Sunday, September 20, 2009


Things have changed, and I'm not sure when it happened.

I had a conversation with my best friend M. the other day about relationships and it occurred to me that things have changed. Now, I'm about to use a phrase I always hated when my mother used it, but here goes anyway: I'm old enough to remember the sixties, those heady times when there nearly was a revolution, when young people, full of idealism thought that a new world order was possible, a new world order based on love instead of money and power.

Grant you, a lot of the parading about and speechy-fying was done by the fellas and the meals were put together by women in the background. And then there were even a few men who started taking on more of the "caring" roles. There was talk of real equality and the sexual revolution followed.

However things changed. The pendulum swung back and the majority of those fellas who talked of love and community, sexual equality, soon became even more materialistic and power-hungry than perhaps their fathers had ever been.

What happened to the idea that "all you need is love"?

Somehow, it seems we have fallen into a terrible pit of narcissism, greed and fear. We feed our feelings of isolation, loneliness and shame with material things, and the ideas of social justice and the principle of the equality of all human beings have taken a back seat to our fight for supremacy. If we cannot subdue those we fear, we will keep them out with walls and homeland security. Disappointed by love, we have replaced connection to other beings with collecting things and protecting those things, with violence if need be. And as the desire for possessing things has grown, the value system that placed life before things has crumbled away.

A fantasy of love is out there, an attitude that treats people like objects, to be discarded when they don't meet our needs, still thrill, or fail to meet some criterion or another.

Without an understanding of the divine power of love, we have all too willingly become party to governments who spend a pittance on social welfare services while pursuing policies of economical and military aggression. The social activitist of the 60's now easily defines himself as a social liberal AND a fiscal conservative.

Marianne Williamson in The Healing of America says: "There is so much injustice in America, and such a conspiracy not to discuss it; and so much suffering, and so much deflection lest we notice. We are told that these problems are secondary, or that it would cost too much to fix them -- as though money is what matters most. Greed is considered legitimate now, while brotherly love is not."

I am always struck when I return from travels to countries in the Third World by the response of people to my decision to travel to those places, as if there are no difficult issues, no poverty, no starving children in the First World. The statistics that describe horrific poverty in Canada do nothing to help us see the face of poverty because we turn our backs. Sometimes, travel forces us out of our comfort zone, but not if we can help it, not if we can hide away in gated resorts, hotel developments that are surreal islands of self-indulgence in the middle of frightening poverty and hardship.

The social activists of the 60's have abandoned their commitment to social justice because love of their fellow man would have demanded the hard work of changing and reorganizing the social and political systems that perpetuate the inequalities. The resulting backlash against welfare in America today, Williamson contends, "is not really a backlash against welfare abuse, so much as it is a backlash against compassion in the public sphere."

And to support greed and materialism, one must support domination. And being back to domination, we are back to a world without love.

Many in our country like to call it a Christian country, founded by people who held Christian ideals. If God is love, and love gives life, why do our governments uphold policies that value money over love, the progress of commerce and industry over the value of life (either by destroying the natural environment that supports life or treating human beings as statistics: a "market" or a source of labour, etc.)

I am horrified by the man in India who killed his wife because he suspects that she was cheating on him. Why? Because he believes women are inherently inferior and dangerous creatures. However, I experience this attitude of domination still in our supposedly socially advanced culture.

It is terribly commonplace now for women(and men too) to have "something done", ie surgically or chemically, in an effort to be more appealing as...what, a commodity? While few men say they want this, most men on internet dating sites want a picture first. And the odd, horribly-honest man even admits that he is looking for a Barbie who has had "work done", as incredible as that may seem!

Most profiles on internet dating sites describe a love of walking hand in hand on beaches, or cuddling on the couch to watch a movie, wine and candles. How unrealistic is that? Little talk of chores, dirty dishes, juggling working lives, managing money, sharing values and goals, beliefs, politics, social activism...

In the workplace, it is still commonplace for men (usually in a position of power)to be angry and verbally abusive and expect that an apology (if offered) exonerates them ( it should be understood that they are under stress, etc., while a subordinate who responds with violence or verbal abuse is much more often reprimanded for un-professional behavior).

It is still not unheard of that women complain that the stuff of caring for a house and children is still their territory (often of their own choosing because they do not trust a man to do a good enough job). Relationships also seem to be women's territory as the social niceties often fall to a woman: planning and preparing for the holidays, the sending of cards, flowers or gifts to note the events in the lives of people around them.

Even though we (on the tail-end of the 60's generation) hopefully entered marriages that we stated we wanted to be equal partnerships, we quickly found ourselves falling into the habits we had learned in our homes. Women resorted to feminine wiles to get men to do what they wanted. Men easily gave over the care of children to women. Men expected women to cook and clean and care for them, to nourish them and take care of their needs. Women complained, but did not relinquish these roles that defined them, because they felt their high standards would not be met(rightly or wrongly). Men who might have made the effort to be emotionally available, caring and responsible husbands and fathers succumbed to the pressures of their peers' vision of what manhood was, and abandoned their children and wives, becoming emotionally and physically unavailable, in order to preserve their self-image of power. And with no idea of how to be loving, men and women left unhappy marriages, hoping to at the very least, escape the misery and loneliness, hoping to find true love somewhere else. We taught our children to be cynical, to wonder if true love even exists. Our friends who remain married, also cynical, advise those of us who are no longer are married, not to get married again -- love isn't possible, it's just too hard to "train another man", or to marry for money this time vs love, etc.,etc.!

We tried to redefine "man and woman", but fell back on a simplistic re-working of the same stereotypes we remained invested in: men are from Mars and women from Venus; men are strong and silent, while women are nurturing and verbal; yin and yang; women are mature caregivers, while men are childish idiots, etc., etc. Instinctively, we recognize the caricature and are amused by it. It provides endless fodder for comedians and sitcoms. But it has not been fundamentally challenged or reworked, for all we pretend to be so much more socially progressive than say the Muslim world, or traditional caste-bound India.

However, despite all that, I believe love is possible. I believe love is the only thing that is possible if we hope to survive as a species. Without love, we will continue to despoil the world, violently suppress anyone we encounter that we fear threatens our comfort, sustain our unhealthy narcissism with our greed, and continue to blindly tolerate every injustice.

And on a personal level, without love, we will continue to live tiny, narrow lives of lazy, childish self-indulgence, and never experience what love might work in our lives and through our lives to inspire personal growth and to better the lives of those we touch. We will just have to open our hearts, become vulnerable to love and have the courage to step into it, become the expression of loving-kindness to ourselves, our families and everybody we encounter, if we hope to truly live lives of meaning, even to save our world.
'Compassion and love are not mere luxuries. As the source both of inner and external peace, they are fundamental to the continued survival of our species.'
~~His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama
some further ideas:

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009


This is so timely and inspirational. I know I've posted about this guy before, but it's worth revisiting.

Friday, September 11, 2009

the lion whisperer

On a happier note, here's a story about a guy who whispers to, plays and swims with lions.


easy silence

Borrowing the title from a Dixie Chicks song, I am wondering if I should let the day pass without remembering this anniversary of a terrible event; I'm tempted because it is so painful.

We can probably all remember where we were. I was wakened by my Youngest and Other Favorite Daughter who said I should get up and watch the news on TV, that something Big was happening. I can remember the shock and fear that went through my body. Then sadness, because I knew, knew in my bones, that this would not be over for a very, very long time.

I know I'm just one ordinary woman and I have far more questions than answers.

In my travels around the world, I have encountered so many people in the Third World in particular who live the results of the imbalance of power and wealth everyday, whose patience in the "trickle down" theory has long ago expired. While I didn't expect my friends would be rejoicing on this day (they were agonizingly saddened), I wasn't surprised either by the celebrations in the streets by some in the Muslim worlds.

For another Muslim point of view read Rashied Omar: Islam and Violence.

And the reactions in the First World were also so predictable and primitive. Blunt headed. Force and power never ultimately win out unless you are prepared to totally annihilate "the enemy". But who exactly are the enemy? Women and children too?

see Freedom’s Untidy: Democracy Promotion and Its Discontents

And then, what do you do about the niggling doubts within your own camp, those who think maybe we brought it upon ourselves by our oppressive foreign policies, creating a vacuum of thinkers and leaders wherever we enter to "bring democracy", siphoning out billions and billions of dollars from those countries with the natural resources we want with the conspiracy of their puppet leaders, leaving the citizens of these countries worse off than they were before we arrived there to offer them "development", having unimaginable dollars in our war chest all while spending pennies on aid, and giving aid into the hands of corrupt leaders without holding them accountable for anything but furthering our political/financial interests in those countries, aid that goes into foreign bank accounts of those leaders and again subjects their people to another suffocating layer of oppression and heartache.

(On another level, there are those that argue that aid organizations are a self-perpetuating agency unto themselves, or that aid perpetuates the very problems they seek to remedy.

See Dambisa Moyo and Why Aid to Africa Must Stop)

I wasn't surprised that voices of opposition to the US policy immediately after 9/11 were silenced. ( ideas to mull around this comes from Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman's bookbook Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, and Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine )

See Green Day perform American Idiot

And I wasn't surprised that I found ordinary people I knew all around me, Canadians, suddenly identifying themselves with the Christian right and the US and ready to go out there and kill off the infidels and terrorists. The novelist Stephen Lewis said long ago that "when Fascism arrives it will be wrapped in a Flag and carrying a Bible." And several intriguing comparisons were made by some writers to the propaganda tactics of the US government post 9/11 and the fascist ideas of Hitler and the WWII era.

But as all such conflicts have deep, complex histories and no easy solutions, I struggled to find dispassionate readings while maintaining an open-hearted sympathy for suffering on all sides.

During the time since 9/11, among several books that I read related to this conflict, here are a couple of books that I found very thought provoking:

Infidel, by Hirsi Ali, Ayaan

Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance, by Buruma, Ian

These two books sparked off a furious debate between the liberal idealists and conservative factions in the West, mostly among European intellectuals and politicians, trying to understand how the values of democracy seem to be working against the kind of society that has been our goal. For a more in-depth treatment of the debates see Peter Collier's article.

However, I have not seen much of this kind of real debate in the media in North America.

I longed to hear voices of reason. I longed to hear somebody speaking of hope and understanding. I longed to hear somebody admit wrong-doing and asking for forgiveness. But that is not likely to happen, is it. Having a conversation is just too hard.

Isn't it?

Conversation Cafes

Consensus Building

Beyond Intractability


Thursday, September 10, 2009


Yes, one side of me is contemplative and I readily admit to being anti-social then. I need lots of time to think, day-dream, canoodle. Right now, it's been a kind of enforced meditation; I'm wondering if there's a reason I have had so many frustrations in the one part of my life that I find so invigorating, my running life. I've already mentioned the probable torn meniscus. Then there was the dog-bite and nasty sunburn, and shortly following that, the broken toe. All of that has had me, by turns, feeling quite blue, then seeing red.

But in the end, I think I've just learned that I don't have as much patience for myself and life's circumstances as I would have liked to think I have. In the meantime...

I'm continuing my studies in Amharic. It was useless to struggle against my need to approach it logically. I finally found, through this Ethiopian adoption blog, some useful links to sources that I can really get my teeth into. I might have initially impressed some people with my Amharic, but my spotty understanding and frail memory would have pretty quickly betrayed the fact that I don't have a clue in Amharic. Now, maybe I have a prayer of getting my head around the subject and I'll be happy if I am eventually as fluent in Amharic as I am in French (that's not aiming too high, perhaps!)

Another blog I devoured recently was Destination Ethiopia by Denise Baker, which describes her year as in intern in Ethiopia with an adoption agency. Read it "back-to-front", if you know what I mean, to follow her story chronologically.



Don't you just love it when people who know what they are doing come and do what they do so well?

I just had blinds installed in my bedroom and I am so thrilled by how fast, neat and tidy the installer was. He guarantees the blinds won't come tumbling down ( as they might if I had tried to install them myself.) And I think they look wonderful. I can hardly wait to have blinds installed on the rest of my windows!


Sunday, September 06, 2009

food and joy

So, I'll declare my prejudice up front. I mistrust people who don't enjoy food. I just mean that there is something about people who are closed down around the issue of food that makes me nervous.

To amuse myself, I thought back to some of the people I have met lately and how they are about food and I thought, yes. How they are about food reveals a lot about who they are. So here I go; I'm about to reveal a great deal about who I am as well!

Among the various ways people are about food, the rules or excuses they have for the way they eat, the most horrifying I encountered most recently was someone who wanted to lose weight. To "get that full feeling", this person consumed gross volumes of some sort of Asian sea-weed noodle which purported to do nothing: no calories, no nutrition, not even any taste.

I can't imagine a more empty way of eating. Where is the soul? Where is the sizzle? Where is the lusciousness? Where is the zen? Where is the love?

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra describes an eight-limbed yogic path to enlightenment, (or ashtanga yoga), which suggests a program of ethical restraints or abstentions (yamas), lifestyle observances (niyamas), postures (asanas), breath control (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and absorption into the Divine (samadhi).

The first and second limbs contain the 10 ethical precepts, or core values, of a yoga practice from which the postures flow and deepen, but may just as easily be adopted as the ethical and philosophical basis of a more joyful and healthy way of relating to food, and ultimately, life.

Rather than a set of do's and dont's, it is helpful to think of the yamas and niyamas as invitations to act in ways that promote inner and outer peace, making space for harmony and balance. By living with lovingkindness in harmony within yourself and in relationship to your environment and to others, consciousness and joy naturally arise.

Ahimsa: Non-harming/Non-violence

Non-violence is the opportunity to relinquish hostility and irritability, and instead make space within your consciousness for peace.

Though our modern lives are full of comfort, we have gradually become distant from, even suspicious of, our natural environment. Living in homes with heaters and air conditioners has isolated us from the changes in the four seasons. We are often separated by many thousands of miles from the sources of our food.

We are confused daily by contradictory scientific opinions as to what is good for us or not. And we are assaulted constantly by a food-industry that is more interested in creating a desire for manufactured foods for profit, not in providing nourishing foods that our bodies need.

We often despise our hunger and have developed a love/hate relationship to food. We are full of mistrust, misgivings, guilt and fear, even while we crave nourishment for our bodies and senses, and a connection to the natural world that sustains us.

I've seen people refuse to enjoy perfectly nutritious food because it falls into a "condemned" food group. I've seen people starve themselves before a big event so they can "pig out" on the big day. I've seen people eat only certain foods day after day, not out of enjoyment, but because of a belief that this diet is "good for them". I've seen people eat exactly what they like and how they like it, even though they "know" this diet ends up making them feel awful.

Just how many ways can we invent to be harsh with ourselves, to be violent towards ourselves?

Satya: Truthfulness

It is believed that if one is fully vested in satya, everything you say will come to be realized. If that is true, it is terrible to have that negative relationship to food which would result in all the dire consequences of those beliefs coming true: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, skin blemishes, fragile bones, early senility, an untimely death, etc., etc.

However, satya is usually interpreted as "the Truth which equals love," a concept of truth which is not merely a synonym of fact or correctness, but is more metaphysical. With the integrity and humility to realize that the truth may be bigger than you, bigger even than the smartest scientists, you might be able to relax and let go of so many of the negative beliefs we have around food. It might help to realize that scientists are just asking the questions, making observations. There will always be more questions than answers.

Why not ask more questions? Experiment. See how food really makes you feel. Be open to discovering the truth about yourself and about food. Maybe you are something bigger than all those facts you believe about you and food.

Asteya: Non-stealing

Most people don't stop to consider all the different levels of energy involved in all they are consuming.

They look for cheap food, fast, without considering what it costs the farmer, the community, or the environment, to produce it and bring it to market. And they don't appreciate the people who prepare their food and serve it.

Our way of being in this world affects others. Ways that we can be obstructions to the enjoyment others have in life are by being judgmental, harsh, unkind, rude, stingy, selfish and greedy. How many ways do these traits express themselves around food?

Brahmacharya: Celibacy/restraint

Often interpreted to mean celibacy, brahmacharya is more about preventing the dissipation of one's energy through the misuse of the senses. It is more broadly interpreted to mean restraint, moderation and acting responsibly.

Not being aware of how emotions affect your appetite can get you in trouble so easily. Eating to fill the gap, whether emotional or physical, robs you of the opportunity to notice, to be present and enjoy all the other sensations of eating. Being aware, you enjoy the tastes, feel when you are full, and notice how different foods affect you.

Eating shouldn't be a chore. It shouldn't be an exercise in self-flaggellation. It needn't be a stressed-out measuring of portions and counting of calories. It doesn't need to be an obsessive adherence to a regimen. Simply being present and observing yourself, you notice tastes and sensations. You find certain foods are not only wonderful but leave you feeling truly nourished. You find other foods make you feel not so good, not so likely to want to repeat the experience.

Notice how the situation doesn't need your stress to resolve itself. And by not giving so much energy to food moments, you are more at ease and happier in relation to food, and appreciative of its place in relationship to the rest of your life.

Aparigraha: Non-grasping/non-hoarding

Just let it go.

If our homes are filled with old junk that isn't useful to us anymore, there's no room for new things to come in. That holds true for the nonmaterial ideas and attitudes you cling to as well. If you are hanging on to old beliefs about yourself or your relationship to food, or clinging to a diet that no longer nourishes and satisfies you, you are not open to new ways of eating and relating to food.

Even when you are happy and feel good with your diet, change brings new energy and revitalizes you. Being stuck in even a good rut is still a rut. You start to get attached to it and identify with it. It's easy to start thinking you are your healthy diet. But the truth is that nothing lasts forever. Beliefs and scientific findings come and go. Trends and fashions change. Food goes in and food goes out. Duh!

If your tendency to be grasping and hold on stems from a feeling of lack, the best way to let that go is to be present, recognize and acknowledge abundance, and practice gratitude.

Saucha: purity/cleanliness

You want to keep your thoughts uncluttered so you can feel free from afflictive emotions; you keep your body and environment in order, to create a sense of calm.

The physical practice of yoga deepens your awareness of your body, so you become more conscious of foods that bring you a consistent sense of well-being and those that make you feel bad after you eat them. Over time, you find you are in a more comfortable and relaxed relationship with food.

And look more deeply at what the body is: The more you clean it, the more you realize that it is an impermanent, decaying thing. Saucha helps break up excessive fixation with your body, or the bodies of others.

Santosha: Contentment

Contentment is really about accepting life as it is. It's not about creating perfection. Life will throw whatever it wants at you. Plan all you want: you ultimately have little control.

Be welcoming of what you get; remember to find joy in the experience. There are probably more ways people survive on strange foods than you had ever thought possible or healthy. Practice enlightened hedonism: eating satisfying food in smaller portions, without demonizing any food or food group. With a more sensitive palate, you don't have to eat as much, especially when you take the time to notice the most intense sensory pleasures of food.

Tapas: Right Effort

Tapas is translated as "self-discipline," "effort," or "internal fire". The Yoga Sutra suggests that tapas in action generates heat that will both burn away impurities and kindle the sparks of divinity within.

One goal of tapas is to stop anything you do mindlessly because you've become habituated. When you use your will to overcome your conditioning, you free yourself from the many unconscious actions that cause suffering. By eating consciously when you are truly hungry, by noticing what you are eating and how it tastes, how it makes you feel, and how it nourishes your body, you become more aware of what you do around food that either ultimately makes food an enjoyable part of life or not.

Svadhyaya: Self-Study

When you practice self-observation, you begin to uncover and address the unconscious patterns governing your life. When you can notice, but not judge, what you are doing and how you are feeling in every moment, you open a little space in your life for empathy towards yourself. That empathy also extends automatically to others.

As you notice your secrets and habits with kindness, you also notice that many others do the same things. In realizing the commonality we share in being human, forgiveness is so much easier. How divine!

Ishvara pranidhana: Dedication to the highest

We emphasize devotion and service, making an artistic offering to the greater good, and act with the intention of bringing more beauty and love into the world. Always pause to look for the higher essence in any situation.

We are not satisfied with slapping a meal on the table, something from the drive-through grabbed on the run, a meal eaten mechanically. There is something about eating food from a beautiful bowl, looking at a bunch of flowers in a vase on the table, the feel of a fine linen napkin.

Yoga represents one path toward enlightenment, wherein we give up our need for certainty and acknowledge the essential mystery of our lives.

Food is one of the greatest ways we have of embracing a bit of this mystery. It is a very "witchy" thing to grow food by planting a seed in the ground. The more we tamper with that process, the more of its essential nutritive values we rob from our food. There is hardly a nutrionist who can fault the simplest diet that is closest to its natural source, unprocessed and unrefined.

In Japanese Zen Buddhism, Shojin cooking emphasises this awareness of our connection to nature and the seasons. "Chori ni kometa aijo" means cooking with love. This is meant to include love for Buddha nature, for the people who eat our food, for the ingredients and even for the pots and pans. Shojin cooking embodies the belief that the essential flavour of the food comes from one's heart, from cooking with one's whole soul and from respecting the spirit of the kitchen.

There is a whole slow food movement that believes food is special not only because of the regional traditions employed in its making, but in the process which brings into play the care and attention of loving human hands.

Food is also a part of the place where it was grown. It is not only the taste but the very nutrients in the food that are affected by soil, climate and water.

How often have you found that your enjoyment of a glass of wine was dependent not only on the foods it was paired with, but with the company of your friends, the conversation, the setting where you enjoyed the meal and the way the sun was shining on that particular day. The same wine on another day without all those other components just didn't match up.

Food is a connection between people, between people and the earth. It is a celebration of life. The point of living is to be joyful and food is such a wonderful part of it. Very few social events take place in any culture without the ceremony of food.

Lovingkindness is something so many people desperately need. By giving ourselves a chance to live in harmony with our food, with ourselves and with the larger world, we may be able to be more joyful around food. By being relaxed, unashamed, appreciative, understanding and knowledgeable about food, we may go a long way towards redefining the concept of "eating well".

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009


There are no words to explain what this photo means to me. It represents so many things.

It was an opportunity I took to give myself some breathing room, to inhale some of the soothing, healing scents of nature, to enjoy the complex worlds of interconnectedness of which I am a small part and to relax into a feeling of being understood and cared for. Not just on a concrete personal level by friends who love me, but on a more mystical plane where I was able to relish all the rich and wonderful ways in which I am a part of the natural world.

Talk about sensory overload.