Category Archives: Uncategorized

Postcards from Here: silhouettes and shadows

(more field notes from the world)

I love the layers that Paul Simon has brought to his music over the years

IMG_1978

But equally, I love the perfect simplicity of his early song, Bleecker Street…

IMG_1975

“I saw a shadow touch a shadow’s hand…”

IMG_1976

And so….silhouettes touching silhouettes

IMG_2021

And a little shadow magic, too

And a link to the simple, sad and beautiful Bleecker Street

 

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Postcards from Here: sense-temple time

(more field notes from the world)

IMG_1960

It is our minds that make our lives so homeless. 

IMG_1959

We need to come home to the temple of our senses.

IMG_1965

Our bodies know that they belong to life, to spirit.

– John O’Donahue, 1956-2008 *

* For what I hope qualify as artistic purposes, I’ve sequenced  Mr. O’Donahue’s phrases out of the order in which he offered them

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Postcards from Here: Earthwalking

(a series on paying attention to what’s in front of me)

“The great miracle is not to walk on the air or to walk on water or fire, but to be able to walk on the Earth.”

– Rinzai, ninth-century Zen master

IMG_1890

IMG_1894

IMG_1866

IMG_1916

IMG_1905

IMG_1902

IMG_1842

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Postcards from Here: visiting radical amazement

(a series on paying attention to what’s right in front of me)

It’s been on my mind to “upgrade” from my current camera, which has served me exceedingly well the past six or seven years to a new one (performs better in low light, indoors, etc. etc.).  I may well give in.  But this past week, whenever I thought about going into a store and checking it out, I found myself preferring instead to be in the street with my tried-and-true.

IMG_1685

Sunday: Montreal metro

IMG_1692

Skylight, Gare Centrale (Central train station), Montreal…might not have seen it had it not been for a two-hour delay in departure…sometimes we need to be forced to notice….I do, anyway

“Just as we are commanded to love man, we are also called upon to be sensitive to the grandeur of God’s creation.

IMG_1702

Tuesday in Toronto

“We are infatuated with our great technological achievements; we have forgotten the mystery of being, of being alive.

IMG_1756

Wednesday,: momentary siesta for Bay Street

“We have lost our sense of wonder, our sense of radical amazement at sheer being.”

“Choose Life,” Abraham Joshua Heschel*

IMG_1760

Thursday

(spoiler alert: I think I’ll keep an eye out for colour for the next post)

* Thank you, Rabbi Aviva Goldberg for putting Heschel’s reflections on technology and wonder in front of Congregation Shir Libeynu often enough that they’ve taken up residence in my RAM, not to mention my mind.

2 Comments

Filed under Heschel, Mindfulness, Radical Amazement, Uncategorized

Being the Signs: Winning Within (or what practice makes possible)

“Win within,” my teacher says.

“Been there, done that, didn’t buy the wristband,” I could respond.  It wouldn’t be overly audacious, given that my teacher is an advertising slogan on a bus shelter.  But I hold my tongue, and think back instead to my recent encounter with the  sentry at the Irish festival.

Jenni, a friend of a friend, was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival.  As her tour guide for an evening, I suggested going to the islands across the harbour, a favourite respite from downtown concrete. 

Light off Building

As the ferry neared the island, we spotted signs for an Irish festival at one of its restaurants.  Not the peaceful setting I had in mind, but Jenni’s the guest in town and she gets to make the call.  And her call is the festival.  We order a couple of helpings of nachos in the restaurant, and are given a number to put on our table for the server to track us down.  Stepping onto the patio, we join a picnic table of celebrants.  While Jenni talks with them about Brexit and its potential impact for Ireland, I become distracted, wondering how our server will find us in such a loud and crowded space.  I head back in and discover I know what I’m worrying about.  Food is only served inside, and our number is up next.

IMG_5527

Toronto Island green (from a previous visit)

I start my way back to Jenni, but am stopped by a guy in a plastic green top hat, his arm lowering with the gravity of a railroad crossing gate.

“I need to see your wristband, friend,” he says.

“Sorry?” I say.

“You need to buy one of these,” the sentry says, holding out a fistful of green wristbands, “if you want to join the festivities.”

“Wristband?  No, that’s okay.  A friend and I just came out here.  No one said anything about a wristband.  So I’ll just get her and-”

“That’s not going to happen.  If you want out there, you get a wristband here.”

“Listen,” I say, resenting having been cut off.  “My friend and I bought food inside.  We were given a number to take to our table.  We went outside.  No one stopped us.  No one said anything about wristbands.  I just want to get her and we’ll go back in.”

“I’ll get your friend,” he says.  “Where is she?”

I roll my eyes.  Not with my inside voice.

“She’s at the far end of the patio.  She’s wearing a navy blue dress and the number on the table-”

“Go ahead,” he says, opening his palm and waving me through. 

Still steaming, I find Jenni, and explain what’s going on with our food.  She exchanges goodbyes with her newfound friends, and as we head back in, it occurs to me that I’m bound to cross paths with the sentry again, and I start to anticipate ways to even the score – maybe wave the table number in front of him.  But almost as quickly as I have the thought, I realize it won’t get me anywhere.  Getting even might feel good in the moment, but it’ll also perpetuate an unhappy temper I won’t enjoy carrying around afterwards.  I decide to let it pass.

Before I know it, he’s in front of me.  Again, lowering his hand. 

“I owe you an apology,” he says, shaking my hand.  “That was a dick thing to do.” 

He’s not a professional doorman, just a volunteer trying to make things happen right.  Which he’s now doing by wrapping wristbands around our arms.  “These are on the house,” he says. “Enjoy the festival.”  Not only are the wristbands free, but so am I, that much more able to enjoy the mediocre nachos in the restaurant, and then afterwards, the blues harmonica we catch once back downtown. 

Everything is Possible

translation: Everything is Possible

I like to think my mindfulness practice has something to do with my having found the pause button, allowing antagonism to morph into affinity.  After all, if I’m going to spend twenty minutes on a meditation cushion most mornings, it would be nice to see tangible benefits.  I’ll never know, of course; cause-and-effect with practice is seldom that clear.  But I do know that because of my practice, I don’t go off the rails as often as I would otherwise, and when I do, I get back on more quickly, and the world enjoys the kinder part of me.

So when the advertising poster tells me to “win within,” yes I could respond with been-there-done-that.  But yes, I hold my tongue.  Or, if I’m to be honest, my tongue is held for me – I’m seldom that quick-witted, and the clever response only arrives days later.  But even if it had come to mind right away, I think I would have held back. 

Maybe one day when I’ve achieved enlightenment – let’s say , I don’t know, next month – and remember to win within a little more reliably, I’ll start getting lippy with my teachers.

Moving to the Light

Let’s get mindful

Pick a sign.  Any sign.  Or let it pick you.  Is there a teaching in it?  Or a suggested practice?  Unless you’re sure there isn’t, give it some consideration. See if it brings a shift in how you relate to the world or offers a reminder of something you sometimes lose sight of.  And then, as you go through your day/week/month, keep it in mind, and see where that takes you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Share & Subscribe

 If you liked this, and want to see more, I wouldn’t say no to additional subscribers.  If you’re on a mobile device, scroll down about as far as you can, and enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe box.  If you’re on a computer, you’ll find the Subscribe box towards the top on the right-hand-side.

 And if you want to spread the word, there are buttons around here somewhere for sharing on Facebook and Twitter…

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Being the Signs: No Winter Maintenance

For a while, it appears Shabbat has intruded on my spiritual development.  But just when it looks like all is won, an encounter with organic pasta comes to my rescue, delivering me to this embarrassing, and perhaps necessary moment.

NO WINTER MAINTENANCE

That’s what the sign had said at the entrance to a walking path a couple of weeks ago.  “Now there’s a practice,” I’d thought.  Deep freezes, floods, sabretooths, pogroms.  When we’ve survived them, it’s been largely thanks to our skills at steeling ourselves for troublesome seasons, whether the skies portend danger or all is sunshiny lightness.  But do I overdo winter maintenance?  Have I given my talent for anticipation of the worst more rein than my life really needs?

Rhetorical questions, both.

IMG_2294

In the interest of presence, I didn’t take the camera with me on the walk..  This and the other images here come from other moments  in the world.

So this Shabbat, I tell myself, I will try to notice when I shift into winter maintenance mode.  And when it happens, I will ask whether it can be held off until after Shabbat, or if it’s necessary at all.

To be closer to my experience, I turn off my phone’s data and wifi.  Friends and family can still reach me, but hopefully this will free me from the pattern of “just” checking e-mail, which begets a visit to social media, which begets deep diving into online trivia and tragedy, which begets “where did I go?”

I awaken Shabbat morning, and lie on my bed a while, just enjoying the way the sun pushes through the blinds, shaping the embryo of a fiery dragon on the closet door.  Rising, I am more attentive to brachot, or blessings – malbish arumim / Who clothes the naked as I put on a t-shirt, thankful for the feeling of cotton against my body; ha’mechin mitza’dei gaver / Who makes firm a person’s steps as I walk to the bathroom, grateful for the ease with which I set one foot in front of the other. 

I give myself longer than normal on the meditation cushion, and then set out for a long walk in an unfamiliar ravine – intending, as best I can, to steer clear of winter maintenance and simply be where I am.  Unsurprisingly, attunement comes and goes.  One moment, I’m marvelling over the way the sun ignites the leaves of a tree, prompting me to recite oseh ma’aseh v’reisheet / Who forms the work of creation; the next moment, I’m making judgements about the runners and cyclists who outnumber me on this part of the path, seeming not to appreciate their surroundings.  And in my judgement, I am removing myself as far from the here and now as I imagine them to be.

IMG_5336

So it goes.  They should.  I want.  Then the cloudscape above being all I need, it’s again oseh ma’aseh v’reisheet.

Entering more deeply into the walk, I’m in a landscape where others are clearly enjoying the environment for its own sake.  We make eye contact, strangers and I, exchanging a word or a smile.  

Perching myself on a rock by reeds sticking out of a pond where a quarry had once been, I read a little of Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writings on Shabbat, when a young family passes, the wilder of the two mop-topped daughters screeching with excitement.

“We don’t exactly make for quiet reading,” the father apologizes.

“It’s life,” I say.  “It’s beautiful.”

Slowly but surely, Shabbat is threatening to undermine my spiritual development.

IMG_4635

Mount Royal in Montreal one fine summer’s day

Not that I have fully succumbed to serenity.  When a twentysomething guy emerges from a field, proudly displaying a newfound walking stick to his companions, one of them calls him Gandalf, and I love them.  When they start punctuating every half-sentence “like,” I get over it.

But, as far as I can tell, Shabbat ease is holding winter maintenance away.  Although blotches of rust on leaves have made me aware that summer is waning, I can’t seem to get worried about it.  And sure, a few minutes ago, I found myself wondering how I might earn the best possible death bed experience, but that lasted a few seconds, and then it was back to here and now.

The walk takes me to a farmer’s market, and a booth offering organic pasta.  Whole wheat, easy to digest, the sign says.  Maybe I should give it a try.

And then I find myself thinking maybe I shouldn’t.  Because what if I love it – really love it – and want more?  Summer’s ending, and maybe the market’s about to close for the year.  What will I do without this organic pasta with which I’m in danger of being smitten?

I actually think these things.  Despite never once having loved, or even romanced, anything made from whole wheat.

Catching myself, I’m amused, a little embarrassed, and mostly proud.  I’ve managed to catch myself in winter maintenance mode and talk myself down.  I buy a few servings from the vendor.

To the extent I think about this for the next while, it’s mostly about writing this blog post.

But on the first morning of Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish High Holy Days and a period for self-reflection, I find myself thinking about other occasions, some significant, when I have denied myself joy for fear that its disappearance would be too painful to endure.  Not that my life has been without joy, but if I could, I’d like to have some of those moments back.

So as I enter 5778 – at a time when serious trouble seems to portend in every corner of the globe – when I’m fortunate enough to have portals to joy open before me, shall I retreat into winter maintenance or shall I step through?

IMG_0916

Viana do Castelo, Portugal

Let’s get mindful

Pick a sign.  Any sign.  Or let it pick you.  Is there a teaching in it?  Or a suggested practice?  Unless you’re sure there isn’t, give it some consideration. See if it brings a shift in how you relate to the world or offers a reminder of something you sometimes lose sight of.  And then, as you go through your day/week/month, keep it in mind, and see where that takes you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Share & Subscribe

 If you liked this, and want to see more, I wouldn’t say no to additional subscribers.  If you’re on a mobile device, scroll down about as far as you can, and enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe box.  If you’re on a computer, you’ll find the Subscribe box towards the top on the right-hand-side.

 And if you want to spread the word, there are buttons around here somewhere for sharing on Facebook and Twitter…

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Being the Signs: Rain of Gladness

March 2017 – Has the plastic food container I’ve just pulled from the fridge lost its mind?  Doesn’t it watch the news?  Doesn’t it know how discomforting and dispiriting the world has been?  All I wanted to do was store some mandarin rinds, and now this.

IMG_0094

I blame the rabbi.  Rabbi Jordan Bendat-Appell, my friend and teacher, to be specific.  One of the things I’ve most enjoyed at the meditation retreats I’ve attended with him have been the conversations that have followed the silence.  And so it was, in the dark hallway of a former monastery, that Jordan told me of a practice he’d taken on, in which he treated commercial signs as mindfulness instruction.  Drawn to the idea, I’ve meant to try it ever since.  And today, I’ve decided, is the day to start. 

The plastic food container has one word on it.  Little more than a trademarked adjective.

Glad. 

There’s a case to be made for my exercising veto power, but it’s the first sign that’s registered in my sight today, and what’s the point of practicing only teachings you want to receive?  Like it or not, this day has called for gladness practice. 

IMG_0102

So I note how comforted I am by the warm air blowing on my feet from the vent below the kitchen sink.  A little later, I take a moment to appreciate my ability to effortlessly pull my bedroom door shut, while making a backwards half-circle to avoid knocking over the large suitcase with the broken handle that I am about to lug through the rush hour commute on a rain-chilled morning.

Gladness like gratitude

When the bus pulls up, riders are crammed right to the windshield.  But time is tight, and a crowd in front doesn’t always equal a crowd in back.  When the door opens, I call out, “Any chance of people backing up!?”  I am surprised by the absence of an accusatory tone in my voice.

“I doubt it,” the driver says.  “They’re back as far as they can go.”

But just then, a passenger – a young guy, olive-skinned, saucer-sized studs in both ears; the opposite of me, on the surface – holds up his palm.  Wait, he’s signalling.  He holds up a finger.  A passenger is getting off. I start to board, but he holds his palm up again, then two fingers – a peace sign, and an indication that two more are getting off.  They do, and he waves me on.  I grab my suitcase by the nub where the handle used to be, and loft it aboard with surprising ease.  Glad for this kind of strength.  Glad for my navigator, for the friendly driver, for the friendliness I’ve found within myself.  For the slashes of rain against the windshield.

The subway is crowded, and I forget to be glad for the most part, but when I change lines, I hear a muffled voice say “welcome.”  I don’t know where it came from, but my mind flashes to a favourite lunch spot, where stepping through the door sets off an invisible contraption screeching a tinny greeting of “Hello, welcome!”  It’s kitschy and annoying, I’ve always thought, but now I’m thinking it’s an excellent reflection of the quiet hospitality with which the proprietress receives her customers.  And I am  glad for tinny and kitschy.

Is the plastic food container onto something?  It’s said that natural selection allowed humans to survive because of our skills for anticipating the worst.  And also, that this characteristic doesn’t serve us as well as it once did.  Perhaps the food container is helping me remember to see the best.

IMG_0035

Gladness like gladness

A different day, and a morning walk to the subway.  I step on a snow-powdered sidewalk, suddenly skidding on hidden ice, then regaining my balance.  Glad for the skid and glad for the steadiness.

The voice of a little girl behind me shouts, “Mommy, look!” and her unbridled excitement enthuses me.

Before I know it, moments inspiring gladness are giddily toppling upon one another.

The sun trying to break through the overcast, giving a subtle sheen to the grey.  A black poodle sitting on the neighbourhood hockey rink, its thick front hooves mirrored in the ice, as he waits for his master to give him something to do. 

Bare trees, each branch with its own character.  A puddle on the curb, reflecting sky from amidst the asphalt.

This and that, that and this.

The scrunch of salt beneath my footfall, the occasional pop of a crystal exploding under my heel.

A twinge in my shoulder from carrying my gym bag.  Soreness in my thigh from having resumed my squash game.  Aches, pains.  Alive, alive.

A bird calls out from one side of the street.  A bird on the other echoes a response.

I start planning my day.

I tune back to the birds.

At this moment, it feels like it could always be this way.  Like I could always be this way.

Soon, too soon, the feeling of grace starts to feel tempered.  This won’t last.  Grace doesn’t work that way.  Maybe it’s not supposed to.  There are too many sabretooths out there from which we need to defend ourselves and the less fortunate amongst us.   

A plea forms within me: as I wade through the storm, may I be buoyed by the knowledge that there are reasons we choose to endure, and they are constantly around us.  Gladness and grace, take your leave if you must, but return to me, and while I await your return, I will do my best with what I’ve got.

IMG_0115

Let’s get mindful

Pick a sign.  Any sign.  Or let it pick you.  Is there a teaching in it?  Or a suggested practice?  Unless you’re sure there isn’t, give it some consideration. See if it brings a shift in how you relate to the world or offers a reminder of something you sometimes lose sight of.  And then, as you go through your day/week/month, keep it in mind, and see where that takes you.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Share & Subscribe

 If you liked this, and want to see more, I wouldn’t say no to additional subscribers.  If you’re on a mobile device, scroll down about as far as you can, and enter your e-mail address in the Subscribe box.  If you’re on a computer, you’ll find the Subscribe box towards the top on the right-hand-side.

 And if you want to spread the word, there are buttons around here somewhere for sharing on Facebook and Twitter…

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized