Death In The West

I was thinking about death. I do that allot lately.  So many people I know in my family and circle of friends have been afflicted by cancer or in other cases by simple misery – causing them to commit suicide. My husband suggested that it was because we were getting older – so of course more people were going to be dying.  But i know in my case that’s not really true. I have known allot more death than others, and with the recent loss of my brother and my friend it got me to thinking about how we see and handle death in our culture and what a mess we are.

Here in the west, we don’t spend allot of time with the idea of death. We ignore it, we institutionalize it, we avoid it and we misrepresent it in a million zillion ways.

Let’s talk a little logical Buddhism now.

Living is all about impermanence.  There is absolutely nothing, not one thing, on this earth that is going to remain for all time. I’m sorry if that is a shock to your system, or perhaps your mind is trying to figure out why I am wrong, but it is true. You’re going to die. Your dog is going to die. Your friends will die. Your parents will die. Your children will die one day too, everyone in their own time.

Impermanence is the first law of the universe. Everything must continue to change, pass through, and evolve. nothing is static. Everything is always evolving.

Sound logical?

Of course. Except that your mind and every cell of your body has been trained to believe otherwise.

Our culture is hyper-geared towards denying the continuity of change and the sureness of death.  We spend our entire lives waking up to fulfill desires that we believe that help us feel better so we can continue to deny the fact that we are going to die.

The average Western life is a travesty of delusion:

 First of all we invest our time on earth in jobs to buy things we can’t afford, like houses with mortgages that we spend our lives repaying. We spend our days buying things to impress our neighbours. We put countless hours and thought and energy into taking care of those things – manicuring the lawns, painting the walls and filling houses with useless things that require dusting.  Finally, if we are “lucky”, we get old and sit amongst the dust and memories of our “things” pining over the past which was fleeting and temporary – never guaranteed of permanence.

Not exactly a live-in-the-moment culture. Meanwhile our media pushes the importance of eternal youth as the solution to lasting happiness, and we imbue ourselves with technology, so we don’t have to have real relationships.

For God’s sake.

You can’t seriously wonder why the Donald trumps of the world are so popular. He epitomizes all I have just said.

Of course, Eastern philosophy is very different than here in the west namely through a significantly lower focus on material, and higher on spiritual goals in daily life; death is not a frightening mystery to most easterners.

I was watching a television show about Varanasi India,  a 3000 year old city in India and a place where many people go to die or be buried. It is believed that if you are cremated in a certain place in Varanasi, you can avoid certain aspects of reincarnation and become an enlightened being more easily.

I watched body after body, draped in colourful cloth and dotted with flowers and other symbolic items be carted to fires to be cremated.

What caught my attention were the children, trailing behind the procession of bodies, laughing and skipping merrily behind. They were not dressed in black made to weep with bowed heads.

“And they’re not traumatized”, i thought to myself. they look happy, and light and unconcerned with the whole thing.

We don’t show children in our culture death in this way, do we?  We don’t represent death as the normal transition – the beautiful life lived – the awesome way nature recreates itself through us, by letting us live the cycle of life.

Instead what do we show them about death?

Video games and movies.

Don’t let this be the first understanding of “death” that your child has!

We show them death in horrible horrendous ways that have nothing to do with reality.

We bring them to Ultimate Fighting Competitions where we let them watch humans beat each other like starving animals.

We hide the dying away in palliative care centers.

My children were surprised at the peacefulness of the experience of my mother dying. Although it is always painful to watch the end of a loved one’s life – it is in no way the dramatic and terrifying experience often portrayed in the media.

But we are so programmed. My mother asked me to die at the farm where I live – I am sorry today that i did not allow this to happen. The idea of it was so foreign and frightening to me at the time, that I simply could not entertain it. The irony is in how much I have learned from her death.

Dying is not a shameful act that needs to be institutionalized.  We are a culture terrified of the inevitable. We create religions that support our fears and cause us to do all manner of harm to one another in this life, for fear of what we don’t know about the next life. And we educate our children about everything under the sun – except who they are, as a creation, being and their own consciousness.

I remember most vividly H.H.the Dalai Lama in Perth saying that if we did nothing else differently after his talk, to go home and meditate or “contemplate” our own death, for ten minutes, every day.

At the time I thought it was the most bizarre suggestion i had ever heard, especially in my state of grief over the death of my mother. But I did it, because he seemed to be the most genuinely happy man I had ever seen, despite some very difficult circumstances, so i figured it was worth a shot.

I pictured myself on my death bed – at the point where the voices of the people I loved were fading around me, and I wondered what i would be thinking of right before “lights out”. I wondered what i would see, if I would see my loved ones, if my kids would be OK…I wondered…

The questions that came up on my “before lights out” tour of imagination, would translate into a focus for the day.  These contemplations had the effect of making me appreciate the moments of my life more. They were not morbid at all and over time this “meditation” has become a habit which has brought me comfort during times of grief.

When I consider every single thing that ails our culture and communities, I am able to bring it back to a fear and denial of our inevitable death.  I believe the Dalai Lama was right when he said that the solution for our planet lies in the individual efforts of everyone to focus on finding out who and what you are.

Something which you already know – but have covered up with what you have been taught.

It’s hard to find out what we have been taught about the world and what is important and not important is completely wrong. Of course we want to deny that and keep going the way we are, because that is easier. And we like easy.

We are all about easy, because we have desires and wants and we get up every morning and do everything we can to fulfill those desires and wants. That’s it.

The irony of our desires and wants is that mostly we don’t know where they come from or what need they are really fulfilling.  We are unconscious of them.

But the world in general is becoming more conscious.

There is no coincidence that there is a surge of interest in meditation and discussion around different forms of Buddhism emerging in western culture. All happening alongside a new interest in Hinduism, and “the Nouveau hippy” culture – (I think they call themselves “hipsters” – a materialistic form of non-materilaist (to be covered another time…it’s too good to pass up 😉) – but whatever form it takes, it is clear that the west is waking up (finally) and expressing a desire to know itself in a fundamentally new way.

 

 

The Little Blue Fish Called Joy

The idea of animals and energy is fascinating.  Once you spend enough time with animals in any capacity, you will find that you can easily feel and transmit subtle reciprocal energetic exchanges.  Animals react to our emotions and energy in a substantial way.

 

Years ago, one of my dear friends and fellow horse farmer was having a celebration for her fiftieth birthday. She had invited a few friends over to celebrate and we were going to have a bonfire, tell some stories, sing some songs – a good summer night.

 

That same afternoon, her horse of many years began to die.  She was very old and had faced a plethora of health problems over the years. The vet was called and by the time I arrived it was already dark and people were sitting around the fire.  They had set up a sort of drive-through IV on a tree limb so the horse could get intermittent hydration treatments while we tried to keep her from going down through an endless walk many horse owners regrettably face at some point.

 

We all took turns helping  keep the mare moving but finally she lay down and there was nothing we could do to get her up. In our resignation we gathered around the fire and decided to send her off with good energy by playing guitar and singing. While her breath slowed, our songs became incThis went on and soon there was a feeling of celebration and coming together – the heaviness had vanished and had been replaced with music, love and community. Suddenly without a warning, the sweet old mare stood up, shook herself off and proceeded to continue to live in that body for three more years.  There is no doubt in any of our minds what had changed the events of that night – it was all about energy.

Recently, I began working at a little store that is filled with beautiful things from Nepal, India and other fairly sourced places. It is in fact the only shop I have gone out of my way to visit for many years. Romi and Aman, the owners,  are generous and warm people. They have beautiful carefully chosen items for sale in the store – each one somehow meant to have a good result for the person. A gift of energy and healing in a stone, or a spring jacket with vibrant colours  of Nepalese clothing. Although the store appreciates the business clients give as they are hard working people with small children and the winter season leaves them with absolutely no income in the seasonally abandoned tourist town. But just as I much I think they love when you ask questions and take time look at all the beautiful things.

 

My life was at a massive cross roads and I was feeling pretty spun-around when Aman called me and asked to meet them at the store. When they offered me a part time job – I took it on the spot knowing there was no better place for me in the world.  As we chatted excitedly about plans and training, I saw a stunning molded glass bowl with a sad looking little Beta fish in it, huddled at the bottom.

“Your fish is sad.  Cold I think…”

“Yes, yes” Romi replied. “She keeps dying and coming back to life. She has not been well in a long time.” And with great concern for a beloved pet, Romi and Aman talked about the little blue fish, now dull and old sitting at the bottom of the bowl.

My first day of work was two days later and  I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Imagine going into your favourite place and your boss’s first directive is “Make everything beautiful! –  the way you want”.

Seriously. Yay.

The first thing we did was deal with the beautiful fish bowls. Perched on dried roots they were an amazing thing to behold. A woman came in to look at them and within minutes the little blue fish found herself homeless and in transition.

Aman and I took incredible care working together to move her – gently cooing in the bathroom, snuggling her from one bowl to the next as if she were a kitten or something.

Aman  set up little stones, amethysts especially to bring a renewed energy to the water.  Then we brought her into the sun and watched the magic happen through the day as the sweet little fish began to dance around her bowl unlike anything she had ever done before. Aman returned to her bowl about 35 times to joyfully exclaim.”Look! Look how happy she is!” We received so much of our own joy from her joy!

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“Joy” Photograph Sarah Vinnah Davis

One person after another streamed into the store that day.  The happy feeling of connection was palpable and filled with “Joy”full loving energy that abounded from our small victory bringing the little fish back to health.

Romi and Aman’s care of Joy was truly an awesome thing to behold and incredibly contrasting in a world where the news can be so bad watching two people show authentic concern for a little blue fish made me smile from the inside out.

Here’s to good vibes …

Peace

 

 

Home – a poem

Meditation walk in the morning sun

letting my mind wander until there are no more thoughts.

geese call wild in the key of D

trying to tell me that it is

ON SURRENDERall about being free.

since not a soul is stirring I sit with the river

at the base of the mountain

and wait for the rocks to tumble all over me.

But nothing moves,

only the steady whir and burr

Of old worn thoughts that I release.

Stretching legs and arms I flow

feeling the ground steady and sure now

beneath the feet thatnot-so-long-ago

could not fly.

The river says

there is no one waiting to tell me

what they think

Or what I think

no one to correct me

Direct me

Protect me.

Cause that gets really old.

“this is all in my imagination”

the river whispers loud enough

So that I can hear.

And frankly speaking I have to believe the river

because he is so old

and has been recycling himself

over and in and through all time

returning always to this place

just waiting for me to come and

Ask the right questions.

The mountain stands behind the river

arms folded across her breast

Appearing calm and pensive as she considers river’s advice

(about the truth of course)

She sends the geese popping out over the ring of trees

that is her crown.

Geese emissaries acting as her voice

which would otherwise be silent

(except for when she really has something to say:

please see: Avalanche)

and frankly speaking

I have to believe the mountain

for she has been waiting for me

through all time

to return to this place

where the geese sing

to remind me that we have always been here

 

And by the river I awaken and see that

I have never left home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just Thinkin…Life Has No Set List

park-chair-yarra-river-gapSometimes life as a musician brings me to places and situation which seem beyond fantastic and unimaginable I realized yesterday.  These are the adventures that keep me coming back to loving performing music with people wherever we go. It is my rush.  I have always loved meeting new and interesting (that’s everyone!) people- and I am particularly curious about cultural norms and behaviours. I love the way we as different cultures approach the same situation in different ways. Sometimes tDigital Universehis works to my advantage as I really enjoy adapting my own cultural “norm” to a new one I may be encountering. A “when in Rome do like the Romans” thing.

So yesterday at our private SoulFusion gig I was faced with a particular challenge as we were setting up in a parking lot in 125 degree weather under a deceptively comfortable looking “play area” designed and created by the plant manager of the company for his employees. It was a very different situation to play music in and try and decipher how a “set list” would go – if there were to be such a thing.  The man who hired us was a great lover of music and was someone who had developed a real love for the men and women he works for.  So much so that when he found that the culture of the company he had come into a few years ago was “all work and no play” he took it upon himself to create a more understand and relaxed atmosphere.  This year was the first year upper management had agreed to make a particular investment in the employees excellent positive response to this initiative and the hired Us.  Believe me when I tell you I was aware of the particular challenges coming into this gig – I just had no clue how much bloody fun it would be.

It’s not all glamour in case you thought that…

First we got lost so we arrived agitated, and late for set up. That’s never anyone’s favourite start. Then I had some real challenges…sort of. Except I don’t think the old days would have had all of the variety of faces and people I got to meet on this hot summer day in 2014. As we were setting up, I tried to look around and get handle on our audience so I can create a set list.  As I looked out at the sea of different coloured faces I realized that here was a bunch of people whose lives emerged from places that spanned the globe three times over.

There would be no set list. Big surprise.

Then I was struck by the amazing unlikelihood that we should all find ourselves in this place, drinking beer on a sunny Friday afternoon. Muslims, Jews, Christians, black, white, beige – most cultural versions of humanity were here and accounted for I think.   I wondered right away what it was in their lives they had to have gone through to come to this place, on this day in a hot sunny parking lot in a company just off the behemoth Labatt brewery factory.1175557_607235729326752_1461121346_n

This day was going to be a day of celebration – this is amazing. I thought to myself.

Incredible shit happens in the most unlikely places –

Indian men with beautiful colored turbans on their heads, smiling tables full of people from the Philippines, a new friend to play djembe from Haiti, office women dressed in pretty summer dresses, volunteers manning the BBQ’s while racks of delicious smelling food was served with a smile by upper manage to their employees.  It was warm and inviting and beautiful and all faces smiling.  I feel compelled to play music so…it begins acoustic.

Soon I see the crowd is FULL of people who MUST have danced or drummed or done some type of musical ceremony where they came from – but no one is dancing – they are being quiet and polite.  This is bothering me by the second set so I decide to get together with our drummer who is an amazing percussionsit, and we simply begin a beat. Him first – native sounding earthy tones on the Djembe beat against the ground and I crawl half shy onto the big drum kit. Dave our drummer nods to me to go ahead.  I don’t usually do that but I just felt compelled. My foot begins banging HARD on the bass drum – it feels great – amazing actually. Freeing and a little and letting loose in a way that’s different from when I am “front and center” – I can just close my eyes and feel the music like a meditation my heart settles down into a steady tribal beat on the bass and toms with Dave – eyes are closed…we are having a blast. Some of the men start to dance twirling with their arms as open as the smiles on their faces. Strong legs bend and flex in joyful cadence – Ah this is the best! Everyone was so together in this music – what an amazing feeling.joy

Then I made what I THOUGHT was a colossal cultural mistake. An Indian man came and threw money at my feet when I was dancing – and I was embarrassed so I plucked it up and ran to give it back to him red faced.

In my country when men throw money at you – its a sign of an unhealthy appreciation – I explained rather quickly.

He just smiled at me kindly and said nothing.

But I had stopped his joyful dancing. I had done something wrong.

I must have looked confused because his friend came and explained to my kindly –

“In India where we come from, when we throw money it is an appreciation and to way to protect you from poverty. We do this at weddings for beautiful brides too…” He smiled at me then kindly not like someone who is defiantly defending a cultural norm – as we who are Americanized are inclined to do (Rah!Rah!…blah…). Instead he was patiently explaining to me, because his ego was in check and he didn’t take my misunderstanding personally. What a revelation.

Some people use money not for the exchange of one thing for another – but for appreciation and expression. LIke a ritual. Amazing and beautiful all at once.  I am so grateful for the lesson and the kind way it was taught me.

I was so touched by the whole day.  It was a beautiful celebration of music and I really felt so privileged to be able to intersect with all these beautiful people, on that day in that time in that unli8kely place.

I remember saying to this amazing audience…

“Imagine what it is we all had to get through to get to THIS place today…it is incredible.  We were meant to be friends.”.  It really was how that all felt.,

We made music together, we ate together and we planned next year to do it all over again.

 

Once again the universe shows me clearly that if you follow your heart the pay back is simply unfathomable.stars-purple-light-wallpaper.jpg

 

Peace

 

 

On Death and Loving…

12061_10151721634725901_477138869_n
Morning time at WillowCreek

This morning I fed the horses – its a beautiful day. In Canada we get maybe 25 days like this – clear sunny cool. Birds are singing in this constant perfect cadence – it plays like a mediation song as I go about doing my work. I fill buckets and say good morning to each of my herd. They all have very different personalities and different ways of greeting me.

Did you know horses liked music? I didn’t either, until UI had my own farm. When a horse is sick you will try anything in your power to make them feel better, and so over time I discovered that each of my horses has a certain song or types of sounds they like. Some like silenbce. They don’t want us chattering in their faces all the time. Others, especially younger ones like summer, like singing – in her case I always sang her “Summer Lovin” from the grease album – so now when she hears this song she comes running from anywhere to find me.  I love that.

In the past three years my most special time I have to admit has been with Otis my overly tall gangly love machine of a quarter horse,.

otis10Otis came to me through a friend who had kindly adopted him from Texas even after the vets there declared that he had navicular disorder. She has a huge heart and he was truly a “big gentle giant” as his sale advertising said.  What the seller didn’t tell anyone was that Otis had been so gentle and SO perfect, they had overused him and probably destroyed his feet in the meantime.

In Otis’s case, he is the victim of what humans like to see as esthetically pleasing in a horse.  Over time, we have bred quarter horses to have small tiny delicate looking feet- not big and clunky like they should be. Otis is huge 16″3′ meaning he needs MORE of a base to stand on. But he doesn’t have that – so the bones inside his front hooves are twisted and breaking causing him daily and now in th4e past two days ridiculous amounts of pain.

I have made the decision to have him put down tomorrow at 4:00 and today feel like hell.

otis fall 2012 wearing a scarf
OTIS sporting his handsome scarf

Let me tell you about Otis…

Otis is my friend.

I am a rare a very fortunate soul to have had him in my life.  Most people I imagine never have that kind of intimacy and absolute trust and love with another living being never mind something as awesome and created with “ALL SOUL” as a horse.

 

jo and otisOtis is not just any horse you know…He is my soul-mate horse. Better r than any “man relationship” honestly…

The horse of my life..the one you dream of when you’re a little girl.

I never dreamed of a “specific” horse physically.. like big and black or white and shiny…I loved them, all and didn’t care what they looked like really.  I dreamed of the ULTIMATE relationship I would have with my horse – he would follow me and want to be with me all the time.  I didn’t dream of riding and ribbons like the other girls and boys in my riding classes.  I dreamed of a horse that would BE with me – and magical fairy tale like relationship a soulful understanding and connection.  Like Bucephalus and Alexander something extraordinary.

I am so lucky.  Otis was even better than all that.

paulette and otis

He was with me through my mothers illness, problems in my marriage, being alone – Otis was there. He single handedly got me through this winter and the incredible depression –  – I had Otis. His condition is what made me go outside every day, work with him, keep him moving for nearly four years now. Otherwise I may still be languishing in bed.

He loves and adores all humans but especially my mom. He would walk with us when she was in a wheelchair. He was the most gentle safe loving perfect listener. He never interrupted or told me what he thought he knew I just had to talk things out. And when I cried just TOO much – he would rap himself around me like a perfect blanket of love. God Ill miss him and our many hours spent in his stall, brushing him and just humming happily…

He is a grand champion line bred, in Texas he is Pine Zippo Bar something or other…blah blah blah – they tell me. Both grandfathers were most winning quarter horses in the history of quarter horses in USA. Why does this matter ? well because – humans bred him for humans – they were not thinking about the horse. .

otis faceI have tried meds, no meds, shoes, no shoes…walking, stall rest…all of it. I have gone as far as praying over his foot. I have held his leg on my lap and begged the sky. I must have looked like a lunatic in my field on my knees begging.

But my friend Otis is in terrible pain and so it is in my power to relieve him of it.

RANGER
Ranger was 32 when he died

I wonder that we can’t do this for humans…

I saw my vet today and cried all over him. Poor guy. He has had to put up with me for so many years. But again – he is the most HUMAN of all the vets I know. He comes to my fundraisers, quietly always supporting those who would work hard for their horses.  He doesn’t like killing them  I saw today the years had not in fact hardened him – this made me feel good. I need only LOVE to be present when we do this to my horse,

I have not put many horses down in my life. My first horse to die was Ranger – Masters old parted. I was inconsolable for at least 6months.

BY time has passed and I am a real farmer now – not just a suburban throwback hoping to have a pony and a larger garden.

I am a real farmer now.

My hands are hard like leather. I like them like that. It hurts less when I cut them on baling twine.

My back is sore – because I did a good days work.

My feet are permanenelty black with dirt – cause that’s the way we roll in my garden.

I’d rather smell like midnight in the pastures than midnight in paris…:)

I am a real farmer now.

But my heart doesn’t seem very “tough” or farmerish today – I wish it would take a lesson from my hands…

 

When you work on a farm, you are CONSTANTLY in the middle of life and death.

If you watch a death you will see it is just a birth – backwards…cropped-374558_10200344549270175_1888065410_n.jpg

Death and birth are the same.   I feel sorry for people who are not aware of this. Death is not so scary. But living disconnected from nature and the reality of the earth like most people do – is very scary to me.

Death is an opening – a space for something living to come in.

I am not afraid that Otis is going to DISAPPEAR. Nothing disappears.  If you work in nature – you know that very well. IO don’t know allot of farmers who fear death – their own or others.

We leave that to the city people who believe we are all separate living things.

But death is hardest on the living.  I will be lieft5 here…while Otis traipses off to go see my mom and everyone else I love who is on the other side.

I KNOW he will be there for me when its my time to “ride off”…

jo n otis
I love you My Buddy.

But holy shit this is hard.

Thanks for reading.  Please hug your animals and all the living creations you love tonight.

Namaste.

 

I love you buddy…

SPRING SHOWER

There is nothing more magical b46b5b382ed0fc2b0999b04319a1e8a6

than being in the barn

right before a torrential spring rain.

Horses munching on green hay,

The sweet smell of grass starting to rise up ,

Birds in a frenzy announcing the impending shower.

It feels like healing.

The announcement of new life

all over and everywhere around

It releases all of the sludge

from the season of icy indifference.

Welcome spring!

Maybe my heart is waking up?

Let’s dance!

horses_in_the_rain_12_by_cotten_candy101-d36lstw

 

 

 

The Secret You Already Knew

My phone was DINGING off the hook from Facebook messages of people asking me what my Secret was to quitting smoking. Quitting smoking for me is like the opposite of committing suicide…and that’s abit heavy to explain.

It began when I had put in a status update about how grateful I felt for the unbelievable positive changes in my life resulting from stopping smoking. I quit publically using Facebook and since so many people had been so encouraging to me I was brimming with gratitude and wanted to let them know I was still moving forward.

So now everyone wanted to know how I did it. How was I going to explain this?

They say cigarette smoke is a harder addiction to drop than heroine and just like everyone else I was incredibly addicted. I could smoke through anything and nothing was enough to get me to quit. I would “try”, but never for long and never totally honestly. I was with my mother while she suffered through treatments for lung cancer and I smoked.  I felt like a true asshole standing outside the hospital having a cigarette while she was inside hooked up to chemotherapy machines.

Sometime in mid winter I had developed a bronchial cough that was so chronic that I had begun spitting up blood.  But still I smoked.Finally I was absolutely forced to go to the doctor. My cough had gotten so bad that my lungs would seize up and seemingly just refuse to take in air which was pretty scary and secretly I was pretty sure I already had lung cancer.  I think this kind of thinking stops allot of people from quitting but no one wants to admit it.

On the way to the doctor I fished around for my cigarettes and realized I had forgotten them at home.  I noticed that strangely,  was a huge RELIEF. My reaction is what surprised me. Normally forgetting cigarettes would cause either anxiety if none were within a reasonable distance, or annoyance because I would have to detour and find a store. Relief.  I didn’t want to smoke.

I told the doctor honestly what I thought, and asked for patches.

Here’s what I did…got_choice

1- I think using every smoking cessation help tool available to you is AWESOME. Screw cold turkey if you can’t do that.  The hard part about quitting was changing my behaviours.  The physical part is not so bad – its ll the things I would associate with smoking. Like – finishing ANYTHING…requires a cigarette. Dinner, work, a set, a chapter, grocery shopping – you smoke after these things.  Being aware and “one step ahead ” of my cravings was important for me., BE a wimp – take the drugs. I have never heard of anyone say they just couldn’t get away from PATCHES…

2- Don’t let people tell you quitting smoking is HARD.  That’s bullshit. Dying of cancer is HARD.

3- Don’t ignore your cravings – they will really suck for three days – address them. tell them to fuck off. relly this worked for me…maybe a bit Unhippie and aggressive of me but…hey – DO WHAT WORKS!! Those stupid cravings had been bossing me around for over 30 years…and I was annoyed!

I am stronger then my body today…and this feels GREAT.  It is possible for everyone to develop a mentality that your body is allowed to have a craving – but you don’t need to listen to it.  Working with animals can help with the development of this mentality.

4- Be really healthy. It feels good to be nice to yourself for once.

5- Tell the entire planet. LOUDLY. Accept their help.

6- Pray and meditate. Pray for help. Meditate for answers. Seriously. Try it.

7- Be loud about your GRATITUDE  – tell everyone each new amazing things you discover about not smoking. Your lungs feel good, you have energy, body hurts less, clothes smell good, random hot guys are smelling you – wait..no that can’t apply to everyone. 🙂 But having fun with it is important!  THIS is the mental ticket to staying quit for me SO FAR.  When it gets hard, I use Facebook to SCREAM what I AM grateful for and I always get such encouraging words and thoughts – it sure doesn’t hurt and it encourages others to look at getting healthy too.

So when you ask me this “secret” and I think in whatever way you come to it, the “secret” to quitting smoking is wanting to be kinder to yourself. It sounds simple, but it’s not necessarily so for most people.  I can only tell you what worked for me, and this was simply that one day I began to see that what I did to myself flowed outwards and it was important to me to live more kindly towards myself. But no one can tell you what will work for you. No book, no guru, no laser hypno-drug therapy. You have to WANT TO LIVE – for you. For yourself – because you love he people in your life.

That’s it.stop-smoking-start-repairing

The Secret – you already knew.

Please share your stories with us if you’d care to.

 

Butterflies For Ranger

ImageI could see my husband cringe when I dashed out of the barn with my old cat drooping in my arms.

“We’re going to the vet”, I breathed without missing a stride heading to the house.

His light little body hung limply in my arms, his nose covered in blood.

He smells like death. I thought to myself.  I know the smell of death and I am not so happy to be reacquainted with it so soon after my mother’s death.  She was a twin, he is a twin – this is too much.

I walk to the back window in the kitchen and stand in a ray of strong sunlight letting it warm us both. It’s quiet now…the panic of my mind slowed to a dull hum of just watching. I look down at him and hear his purr begin – his strong reliable purr. I could feel his breath and slowing and his heart tentative, but the purr was reliable as ever.

A rushing of keys boots, stomping, jackets rustle. The truck with half missing tail pipe begins and my husband shows up behind me;

“Ok let’s go”, He says.

I don’t want to.

I think somewhere my mind is still working it out.

He was fine yesterday. Should I be seeking treatment?

I lift the towel I have him wrapped in and look at the motionless old body. Apparently at nearly 20 Ranger has outlived us at with over 95 people years under his belt.

I climb into the truck and focus on his purr – the same one I have been listening to since I was in my 20’s. I see a flash memory of my son, small and chubby legged. He learned how to walk very young – maybe at 9 months old. It was Ranger the cat that kept him busy and chasing. As he grew, Ranger was his cat, claimed by him, loved and cherished.

He came with us when I divorced my first husband. He was there when I bought my first house, met my second husband, raised my seven kids and then finally, he was my most reliable barn cat – ensuring that no mouse ever got a taste of grain.

We are rushing to the vet, but I tell him to slow down.  I hold the cat and feel his life leaving.

“He’s going to die before we even get there”, I said softly.

Slow down.

John looks at me quizzically. Maybe I see death differently, but gauging by my experience with my mother, which has still not allowed me a full night’s reprieve from nightmares and sadness, this somehow feels gentle and calm and good.

We arrive; he goes in to check with the desk, yes there is room.

We come in and begin doing the registration process. I am ushered into an examination room. The Vet tech with the sunny smile and the bright hopeful eyes indicates to me to put him on the scale.

No”, I say simply and shortly. “He is 20. There will be no poking prodding weighing opening of the mouth or stretching of his limbs.  His body is finished.”  I smile at her hoping she doesn’t think I am cruel.

“Let’s go into another room then”, she says with an understanding smile.

We go down a white hallway to the last door to the left to the room meant for euthanasia.

“It’s just like the palliative care place for people”, I gasp as we walk in.  I wasn’t ready for that. Luckily I don’t think she understands that I am nearly angry about how adorably furnished this “euthanasia room” is.   I feel my heart tighten. I have been here or at least in a place like this much too recently to be in a place like this again this soon. It is small and cozy with two beautiful chairs, a couple of nice credenza’s and a sweet looking little table on which to do the job that room is meant for.  Why do all rooms for comforting people who are about to experience death look like this? Why the nice chairs? I almost feel a sense of anger at the chairs…stupid chairs.

She leaves me alone to consider whether or not I want a vet to poke at him or not. I hold him in my arms, he feels like one of my children when they were just newborn.  I begin to panic – second thoughts. What am I doing?  Shouldn’t we try and hydrate him, put him on special food. Maybe we can save him.

The tech returns covering the table in a comfy green cloth.

He lays in my arms, purring, not moving. Not arguing, not meowing- just happy. My questions melt away and I am filled with sureness about what the most loving action is.

I tell them to get the vet and go ahead.  Some more time passes to just be with him.  I think about all the things I didn’t do, all the time I should have spent with him. All the normal pre-death regrets I am becoming too familiar with.  I feel the shade of calm numb fall over me and we rise to complete the task that lay before us.

We are doing “the next right thing”.

She fails to find a vein in his back leg. He makes a small protesting noise, but not much. He is happy, purring drooling like old cats do.

She finds the vein and says something about going to a place with butterflies.  I could tell she used this line often and with good intention to console the humans letting their animals friends go.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that he would be enjoying any poor butterflies that entered his purview as this was his favourite snack food.

There is a stillness that is distinctly a feeling of death. It is like a leaving of life energy. You don’t have to be psychic or believe in anything to feel the difference of when something is alive and when its aliveness has left the body. As his body became still I took a moment to feel the difference between the aliveness and the emptiness that accompanies death and then I took a breath.

A deep alive breath filled with gratitude and deep sadness.  I missed all of my dead loved ones at once. My dogs, cats, horses, parents, grandparents. Mostly I missed my mother because she would be on the receiving end to help him, but selfishly I could have really used her here with me today, and yesterday…and the day before.

I say a prayer in the hopes that everyone I love is somehow together somewhere just waiting for me laughing and happy around a giant picnic table a red and white checkered print table cloth and delicious food in a field with apple trees and delicious green grass.  All our animals since forever in the field grazing, running,  playing –  happy and free…with one funny little grey cat busy eating up all of heaven’s butterflies.

THIS OLD TREE

TREEThere is a dead tree outside my window where I write. I watch it each day. For something that has probably been dead longer than it was alive, it’s a very busy place.

I have watched this tree now for more than half a decade and it only amazes me more each season. Happily I have now placed my writing desk at the window and face it each day. It gives me continuous inspiration or just an interesting place to look. This tree, which seems to be standing against all odds is a focal point for new life around here.  Each year quite reliably, different creatures take their places in the tree and begin a new season of aliveness. Although the center is now blackened with rot, it teems with insects that feed on its fermenting flesh and grow healthy. This in turn feeds the three kinds of woodpeckers I have seen. They only come out of hiding when the sun stays in the sky longer, so seeing them is a really good sign after a long hard winter.

There is a nearly indescribable feeling of aliveness to the spring in Canada. The kind if freshness that doesn’t exist in tropical climates where plant life and greenery get a “used up” look from constant exposure to the blazing hot sun. Here, everything gets  a period of rest – quiet; a natural downtime. The, when the sun finds its equinox and starts to extend the days you can feel everything around yawning and stretching after the most amazing rejuvenating nap. I love spring. Hope is fresh in the air, like a wonderful perfume you want to just pour all over yourself.  Something longed for is being shaken loose and it is a great relief to know it will come finally.

In my world it is that dead tree that I wait for every year.  The one that my husband has threatened to cut down now for three years but knows that I would have to chain myself to if he does. I have watched how the dead bark and concave rotted trunk, knotted and blackened with age, changes shapes creating a new story to add-on to every year. In march it begins quickly and continues to erupt all summer in a splendid display of life. It is better than T.V. when you’re sitting on my front porch and it is as reliable as anything can possibly be every year no matter how hard the winter is.

Squirrels live in the hole on the right; the deep one where they can nest their babies safely not needing to risk them falling from a tree in the vapid spring winds.  They seem to usually have 2-3 babies. Chipmunks use it as a launching pad to get to the oak tree whose branches are too high for their little legs to reach. Plus with all of our talented mousing cats, no chipmunk wants to find himself on the ground as a moving buffet.

A couple of years ago I noticed that amazingly a brand new tree has somehow managed to grow and entwine itself within the center of the old dead tree, completed embedded, like an arboreal soul-mate I suppose. It seems to be giving it new life, new purpose and a reason to stay standing. A good reminder of the continuity of life for me in any season.

The tree has only three large main branches reaching. One standing straight up from the middle like the upturned face of a norse god. Then two branches that look like arms extending outwards like a scarecrow reaching right and left with fingers outstretched.  Chipped white at the edges from the constant chiseling of the woodpeckers that delight in the millions of bugs that have taken refuge in the soft white wood. We think it may have been a maple at one time.   On close inspection of the white wood, you can see the artistic impacts that the woodpeckers beaks have made, in shapes of beautiful intricate random mazes and lines all interlaced with the markings of the red ants that like to nest in an orderly and fastidious fashion. It is natural art.

The Blue Jays also come in the early spring eager to take the highest branch position.  Perched high atop the rest of the inhabitants of the tree, they are naturally “top-dog” (please excuse the inappropriate metaphor – dogs would fall out of the tree.) In this way, the evil little birds are able to see, pick and choose, plan and connive whatever they would like on their menus for the day. Small birds, sweet little field mice or baby moles are all fodder for their cannibalistic menu. They remind me of  our politicians.    They are voracious predators and are my least favourite visitors. I call them  terrorists of the bird world.

When I was about twelve years old Blue jays gave me my first experience of death. As I rode in a riding lesson in a cold damp arena one spring, two screeching Blue Jays swooped in the big open back door of the arena, causing our horses to stop suddenly and pay attention. I watched helplessly as they flew to a small sparrows nest and landed pecking at the new babies within. I watched the frantic sparrow mother diving in again and again to try to save her babies but was forcefully rebuked by the large beaked bright blue birds. The nest fell to the ground from the roof of the arena and the babies were launched to the soft sandy ground almost featherless and so still. I dismounted and held my breath. I kept expecting them to move. My coach told me that it was better that they were dead – they would not have survived without their mother and she would abandon the nest now that it had been invaded. I never thought about death until this first experience and I don’t think I have really stopped since.

I have a project idea for my dead tree. I always imagined a faerie door in the big rotted knot at the bottom of the stumpy old tree. It is shaped perfectly and would be like a small Hobbit door, with a rounded top and a small window so the light can come in.  Faeries don’t like living in the dark all the time, you know.  I would paint it green and blue with gold glitter just in case they like that sort of thing.  I think making your house hospitable for Faeries to come and protect your children, animals and garden is a very wise idea, don’t you?  It wasn’t my idea of course – I am only following the lead of thousands of cultures and centuries of stories and myths that came before even this old tree.

Anyways, what can it hurt?

After all this introspection I notice something amazing and new!  Somehow over the winter the bottom of the tree has eroded away into the shape of an angel; her sideways view, looking down almost reverently at the ground, as though blessing it in some way – or maybe pondering it?tree angel

If we give something our full attention isn’t that the same thing as blessing it – in a way?

I notice her sweet little wing is perched atop her shoulders like a leaf, and her hands are at her sides, resting peacefully.

I imagine that she is waiting for the time when the squirrels will come to have their babies and the Blue Jays will take their place in the beautiful mess of it all.

The Quit Journey

got_choiceI have quit smoking again. This is day 2 1/2…I quit at 11:00 Monday morning – February 17.  I’d like to remember that day as the day I finally quit once and for all, so I am making sure to take note of it.

Two and a half (now two and three quarters, but who’s counting?) may not be a big deal to you but lately, I havent been able to go two bours without a cigarette. It’s basically all I think about for the past three years – since my mother’s diagnosis with lung cancer.  Terror is immobilizing.

In my dreams last night, I found myself with cigarettes in my hands all the time.  I kept walking entering each new situation and inadvertently finding myself smoking when I didn’t want to be.  It was incredibly frustrating and I kept throwing them out, only to find a new one growing back between my reluctant fingers.  When I would tell others in my dream

“But I’m trying to quit!”

They would just shrug and say,

“Yeah right…”-  an obvious reflection of the doubt I have in myself.

So – fake it till ya make it…

I for one am not very good self focused care – but recent events are teaching me that I can’t give away what I don’t have and so, I am on a mission to fill my own cup…a strange newish behaviour that has serious benefits.  Mostly,   it just feels good to do something healthy for myself and it is having an immediate positive effect on the world around me. I wasn’t ready to admit how much influence I have on the people I love most in the world.   The house is basically smoke free right now. Although I didn’t ask anyone not to smoke because I knew if I waited for all of the conditions of th world and the people around me to meet my fickle requirements for quitting, I would smoke the rest of my incredibly shortened life. I had to just go ahead and do it.  And here we are…unbelievable.

I guess if you’re lucky like me you hit a bottom before something tragic happens. For me it was the day I was going to the doctor for a check up for yet another winter lung infection, and I forgot my cigarettes at home  which actually caused me to feel relieved.  I decided that moment seemed like a good enough time then to stop and I would talk to the doctor.   I had been considering setting a quit date now for three years…but kept putting the actual “event” of quitting off for very possible reason under the stars.  The irony is that my greatest “stress” which was causing me to smoke, was my mother dying of lung cancer in front of my eyes.  Yet, even until I came to a point of wanting to truly be more kind and loving towards myself, even the worst of all scenarios would not move me away from this stark addiction.

I’d like to tell you it feels “hard” or “easy” – but it’s neither of these on this my third day. It just feels like a process…up and down…intense and reflective even. Once and a while I have a horrendous craving that makes me want to smoke gross dead looking things out our of ashtrays (which I have emptied because I dont trust myself).

I became tired of something other than me (a tiny chemical filled highly toxic stick on fire…really?) governing my body and telling my mind what I wanted.  I have spent my whole life trying to be independent of the direction and opinion of others, and yet here I was allowing a substancenot even a human ! – to direct my choices.  And the choice wasn’t even a choice at the end anymore – it was more like a zombie-like mindless self-imploding action.

1- Extend arm

2- Retrieve cigarette

3- Apply fire

3- Ingest poison…

4- Inhale deeply

Hunh?

I was singing at a bar a couple of weeks ago, and someone that I don’t know very well but who knew my variety of activities made some annoying passing remark as I was going out for a cigarette in -40 degree weather with death defying winds in a cold deserted parking lot.

He said

“Well that doesn’t seem like it suits you very well. It’s bad for your voice and not very zen eh?” He smirked like he knew something I didn’t.

My first thought was

“Who the hell does he think he is?” the voice of my habitual hippie that rejects authority in a regularly knee jerk fashion.

A minute later I was standing outside in the “smoker’s area”  feeling an ice cream headache explode over my entire face. As the wind came barelling at me at 90km an hour, I felt pain tear into my uncovered ears and in an final indignity, my nostrils stuck together in a  very unsexy way when I was throw into a spasm of coughing from lungs shocked and turgid with inhumane cold.  At that very moment, I peered into the big windows of the bar, my sad little orphan nostril stuck face peeting sadly into the warm bar where that same nosey man was sitting quite happily, warm, contented and snug as a bug in a rug as he listened to music and drank his beer. I thought to myself;

“I am an idiot”.

O.K. –  Maybe this is not the most gentle or spiritual thought to begin a journey with, trying to be on a more loving and compassionate journey with myself, but it is what it is. It was a real moment of clarity for me…

In retrospect I think maybe my bad habit have been destroyed by becoming more involved with meditation and yoga I my life.  Over the past few months and since my mother’s death I have become especially interested in Tibettan Buddhism.  Such a gentle culture, entirely focused on increasing the level of compassion on the planet. After reading the Dalai Lama’s Book “My Spiritual Journey”, I became convinced that the only way to being happy as an individual in this life was the adopt some form of practice which required self-discipline – but smoking was an obvious sign that I was lacking both mindfulness and self discipline. And this is where I got stuck – utterly convinced that I would never be able to really meditate or really focus on these principles because they all focus on BREATH…and I smoked.  I also felt like there could never be a day when I wouldn’t smoke – even subconsciously, I couldn’t envision a “me” not smoking.  I admitted defeat. I believe they call this a moment of surrender, but I only can see this clearly in retrospect.

Over time, this defeat didn’t sit well with me.  I began loosing my voice when I sang.  A combination of smoking, and heating in a very cold winter with electric and fire, as well as alot of indoor time because of the incredibly cold weather, my voice was shot and I had very little chance of being able to sing powerfully two nights in a row.  This felt like death approaching for me.

Not to mention that I saw my mother die of cancer in a really terrible and painful way quite recently.  This was a terrifying episode fraught with grief and loss which each cigarette only made worse, chiselling away at my guilt. Although intellectually I KNEW that cancer in her lungs was the ultimate cause of her death (second only to the chemotherapy that was the actual cause), and I also knew that this same cancer had caused me to have this exact experience with my biological grandmother when she died when I was 15 – and yet I was smoking. Each cigarette gave me a vivid flashback to times best forgotten – it was like torture.

I think it’s important for me to write my story – it makes me more solid in my determination. I think if I was still smoking, I would not read an article like this one though- it would make me feel too guilty and really highlight my feelings of powerlessness.  I hope if you smoke you got this far.  It’s worth it just to fill your mind with all the possibilities…and then one day you’ll be ready.

Here’s what I have realized…

    1. Today is “one day”      – You’re ready.
    2. Don’t wait for the      circumstances in your life to change like other smokers to quit or even      life in general to get easier.       That’s just not reasonable and it’s not going to happen. If you      wait for this you will smoke you’re entire life…which will be shorter      because you are smoking.
    3. Focus on loving      yourself.  People who smoke have an      obvious absence of love for themselves. You may want to argue with this,      but you really can’t do that AND be honest at the same time.  Maybe it works backwards.  I began by trying to eat better, and      this seemed to snowball into doing many things more gently and healthfully      for myself.  I don’t know how it      will work for you – only you know that.
    4. Quitting smoking is not hard.      Everyone tells us it’s hard – the media, the tobacco companies (yeah no      kidding), psychologists, teachers, friends, family – Jeez!  If you say something is DIFFICULT enough      well then yes,..it will be DIFFICULT. This is what we call self-fulfilling      prophecy. Quitting smoking has moments of discomfort – of needing to be      present and aware.  Quitting smoking      requires being really gentle with yourself       taking everything literally one breath at a time.  Hard is dying of lung cancer.  That’s hard.
    5. When you have a craving –    tell it to fuck off. I know…not very zen of me again, but it seems to be      working.  I know that discipline is      very important now – maybe that took all of my 47 years, but the kind of      discipline I am talking about is not what they taught in school which      should actually have been called “conformity” more      appropriately.  Discipline is a      practice that brings about self love.       Quitting smoking is a great act of self love.  |sometimes the ACTION has to come      before the change of opinion, but who cares?  As long as the result is more happiness      and peacefulness in life,. Keep your eyes on the prize, and remind      yourself WHO is in charge?  Is your      body in charge of your mind?  Do you      enjoy being told what to do?  Do you      like taking direction – especially when it involves you inhaling 200      deadly chemicals 30 times a day? Hell no.       Who does?   Yes you’re      addicted – but that’s not the end of the world – and IT’S NOT BIGGER THAN      YOU.

Who’s in charge here – me or my body?

    1. Pray. I’m not concerned with      the religious aspects of the way you pray, but be grateful.  Prayer is a conscious moment of the      expression of gratitude.  Let’s face      it,  quitting an addiction like      cigarettes will have many effects on your life.  Staying willing to not smoke is the      challenge.  I get cocky – way too      fast. It’s how I have failed in the past.       I start feeling better and decide to have “just one”,      maybe a puff or sneak a whole cigarette. There is a kind of victorious      feeling in this because for the first little while I feel like I am      smoking without addiction – like I have somehow regained control of this      derailed train. I can “just choose” to have one, or not – like      three times.  Quickly this unravels      and I soon find that I am smoking more than before I quit.  Then I feel terrible about myself, and I      resign myself to a lifetime of smoking and eventual gasping horrific death      by lung cancer.  No wonder I woke up      every day in a bad mood. This is a terrible attitude! 🙂 and snapping me      out of it I believe happened only by an act of grace – in other words,      something bigger than me thinks that me staying alive longer is a good      idea, and the minute I became willing enough to work with this      “something bigger”, things became clearer.   The ticket is in keeping up this      willingness.

7- DO NOT QUIT SMOKING!!

I don’t think quitting ANYTHING works because the minute you quit – you are focusing on the negative aspect. So, instead just have an positive intention to treat yourself with more love and compassion – loving-kindness.  Smoking falls away naturally this way.  You don’t need to fight anything or really put much effort into it.  You only need to have a willingness to have an intention for self-care and love.  Let go of what happens once you make that choice, making each choice in your best interest with your knowledge of self in mind.  Be ready to do some work – letting go doesn’t nmean effortless, it means diligence.

8- TELL YOUR STORY

tell others  and keep the people in your world up to date on your progress.  people want to help and function as a community. I’d say that helping someone to live longer is a great community building incentive.  Keep your “tribe” up to date! Telling your story also reinforces to you what you re doing, the direction you are heading in and can make certain instances that have helped shape your direction more clear and useful.  Moreover, you can end up helping someone else in the process. Telling your story is way more effective than becoming a nagging and annoying “reformed smoker”. You can’t change anyone – but you can certainly inspire them.

My day three diatribe from my wobbly soapbox…let’s see how this goes…:)

Peace