Monday, August 29, 2011

Integrity and starting fresh

Many times - maybe more than that - in the past months, people have encouraged me to consider making a fresh start. They have meant two things by this: 1) sometimes it is more trouble than it is worth to continue something and 2) sometimes starting fresh seems like a way to escape painful memories. I have responded in different ways, sometimes by explaining why I was holding on, and sometimes just saying that I don't believe there is any such thing as a fresh start. We all choose to carry some baggage into our future.

People are reluctant to carry their baggage, and furious when airlines lose their luggage. Think about that for a moment. If you don't want to arrive on vacation without the resources you have packed, why would you walk into the future without everything you have gained through experience - especially the kinds of experience that cost you something? The baggage I took on my last holiday was a little the worse for wear - it had some bumps, some stiff spots, and it was definitely hard to manoeuvre up long stairways. It was also a little too heavy for me to carry comfortably.

But that particular case is also covered with memories of two different trips to Paris. On both those trips, I lugged it up many, many metro steps. It was not entirely convenient. And now it holds more than the clothes and stuff I pack each vacation. I will be reluctant to replace it although I think I will finally have to let it go after the handle gave out on the way home last week. I think I'll buy another red suitcase, and I might even add a maple leaf sticker here and there though. That way, I'll get to carry more of the intangibles that case has held for me.

How much more do I need what I have experienced in eight years of learning and striving and hoping? I need every tear and every triumph and I need them equally. They make me who I am, and if I were to pick and choose only what I thought would be useful, I would probably be no more accurate than I am when packing for holidays. It's hard to tell what I will need on my journey, so I will pack extra and I will carry it myself.

My integrity - my strength and my flexibility - require that I keep moving and that I accept carrying my own baggage as part of the price of the trip. As we go, I will let go of this and that and replace them with experiences acquired along the way. But most of what I have packed for this trip, I will take care to keep with me all the way. Because you never know - and neither do I - when the weather will change, or the road will loop unexpectedly.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A friend asked me for a love story about a bear

The native peoples of the west coast tell wonderful stories about bears. Some of them are love stories, and they are beautiful and also very sad. The bear is wise and noble and loving, and the people are limited and fearful. A princess is captured by a bear who loves her. She is rescued by her brothers - perhaps because she is loved, perhaps because it is the right thing to do. Her children grow up between two worlds, sometimes choosing to be human, sometimes returning to their father, the bear. The bear gives his sons a song to teach their people, so that they will always be safe from bears.

I have been to the Rockies and heard the warnings about bears. It would be a good thing to have a song to sing to keep one safe. Certainly better than lying on the ground playing dead and hoping the bear goes away on his own.

Bears are frightening. That's why they make such good guardians. When my first son was born, my brother arrived from the Rockies with a stuffed brown bear we immediately dubbed "Ben" (after Gentle Ben from a long-ago tv series). Ben still stands guard, patiently, in the room where my sons slept. He has kept them both safe for many years.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Spiderman in your mind

I had a friend once who became a brilliant hypnotist because he walked in his sleep as a child. Eventually the sleep-wallking led his mom to take him to a hypnotherapist. The hypnotherapist must have had a positive impact on the sleepwalking, although the story he mostly told was of how she let him watch whole episodes of Spiderman in his mind.

It sounds a little like the beginning of a novel, only a little less improbable, perhaps than the story of the most famous hypnotist in Canadian literature (Paul Dempster/Magnus Eisengrim in Robertson Davies' Fifth Business trilogy). That novel begins with the determination of boys to overcome childhood struggles and achieve power as adults.

Did the man I knew become a great hypnotist because his mother took him to a hypnotherapist, or because his mind was so restless and so curious that it was wide awake even in his sleep? If it were a novel, the writer might know for sure. In Fifth Business the lines of influence are clear and elegant. Hypnosis is one answer to the way that rigid consciousness tries to limit and oppress the marvellous, random creativity of unconscious process.

The paradox is that great hypnotists appear to be even more authoritarian than the authorities who discipline or terrorize little boys. They are larger than life, with voices that move easily through different tones and colours and with imaginations that stretch wide or become laser sharp in the precision of their observation of particular human minds at work in particular human bodies. Great hypnotists free minds for exploration by keeping the body uncannily still.

The man I knew was once a little boy watching Spiderman in his mind. He opened his eyes, and learned to be as curious about the play of the mind in the body as he had been about the play of superpowers. He could do magic with his voice, make the room disappear and pull changes from trance back into the waking world. He could give himself up to the patterns and play of unconscious process.

He taught me how to spin words into a deep, relaxing peacefulness. When the body hurts, it feels good to be still. When it feels good to be still, the mind can wonder and wander. Until the drive to move overcomes the trance and calls the mind back into the body.

We give up trance for the power to move our minds and our bodies. We give up trance to make choices that make a difference. Like Spiderman, we all wake up in bodies that are stickier than we thought.

Friday, August 05, 2011

The whale and the osprey

This is a retelling of a west coast Native legend about the origin of the Orca.

A large black whale floated near the surface, singing and watching the clouds. The whale loved the way the clouds looked against the blue and the gray of the sky. Sometimes the whale jumped high into the sky, reaching towards those clouds. But the clouds stayed in the sky, and the whale fell back into the water.

One day, the whale watched as a piece of cloud separated and dove down, down, through the sky and into the water. A moment later, the osprey bobbed to the surface and floated for a moment, watching the whale. The whale began to sing. The osprey flew in lazy circles, watching and listening. The whale sang again. The osprey flew in higher circles. The whale gathered speed, leapt high into the air, and crashed back to the surface. The osprey waited for the water to calm, and then landed.

You wouldn't think two such different creatures would have a future, but you would be wrong. The whale and the bird both loved to soar through the air and the water. They both loved the way voices could call or chatter or sing. They both loved to dream of a big, big world.

And one day, those dreams took shape in a baby whale with a shiny black back, and a belly as white as osprey wings, a baby who loved to soar through the air and the water. A baby who loved to sing and who dreamed of a big, big world. And they called the baby, Orca.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Listening Like a Bird

She was good at hiding in plain light. When you radiate enough light, people see the shine and not the shape under it. They weren't distracted by her; they looked around and saw more clearly because she was there.

Underneath, she was darker. Light casts shadows and she had to be good at navigating under the light, as though her path lay always behind a waterfall or through a thick forest. She learned to listen for the sounds under her feet and over her head. The dark was mostly soft and alive. It is, she thought to herself, where we all started.

There were days when she needed more light, and then she had to turn down the shine so she could find the sun. One day, she wrapped herself in soft, dim clothes and set out to find something in the light to give her focus in the dark. She did not know where she was going or how long it would take. She packed water and fruit and nuts and chocolate and she set off on foot. Walking is the best way to see where you are and she knew that she would need clear eyes to find what she was looking for.

As she walked, she learned more about the sounds she knew from the dark. She was curious about everything, the grain in the cement underfoot, the texture of a bird's feathers, the way a scarf transformed a face. She listened, her head tilted to one side and her eyes bright with intensity. It was hard to know what kind of bird she might be.

It seemed, at last, like there was no object and no learning that she could take into the dark to keep her clear and focused while her light shone for those around her. She had walked a very long way, and listened to a thousand stories, and her eyes were tired. She found a bed, and turned down the light, and rested.

And while she rested she dreamed. She dreamed of flying and of falling. She dreamed of waters that flowed in a rush and of images that flowed in a rush. She was connected and disconnected, and scared and peaceful. Her body moved without tension to the flow of her dreams, and her breathing was quick and shallow and then deeper and then deeper still. She dreamed herself all the way to the bottom of her dreams, untangling all the threads and working through all the loops.

As she began the long walk home, she began to shine, a little more each day. Inside, she walked in the shadows and she listened. Sometimes she smiled. She knew now what she had come to find was not something she could hold and not something she could lose. She knew that whether the light was shining from her or on her, there would be shadows and blurred edges and that sound has shadows of its own. Sometimes she cried.

And sometimes, she lay down and dreamed, in a great rush, until she worked her way all the way down to the source and rested.