Monday, July 18, 2016

Grace and Peace with Rob Bell

I begin with a deeeeep s i g h h h h. 

A couple of deep in and out breaths. 

So here we are. And, like most of you I am feeling the heaviness. The weight of the messed up world on our shoulders and in our hearts. Like the quote I saw scroll through my newsfeed this morning:


With all that has been happening at what seems to be an acceleration of hate and violence around the globe, I have been turning inward on my own journey of growth and transformation these days, seeking ways to calm my own spirit and make sense of it if that is possible. 

This past weekend I spent a day in Brisbane listening to Rob Bell speak on the ideas from his book - How to Be Here. I have been on a Rob Bell kick lately. His podcasts (The Robcast), are my constant companions while I cook or busy myself around the house. I read this latest book in preparation for the weekend. Devoured may be a better word than read, as I cannot seem to get enough of his wisdom lately. 

His Australian tour could not have come at a better time for me. There are periods in my life that seem to come when I find myself needing to gorge on some soul food. Now is one of those seasons. He did not disappoint. Many people I talk to do not know who Rob Bell is and I find myself having to explain a bit about him. He is a motivational speaker, former pastor and author and was touted as one of the top 100 influential people in the world by Time Magazine in 2011. He has toured with Oprah and Deepak Chopra and is a member of the Compassion Collective, a group of 5 authors including Elizabeth Gilbert, Glennon Doyle Melton, Brene Brown and Cheryl Strayed. The group was formed to raise money for Syrian refugees and continues to fundraise for various causes. 

This group is like the Brat Pack of Conscious Living. They are so on fire right now, it is hard to imagine their flame getting extinguished. With any luck, it will just continue to spread and keep raising awareness and dollars for those in need. The world needs their energy and insight more than ever and I for one have jumped on their introspective bandwagon on my own spiritual journey with renewed fervor.  Since 2007 and the release of Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, slowly but surely, my own life has steadily transformed. Next came Brene Brown's epic  Daring Greatly showing us how vulnerability and the courage to allow it in our lives could be a game-changer. That pushed me up another stair. Around the same time, Wild author Cheryl Strayed shared her story of her solo journey of over 1,000 miles on the Pacific Coast Trail that took bravery and courage to a whole new level of what it takes to heal for some. In so many ways these three women accompanied me on my own trail of transformation and now, more recently, I have discovered Glennon Doyle Melton and her blog - Momastery and found her story compelling and inspiring. She gives hope to anyone who has ever faced addictions. And now, as I embrace the wisdom of Rob Bell, I find myself elevated to an entirely new level of growth.

He has helped me make sense of the journey. Until now, it never felt like the big questions had answers. Why am I here? What is the meaning of it all? What is the point? I watched Rob Bell's video called Everything is Spiritual 2016 and it was like a lifetime of seeking and searching had finally hit pay dirt. So I started to dig deeper and read more of his books and listened to more of his podcasts and I am so happy to have found some teachings and conversations that address the big questions that combine science and spirituality, allowing them to co-exist in a way that makes logical sense to me, without the attached dogma of organized religion. 

There is a great story that Rob Bell tells that also gives me a way to explain to people who he is better than I can, if that makes sense. Hear me out.

He went to his mailbox one day to collect his mail and found a small painting inside. It was done by an artist who lived in his neighbourhood. He was familiar with this dude's work as he had seen it in a gallery. The guy does paintings on sandpaper of all things. The painting he made for Rob was of a hand emerging from the earth holding a bunch of strings. The strings were attached to clouds like a bunch of helium filled balloons hovering up in the sky. Rob asked the artist what the painting meant. The artist told him that he wondered who Rob was and what he did. So, in order to find out, he attended one of Rob's events. After the event, he created the painting to give to him. He told Rob that after hearing him speak, he now understood what exactly it was he did for a living. He told him that he tied up the clouds for people. He took all those thought bubbles we have floating around up in our heads and pulled them together. 

Yes! That is what he does folks. It is what he has done for me and it feels amazing. I could not have explained it any better than that. It also helps that he is an engaging, funny and captivating speaker. This energetic, enthusiastic man is bringing a positive, forward-thinking interpretation of Christian values into the world that deserve air time. I will attach a few links here for anyone who is interested in taking a look.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Longing for What?

 Sehnsucht (n.)

Origin: German
“The inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what”; a yearning for a far, familiar, non-earthly land one can identify as one’s home

Hiraeth is a longing for one's homeland, but it's not mere homesickness. It's an expression of the bond one feels with one's home country when one is away from it.

These two words have resonated with me recently. The first word, Sehnsucht has a slightly different meaning in that it is a longing for a non-earthly land and the second word, Hiraeth (of Welsh origin) is the longing for an actual place on earth. 
I find myself falling somewhere in between these two definitions. Some days my heart positively aches for Canada - the moist air, the forests, the lakes, a crisp autumn day, the scent of lilacs in spring. Other days, my mind is searching for some combination of Parrots and Cardinals, Kangaroos and Deer, Palm trees and Hardwood forests. I have one foot on old soil and one foot on new sand. It leaves me with a sense of feeling lost. Where do I belong? 
I always thought that home was where the heart is and I still believe that is true. But does our whole heart belong to just one person? From a romantic perspective I think yes. But what about the other bits of your heart? The fragments
that remain with family and friends and place. I asked Mick if he felt like this when he spent almost a year with me in Canada. I asked him if he missed the smell of eucalyptus, the endless sunshine, the sound of laughing Kookaburras and he said no. He said he only missed the people. His family. His friends. I was surprised that he did not give much thought to his physical landscape. Was I unique? Why do I miss the actual ground I grew up on? Why is my connection to the earth beneath my feet so ingrained in my body?
There is also a yearning for home in me that I cannot define specifically. I was born and raised in St. Catharines, Ontario, but I don't long to return to that city. I spent years in Vancouver and Toronto, but neither of those two places are pulling me back either. When I meditate upon the longing, my mind always goes to remote places where I am surrounded by forests and water and boulders or mountains. These places are filled with nothing but the sounds of nature. Wind. Waves. Lapping water. Rustling leaves. Birdsong. There is no white noise. No traffic hum. 
Could this be my Sehnsucht? And could my Sehnsucht exist in harmony with my earthly origins vs non-earthly? Are some of us simply more physiologically sensitive to our physical roots than others? As much a I have always felt in close relation to the actual landscape of my homeland, it has never been as acute as it is now after almost three years absence. Can some people adapt better than others to extreme climate change? Are we really meant to stray too far from our home climate zones for more than brief periods of time? 
There is no doubt that the incidence of skin cancers in Australia is the highest in the world because most of the people who migrated here from Britain and Europe do not have the protective melanin in their skin to deal with the harsh and intense sun. Yet, despite their inability to adapt to the sun, they have adopted Australia as their home. Interestingly however, there are still many who insist on keeping old customs and traditions alive from their past. Cooking hot turkey dinners at Christmas in 40 degree summer weather comes to mind! 
But what of Hiraeth? Do they experience deep-seated longings for the English countryside generations later? Does time diminish the longing? If I were to stay here the rest of my life, would Hiraeth fade? It is truly a conundrum. When I was in Canada last fall, after six weeks, I was missing my life in Australia. Or was I just missing Mick? Our life here. Our home here. Maybe the cold wet weather got to me.  But after a few weeks back in the land down under I became bogged down in Hiraeth once more. Spring arrived in Canada as autumn (slightly cooler temperatures) arrived in Queensland. I wanted to see the emerging tips of crocus and daffodils and tulips and hyacinths poking through the still slightly hardened soil. I wanted to smell the musty wet damp of rotting fallen leaves as the snow melted. I yearned to see the return of a robin and witness the nest building. So, what is THAT? What is that deep-seated pull to be a part of the emerging spring? Can it be shaken off? Well, yes, it can, but it hovers beneath the surface, not unlike the bloodroot and trout lilies on the forest floor waiting for the first hint of warmth after remaining dormant all winter. 
Is there a part of me that remains dormant here? Does that part of me need the changing seasons? Are we energetically programmed and connected to our birthplace? Is it a longing for a moment in time? A moment in the past that seemed perfect? Need I be reminded that I need to live in the now? Embrace the present. Of course I know all this intellectually. I have read Alan Watts and Eckhart Tolle and other philosophers and spiritual teachers thoughts so I am constantly grappling with remaining conscious and trying not to dwell on the past or worry about the future, but still I experience the longings. 
Do we contain a permanent imprint of home from birth? Is it in our DNA? How about those nomadic tribesmen I read about once that die if they are imprisoned because they cannot "live" inside four walls. I realize this is an extreme form of Hiraeth, but still. I would not compare my longing to anything near that powerful, but it is a constant hum I have difficulty ignoring. 
I will have an opportunity to explore all of this further come December when I return to my beloved homeland once again. In the meantime I will enjoy the too short winter here in Queensland where socks and slippers and flannel sheets make an all too brief appearance offering me some relief from the tropical climate that dominates the rest of the year. There are really only two seasons here - autumn and summer. 
I don't know "weather" it should matter so much, but for me it does.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

It's a Long and Winding Road to Marital Bliss...and missing from many maps

I heard some news yesterday that came as a shock and surprise to me. For the past 24 hrs, it has been weighing on me as I have been processing my feelings around it. It has nothing to do with me personally, so you would think I would just shrug it off and carry on, but it has opened up the whole conversation about relationships and how they ebb and flow and if left to flounder without effort from both sides can lead to extreme pain and heartbreak for everyone concerned.

When I learned yesterday that author, Elizabeth Gilbert and her husband Jose (Felipe in Eat, Pray, Love) were separating, my own heart sunk. No, I thought, not them. Not them. Not them. If they can't make it, what hope is there for the rest of us? For those of you who are not familiar with their story, you might think I am over-reacting in my disappointment. For those of you who do know how carefully she entered her relationship with him after her very painful divorce, with trepidation and eyes wide open, you will likely be as stunned as I was that they were not able to go the distance. 

It just speaks to the whole relationship journey and what a difficult road it is for many. No one goes into a marriage thinking it will end. We all dream of happily ever after and growing old together and celebrating loving milestones and having babies, maybe grand children, and creating a long and happy life as a team. I don't know why Liz and Jose are parting. I am sure there are many who are speculating as to why. No one really ever knows what goes on inside an intimate relationship. I know there are marriages that weather many storms and continue to thrive. There are marriages that last that really shouldn't. Some stay together for economic reasons (that's a biggie). There are marriages comprised of what appear to be couples who are more like roommates vs. intimate partners. There are so many marriages that are less than ideal unions. Is a mediocre marriage better than being alone? What are the necessary components of a great marriage? I often marvel at the long marriages. The couples who have been together for 50, 60, 70 years or more and seem happy. Note I said "seem". I am sure some are. But I think just as many of them are perhaps just too old and tired to bother making waves after 50 years. They have mastered the art of putting up and shutting up, or have carved out a sort of separate existence for themselves within the union. Besides, divorce is costly, and what would the kids say?

It is no doubt easier to step away from a spouse when money is not an issue. Like Liz. Perhaps they were not growing and evolving together or they no longer wanted the same lifestyle. Perhaps not having any children together made it easier to walk away. I would like to believe they just grew apart and that neither of them stepped outside the marriage with another, but even if that is what happened, we all know that a marriage is in trouble long before someone has an affair. So I guess what I am struggling with is how did they miss it? How did they miss the early unravelling? After all their past experiences with marriage and their vow to make it work this time, what happened? I think that is the crux of it. Knowing when you are no longer connecting in some area is the key. Recognizing that something is amiss is the first step. Both partners working through it, the second. Making concrete changes to re-connect is the third. Maybe they did all these things but could not reach a compromise. 

If it really is true that we all just want to love and be loved, then why is that very love we so long for not enough to keep us together? Is it that we stop making the relationship a priority? I think that is pretty common. One spouse becomes so consumed by a career or cause or some other activity outside the marriage that the neglected partner starves to death. I just spoke to a woman yesterday who ended her marriage of 37 years last year. She told me she ran out of the strength to keep holding it together. In 37 years he had only told her he loved her 6 times. SIX. (she had kept count). Her eyes were glassy with unwept tears as she said that to me. She seemed so fragile and heartbroken I wanted to hug her but I barely know her. She is a friend of a friend, so I don't know their whole story, but what I do know is that she devoted 37 years of her life to a man who was incapable of expressing his love verbally and she was a woman that desperately needed to hear him say those words. Good GAWD! Why do we settle? Why do we keep hoping things will change? Why do we allow ourselves to accept less than we deserve? Is loneliness that bloody frightening? Is the thought of divorce that scary? Are our lives not worthy of more? Is a cake with Happy 50th Anniversary so damn important?

When Elizabeth Gilbert announced her separation yesterday, she was clearly speaking from a place of deep pain and heartache. No doubt her decision to not settle or remain in a marriage that was not making her happy is as painful, or more so, than staying. She said she would be absent from social media for a while as she stepped away to deal with her personal life. She reminded all of us that this was "not a story she was writing, it was a story she was living." She shared a poem with all of her fans that she felt was helping her through the pain. I will re-share it with you here now as it speaks profoundly to the notion that when a marriage ends, it is not necessarily a failure.

Failing and Flying

Related Poem Content Details

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew. 
It's the same when love comes to an end, 
or the marriage fails and people say 
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody 
said it would never work. That she was 
old enough to know better. But anything 
worth doing is worth doing badly. 
Like being there by that summer ocean 
on the other side of the island while 
love was fading out of her, the stars 
burning so extravagantly those nights that 
anyone could tell you they would never last. 
Every morning she was asleep in my bed 
like a visitation, the gentleness in her 
like antelope standing in the dawn mist. 
Each afternoon I watched her coming back 
through the hot stony field after swimming, 
the sea light behind her and the huge sky 
on the other side of that. Listened to her 
while we ate lunch. How can they say 
the marriage failed? Like the people who 
came back from Provence (when it was Provence) 
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy. 
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, 
but just coming to the end of his triumph.