Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mindful Milking

I have never been responsible for the milking of a cow. I think I may have had a little try at milking, once or twice in the dimly remembered past, but it was never one of my daily chores.

I find myself thinking about the task of milking (or should I call it an art?) as I begin to explore the idea of mindfulness. Oh, sure, I've had a little try at mindfulness now and then, too, but recently I have decided that it is a key to my growth and to the healing of some troublesome patterns in my life. I have finally faced the fact that my daydreams are damaging me. Around the same time, perhaps as a cause or perhaps as a result, several experiences have pointed towards the need and the path for change.

At a retreat I attended in October, I somehow got the idea to be wordless as I went for a walk on a winding trail up the steep side of a coulee. It was native vegetation, bush and prairie grass, rich with species that I could name, but I chose not to. Taking that idea further, I chose again and again not to analyse what I was seeing, or even to narrate it in my mind, but simply to receive. No imagining how I would describe the experience later, no toying with expressive phrases, no words at all.

Paradoxically, later I found myself able to bring the entire experience vividly back to mind, and thus to describe it in as much expressive detail as I might desire, precisely because I had not been distracted during the experience by the imagined retelling of it.

It occurred to me that I smear my past, present, and future together by constantly planning and rehashing instead of being present. Nothing gets my full attention. How much benefit do I get by all this absent thought? Could I just re-assort my mind-time so that most of it was focussed on the now? If I practise being present, will that be just as good preparation for future present moments as if I imagine them and try to plan for them?

Another thought occurred to me, that if I spend most of my time being present, I will need to take some time being totally present to activities like planning, and thinking of people far away, and so on. I worry that I won't have time for that sort of focus, if I stop doing it while in the midst of something else. But maybe I will.

When I returned from the retreat, I was determined to find some books I had stashed away, books about the Enneagram, to further my self discovery. I had assumed that they would be hard to find, but they were near the top of the first box I checked. Then I heard about an Enneagram workshop, and found some online resources, and noticed that some Enneagram teachers recommended the works of Eckhart Tolle.

That same day, visiting across the street, I noticed a book by Eckhart Tolle called "The Power of Now." I borrowed it.

Meanwhile the busyness of life continued, and living from deadline to deadline, I struggled with increasing domestic chaos. I know I need a routine, but I fear imposing a routine on myself, and missing out on some important direction that I would take if I just went with the flow. Finally I decided that I must make a plan. In fact, that is the plan: to make a plan. It still hasn't happened, but like a seed invisibly changing under the soil, there is movement and new energy in my life. Lying in bed one morning, noticing how often I lie idly planning and rehashing and daydreaming in the early morning, I decided on just two things as the beginning of a plan. I gave them alliterative names to keep them in mind: Mindful Mornings, and Being in the Bathroom.

No, no, I don't mean spending a lot of time in the bathroom! I mean really Being there when I am there. And leaving when I'm finished! Otherwise I can linger on the throne of thought until my legs go numb.

I am resisting these ideas, fearing the change, fearing the loss of something, but I haven't given up on them yet.

Last night I started reading "The Power of Now." I was delighted to find a bit about being present while washing hands, noticing the slipperiness of the soap. This morning I am a flurry of activity with facing what's really in front of me, and making lists of all the things I can't fix all at once, and worrying that I will do the easy things first and not have time for the rest but finding that I am really getting a lot done. Folding clothes, I caught myself thinking about something else and realized that, in the midst of some other train of thought, I could easily fold and shelve things without even noticing that they need mending. I am about to start the dishes, and waffling. Shall I focus on the soapy water and the surfaces coming clean, or shall I use this time for some reflection on other things?

I've heard that when you milk a cow, you may have to quiet your mind before she will let down the milk. And so I bring a question for my elders on the path of right living. (Eleutheros and Contrary Goddess and Madcap Mum and Jim at Earth Home Garden, I'm thinking of you.) Do you milk (or quilt or gather eggs) mindfully? Or to put it another way, when you ponder the questions of the universe, do you keep your hands busy?


Maybe Eckhart Tolle will have some answers for me. I'm sure life will. I'll let you know. Right now, though, I'm running out of time to get those dishes done.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

An Idea whose Time Has Come

Have you noticed that some of the powers seem to have warmed to the idea of a global warming threat?

Could it be that they're finally ready to take advantage of it?

INSIGHTS: Carbon Sequestration

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


A glacier and a group of polar bears - those are the two remaining images on my sheet of "Permanent" postage stamps.

The irony is not lost on me.

The glacier stamp will travel with my registration for an event at the Calling Lakes Centre, almost 125 miles away. When we travel by car (1996 Geo Metro) to that event and back, the car will release about 100 pounds of carbon dioxide. It will release water vapour, too, but the carbon dioxide is more important as a greenhouse gas. The reason? Water condenses out of the atmosphere as rain or snow, whereas carbon dioxide is a more permanent addition, building up and driving change.

The event is an Enneagram workshop at the Calling Lakes Centre. Perhaps I will learn how to transform my preoccupation with environmental information into real action (or non-action - staying home with even greater resolve than I do now). Perhaps Garth will gain some insight into his frustration with all that.

Will the 100 pounds of carbon dioxide from our travel to this event be offset by future changes in our lives?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Health Globally, Health Locally

There's talk of promoting the "co-benefits" from using one's own energy to get to school or work:
direct health benefits through the physical exercise, and indirect health benefits through reducing greenhouse gas emissions, smog, vehicular accidents, and so on.

I'm all for it.

Of course, it's a bit sad that such an obvious connection needs a public education campaign.

And when they get talking about co-benefits from reduced meat consumption, I have to raise my usual qualification about the local (and global) benefits of consuming range-fed beef where the land is marginal for crop production.

But this story also brings to mind a caution I raised last summer. When human bodies lose weight, where does the carbon go?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Something I Didn't Learn in School

I never watch hockey anywhere except the local rink. Maybe if I did, I would hear our national anthem sung in French. Instead, it was my sister's karaoke machine that drew my attention to the French lyrics.

Have you ever seen a literal translation of our national anthem from the French version? Sometime in school, you probably learned that it was originally written in French, but did you learn what the French lyrics mean?

From the Canadian Heritage webpage about the anthem:
  1. O Canada! Land of our forefathers
    Thy brow is wreathed with a glorious garland of flowers.
    As in thy arm ready to wield the sword,
    So also is it ready to carry the cross.
    Thy history is an epic of the most brilliant exploits.

    Thy valour steeped in faith
    Will protect our homes and our rights
    Will protect our homes and our rights.

And a slightly different, perhaps even more literal, no, make that a more insightful translation, from Wikisource:
O Canada! Home of our ancestors,
Your forehead is wreathed with glorious garlands.
Because your arm knows the bearing of the sword,
It knows the bearing of the cross;
Your history is an epic
Of the most brilliant feats;
And your valour steeped in faith
Will protect our homes and our rights.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we sing such different visions of Canada, but I think we should know about it.

"Standing on guard for Canada" leaps to mind from the English version, but there is nothing of that here, at least not in an individual sense. Instead there is a vision of Canada itself wielding the sword; in singing the anthem, the individual is caught up within that vision. A subtle difference, perhaps, but I suspect that it's a powerful difference, too.

What about Canada "carrying the cross?" In the current official English version there is also a religious reference - the petition that "God keep our land glorious and free," but for me it does not convey the same sense of duty to that higher power. To me, carrying the cross means following the way of Jesus, willingly bearing the burden of the cross. Furthermore, to me the cross is a symbol of the place where spirit and matter intersect, and thus represents the lifelong struggle and blessing of being in the world. That's a powerful, humbling image when applied to a nation. Of course, others may hear "carrying the cross" to mean simply preaching conversion. Not many years ago, I too would have heard it that way. I wonder what it means to those who sing it in our national anthem?

When I saw the French lyrics on the karaoke screen, I didn't catch a lot of the meaning. It's twenty years or more since I studied French. The references to flowers and sword and cross all went by me. Still, one phrase leapt out at me from the chorus: "nos droits" - our rights.

I balked at this, as I do at most references to rights, because I think most of us have lost the sense of rights as something to be tended. If we think of rights only as something owed to us, we give up our own power and responsibility to protect, nurture, and even choose our rights. There are many "rights" being trumpeted in this world that I would gladly give up, in order to leave more room for the rights of other peoples, other generations, and other creatures.

I wonder. How differently would we English-speaking Canadians think, if instead of singing about standing on guard for our country, we sang about our country defending our rights?

I wonder. If I had not grown up with the English version of O Canada, what words and phrases in it would sound disturbing or challenging to me?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Falling Faster

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that climate change might happen too slowly for humanity to experience much conscious suffering because of it. The losses would be real, and enormous, but spread over several generations so that rosy stories of the old days would be dismissed as exaggeration or fairy tales.

Then Tim sent me an article about the arctic meltdown happening far faster than the climate models have predicted. That's an ironic twist. For years, the willfully ignorant would trot out old stories about early models overstating global warming predictions because they didn't account for clouds. Well, who knew? Errors can occur in more than one direction!

Sorry for my bitter sarcasm. I usually try to tone it down, but I'm past the point of patience.

My children have started bringing me news stories about greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. James brought me this one, about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rising faster than expected. That could cause problems for the models, eh?

Wayne, at Niches, has been writing about drought in the southeast U.S., and when he looks at a period longer than just this year, he sees that they are in their worst drought in 100 years. In his October 26th post, he has a whole round-up of news about things worsening faster than expected.

And today, I hear that the the domino effect is underway in the Canadian boreal forest. It used to be counted as a carbon sink, with tree growth removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Climate change was supposed to make it an even better sink, by accelerating tree growth. Instead, with less snow and hotter summers, there are more forest fires, so the forest has become a carbon source.

I guess it's encouraging that my kids are bringing up the subject now.

I'll feel better when they start suggesting that we walk.