This space belongs to Megan Eliza (Red Cedar), long-time Vancouverite kicking it in the neighbourhood of Hastings-Sunrise. I communicate for a living, play music for pleasure, and fill the rest of my waking minutes with love, home, craft, art, outdoor adventures, photography, writing, grad school, gardening, cooking and even sometimes politics.
I turned forty-two in February – that above is a picture of me taken by Wendy D. just prior to my birthday. I have been blogging here for almost 11 years and this is post number 2000 – which represents an awful lot of photos and written snippets over all the life changes that have happened since I started posted here not long after my 31st birthday and during a period of a lot of internal upset in my life. At this posting juncture I can say that life at the moment has a great deal of calm and accomplishments, love and relationship, security, and even a little adventure – at least on a personal front. I couldn’t speak for the world eleven years ago and I sure can’t now!
Since I’ve recently renewed my commitment around blogging, sharing snippets and photos, the occasional longer rant or two – this is not the last post by a longshot.
As Joan Didion writes in her essay, On Keeping a Notebook: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends. We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were.”
While I have also intermittently kept private notebooks, this space serves as much a record of my public selves and how they have changed overtime. And while I definitely do not find all my past attractive company, I agree that it is a mistake to pretend it didn’t exist or edit away its edges.
This week marks our six year anniversary in the Urban Crow Bungalow and the above is a picture of the cake that my friend Jill made to celebrate our housewarming back in 1999. It’s nice to look at that and think of all the yummy things, the warm occasions, the love and friendship that Brian, Mica, and I have celebrated in our home since then.
I have been home with a cold for the last two days which has given me the luxury of a little time that I would not ordinarily have had. On the other hand, I slept pretty much all of Sunday night and straight through to yesterday afternoon, so a good half of that time was given to rest. Today, I have been reading and thinking about meditation, in addition to engaging in some mindful cleaning of both our sleeping space and our studio space – both of which needed focused attention. Perfect when I am feeling ill and have nowhere to be, a slow tidying up of things is right up my alley. I’m thinking that I might even tackle my sewing area while dinner is on the stove in a little bit.
Even though I was coming down with this thing, I spent all of Sunday at the Zendo that I attend – it was my first half-day retreat, followed by the jukai ceremony for two members of the community. Jukai is like an initiation where the lay practitioner of Buddhism formally receives certain precepts (admissions to a way of life that encourages clear mind). By the time we got the ceremony I was feeling pretty ill so I didn’t take it in as much as I would have liked, but the morning retreat – an extension of the regular Sunday service – was a gentle opening up of practice and a reminder that I can sit even when I am feeling a lot of physical discomfort (something I couldn’t do a year ago).
I have two retreats coming up – my first “real” retreats – both in May. This is not by design – I signed up for a residential retreat almost a year ago, then I got involved in the Zendo and a non-residential retreat was scheduled for May as well – so now I am having both experiences very close together and am looking forward to them for quite different reasons – though I am also trepidatious because I still feel very much like a novice to this whole experience of meditation. I am reading Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier at the moment (after hearing him on CBC’s Tapestry on Sunday) where he writes about his discovery of meditation, including his first ten-day retreat (as a real novice to the practice) and I have to admit that I feel somewhat more prepared than he seemed to be (in his telling – he’s got self-deprecation down to an art, so it’s hard to know exactly where he was at). The fact he got through the ten days and came out the other side still in the practice is heartening! In fact, I love all the stories of how non-spiritual folks find their way to meditation and to Buddhism because – hey – it’s my experience too! And everytime I go to the Zendo to sit I wonder – is this really me? But it is really me, and it rounds out my life in a very satisfying way. I find with Zen in particular, I am able to participate in a non-judgemental way – because my teachers do not require that I believe magical things or focus on the enlightenment experience (two things I find distracting, and that get in the way of my practice).
I am writing this as I am choosing something to listen to in the meditation session that I lead once a week – we alternate between me guiding, silent, and listening to music. Because I am coldish and cough when I talk – tonight will be sound focused. These sessions are utterly unlike the zen sitting that I prefer for my own regular practice, but they are the kind of meditation gatherings that I would have appreciated when I was just becoming acquainted with sitting. Also, they give me a chance to teach as I learn – which is another kind of learning, and provides me more opportunity to think about what is meaningful in the practice. There are only a few people who come every week – between two and four women – and they have expressed how much this fills a particular need and curiosity. Meditation without ascribed belief. Awareness practice in the company of progressive others who have made a bond over the weekly touchstone of sitting together.
And so it is, that I am sick and spending my days reading and drifting and meditating through my illness – hoping to get back to work tomorrow – but also grateful for a couple of drowsy, dreamy days.
Wow. Started out this week with all sorts of posting intentions – but there have been no extra minutes between my last class, exercise, playing a show, meditating, working, dinner with friends and so on – and now it’s Friday and I am pushing to get more work done so that I have something to show for this rather chaotic week. It’s been interesting too, because often when I am so scheduled I get overwhelmed…. but as I learn to let go of what I “should do” and accept what I “am doing” it has been less stressful to go from one thing to the next. I am seeing the wisdom in the Ghandian quote “action expresses priorities” and recognizing that what I choose to actually do is the priority, the way I am subconsciously (or actively) arranging things. Right now I seem to be prioritizing social interaction, exercise, health-focused activities – and not spending so much time on sewing or crochet projects. The garden has a priority spot only because it’s the season and a now or never type of thing – or else I expect it would be something different outside (hiking!) not more time spent inside wrestling with an extra-curricular activity that doesn’t give me a lot of pleasure at the moment.
These are all just ways that we choose to spend time, none of them life or death requirements, but it’s amazing how in-knots I can be about how I judge the arrangement of activities in my head. No one else judges how I live my life – what I spend my time on, who I spend it with – except me (though I often project onto others like my husband, it is again – entirely in my head). In part, I credit my meditation practice, with the recent ability to actually listen to what I am telling myself over and over and then bringing a close to some of those persistent and distracting thought modes. On Wednesday night, for example, when the show I played went later than expected (much later), I observed myself worrying about how tired I was going to be “tomorrow” which was pulling me away from enjoying the music of a friend who was on stage. Once I gave up on my projection of how I might feel the next morning, I was able to focus fully and breathe out the “what if” of worry. (As it was, the next day I slept in a little later and had to skip meditation, but still managed to walk to work and do a killer weight routine in the afternoon – it wasn’t like a later bedtime incapacitated me for work or anything).
It’s not that I don’t believe in planning, or intentionally prioritizing one thing over another – but when I just experience what falls into place as I organize my days – I can see that there are clear patterns which emerge over time (often in sync with the seasons or other cyclical events) and that it’s perfectly acceptable to simply be in the flow of things rather than trying to push against it with an idea of myself (and who I could be if only I had more time).
This is a Monday morning post and as such, I’m not aiming for well-strung together or even coherent. Here are some news bulletins from my current life:
Morning Soundtrack: Portrait (Angele Dubeau & La Pieta play Ludovico Einaudi). I just bought this recording on the weekend and yes! All the beauty of Einaudi’s composition interpreted with a focus on strings.
Vindication: My test results came back positive for strep throat. Probably the first time ever I’ve been glad to find out I have something. The antibiotics are doing their job so I’m pretty much better except that my asthma has kicked in and I’m coughing at night.
Tonight is the final class in completion of my Master’s degree. Even though I finished my work for the degree a few weeks ago, tonight is the last official class after four years of part-time night school to obtain a Master’s in Liberal Studies. I once wrote a post about how getting a graduate degree was really important to me – but now I can’t find it – suffice to say, I am realizing as I write this what a big deal it is. I have a Master’s degree now, for real. I am going to go put that on my resume just to make it official.
My band, Lone Crow Jubilee, is playing a show on Wednesday night at The Cottage Bistro on Main Street (vancouver, bc). We start around 7:30 and play until 10:00 or so – it might be the last performance as a group for a few months as various band members are off on jobs and travel adventures – so if you are so inclined, come and have some drinks with us (and listen to our new songs!) Brian and I plan to work more studiously on composing and arranging for our duo to compensate in the meantime.
I’ve got to get some work done now – I’m aiming to get to post #2000 this week – so we’ll see if I can make that happen!
So yesterday, I went to the Doctor, because I am pretty sure that I have strep throat. And the reason I think this is because I get strep throat every three years or so – and the ailment I’ve got does *not* feel like a cold or the flu as it has no other symptoms except for a spotted, swollen throat (and left ear, of all things). But! She told me – grown-ups do not get strep throat, and also, I don’t have a fever so it can’t be. And! She said, because I have a cough, that’s a cold symptom so it must be viral. Unfortunately:
- I am a grown-up and I do get strep throat and so do other grown-ups I know;
- My regular Doctor told me for three years that I couldn’t possibly have a sinus infection because – no fever – and so I suffered, miserably until I got to a specialist who took a swab, and did a CAT Scan and was horrified at the state of the infection;
- I have a mild asthma that causes a cough with pretty much any illness, lack of sleep, stress, or over-exposure to perfumes.
She took a swab, and now I am waiting for the results, but in the meantime I picked up a “just in case” prescription for antibiotics and the swollen throat seems to be subsiding – the whole thing was somewhat frustrating. On the one hand, I fully recognize that over-prescription of antibiotics (and all drugs really) is a serious health problem in our culture. On the other, a quick look at my history would reveal that I take drugs for nothing, and my antibiotic use is rare (twice in the last five years).
A part of me really wants to the swab results to show that I have strep and therefore am right – while another part of me wishes that the results would be negative so I don’t have to take these pills which make me nauseated – and so I sit here at work refreshing the E-Health results screen over and over – waiting to find out which is so. Am I right? Or am I just getting better without the aid of the antibiotics I’m taking (which means I can stop)?
(And if you are wondering about today’s picture up top – my friend Rachel recently had pneumonia for a month and while she was sick, she did some macrame – including a plantholder for my birthday present. I put plants in it this weekend and I think it looks mighty fine by the bedroom window.)
For today’s post I give you a photo of the weekend’s gardening efforts – a lot of deck cleanup and new plants!
(The above photo is of our Easter Sunday brunch – scones, marmalade, hard boiled eggs and chocolate – and has nothing to do with this post).
I’m home today, in bed with a bit of a cold. Mostly it’s a sore throat, but there is a bit of general achey-ness thrown in as well and I’ve popped some ibuprofen to reduce my small misery to an even smaller one. On the one hand, I feel like a big faker calling in sick after a long weekend (but I’m not!) On the other, I don’t mind the prospect of a day spent slowly puttering – reading, writing, lying about – on my own. I’d rather not be sick at all, but I don’t mind the idea of having some extra time to myself either.
I’ve been on a bit of a reading binge lately – seemingly triggered by the official completion of my coursework for my Master’s degree. My final full class was last Monday, and all that’s left now is the party to celebrate the end of four years of work. I didn’t realize how much I’d cut back on my recreational reading until I finished my last “required” reading a couple of weeks ago (Crime and Punishment) – and found myself in McLeod’s secondhand books that very day eagerly perusing all the books that I have time to read now! Since then I’ve managed to down three books – all in the light reading category – and am working my way through another (slightly more rigorous). I’ve also started a notebook again, out of the blue, to record my thoughts, quotes from my readings, snippets and facts. I’ve periodically kept notebooks about general life, but not recently. Not in the last four years. It feels like a new practice again and I have no goals with it – just to pay attention to myself and my thoughts when it is convenient to do so.
There is nothing in particular which draws my most recent three reads together – except a compelling story in each of them perhaps (and the fact that two of them came out of my community free library) – but even so, I’ll record them here with a few-sentence impression in case you have been wondering about whether these are worth the time.
A Death on Diamond Mountain | Scott Carney : Engagingly written, this is a fast read about a Tibetan Buddhist organization in the United States that has bordered on cult-like behaviour. Scott Carney uses the object-lesson of a death at the edges of a retreat to examine the potential dangers of enlightenment-seeking with a western mentality and briefly discusses meditation and mental states. He gives all the players in the key story a balanced treatment, but I wish he had focused more on the psychology of seeking behaviours and how to cut against them while still following a spiritual path. Definitely worth a read. (for the precis version, check out this article.)
The Happiness Project | Gretchen Rubin : This one came out a few years ago – basically the author experiments with being in the now, putting on a happy face (fake it till you make it), becoming less critical and more grateful, and extending herself to more people and discovers that happiness, at least to some degree, *is* a choice. I concur with her conclusion (having been a life-long experimenter in some of the very same areas), but I didn’t find anything jaw-dropping in either her practices or her final results. Worthwhile if you are looking for ideas about how to infuse your life with a less negative outlook.
Gone Girl | Gilliam Flynn: Yes, this one is now a movie and was a bestseller a couple of years ago – so I’m late to the game – but it just showed up in the book box one day. Quick read, compelling narrative, smart take on the problem of the unreliable narrator in fiction. This one is just for fun and once my step-daughter finishes the book – we’ve got the movie ready to go.
The book I’m currently working on it Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live which is a biography of the 16th century essayist Montaigne posed in one question and twenty answers to illuminate various aspects of his life and philosophy. Even though Montaigne is the inventor of the personal essay, I probably wouldn’t be that interested in his biography, but I appreciate the way that Bakewell has framed this as an exercise in philosophical study and so I picked it up. I’ve also just pulled A General Theory of Love off the shelf for a re-read as I seem to remember some pretty fabulous conclusions in there that I feel like thinking about and perhaps writing about now that I am done with the school thing for the moment.
I met with a fitness trainer on Tuesday – I’ve decided to bring some expertise and accountability to my workout and weight loss process and I figure that a little cheerleading doesn’t hurt either! As part of our introductory process, we did a postural assessment where I walked, stood, and squatted before the appraising eyes of the instructor (good thing both of us have a sense of humour or the whole thing would have been really embarrassing) – and then she pointed out my areas for correction. On the plus side, I have strong upper body carriage which is apparently unusual for desk/computer workers like myself. I chalk that up to daily meditation as it has made me much more aware of my posture. On the down side, when I am standing I roll my shoulders so that my palms are facing to my back and not my front. This is a common problem for those of us who sit at keyboards, because our hands are by necessity facing palms down for most of the day – but this isn’t the natural orientation of our shoulders! Having not given the mechanics of my body at rest and at work much thought – this has never really occurred to me – our shoulders are only really in neutral when our palms are facing out (up rather than down). If you have a tendency to sit or stand with your palms facing into your body, try turning them out right now with intention and you’ll feel your alignment improve immediately.
This morning I walked the six km to work (I’m aiming for 2 days of walking to work per week on my non-intense cardio days) – which is a great time to work on alignment and postural stuff . Although it felt a bit unnatural at first, I spent my walk with my palms turned outwards, thinking about how easy it is to accidentally program ourselves into contorted positions and habits that are generally bad for us – and while it’s not so simple to unprogram these behaviours, a little intention goes a long way.
I’m feeling really empowered around this at the moment because I have got myself back into the daily routines of exercise and healthy eating – bringing a lot more attention to these areas of my life in addition to the positive habit of meditation that I’ve cultivated over the last couple of years – and I am conscious of how much closer to human I feel when I start to shed the programmed behaviours and become more clear about my ability to step out of that programming and into another frame of being – in my body, community, neighbourhood, practice, household.
Just a small realization that I’m working to apply as I emerge from the winter and the cocoon of my body to a renewed self.