About Me

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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Didn't ask for this

Our childrens' class at Bosch Baha'i School, and our miniature flower garden
  "O SON OF SPIRIT! I created thee rich, why dost thou bring thyself down to poverty?  Noble I made thee, wherewith dost thou abase thyself?  Out of the essence of knowledge I gave thee being, why seekest thou enlightenment from anyone beside Me?  Out of the clay of love I molded thee, how dost thou busy thyself with another?  Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting." ~Baha'u'llah~

Wednesday mornings I have a writing date with a close friend who lives on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. We usually write together for about an hour, share what we have come up with, and then are off on our merry ways, busily engaging with the rest of our days. I usually work on a poem or a short story that I am working on. But it has been a rough week, and I felt like doing some reflection, so we both wrote for a 45 minutes, shared and reflected, wrote for another 45 minutes, and then did some further reflection.

I spent the weekend in Santa Cruz teaching a children's class for 3-5 year olds. I drove down on Friday, and got home Monday night. The past few weeks I have applied for quite a number of jobs, and received a number of those letters that make me cringe. The "thank you for your application. We had many qualified applicants apply for this position, and therefore regrettably have to inform you..." variety. I was feeling so frustrated last week that I had actually had a "chat" with God, explaining to Him that I needed a sign of some kind that I was in fact still headed in the right direction, and I gave Him 'til Sunday night to send me some kind of guidance. If the idea of giving God deadlines amuses you, I am not surprised. Let's just say that I have reached the farthest reaches of my job hunting endurance, and wanted to be ultra clear with the universe that I am in great need of some guidance.

I headed off to Santa Cruz feeling lighthearted. A little apprehensive about teaching 3-5 year-olds, since it is not an age group I have much experience with, but lighthearted nonetheless. When I offered to serve, I had expected to be set up with kids over 6, which is what I have experience with. I had contemplated calling back and mentioning that perhaps there was some mistake -- surely they would prefer someone with more experience with such a young age group. But a little voice in me responded to my own objections with the obvious fact that when you offer service, you are offering to do what is needed, not what you would most like to do, so I decided to swallow my apprehension and hope for the best.

It was a perfect day for driving, and I had decided that I was going to leave a little early and head down to San Francisco to have a cup of tea at Samovar, my favourite tea house, on my way to Santa Cruz. I had good tunes on the radio, I had snacks, and I was feeling great about getting out of the city. About 2/3 of the way down to the city I hit the weekend traffic. After about 30 minutes of crawling down the highway, I realized that if I drove all the way into the city at that rate, I would arrive in Santa Cruz late, and I had made a plan to sit down with my co-teacher to plan out our classes that evening. Slightly irritated, I abandoned my plan of making it to Samovar, and instead typed the address at Bosch Baha'i School in Santa Cruz into my GPS.

As soon as I changed my destination, and headed off in a new direction, the traffic lessened, and I actually arrived in Santa Cruz early. Ready for a break from the car, I parked on one of the side streets in downtown Santa Cruz, found myself a coffee shop, and settled into a chair in an outdoor patio area with a cool drink to enjoy the lovely afternoon sunlight, the college students roaming up and down the sidewalk, and the live music that was happening just down the street. When I finished my drink, I headed back towards my car. As I was about to get into it, I looked up and noticed that I had parked right in front of a clothing store that sold my kind of stuff -- classy looking, elegant, artsy, soft fabrics and uneven, handmade-looking items. I knew I shouldn't go in, because I am trying to be ultra careful about my expenditures at the moment, but I slipped in anyway. My initial thoughts on the place were correct. There were many things in the shop that I loved. But one thing stood out to me -- a crocheted cream-coloured summer scarf with crocheted roses stitched to it unevenly along its length. Knowing I should not be spending the money right now, I told myself to think about it over the weekend, and come back and get it on Monday if I still thought it was a good buy. I peeled myself away from the scarf, and set off on the winding ascent through the redwood forest, to Bosch.

Bosch is a very special place. Nestled in amongst the towering redwoods, the campus used to be a winery that was donated to the Baha'is to use as a school and conference centre. The accommodations are beautiful wooden cabins scattered beneath the canopy of trees. I have been to Bosch a number of times in the last six months as a guest, and was accommodated in the winterized cabins, complete with shower and toilet. This time however, I was informed that since it was a full session, and I was volunteering, I would be staying in a summer cabin at the other end of the campus, and sharing the toilet and bath house with all the surrounding cabins. My cabin mate was a woman from the bay area who would be working with the junior youth group over the weekend. That first night, we settled in only to realize that it was really cold. I got up to turn up the heat, which I had been told was located in all cabins on campus. Unfortunately I had not asked where the thermostat to turn it up was located, and perhaps because it was late, neither myself or my roommate could locate it, so we went back to bed, layering up to stay warm. You would think that after six years in Canada, I would have mastered the art of layering, but unfortunately I was still cold, and at 2am I finally got up and launched a second hunt for the heating system. I finally found it, and by 6, just as my alarm went off, the room was feeling toasty warm.


The next morning I was tired. But I figured it was nothing that a hot shower couldn't fix. I gathered up my stuff and headed over to the bath house to find a line of four women ahead of me for the two, already occupied showers. At first glance, I thought that the long line would mean being late, but as it turned out, everyone took short showers, and the extra time standing in line gave us all a chance to get to know each other a lot better than if we had all had showers in our cabins.

I headed off to meet the nine children that we had been entrusted with for the weekend. The following three days flew by. We made prayer beads with the kids, and crowns of nobility, and paintings that the class sold to raise money for the Baha'i fund. We planted flowers outside in the garden. We played games. We dealt with meltdowns and accidents, washed hands and faces, pushed kids on swings, held them on the monkey bars, encouraged them down the slide, walked with them in the forest, ate snacks with them, cleaned up spilled juice, and learned songs with them. At the talent show on the last night the kids all got up on the stage with us to sing their favourite song in front of everyone. I had known that the kids would teach me far more than I would contribute to their lives, but I ended the weekend feeling utterly exhausted, deeply humbled, and happier than I had felt in a long time, all at once.

The night before I left Bosch, my computer, which was filled with all the writing I have been working on over the last year (and not backing up), died. It died on the night I had given to God as the deadline for getting an answer to my question about whether I was on the right path, and yes, I see the irony in this situation far more clearly than I would like!

On Monday morning I woke up feeling tremendously discouraged at the prospect of having just lost masses of my writing, and the reality that I cannot even consider purchasing a new computer right now. Still, we finished up our program, the children were happy, and their parents were very pleased with everything their children had been working on over the weekend. Not wanting to face the reality of job hunting without a computer, I decided to go see how much our class had raised with their artwork. Only a couple of paintings had not been claimed, and the donation box was well-stuffed with bills. I was pleased for the kids that all their hard work had generated such a great response. I headed up to the flower garden that we had planted with the kids, concerned that it might not have survived the night after stories of local deer that eat anything and everything in their pathway. As I came up over the hill, I found our garden fully intact, our sunflowers standing tall and happy. I watered the garden, reflecting on how many blessings the weekend had brought.

I packed up my car, and started off towards home. About twenty minutes into my drive I had the urge to drive into San Francisco and go to Samovar tea house before heading back to the valley. Usually overcast and chilly, I arrived in San Francisco on a bright, sunny afternoon. The Yerba Buena park was green and lush, church bells were clanging, and the tea house was all light, its doors flung open, and people relaxing on couches outside on the patio as well as inside. I settled at a table facing the windows and started reading my novel, while sipping on a cup of their delicious masala chai. Part way through my visit I noticed a bird that kept flying in through the open door, gathering up crumbs from the floor, and then flying out again. I looked up and noticed that the man sitting at the table next to me was watching the bird too. Going back to our books, a few minutes later I noticed a couple sitting opposite me who were sitting less than a foot away from each other, snapping photos of each other across the table. The image, slightly comical, made me laugh, and as I did so, I noticed the fellow next to me smiling as well. We started talking, and it turned out that he had a PhD in computer sciences, and was a genius with Macintosh computers. He proceeded to give me a step by step description of everything I needed to do to try to save the data on my hard drive. After having spent the day rather irritated with the universe for allowing my computer to crash before I found a job, I had to again recognize that irony of the situation, and the obviousness of that fact that this fellow's presence at the table next to mine on the very day that I needed help with my computer was no coincidence.

I arrived back home Monday night to find an email in my inbox from Karen at Chookooloonks, a fantastic blog that I follow, informing me that I had won her Thursday giveaway -- a Kenyan scarf by Nest, a non-profit organization that empowers female artists and artisans around the world. I thought back to the scarf that I had walked away from in Santa Cruz so reluctantly, and again, had to smile at the logic of the universe.

Last night a whole group of friends came over to study the Baha'i holy writings with me. I was still feeling exhausted from my trip, and felt more like crawling into bed with a good book than entertaining. As my friends filled the living room, excited to start studying, i could sense myself resisting what was happening around me. Most of the class passed in a blur, until, at a certain point, we read a line about how to behave in Baha'i Houses of Worship. The text, from the Kitab-i-Aqdas, explained that when visitors enter the houses of worship, they should seat themselves, and, in silence, listen to the words of God (paragraph 115, Kitab-i-Aqdas). The group discussed how, usually when we enter a House of Worship, we sit down and immediately begin to pray, and how different this approach is to that of entering and being silent, and listening to God. We discussed what listening meant, and what we were listening for, and how what we were really listening to was not something external, but rather a spirit within ourselves.

Last night, after my friends left I sat down and said some prayers, and then decided to try to get my computer to start up one more time, so that I could try to get all of my data off of it. This time, despite the fact that it had not started up for four days, my computer went on immediately, and stayed on until I had everything that I needed off of the hard drive. Again, the obviousness of Divine assistance was very clear.

Today I checked my email, and I had one message from an online travel site that I had sent a proposal into for an article that I would like to write about the Mediterranean, approving my proposal and giving me a date for my first draft. I think it was a sign, however small, that although none of my job applications have yielded an interview, my writing is being received well by those who I send it off to.

In my writing with my friend Ahava this morning, I decided to focus on the topic of listening, because it is a skill that I want to nurture and develop. Listening comes in many forms. I was realizing that over the past year I have been praying a lot for very specific things that I think are what are best for my life, but have not been getting many answers. What I have not been doing nearly enough of however is listening. Pure, openhearted listening. The kind of listening that need not involve ears, but very much requires opening the heart to receiving not what I want, but what God, or the universe thinks is best for me and for my community. The kind that involves showing up every day to serve the world around me, being receptive to whatever comes my way, and practicing gratitude for the many blessings and opportunities that come my way.

I didn't ask for not owning my own car when I left Canada last winter. I did not ask for having a computer that would die in the middle of my job hunt. Or having to be so careful about my spending that I could not get small gifts for myself and my friends here and there every now and then. But I also did not ask for the blessing of spending an entire weekend learning from nine 3-5 year-olds. Or winning a one of a kind scarf made by women in Kenya. Or getting free computer advice from a tech guardian angel in a tea house in San Francisco. I am learning that listening and receiving with grace takes some work. And that often the most rewarding experiences are the ones I am not expecting.

How do you practice listening in your life? Both the external kind, and the internal listening -- the kind that enables you to find Him standing within you, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting?

4 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh. YOU ARE AMAZING! I'm so gobsmacked at the fact that you had all this happen to you AND that you recognised the lessons therein almost immediately - it's so hard to see the wisdom sometimes but wowee you inspire me with your aptitude to do so :-) x

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  2. Hi love. Amazing is not the word I would use at the moment. Deeply humbled by and grateful for the kindness and gentleness with which Baha'u'llah is teaching me the important lesson of learning how to listen, yes. I know we need to talk. Maybe next week some time we could fit a chat in? What do you think?

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  3. Elena XenophontosJune 2, 2011 at 12:57 AM

    Deep in thought as always Ariana mou...Its a wonderful thing existince and learning...many people think that one has to go to college or university in order to gain knowledge or be able to exist and co exist in this life.Life is an every day learning process ..sometimes we fail and sometimes we pass with flying colours,bur NEVER do we give up !!!!!! You have given much love and devotion ,time and help to many people,and because life is like a turning wheel,where in what ever we give out to the universe (be that love or hate,help or selfishness,negative or positive thoughts....) one day will all come right back at us...
    We have to learn to be patient and have an open heart in order to understand and aknowledge the signs that God sends us in many misterious ways....

    Love reading your thoughts and your experiences as always,my friend!!!!!

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  4. Thank you for your comment Elena mou. Since you are one of the strongest (and wisest) women I know, your reflections are always such a gift. Thank you for reading and taking the time to respond! :-)

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