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.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Walking in my chosen highway

Friday morning the morning air was full of ice crystals--a million tiny crystals floating haphazardly in all directions like a frenzy of insects, wings sparks of sunlight in motion. The blue shadows of trees arced their long, willowy blue arms across a bed of freshly fallen snow. Outside the wind's percussion played through the branches of bare trees. Snow slowly melted, dripped, re-froze--a tiny drumbeat of ice to water to ice.

Later in the afternoon as shadows began to pull chunks of heavy hues between buildings, I made my way downtown to my favourite German bakery, Leonhard's for a hot drink and some time to write in my journal. Leonhard's is all fairy lights and birch trees. I settled in a corner seat and watched as the soft flakes that had been wet against my cheeks a moment earlier on the pavement began to fall heavier and more steadily. I was thinking about joy. About how to hold it close in my mind and heart most especially when things are not going how I think I would like them to go.

I came across this story recently that described some advice that Abdu'l-Baha, the son of Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith, gave to Lua Getsinger, an early North American Baha'i during one of her visits to the Middle East. He told her: "Thou must be firm and unshakable in thy purpose, and never, never let any outward circumstances worry thee. I am sending thee to India to accomplish certain definite results. Thou must enter that country with a never-failing spirituality, a radiant faith, an eternal enthusiasm, an inextinguishable fire, a solid conviction, in order that thou mayest achieve those services for which I am sending thee. Let not thy heart be troubled. If thou goest away with this unchanging condition of invariability of inner state, thou shalt see the doors of confirmation open before thy face, thy life will be a crown of heavenly roses, and thou shalt find thyself in the highest station of triumph.

Strive day and night to attain to this exalted state. Look at me! Thou dost not know a thousandth part of the difficulties and seemingly insurmountable passes that rise daily before my eyes. I do not heed them: I am walking in my chosen highway."

I love this quote because it is quite clear from it that Abdu'l-Baha was very definitely walking his chosen highway both during the tough times and the joyful times. He was walking in his CHOSEN highway during the tough times. It is hard to recognize that we are always walking in our chosen highway whether times are happy or sad, stressful or relaxing, easy or hard. It is easier to believe that when we are walking through tough times we are not on our chosen highway -- that somehow God or fate or some other power is dragging us, kicking and screaming down a highway that we most certainly DID NOT choose--a highway that is NOT our will. What I realize in reading the quote above is that Abdu'l-Baha can honestly say that he is always walking in his chosen highway because he has recognized and fully accepted a truth that I will be working on for the rest of my life: that the only way to know with absolute certainty that one is walking one's chosen highway is to bring one's will completely into line with the will of God so that there is no separation, no distinction between what we want in our lives and what God wants. All that is left for us to do then is to find and share the joy that is always within us with those around us irrespective of the circumstances we are living through. I am not saying that is easy--it is hard as hell. But there is something beautiful about being able to align one's will with a larger will, and step back from what is happening around you and see it for what it is: a passing state that need not influence your inner joy or peace.

I have been working on all of this the past couple of weeks. I arrived on Prince Edward Island in Atlantic Canada on December 28th hoping to find a way to stay. It may happen yet. I am praying it does. But in the meantime I have a departure ticket for February 14th and a great deal of uncertainty about what comes after that date. In the past this reality would have caused me a great deal of anxiety. But in the light of this quote above, which I have been reading multiple times throughout the day over the last week, whenever I notice myself starting to get anxious about all of the uncertainty in my life right now I am able to consciously focus on letting it go....focus instead on the only thing I really do have control over: how I respond. It is an interesting process, but what I am finding is that being more conscious to remain joyful even through the uncertainty is helping me to realize how ridiculous worrying about whether I manage to stay or not is, because no matter how hard I work on finding work here, ultimately the outcome of this adventure I am on is completely and utterly out of my hands, and no amount of worry is going to put my fate in my hands. Fortunately (for me and everyone else!) I am not in control of the fates. That is for a power much larger than me to take care of.

I am sitting here by the fire typing this. My hosts have gone to bed. The house is quiet. The streets in this part of town are also quiet at this time of night. The silence of a cold winter night has settled upon the street. Soon I will head up to bed and lie in the stillness listening to the wind outside. Being here is like being enveloped in a very long, very good dream. For however long it lasts -- a few more weeks or longer--I feel incredibly blessed to be here on this beautiful island surrounded by so many people I love. What a gift this winter journey has been. What a blessing it continues to be with every new day!

Have a superb week, friends!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Snowy Friday

Last night I attended a junior youth gathering at the home of a good friend of mine. The Baha'i junior youth program is open to youth between the age of 12 and 15, and is intended to give this special age group the space and opportunity to develop their power of expression and articulation in a supportive environment. There is an emphasis on social justice and community service, and the participants often take part in activities that are of service to the community.

The group that I joined last night begin every Friday session by cooking supper and then enjoying a meal together. Last night we made a big pot of apple and vegetable soup and sandwiches. The group is composed of two islanders islanders, a young woman from Yemen, three from Taiwan, one from The Philippines, one from South Korea, one from Kuwait and one from Vietnam. All together in the kitchen, some of us chopping, some of us washing vegetables, some of us stirring at the stove, some of us setting the table, we are a rainbow of cultures and backgrounds--a miracle really that we are all working together with joy and laughter and few disagreements or misunderstandings. Sitting around the table enjoying our steaming bowls of soup, the room filled with jokes and laughter. With so much in the news about disunity and prejudice, watching how seamlessly the youth melted into a single group impressed me.

After supper we divided into two groups, the older youth joining me in one room, and the younger group joining Sara, the youth from Kuwait in another room. The group I was facilitating last night made collages inspired by a quote that likened a mirror to the human soul, explaining that if clean and free from dust, a mirror can easily radiate the brilliant light of the sun, but if allowed to collect dirt and dust, its innate ability to reflect light is diminished. We discussed the ways in which we can keep our "mirrors" clean and able to reflect light, and then attacked the pile of magazines in the middle of the room and started creating a visual representation of how we can nurture the qualities and actions in our lives that keep our lives full of light.

It had started snowing in the afternoon, and by the evening it was snowing steadily, the streets of Charlottetown blanketed in a thick, soft layer of ice crystals. Sitting in our little circle with scissors and magazines chatting away as we worked, I felt deeply content and happy to be with this group of young people--to be learning with them and from them. Before the end of the night we shared our collages, each person explaining the significance of every image they had chosen, and how the image would remind us to keep our mirrors polished and reflecting light brilliantly.

At the end of the night we swept the layer of snow off of the car roof and windows and bundled in. It was my first time to drive in snow in a two years, and I took it slow. There is something otherworldly about driving down white streets at night. Everything seems dreamlike and surreal. After I had dropped everyone off and made it home and into bed I lay awake for a long time reflecting on what a great night it had been, and how much joy it is to spend my Friday nights with such a diverse group of people creating together, sharing conversation about social and spiritual transformation, cooking and enjoying food together and enjoying the white light flooding in the big windows from the snowy night outside.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy days

It has been ages since I last wrote. The main reason is that my computer got rather chilled in the transfer between houses that I have been staying at and appeared to have died a sudden and rather final death about two weeks ago. After two weeks of not starting despite daily efforts to bring it back to life last night it started up again as if it had never had a problem. I was so happy that I did a little dance around my room! :-)

I am not sure how long this second life will last, but for now I am back online and will be updating my blog regularly again unless it kicks the bucket again. Here's hoping for a prolonged second life!

The past few weeks have been insanely busy, but also amazingly joyful. I have been completely immersed in winter life on an island in the north Atlantic. This past Thursday I got a ride out to the farm I used to work on to visit with my boss's mother, Joyce. She and I had tea in the living room by the wood-burning stove. We got caught up about the last year of our lives, talked about the farm and changes on it, and discussed the year ahead and what our hopes and dreams for it are. Joyce is an incredible cook and baker, so we also enjoyed a lovely hot lunch made entirely from ingredients grown on the farm, and gluten-free pumpkin pie that was made using pumpkin grown just outside the farmhouse.

That evening my former boss's daughter Bridget had gotten tickets to go to a professional basketball game in another town, so the three of us drove there and entered the surreal world of professional basketball on Prince Edward Island, Canada. Let me be clear: Prince Edward Island is not known for its basketball team. In fact most people do not even know that there IS a professional basketball team located on the island. Hockey is the main sport here, and so it amused me to no end that the basketball court had been constructed in the middle of an ice-rink. What amused me even more was that the score boards, made for ice-hockey games, only allowed for scores of up to 99, so when the first team scored 100 the score displayed on the board was 00. I had to smile at the fact that in the two years in California I did not attend one basketball game, but that somehow in the two weeks on Prince Edward Island I found myself at a professional basketball game.

When we emerged from the flashing lights and cheering crowds of the arena we found the parking lot we had parked in only a couple of hours earlier completely transformed. Heavy snow was falling outside, turning the parking lot into a landscape of glistening white objects. We set out in search of the car, and Bridget and I sat in the car trying to warm up while Raymond cleaned swept the snow off of the windows and roof of the car.

The drive back to Raymond's house was slow. Snow blew directly at the windshield at top speed the entire way. When illuminated by headlights snow flying directly at a windshield creates a kind of optical illusion that makes you feel that you are stuck in place, not moving forward at all. It is very tiring on the eyes. Couple that with snow drifts that were building up on the road and the zero visibility on either side of the road and I found myself feeling incredibly grateful that Raymond was doing the driving and not me. Eventually Raymond's hawk vision got us back to his house, but he let me know that I was going to have to spend the night out there as the road conditions were just not good enough to drive all the way back into town. We bundled into his kitchen and he lit the wood stove and we enjoyed cups of hot tea around the fire before heading off to bed. My bed was in a tiny add-on that is used by volunteers during the summer months. The room has no heating, which is fine during the summer months, but translates to a room that closely resembles a refrigerator at this time of year. I put on all my clothes, including my wool hat and climbed into bed. Outside the wind howled and howled. The walls shook. Snow pelted the thin panes of glass in the frames above my head. I lay in bed listening to the storm outside, loving every minute of it.

In the morning Raymond equipped me with eggs from the farm and bacon from his pigs, and I fried us up a tasty meal accompanied by piping hot tea with milk and honey. Bellies full, we headed to the farm. Raymond headed out on the tractor to feed the cows and I headed out to the warehouse to help Raymond's son Blake bag potatoes for the Saturday farmer's market the next morning. The warehouse is a wooden structure with a clay floor. It is like a large refrigerator only it has no need for chilling given the freezing temperatures outside. I labeled 3, 5 and 10 pound bags with the various variety names --"russet," "satina," and then Blake and I filled them up and loaded them into trays that would be stacked up in the van later. While we worked we talked about our job search, what we enjoyed most about farming and how his house renovations were going. When we finished I headed inside to wait for Raymond.

On Friday evening, back in town, I headed over to my friend Alanna's house for her junior youth group. A great group of youth gather at her house every Friday for discussion on social justice, community service and the power of expression. Once all the youth had arrived we settled down around the table and shared stories while we ate. The group is very diverse, with participants from Yemen, PEI, Taiwan, mainland China, Kuwait and the US. Our meal was filled with lots of laughter. After supper we divided into two groups, the younger group heading into the living room for their session, and the older youth joining me in the den for Ruhi Book 1. Ruhi Book 1 is one in a series of books created for the purpose of training people to acquire the skills to be able to serve their communities in various capacities. The materials all have a spiritual foundation. This past Friday my group was discussing the ways in which the human soul is like a mirror, which if turned toward the sun and polished diligently will reflect the brilliance of the sun's light, but if allowed to collect dust and turned to face us, or to face a source of darkness, will be dull and uninteresting. My friend Alanna decided to light a fire in the wood stove while we shared, and got to work lighting the kindling and then adding bigger logs to the fire. Content that she had the fire going well enough, she left the room, only to return a little while later to find that the big logs had not caught properly, and the fire was dying. One of the women in my group, seeing this, shared with the group how important it is to make sure that we are constantly diligent about keeping the fire of our hearts burning brightly, and that this requires regular and consistent effort in our daily lives and how we choose to live through every day. It was a lovely evening, and when I got home that night I drifted into a deep and contented sleep.

On Saturday my friends and I headed over the bridge to New Brunswick to attend a meeting with the National Spiritual Assembly (NSA) of the Baha'is of Canada (the national administrative body of the Baha'i community of Canada). It is rare that the entire NSA will come meet with a community. Usually they send one or two representatives to a region at a time. So we were all excited to be able to see all nine of members of the NSA together in one place.

We headed out of town and took the rural highway that runs along the southern shore of PEI. Gently sloping agricultural fields dusted with snow stretched out to our right and the coastline got closer and closer on our left, the water a deep red colour from winter churning and the lack of ice--rare for this time of year. In the distance we caught sight of the Confederation Bridge--a graceful chain of consecutive arches that stretch 13km from the southern shore of PEI to the shore of New Brunswick to the west. As the car slid up over the water we all took a deep inhalation at the beauty of the bridge. I was driving over with two women who were born and raised on PEI, but they both commented on how despite seeing the bridge over and over, year after year, they are still always blown away by the sight of it against the sharp colour of the water and the clear blue sky.

Our meeting went well. It was attended by Baha'is from all over Atlantic Canada, and I got to see many dear friends who I had not seen in a couple of years. It was lovely to see them all and catch up. Seeing the entire NSA was deeply moving. There is something about having the entire group--all nine of them--lined up in front of us giving us their fullest attention and wanting to hear what we have been learning as we serve our communities...what the successes have been and what challenges we are facing as we try to improve life in our larger communities. I felt deeply touched, and left with an even greater degree of respect for the NSA than I had had before.

Yesterday a friend of mine came over for lunch and then we sat by the fire and had tea, said some prayers and chatted. It was a good visit, and the perfect way to spend my Sunday. In the afternoon we headed over to the university to attend the World Religion Day commemoration at the chaplaincy centre at UPEI. Our friend Sara was giving a talk about the Baha'i Faith, and we wanted to support her presentation. It was an afternoon of celebrating the unity of the world's religious traditions -- an afternoon characterized by joy, acceptance and encouragement.

Last night after catching up on work (after my computer came back to life!!) I nestled into my comfy bed and sunk into a deep and restful sleep. I woke this morning feeling well-rested and excited about the day ahead. Down in the kitchen sunlight shone brilliant in through the windows across the floor. A bowl of homemade granola sat out on the counter for me alongside a bowl of blueberries. I settled down in the winter sunlight to enjoy the delicious breakfast that my host, Stephen, had prepared for me, feeling immensely grateful. I love this little island, and the simple beauty of moving through my days here: the light, the hot cups of tea, the time by the fireplace, and even getting bundled up in my down coat, scarf, wool hat and mittens to head out into the sub-zero temperatures! Happy gratitude Monday, friends!