Category Archives: Musings

Zooming In

My view is vast. Infinite. It’s the entire cosmos, all the solar systems, galaxies, stars, planets, asteroids, satellites and black holes.

Time is irrelevant here, but change is constant. Stars flicker out or explode as supernovas. Dark matter and energy pulse and there are hefty rocks careening through space, colliding with planets and other celestial objects. Planets circle stars and moons circle planets. There is chaos and there is order. The universe is All.

I rest my sights on the Milky Way which is but one of billions of galaxies in the universe. Each star in the milky way is teeming with planets. I focus on one of those stars, known as the Sun and see the nine planets that orbit it. Looking even closer I note the third planet from the sun, a blue dot in the black vastness. Zooming in I see that the planet is mostly covered in water, hence the blue tinge but great mountain ranges zig zag across the land and there’s lush vegetation, trees being the most notable feature. 

Drawing my gaze even closer I recall that this blue dot in the universe is also home to billions of beings, from single cell organisms to birds that soar and larger two and four-legged creatures. Last time I cast a glance this way there were significantly more varieties but now the two-legged ones, the humans, have grown in number, skewing the fine balance. Time will sort out this problem. Time, eternal time, restores balance to all aspects of the cosmos.

Earth has existed for 3.8 billion years but humans have been around for only a few hundred thousand. In other words, they just got there.

And perhaps they are already on their way out?

I’d watched the evolution of life on this planet and when I first noticed the transition from hominid to human I was curious. What will they do with their developing brains? With their compassionate hearts? 

Not what I’d expected, as it turns out.

Earth, that tiny, fragile exception in this particular solar system was an anomaly. It had life. It had potential. Humans did not rely solely on instinct to guide them as unicellular beings do. They are capable of great emotion and wondrous imagination. Continue reading

Mind-blowing Science

Every time I watch a jumbo jet hurtle down a runway and then lift skyward I’m awed by the science that made that feat possible. How many pounds of aircraft, people and luggage are being propelled into the atmosphere? Who ever dreamed it could be done? I’m constantly humbled by how little I know. 

A mere 66 years separate the Wright brothers’ first flight and Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon. It’s miraculous that science could achieve so much in that time frame. And now with the advent of AI new developments in science will likely speed “advancement” even faster although we don’t yet know how these ‘advancements’ will play out. Will they solve many of our man-made problems or only add to them? Perhaps in another 66 years we really will be living in settlements somewhere in outer space.

What really amazes me though (and not in a good way) is how we can make these huge advances in certain sciences, like aviation, yet we still can’t learn the basics, like how to get along. War continues to be waged around the world. As well, it has been suggested that if everyone on the planet consumed resources as fast as the average Canadian, five Earths would be needed to sustain us. As a species we can be so brilliant, yet we can also behave as daft as that ostrich with its head buried in the sand. 

In the early days of the Covid pandemic we were all forced to slow down. You could almost feel the planet sigh with relief. The air cleared almost immediately as most of the planes were grounded and people who could worked from home, sparing the atmosphere all those carbon emissions. Wildlife began to appear where it dared not tread just weeks before. People returned to the humble Craft; baking, knitting, gardening. Wouldn’t it have been nice if this grand pause could have taught us to slow down permanently, breathe more deeply and appreciate simple pleasures? But life has ramped back up. It’s what keeps the economy going. 

But let’s return to science, that miraculous body of knowledge that created vaccines and medicines that extend our lives.  That changed our means of communication. That continually evolves. Biologists. Physicists. Geologists. They are all working on discoveries to further enlighten and improve the human condition. 

Right now climate scientists are working particularly hard and are sounding an alarm loud and clear. They have the knowledge to teach us how to save ourselves and yet we’re still too preoccupied with our rampant consumerism, fast fashion and celebrity culture to hear it. Like that airplane hurtling down the runway, it can feel as though planet earth is careening toward disaster. But writer George Monbiot reminds us that political systems were made by people, and they can be changed by people. And we’re not ostriches. As Dr. Seuess says, “We have brains in our heads. We have feet in our shoes. We can steer ourselves in any direction we choose.” If we can blast airplanes into the sky and rockets into outer space surely science can help  rejig our trajectory, moving us toward the creation of a kinder, gentler and greener world. 

Spiritual Longing on a Sunday Afternoon

Written on a glorious fall day.

High above the towering forest the sky is a brilliant, summertime blue but the air on the ground is cool and fresh. Fallen leaves crunch beneath my feet as I stomp along the wooded trail. Through shafts of light that slice through the overhead branches I see that the the air is not actually clear but full of minuscule debris, bits of the forest, dancing in the breeze.

A sense of the sublime hits me as I absorb this perfect moment. Forgotten are the to-do lists, the chores that are waiting to be tackled and the many sorrows of the greater world. My mood, which seconds earlier had been dark as I rehashed the worries of the day, has lifted. I lean against a statuesque tree and look up, the green tree foliage juxtaposed against the cloudless sky and I let the beauty soak through me…

And then a crow squawks, breaking the stillness of the afternoon. I sigh, check my watch, and continue to plod along. The spiritual longing that is my constant companion settles over me again.

C.S. Lewis describes the feeling as “an inconsolable longing for we know not what”. How true. No matter how even-keeled my life is on any given day I can always feel that pang, that need to understand the meaning of it all. Why are we here? What is our purpose? Is there even a purpose?

Around the world people turn to organized religion to find the answers and yet we’re the one species who regularly rages war on one another (often in the name of religion) and we’re also the one species who (supposedly) has the greatest intelligence yet ignores what we know and continues to destroy our one and only planet with our wasteful, polluting ways. There’s such a disconnect between what we know and what we do. How can a person reconcile bliss (ie. a walk on a perfect fall day) while also knowing that our lifestyles are such that people only a few generations from now may not be able to experience this same beauty? Indigenous people from every corner of the world seem to have a more balanced relationship with the planet, recognizing the interconnectedness between all living things, and yet we don’t listen.

So what do we do with this?

We can only do our best, living in a manner that treads as lightly as possible. We can pursue knowledge. The sublime may be beyond our grasp but we can live generously and with kindness. And we can pay greater attention to those simple pleasures that stimulate the sense of wonder, that dew-covered, extraordinarily intricate spider web sparkling in the morning sunlight. That smell of decomposing leaves beneath our feet. That deep, unexpected connection with a stranger or the warmth we feel in our beloved communities. Perhaps if we do pay attention, much closer attention to these many simple joys the sense of the sublime will push aside the spiritual longing for longer and longer moments and we’ll “find the sacred in the midst of the mundane.” (John Robbins)

And we can hope, deeply hope that our elected leaders will take the necessary actions that begin to resolve the many problems in the world.


Imagine…

Before anything significant can happen, it first has to be imagined. A world without slavery had to be imagined before the abolition movement could exist. A world where women are equal to men had to be imagined before women were eventually granted the right to vote. A new year has that ‘anything can happen’ kind of feeling. In that spirit, here is the perfect world of my imagination, an invocation to make it so.

Imagine that we wake each morning to the sound of birdsong. Bird numbers have returned to preindustrial numbers and their trills, warbles and whistles fill the air as they welcome the new day.

Imagine we rise each morning with our hearts full of compassion and not greed, full of wonder and not cynicism.

Imagine starting each day with a wholesome breakfast of food that we’ve grown in our own small gardens or was produced locally.

Imagine living in communities where people have access to smooth-running transit as we head to work and school. Even better, imagine communities designed with safe walking and biking trails for easy commuting.

Imagine that everyone is employed in work that contributes in a meaningful way to society, and that we enjoy doing over a four day work week.

Imagine that everyone has discovered their passions, those things that bring us joy without harming ourselves, others, or the planet. And imagine we can all find time each day to pursue these passions, whether they are playing sports, making music, art, cooking or any of a million other interests. May we also have time each day to care for our families, friends and people in need.

Should we become unwell, imagine that the medical system will be there to meet our needs, from consultation, to tests and treatment. Continue reading

The Day The Music Died

It was Friday March 13, 2020 when I first heard that the NHL had cancelled their hockey season indefinitely. What the…?? That’s when the truth finally sank in.  The coronavirus – as we were calling it then – was deadly serious.

That’s also when I began watching the news incessantly. Global. CBC. CNN. I watched it 24-7. I couldn’t get enough. Like most everyone else I became frightened, neurotic and slightly unhinged. (Though not enough to stock-pile toilet paper.)  I would have been less shocked If a world war had been declared. It had never occurred to me that – outside science-fiction –  a worldwide pandemic could shut down the entire planet so rapidly.

In those early days I couldn’t read, write or listen to music.  I couldn’t focus. I could only consume news. I watched the daily covid numbers in BC, in Canada and around the world. In utter shock I saw the horrific scenes coming out of Italy and Spain. I hung onto BC’s Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry’s every word. Yes Dr. Henry, I will behave responsibly. I’ll stay home. I’ll wear a mask. Hand washing? I’m surprised there’s any skin left on my hands.

And then my beloved dentist died of the f’n virus. It was no longer ‘out there’. If it could take him, it could take anyone in my family or community.

Months passed. I began to read again. But still I watched news. Read news. Listened to news on podcasts as I walked. And walked. As we moved into the third wave our hearts collectively grew heavier and heavier.

But then the vaccines began to roll out and ever so slowly the daily new cases began to decline. I received my first dose  of vaccine. Relief!  Without realizing it I began to wean myself from news. I quit keeping tabs on daily numbers.  I began to socialize again, albeit safely.

The second dose of vaccine created havoc in my body, but it was short-lived pain. Hallelujah! I’ve been fully vaccinated!

Soon after that I turned on my Daily Spotify Mix – currated just for me – and suddenly everything changed just as quickly as it had on March 13, 2020. Beautiful music filled my home again and I found myself dancing around the kitchen as I made dinner. It felt like the music was resurrecting my soul. Throughout those many months when I’d been so  anxious I couldn’t allow myself the abandon of giving myself over to it. Now that I have there is such relief.  When I silenced the music, I also silenced that link to the vast array of emotions that makes us human and connected to a vibrant life. And with the return of music I’m finding new ideas for stories have come rushing back in too.

I’d like to think that I’ve learned from this experience, but I doubt it. When I’m in fight or flight mode, facing an enemy like Covid, I can’t open myself up to the pleasures of music or much else.

For now, though, that has  changed. Bring on the Spotify Daily mixes. Soon I’ll be attending live theatre. And concerts. May the music never die again.

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life bringing peace,  abolishing strife.” Kahlil Gilbran

Simple Pleasures

To distract ourselves during Covid, my walking partner and I challenged each other to pay attention to the simple pleasures in our lives. We noted how satisfying it is to slice into a perfectly ripe avocado or to slip between  freshly laundered sheets on a well-made bed. It’s these little things that can get us through difficult times.

In his book titled The Book of Delights poet Ross Gay challenged himself to write one short essay per day on something he’d observed that delighted him. In the intro he says, “It didn’t take me long to learn that the discipline of writing these essays occasioned a kind of delight radar. Or maybe it was more like the development of a delight muscle. Something that implies that the more you study delight, the more delight there is to study. A month or two into this project delights were calling to me: Write about me! Write about me! I also learned this year that my delight grows – much like love and joy – when I share it.”

In other words, ‘what you focus on grows.’

So that’s what I’m going to do ~ share my simple pleasures (and delights!) and hope that more and more of them call to me.

In no particular order, here are a few:

  1. Nuzzling a kitten to my face and breathing it in.
  2. Hearing the laughter of children playing outside on summer evenings.
  3. Puppies. The full-body wiggle when they’re greeting you.
  4. Being notified by the library that a long awaited book has finally arrived.
  5. Cracking open a new book and sinking in for the evening.
  6. Hanging laundry out to dry on a breezy spring day.
  7. Chatting with cheery strangers when we’re both out walking.
  8. Discovering a gem of a book at a Little Free Library, or leaving a treasured book there and finding it gone the next time I’m checking out the selection.
  9. Seeing items get repurposed.
  10. Participating in discussions that dive deep.
  11. Discovering new products that tread lightly on the planet, or that eliminate plastic waste.
  12. Long, ambling beach walks.
  13. Breathing in the earthy smell of forest trails.
  14. Viewing wildlife photography – especially of bears and apes.
  15. Watching the assertive little hummingbirds that fight for space at the bird feeder.

What are your simple pleasures?

I Am Only One

After viewing Seaspiracy and then the equally disturbing companion documentary Cowspiracy  my heart felt bruised. I’m ashamed of what mankind is capable of doing to sentient beings.

In order to heal my heart and feel some sense of control, I  return to these quotes.

Empowering words. And, I might add, no one is too old to make a difference either. Maybe that is the best time of all, when the distractions  of youth have passed and there’s time for reflection. And action. Every day.

 

Taking time for reflection

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said:

“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”

Oh dear.  I realize how often in my daily interactions I slip into the category of discussing events and people, but I aspire to do better.

Journalist Steve Wasserman asks: “Does the ethos of acceleration prized by the internet diminish our capacity for deliberation and enfeeble our capacity for genuine reflection? Does the daily avalanche of information banish the space needed for actual wisdom?”

What would Eleanor Roosevelt think about the way social media bombards us with ‘bites’ of information, but no true analysis of events?

This is why I love bookclub. Coming together for the sole purpose of discussing the ideas presented in thoughtful books is so enriching. When the other group members share their insights I see that each person’s experience of the world allows them to interpret the story and its ideas differently. That in turn promotes clarity and then wisdom, and helps me become a more empathetic person. Books (and journals) are the antithesis of ‘fast news’, which, like ‘fast fashion’ has quantity but no quality.

One of the silver linings from the pandemic is that each of my three adult daughters has rediscovered books and reading. When the pandemic is declared over, I hope they will continue to read and, even more importantly, discuss the ideas found on the pages.

Do you like what they see? A writing prompt …

You’ve just met someone new. Or maybe it’s an alien from some far off galaxy. They have arrived unannounced at your home. For some strange reason you cannot speak. I don’t know why. It’s not important.

This person can only get to know you by watching you and seeing how you live. You can’t tell them about yourself, so they will surmise who you are by seeing what you do, where you go. They will learn your habits. They will see your home and belongings. Do you fold the corner of the page of your book or use a bookmark? Are the surfaces in your home clean and clutter free or do they tell the story of your day, your week. Maybe your month? What do you have hanging on your walls? How full is the laundry hamper? What is in your fridge?

Where will this person think you put most of your attention?

What will they determine are your priorities?

Really think on this.

Now, here’s the real question:
Do you like what they see?

Wise Words

The following are the wisest words I’ve heard since the start of this pandemic.

“Undoubtedly, the Covid 19 pandemic has introduced uncertainty into all echelons of daily life. But uncertainty need not inspire fear. Uncertainty is the precursor to innovation and innovation is the precursor to change.

We are offered two choices today: To fear uncertainty and to fear change, or to see this generational challenge as a generational opportunity.” (Andrew Weaver, former leader of the BC Green Party)

When the pandemic first hit I was amazed at how fast the grocery stores installed plexiglass partitions, curb-side pick up became the new norm for small shops and crosswalk lights became automated. No need to touch any surfaces. Yes, innovation quickly evolved from the uncertainty of the lurking coronavirus. These were small, quick fixes. Imagine if this same ingenuity was used on much larger issues. I’m thinking of Senior Care Homes for starters. Climate change to follow up.

This is our moment for leaders and institutions to revamp those systems that no longer serve us well.  I’m going to imagine the day where we live in balance with the natural world and also  live harmoniously  with all of humanity in its many delightful hues and cultural variances. These could be the hidden opportunities the coronavirus offers us.

Image: quotulatiousness.ca