Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Reason, A Season, A Lifetime

Things don't always make sense. Perhaps they're not meant to.

People come in and out of our lives all of the time. Sometimes it seems they are only there for a moment. Other folks stick to us like glue. There are still others who we might not even notice yet they affect our lives in ways we might never understand.

I have moved more than a few times in my life. Sometimes it was a decision, sometimes it was forced and other times it was following my gut instinct. (I tried counting the places I've lived in my head and got to 18 before I quit.) Each and every time there is a move there is also a sense of loss. A sense of leaving the known behind and jumping into the void with a hope and prayer I just might learn to fly this time.

People left behind almost always tug at me. Whenever I feel that tug, I try to remember something I was taught quite a while ago; people are in your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime. Everyone who shows up in our lives has something for us or we have something for them... or both.

People who are in your life for a reason are those who simply slip into, then out of, our lives and we may not think about it too much. Years down the road we might understand why they were there and not be able to recall their name or even who they were. They are there to meet a need you have expressed or wished for. They have come to assist you with something you are struggling with either physically, emotionally, or spiritually. They may seem like a godsend, and they are! They are there for the reason you need them to be.

People come into your life for a reason because you need a push to get what it is you want or need or wish to change.

People also come into your life for a season because your turn has come to share, grow, or learn. They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh or give you energy to move or teach you something you need to learn to move ahead into a better life. They may teach you something you have never done or show you a way of life you never considered (or thought possible). They may be there to bring you out of your hypnosis or show you your dreams are possible. They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy, even for a short time. Believe it! Remember that! It is real!

And it doesn't last forever. These are the most difficult connections to get over. You connect with the person at a deep level and then they leave your life for whatever reason.

In both cases of reason and season, without any wrong doing on your part, or at an inconvenient time, this person will say or do something that ultimately brings the relationship to an end. Sometimes they die. Sometimes they leave. Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand (i.e. make them leave). What we must understand is that our need has now been met, our desire fulfilled and their work is done... and so is yours. The wish or plea for help has been answered and now it is time for both of you to move on.

Lifetime relationships teach you lifetime lessons; things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation. Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person, and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life. It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.

Lifetime relationships last forever, even when the two of you move apart. Long distances mean nothing in this kind of relationship. They may disappear for years then suddenly reappear just when you need a kick in the pants or moral support. These are the people you can sit and have a coffee with after being apart for years and act like you had seen them yesterday.

Lifetime relationships never fade... they only shift with the sands of time.

Which of these relationships is most important? None... or all... depending how you choose spin it. The point to all of this is every person you meet is there for some reason. And you're there for them for a reason. You don't even have to know why they are there, although sometimes you will get it. Just know they have showed up in your life because you need them for however long that may last.

The real trick is, I think, to see the positive no matter how long someone is in your life' even if the lesson is difficult or they left under less than ideal conditions... and love them all the same.


Monday, 20 October 2014

Games Without Frontiers

This is a test... This is only a test.

How are you feeling today? Take a note of how you feel. (sad, happy, tired, etc). Maybe even write it down.

Now perform the following exercise. There's nothing tricky about it... honest. I can't do a Vulcan Mind-Meld. Trust me... I've tried.

Each line contains five words. As quickly as you can (not a speed test), make a coherent, grammatical sentence from each line using only four (4) of the words.
  1. him cannot liked she always
  2. from with Rome love temperature
  3. ball the throw toss silently
  4. shoes give caress meaningful a
  5. he observes occasionally people watches
  6. be will tomato happy she
  7. heart the elated inconclusive is
  8. should now connect forgetful we
  9. us hands sing happily let
  10. me make temperature smile they
Now... take note of how you are feeling. Is there a difference?

I really hope you have a great day.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Going Native... Thankfully

I am lost, I am lost
Has anybody seen me? I am lost
Oh, nothing is forgotten, Only left behind
Wherever I am, She leads me down, Unbound
No borders, No fences, No walls,
No borders, No fences, Unbound
Oh, listen for the night chant
Oh, listen for the night chant

Robbie Robertson... Unbound

For what have we to be thankful?

It's easy to be grateful for stuff and people and lifestyle and healthcare and the nation we are fortunate to inhabit. Those are the things we see every day.

When I was young, I used to hear the expression, “gone native” when referring to a transplanted European who began to live their life akin to Indigenous folks. Going Native was never used as a compliment. It was always derogatory. It was as if living a life different from what the Europeans thought were some form of sin against the chosen deity of the day... whichever convenient one that happened to be. 

I took offence to “gone native” then though I had no idea why and I certainly didn't have a strong enough voice to speak my mind at the time.

To Europeans, natives were backward... dirty.... heathens. Natives had little issue with nudity while the Puritans who landed at Plymouth rock were... well... Puritans. The Puritans viewed the nudity of Native North Americans as heathenism. The Puritans were Christian and the Natives were not and therefore the natives needed to be "saved". The Indigenous folks were mobile in their lifestyle. Europeans didn't understand it and tried to nail natives to one spot... thus the creation of reserves

Going Native was viewed by my forefathers as a large step backward and the lifestyle was seen as something to be repaired... and feared... and admonished. It was negative in the truest sense.

There is a world of difference in intent.

I now view Going Native as an appealing destination. To me, it is a way of being; a way of viewing the world at a global, societal, spiritual and personal level. While I wouldn't wish to give up the entirety of technological advances or some of the creature comforts that come with those, I believe there is a certain blending of modern technology and ancient ideology that can create a Utopia, if not in society then in a personal view.

Going Native to me is a blending of ancient ways with modernist tendencies.

Today is Thanksgiving.

Just over five hundred years ago, Europeans landed at Plymouth rock and nothing has been the same on this continent since. The natives greeted the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. The Europeans saw wide open, exploitable resources. After the first settlers landed from the Mayflower, there were offerings by the Indigenous peoples and a feast of the year's crops were enjoyed by all. It was called Thanksgiving.

Who was doing the giving and who was doing the thanking?

If you need to think about that answer, you're missing the point and the true spirit of Thanksgiving. As much as we like to (and should) celebrate the day, I believe it's important to remember those first thankful days of giving by those who had the most to lose. This day isn't about football games or watching uncle Harry drink himself silly or whether the gravy is lumpy or having naps after eating too much or being grateful for all the new crap you managed to gather this past year.

This day is about remembering to whom we should really be thankful. I can't help but wonder what Native North Americans have to be thankful for.

Am I thankful for the things I have? Of course. I am also thankful to those who gave so much and who received so little in return. The European way was to change what didn't fit their way and to destroy what they didn't understand. Fortunately, the societal climate has been changing in the fifty odd years I've been inhabiting this body. Fortunately, we haven't lost the wisdom of the Ancients. Fortunately, for those who are willing, they are willing to teach.

Today, I am thankful… to those who gave without seeking anything in return. I'm am thankful for being a student of ancient ways, not only here in North America, but also throughout the world. I am thankful for finding a way to weave those idioms into my life. I am thankful for those who take the journey with me. I am thankful for the wizardry of life which allows me to create myself with a balance of new and old.

Of course I think we should be grateful for what we have and for those in our lives that lift us. We should be grateful for having the things we need to live full lives. We should be happy for a roof and four walls. We should be grateful for those who join us on our journey. These are all important things.

For myself, I am also grateful knowing I have Gone Native.


Saturday, 11 October 2014

I Shall Not Conform

When I was in grade four, we had an art session where we were to create whatever we liked. I opened a book and found a photo of a tiger that appealed to me and I began to recreate the drawing with pencil and paper. The teacher was wandering around looking at the things the kids were working on and she stopped at my desk. She looked at the open book and the drawing I was creating and said, “That doesn't look much like the picture. You should try something else.”

Add caption
In her view (and in front of the entire class) she had devalued what I was doing based on her narrow view of what my tiger should look like. I was nine.

I never drew again.

In high school, I had an English teacher named Mr. Wilson. There was a writing contest during grade eleven and I entered one of my pieces. It was a big deal for me to put myself out there where something I had created could be scrutinized by anyone who was able to read... particularly by those peers who already thought I was different and made a point of publicizing it. Not only was I commended by Mr Wilson for the writing (I didn't win the contest) but I was encouraged to keep working at it.

I have been writing ever since.

We cannot manufacture people... and yet, our education system is predicated on exactly that... the linear build up from Kindergarten to university or college with the brain being the only focus. These days, kids are being interviewed before going to kindergarten. Can you imagine sitting in the interview as a four year old and some panel of stuffed shirts determining whether you've done enough in your life to warrant acceptance into their school? Seriously? Particularly when what is really on your mind is seeing if you can make your bike fly or wondering what mud tastes like.

The education system is predicated on the idea that we start school from day one preparing for university and then for a life of doing one thing until we retire.

It's wrong.

It's wrong and it doesn't work any more. Our fathers concept of working for 40 years and finally getting to do what you really want to do if you retire doesn't work. That concept of human worth being valued on a narrow band of acceptable careers and thought functions doesn't exist any longer yet we are still mired in the idea that linear education is the only way things work. It's nothing more than a societal habit.

I once heard a story of a woman who was preparing a Thanksgiving meal and she was cutting the ends off the ham. When asked by her husband why she cut the ends off, she didn't know except that she learned it from her mother so she called her mother and asked why. Her mother didn't have the answer either so she suggested she call her grandmother. The woman dialled her grandmother and her grandmother said, “Well, I cut the ends off the ham because the pan I owned then was too small.

We pass things on to our children that have little or no bearing in newer circumstances and as children, we don't question the status quo. The education “system” is no different. It has a basis in two hundred year old circumstances and we are expecting our children to follow that path despite what their real talent may be..

There is a hierarchy of importance given to what is taught in schools. At the top are mathematics, science and language and at the bottom are the arts (dance, music, writing, etc). At one time, education was structured this way out of necessity to move society forward. That time has passed. As children, we were steered away from things we liked followed closely by the reasoning that we will never get a job doing that. The entire system is built around the idea of getting to, and making our way through, university. There are many, many brilliant children whose innate talent was suppressed simply because it didn't conform to the idea that we must get through university. Why is this so?

More people are getting degrees and degrees are becoming of less and less value... because more of us have them. It's simple economics... the more there is of something, the less value it carries. You don't need a BA to get a job any longer. You now need an MA. And what used to require an MA now requires a PHD. The letters after our names (I have a few myself) are meaningless.

So, how do people discover their talent and ultimately what they are brilliant at? We are encouraged to follow our dreams.

I'm reminded of another story I heard during a TED talk by Ken Robinson about Dame Gillian Lynne. Gillian Lynne is a dancer and choreographer who had humble beginnings. In school, she was always fidgety and distracting the class. She couldn't sit still. The school called her mother and said Gillian might have a learning disorder. Today, she likely would have been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD but they didn't know what either was in the 30s when Gillian went to school. Her mother took her to a specialist. While there, the doctor spoke to Gillian and her mother for several minutes then excused himself and Gillian's mother leaving Gillian alone in the room. On the way out, the doctor turned on the radio. While Gillian's mother and the doctor watched from outside, Gillian got up from her chair and began dancing around the room. The doctor turned to Gillian's mother and said, “There is nothing wrong with Gillian. She simply doesn't fit into the school she is in. She should be in dance school.”

Gillian Lynne went on to become the choreographer for Cats and Phantom of the Opera. In today's schools, Gillian would have been drugged and forced through the industrialised school system.

There are any number of people you meet in your daily life who don't know what their talent is. There are very few who do know and even fewer who are making a living at what their talent is. If asked, the vast majority of people would not be able to name their innate talent. The reason is, it has been suppressed by an education system hell bent on getting as many people from A to B in an orderly fashion as possible.

The new world will be based on doing what you love and not what you have to do to survive. The education system needs to catch up.

I'm the yellow guy.
Have you ever tried to line up a group of five year olds? It's like lassoing water. It ain't gonna happen. How orderly is that? Five year olds will migrate naturally to what they love. They will figure it out. The school system, more often than not, will devalue anything that doesn't move children along the prescribed, industrialised path.

When I was in school, my real talents were squashed by a system intent on making me conform to their idea of what my talent should be. I was forced to choose from a narrow band of societally accepted career paths because the industrial machine needed those people. I have always bucked the system because it didn't feel right to me. Having dreams of how the world should be and communicating those thoughts through art, photography, writing and speaking were not acceptable to the machine.

Seeing the world from a different perspective is my nature. Dreaming of what can be is my nature. Not conforming is my nature.

It has taken me fifty years to recover.


Friday, 10 October 2014

The Why

People don't buy what you do or how you do it. They buy why you do it.

Why do you write?

I've been asked that question more than once over the years. I've even answered a couple of times with “I don't know” and an indifferent shrug. I answered that way a long time ago when I hadn't checked my bio-hard-drive to see what the software was up to. (I probably did know and the answer may have felt a bit embarrassing at the time.) In recent years, the answer has been somewhat more coherent; I write because that is how I express myself best.

Close... and not quite.

I wrote my first novel when I was seventeen. It has never been published because it is truly a piece of one-copy-never-to-be-seen-again-everlasting crap... even though there is a good idea or two in there. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, right? But the exercise was good. I had already been writing poetry and short stories so the longer version of a story was more or less a natural progression.

The “why” of the exercise at that time was “to save my life”. Again, close and not quite right.

It turns out the most successful companies already know the correct answers to the questions “why”, “how” and “what”... and which is more important. Take the example of Apple. When Steve Jobs was alive, it was pretty clear their mission statement had something to do with pushing boundaries, being hip and improving peoples lives. That is the “why”. The “how” was to build the most advanced products possible with current technology and to keep on the leading edge. The “what” was that they happened to build computers. They could have built anything and the why would not have changed. When cell phones and MP3 players came along, it didn't matter that the company had focused on computers before then. People lined up for hours to get the first iPhone and iPod because they felt connected to the “why” that Apple was offering. Apple could have been building toasters and the why would not change.

Most companies do the opposite. “Here is what we have and here is how we build it or provide the service. Want to buy one?” Err... no.

The neocortex (the new part of the brain) corresponds with rational thought (which includes mathematics and language) and also corresponds with the “what” part of decision making. Why is this important? People can hear a litany of facts and figures and even admit the product is beautiful or functional... and they won't buy because it doesn't feel right. You may be bang on in your description of whatever it is you have to offer. You may know your product inside out and backward... and still not get the sale. In short, the customer hasn't connected with the feeling of owning what you're selling.

The limbic brain centres on the other hand, are the older and more primal parts of the brain. They're what make the hair stand up on the back of your neck when you look down a dark alley and think, Umm... Yeah... I don't think so. The limbic brain centres do not understand language or reasoning. They understand feeling. They respond to why and how questions (mostly why). This area of the brain is responsible for all final decision making. It is also the part of the brain that has been making the decisions for our survival by “gut feel” for the entire existence of our species.

You will not buy what someone is selling until you feel right about the decision, no matter the volume of data and convincing argument.

It's also why we need to "agree to disagree" from time to time.

This goes for hiring practices as well. Find people who believe what you believe. The best qualified may not be "the best qualified". Hire qualified people who believe what you believe. Orville and Wilbur Wright had everything going against them. They had no money. They had no advanced education between themselves or amongst the team they had assembled. Yet they were still the first to create a flying machine despite having competition from various others who had the funding and the education. How?

Everyone on the team was on the same page... and the Wright brothers were in this thing to change the world. Those who worked with them believed the same as the brothers. Their main competition was in it for the fame and glory and the people working for them were inventing for the same fame and glory for themselves.

Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech... not an “I have an Idea” speech. Sell what you feel... the why. That's why two hundred fifty thousand people showed up to see him speak.

Which sort of brings me back to why I write.

As I alluded to previously, in the early days I had no idea why I wrote. I just wrote because it felt right. I assumed it was for my own enjoyment and finding a creative outlet. In my late twenties and early thirties, I was certain I wrote because I needed an escape. What I was escaping I'm not sure. Some form of internal boogie man I suppose. Either that or some form of external influence compelled me to find a dark place and run my fingers incessantly over a keyboard. Later still, I made the leap to “I write to get my feelings out”. There are 15 or 20 personal journals hanging around here somewhere with enough thoughts to fill a few books... fiction or otherwise. (Those journals will remain closed until I die and no longer care who reads them or where they are shared... just sayin'.)

The how of writing for me is by using anecdotes, stories (either fiction or non-fiction), references to people who can say things better than I and all the while weaving lessons I've learned onto the page. I don't think we do anything that doesn't have some learning involved... even typing on a keyboard. The what of writing in my world is blogs and social network pages and novels. That is the manner I have chosen to put pieces of me out to the world.

In no way is this the only means of communication I (or anyone else) use, yet from my perspective, it is where I allow myself to be most vulnerable. Well... that and speaking in front of a group of strangers... but that's another story.

While most of those reasons for writing outlined above were more or less true at the time, the real reason I have always written is to connect; to share bits and pieces of me as I figure out what those bits and pieces are and what they mean. I write to share my learning in life, to reveal me piece by piece, to make people laugh or cry or say “hmmm”, to mark down my journey on a path some may wish to walk along while others may not and, yes, sometimes it is simply to escape the boogie man... no matter how bad a dancer he is.

You see, I have a dream too; a vision of what the world could become and how I fit into it. For me, that dream is the why.


Thursday, 2 October 2014

50 Shades of Ear Worms

Everyone else seems to have fifty shades of something incongruous. Why not an ageing fart like me?

I was on the road today. That is, my routes were spread all over red dude's half acre and the only way to complete the route was by vehicle. Why is the Devil red? Is he really, really, REALLY tanned? I've got to check that out one of these days. I'm sure The Onion has a truthful article or two.

I get ear worms a lot. You know, the songs that scurry like over-sugared mice through your head and you just can't seem to get them to settle down. It's like your kids on high-octane Kool-Aid. Over and over and round and round. I usually end up whistling the tunes as well. Why limit the torment to just myself when I can share my uninhibited dopamine overload with unsuspecting unfortunates. Poor buggers.

For whatever reason today, I decided not only to share by whistling, I also took note of where I was and the song I was whistling at the time. For instance, Working on the Chain Gang while being escorted through the local police station. Seriously... how does this happen? I'm presuming my whistling was bad enough that the song was unrecognizable as the officer didn't slap me in handcuffs or discharge her firearm in my general direction.

It gets worse... or better... depending entirely on perspective.

As I approached the preschool, I started whistling Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street... over and over and over. Holy crap! How do I get this one out of my head!? At a hotel, it wasn't an ear worm I took notice of. While I waited for the manager to appear from the bowels of the auberge, I glanced around toward the nicknack shop common in all hotels and right out front on a book rack were several spaces taken up by 50 Shades of Grey. I wasn't sure if it was advertising or a check-in manual.

It mattered not to me since I still had Sesame Street incessantly rattling around my head and didn't catch the irony until later.

The one ear worm that started the whole day of tracking where I was and what was in my head was Misguided Angel by The Cowboy Junkies. Before I realized what I was whistling, I was already half way through the house of prayer. Honestly, I wasn't sure if my song choice was toward the parishioners of the church or directed toward myself. Either way, I was belting it out like Robert Schuller's booming voice echoing on a bright Sunday morning in the Crystal Cathedral.

I don't think they'll be putting Misguided Angel in the hymn book any time soon.

As humans, we do tend to get stuck on things. The ear worms reminded me that it's pretty easy to get things repeating over and over in our heads. It can be something someone said or did that keeps resurfacing. Maybe we blame them and maybe we don't, and yet it stays stuck. It can be something we said or did while wondering how we will be perceived. Acceptance is huge to every human being.

Being accepted is important to each of us. Making a faux pas sticks in our craw because we feel we might not be accepted. It's a tough place to get stuck. I'm still working on it.

Hmm... I'll deal with that later though. Sesame Street is back in my head and Bert is giving Ernie the gears. Have to deal with those two first.