turn. Some of those twists and turns shower us with great happiness and exhilaration and others throw us into despair leaving behind deep wounds that shock us to the core of our beings.

My mother once said to me, “Johanne you have to ride each wave of happiness to the fullest because you never know when the next wave of sadness will hit you.” It’s true, life is just like the waves that hit the beach. Some waves are big and some waves are small, yet each wave carries its own energy and the energy within each wave has the capacity to be gentle and loving hugging the shoreline or the wave has the capacity to be forceful and powerful cutting into the the shoreline like a knife through the heart. So when my boys leave the house and I call out “I love you” and they don’t answer back. I always respond with, “I didn’t hear you” and they call out “love you too.”

I know the boys think I’m crazy, but I am very aware that their time capsules are about to take a turn away from the dock where their ship has been secured for so long. Both boys are about to face the waves of life as they navigate through the calm and rough waters. Since the boys were babies, I’ve always felt that the most important part of my job was to sit back and let be. Of course my husband and I had rules that the boys had to follow, we also disciplined them when it was necessary for the boys to learn from their mistakes, but above all we let them be their own beings and let them trip over the stones and obstacles that were on their path as they walked toward their time capsules and prepared for the journey of life.

While the boys were in elementary school, my youngest complained to me one time that many of the boys in his class had play dates and he didn’t have any. Of course being a mother my heart sank, acutely aware of the loneliness he was experiencing, the longing to be a part of the world around him. The problem was that I was a firm believer that the boys should find their own friends and that it wasn’t my job to pick their friends for them. I believed that wandering through the tangled vines of learning who was a friend and who was not set the tone for their time capsules in their lifelong journey.

At that moment I was torn, do I pick a child and call his mother to set a play date or do I leave it and have the faith that things will work out exactly as they should? One day in the school parking lot, a mom approached me and said, “I would like to arrange a play date for our sons to get together.” I was elated, felt like fate was playing into my hands. That night I told my son that I had arranged a play date and his eyes dropped to the ground. I said “what’s wrong, I thought you wanted a play date?” He said, “I do but I don’t like that guy.”

It was at that moment, I realized my son was already in his time capsule, making decisions on his own, reading people’s personalities and deciding what was best for him. I was aware that when my son reached the age of twenty, he would be more than capable of picking his tribe and the day he told me “I don’t like that guy” was the first step to him finding his tribe and the start of his lifelong journey. I had two waves hit me that day, one of despair as I wasn’t sure what to do about the arranged play date and one of elation as I realized my son was listening to his being. For the record, he did go on that play date and even though the boys were never close friends, he had a great time that day and saw a few things in that boy that he had never seen before, strengths about the boy that he liked and of course he found that they had something in common and that was Star Wars Lego.

As my time capsule veers off on it’s own course, I take with me the many lessons I have learned and keep those memories buried in a secret compartment below the controls in my capsule. No matter what wave hits me, the wave is not able to erase those memories and lessons that have served my being well. The world is vast and many of the experiences in my time capsule may be small compared to other time capsules. That’s the very essence that I love about my capsule, it’s mine and no one can say to me that my experiences are not good enough, not big enough or not deep enough. What I choose to fill the compartment in my time capsule with is all mine and it’s in the quiet moments that I spend with my being reliving those moments together, I come to the realization those moments are what make up this life journey. Those moments are all that I need and they fill my being with both, elation and injury.

It is sitting in silence that I hear my being and we work together to revel in the elation and heal the wounds as we continue to prepare the time capsule for the endless journey; bracing for the waves that may throw us off course.

Johanne Fraser

FAITH

When the Shawnee and Chippewa (and other early people) went on hunts or vision quests or long journeys, each traveller would carry in a small rawhide pouch various tokens of spiritual power–perhaps a feather, a bit of fur, a claw, a carved root, a pinch of tobacco, a pebble or a shell. These were not simply magical charms; they were reminders of the energies that sustain all of life. By gathering these talismans into a medicine pouch, the hunter, traveller, or visionary seeker was recollecting the sources of healing and bounty and beauty.” (Adapted from Scott Russell Sanders, Hunting for Hope)

The other day my 21 year old son was in his room playing online video games with his friends. For many right now, this is a form of connection and entertainment as we once again face restrictions because of the pandemic. Covid numbers are rising all over the world and it’s easy to forget that the fallen have faces, family, loved ones, hopes, and dreams because we tend to focus on the number rather than the human hearts behind those numbers.

As I was walking by my son’s room I asked him a question and he gave me an off the cuff answer. His answer was short and he seemed very annoyed. I asked him if everything was ok and he said to me “this is not what I want to be doing at 21 years old.” I was taken aback because he is really quite fortunate. He has a job right now, he lives in a house with property and plenty of space for him to get out and relax in the fresh air, we live in a province where there is plenty of open space to go for walks outside in forested trails, he has a beautiful girlfriend and he has loving family all around him. From my point of view he is sitting in a pretty good place right now.

However, at the moment he wasn’t seeing it. I pointed out that his life is full of positive and hope right now and he needs to focus on the positive not the negative. He mumbled something to me that I didn’t hear and I decided to just let him be as everyone has days where they feel like the world seems to be sitting on their shoulders. Unfortunately, the world is sitting on all of our shoulders right now as it’s hard to get away from the depressing news day in day out with the pandemic in our backyards.

At the moment it seems like the world is split into two types of people. Those who have hope and faith for the future and those who feel despair, anger and have lost their faith and are without hope. The reality is that the world shifts and right now the world is shifting. This is nothing new, we have known that a pandemic would eventually hit the world so there is nothing surprising about that. When the pandemic first hit and we headed into a lock down, I remember going grocery shopping and there was this mass disconnection among the shoppers and all had this harrowing look of fear in their eyes. To be honest, even though I expected this reaction, it stunned me somewhat. I started to feel fearful and it wasn’t the virus that feared me, it was the look of lost faith and hope in the eyes of the patrons shopping for groceries that day.

The Shawnee and Chippewa would prepare for their vision quests, long journeys and hunts by making sure they had their faith to carry with them in their small rawhide pouches. They were small tokens of what they believed to be energies that sustained their lives. As a society we have lost that faith, the belief in the energies that sustain our lives. Instead we put our faith in things like cars, houses, jobs, and the endless consumer products that we buy to sustain our happiness. It seems we’ve stopped carrying the energies that are within us to sustain our lives. Instead we turn to false power that we believe increases our self worth, but in actuality focusing only on things that we think give us status takes all of us further away from getting to know the energy that sustains our lives and that is the energy that resides within us; our being.

Recently I read this story and it caught my attention as the story takes place a long time ago, yet here we are in this century and really nothing has changed.

“An American traveller planned a long safari to Africa. He was a compulsive man, loaded down with maps, timetables, agendas and “stuff”. Coolies had been engaged from a local tribe to carry the cumbersome load of supplies, luggage and “essential stuff.”

On the first morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far.

On the second morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far.

On the third morning, they all woke very early and travelled very fast and went very far and the American seemed pleased.

On the fourth morning, the jungle tribesmen refused to move. They simply sat by a tree. The American became incensed. “This is a waste of valuable time. Can someone tell me what is going on here?”

The translator answered, “They are waiting for their souls to catch up with their bodies.”

Many don’t see it this way, but the pandemic has given us the time to sit, rest and wait for our souls to catch up with our bodies. All of us have the power to ignite the power within, our being, our soul, and it is time to sit with our being and not let the distractions of the world interfere with this relationship.

As we rest and strengthen, we can plant the seeds within our being and sow those seeds during the restriction to prepare and fill our small rawhide pouch with spiritual power, small tokens of energies and faith that we believe sustain all of life. Surely, when this pandemic is behind us we, will take a long journey and we will need that small rawhide pouch, filled with small tokens of energy and faith that we believe sustain life, for the journey to share with others the source of faith, healing and beauty as we continue to walk on this path called life.

Johanne Fraser

The Land of the Strays

It’s very easy to say ‘I love dogs’ when you’re talking about fluffy, perfect dogs. When you love a dog that does not necessarily look beautiful, then you love a dog.” Lya Battle

We live in a time when everything is expected to be perfect. Our houses are to be perfect, our cars are to be perfect, our bodies are to be perfect, our jobs are to be perfect and the list goes on and on.

Perfection is not possible and I often wonder why we want to be perfect. Personally, I find perfection boring and making simple decision becomes huge because one has to make sure their choices meet their standards of perfection. Perfection breeds unhappiness and if we look all around us we see it. The straight ‘A” student who can’t accept a ‘B’ because they are a straight ‘A’ student. Why can’t a straight ‘A’ student get a ‘B’. What if while writing that paper they were not feeling well or not rested enough or maybe something depressing happened in their lives and they simply were not themselves. Perfection leaves no room for rest, no room for dallying, no room for lingering coffee moments for no other purpose than “just because.” The student would learn so much more from that “B” paper than a “A” but society doesn’t see it that way. To put it simply, we are setting our children up for for failure.

Lya Battle knows that lack of perfection opens the door for humanity. She lives in Costa Rica and she is surrounded by furry beings that society has deemed not perfect. They are mutts, dogs tossed out into the streets by society. Some are missing legs others missing an eye but all have several things in common according to Lya; they are survivors, they are strong, they are intelligent and she is inspired by their resilience.

Costa Rica has an estimated two million stray dogs on the street and Lya has approximately eleven hundred of those stray dogs on her three hundred and fifty five acre farm. She battles the government, she battles her neighbours who will sneak on to her property and poison the dogs. Yet rather than have a hateful, negative attitude, she is inspired by the dogs. They speak to her heart and soul and for the cruelty and suffering that humans have put these dogs through, Lya has this to say: “The cruely and suffering of dogs doesn’t come from evil, it comes from ignorance, ignorance perpetuates rejection and ultimately abandonment and overpopulation. Ignorance can be changed, it just takes enough people to want to change it.” Lya started this change by inviting people to her no kill shelter of 1300 dogs to change one heart at a time. It’s hard not to look at these beautiful dogs and not have your heart changed. One heart changed is many hearts changed and as slow as it may be, one heart at a time is the road to change.

Perspective is misleading, it can lead you on a long travelled road only to realize when you reach the end of that road, you had it all wrong. Many in our western society want to breed the type of dog that meets their lifestyle, dogs that don’t shed, dogs that are the right height, dogs that don’t bark, dogs that aren’t too energetic. As I write this I’m shaking my head as it’s so ridiculous but many do that to their children too, they see their children in a certain light, obtaining a certain education, in a certain career,playing a certain sport and many parents put all these pressures on their children and never ask their children what it is they really want. Again, perfection breeds unhappiness to be perfect means that you are always trying to attain that state of perfection. It’s exhausting and what many don’t realize is that when you accept the mess, the ugly and the not so desirable and walk with that, your life changes, your heart grows, your soul embraces and you learn so much about the world and what your part is in this world.

For Lya it started with one dog, a stray that ended up on her doorstep. She took him in and named him Oso. However, Lya had four dogs already and she was determined that Oso would not be part of her life. She decided to find a home for him and she did find a home for him but every home she found, the adopters sent him back within two weeks. He went to seven homes and each time she heard the following complaints about him: Oso was not disciplined, Oso didn’t listen, Oso chased cats, Oso dug up the garden, Oso jumps the fence, Oso barks too much. Lya agreed this was true but she also recognized that these qualities that irritated everyone, were also the qualities that made him unique. He was unapologetic, a self-proclaimed ruler of the universe and for all those qualities, Lya held respect for Oso and after the seventh person rejected Oso, he became part of Lya’s family.

What Lya found was that Oso came with many headaches and problems but he also brought with him very profound lessons. The most important lesson was that sometimes doing the right thing pushes you so far out of your comfort zone, you might never find your way back. For Lya that was the birth of Territorio de Zaguates, Territory of the strays. She went from five dogs to eighty dogs in that house and then moved all the dogs to a farm with many acres and named it Territory of the Strays and today she has over a thousand stray dogs on that property. All are fed, all have been neutered and spayed, all receive yearly vaccinations and all are loved, not one dog is rejected.

In some ways we are all from the land of the strays as we search for our place and purpose on this earth. May we stop being so pushed to perfection and focus on what is in front of us in the here and the now. May we entrust in the beauty that is within us and not hesitate to share that beauty with all we meet. Our purpose on this earth is to share our souls with one another, we were never meant to hide behind a mask of perfection. Our path is to be unique and to always be our true selves. Being our true self is enough; at any given moment we are enough…

Johanne Fraser

Watch Lya on Ted Talk here:

The Land of the Strays

Website: Territorio de Zaguates

Territorio de Zaguates on utube

Note: Territorio de Zaguates has been temporary closed to upgrade for government regulations. Please check their website for updates about re-opening.

EDUCATING THE HEART

“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” Aristotle

I recently read this story on one of the blogs I follow “find your Sanctuary.” Every week I receive these beautiful moments written by Terry Hershey where he preaches that we need a place to refuel, we need to rest, we need to pay attention, we need to breathe and we need to just be. In one of his weekly moments in my inbox this story was included: “A Zen Roshi is dying. All of the monks gather (an eagerness restrained) around the deathbed, hoping to be chosen as the next teacher. The Roshi asks slowly, where is the gardener? The gardener, the monks wonder aloud, he is just a simple man who tends the plants and he is not even ordained. Yes the Roshi replies, but his is the only one awake. He will be the next teacher.”

This story really spoke to me about society today. We live in a world where our senses are deadened by consistent noise. The noise comes at us in every waking moment and the result is that we never rest. Our minds and our beings are fuelled by self-sabotaging thoughts essentially berating ourselves that we are not good enough. Those thoughts are usually carried by society’s unrealistic goals of having a lot of money, owning the best car, the best house, the highest education, the best job, the right clothes and the right look. Writing that sentence exhausts me, we can’t possibly live up to all of those expectations. The reality is that not everyone has the same access to any one of the things I mentioned above and education is just one of them.

I work in education except as a teacher once told me, I’m one of the uneducated ones. I work in the field of support. I am an office manager in a high school and as a support worker, like all of my fellow support workers, we support every niche and cranny in that school. Just like support beams in a building that no one ever thinks about, we are the weight-bearing supports that bridge the values, policies and integrity of our counterparts and ultimately support the structural integrity of all. I would say that support staff are “awake” as we see all and we move between the shadows and understand that our work is done behind the scenes, often unrecognized and never credited.

The uneducated comment is true. In conversation with a teacher, she said that I was uneducated because I did not have a post secondary education, in other words, I did not have a degree, therefore she did not consider me educated. Limited thinking I would say and it concerns me that as an educator she feels that the measure of a human being’s worth is in the degree they obtain. My response to that comment is that I am educated and always will be educated as I believe education has nothing to do with the piece of paper one holds; I believe education is about being in a continual state of learning and that education is present in every moment and in every being we meet on our journey called life.

Like the monks in the story above, this teacher lost the lesson. Too busy worrying about the right car to drive, the right house to own and the right clothes to buy to establish the look only worthy of the educated. My question is this; what about the souls who can’t afford the same kind of education, or the souls who choose to work and educate themselves through experience, or the souls that by the time they work the three jobs they have to pay for their rent and their food simply don’t have the energy for education. Are they not smart or good enough to have what the educated have? It is interesting to me that in many cases of the elite ones, their parents paid their way and they have no idea what it’s like to pay their own way.

This is a sad commentary on society and I sincerely believe that the attitude that I wrote about above is the downfall we are seeing through the pandemic. It’s not necessarily the “educated” that has kept our economy rolling through this Covid. Yes the healthcare workers have continued to push through this difficult time and put themselves at risk as we all work through this global epidemic. However, the support workers of society, the unseen beams that support the structural integrity of society are working behind the scenes to ensure all have the essentials we need to get through this challenging time. The “blue collar” workers in the truck drivers, the grocery store employees, the department store employees all the employees that you can possibly think of who are working behind the scenes to keep this economy moving. It is this structural support that has put food on our table even when the pandemic was at its worst and people were fighting over toilet paper, cleaners, meat and anything else they considered essential; the workers of the world just kept slogging through the difficult times while many of us griped about working in the comfort of our homes protected behind our computers and zoom meetings without much thought of what some of our fellow human beings were facing.

Education has failed us as we have educated minds but we have failed to educate hearts. Personally, I can tell you the amount of times I have walked by educated ones who don’t have the time or day to say hello or a simple smile as they walk by, yet in the very next moment I see them nod and say hello to a member of the educated ones. I always share a private laugh because it is in the moments of grace that we learn the most. My work with a hospice has taught me about life as I work with souls transitioning from this life to the next and the most important lesson I have learned in life is from the lessons taught to me by hearts of the dying. No one talks about their education, their houses, their cars or their clothes as they face death. It is in this learning from the heart that I have gained the most profound lessons. Ironically, there is no fancy piece of paper that confirms my education, nor is there a document that says I am good enough to get a fancy job. However, as I continue to walk this journey called life, I have found the lessons I have learned from the heart journey with me as I step forward and place my foot on the solid foundation of the stepping stones before me. It is the message from each and every soul’s heart that I take with me on my chosen path forward.

Society preaches that the path I have chosen is the wrong path as there are no fancy riches on the path in front of me. Like the gardener the Roshi designated as teacher, it is in the simple things that we continue to ignore that there is so much to learn from. As long as we learn from the heart, teach from the heart and recognize that all souls have value, I don’t believe that this is the wrong path to take and I hope that I can be awake enough to ignore society’s pull to ideas and ideals that have nothing to to with matters of the heart.

Johanne Fraser

CALL TO THE WILD

“Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time.”
Jack London, The Call of theWild

During this pandemic my family has retreated for wellness in the comfort of our home.  Some call it sheltering, quarantine, or isolation, I would rather call it a retreat.  I have two sons between the ages of 18 and 20 and my husband and I are enjoying the time as a family.  We do more together than we normally do as life is no longer calling us in the usual way.  The pressures and pulls to go in many different directions simply disappeared overnight.

My husband and I are blessed to be able to continue work and we are now working from home.    I looked online for some advice for retreating and found many blogs and articles from people in Europe who had already, and still are, living through this unique situation.  Routine was what I read over and over again.  I have a tendency to hang out in my pj’s until noon when I’m off work.  The first thing I did was get dressed every day.  I also dress in nice clothes – not the rags I wear to do my housework.  It’s ironic how these subtle routines can make you feel alive and part of humanity.

Our house has become our command centre and I have arranged it to meet everyone’s needs.  I am a Master Reiki practitioner, so I already have a room that is dedicated to Reiki sessions for clients.  It was easy enough for me to create an office for my work as an office manager.  Our kitchen and family room was split into two work spaces to create the space for my husband and son.    My husband works with Autistic students and my son’s trade school is now on-line.  It’s easy for work time to merge into home time so I make sure that all work related or school materials are put away and neatly stacked so that visually our minds take us away from work and into the evening or the weekend.

We’ve always been fans of watching movies from home and I’m enjoying watching movies as a family.  Last night we watched “Call of the Wild” for the first time.  I have read the reviews on the movie and there was a lot of criticism about how unnatural Buck and the animals look.  It is true that you could certainly see the digital images and the  influence of that technology throughout the movie, but what movie in this day and age doesn’t use technology as a background to the film.   Personally, I loved the movie, and I loved the message.  Jack London’s message was fairly simple when he wrote “Call of the Wild”  in 1903.  It called for respect and love to our environment and to treat animals with love, compassion and dignity.  In doing so our environment will flourish and in treating animals with respect and love they grow in strength, confidence and resilience.

In this new world of living under the pandemic, I couldn’t help but see the parallel lines between the movie and the chaos the world is living under right now.   Buck was thrown into utter chaos overnight and it was within this chaos that evil surfaced.  Buck had been living a great life with an upper class family enjoying the fruits of that life and his behaviour was defiant, stubborn, unruly, immature and uncontrollable.  He simply could not help himself.   He found himself scared and alone with no idea what his future held as the cargo ship, his dognappers forced him on, sailed to the Great Canadian North.   In a way all of us have been unruly and we’ve taken for granted the comforts which we live.   There are so many who are poor and marginalized and we choose to ignore this fact or satisfy ourselves with the attitude that someone else is taking care of the situation; not my problem.  This pandemic has reared the ugly head of the difference between the rich, the elitist, the poor and marginalized and in this spotlight we have a clear view of the difference between the haves and the have-nots.

I was disappointed to read a comment on facebook by a teacher who was complaining about the whole situation of having to work from home and how she was mad to be questioned about full pay.  Many citizens don’t have jobs and at the beginning of this crisis there was confusion about whether educational structures were offering full online classes or not.  Also, some districts were quicker about getting their online platform out to their community than others.   The question about teachers getting full salary is a fair question because of the amount of confusion circulating around the online platform a the time. Unfortunately, this teacher made a comment on facebook that, and I quote “all people without degrees are essentially useless.”  An elitist attitude coming from a spoiled, unruly person with no discipline and it was clear to me that she lacked any empathy or compassion for anyone else but herself.  She later retracted when confronted and said that she was mad and frustrated, which I understand, however, her elitist comment is what surfaced and I sincerely believe that she holds on to that belief as I see so much of that elitist attitude of the “we against them” mindset.

This pandemic clearly shows we simply can’t live this way anymore.  There must be equality and  fairness for all.  Not all have the same opportunity to pursue a university degree and many who have racked up student loans to do so are frustrated by both their debt level and not finding a job within their fields.  All of this could be debated back and forth and I simply do not have the answer.  I do know this, we must show respect toward all people.  As a society we also must care about everyone’s well-being.  For one to stand on their high towers and look down at someone who doesn’t have what they have simply does nothing to engage the world or it’s people into a healthy community.  If  you are someone responsible to educate our young, then I hope that you see fairness and equality for all as the road to higher education.   We need people to perform all jobs in this society and to not respect and value all human beings is costing this planet it’s dignity and throwing us into the throes of chaos and in the midst of this chaos evil prevails.  Resentment, anger, lack of confidence and and lack of value replaces, love, compassion, worthiness and pride in our communities.

We are being called to the wild and right now this pandemic is moving us forward to great changes.  Some call it a reset and I agree the world is resetting itself.  Like Buck in the movie, he was consistently pulled back to his master John, who led him with a kind hand, and his new beginnings with his new love and pack.  As we move forward to a world post pandemic, we too will be pulled back and forth between our old life and the new beginnings.  However, once Buck was able to fully immerse himself into his new life and live as he was meant to without prejudice, judgment, neglect and abuse, he was able to stand tall and move forward in confidence, love and respect and he went on to create a new community that stood for strength, dignity and respect for all.   I pray we are able to do what Buck did in the movie and move forward in a new world, a world where we stand as one.   I urge all to look for their “Call to the Wild” as  now I am actively looking for my  call to the wild.   I want to move forward with love, and feel genuine passionate love for the world and all it’s people and let this  be mine for the first time.

Johanne Fraser

 

EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE

“It’s not how much we give but how much love we put into giving.”
― Mother Teresa

As we pulled into the driveway, Janet looked at me and said “are we going to get shot?”  We were delivering Christmas hampers to families in our community who needed assistance at Christmas.  This was the first time Janet had delivered Christmas Hampers and she didn’t know what to expect.  I had been delivering hampers for a few years and I had experienced some tough situations.   In each of those situations you have to smile brightly, give them a hug and keep your eyes on the bigger picture, and that is the children.  In the midst of this chaos, there are children who are living in some tough emotional and financial conditions with absolute no control over their immediate future and those children need to feel unconditional love from the greater community as a whole.   In my experience, hamper recipients are usually families who are struggling to get by and Christmas puts too much extra pressure on them.  Christmas hampers relieves the extra burden from families and hopefully they can relax and enjoy the generosity and love of the Christmas season.  Jesus’ words were “Love one another as I have loved you” and as we celebrate Jesus’ birthday, we must branch out into our community and share his love with all.

Our society is riddled with images of success and in those images money, cars, beautifully decorated houses, consumer goods, clothes and electronics are images of success.   Those images actually have nothing to do with success and more to do with a lack of fulfillment in one’s daily life.  Success to me is not about money, or consumer goods but a life with love, faith, purpose, harmony, balance, happiness and hope.  I’ve come to realize that reaching out to others is not to extend your hand in pity, judgment or charity, rather it is a hand extended in compassion, empathy, hope and love.  When I go into someone’s house with gifts, I give those gifts out of pure joy and it is my hope as I extend my hand and hug people that they can feel the love and joy to the core of their being; their soul.

As Janet and I drove into the driveway, you could feel the tense and negative energy into the fibre of your being.  The house looked to be in very bad condition, but that wasn’t the source of the dark energy emitted from the house.  It was the darkness that surrounded the house and when we got out of the car, I realized right away the source of the darkness.    There was a group of men all standing off to a corner and when we got out of the car, they were not friendly or joyful,  they were scary.  In the years that I’ve delivered hampers, I’ve never encountered this.  I hate to use the word criminal element because that sounds very judgmental and I really don’t know if that was the case,  but that’s what it felt like.  When Janet looked at me and said very seriously; “are we going to get shot?” I understood why she felt that way.

As I opened my door, I noticed Janet wasn’t opening hers, she did not want to get out of the car.  I happened to look up into the house and through the front window I saw two boys between the ages of 5 and 8 jumping up and down and pointing to our car.  It was obvious they were excited to see us and I turned to Janet and I said “you need to keep your eyes on those two, that’s why were here”.  We unloaded all of the hamper bags and boxes and carried them to the house.  In every other situation where I’ve delivered hampers, the recipients always came out and gave me a hand in carrying the items.  Not these men, they just continued to stare us down as we walked to the front door.  I just ignored them but I could tell Janet was very uncomfortable.

We rang the doorbell and a slight, petite woman answered the door.  She wore her hair in a simple ponytail and she wore no makeup.  She had beautiful skin and very pretty eyes.  Her dress was casual; a sweater and a pair of tights, she looked like me if you came to my house on a Saturday morning as I love to lounge around in very comfortable clothes.  This resonated with me as we walked over her threshold and I gave her a hug and delivered the hampers.  Janet’s eyes lit up as the boys came running down the stairs jumping up and down as it was obvious they were happy to see us.  The boys’ spirits removed any of the darkness that we felt a few minutes earlier.  Children do that, they have a light that adults don’t have and it is my belief that we all have to go back to that light in order to fulfill our destiny as children are the true beacons of this world.

When we left the house, Janet mentioned to me that the woman was in a very bad situation and she had to leave that situation for the sake of her children.  I said to Janet “we don’t know her life and we can’t judge, but for all you know, the generosity and kindness of the hampers could be  the first step to give her strength to make a change, you don’t know, everything and anything is possible.”   Janet and I had several more hampers to deliver and I realized as we were unpacking the next recipient’s hamper that we missed several bags from the previous recipient.

Janet and I drove back to the house that emitted such darkness and this time Janet said to me, I’ve got this and she jumped out of the car, grabbed the bags and went to the front door.  She rang the bell and a few minutes later the boys’ mom answered the door and I could see that Janet was explaining why we were back.  Janet handed the mom the bags and she immediately placed the bags on the ground and leaned into Janet and gave her a huge hug and then the two of them were holding each other and there was an exchange of words going on between them.  I could tell they were both crying.  As Janet walked back to the car, she was wiping away the tears from her eyes and the woman at the front door gave me a wave as she closed the door.

Janet got into the car and wept.  When she calmed a bit I asked her what happened.  Janet said that the woman had gone through the hamper items and she was overwhelmed with the generosity of the community.  She said the hamper was so full that she had every thing she needed in food and gifts to give her children a Christmas she had never been able to give before.  She also told Janet from the bottom of her heart she was so thankful and wanted us to know just how thankful she was.

As we drove to the next recipient, Janet looked at me and said “you were right, we don’t know and we can’t judge and maybe,  just maybe the generosity and love from our community was the step she needed to gain strength to start a journey that will lead her away from the darkness, everything and anything is possible.”

*names changed to protect identity.

THE END OF THE CAMELOT ERA…

MOMWHEARINGLOSS

I remember my mother telling me that she could remember exactly what she was doing and the clothes she was wearing the day President Kennedy was assassinated.   I was a teenager when she told me and she mentioned that the world just stopped.   She said it was the end of the Camelot era and the end of innocence.  I was born one year after President Kennedy was assassinated, so I never really understood what she meant.

Unfortunately, I came to understand it September 11, 2001.  I was seven months pregnant with my second child and I remember the day beginning like any other day.  Waking up, taking a shower, making breakfast for my two year old son and getting dressed for work.  I didn’t have time to listen to the  tv or the radio during my morning routine.    In the car on the way to work I…

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My Mother’s Keeper

“It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I hung up the phone, my thought was, “I will never see her alive again.”  It wasn’t a revengeful or hateful thought, it was reality.    The purpose of my phone call was to restore balance in the hopes that we might salvage dignity between the two of us.  Unfortunately, her answer and reaction to my phone call was less than affectionate and I  sensed her disapproval by her tone, words and dismissive attitude as she hung up the phone before I had a chance to finish what I was saying.

Unfortunately, she was family and most closest to my mother, her sister.  Years before this I can remember my mother quoting her sister’s words that she uttered to my mother during a difficult time, “just because you’re my sister doesn’t mean I have to love you or like you.”  I don’t remember why those words were spoken, but I remember my mother feeling exasperated.  I was a young girl and I remember my mother feeling somewhat beaten emotionally by my aunt as my mother felt that she couldn’t make her feelings known and it was best to just avoid the conflict and  go along with whatever her sister said or wanted.   Unfortunately, this was the sentiment of everyone around my aunt, no one dared to say anything or go against her way, because if you did, the cross you had to bear was great.

The sad thing was that my aunt had a side to her that could be angelic.  In her stoic and stubborn way she could come into your life and give you everything she had.  This confused me as a young girl because my emotions would be chaotic around her as I never knew when the other side was going to show, so I had a hard time being myself as I never trusted my aunt’s intentions.  This confusion didn’t help the situation as I came across indifferent and aloof.

As life moved forward, I frequently witnessed this struggle between my aunt and my mother.   My mother would often talk to me about some of the struggles and my answer was always the same.  I told my mother to express her feelings to her sister.  My mother’s answer consistently was,  “you don’t understand, it’s not worth it.”  Many times I wanted to pick up the phone in my mother’s defense, but I knew this would be against my mother’s wishes, so I resisted the urge to do so.

There came a time when something happened that was so shattering to my mother,  I conscientiously had no choice but to phone my aunt to discuss the situation.  As I stated my concerns and asked her to clarify the accusations she made about another family member, I immediately understood why very few in our family had tread those waters before.  The venom unleashed was like a snake bite;  quick and paralytic, so much so it stopped my breath.   I did not retreat, I continued to take my stand and my aunt ended the conversation abruptly and slammed the phone down.

The next thing I knew she was ringing our doorbell.    As she walked through our doorway, she was very, very angry.  It didn’t end well as she verbally attacked my mother and I demanded that she leave our home.  To my disappointment,  my mother was upset with me.   My mother was furious and even though she agreed with what I said, she felt that the storm on the horizon was not worth the victory of the battle.

The reaction was swift, my mother was cut from my aunt’s life.  I felt fine about that fact,  as I thought we needed the break.   However, my mother was not happy and was very traumatized by the whole event.  The silence from my aunt went on for an eternity and eventually my mother had to grovel back into my aunt’s life.  I decided that no matter what happened, I would remain on the sideline as clearly this was my mother’s wishes.    Several years after this incident, unknown to me, I would become my mother’s keeper as our family was thrown into the deep and nasty claws of Alzheimer’s.

Slowly and surely Alzheimer’s ate at my mother until it became apparent my mother was a shadow of the woman she had once been.  The brain stealing disease was robbing my mother of her life and it became clear that I had to move her from her apartment.  In the years leading up to this moment, I hadn’t really seen my aunt all that much. During the time that I  dealt with my mother and the Alzheimer’s was extremely difficult and stressful.  When I look back,  I’ve come to understand that I went into survival mode to get through one of the most difficult periods of my life.   I had two young children and my husband and I both worked full time.

During the early stages of my mother’s Alzheimer’s I knew something was wrong and I would spend a lot of time driving back and forth between my mother’s apartment and my home.  As the symptoms worsened, I had a hard time getting doctors to diagnose my mother properly.  Like many Alzheimer’s patients the more symptoms she showed the more stubborn she became.  She refused to leave her apartment to come live with me and she refused any other suggestion of moving from her apartment.

Eventually, events and circumstances led to her being forced to move, and she chose to  move across the country to live with my brother.   During the relocation and preparing her apartment for the real estate market,  I heard that my aunt had been visiting my mother.  However, she usually visited during the day when I was at work, so I never saw her.

As we moved closer to my mother’s moving date, my mother became very stressed  and agitated. At the height of this stress I received a call from my aunt.   Once again, I found myself forced into defending my mother’s well being.    The conversation lasted all of three minutes, but it is a conversation that I will never forget and it was the start of a journey down a slippery slope to the end of that relationship.

The night my aunt hung up on me, was a phone call that I had hoped would lead to some kind of resolution between the two of us; a negotiation of peace.  John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” resonates in my head as I write this.  Peace or a peace of mind was the goal but the conversation ended far from peacefully.  Given our history, it wasn’t all that surprising.  As I hung up the phone, I knew I would never talk to her again.  At the time I examined my conscience and I don’t think “a clear conscience” is the correct term here, I think I just swept it all under the rug, the dirty grime hidden until I could deal with it another time at some point down the road.  The grime remained hidden under that rug for 11 years.

Several weeks ago, that dirt and grime was removed from under the rug, where it had been hidden conveniently all those years before.  My brother texted to let me know that my aunt had passed away.   Unknown to me, she had been fighting cancer for the last several years and like so many, she lost her battle.  The grime that had been under the rug for so long, came back up so quickly and before long I realized that the act of burying the emotions had been convenient, very convenient for me to not take the time to cleanse myself of the dirt and grime that had built up under the surface.

Unfortunately, her death brought all of those feelings back and plenty of anger as well.  I was asked by everyone if I would attend the funeral.  I wanted to, I wanted to pay my respects but the more I struggled with that thought the more I realized that I couldn’t bring all of that dirt and grime, now released from under the rug, to the funeral.

Regret is ironic,  I once read that a successful life means no regrets.  I’m not so sure that is correct.  I think mistakes and regrets are a part of life and how we deal with those mistakes and regrets can only make us stronger.  I do regret and my regret is that I didn’t listen to my mother.  She was right, I didn’t understand, it just wasn’t worth it.  The emotions between my aunt and I ran deep and even in death, she made it clear to me that those emotions still ran high.

I honestly, don’t think she ever forgave me and my regret is not so much that I acted out or stood up to her, my regret is that by saying it out loud, I brought it right to the surface and my aunt was no longer able to hide behind her armour and like any good warrior, she came out fighting. My mother knew that and she knew she didn’t have the strength to fight.

To pull the rug from under one is bound to bring to the surface the dirt and grime that has been hiding for so long.  Leave them with dignity is what my mother would have said, and this is something my mother always did.  She always took the high road, even when she knew that she was right.  The greater good and the best outcome was more important to my mother and all these years later, I think she was right.

Our lives can’t be defined by regret as a life of regret is equivalent to living in a wasteland with no end in sight.  Our future can be defined by the changes we make because of mistakes and regrets.   In the future I will lay down my sword and resist the temptation of going to war.  My mother would be happy, as she found my way very stressful and often wondered out loud why I made things so difficult for myself.

As I continue to walk the journey we call life, I’ve decided to take the path that has smooth rocks rather than the path with jagged rocks.  As for my Aunt, she was an adversary and she knew how to go to war and wouldn’t stop until she won.  The truth is neither one of us won, there was only loss and it was loss of time.   Surely there will be battles to fight, but the only purpose of those battles for now on will be to prevent the war.

Johanne Fraser

THE BEAST

as the beast moves through the streets,

people stare in astonishment,

the beast moves in and out,

as his energy takes him everywhere,

some stop, some stare, but most move to

the other side,

as fear grips them from their chest to their head,

and their legs quickly move them in another

direction,

the beast keeps his head down,

 scanning with his black eyes from one side

to the other,

not missing a moment nor a movement,

the beast knows and feels their fear,

makes him move with caution,

in a calm and quiet manner,

as he continues down the street,

a little girl sees the beast,

and squeals in joyful delight,

as she opens her arms and

runs to embrace him,

panic erupts as her parents scream and try

to stop her,

but the little girl sees through the beast,

and with quick movement,

she opens her arms,

and gives him a loving hug,

the beast snuggles warmly into her being,

and turns his head to lick her neck,

which sends her into an eruption of

giggles,

bringing tranquility and a sense of

calm to the one they call

the beast.

Johanne Fraser

 

WITHOUT ROOTS WE ARE NOTHING

“A tree with strong roots laughs at storms”  Malay Proverb

A good friend of mine has worked in the hairdressing industry for years.  She worked hard at her craft and became an expert in her area.  She had clients from all over who drove many miles to see her.  I was one of those clients, I met her when I was 18 and as soon as I met her I knew our business relationship would be a long one.  We are close in age and as Melissa grew her clientele and moved to different salons, I followed her on her journey.  It wasn’t just her talent at cutting hair, it was her warmth and down to earth nature that made you feel like she knew you forever and that you mattered.  You just weren’t another person in her chair, you were someone important.

A few years ago, Melissa decided to hone her craft and learn the art of being a barber.  Once she learned the basic techniques in barber school, Melissa set out to get to the roots of what it is to be a barber.  She volunteered for an organization called Street Thug Barbers.  A non-profit organization that goes into areas in the city that is considered out-of-bounds to most people from stable areas.   Street Thug Barbers set up barber chairs and offer their services for free for any soul who needs a haircut.    Melissa joined this group and once a week cut hair for people from all walks of life. There were no fancy salons, no fancy chairs, no fancy cut or dyes, just a simple chair out in the open and simple-minded barbers cutting hair for anyone who needed a haircut giving these souls the gift of dignity and making them feel like they were part of humanity.  They may be called Street Thug Barbers but these men and women also offer free hugs.  Something people in these area don’t experience much.   Everyone is treated with love and respect rather than being ignored and treated like they don’t matter.  Melissa learned much from this experience and she told me that most of what she learned was about herself and that the experience of meeting and cutting hair for these souls opened her soul in ways that she could never have imagined.

Unknown to Melissa, she was about to have some serious dips in her life as she found herself unexpectedly unemployed and in litigation with her formal employer for wrongful dismissal.  She eventually settled her situation but it was a good year of frightening change for her and her finances were seriously set back.  She still continued to volunteer for Street Thug Barbers and she found that the work she did with this organization saved her in more ways than one.  Melissa is a very artistic person and she wanted to get to the roots of being a barber and learn her craft.  Through the contacts she made with Street Thug Barbers, she started working in a Chinatown barber shop that has been in existence since 1919.  Melissa felt she would get to the root of the barber industry by working in a place that was clearly all about roots.  She worked most days solo where no one spoke English.  All demanded impeccable work and wanted it done in 12 minutes for $8.00.  In Melissa’s words “until you can do a flawless skin fade in 12 minutes on someone who cannot speak English to tell you what they want, you haven’t stretched yourself.  The knowledge, experience and connection to community I attained while being in the little shop grew me in places I thought I had peaked in my life. ”  Melissa told me that she learned more from an 84-year-old Chinese barber who spoke no English than she had learned from anyone.

Melissa dove into the history and roots of a true original barbershop and let those lessons absorb deep down into her skin, hands, mind and soul and as she branches out on her own, those deep connections with a barbershop, dated back to 1919, root her in ways that she didn’t think was possible.  Melissa’s story is one of truths proving that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much education you have or the status in your job.  If you don’t have roots, you will never weather the storm.  Deep roots is not established in our society.  I constantly hear complaints of the young working class coming into the workforce not wanting to work, don’t want to get down to the nitty-gritty, they want everything, title, job and money with no knowledge or work.  They disrespect their elders and don’t have strong work ethics.  Respect and strong work ethic will take you further than qualifications or references.

There are two gifts we can give our children; one is roots and the other is wings.   It is my hope that my boys can look at me when I’m ancient and understand that they are seeing roots, roots so deeply grounded that the trunk and branches born from those roots will be with them forever.

 

THE LIFE I WANT

“I always get to where I’m going by walking away from where I have been.” – Pooh

I recently read a story about a rich business man and a fisherman, the story goes like this:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos. I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

The irony wasn’t lost on me.  We spend so much time in thought about what we’re doing, where we’re going and chasing a pot of gold to pay for our houses, our cars, our clothes, our children’s education, our children’s activities, the list goes on and on. We rarely spend time in the present and enjoy what is right in front of us.

For the last 3 years I have been focusing on trying to slow things down.  Instead of going shopping I stay home and make tea, I try to read and write more,  I watch the shows I want to see, I spend time with my furbabies amongst the trees, every morning I wake up and step outside barefooted on the grass to ground myself to the earth; yet I still suffer anxieties and worries about the future.   Why, I have everything I need and most important at this moment I have my health, my husband and my boys have their health.  This is a moment for celebration, every day should be a celebration but there are days I wake up with dread and exhaustion before I even start the day.

I’m not the only one, so many people are trying to do too many things, have a too long to do list and feel they have to be successful in jobs or have lots of money to show the world just how important they are.  It’s comical really, the way we live.  We spend more time surfing the net watching how celebrities live rather than watching our own lives.  We put too much focus into how much money one has, what they do for a living or their level of education.  The truth is every day is an education, every day is a chance to learn something you didn’t know the day before.  A formal education may bring you job success and money but there is nothing more important than an education in life and life’s ups and downs is the only school that can give you this education.

Winnie the Pooh has always inspired me to just be.   He does nothing and yet things come to him, friends show up at the right time, he slows down time to enjoy his honey, he makes time for all the important people in his life and he sits when he’s tired.    I’ve come to the realization that it is really just that simple, to have the life you want because that life is sitting right in front of you and it’s up to you to enjoy every single moment of it.  All you have to do is start walking from where you’ve been to get to where you want to be.

 

 

What’s Your Agenda

“He who does not know the art of living cannot know the art of dying.  Mahatma Gandhi

My shift at the hospice started like every other.  I stopped by the volunteer office to check the volunteer log before my shift to look through notes from the previous volunteers to see if I could spot anyone who needed more attention that night.  I noticed there was a new patient; a fairly young man from Jamaica.   The notes were the usual volunteer notes, “chatted for a while, served him tea, he was sleeping, he had visitors.”  One volunteer’s note caught my eye and it said “is having difficulty with the family dance.”  The note was subtle but I understood it immediately.  Reading through the volunteer log, this gentleman had lots of visits from family and he was having a rough time with it.

Every family has their family dance and when someone is coming to the end of their life, the family dance can intensify.  When death hangs in the air, there is no room for fake, manipulative, pretentious behaviour.  You simply can’t get any more real than death and only authentic and honest mannerisms will do.  However, there are some that use death as their playing field leaving families and the person dying in a precarious and vulnerable state. I headed out to the floor, checking on patient after patient, helping them eat, removing their finished plates, fixing sheets and hanging out in their room for chitchats.   I got to the new patient’s room and he was sitting in a wheelchair watching tv.  He had finished eating and I asked him if I could take away his plate and get him more tea, coffee or water.

He nodded and as I picked up his tray and asked him if I could get him something else he said, “yes you can get me $5000.00.”  I laughed and I said  “if I find some cash, I’ll send it your way.”   He looked at me and said “good answer, but of course you’re a volunteer and you people have all the answers.”  His tone of voice was not nice and it stopped me in my tracks.  I was standing beside him with a tray of dishes in my hands, and as I looked down into his eyes, he was very angry.   I said “hey the tone of your voice is not nice, what is up with that comment?”  He seemed surprised by my honesty and he shook his head and said “What’s your agenda?”  Still standing with a tray of dishes in my hand, I was perplexed by the question.  “My agenda, what do you mean what’s my agenda?”  “He raised his voice and said your agenda, you’re not here out of the goodness of your heart, you have an agenda like every other bloody person in this place, everyone here has some kind of political bullshit agenda, what’s yours?”

I stood with the tray of dishes in my hand and stared at him for a moment longer, at that point I had never faced this type of bitter and angry attitude at the hospice and his forcefulness threw me somewhat.  I slowly lowered the tray of dishes onto a side table by his bed and pulled up a  chair beside him so I could be at eye level.  I looked him straight in the eyes and  I said “let me tell you a story.”  “Years ago my stepfather had a massive heart attack and ended up brain-dead and laid in the hospital in a coma for months.  My mother and I visited him every day but there was nothing we could do for him.   One evening while visiting my stepfather there was a new patient in the bed beside him.  The man was crying so I walked over to see if I could help, I noticed that his food had been delivered and he was unable to open the packages due to extremely swollen hands from arthritis.  I opened his food and helped him eat.  He simply was hungry and extremely frustrated by his situation.  I chose dinner time hours for my volunteer hours at this hospice because of that man.  So often family members find it hard to get to their love ones in hospices or hospitals at dinner time,  so I felt this time was the time that I could help out the most.   If you call that an agenda, then that’s my agenda.”

He stared at me for a while and I saw it.  It was a subtle change in his eyes, but I watched as his eyes and face softened.  He gave me a bright smile and leaned into me closer and said “are you Irish?”  I said “yes I am of Irish descent, my Grandparents sailed from Ireland to start a life here in Canada, why?”  He said “Because I have only met one other volunteer I like here and she’s Irish too.  You remind me of her and now I have two volunteers I like.”   I laughed and said you know what they say, “Don’t mess with the Irish.”  He laughed and said “Don’t mess with the Jamaicans.”

I spent most of my time talking to him that shift and he told me many things about the family dance, his political views and when I didn’t entirely agree with him we argued.  He loved the debates we got into and he said to me, “I talk to people about this stuff when they come in here and they don’t stay, they just want to talk about the fluffy stuff.”  Some of his views were strong and he would not back off when you told him what you thought.  My older brother has very strong views and if you challenge him, he will go right back at you, so I am use to that kind of exchange and it doesn’t bother me.  However, as I told this patient, “most people want to live on the surface, they don’t want to venture too deep as venturing too deep might open some doors that they don’t want to open, so you have to trail lightly my friend.”  He said, “Johanne, I am living in a hospice, I am not going to trail lightly, if someone can’t handle it, go away.”  “Touchè  I said, you have a point.”

As we continued to talk he said to me, “I was given two weeks to live and it’s been three months  since I was given that news.”  He then showed me a the different alternative medicine products by his bed and he said “I swear to you these medicines are keeping me alive.”   I didn’t dare say it but I know it’s true.  They say to beat cancer it is 10% treatment and 90% attitude.  This man has the attitude, he is feisty, gusty, full of hope and has immense faith in God.   He mentioned that the doctor came by the day before and I am assuming that he told the doctor that he wanted more blood test to see where the cancer was.  Apparently the doctor said to him,  “We don’t do that here, people come here to die.”  His answer, “suit yourself doctor, but I came here to live and I will live fully no matter where I am and I’m sorry if you don’t like that but that is what  I intend to do, I intend to live and God is my saviour not you.”

Before I left that night, I gave him a hug and said “I’ll be back next week” and he said “I will be here.”  As I walked across the parking lot to my truck after my shift that night,  the thought that crossed my mind was “I’m certain he’ll still be here next week.”  I passionately believe that souls cross each other’s path for reasons.  To listen to him was inspiring and exhausting at the same time. He brought to my spirit an awareness, an awareness of how precious time is and how important it is to live life to the fullest and to tell those that you love just how much you love them.  There isn’t a minute to spare, and the dance of living and dying goes on every single day.

 

 

The Journey

“In the end she became the journey, and like all journeys she did not end, she just simply changed directions and kept going.”  r.m. drake

A journey to self health does not only mean eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.  The journey to self health means you must take the list that you are using toward making your body healthier and stronger and apply that list to dig deep into your soul.  If you have been tolerating toxic habits that are hurting your body, you are most likely accepting and tolerating relationships that are toxic to your soul and hurting your journey.

If I am to be completely honest, my journey started forty five years ago when my father, for reasons of his own, decided he needed to leave his family and start a new life with a new wife and another family.  It was beyond hurt, it felt like someone had taken a knife and sliced me in half down the middle.  To my child self I felt acutely aware that he had made his choice, and his choice meant I was not part of his journey.  The path was not easy as there was much anger, mistrust and complete chaos between my parents.  I’m not sure if my parents thought about how this chaos was affecting their children, in hindsight they must have, but to my child self I felt alone and my parents didn’t realize that with each harsh word and every court date, I was building my wall, my wall of what my existence meant to this world.  I realize now as an adult that the words I was using to myself at that time  were;  I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t a person worthy of love, only negative things happen, there is no such thing as love and every time these words ended up in my head, the wall became thicker and thicker until the words could no longer reach me.

As thick as a wall I built, those words stuck with my being and I questioned everything I did, school was difficult because I never felt completely accepted, I was always someone who was looking from the outside in.  Teachers never understood me, yet they liked me because I was never a problem.  I just sat in the back doing my thing and I made it clear that I wanted to be left alone.   Forming healthy relationships with this foundation was difficult, but I managed to form some great friendships, friendships that have lasted a lifetime.   However, in my life I have accepted and tolerated friendships that I thought were friendships of mutual respect and admiration only to realize the friendships were very one sided.

Going back to the words I used as a child, not worthy of love, I have realized that these words have crept into some of the friendships I have formed, by allowing someone in my life who has not accepted me as my whole self, rather this person sees me as less than, and even though she calls me sister what she really means is elder, she is someone who knows more and is far more distinguished than I could ever be. 

How do I know this, I know this from comments and actions I have fielded for years.  As mad as some of these actions have made me, I have to accept responsibility for allowing and tolerating this attitude.  I realized a long time ago that if I accepted this persons limitations of me, then I am accepting these limitations of myself and it was time for me to change that direction and love my whole self.  I knew it meant that I could no longer be around this person in the same way.  To explain this to someone who clearly is lost in her own limitations and development is difficult, so I chose not to, I just kept working with my being and knew that the journey would go in the direction that it was meant to.

The word tolerance is an interesting word:

tol·er·ance
ˈtäl(ə)rəns/
noun
the ability or willingness to tolerate something, in particular the existence of opinions or behavior that one does not necessarily agree with.
“the tolerance of corruption”

The definition of tolerance sounds so civilized doesn’t it.  Within this definition alone, I realized that my tolerance level for acceptance of elitist and repressive behaviour in my life goes back to my childhood days when I tolerated the level of chaos within my household simply to survive my childhood.  I’ve had to accept the fact that I tolerated behaviour that was less than kind to my existence simply because I thought I was being a friend.

I have come to the realization that I must befriend myself first or else my journey will never take the twists and turns that makes journeys joyous and harmonious within the realm around us.

The opposite of the word tolerance:
  • patience
  • resilience
  • strength
  • toughness
  • endurance
  • guts
  • hardiness
  • opposition
  • stamina
  • steadfastness
  • steadiness
  • vigor
  • staying power

The opposite words of tolerance are worlds apart and doesn’t necessarily seem as civilized as toleration, however the soul does not need tolerance, the soul needs truth and the only way to truth is to be the opposite of tolerance and acceptance of anything other than truth is to accept an abrupt end to your journey, leaving you in a place of contempt for your being and your existence. 

Where my journey lands, I don’t know, all I know is that I have to apply the same trick that I learned a long time ago when I took up running and I was trying to increase my endurance to become a better runner.  I simply stopped looking at the long road ahead of me and concentrated on taking one step at a time.

Johanne Fraser