Thursday, January 27, 2011

Honouring our choices...

This time of year, things begin looking a bit bleak and drab. The grass is brown and the trees are dark gray. Some of the trees have suffered broken limbs from the high winds, while others, in wet ground, have been pushed over; their roots no longer held fast by dry ground. When there’s snow, it has a layer of coal dust on its surface, adding to the drabness of the winter.

Going into Glace Bay or Sydney, the debris on the side of the roads adds to the sense of neglect; the residue of salt turns the road’s surface a dirty white, empty coffee cups, cigarette packs, and fast food wrappings litter the side of the highway.

It was from this mind-frame that I found myself retreating earlier yesterday. I had my MP-3 player and ear buds with me and I decided to take solace in my musical medication. I had received my pay from one of my teaching jobs and it didn’t seem to be very impressive and I could feel myself slipping into despair.

I have always used music to enhance, alter, or even distort my experiences and moods, and yesterday, I was rather delighted to find the music that came on was that of Idan Raichel, a young Israeli musician who is known for his collaborations with musicians of other nationalities and religious backgrounds. I had become aware of him when a friend of mine sent me a You Tube video of his collaboration with India.Arie.

This made me think of another artist I had discovered on You Tube as well. (I sometimes have these “Domino” moments where one thought will lead to several other similar ones.)

At any rate, I began to think of all the wonderful music that I have heard in my life, and the comfort it has given me in times of emotional discomfort, and for a moment I felt connected to the musicians who created that music.

I know on some deeper level that I am connected to them. It is a fallacy of western culture that we are all separate; Man separate from God, Man separate from Woman, Man separate from other men of other cultures, white separate from black, and so on... but Eastern cultures and ancient ones, from the Druids to the Indigenous peoples of all continents, believed in the interconnectedness of all life. It stands to reason that if all we know and experience is derived from that pivotal nanosecond we know as the Big Bang, then we would all be connected to that; evolved from that, a part of that.

As the ethereal sound of the music carried me away from the drabness of a Cape Breton January, I allowed it to carry me back to the peace and tranquillity of a late January afternoon in Cape Breton.

A year ago, I was settling in, returning from Fredericton where I had hoped to live out my days. In the time since then, I have at times laboured with my decision to return, at other times rejoiced.

As I sit here in the semi-darkness, the room lit by the computer screen and the streetlamp outside on my driveway, I am gripped by the familiarity of this place. I have lived in this house for twenty-two years this spring, longer than I have lived in any other place. It has been as much a part of my life as was the house my parents built. What I see from my window is actually more familiar than the view from the windows of my first home.

The song that was featured in the You Tube video my friend sent me spoke the line, “We can debate till the end of time who's wrong and who is right, Or I can honour your choices and you can honour mine.“

... And I can also honour my own choices.

~Still Wandering...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Minutes to a Quieter Mind.

Yesterday, a good friend and frequent cycling partner sent me a link to a website that quite surprised me. When the site loaded, I saw a beautiful image of a sunset over an ocean, accompanied by the sound of waves and sea birds. A digital clock began counting backward from 2:00, 1:59, 1:58...

“Do nothing for two minutes...”

I don’t think ten seconds had passed when I began counting along, barely able to wait until two minutes had passed. 1:10, 1:09, 1:08...

I had been introduced to Meditation several years ago by more than one friend at roughly the same time. The serendipity of that was enough that I took a closer look at the idea. Some suggested lighting a candle and focusing on the flame; others suggested listening to soothing music. I tried them all. I looked into various Meditation techniques, from following my mind’s wanderings, (without trying to control the thoughts that arose) to pushing those wanderings away and vowing to deal with the things that came up at a later time.

I discovered that by following my mind’s wanderings, I made many discoveries about my mind and the way it works. It “took me places” I would not ordinarily go in terms of the kinds of thoughts I would have during that time. By attempting to hold thoughts away, and focus only on my breathing, I became aware of the influx of thoughts and holding them off was very difficult. I tried to follow briefly and then push away the thoughts and once I started pushing, other thoughts would come to replace them.

Regardless of the method I used, regardless of the results, I began to feel like I was making some progress. I was able to calm my mind during times of stress and confusion, and I was feeling less frustrated and angry with everyday living. I was able to extricate myself from the darkness of depression that had been my companion for so many years.

Slowly, over time, my confidence that I had succeeded in Meditating myself into a better mental state led me to let longer periods of time pass between Meditations. Sometimes two or three days would pass, sometimes a week. Eventually, I was Meditating only once a month or so, and finally, about a year ago, it stopped altogether. Moving from Fredericton back to Cape Breton, and all the details of that move, made such demands on my time and the state of my mind, that I quite literally forgot to take that personal time to tune the world out for a few minutes every day.

To be fair, I think there were some times when I was cycling that approached Meditation in its simplicity. The up and down stroke of the pedals, the non-conscious shifting of gears, the lack of other stimuli all seem very Meditative in retrospect, yet the heightened awareness of my surroundings; the sound of traffic, the avoidance of obstacles in the road, the “knowledge” that a dog’s body language indicated that it wasn’t going to give chase, all resulted from a Meditative State of Mind.

So when I received the link to “Do Nothing For 2 Minutes” I was alarmed at how difficult it seemed. It came as a cold, cruel reminder of just how out of touch with my inner self I have become lately. In following e-mail conversations with my friend, we both stated how much we would like to make this a regular part of our respective days. I had even mentioned to him that doing it a few times daily would be helpful. After all, unlike medication, Meditation truly DOES work on the principle that if a little is good, a lot is better!

Here, in case you missed it above, is that link for those of you who would like to try it.

I encourage you to share your experiences, either in the “comments” section below, or directly to me in a personal e-mail for those of you who have my e-mail address.

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti...

~Still Wandering…

Sunday, January 16, 2011

POTY Award!

At the annual Velo Cape Breton pot luck dinner and awards ceremony held at the Dobson Yacht Club on January 15, 2011, I was given the “Participant of The Year” award. I had been informed in advance that I had been nominated for something, but it was not revealed in what category. Jacques Coté is very good at keeping secrets. I speculated for days; “Most rhythmic rider?” (I am after all a drummer.) “Most outspoken?”

Finally, the time came to deliver the awards. As Rides Captain and all round great guy Peter Ross named the nominees for “Participant of The Year,” myself, Colette Smith and a third party whose name I can’t recall (my apologies) I felt it would go to one of the other two. After all, I didn’t participate in many of the group rides, my playing schedule keeping me out late the night before.

As Peter described the events that followed the disappearance of his bike after the Can-Bike II course in May, I understood slightly why I had at least been nominated, but I did not scour the city in search of Peter’s ride so that I would win an award. I did it because I had a bicycle stolen from me in 1982 and I remember the pain of that loss.

Bear in mind that at the time of the theft, I knew nothing of Peter beyond his role as Rides Captain and all round great guy. All I knew was that someone had stolen his ride and that was very uncool.

In truth, when I spotted his bike leaning against the side of the Needs Convenience store on George Street, across from Wentworth Park, I was on my way home. I stopped and there were three teenage males, two with skateboards, standing in front of the store. I asked if they’d seen who brought the bike and they replied “no.” I jumped to a conclusion and assumed that they had been involved (not too reliable in a court of law) and proceeded to unfasten my carrier rack to add Peter’s bike.

Once the bike was secured to my vehicle, I took it to the home of Jacques Coté and Micheline Guillot since I had no idea where Peter lived. Micheline was happy to accompany me to Peter's house and return his ride to him.

So, if doing a good deed for a fellow Velo rider is worthy of an award, then I accept gratefully, but I did only what I would hope anyone would have done. My thanks to the committee who put my name in for consideration and for choosing me as Participant of The Year.

Is it my imagination, or does coffee really taste better from a VCB mug?

~Still Wandering…

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Censorship in Canada.

WARNING! This blog entry contains offensive language and political interference. Reader discretion is advised.

"He who controls the past, controls the future"
~George Orwell

In a recent decision handed down on Wednesday, January 12, 2011 the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council deemed the Dire Straits song “Money For Nothing” as discriminatory to gays because the song contains the word "faggot" in its lyrics.

Looking at the song’s lyrics in context however, I would think musicians should be equally if not more offended. The verse in question laments the “little faggot with the earring and the make-up” making more money than an unskilled appliance delivery man. The musician being scorned also has long hair. When the song was a current hit, I too had long hair and an earring, yet I was not offended at the lyrics of the song but found them funny. I have been called “faggot” many times because of the profession I have chosen as my career.

I have many homosexual friends, some of whom are bisexual and none of them that I know of are offended by those lyrics. The song also contains the words "chicks for free." Why then are women's groups not speaking out against this subjugating sentence?

And what about the word “gay?” Once upon a time it meant “Having or showing a merry, lively mood...” Hence, when Maria from West Side Story sings “I feel pretty, Oh so pretty, I feel pretty and witty and gay...” She is expressing happiness; but today that word garners snickers and derision. Would a heterosexual actress feel reluctant to take the role of Maria because of that word?

Hold that thought.

Also under attack is the Mark Twain classic “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for its inclusion of the word “nigger.” While that word is not a part of my vocabulary, I have used it here to emphasize my points.

Again, like homosexuals, I also have friends who are of African ancestry.

I must however take exception to the removal of these words from their original texts. At the time Mark Twain was writing, “nigger” was a common, albeit cruel, word in the American lexicon. Today, it is featured profusely in rap music and the comedy acts of some of the African-American artists. In fact, I’ve watched some comedy routines such as the young Richard Pryor that offended me greatly because of the inclusion of that word, BUT... he wasn’t censored.

And that is the point I am getting to. When we start rewriting history to make it less offensive, we remove the horror that contains the lesson. It would be far better to keep the word as an example of inappropriate speech.

“Hear this word? Hear how awful it is? Understand how far we’ve come in our society by no longer using it in everyday speech?”

When we change the way books and songs were written, we cushion society from reality; a reality that if no longer prevalent, WAS at one time. This reality contains powerful messages and lessons that will be lost if history is rewritten.

I believe it is justifiable to make a word unacceptable on our streets and in current works of art. I would not use the words, “nigger” or “queer” in a book, story or song, but I refuse to accept the removal from works that are already written. That is getting dangerously close to George Orwell’s “1984” and Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451.”

Removing or changing words is to deny history. We have all seen what happens when an anti-Semite denies the Holocaust of WWII.

And rightly so.

If we allow censorship in these two incidents, it is only a matter of time until we censor Shakespeare, or worse, the Holy Texts of all religions from Hinduism and Buddhism to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Removing or changing words is to infringe greatly on our freedoms. Being told what to say, what not to say, and when we can or cannot say it, is only one short step from communism. Is that where we as Canadians really want to go?

~Still Wandering...