Monday, 29 April 2013

This Man's Evolutionary Revolution

If I am able to embrace the idea that “there are no coincidences” which is my belief – then it should come as no surprise to me that my twenty six years of spiritual exploration (which has reached crescendo in the last four and a half years to be a nearly full – time pursuit) is combining with what some deem, the age of “mid-life” crisis to create the perfect storm of existential angst.
However “knowing” this (even just having some idea) is not in itself, a lasting source of comfort – the state of being known as “dark night of the soul” is far more than the anecdotal experience that I have read about in the writings of some of histories mystics. I’m living it – this is not some abstraction, it is real.

My personal research tells me that it can be embraced as a golden opportunity for growth and development or a portal of personal destruction. Needless to say I don’t relish the latter, though the former presents to me as perhaps the single-most ongoing call for courage I have ever faced.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a weekend long transformational gathering that was entirely run by and for men. From this experience I have learned that rites of passage, ceremony, initiation, mentorship and a place of belonging, which in other cultures are provided within a circle of men (again, for men) are sadly lacking (particularly in North America). This indeed represents my experience – there was male presence in my life growing up – though they simply modeled and perpetuated what they had learned from the men in their lives. My dad was frequently absent – due to a career as a musician in a military band. Which meant this often left my mother to look after my sister and myself. This has left me at a loss as to what defines “healthy masculinity.” This is nobodies fault – in fact I now am accountable for how the realities of my life – were used by me, to create my “stories.”

During the weekend there was plenty of opportunity to witness men holding space for men to fully express any and all feelings that were coming up for them. As the weekend unfolded I too was given the chance to express myself through the various processes and any and all feelings were welcomed – to me this was extraordinary! I was both exhilarated to connect with myself in this way and felt a profound sadness that this disconnection had been so long-standing.

Mine is a history that didn’t include an environment that was conducive to me clearly establishing my own identity. Some of the internal conflict then, comes with the realization that my life has been shaped by constraints and self-perceptions internalized from my past, many but not necessarily all, with respect to myself, as man.

For me this is a serious issue with a myriad of complexities – I will find no solace in a “little red corvette.” Part of my journey has included recovery from addictions – I therefore realize the futility of external “fixes” – no matter what form they might take. This is an emptiness that will not be filled by following the crowd – I have found no lasting contentment in attempts to console myself that my resignation, mediocrity and restlessness are not unlike that of many others. I’m also not suggesting I’m better than others, I do know, I am capable of far more than what I once believed possible  - I also know I can’t not know, what I now know, I can’t continue to play the ignorance card. There is freedom in this – as well, joy and excitement.  There is also an awareness of a finite lifetime (at least as far as the physical realm is concerned) and a price to pay for my incessant seeking of the truth – they say “ the truth will set you free.” I know this to be correct – I would also say that the truth taunts me, challenges me, is relentless and appears to me to be unwilling to negotiate. This doesn’t mean I wield my truth in a non-caring manner, without compassion – however, ignoring it doesn’t seem to be an option either. 

At times this feels like some sort of “Pandora’s box,” I wonder about the wisdom of opening the door. I also know deeply the “cost” of trying to live the truth of others, whether it’s family or cultural expectations and the profound loneliness of a life lacking in authenticity – all dishonesty begins with me, lying to myself first, then others, resulting in my remaining unseen & unheard.

I think I at one time had a romantic notion of what it meant to be conscious, enlightened, awake – in many moments I prefer the journey to that of the alternative. Still from time to time I clamour and long for the “snooze button.”

Truth or Dare

Truth or dare! (the name of a game) that existed in my youth - never having been a parent I can't say whether it continues through subsequent generations. I can tell you that during my youth the opportunity to play the game - or rather the expectations of the game, left me paralyzed with fear and deeply shamed within my circle of influence at that time.

At a point now in my life's journey where that event seems a lifetime ago and there have been innumerable acts and behaviours of mine that have added to the shame and perhaps could be said to have shame as one of the composite causes - I now "dare to tell the truth."

I have no PhD. (though I have been known to "pile it high & deep) nor do I possess what seems to me, the necessary requisite successful athletic, business, or entertainment career that lends credibility to those that then launch themselves as "motivational speakers," life-coaches or spiritual leaders.  I acknowledge, that one seeking success might consider emulating one that has been successful. I also don't wish to diminish the accomplishment of others in their chosen fields - my question is: does it necessarily ensure they have comprehensive mastery of the human condition? Certainly they have honed some effective strategies and attributes of excellence - can they then step off the podium or world tour schedule and be vulnerable with their partner or seen as less than spectacular in other arenas of human endeavour? Do "we"even want to see them as anything other than their public image? Before going any further, it is not my intention to engage in the "bloodsport" of celebrity crucifixion - rather I hope to make a case for an expanded idea of who might be considered aptly qualified, to be a role model or leader.

I take my own life profile for example (I hope this to be farther reaching than an elaborate attempt to justify my own mediocrity) - it is after all, the only life I have the right to speak on with any authority. So imagine the bulleted line items on the back of a book cover that reads:

  • adopted at birth (created a life - long story around fear of rejection & abandonment)
  • 15 years addicted to drugs and alcohol
  • 26 years in "recovery"( during which time:)
  • a 17 year marriage ensued (which failed)
  • a 28 year career was ended (resulting)
  • in virtual financial ruin
Of course there have been "accomplishments"- college graduation, black belt in martial arts, jumped out of a plane (though in hind - sight I'll never know why! I have enough fear in my life without creating that kind of terror, ever again (unless the plane is going down). There are countless successes, certifications, initiations etc. All of which might be included in the, what I've done category. But can I use them to illustrate "who I am?" It must also be considered, that I've had ideas that may have bordered on sheer genius (each, would have undoubtedly changed my life - even if it had no further impact) all of which were never made real. There have been many glorious beginnings - with a variety of conclusions including: changed my mind, dismal failure, humiliating defeat, gave up! 

Question is - would you read the book? Have I learned anything? Can I teach anything? I "dare" to believe I can! Through it all - I "dare" to believe that I am something more than all of my failures - more than some of my less than helpful"beliefs."  I suggest it takes courage to face the "truth," of my part in all this failure. That as I sift through all the shame, despair and defeat -  I stumble into love, understanding and compassion.

I have not formed a reputation around a battle cry like: "Never say die" or "Take no prisoners"
More like: "I survived wishing to die - now I choose life!" & "I've been in prison - I was judge, jury, and executioner - I'm now granting myself early parole."

From self-righteousness and arrogance - I walk toward confidence and humility.
From a painful life of disconnection, isolation and loneliness - I hope to create a world of inclusion, connection and compassion.

From thinking I know all the answers for everyone else - now I "dare" to tell the "truth" of how much it hurts to be me some days. I dare to step outside my projected image of perfectionism to reveal the shame, fear and doubt within. In doing so I know what it is when you tell me you're in pain, I know the courage it takes for us both to keep showing up - it sucks that you hurt the way you do, and I can't or won't, try to "fix" you. 

I have been privileged to have guides that have been willing to witness me open and begin to explore my heart - it has and will continue to call upon, all the truth and daring I can muster, to continue to do so. I "dare" to hold space for others to do the same. I am passionate about connection to the heart - does this make me a leader? I think it places me on a continuum, there are those ahead of me calling me forward, I can then look over my shoulder and urge the next person forward, so then, more like a link in the chain. I have a responsibility to somehow contribute - in that light sharing my failures becomes a success. I'm clear it will connect hearts - will I ever sell a book? "Truth or Dare!"

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Green Green Grass Close to Home

Not more than fifteen minutes away from my home, which is in a neighborhood that is a mix of urban/suburban, depending which way you walk, is what I affectionately describe as my playground, more accurately a Garry Oak meadow/park. Within its boundaries is an actual playground (which I don’t frequently utilize) though I have occasionally gone for a “swing.” It truly is a gift to have this oasis to provide a welcome diversion from city living, so near by.
Each season offers it own delightful flavour – at this time, spring has a firm foothold therefore the park has been adorned accordingly. It began with carpets of snowdrops. Then it was as though the carpet were picked up and shaken out and once laid back in place there is a mixture of purple and yellow crocuses – followed by daffodils. The dazzling display doesn’t end there, sometime ago the area was part of a region utilized by the local First Nations community to cultivate camas.  Soon swaying in the warm breeze will be legions of beautiful purple flowers. The oak trees are just beginning to show signs of the return of their unique but familiar foliage. Seemingly randomly arranged around the meadow, their forms twisted and contorted as they reach for the gradually increasing warmth of the lengthening sun light. Time and wisdom etched into the bark of these aging historians – each a keeper of local lore that has occurred in their presence and disappeared through the annals of time.
This relatively small natural reserve is a sanctuary for me – I carry myself in its midst as I would in any other place of worship, with reverence for the life present there and those lives that walked the land before me. It is truly a place to witness the miracles of creation. Speaking of miracles – just yesterday I witnessed a British Bulldog getting “air” (as he chased his Frisbee) all four legs off the ground, I didn’t think it possible for that breed, I never seen one so animated. I was humbled as I recognized the limitations I had previous projected on him.
There is a water reservoir on site – so always an opportunity to witness the variety of resident ducks and seasonally, Canadian geese. Late summer yields a scrumptious afternoon feed of wild blackberries!
There is some sort of “communication tower” on the grounds as well – it is often utilized be a pair of bald eagles – where they are well able to maintain a watchful vigil. Many other people seldom occupy the park it seems – so it is an ideal location for solitude. There are a few rocky knolls that offer a panoramic view – once I become embraced within, I soon forget how close I am to the city.
On one occasion I sat a top the rocky outcropping – I had thought alone, I had just begun to meditate, when I heard someone calling to me. A woman asked me if I had seen a flashlight in the area (she had been there the night before and lost it) I indicated that I had not. She then asked me if I would be willing to help her – I thought she had meant to look for the flashlight, so I said sure. We did look around a while and then she said there were more important matters at hand.
She led me to base of the communication tower – where she explained we were going to set up an “altar.” Familiar with some varieties of ceremony I thought nothing of the task at hand (I was pleased and curious to participate). She explained others were supposed to meet her, as they had yet to show, she wanted to get started. As I said, nothing up to that point struck me as being unreasonable, so we proceeded – she had “tea-light” candles to place in jars (which were to be arranged in a particular fashion upon a blanket). There were prayers and various offerings to be included. As we worked she explained further that this spot had been chosen to set an intention for Peace (alright I thought – I’m on board with that) she went on to say the tower is used to broadcast communication – “right?” she waited for my answer. I replied “ya – as far as I know.” She then said, “So we set this altar at the base of the tower – it contains all these prayers and intentions for peace (which are all energy) the energy is then transmitted through the tower and out into the world!!”
She didn’t bat an eye or miss a beat with her explanation – which led me to believe she was serious. As I listened to this plan – it was one of those moments where my skepticism was suspended and as I considered what she proposed I thought, “Hmm – okay, sure, why not? Who am I to say otherwise?”
So we carried on with setting up – we had just completed when two other fellows joined us. She hugged them both so I guessed they were her missing assistants. She introduced them “Peter, Simon and herself “Mary” I thought nothing of it – we had got so involved in setting up earlier we didn’t introduce ourselves. I reciprocated, “I’m Rob.” “So Rob, are you familiar with the disciples?”
“Ya, Sleepy, Doc, Bashful” I answered tongue in cheek. She laughed, “No really, do you know of them?” “Well I don’t know that I could name them all, but you are referring to the followers (the inner circle of Jesus). “ “Yes she replied, so once again this is Peter, Simon and I am Mary – Mary Magdalene.”
Okay I though, this is getting a little peculiar – still, they seem harmless. She asked me if there was a disciple that resonated for me. It took me very little time to reply, “yes, Thomas – that would be Doubting Thomas.”
“Alright then you are Thomas!” “What do you mean? – Just like that, I am Thomas?” She said, “Well know, just a minute.” She pulled a little vial out of her bag poured some of its contents in the palm of her hand and before I knew what was happening she made the sign of the cross on my forehead and said – “Now you are Thomas.”
I was at a loss for words – I just thanked her, though I began to think I was in a little deeper than perhaps I wanted to be. The time that followed was filled with small talk; she continually expressed to her friends how helpful I had been setting up the altar and conveying her gratitude to me. After exchanging a few more pleasantries I excused myself – she gave me a big hug and I left. I have been to the park many times since – at various times of day or evening I have never seen these folks again (or their altar). I guess no harm done (though a friend that does ceremony was concerned and suggested I be careful about allowing people to “anoint me in the future). Admittedly it felt a bit invasive (after the fact) but it happened so fast – I was just flowing with the moment.
Unquestionably this small green space in the heart of the city is an extraordinary place indeed.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Men's Evolutionary Revolution

What springs to mind when considering “men’s issues”? For some it may come as a surprise that such a thing exists (at least beyond the commonly held supposition that men lie behind and are responsible for, all the world’s ills).

It may be equally surprising for some to learn that the narrowly defining criteria known, as “patriarchy” is as much a problem for many men as it is for women. The fact of the matter is that all men are not oppressive, dominating, violent and discriminatory and ignores the reality that studies show, men are 8 times more likely to commit suicide than women, statistically die younger (often through violent means). If as a society “we” should view violence toward women as unacceptable (and I believe that to be true) I would ask why is it seen as “acceptable” that men succumb to an “early” demise – either by their own hand or that of another?

Men continually bump up against the constraints created for them through ancestral inheritance, systemic expectations and societal role assignment (which means they have been created by men and women both).

Historical roles of hunter/protector are incongruent with the demands of a 21st century western lifestyle. Rites of passage, ceremony, initiation, mentorship and a place of belonging, which in other cultures are provided within a circle of men, are sadly lacking (particularly in North America). Modern day archetypes of rugged, individualistic men that are awarded the accolades of success through unconscious competitiveness are imposed upon and indeed attempt to ignore, the call of heart and soul for community, cooperation, and connection.

With scant allowance in our culture for men to effectively express grief and anger these feelings are repressed (sometimes for years) where they fester and become a toxic cesspool of energies which are then vetted upon family and society in a subversive fashion and slowly and insidiously erode the very fabric of a man’s well-being.

What of sexuality? Though I don’t have the “numbers” to verify my assertion – the degree of collective shame, the cloak pertaining to human sexuality in our culture, has many young men seeking "guidance" on their sexuality from the media and the internet – neither providing a desirable outcome.

Dogma and external role expectations are a poor substitute for the healthy expression of emotions and conscious strategies (that benefit society as a whole – not just the individual) in fact; they don’t serve any useful purpose. Unmet needs for belonging and community are met through “shadow” strategies such as street gangs. The ignoring of one’s feelings, employing instead, cold rationalization and intellectualization can justify violence in a variety of forms (physical, emotional, intellectual) from one group, toward another. The world can no longer stand the ongoing assault of these shadow personalities (& shadow groups) acting out, perpetuating their own wounds and seeding humanity with subsequent generations of victims and future perpetrators.

The spiritual path for men (as I see it) is one of healing (wounds & shadow) must be brought to the light (where each can own and become accountable for) their own anger, grief, pain and that which they have inflicted upon others.

Naturally healing dialogues would ideally occur across gender divides – but equally if not more important, is the need for men to learn to be open with and supported by, other men – for it is here that some of the deepest wounds exist.

The path then, consists of shining the light of truth and a willingness to be transparent (for dis-ease thrives and proliferates in the shadows). At all cost “spiritual whitewashing” is to be avoided – one cannot “behave” as though the shadow doesn’t exist. In fact it is at great cost that this be allowed to occur, for great crimes against humanity have been committed by these means – atrocity blanketed in self-righteousness, a deadly combination!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cedar Song

Climbing Skyward,

The Mother of Creation,

Can no longer contain evolutionary destiny.

Emerald green appendages,

Clamour to embrace the heavens.

Time tested sentries,

Guardians of timeless wisdom.

Deep subterranean foothold,

Anchored in the abyss.

Able to withstand the tempestuous chaos,

Of the storm from nowhere.

Silence broken,

A ringing windsong,

Echoes through the canopy.

For a moment in time,

You held me.

At the altar of my heart,

I place the blessing of your presence.


A soul kissed by eternity.