Rita Hartley

/Rita Hartley

About Rita Hartley

Rita Hartley is an author living in London, Ontario Canada. Read the About page on her website for her full biography.

Seeing The Self

“In understanding oneself, we understand others; in feeling compassion for oneself, we feel compassion for others.”
Andy Puddicombe, Headspace

It seems simple enough. I mean, you spend 24/7 with yourself. Therefore, you should be an expert on you, right?

Well, yes . . . and no. According to psychological studies, it turns out we’re super good at gauging our emotional stability. But with observable traits, like appearance, or things like introverted/extroverted-ness? Others can clearly see those with their own eyes. And with evaluative traits, like intelligence, creativity? According to Adam Grant writing in The Atlantic article “People Don’t Actually Know Themselves Very Well”, “you just can’t be trusted”.

Why? Because most of us want desired qualities, like intelligence and creativity. And most of us want to be seen as unbiased too. But, because we’re so damn close to the action? Our perspective is distorted.

Writes Steve Ayan for scientificamerican.com in “10 Things You Don’t Know About Yourself”, “(Princeton University psychologist Emily) Pronin argues that we are primed to mask our own biases. As a result, our self-image has little to do with our actions. For example, we may be absolutely convinced that we are empathetic and generous, but still walk past a homeless person on a cold day.”

While I agree it’s challenging to see our own biases, I’m not sure this is the best example. Perhaps you’re running late and truly have no change/cash? Or you gave to this person earlier in the day? Or, like what happened to one of my friends, you bought him a sweet (and expensive) pair of gloves for his red, raw hands a week ago and he threw them back at you, said, “I don’t want these!” Perhaps the gloves would’ve made him a less sympathetic character on the cold city street? Or he just wanted cashola for drugs?

And so, for generosity, I say pick meaningful causes to you and contribute what you can. For many, philanthropy is something that comes at a later stage in life, when finances are fairly stable and one understands the responsibility of giving back, the potential lifting of the heart it can provide. I have a friend in fundraising who shared a story about a wealthy donor who she worked with over the years, eventually tailoring his giving to his personality and lifestyle, and how much he blossomed through this process.

Quite likely, she saw things in him he could not see in himself. Getting back to Grant in The Atlantic piece, he points out, “Chances are, your coworkers are better at rating some parts of your personality than you are.”

Grant goes on to say that “sixteen rigorous studies of thousands of people at work” back this up. “As a social scientist,” he says, “if I want to get a read on your personality, I could ask you to fill out a survey on how stable, dependable, friendly, outgoing, and curious you are. But I would be much better off asking your coworkers to rate you on those same traits: They’re often more than twice as accurate. They can see things that you can’t or won’t.”

“(M)ore than twice as accurate”? Wow. What a bunch of liars we are!

What to do about this? Well, if you have coworkers? You could give them a survey? And then grow some really thick skin if you agree to accept honesty?

I think it’s just good to know, don’t you? That we kid ourselves from time to time? So, why waste energy on defensiveness? Maybe it helps explain why others say daft things about themselves, like, “I’m a stable genius.” Activities like mindfulness meditation and journaling can help, as thoughts can be observed with some distance and without judgment. Accepting oneself as a malleable being is helpful too, as that’s what we’re all here for, right? To adapt, change, learn, grow?

I recently read a great observation by Keith Boag, writing for the CBC on Trump in “The Great Divider”, about “the human temptation to believe what’s most convenient”. I regard it as a warning, a reason to stay diligent about the self, to stay curious, to keep digging.

“No one understands that foible, or uses it more effectively, than Trump. Essential to his exploitation of racial tension is his understanding that people will believe what they want to believe about others so that they can believe what they want to believe about themselves.”

Don’t assume (recall the last blog, Road To Hell– “ass” “u” “me”) you’re not biased. Educate yourself on the history and experiences of minorities in your community, country and throughout the world. Ask questions when you can and listen to the answers. Observe your thoughts.

Jennifer Eberhardt, who specializes in bias training, writes in Biased, “The promise of bias training is not to magically wipe out prejudice but to make us aware of how our minds work and how knee-jerk choices can be driven by stereotypes that cloud what we see and perceive.”

Reject the us vs them trap. We are all one. Human. We need each other. To fight a pandemic, a major climate crisis. Not each other.

 

 

Seeing The Self 2020-09-15T09:30:42+00:00

Road To Hell

“We judge ourselves by our intentions, we judge others by their actions.”

This quote has been attributed to various people, but I first heard it from my husband B. He found it in a fortune cookie years ago and keeps it attached to his computer monitor at work as a reminder. While at first blush it seems to lack fortune-telling quality, your lack of adherence to its wisdom could affect your future by drowning you in a bowl of rancid alphabet soup with other people from time to time.

Maybe you’re okay with rancid alphabet soup? Or maybe you don’t notice – the stench, the chaos? Me? When I find myself in that stinking, confusing mess? My mind locks on the many times I’ve effed up in the past, all the times I was 100% sure I was right, but no, now look dammit! Let’s check off the list:

Jumping to conclusions without a full investigation? Check.
Possible condescension in tone? Check.
Anger about the issue removing empathy for the other? Check.

As a comment on reddit.com puts it: “When we make a mistake, we allow ourselves the excuse ‘but I meant well’. When others make mistakes, we assume they’re just f**ktards.”

Hmmm: “we assume”. How many times have we been reminded that that friggin word makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me”, and yet? We still assume. Well, I still often do. Have you managed to get that one under control?

And here we find ourselves, all 7.8 billion of us on the planet, with our myriad backgrounds, colours and languages, dealing with responses to various major crises – a pandemic, a reckoning on race, a pending economic downturn, climate change – along with the minor crises of just being alive on planet Earth – severe weather, blown brakes on my rusted out jalopy, bright pink lipstick on the inside of my mask, again! – and it’s hard to cope, right? Are you finding it hard to cope and that everyone’s fuse is just a little shorter? Or, am I just making excuses for myself?

The noise out there is LOUD.

Politicians, bickering and lying. But, hasn’t this always been the case? Don’t they have to lie, you know, for our own good? Are they lying more?

And there’s so much “fake news”. Did it not exist before? Didn’t it used to be called “propaganda”? Or, is that somehow different?

And the “conspiracy theories”?! But, they existed before. Look at all the ones on JFK’s death – it was a “mob hit”, it was “umbrella man”, the “government did it”. Is it because social media spreads them further, faster now?

Anyway, what was I getting at? Am I worried I’m on the road to Hell because sometimes I forget B’s fortune cookie advice? Perhaps I should get a copy of it, attach it to my computer?

B says, “Well, at least you’re not doubling down. You’re admitting that you were wrong, right?”

And being wrong (yet again) makes me think of the Fonz from Happy Days. (You’d think I’d have more, that all of those childhood hours I spent in front of a TV would reap reams of details from various shows. No. This one bit of this one episode I do remember.) If you ever watched the show you’ll recall that the Fonz had way too big of an ego to be wrong. But the cast and events throughout the half-hour (including commercial breaks to refill the chip bowl) showed the Fonz that he’d indeed been indisputably wrong. (It’s a thing you may fantasize about in real life, cornering your opponent, saying just the right thing at just the right time to make your very valid point. But, as you know, it NEVER happens this way.)

And the Fonz goes, “I was wrrr, I was wrrr, I was wrrr.” I don’t know how many “wrrr”’s it takes before he actually says “wrong”, but it’s a memorable scene. It made me appreciate the Fonz even more, you know? Because, as hard as it was, he did admit it.

Some people can’t say, “I was wrong.” But in our dealings with them? We must remember their intentions are likely good. And if they’re just paving their own personal road to Hell? Their choice, not yours.

 

Road To Hell 2020-08-18T10:48:34+00:00

Queen of Crabgrass

Everyone wants to be good at growing something, yes? Or is it just me? Surely we all have a green thumb – latent or glowing – as Science Daily boasts evidence of human trial plant cultivation from as long as 23,000 years ago. It’s in our DNA to want to grow things!

I have friends, a couple (I’d say Dutch, which they are, but that would be stereo-typing, right, and we’re trying not to do that anymore, but why is it that some Dutch people are so very hard-working, and so damn good at gardening?) whose gardens are so inviting and lush that when a neighbour recently got a first peak into their backyard he couldn’t help but burst out with something like, “Holy Garden of Eden!”

Orchids? Not a problem for her, the stunning blooms just keep coming, as if magical. Grass? For him? It’s truly like the thickest, richest emerald carpet over the most expensive underlay on the planet. Crabgrass would not even think about spreading its ugly, crabby self down amid that kind of beauty. First off? It would have a hard time gaining purchase due to the zillion-thread-count-nature of the healthy green blades. Secondly? It would have like a half-second life span. He’d attack immediately with whatever kind of weaponry a grass expert uses in this type of battle.

Instead? Crabgrass seeds blow on down south to my place.

Now, some of you may boast you have the best crabgrass in town – last year a Jazzercise member told me, “If it weren’t for crabgrass I’d have no lawn at all” – but I’m pretty confident of my crop here. So much so, that when I thought I saw it sprouting, in abundant ugliness in early spring, in an area on the front lawn where the previous fall I’d put down several bags of soil and overflowing handfuls of turf builder dense shade mix, I made a big decision.

I told my husband B about it. “Well. I’ve decided!”

“Hmm-mm?” he said, happily poking about on his computer, rearranging numbers on spreadsheets. And perhaps? Here’s the thing: if he helped me, like my gardening friends . . . could we also have a Holy Garden of Eden in our backyard instead of a Holy Garden of Weeds?

“I’ve decided,” I confessed. “I really really like crabgrass!”

“Yeah?”

“It’s just so beautiful. And abundant. And easy to grow! And also . . . green.”

“Okay.”

But here’s another thing: there’s a big difference between deciding to like crabgrass and actually liking crabgrass. Once Sgt Major Crabgrass gets her soldiers trained and ready for combat? Those Green Berets march all over every square inch of your lawn, soaking up rain, sun, digging incredible trenches – good for ongoing muscle-building – all in an effort to fight a war that is . . . well, let’s face it. The battlefield is your lawn.

Want the battle to be somewhere else? Well, you’ve got a battle on your hands, don’t you? And knees. You have to be willing (and able) to get down and personally annihilate every single Green Beret. (There could be a spray, but it will annihilate you too.) But wait! That’s not all! You have to also be willing (and able), according to my emerald-green-carpet-growing friend, to immediately get thyself to a garden store and get copious bags of soil and grass seed to fill all those gaping holes – it was a battlefield, after all – you’ve gouged in your pathetically poor excuse for a lawn. Otherwise? Well, the myriad Green Berets will jump back to attention before you can say Holy Field of Crabgrass.

Crabgrass, antlerservices.com: “This grass if left unchecked will produce hundreds of seeds per plant, growing each summer and dying in the fall. A single plant will look like a large crab (truth!) by the end of the summer with as many as 125,000 seeds (horror-face emoji).”

No one ever said growing emerald green carpet would be easy. Crabgrass? Those Green Berets are trained, strong and able, always awaiting marching orders. Low on seeds? Come on over, I have buckets full.

Queen of Crabgrass 2020-08-06T16:34:07+00:00

Practicing Safe Six?

Masking for a friend.

LOL and haha.

We need to laugh more, huh? It’s hard to laugh with a mask on, yes? You risk passing out. It’s also hard to laugh while witnessing the coronavirus disaster south of us, knowing from our Canadian experience that, with a proper and serious response? It didn’t have to be this bad!

OMG! On a day when the US hit another single day record for new cases – 67,417 – the President* was more intent on blaming China for sending a “plague” and campaigning from the Rose Garden (a serious, but typical for this guy, breach of protocol). Empathy? Fuhgetaboutit. All that’s in 45’s bag-o-tricks? Blame, denial, lies. Oh, and self aggrandizement.

For laughs? How about the Trump administration’s insistence that the only reason coronavirus case numbers are up is because of the phenomenal amount of testing the US is doing? My favourite fb meme in response to this is a woman, highly pregnant, saying, “If only I didn’t take that pregnancy test . . .”

I want to do what the President* does, assign blame (to him) for the horrific mess the US is in, but what good does it do? It’s painfully obvious he’s in over his head, has been from day one. He’s doing what he does best: con, verb, from the Oxford dictionary: persuade (someone) to do or believe something, typically by use of deception.

This “profile of a liar” is interesting, from The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova:

“He does not answer questions, or gives evasive answers; he speaks nonsense, rubs the great toe along the ground, and shivers; his face is discolored; he rubs the roots of his hair with his fingers.”

Sound like someone you’ve been hearing, seeing way too much lately? Well, it’s from 900 BCE, so either liars haven’t changed much in almost 3,000 years or someone back then was real good at predicting the future.

It might be helpful for all of us to read The Confidence Game right now, as it “takes us into the world of the con to examine not only why we believe in confidence artists but how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us”. A good future political prophylactic.

That’s the tricky thing about a democratic society, eh? Sometimes people don’t know what’s good for them and they elect Mickey Mouse, because of his TV ratings, his spritely manner, his ears perhaps. When they could have had . . . John Kasich.

Kasich, a Republican, was the last candidate standing against 45’s bid for the presidency. And he has tons of political experience! He was governor of Ohio from 2011 to 2019. He was a member of the US House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001. And, also unlike 45, he writes (and reads) books. Here’s a helpful one for the times, published by Kasich last year: It’s Up To Us.

It is up to us. We can look to our leaders for guidance, for inspiration, but if and when they fail us? It’s time for a grassroots revolution. I guess, kind of like what’s happened with the racial unrest movement that began in the US with George Floyd’s death, then expanded worldwide. As Dave Chapelle pointed out in his Netflix special 8:46, “This is the streets talking for themselves!” It’s up to us to make a difference.

Individually, we can read Black history, examine our responses, thoughts and attitudes about race. We can do some of the suggestions in Kasich’s book:

*be the change where you live
*love thy neighbour
*put yourself in someone else’s shoes
*examine your eternal destiny
*know that you are made special

And, as the particular areas in which we live begin to relax coronavirus restrictions? We can continue to follow the guidelines of health professionals and scientists (lordy, lordy, not the politicians, as another fb meme points out that would be like getting a colonoscopy from a plumber) so that we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Coronovirus is real and still exists. For people who think it’s all a hoax, I ask:

Why would Wuhan have built a hospital in 10 days to deal with coronavirus patients?
Why would we have gotten so many stories from Italy about having to enact wartime measures to deal with critical patients?
Why would we have had to endure so many daily pressers by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo? Oh, scratch that. (Blushing.) I really did not mind at all. I’ll admit: I’m cuomosexual.

Practice safe six. Mask for a friend. As another fb meme wisely observes: “If you hate wearing a mask, you’re really not going to like the ventilator.”

Website photo: Me, masking for a friend, and realizing how great masks are  for the, ahem, older person, taking selfies!

Practicing Safe Six? 2020-07-15T15:25:43+00:00

Hindsight is 2020

Hindsight is 2020: learn from your mistakes. The year is certainly living up to its name, huh?

With three major crises gripping the globe – racial tensions preceded by an ongoing pandemic and the resulting economic fallout – and a fourth lurking – the climate crisis – you’re forgiven for feeling overwhelmed on where to start breaking it all down. Here’s a quick distillation of some recent discoveries I’ve made while following my own advice to Listen and Learn:

#BlackLivesMatter

On white privilege: I’ve had a number of discussions with friends and family about this term, which is best understood by knowing what it’s NOT. Cory Collins writes in “What Is White Privilege, Really?”, “White privilege is not the suggestion that white people have never struggled.” Collins groups his observations under the following:

“Power of Normal”
*flesh-coloured band-aids in the first aid kit
*a small “ethnic hair product” section in the pharmacy
*a grocery store stocked with white choices
*TV shows and books predominantly portraying whites

“Power of the Benefit of the Doubt”
*whites are less likely to be followed, questioned or searched by law enforcement
*white skin does not cause distrust for credit, financial responsibility
*whites are less likely to be presumed guilty of a crime if accused, less likely to be sentenced to death and more likely to be portrayed in a fair manner by media
*faults by whites are less likely to deny opportunity later

“Power of Accumulated Power”
This encompasses everything from wage gaps to medical care to job, education, and housing opportunities which all result in opportunities for families to pass along their wealth.

An understanding of white privilege helps us see how “systemic racism” is built right into our societies and consequently, how to focus efforts to eradicate it.

On BVE (Black Vernacular English), also known as AAVE (African American Vernacular English): I had no idea these terms existed until my daughter recently got chewed out on social media for posting a picture of herself on a SUP (stand-up paddle board) with the caption “SUP bro”. Trying to be light amid all the heaviness, she got heaviness heaped on her. I guess the complainant, a white woman, took issue with her use of the term “bro”, suggesting it was a term white people should not use. I looked it up, it’s obviously short for “brother”, and although it started out referring to African-American men? According to The Atlantic, “Today, it’s a term that refers to beer-chugging frat boys.” In feminuity.com Anisha Phillips lists some BVE sayings: lit, sis, slay, hella, straight up, on fleek, I feel you, turn up. Since I’ve no clue what “on fleek” means, I’ll pass on it, but I do say “sis”. One of my granddaughters sometimes calls her sister “sissy”, has been doing so for a long time and I think it’s the sweetest so I copy it. I’m not going to stop. Let’s agree that Black people can use the N-word, white people absolutely can’t. And if there’s a term I absentmindedly use that’s offensive to a Black person? Perhaps a Black person could let me know?

On Blackface and Jim Crow: I learned how these two are connected by listening to the podcast 1619, which I highly recommend. So it was the third installment, “The Birth of American Music”, which I thought would be just a nice light listen. American journalist and film critic Wesley Morris details how in the early 1800s, white actor Thomas D Rice overheard a Black man tending to his master’s horse: the way he sang, the way he moved. Rice slapped some black paint on his face for his next show, imagined what it would be like to be Black, sang a song about “Jumpin’ Jim Crow”, earned 12 standing ovations and . . . the minstrel show was born. Minstrel shows made fun of Blacks, made them out to be lazy and stupid, yet, possibly due to white people’s guilt over slavery? They endured for over a hundred years. And those Jim Crow laws that brutally enforced racial segregation in the Southern US in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries? Well, if you didn’t already know? Now you know where they got their name and why Blackface is so very offensive.

On white supremacy being about power: thinking about this got me thinking about the opposite of power, which is a lot of negative words – inability, incapacity, weakness, impotence. While no one wants to be seen as weak, is it necessary to have ultimate power over others? And over your environment, which is what many of my white ancestors seemed to desire. Here’s a couple of other suggestions for the opposite of power: gentleness, kindness. It’s beyond time.

#Coronavirus

On being over it: it’s not over us. The WHO reported the highest single-day global rise in cases so far on Father’s Day.

On masks: Vanity Fair headline – “If 80% of Americans Wore Masks, COVID-19 Infections Would Plummet”

On transmission: The New York Times says, “We know that being outdoors is lower risk for coronavirus transmission than being indoors.”

#Schadenfreude

On wishing the US President* would just go away already: While being appalled at his Tulsa rally speech, I don’t feel the rush of pleasure I expected to feel while observing the glaring failure of the event, and his obvious disappointment over the mere 6,200 attendees. I guess that makes me . . . empathetic.

#Mindfulness

On the human negativity bias: Author Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche reminded me of this on the podcast Ten Percent Happier, referring to it as 10-finger perception. So, say we have nine qualities within us that are positive and one negative. What do we tend to focus on? The negative one, of course. It’s the same with the news, which is abundant lately with scary, negative reports. While you should know what’s going on, with the virus, the protests, and the economy, balance it out with the numerous good qualities of life – like sitting on a patio – that can still be enjoyed despite the ongoing pandemic.

 

 

Hindsight is 2020 2020-06-23T11:35:30+00:00

Listen and Learn

“A riot is the language of the unheard.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

How’s your heart feeling? Heavy? Damaged? Broken?

Your lungs? “I can’t breathe.” A plaintive mantra for the times: coronavirus attacking the lungs, daily news attacking the psyche, police officers attacking a Black man’s throat.

Whether you’ve watched it or not (I avoid violent videos), I’m sure you’ve heard all about the 8 minutes and 46 seconds that a Minneapolis police officer spent kneeling on George Floyd’s throat, effectively snuffing out his life while three other officers looked on.

“You can’t be human and not be affected by that video,” Iowa Hawkeye head football coach Kirk Ferentz said, addressing his team recently. “I’m sure that many of you felt the same way I did – heartbroken. Frustrated. Angry.”

Heartbroken. Frustrated. Angry. Tears well up as I type these words, picturing Ferentz saying them, hearing the emotion in his voice. My husband B is from Iowa, so I’ve watched many a Hawkeye game and know Ferentz is an emotional guy. And a damn good leader, a moral one.

I had to look it up, because he’s said so little on the topic, but the President* used similar words to describe the tragedy: “It has filled Americans all over the country with horror, anger, and grief.” Here’s the thing: hearing these words from a person who sorely lacks leadership skills, has a shattered moral compass, and lies liberally and deliberately? They just don’t have the same heft.

You can’t expect comfort, advice, or a unifying message from such a man. Instead? I watched in horror, anger and grief when he had pepper spray, rubber bullets and flash grenades unleashed on peaceful protestors prior to a 7 pm curfew in Washington, DC so that he might enjoy a photo opp in front of the Church of the Presidents, where he plucked a Bible from his daughter’s $1,500 handbag and waved it around, upside-down and backwards.

I do feel we can look to our own leader, Prime Minister Trudeau, despite brownface criticisms; pictures of him dressed as Aladdin from 2001 surfaced a while back. To me? He seems like the kind of guy who likes costumes – he’s been criticized for showing off his fancy socks, got a lot of flak for the garb he wore while in India – and I can relate as I love dressing up too. But this kind of dressing up is “cultural appropriation”. While it may have been done by white people decades ago without a second thought, on this I think we’ve listened and learned. It’s perceived as mockery; it causes pain.

“It was something that I didn’t think was racist at the time,” Trudeau said. “but now I recognize it was something racist to do and I am deeply sorry.”

He did something wrong and apologized for it, something I’ve not seen his counterpart in the US ever do. Asked the other day to respond to the President*’s call for military action against protesters in the US, Trudeau was speechless for more than 20 seconds. Then? “We all watch in horror and consternation what’s going on in the United States,” he said. “It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen, it is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over years and decades. But it is a time for us as Canadians to recognize that we too have our challenges, that Black Canadians and racialized Canadians face discrimination as a lived reality every single day. There is systemic discrimination in Canada.” You have to see it, admit it’s there, to fix it, yes?

I’m a white woman. I have no clue what it’s like to be Black. Trudeau’s white. Coach Ferentz said this to his team: “I am a white football coach. I cannot begin to imagine what it is like to be pulled over for driving while Black or to have people cross the street because they don’t want to walk alongside you.” Being white, we enjoy privileges most Black people can only dream of.

If you’re like me and you want to listen, learn, understand, I highly recommend Dan Harris’s podcast Ten Percent Happier in which he interviews author Lama Rod Owens. It’s called “An Uncomfortable (But Meaningful) Conversation About Race”. Being white, it is uncomfortable, because I want to understand, but I don’t want to hurt, don’t want to say the wrong thing. And being white in Southwestern Ontario means meeting very few Black people, but there are many other ethnic groups in the region to be considerate of.

Owens talks about what he calls Black heartbreak. “I grew up with this heavy disappointment because I was born into a system that I did not consent to,” he says. “Heavy disappointment.” That is heartbreaking isn’t it? It’s certainly something I know nothing about.

He suggests being curious, asking your friends of all stripes how they’re doing in this moment. He cautions that the intellect – a place white folks tend to go for security, escape – is not the answer, that the constant return to the body, to the feelings will help connect, point the way.

Getting back to Coach Ferentz, he pointed out, “These are painful times for our nation and community. One of the most important traits a leader can demonstrate is the ability to listen. To always have an attitude of learning.”

And we are all leaders in our own communities, families. To effect positive change? We need to listen. And learn.

Website photo: wise words from a protest sign in Des Moines, Iowa.

Listen and Learn 2020-06-03T18:08:34+00:00

Back To Centre

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;” W. B. Yeats

Doesn’t it feel like we’re living this profound line from that famous poem by Yeats, “The Second Coming”? Well, perhaps that’s because the poem was inspired by another pandemic, the Spanish flu (1918-19). The death rate among pregnant women was an alarming 70% in some areas; Yeats’ pregnant wife unfortunately contracted the virus and almost died.

Arianna Huffington, founder of Huffpost and Thrive Global, wrote earlier this month, “We’ve lost touch with the center.” Have you felt that at times? Prior to the March shut-down? Running here, there: working, shopping, attending social functions, catching flights. Always busy, always searching. What are we searching for?

So, while we’re all desperate for social interaction, these past weeks have been a fantastic opportunity to return to centre. And while we may be cross with modern China for their slow and sneaky response to the pandemic, their ancient Taoist tradition of yin-yang offers us a lost piece to life’s puzzle. Throughout life, most of us have enjoyed an abundance of yang – masculine, fast, active, aggressive. What we need is more yin – feminine, slow, passive, yielding. As Lao Tzu, founder of the Tao, said, “thirty spokes share the wheel’s hub; it is the centre hole that makes it useful.”

In her inspiring article “We Are Never Going Back”, Huffington refers to our current situation as a “crucible”. If the word sounds biblical, it is: Proverbs 27:21 The crucible is for silver, and the furnace for gold; but man is refined by his praise. Meaning? The result of great trial by heat leaves precious metals poised to be made into jewellery; the result of great trial by praise leaves a human poised to reveal a precious character. Or . . . not.

We’ve all known men – or women – overly attached to praise and the resulting haughtiness and enlarged ego is not something you’d call precious. Preciously annoying is more like it.

We’re seeing this play out among world leaders in this trial by pandemic:

*UK Prime Minister Johnson’s response is called “arrogant complacency” by Metro News
*Brazilian President Bolsonaro calls the coronavirus “a little flu” and an economic threat
*the US President* sees it as an economic threat as well, while promoting the unproven drug hydroxychloroquine as a cure

While the coronavirus is indeed a ginormous economic problem the world over, putting money over human lives is wrong. And ignoring the advice of experts in epidemiology – as Bolsonaro and the US President* do – is both selfish and reckless.

But the crucible Huffington refers to is this Oxford dictionary meaning: “a situation of severe trial, or in which different elements interact, leading to the creation of something new”.

What is wrong with something new? While man’s “progress” has allowed many the world over to enjoy fulfilling lives of relative luxury, at what cost has this been to other sentient beings and to the planet?

And just look at the glaring societal gaps this pandemic has exposed! In Canada? Eighty-two per cent of Covid-19 deaths have been in long-term care homes. “The Canadian armed forces report found instances of insect infestations, poor hygiene practices, and neglect, among other concerns,” BBC News reports. “Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the document was ‘gut-wrenching’.”

And this is ironic, yes? While well-paid CEOs of large corporations might sacrifice bonuses during these trying economic times, it’s lower-paid workers, like grocery store staff, maintenance people, truck drivers, and so on, who are keeping the economy going while hospital staff are literally keeping people alive, often without proper PPE.

Huffington mentions another ancient source of wisdom, the Hindu epic Mahabharata, which chronicles three kinds of life a person may lead:

*a life of inertia and dullness with no goals and achievement
*a frenetic life full of busyness and desire
*a life of goodness

Dullness sounds pretty, well, dull. And it’s good to be busy, but being busy for the sake of busyness? Not enough. Goodness? That sounds good, huh?

I listened to a great podcast the other day, aptly called “Holding it Together When Things Fall Apart”. Dan Harris interviewed Pema Chodron, an author and meditation teacher who lives in rural Nova Scotia. Chodron talked about a friend who was struggling with some serious financial issues due to the pandemic. He said he was going to spend a week thinking it through and then spend another week meditating on it, getting into his body and just observing. Can you guess which one provided the most relief? Hint: it was so excruciating, he did not make it through a full week of thinking it through.

Getting back to Lao Tzu, he observed that the centre hole (nothing) makes the wheel useful, the space within a clay vessel (nothing) makes it useful, the holes (nothing) cut for windows and doors for a room are useful: “therefore profit comes from what is there; usefulness from what is not there.”

Due to our capitalistic societies, most of us know all about the quest for profit, a positive bottom line. In this halted pandemic time of great nothingness let’s be okay with what is not there, happy in the knowledge that there is great usefulness in stillness. A stronger, kinder centre is being forged.

 

Back To Centre 2020-05-28T15:49:55+00:00

How We Laugh

Ghosts breathe in me through sleeping hours
Clutching clean dry hands
They float me into brightly-lit shops with my children
Reduced, made younger
Frivolously, we search for meaningful cups and sparkly shoes
Pretty dresses with brilliant flowers
Fine cotton dress shirts with pink and grey stripes
Donning the fresh trappings, we venture into other forbidden places
Restaurants and concert halls and crowded after-parties
Where we eat and drink and listen and dance and sing along and tell tall tales
Eyes aglow from the wondrous assault to our senses

And we laugh
Oh how we laugh!
Great rivers of joy recklessly flood our faces
How we laughed!

We laugh still
Can anyone hear?
Sure there has been stoppage, alarm, altered wages and stages
Illness, and death minus the ritual of funeral
Conspiracy, confusion, misinformation
But transformation! So available
beyond haunting apparitions and lurking nostalgia
A better me, a better you
In here, out there

Website photo: My son & I finding things to laugh about.

 

How We Laugh 2020-05-25T15:08:29+00:00

Refuse To Fear

“We will refuse to fear
Never surrender
Never give hate the chance to rule the day
If we all choose to heal
Love is forever
Darkness won’t win
When we refuse to fear.” Charlie A’Court

A beautiful, strong message, yes? It’s from Canada’s East Coast award-winning singer-songwriter Charlie A’Court, who performed Friday in a Virtual Vigil to honour victims of the horrific, entirely-impossible-to-come-to-grips-with mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

If you’re familiar with the play Come From Away, based on Newfoundland’s hosting of the 38 planes diverted to Gander on 9/11, then you’d no doubt describe people from the East Coast as the exact opposite of angry. East Coasters are open and warm, friendly and kind.

I knew this long ago! My father was from New Brunswick and my mother from Nova Scotia, so I got to spend a month each summer as a kid on the East Coast. Life moved at a slower pace there; we had oodles of time to chat with family, neighbours and strangers alike. Most homes sported unlocked doors that didn’t necessarily expect a knock to gain entry. Even as a kid, I noticed the uptightness of Ontario upon my return. I mean, why were we always in such a dang hurry?

Consequently, people from “down home” (as Mom called it) are appalled, struggling to understand how such extreme violence could mar their beautiful province, Canada’s Ocean Playground. When I reached out by text to a cousin who lives in Dartmouth, her shock was palpable. “He succeeded in putting us on the map for all the wrong reasons. This is foreign to us. These things don’t happen here. I’m so confused, upset and angry!”

Things like that don’t happen there. And yet? Now one person’s sick mind has made it so. All of it so hard to fathom: the number of dead, the number of crime scenes, the fires, the sneaky use of an RCMP uniform and car, and then? The added whammy that due to Covid-19 people can’t even hug one another, can’t hold funerals. “Gobsmacked” is a word I heard used to describe the feeling and it is apt.

When senseless acts of violence happen, hate and darkness are tempting. But we mustn’t succumb. As A’Court sings, “Never give hate the chance” and “Darkness won’t win”. Why? Because “Love is forever”. Love is stronger.

One person. One person! How can one person wreak so much fear, cause so much pain and anguish? But it is just one person. Most people love. Most care. We truly have to go with the odds on these things, don’t we? Otherwise, what would be the point?

You watch what is happening in the aftermath of this horror? Giant heartfelt memorials. People sharing memories, sobbing. And on Friday night for the vigil, dignitaries and musicians representing a stricken province did their best to pull the entire country together with loving words and music.

“We will refuse to fear.” We feel fear. We can’t help but feel it, imagining a neighbour walking in then pulling out a gun, imagining finding your brother dead on the side of the road and hiding in the woods for hours listening to gunshots, imagining being pulled over by the RCMP and then instead of a ticket . . .

Fear, for humans – for any living creature – is natural. Fear enables survival; there are threats everywhere. Like the coronavirus lurking with its unique characteristics that epidemiologists the world over are scrambling to identify and understand. Like the sudden economic downturn, job losses, money woes. And like one person with a devil’s trove of anger, guns and disguises.

It is possible to live an entire life in fear. Lord knows, there’s a leader south of the border that’s been stoking those flames in the minds of his followers for 40-some months now. Fear though, is meant as a short burst, to provide the adrenaline needed to escape danger, like that poor fellow who found his brother dead. Fear is not meant to be a lifelong companion.

Fear left unchecked? According to takingcharge.csh.umn.edu, “Fear weakens our immune system and can cause cardiovascular damage, gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, and decreased fertility. It can lead to accelerated ageing and even premature death.”

Refuse it. Love big, hard, and wide. Work on healing. For those grieving loved ones lost in this tragedy, healing will probably feel undoable. And will be so hard, will take a very long time. But humans are unbelievably resilient. And most humans? Especially those from down home? Filled to the brim with goodness.

Website Photo: Be Well/Rainbow my grandkids made for their front window.

 

Refuse To Fear 2020-04-28T14:12:53+00:00

Always Be Grateful

“The sun’s gonna shine, ooh, ooh, it’s true
‘Cause I can always be grateful” Jewel

The sun is gonna shine. Have you noticed? While us humans scramble to figure out how to deal with this pandemic, Mother Nature just, la-di-da-di-dah, continues to tick items off her spring To Do list. A cousin wrote on FB: “You go out for a walk and the air is fresh, birds are singing, flowers are coming up and trees are in bud. You look around and you would never know anything is wrong.”

Except when you look at the man-made stuff: playgrounds wrapped in caution tape, mall parking lots empty, downtown stores boarded up. One of the comments on my cousin’s FB post: “Mother Nature knows how to go on without us humans . . . hopefully that isn’t what she has in mind at this particular time though!”

A most humbling message, huh? We need Earth. Earth does not need us.

Something to keep in mind, if/when we eventually get around to addressing Climate Change. While we may do it for ourselves, and a multitude of unfortunate species we’ve adversely affected along the way, we mustn’t kid ourselves. We’re not doing it for the planet. The planet is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old. Humans? Mere babies at 200,000 years.

We’ve been fruitful and multiplied though: seven times in just the last 200 years, from one billion to over seven billion! You can just imagine Mother Nature thinking from time to time, If only I could get these seven billion monkeys off my back.

Coronavirus has forced us monkeys to halt in place, temporarily, giving Her body and lungs a sweet reprieve. But this reset is due to economic and human distress, right? Inger Andersen, head of the UN Environmental Programme, in an article for news.un.org “has cautioned against viewing this as a boon for the environment”. When we finally get to check out and also leave “Hotel California”? We should take a good long look at how we do things, in a way I’m sure young environmental activist Greta Thunberg would approve of, and in complete opposition to the way some world leaders operate.

Writes Andersen, “And as the engines of growth begin to rev up again, we need to see how prudent management of nature can be part of this ‘different economy’ that must emerge, one where finance and action fuel green jobs, green growth and a different way of life, because the health of people and the health of the planet are one and the same, and both can thrive in equal measure.”

Green. The answer is green, but not money. Creation should be the new currency.

Listening to an interview with Jewel on Sirius XM’s Volume the other day, I was introduced to her website jewelneverbroken.com, an “emotional fitness destination”, where the anxiety-ridden can find tools for anxiety reduction.

Since this is such an anxiety-inducing time, let’s look at Jewel’s way of calming it. With anxiety, fight-or-flight mode, your heart rate speeds up and essentially shuts down your brain. You’re in survival mode. Contraction. The opposite is dilation. Openness. Jewel recommends getting really observant. Curious. Take a good long look at what is going on around you, take in the details. This brings you into a mindful state in which anxiety cannot exist.

Add in a dash of gratefulness? You’re well on your way to feeling better. I recently chatted with my gfs on our weekly get-together – I call it Zoom Gabba-Gabba – and we pointed out all the things we have to be grateful for: friends bringing food, random acts of kindness we see when we venture out, and time to read, workout and be creative.

With my creative time, I’ve been taking art lessons with my sister-in-law on Zoom. One of our recent subjects was the luna moth, so named because it’s nocturnal, but also it has moon-like spots. I personally have never seen a luna moth – some say they’re not so much rare as secretive, while others believe they’re threatened by pesticide use, pollution, and loss of habitat.

They are stunningly beautiful. And they have much to offer us in terms of messaging at this time. According to maynardlifeoutdoors.com, they “live for only about a week, their sole purpose – besides beauty – being to mate before dying”. Ok, we live longer than a week, but in the grand scheme of things? We don’t really live that long. We’ve figured out the mating part; perhaps we’re also here to appreciate beauty?

The luna moth, like any transformative insect, is a harbinger of change. The anticipation of it, active or passive. Again, from maynardlifeoutdoors.com, “Either change your life, or your life will be changed”.

Our lives were changed by this pandemic. Passive. Actively, let’s do what we can to change our lives for the better when it loosens its grip.

Website picture: A gorgeous water colour luna moth as painted by my art teacher Hilary Slater www.hilaryslater.com. I’m not sharing my latest attempt as it resembles a giant squashed puke-coloured manta ray.

 

 

 

 

 

Always Be Grateful 2020-04-16T09:36:44+00:00