Fifty Shades of Green

green1It’s rained all winter here, days on end of mild and misty grey, and always, the drip – or drum – of rain in the trees. One of the great gifts of living in the temperate rain forest is that even in the grey, there is always green; green in the heavy boughs of cedar, weighted and wet; green in the shaggy moss and bright ground cover; green in the glossy leaves of the arbutus. Even though it’s grey, there is always green.

green3And then, the sun shines, and the forest comes alive, a thousand shades of verdant green. The sunlight slants between the highest boughs of cedar and fir, and bounces off the sword ferns and salal and Oregon grape; it illuminates the fat carpets of deep green moss and shines through delicate lichens. The muted darkness of the forest is transformed.

green5 And as I revel in this beauty, I think of e e cummings’ words, a perfect prayer for the woods: “i thank You God for most this amazing/ day;  for the leaping greenly spirits of trees/ and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything/ which is natural which is infinite which is yes.”

green6green4

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Mom’s Taxi: A Valentine for My 15 Year Old Son

My boyHere’s how I spent Valentine’s Day: driving my 15 year old son all over the Victoria area, delivering him to appointments and helping him with a number of errands. We started out around 9 am, which is pretty early for a 15-year old on a Saturday morning. He wandered down the stairs, bleary-eyed  and still rumpled from sleep, and gave me a big hug. He has always been cuddly and I love that at 15, he still deigns to hug his mom. He had a quick breakfast and then began his work for the day.

And he does have work to do. In September, his rugby team is going on tour to England and Wales during the Rugby World Cup. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of opportunity. He’ll be playing against other schoolboy sides, but he’ll also get to attend a couple of World Cup games. One of the ways he’s raising money is by recycling bottles for family and friends. It is sticky (and stinky!) work, but surprisingly lucrative. And he’s prepared to do whatever it takes to raise the money for this trip.

 

g2My boy discovered rugby a couple of years ago, when he played on his middle school’s team. Within months, he had forsworn his first love, soccer, and dedicated himself completely to his new passion. When September rolled around that year, he walked away from years of soccer, and signed up for club rugby. It didn’t matter that he was the least experienced player on the team. It didn’t matter that he spent most of that first season on the sidelines. It didn’t matter that the closest club team was a forty minute drive from home. He loved the game. He loved the camaraderie of the team, the loyalty. He loved this “game of thugs, played by gentlemen.”

rugbyHe applied himself to learning the game, everything from passing the ball to tackling to kicking. He practiced hard and spent countless hours with Will, who is a rugby coach, and on his own, learning to kick for conversion. By the time the next school season came around, he had the skill and the quiet confidence to captain his school team through a strong season. By July, he made the team that represented the lower island at the provincial championships.

SMUSAlong the way we have all watched proudly, awed by his determination and focus. We’ve cheered him on from the sidelines, driven him back and forth to at least three practices and one game a week, washed his stinky gear, and replaced countless mouth guards. (If only I had known, I would have invested in a company producing mouth guards).  And on Valentine’s Day, I spent my day driving him around yet again, another day in service to rugby. We loaded up the van with our empties, then headed to a friend’s to pick up their empties too. From there, we hit the recycling depot where we sorted and recycled the bottles, and then raced across town to get my boy to the gym for a workout. From the gym, we had to go to the bank, so he could transfer money for his trip into my bank account, and then off to the sporting goods store to purchase – you guessed it – a new mouth guard.

conversionFor years, I’d see those bumper stickers that read, “Mom’s Taxi,” and dread the day when that would be my life. Well, that time has come. But here is what I didn’t realize, the secret of every mother of a busy teenager: being “Mom’s Taxi” is actually a privilege. I am happy to drive, because my boy, at 15, is so busy in his life, that if I weren’t driving him, I would hardly see him. Driving him around, I have precious time with him, time to check in and talk, time to listen to his stories, time to laugh and connect. The teenage years are fleeting and so I’m savouring this time with my boy. Even if most of it is on the highway.

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Signs of Spring

spring spirea

The mild air, sea-damp and briny, washes over me as I head out into the woods. Above me, I hear the flutter and rustle of first birds, branches waving as a stellar jay shrieks and takes flight. Pale green leaves unfurl on delicate branches, and the first fragile blossoms of bridal veil spirea unfold, weighted by raindrops. Around me, I hear the ancient creak of a solitary frog, the layers and layers of variegated birdsong, the clear green notes of an early robin.

Spring , in all its promise, in all its rapture, is on its way.

I only need to slow down and pay attention.

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Stretching Myself

Paddling in the Broken Group IslandsMy favourite story about yoga is from a few years back when my dear friend Rob and I joined a kayaking tour in the Broken Islands. Awakening in the tent the morning after our first day of paddling, my arms ached from shoulders to fingertips. Rob, who has practiced yoga for years, sat up, still in his sleeping bag and began stretching. I followed along, feeling my muscles stretch and loosen. “Ohhhh! That feels amazing!” I moaned. “Mmm. So good!”

I carried on like this for at least five minutes before hearing an embarrassed cough outside our tent.

“Yoga!” I wanted to shout. “We’re just doing yoga!” But nobody would have believed me.

After a long hiatus, I’ve started doing yoga again. It’s another one of those practices that makes me feel really great, but that for a long time I’ve neglected. In this Year of Living Passionately, I’m making it a priority. Yoga is one of those things that I’ve found hard to fit in to my life. Not only is it hard to find a class I like at a convenient time, but I also struggle a bit with perpetually feeling like a beginner. In recommitting to yoga,  I’m stretching myself in more ways than one. And even though I have far to go as I build strength and balance and flexibility, I’m enjoying the practice.

Turret Island Broken Group IslandsI wish I could be like Rob, who practices on his own every morning. But I am a beginner. I need someone to take me through a routine. I need someone to remind me to flex my feet and drop my shoulders. I need someone to remind me to breathe.  And so I’m grateful to Meagan, who runs the Monday night flow class I’m attending. (There’s that word flow again!)

And I’m grateful for Do Yoga With Me, a website with a huge variety of yoga videos, many of them filmed on the beautiful local beaches of Victoria! Even if I only have a spare half hour, I can still fit in a short yoga routine.  Not only do I benefit from the good, clear yoga instruction, but I also get a reminder of how lovely my little corner of the world really is.

I’m stretching myself this year. And it feels great.

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Thirty Days of “Om”

tulipI’ve been meditating for a month now, just ten minutes every morning as soon as I wake. It’s a practice I’ve experimented with from time to time, but this is the first time I’ve made a commitment, however small, to practicing regularly. I’d like to tell you that after my thirty-day meditation challenge, I am a changed woman, a woman who exudes calm and purpose, who floats unruffled through her days, who epitomizes “ethereal.”

But that wouldn’t be quite true.

After thirty days of meditating, I am still a woman who is disorganized, who perpetually runs late, who swears under her breath as she tries to find her phone in the morning. Ethereal, I suspect, will never be part of my repertoire.

But after thirty days, here’s what I am noticing: I am calmer. I’m more focused at work.

And I’m becoming aware of how busy my mind is. I can worry like nobody’s business. I can compose entire blog posts on my drive home from work. In a twenty-minute walk, I can leap randomly between thirty different topics: my kids, my thighs, the dog, the weather, the meaning of the word ethereal, that student who is making me crazy, my dad’s lasagna… You get the idea. At least now, though, I’m aware. And I’m learning how to calm my mind,  how to settle.

The other thing I’m learning these days is how shallow my breath tends to be. As I practice meditating, I am finally learning to breathe. (This, I suspect, is a good thing!)

I read recently about keystone habits, habits, like exercising, that have far-reaching effects in our lives. I am pretty sure that meditation might be a keystone habit for me.

I started meditating as a thirty-day challenge, but I’m going to continue with this practice daily. I can feel already how good it is for me. I can feel already how much calmer I am. I can feel already an ethereal aura settling around me as I search for my phone.

 

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Creative Flow

vision“Flow” is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow

It’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. My youngest son, who is ten, and who loves nothing more than a whole day in his pajamas, has settled himself beside me at the dining room table. We each have a pair of scissors, and between us, a stack of magazines. I am making a collage, an activity I haven’t engaged in since I was about ten. My son has a couple of little projects on the go, projects that evolve as the afternoon unfolds. As he works away, I page through the magazines one by one, looking for words and images that represent in some way who I want to be and what I want to experience in the coming year. I cut out words like “energy” and “joy” and “calm.” I tear out phrases like, “Live deeply. Travel light.” I find calming images of the water, photos of exotic locations throughout Asia, and pictures that for one reason or another I find beautiful or inspiring. I am creating a vision board. And as I arrange the images and overlay the words, making adjustments until everything feels right, I am completely entranced, utterly unaware of time passing.

photomandala3aThis is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalvi (whose name I will one day learn to pronounce) calls “flow.” It’s that experience of being swept away by an activity, of being so engrossed that we lose track of time. It’s a sensation I’m most likely to experience while engaging in some form of creative expression. And it’s why I’ve made a promise to myself this year to do something artistic at least once a week. What’s surprising is once I deliberately make an effort to do one small creative thing, I am inspired to do more. In the last week or so, I’ve made a collage, written a poem, worked on my novel, taken photographs and figured out how to make (very cool) photo mandalas. It is all done in the spirit of “exuberant imperfection,” done for the joy of it, for the sake of the creative experience, for the sensation of flow.

As I’m writing tonight, Will is working in the kitchen. I notice my guilt rising. “I should go and help out,” I think. But then I hear him singing softly as he works, and I realize that he, too, is in his own flow state, happily toasting and grinding spices, chopping garlic and ginger, creating an aromatic tomato chutney to accompany a curry dinner he’s making later this week. I leave him to his cooking, and return to my writing.

***

What activities induce a flow state in you?

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The Art of Living

reflections 

I’m lying in a darkened room, my body encased in a large cedar steam chest; herb-scented steam drifts from the chest, and I close my eyes and inhale deeply. I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed in my entire life. I am at Sapphire Day Spa, an Ayurvedic sanctuary in Victoria. Will has surprised me with an amazing treatment that includes a traditional Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage, an herbal steam, and an exfoliation treatment. By the time the treatment draws to a close, I feel like a goddess; my body feels utterly sacred.

whole_foodsFor years I’ve been drawn to Ayurveda, an ancient Indian system for well being. Translated loosely, the word Ayurveda means, “the science of living.”   I prefer, though, the translation that Sapphire Spa suggests: “the art of living.” Over the past few months I’ve begun to investigate this natural and holistic system for health and the more I learn, the more intrigued I become.

What I like the most about Ayurveda is that it is a system designed to nourish mind, body and spirit. It emphasizes eating whole foods in season and using herbs and spices for maintaining good health;  it encourages a deep connection with nature and the natural cycles of life; it promotes the practice of meditation and yoga, and the art of slowing down.  I’m simplifying, of course; in fact, I’m barely skating over the surface. But I’m drawn to these basic premises, to the deep way they address self-care. Ayurveda  speaks to me.

winter_beachAnd I find attractive the suggestion I’ve read again and again: start from where you are and just make a few changes.  I love the idea of starting small, of keeping things simple. And so at this point, I’m just being far more mindful about what I eat and how I relax. Every day. Meditating helps. So does yoga. So does the spice- infused ginger tea that Will brews in enormous quantities. And I’m making sure I get out for daily walks in the woods or by the ocean.

Now I just have to figure out how to get back for another of those delicious Ayurvedic spa treatments!

 

 

 

 

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