I just arrived home from a celebration of my friend Bill Birch’s life. He died in the last week of complications from the debilitating disease scleroderma. It was wonderful to see that there were so many people who came to share this special occasion with Bill’s family and friends. Bill touched many people in many positive ways during his life. As his daughter Lisa commented, Bill did more good for others in the last six years of his life than many of us do in a lifetime. Among other things, thanks to Bill, there is now an annual run to raise funds for this crippling disease.
     There were of course the usual photographs that one often sees at memorials, but something that I did not expect, was just how much I would enjoy gazing at these visual records of his life. Over the years Bill has regaled me with many stories of his escapades and experiences, but seeing actual photos of some of these experiences somehow brought them to life for me, and, as I found myself smiling through the tears, brought him alive. It kind of felt like he was standing there with me. Seeing igloos lit up against the night sky with nothing but white as far as the eye could see. Wow!
     Not only were there photos of his life, but one side of the room was lined with many examples of his artwork. To browse at this wonderful expression of a life well lived as his music played in the background, was, well, there are no words. Buddhist, philanthropist, artist, musician, these are terms that only begin to describe Bill. Bill didn’t just live his life, he engaged with it. Fully. And with true compassion for others. Did the fact that he lived the last few years being fed through a tube and having to navigate around in a wheelchair stop him. Nope. Just run that one by the Scleroderma Society if you want proof.
     Well, I guess that is about it, except for that I probably should mention that Bill was humble and would probably have had issues with me singing his praises in this way, but I guess that it is just something that I had to do. Thank you Bill for sharing your life with us all. For being an example to us all. May you rest in peace my friend.  (22/11/2014)
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     Karma means action. Every action has an effect. Actions most often are given birth from our thoughts. Our thoughts in turn are affected by our actions. An action I make has consequences. To that end, I wish to share with you the following. We are all linked, every creature, plant, the air we breathe, the rain; we inter-are. With that in mind, I wish to share the following:
     Today Bruce and I will be celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary. On that special day in 2014, after living together for twenty-two years, we were joined in marriage. If we had been living together for that long, why get married? The answer was simple really. Our moms, still living, were very old, my mom 92, Bruce’s 87. Married or not, we were lifers, but we knew it would mean the world to our moms for us to do this, so we did. For my part, I was cognizant of the fact that if my mom died, and then later we decided to get married, I’d always regret not having married while she was around to appreciate and enjoy it.
     On July 18, 2014, Bruce and I married. Below is the speech, more or less, that I gave at my wedding three years ago.
     “Over the last few weeks, ever since Bruce and I decided to get married, many thoughts about the two of us, and about my life, have passed through my mind. One thought has reappeared again and again. It takes many different forms: I often sit out on our veranda under the century old oak trees and look up at the incredible tapestry that are their branches, crisscrossing each other as they reach for the sky. I breath in their beauty and their majesty and I am grateful for them. I see my husband as he sits on the rocking chair with our kitty Amber on his lap, lavishing attention upon her, and my heart fills with warmth for this gentle man with whom it is my privilege to share my life. I am meditating and thoughts of my daughter and my son float through my mind; I think of how proud I am of them. I bear witness to all of these thoughts as they drift in and out of my mind. All of this beauty and love and largess that is my life is just that. My life. A gift. More and more as I live out my days, I find myself just stopping, bringing my awareness to my breathing, closing my eyes, and quietly whispering thank you…thank you for my family, my ancestors who continue to live on through me, my friends, the wonder of a blue heron as it sits on a branch by the river preening itself, the water that comes out of my taps, and this country that I call home, and where I feel safe.
     I love this roller coaster ride called life. And it really is a roller coaster. I love that I never know what to expect. I was talking on the phone with my son Michael yesterday, and I mentioned to him that I was going to share with you all the story of how Bruce and I met. I told him that I thought it was ironic that I had to have spent part of my life with my ex-husband Bob, who is his father, to have ended up meeting Bruce. Weird, but kind of neat really.  It is funny how life works out sometimes. I also said to him that I was grateful for not only him and his sister Jenifer, but for that part of my life. It helped to make me what I am today, and I like what I am today. Okay, so how did Bruce and I meet?
     Bob and I separated in the mid 1980’s. Not too long after Bob and I split up, I got a phone call from his sister Meg, saying that she had now completed university at NASCAD in Halifax and was in Toronto briefly before she headed off to London, Ontario to live with her mom. She and I were very good friends; she asked me if I wanted to go out for coffee before she continued on to London. Of course an immediate yes followed. She came over to my house for a bit and then we headed off to a favourite haunt, Dooney’s Cafe on Bloor Street. We had only walked a few paces from my porch when I asked her if she wanted to live in London. She replied that, no, actually she didn’t. She had a boyfriend she’d met at NASCAD who wanted to move in with her in Toronto, but she didn’t feel that she was quite ready to take that step yet and so off to her mom’s she was going. I took about 10 seconds to think about it, then asked her if she wanted to move in with me, Jenifer, and Michael. I said that we could maybe give it a try, and if it didn’t work out, no harm done, and she could continue on to her mom’s. She immediately said yes. Well, we lived together for six months and all four of us got along just great. Actually, it was wonderful. We didn’t have even one disagreement about anything. It’s a period in my life that I treasure. At the six month point, she decided that she was ready to move in with her boyfriend, now her husband and father to her two sons.
     Not too long after she left, I received a phone call from a man, Bruce, saying that he was a friend of Meg’s and that he had met and worked with her at McKittrick’s Cameras in London where he lived. He had been told that she was living with me and could he please speak with her. I told him that yes, she had been living with me, but had recently moved out. I said that I’d be happy to take down his name and phone number to pass along to her. Then somehow we two complete strangers got into this incredible conversation about a thesis that he had written for his Master’s when he was at Western University, and that I had written for a fourth year essay course at the University of Toronto. His thesis was on the human need for meaning and mine was on the human need for meaning within the context of war. We two strangers talked animatedly for about 40 minutes. When he got off of the phone I was stunned.  I was in awe with what had just transpired. Of course I called Meg up, told her all about it, and asked who was this guy? It turns out that he and she had really hit it off and become close friends before she had left for NASCAD.
     Months passed; Bob and I sold our house where I was living after the break up, and I moved from Toronto to London with Michael. Jenifer, having completed secondary school, was no longer living with us as she had recently left to work in Banff for awhile before she would eventually head off to Carleton University in Ottawa when she was 18 year’s old. Michael was 12 years old at the time. Anyway, the next thing I knew Bruce and I both showed up at Meg’s wedding. He was pointed out to me by Meg, so I went over to him just to introduce myself to him and say hi. He was with a woman so I didn’t linger. I bumped into him again right after the wedding at a train crossing, exchanged a few pleasantries with him and his friend, and we went our separate ways.
     Two weeks later he was on a bus, saw me, got off of the bus, and came over to say hi. We ended up chatting on a street corner for about half an hour when I suggested that we go for coffee to chat. We went to a nearby cafe, and chatted for a long time. Well, things moved pretty fast with the two of us. Meg was married on September 7th, 1991, and by the following August Bruce and I had moved in together.
     It is kind of mind boggling all the things that had to have happened for us to have ended up together.  I had to have been married to Bob to have met his sister Meg; Meg and I had to have become close friends; she had to have stopped in Toronto after university and phoned me up to meet for coffee; I had to have asked her to live with me; she had to have met and become good friends with Bruce; he had to have had to try and track her down; Bruce and I both had to have had the same thesis for that incredible conversation that was integral for me wanting to know “Who was that guy?” to have occurred, we both had to have ended up at Meg’s wedding; he had to have seen me walking down the street that day and gotten off the bus to chat, and so on and so on….
     Bruce and I have been together now for 20 years and we are so meant to be.  We both really hit the jackpot when we ended up together.”
     I have always loved all of the things that had to be for us to have ended up together. I think that I am still kind of in awe of it all.
     I told you that the reason that I wanted to get married when I did was because of our aged moms. And my mum? Well, she talked, or to be more accurate, effervesced about our wedding to me for months and months after the event. She kept telling me all sorts of things: How beautiful she thought I looked; she had loved my outfit, how beautiful the tablecloths were; hadn’t my sister Mary done a great job designing and making them, how beautiful the flowers were, and oh, how beautiful she thought I had looked. Yes I said that one already, but she kept saying it again and again and again. I’m not kidding. For months. She would just beam every time she said it.
     Well, I am so glad that we did get married when we did. My Mum now has dementia. Jean, Bruce’s mom, died on July 18, 2017. Mum I love you. Jean, may you rest in peace.
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The Dress

     Did you ever have one of those “aha” moments, you know, the kind where everything changes for you? Maybe you get out of yourself a little bit, long enough to look at the world through a different lens. The following is something I wrote a decade or so ago:
     As a slightly overweight and very self-conscious thirteen year old, I was having problems finding what had to be the perfect dress for my quickly approaching graduation from St. Joseph’s Elementary School. I finally found a dress that was okay price wise and that I liked. Once on however, it was another story; with its lace overlay I thought that it looked old-fashioned and even worse, the cap sleeves emphasized my not so thin arms. My mom however, liked the dress. She really liked it.
     The graduation came and went. Not so the dress. Repeatedly, over the years, mom would let me know just how pretty she thought that dress had been. And each time I would stiffen, but remain silent. Every time I wanted to say that I only got it because she had liked it so much and we didn’t have much money so I agreed and that really, I hadn’t liked the dress at all.
     Four decades have passed since my graduation. Recently my mom and I were sitting in her car chatting and once again she brought up the dress and how she especially loved that it was pink and lacy. For the briefest of moments I could feel the old resentments start to rise and then something stopped me. This time I did not go back into my thirteen year old head. I paused. I felt the affection in her tone as she told me how pretty I had looked in that dress. And as I looked into her 84 year old face, I saw the child who had grown up in poverty and would never have owned such a dress as this. Graduation was special, and only the best would do for “her” daughter. As I sat there quietly beside her I knew in my heart that that dress was, and will always be, the most beautiful dress in the world.
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This and That or There But For the Grace of God Go I

I was feeling disappointed this morning. I had just finished meditating, the whole time during which my lower back ached. I  injured it a couple of weeks ago and it was hurting. A lot. So much for my plans. I said to my husband that I probably should take it easy today. I felt kind of disappointed because it would have been fun to go on a jaunt with him to the big park by the river to enjoy all of the young goslings parading around as they followed their parents.

“Well, you never know, maybe if my back was fine and I went out today, something horrible might happen, so having a hurt back is good”, I jokingly said. I grinned at him.

And then I remembered. One day many years ago, when I still lived in Toronto, I phoned the train station to find out the time for the first train heading to London in the afternoon on my preferred date. The man who answered the phone gave me a time. I thanked him and got off the phone. Later, after having already bought my train ticket, I discovered that he had given me the wrong time. I needed the train before the one I had booked the ticket for.  Needless to say, I felt more than a little peeved.

The day came for me to head to London and I climbed aboard the wrong train. Or at least that’s what I still thought. The train made its way out of the station. Not too far into the ride the train came to a full stop. This never happens, I thought. I wonder what’s up. After what seemed an interminable wait an announcement was made. Holy crap! Our train was being rerouted due to the fact that the train before us, the very one that I was supposed to have been on, had derailed. Even as I write this I feel in awe of the error made on the phone that day, an error that saved me from being on the derailed train. I felt so grateful to that man who made the mistake. Talk about a change of heart. And all dependent on unforeseen events. I don’t think that I was ever so glad as I was that day when I arrived at my destination, hours later than I should have. I must admit though, that as the train clacked its way on its circuitous route to London, my mind went into the “What ifs” more than once. What if that man had given me the correct time? What if I had been on the derailed train? What if I had been injured? What if….

In retrospect, I love how the universe or Creator or God presented me with such a wonderful demonstration for just being with what is, with no judgement call that “this” is bad and “that” is good. I think back now to the anger and frustration and angst I felt at the time that that man goofed. Wasted energy. I am so glad that every so often something happens in my life that is a wake up call to just be content with, and accept what is.

I want to be clear here though. I know only too well that there are things that happen in our lives that are definitely not good, events or matters that demand action. Having lived through years of abuse at the hands of my ex-husband I am certainly cognizant of that fact. I was right to get out of that marriage. Ironically though, it is not lost on me that if not for having lived with my ex-husband, I would never have met my current gentle, and caring husband. But that’s a story for another day.

So much of our suffering in this life comes from aversion to the myriad of life events that we consider to be negative. I’m glad that I don’t know what the future holds. It really can be an interesting ride this just going with the flow without attaching to the “I want it to be this way” or “I want it to be that way”, along with the accompanying suffering that we are so good at creating.

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I am so lucky. I hurt my back two weeks ago.

This morning at 7 a.m. I was startled by some pretty heavy knocking on my apartment door. My husband threw on his robe and opened the door to be greeted by a paramedic. The man needed the key to our neighbour’s apartment in our building; he had been informed that we had a spare key that would let him in. I watched as our neighbour was carried out by four paramedics. Poor Keith. I know that he has had a brain tumor for many years; I also know that those kinds of tumors grow back, or at least that was what I was told. I hope that he is okay. I don’t have a tumor. How lucky is that.

I got to connect with Bob, another neighbour who takes care of our apartment building’s garbage and recycling blue boxes’disposal; I was watching out for his truck when he made his daily rounds.  I let him know what had happened to his friend so he could let Brent, another friend, know too. Brent will take care of Keith’s pets as he always does when Keith is away. I am glad that I knew about Keith’s cat. Bob let me know that Keith also has a fish tank. I am happy that I was able to help Keith in this way. How lucky is that.

This morning I sat in my neighbours’ back yard meditating. I pick up their mail when they are away. They have invited me to feel free to enjoy their back yard and front porch while they are gone. Since I live in an apartment it is quite the treat to enjoy their generosity. I have awesome neighbours. How lucky is that.

As I am enjoying the silence while I meditate I am disturbed by the loud sounds of two other neighbors, friends also of my friends in whose backyard I sit. I smile to myself. Just being with what is. With life: birds flitting about, the smell of the lush plants of Spring by which I am surrounded, noisy lawnmowers, friendly neighbors…How lucky is that.

I just answered my door to the second knocking of the day. A parcel. I opened it. The expression “It took my breath away” took on new meaning as I gazed at the beauty before me. Thank you David. Thank you for being my fun loving, warm hearted friend. Thank you for sharing your gift with us all. Thank you for this painting. How lucky is that.

I am off to see my chiropractor in a little while; my back feels better after a visit. How lucky is that.

Betty Rose, someone who I have only known for a few months died last week. I will miss her. She was 93 and left behind a loving daughter and granddaughter. To witness the love between the three of them over those months was a gift. How lucky is that.

I hurt my back two weeks ago. Here I am with a body that walks and talks and thinks and cares and loves and acts and heals. I am alive. How lucky is that.


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As the earth gives us food and air and all the things we need

May I give my heart to caring for all others until all attain awakening

For the good of all sentient beings

May loving kindness be born in me.

I am so grateful for these words, words that I say at the beginning of every day at the end of my morning meditation. They are kind of a wake-up call. A call of compassion. A call of compassion for every single being. A call of compassion for my daughter. My daughter who, more often than not, does not acknowledge me on this day that our society dedicates to mothers. And sometimes I really need that wake-up call. I certainly needed it this year.

Mothers Day. A day I dread. Every. Single. Year. Every single year I get caught. This year was no exception. It started the day before actually. As evening approached I recognized the closed feeling starting to take over my chest. Shutting down. The tightening of my abdomen. The slight nausea. Yup. Mothers Day warning signs. My body doesn’t lie. It’s funny you know, even as I write these words my body is doing its Mothers Day thing. No escaping it.

With the arrival of Mothers Day, before I even got out of bed, I felt my gut clench. Nausea. Fear. I thought: I hate Mothers Day; I hate that I have to go through this every year. I tried to shut off my thoughts. Didn’t work. I should know better. If there is anything that I have learned through my many years of meditating, it is that you can’t stop your thoughts. They just arise as they will and go as they will. I know they are not real. I mean: Where do they come from? Where do they go to? Yup. Definitely not real. Did that help? Not as I lay in bed, dreading my day. And so it began.

As per usual on this day, depression threatened to take over. I crawled out of bed, did my morning ablutions, and made my way to the kitchen. With coffee in hand I headed to the meditation cushion situated in front of the big picture window overlooking our backyard. One thing that I always do, no matter how I feel, is to get my butt onto the cushion.

Grant your blessings so that my mind may be one with the Dharma

Grant your blessings so that Dharma may progress along the path

Grant your blessings so that the path may clarify confusion

Grant your blessings so that confusion may dawn as wisdom.

I quietly repeated these words of the Tibetan Buddhist lineage I follow, words that have been repeated over the centuries by countless others before me, all of us carrying forward a tradition of peace and compassion.

And so I sat. Eyes open. Doing a kind of meditation where I bring my full awareness to the sense doors: ears, eyes, touch, smell, taste, thinking… Feeling the rise and fall of my chest with every breath. My thoughts taking over. Noticing my mind doing this. My emotions reeking havoc. Kind of a loop really. One feeding the other. Still I sat. I kept coming back into the present moment. As I sat there I felt hurt. I felt angry. I was caught. Oh, was I caught. Still I sat. Bringing my awareness back into the present moment, again and again and again.

I noticed a puddle. Raindrops splashed in the puddle, disturbing its mirror-like surface. I heard the piercing call of a red bellied woodpecker. I felt the silkiness of my coffee as it washed over my tongue with every sip. I watched a squirrel munch on something white it had found. I wondered what it was. What a scrawny tail it had. Shifting my awareness from the yard to the window ledge directly in front of me, I noticed the leaves of the Christmas cactus, their spines a foil against the shadows cast from the light coming through the window. A pink flower barely hanging on to its stem on the fuzzy leafed hanging violet.  As I listened to the raindrops patter against the window and noticed the sky darkening in the distance, I realized an hour had passed. My meditation session was coming to a close. What did I feel now? What did I think? I felt sadness. I thought of how my daughter, like me, was a victim of abuse. At the hands of my ex-husband. At the hands of her father.

As the earth gives us food and air and all the things we need

May I give my heart to caring for all others until all attain awakening

For the good of all sentient beings

May loving kindness be born in me.

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A Slow Learner

One day my teacher, Venerable Karma Yeshe Wangpo said to me: “You should teach”. I didn’t. Some weeks passed. Again he said: “You should teach”. Still I didn’t. I guess I am a slow learner. For two whole years he kept saying: “You should teach”. I didn’t tell him, but I was terrified. Who was I to teach? I didn’t know enough. I wasn’t good enough. Nobody would come. I’d screw up. These thoughts were my companions for those two years. Then one day as I sat meditating, something shifted. A great and wonderful sadness filled my heart. It’s not about me. I cried. From somewhere deep inside of me I had touched something that was greater than me and yet at the same time was me.
Yeshe said once it wasn’t him teaching. I didn’t get it then. I do now. The One, the Universe, God, Creator, or whatever we call it, manifests through all creation, including this body and mind that I label “me”. He said what was important was that I had touched that wisdom place, and it was from there that I would be guided as I undertook the journey to follow this path of compassion.
I got up from the meditation cushion. I now knew. What “I” wanted didn’t matter. My insecurities didn’t matter. My fears didn’t matter. What mattered was really very simple. Compassion. Compassion for others. I felt my heart open wide. My heart was big enough to love others, all others, including the fearful, scared me. How could I not teach?
I phoned Yeshe and told him. I went over to his apartment and we talked for two hours. He spoke of many things during that time, including that for as long as he was able, he would always be there for me. And what about “me”? Yes, I was still scared. I would make mistakes. But I would be coming from that open-hearted part of myself that we all have inside of us. Somehow I now knew that if I always tried to come from a place of kindness and genuine caring, that whatever manifested would be okay.
Near the end of our chat, something curious happened. Suddenly, what looked like a small picture fell off of the wall where he stood; he caught it. He was quiet for a moment. He looked down at the item in his hand, then at me. He smiled, stepped towards me, and handed me the picture. Puzzled, I looked at what I now held. I can’t even begin to describe what I felt at that moment. As I raised my eyes to meet his gaze, he softly said that Tibetans would consider what had just happened auspicious. Even now, as I recall this story, I feel a sense of wonder, and from somewhere deep inside of me a connection to something I find hard to explain: A feeling that I’m not alone. Of process. Of being guided. Of love.
What was the picture? What did I see that day, the day on which I finally let go of the “I” and welcomed the “we”? From a carefully crafted needlework the words stood out: For everything there is a season.
Now, many years later, I feel fortunate to still be guiding others. Every day I feel grateful to live where I can connect with the beauty of the Dharma, with my teacher, and with other sangha, as they, as we, make the effort to keep alive a tradition of compassion, a path of peace and of love begun so many centuries ago by the Buddha.
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