Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Optimally Situated Between Chaos and Order

This year for the Coldest Night of the Year walk I'm thinking about something near and dear to my heart -- suffering. Wait, what? Yes, suffering is near and dear to my heart. How can that be? I'll explain in a minute.

If you like things short and to-the-point here it is: People are suffering in our communities and you can help alleviate that suffering. 

Google defines suffering as "the state of undergoing pain, distress, or hardship." Other dictionaries talk about intense, debilitating, or unrelenting pain or agony. The folks who arrive at Samaritan House, Hirst House, Safe Harbour, or Crescent House are all in pain or distress, often to a degree that it is completely debilitating.

When they step inside, have something to eat, and feel welcome and cared for, their distress and pain subsides. This is the essence of my appeal this year: Sponsor me or Wanda and you will help alleviate the suffering of many men and women in Nanaimo and Parksville this coming year!

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

But maybe you think I'm exaggerating. Are these people really SUFFERING? This year ICCS agreed to operate the extreme weather shelter in Parksville and it has broken records for the numbers of days open and the numbers of people served. The 8 bed shelter has regularly accommodated 10 to 12 men, women, and youths per night and one night saw 14 people welcomed in out of the storm. Our executive Director, Violet, has been co-chairing the Oceanside Taskforce on Homelessness, and Michelle and I helped her set up the shelter. Oceanside is a generous community. The RCMP detachment raised money for the shelter; Downtown businesses raised money; churches and service clubs and individuals have come forward with cash to see the shelter meet the needs of the people who are out there in the snow and rain and cold without anyone to turn to. One woman wrote a cheque for $1200 for a washer and dryer, just like that! They do this because they see the people on their streets, they know that these folks are suffering.


I've been involved with ICCS for 21 years. I've seen new shelters open, I've seen affordable housing open, I've seen supportive housing and crisis housing and transitional housing open. With every new idea and every new project there is hope and enthusiasm. And it is not unfounded. I've seen how effective "Housing First" is in our community. But right now, tonight, there are 17 women booked in at Samaritan House (And Martha's Place) and more expected. There have been 22 different women accessing services at the shelter this month. That's 22 women without a home in the first week of February.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

The word suffering comes from the Latin "sufferre" which is a combination of "sub"- from below plus "ferre" - to bear. When you suffer you bear it from below, like a ferry bears a heavy load of cars and trucks across a river. Sometimes suffering is seen as "allowing," like in the phrase, "suffer the little children to come unto me," or as in the negative form, "he does not suffer fools gladly." Suffering has this sense of something happening to us that is not of our choosing, something we can no longer hold off and that we must allow, or bear.

This is how it is for most of the people who stay at our houses. They don't have much choice in the pain they get. But fairly often I have people tell me these people should, "get a job" or "give up their drugs and cigarettes." They dismiss them as "sleeping in the bed they made" or "suffering the consequences of their choices." I explain that almost all of the people they are referring to have been abused as children, youth, or adults. They didn't choose that. Many have deep emotional or physical wounds from a variety of causes, usually causes outside their control. They were born with a disease, they grew up without any advantages, they were dealt a series of blows that they couldn't fend off. They are suffering suffering suffering. They may have made some bad choices, that is true. But saying that, saying that it is their fault, doesn't help at all. Not one tiny bit. It just adds to the suffering. What does help, is coming along side someone and helping them gain some courage for the road out of suffering.

Recently I heard Jordan Peterson lecturing about this. He talked about how we all need to be "optimally situated between chaos and order." We need enough order to feel secure and stable, but enough chaos to feel alive and engaged. See Dr. Peterson for yourself here, it is a pretty interesting lecture. The trouble is that chaos can overtake us if we aren't careful. He said that people who are homeless have profound levels of chaos in their lives. That is true, they have mostly chaos, very little order, and on top of that they have lost almost everything of value from their lives. Because when you are homeless you have lost your home and everything in it. People who show up at a shelter have lost their kitchen appliances, plates and utensils, furniture, bed, entertainment devices, and everything else except maybe some clothing, their phone, and their shoes. They maybe have a sleeping bag or a back pack, but that's it. The chaos has been so invasive that it has put them in very dangerous places where people stole their money or wallet, and with the loss of identification they often loose a sense of self. Stripped of almost everything.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

Since just after Christmas I've been sick, first with a cough, then with a sore back, then with another full blown cold, then with a sore back again from shoveling too much snow. On two occasions during this long ordeal I was so miserable and tired I just sat in my favorite chair and prayed for the time to pass quicker so I could feel better. As I sat there feeling pain, anxiety, and helplessness, I thought of how fortunate I was to be in a warm house, in a good chair, with medicine, a loving wife, and a safe bed to rest in. I felt thankful for the food I had, the quiet, and the hot showers. I felt thankful to have lived most of my life in such surroundings.

Imagine feeling as sick as I did, and not having the nice home and relationships I have. Imagine feeling that sick and having to sleep in a tent in the snow. Or on the floor of an overcrowded shelter. That is what I was imagining.

When you or I or almost anyone has this insight, it changes things. It moves us to consider others, to open our hearts to the plight of people who did not choose to suffer, they only woke up there.


Above is a picture of my beautiful wife Wanda. She is no stranger to suffering. I won't tell her story for her, but suffice it to say that since childhood she had to bear physical and emotional pain she didn't ask for. She understands suffering. She has a big heart -- not just that snowy one she is holding. She inspires me with her loving, nurturing nature.

And that is the thing! We can all inspire each other. Suffering doesn't have to be the end of anyone's story. You can sponsor Wanda or me in our walk. That will really help. And it might help in ways you can't imagine. Who knows what the people we shelter and support will go on to do. People who suffer can go on to do great things. I suffered with anxiety for over 20 years. I'm recovering now. I finally found help. What worked for me was a whole variety of things, including Schema Therapy, non-violent communication, mindfulness, Stoicism, meditation, and hours of talking and thinking and processing with friends who were also on a journey similar to mine.


One thing I found that really helped is called the Welcoming Prayer. It is this crazy counter-intuitive spiritual practice that involves welcoming the things into your life that you want to push away. Therapists say, "what you resist, persists." and I find that to be true. If we avoid looking at the thing that is causing our suffering, then we will continue to suffer. Simple as that. But if we open towards the thing causing our suffering something strange happens. We gain courage, and with courage anyone can move forward. One of the next lines in the Welcoming Prayer says, "I welcome all these things into my life today, because I know they are for my healing." Strange as it sounds, I started to heal from anxiety when I started welcoming anxiety into my life. Into my consciousness.

Becoming the hero of your own battle with suffering might involve some of these lessons. You have probably learned some of them yourself. And here is the thing: when you become that hero, you do heal, and you do grow, and you do become a more thankful, loving person. Not perfect, and maybe not even someone with less suffering, but a person of character and impact. That is why suffering is near and dear to my heart.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

Wanda and I have a new definition for mental and emotional suffering. We suffer when we "want things to be other than they are." Accepting the way things are is the first step, for us, in reducing our own suffering. The next step is to do something to address the physical pain, the recurring thoughts, and the situation that has contributed to the suffering. The long term solution to suffering is in our own hands, but boy does it make a difference to have someone in your life who understands and celebrates the little steps in confidence, the gradual increase in courage, and offers support when both confidence and courage lag. That is what our staff do each day, for all the suffering individuals who call our houses home for tonight, or home for few days... or months. You can support this great work.

Sponsor me HERE
Sponsor Wanda HERE

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Catching Sardines with Trekking Poles

I'm walking for Coldest Night of the Year and I'm asking you to sponsor me. If you are the sort of person who likes to cut to the chase, here is the quick link to slip me some clams: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=2676802&langPref=en-CA

If you want to partake of something slower and maybe even finer, read on a smidge.

Inspiring Quote: "If a person made me a present of only a sardine, I would do anything for him." -- Teresa of Avila.

My story: It all started when I bought some trekking poles. Have you seen people with these things? Here is a photo of me rakishly modeling them.

I headed out on my first walk and the carbide pointy ends went clickety clack like a railroad track the whole time. So I bought some rubber tips to be a little less obnoxious. Tappity tap. Not much of an improvement. Oh well, It would just have to do.

I walked out on my favorite route and I met all these people on the trail. They had these smirky grins, while they were NOT looking at my poles. Deliberately not looking. Looking into the bushes on the side of the path like there was something fascinating in the curled-up brown leaves and grass.

But here is the kicker. Using these things has really helped my knees and I'm desperately hoping they will help my upper body. Desperately. Hoping. So its win win, right? Well, not exactly.

The thing is I'm embarrassed to be using these poles. Why? I have no clue. Ok, yes, maybe I have a clue or two. They look dorkey. I don't want to look dorkey. Or pompous. Or keen. Or odd. At least not any more dorkey, pompous, keen, or odd than I already am. And what do I care what people think of my dorkey ways? Ah, well, there's the rub. It's not just embarrassment, it's shame. Shame rooted in fear of rejection. I don't want to be shunned and teased and looked down upon.

So there I was, trudging along, and I thought to myself, "Dude, you can still walk! Chillax about the poles!" And the truth is I CAN still walk, and I can do a bunch of other things like work, and drive my car, and climb into bed at night after eating Cordon Swiss from Costco with roasted asparagus from Peru. I often lay there with a full tummy and think I am the luckiest duck on the planet. Fed, in bed, with nothing to dread.

Not the case for a lot of folks. Hungry, bedless, and buzzing with anxiety like they swallowed a swarm of bees. And more ashamed than I will ever be with my dorkey trekking poles. Yep, ashamed. So I'm walking for those folks. Me and my dorkey poles, walking to raise money to support the cause, to help my beloved ICCS provide some beds, and food, and a little less dread.

And that brings us to the sardines.

Why do I like that quote from Teresa so much? One biographer said she was "easily overcome by any gesture of kindness." She could get misty over a sardine. I love that. We need more of that unabashed gratitude. Selfless thankfulness. It makes "good ripples," as Joan of Archadia would say.

I've met a fair number of people who were homeless, and many of them have that quality -- easily overcome by kindness. I feel the same thing when I walk for Coldest Night of the Year, a deep gratitude to be receiving support and encouragement from my friends far and wide. You can share in it. It is not that far away, really. Maybe, like, one sardine away…

Sponsor me here: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/FundraisingPage.aspx?registrationID=2676802&langPref=en-CA

Sponsor someone else on my team: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=583307&langPref=en-CA#&panel1-3

Hey, you can feel the full sardine buzz by becoming a member and walking with our team. Click that link back there….it'll take you where you can join us!



p.s. if you use dorkey poles -- ah I mean Trekking Poles -- you are wise and enlightened. Please accept my a-pole-ogy for suggesting that walking with Trekking poles might be considered by some as un-cool. I just really like the analogy of how our thoughts about things can contribute to our dis-ease. For me it is poles, for you it might be going to a therapist, or being caught without your make-up one, or driving the wrong kind of car, or maybe even being without a home.

Its a pretty rich analogy, right?

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What does it mean to be "still in the stream?"

Shortly after the publication of my first book on wabi sabi I created a website called stillinthestream.com and have maintained the site ever since. The focus over there is news about my books and supplementary material on related topics, especially tea and haiku.

Then I started my 100 lakes project which was a way to more deeply explore sabi through a practice known as Kanjaku. The 100 lakes blog has largely been a series of travelogs with the occasional post of my philosophical musings.

Canoe on Anutz Lake, near a stream inflow
Along the way I have launched new blogs to try and chronicle some of the inner journey I have been on, but as is often the case for me, and those with similar personalities to mine, I don't seem to make much progress after the initial inspiration.

But this is what it means, in part, to be still in the stream. Still, in this sense, equates to "continuing to exist, or persist" in the stream. Mid stream really.

"Nothing is perfect, nothing lasts, nothing is finished."

And the nothing being finished part, like the rest, is not a bad thing. We want perfect lasting completion. We want to be able to relax out of striving, seeking, and working into accomplishment, answers, and rest. For me, those qualities are not bad, but the exploration of wabi sabi had confirmed for me that goals promise satisfaction and contentment one day, and as attractive as this sounds, it is an illusion. Because satisfaction and contentment are as transitory as all other feelings in life.

So, being still in the stream is being ankle or knee or even waist deep in the flow -- in the process.

But there is another kind of stillness that is not persisiting-in-the-moment-ness but more along the line of persisting-in-the-momentlessness.

This is the stillness which we think of as being without movement. The stillness of a meditator, of a person in reverie, and of objects that reside in one place for a long time.

It is the air that seems not to move in a forest glade, the water that seems not to move on a calm pond. We love the look and feel and experience of this kind of stillness. And most of us know it is a relative thing. Even when the mist is rising off a glassy lake, and the reeds and rushes stand like sentinels, we know that the mist is swirling is very small movements of air, and rings appear on the water from fish moving below the surface.

Stillness of this kind is really a reduction of motion, a quieting of frenetic activity which seems somehow to hush our mind, to create a mindful state in which we can let go some of the burden we seem to be carrying.

Stillness, really is a pause in activity, a reduction of activity, like the widening of a river that we call a lake. Lakes are still points in the flow of water from mountain to sea. They represent a kind of stillness we seek for ourselves. Not a perfect stillness, but a relative one in which we might, "possess our soul." This is the purpouse of being "still in the stream."