Thursday, December 7, 2017

No Ordinary Love

I bonded with a little lame chick in the Amazon rainforest.  A few weeks ago I travelled over 6,000 kilometres to the Peruvian jungle where there's a myriad of exotic, fabulous creatures.  Some of the animals that inhabit the Amazon rainforest are the mighty, mystical Jaguar, and ocelots, capybaras, anteaters, along with birds such as harpy eagles, macaws, toucans and hummingbirds.  But I ended up making a special connection with a lowly chicken.  Go figure.
She was still very young and one of her legs was deformed, causing her to walk with a sweet, awkward, little gait.  I loved her right away, because I've always had a soft spot for animals and people who hobble.  Something about their noble efforts to compensate for being off-balance endears them to me.
I went to the jungles of Peru to find balance and emotional stability and heal from old wounds in the sacred ceremonies of Grandmother Ayahuasca. It's a subject I've written about a few times on this little web of mine. 
Grandmother had been calling me to have tea with her in the jungle since this past summer.  The signals she sent were numerous and unmistakable, but because I simply couldn't afford the trip I didn't pay much attention.  Then one day I got a lucrative commercial gig - a joy in itself - and voila! I was able to sign up for a retreat that not-so-coincidentally happened while I was turning 66 years old. In numerology Six is my life path number and means a great deal to me, magical thinker that I am.  So when all the stars aligned for me to celebrate my 66th birthday having tea with Grandmother, I didn't waste a moment making travel plans.  I arranged to visit the ayahuasca retreat aptly named Grandmother's Home.  It also goes by the Harakbut name of Parign Hak, which means the same thing.
I did not make the decision to go to Peru for an ayahuasca retreat lightly.  It was deeply considered, especially because my experiences with Grandmother's jungle juice have always been very difficult -  nauseating, in fact.   I know that I experience nausea more than most people who drink her tea.  If everyone had the same extreme physical reaction that I do, nobody would be drinking it at all.  After all, who would deliberately subject themselves to several hours of vomit-inducing biliousness?  Unless, of course, you're some kind of a masochist?  (Another issue of mine.)  That's why every time I drink ayahuasca and end up reeling from its effects, I vow that I'm never going to do it again.  But the healing that happens and the subsequent epiphanies always lure me back.
Grandmother called me for unfinished business.  First and foremost, ayahuasca is intended for healing.  It purges the inner demons caused by psychological wounds such as childhood trauma, depression, and post traumatic stress disorder.  Some people enter other realms of consciousness, or make an intimate connection with the plant and animal world of the Amazon rainforest.  I envy them, because I've always wanted that, too.  The fact that I haven't had that experience with Grandma's tea sometimes makes me feel as if I'm spiritually undeveloped or insensitive.  I mean - nausea every time?  Give me a break, Grandma, please?  (That's my OCD - obsessive comparison disorder - talking.)
Grandmother wouldn't have beckoned me if I hadn't been able to comply.  I feel fortunate that I was able to do so, because she is the most powerful and revered of the plant spirits in the Amazon rainforest.  Because Grandmother knows best, she went straight into healing mode with me.  And deep healing, whether it's physical or spiritual, is never instant or easy.
After our first ceremony I wondered why oh why I manifested such severe nausea in order to heal?  The answer came to me while I was clucking like a mother hen over my little lame chick at the jungle retreat where I was staying.
Suddenly I understood why I've always had a soft spot for wobbly walkers. 
Nausea is frequently experienced in situations that induce vertigo, which results in lack of stability and loss of balance.  Some of my regular readers might recall that I refer to my milder bouts of depression as the wobblies.  The presence of that lone, lame chick at the retreat wasn't mere happenstance.  She was there to send me a message, and I loved her for it.
The second ceremony was two nights after the first, and on my birthday.  Jessica, our experienced ayahuascera, and co-founder of Parign Hak, always tells the participants that no two ceremonies are the same.  I wished I could believe that, but the nausea I experienced every time made it feel the same to me.  The dizziness overpowered anything else that happened, including the vivid visions I had.  It's hard to pay attention to mystical visions while feeling bilious.
So, apart from praying for cleansing, healing, and learning, I asked Grandmother to teach me the ways of the Wise Woman.  Since I'm fully ensconced in my senior years, I figured it wouldn't be asking too much to teach me how to be an exemplary elder.  I felt certain Grandma would reward me with deep, mystical insights into the ways of the Wise Woman.  Surely I deserved it because I'd shown my commitment to healing by repeatedly coming back for more tea.  But I was wrong.  Boy, was I wrong.
As it turned out, my birthday ceremony was different, but not in the way I'd prayed for.  The visions usually appear to me just slightly before the nausea sets in.  This time there weren't any at all - just the usual, unwelcome land-lubber sea-sickness.  After reeling and rolling for a while, I realised I wasn't going to get any magical teachings on how to be an awesome elder.  Instead, I got angry.  Really, really angry.  That part was different, too.  I'd never felt any anger during ceremonies before.  But on my birthday I felt as if Grandmother had betrayed me, because my prayers were so heartfelt and I so desperately wanted relief from the assault on my body.  I railed against Grandma to myself, until I succumbed to the full physical effects of her tea.
More differences were to come.  In most of the previous ceremonies I'd regressed to a young child, cowering in fear, and hiding from the outside world.  This time, however, I went all the way back to a puking, mewling infant.  I became a newborn baby, barely out of the womb.  I'm so glad the ceremonies are performed in complete darkness, because I wouldn't have wanted anyone else to witness my regression.  It was not a pretty sight, I'm sure. 
I kept chanting to myself "This is my birthday.  This is my birthday," because I couldn't   understand why Grandmother didn't ease up on me just a little on my special day.  Eventually the nausea passed, as it always does, and I waited for the blessed euphoria that happens as the effects are passing away.  But Grandmother had other plans for me.  This time I fell into a deep, dark funk.  Yep.  I ended up in the kind of depression I thought was being purged.  Instead of sitting in a state of bliss and grateful to be alive, I lay on my mat weeping and wondering what the point of it all was - typical depressive thinking.  So yeah.  I finally had a ceremony that was different.  It was harder on me than all the others I'd been through,  and without any of the perks I get for enduring it all.  Yippee.
By mid morning I was feeling completely normal again, and deeply puzzled.  I needed to know what Grandmother had taught me the night before.  Then I saw my beloved little lame chick with her funny, lopsided gait.  I suddenly realised Grandmother had, indeed, answered my prayers.  My birthday ceremony was a truncated, no-frills version of my path through life right up until that moment.  My journey through childhood trauma and the subsequent adult depression was my personal path to wisdom.  My life experience has made me who I am.  It validates my own brand of wisdom. 
I was looking for Grandmother to give me a magical formula, but that's not how wisdom is attained.  The getting of wisdom is owning and learning from our experiences and the lives we live.  And Grandmother gave it to me - in my face.  I will never question her methods again.
Ayahuasca is the Quecha word which means vine of the dead.  It is so called because many patients who drink ayahuasca for healing purposes experience a very difficult metaphysical death.  I've heard several people describe how they thought they were literally going to die while under the influence of Grandmother's tea.  Of course they don't die.  They are spiritually reborn.
I now know that chanting this is my birthday, this is my birthday during ceremony wasn't so much a plea for an easier ride as it was a proclamation that I was, indeed, being born again.  It was my rebirthday.   The old me died giving birth to the new me, and Grandmother A. was the midwife.  I attribute the deep-sea blues I had when I would have normally felt euphoria to a typical case of post-partum depression.  As a writer I love that kind of stuff - metaphors and symbols that perfectly describe what I'm thinking and feeling, and Grandmother's always supplying me with all kinds of them.  Signs and symbols are magical, and spice up my life story.  They make me the hero of my own myth.  But Grandma doesn't offer them to me randomly, I have to earn them. 
Speaking of metaphors, my little lame chick is a prime example.  Not only does she represent my affinity for and identification with wobbly walkers, but as feathered animals go, she couldn't represent a more commonplace bird.  And I don't like ordinary.  Never have.  But I fell in love with that sweet chick, and she bonded with me in return. Jessica pointed out that my little lame bird recognised a kindred spirit in me as well.  I like to think so, too, and there's nothing ordinary about that.
I went to the Amazon for tea with Grandma to rebuild the shaky foundations of my life.  My spiritual death and rebirth shattered the old paradigm and allowed me to start all over, like a phoenix rising out the ashes and rubble of my old self. 
I've never been much for overt displays or verbal expressions of love, which is why I'm almost embarrassed to advocate Love as the answer to the world's problems.  It seems like such a sixties, hippy-dippy cliché, and goes against my usual, spinsterly ways.  Nevertheless, it's by far the biggest and best lesson I learned while having tea with Grandmother.  Teatime with Grandma was hard on me physically, emotionally and psychologically.  But I wasn't alone.  Jessica was there to assist me if I needed it - and I sure did - as was her friend and co-founder of Parign Hak, Victoria. 
Victoria, along with her devoted partner Alberto, helped facilitate the ceremonies, and offered me unfailing love and support for the entire week I was there.  (I couldn't help noticing that Victoria and Alberto bear the same names as Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, true lovers if there ever were.)  I may have felt bilious during ceremony, but I always knew I was safe.  Grandmother and the extended family at Parign Hak proved to me that if a person is raised on a solid foundation of love and respect, she can firmly stand up to any crap that life throws at her (and it will) with the necessary strength and grace.  Love is the bedrock to a life well-lived.
I was hoping to connect and commune with all kinds of beautiful, exotic flora and fauna on my jungle journey, whether it was in or out of ceremony.  It's an amusing irony that my closest encounters were with dogs, turkeys, geese, and chickens; animals that I can see at anytime in my part of the world.  So it was an unexpected joy to be amongst so-called ordinary animals and appreciate how special and beautiful they are.  I've learned that Love and Beauty - attributes of the number 6 - can be found in the most difficult circumstances and the most ordinary places.  That's why I'm finishing this story about a powerful, extraordinary visit to a mystical forest with a visual cliché;  I need a reason to incorporate one of my favourite pictures of a couple of the lovely, supposedly ordinary critters I met in the Peruvian jungle.  So here goes...
This marks The End.  The Very End.
- G.P.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

to Tg from G.P.

This birthday greeting goes out to all and any two-legged animals with a porcine nickname who celebrate their birthday today and take photos of four-leggeds and two-wingeds whilst saving baby turtles and having the good fortune of being blessed with a fabulous older sister who writes silly blurbs on magical webs.  All of you very select folk will appreciate this very special greeting designed especially for you ...
Happy Birthday Pig!

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

My Lulu

Lulu, my sweet feline companion of sixteen years, has crossed the rainbow bridge.  She was the softest creature I've ever known, and made me a softer, gentler person.  She was born the runt of the litter, and remained little her entire life.  She also never lost the her silky, kitten's fur.  Her diminutive size and velvety fur gave her an endearing, kittenish appearance well into old age.  She was the best pet ever.
I once wrote that Lulu was the being I loved most.  I explained that I don't like to put my family and friends into some kind of a hierarchy for whom I feel the most affection.   I prefer to spread my love around evenly.  However, if I'm asked to quantify love, I should point out that my sister is the person I've loved the longest. 
I gave my love to Lulu freely and without measure.  Unlike humans, even those we love and who love us, she never hurt my feelings.  Animals just aren't wired that way.  It was easy to spend so much love on her.  In that way I'm certainly a stereotypical spinster.
I've lost other pets in my life, and of course I grieved.  But not to the degree that I grieve for Lulu, because I invested better care and more commitment to her.  With each successive cat in my adult life - there have been three - I became a better mother. 
Lulu brought out the best in me.  I was never angry with her, even when she chewed books, scratched furniture, and in the last year of her life, pissed and pooped all over the place - including carpets and inside shoes.  I remained patient and understanding with her, even through my exhaustion and exasperation.
The walk to the veterinarian clinic to put her to sleep was one of the hardest things I've ever done.  I'd made the appointment a couple of days earlier, when she was having a particularly bad day.  But on the morning of her scheduled final visit to the vet's, she was more lively and healthy than she'd been in many weeks.  That made it even harder for me to let her go. I agonised over whether letting her go was more for my sake than hers. 
Lulu was old, blind, incontinent, in the fourth stage of kidney failure, vomited frequently, and had suffered at least one mini-stroke before I decided to help her cross over.  But for all that, she still had moments of pleasure in simply being, something cats do so well. 
I keep thinking back on the months, weeks, and days before she crossed over.  I felt certain she had been giving me messages in her own way that she was ready to go.  Only two weeks before she passed away, I was holding her in my lap when she seemed to quite deliberately yawn in my face.  Her breath smelt of death and decay.  For other, unrelated material reasons, the smell of rotting flesh permeated my home, and seemed to follow me wherever I went.  This went on for more than a few days.  So when Lulu yawned and the putrid odour came up from her guts, I couldn't help feeling she was communicating something to me.  She was still eating and drinking, and didn't appear to be in any pain, but the fetid smell of death was unmistakable.
In the week since her passing I've asked the Universe to show me a sign that helping her cross over when she did was the right thing to do - anything to assuage the guilt that tainted my grief.  When grief wasn't overwhelming my reasoning faculties, I realised I had received several telling and unequivocal messages. 
As I walked to yoga practice the day after she passed away, I found a Buddhist amulet on the sidewalk. The amulet bears an image of Kwan Yin, the goddess of compassion and mercy, and one of the most revered deities in the Buddhist pantheon.  When I arrived at the yoga studio, I saw a young yogi who had given me a mala (meditation beads) a couple of days earlier, after she had overheard me talk with a friend about the   appointment I'd made for Lulu to cross the rainbow bridge.  The young woman didn't know me from Eve, but felt compelled to give me the gift of her Buddhist prayer beads.  When I saw her again after Lulu had passed, I remembered her act of kindness, and that her name was Cat
Another poignant sign happened a few hours later that day.  As I was steps away from my friend Barbara's place, I noticed a small, black animal sprawled on the sidewalk.  It was a badly injured young squirrel.  The way in which it lay on the  sidewalk looked a lot like Lulu the last time I saw her at the vet's.  For a moment I felt the Universe was playing cruel games with me.  Nonetheless, I scooped up the little guy and brought him to Barbara's, who arranged soft bedding for him to lie in, and sadly, eventually die in. 
A couple of hours later, as I was leaving Barbara's place, I saw another very young, healthy-looking grey squirrel standing on her hind legs and appearing to have a keen interest in me.  In terms of size and age she looked as if she could have been the black squirrel's sibling.  I squatted down and encouraged her to approach me.  I honestly didn't expect that she would - urban wildlife doesn't normally fraternize with humans - but much to my joy and surprise, she walked straight up to me and stopped mere inches from me feet.  I reached out my hand to pet her, and wouldn't you know, she allowed me to do so!  In fact, she seemed to want it.  The trust she showed in me moved me deeply.  After I pet her, she reached up her front paws to grab my index finger and nibble it, as if to kiss me.   
Surely the little squirrel's unusual, trusting behaviour conveyed a message from the other side that I had made the right decision with Lulu.  And easing the other, injured squirrel's passing at precisely the same time was an affirmation of that.  Their entwined stories served to comfort me.
Both baby squirrels were animal angels sent to me with a message I needed.  (Angel is derived from the Greek word angelos, which means "messenger.")  I've written a number of times on this web of mine how some of the most powerful messages I've ever received have come from nature, especially from the animal kingdom.  They serve as spirits who guide and heal. 
When I adopted Lulu sixteen years ago, it was after a grieving period at the loss of my previous kitty, Miss Smith, a.k.a. "Smitty."  A young Wiccan woman who knew of my loss asked me if I were ready to adopt a feline familiar.  Indeed I was, and few days later Lulu became my new animal companion.  For almost sixteen years I took the best care of her, always tending to her needs even before my own.  Through it all, no matter how she felt, Lulu was a mirror of me and my inner life, my spirit.  That's one of the things that familiars do.
The English word familiar is derived from the Latin word famulus, meaning "servant."  Familiars serve their human companions as connections to unseen realms and the Otherworld.  Even after her passing, Lulu had sent me comfort and assurance from the other side through fellow creatures on this plane.  She has never served in her role as my familiar better.
It's been over a week since Lulu left this world, and the grief that's clouded my reason has caused me unnecessary and harmful guilt.  Writing helps me clarify my thoughts.  Thinking back on the past week, and writing about the signs I wasn't able to see earlier has begun proper healing for me.  With the help of Lulu, a couple of animal angels, a kind yogi, and a merciful goddess, I can feel my connection to all of creation again.
Lulu served me in all the ways I needed most.  I loved her because she needed and trusted me, and best of all, she allowed me to love her, completely and unconditionally.  The only humans who can do that are babies, and Lulu was my baby.  I've never had a partner or children, so I've missed out on feeling that special love for a human.  But I felt it for Lulu, and that's why I'm just going to put this out there, even though I embarrass myself - Lulu was the love of my life.
Rest in peace, my dear one.  You are in my heart forever.
Blessed be.
- G. P. 

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Lessons in Love

Maija, who is my beautiful, brilliant niece,
and Brent, the love of her life, got married a few weeks ago.  It was a grand, glorious wedding with lots of guests and even more love.  The wedding was officiated by my sister-the-minister, who also happens to be mother of the bride.  The wedding took place on my sister's spectacular property nestled in the Beaver Valley and surrounded by rolling hills.  The Niagara Escarpment provided a magnificent backdrop.  The sky was clear and the sun shone brightly on the proceedings.  The ceremony, reception, and all the accompanying festivities happened entirely outdoors, and carried on well into the night, even after it began to rain.  No spirits were dampened, however.  Everyone was lit from within.
A little while before the wedding there was a lovely tree-planting ceremony to honour loved ones who had departed this world.  The ceremony was organised and led by Jonathon, landowner and proud father of the bride.  It was a lovely way to physically include people who were only able to attend the nuptials in spirit.
Earlier this year, when Maija and Brent informed me that they were getting married, I surprised myself with how much I looked forward to it.  I guess it's because weddings tend to be fun, happy occasions.  I hadn't been to a wedding in many years; not since my cousin Laura got married in very similar circumstances, and in the same scenic part of the country.
It was great to formally celebrate love at the wedding of a family member.  I don't know if that opportunity will ever come my way again, given my age and spinster status.  So I'm deeply grateful to Maija and Brent for setting an example of what being young and in love and committed to each other means.  It was a lesson that had been a long time coming.  I didn't end up being a spinster for nothing. 
I've never been much of a hugger.  That changed for at least two of the days I spent at my sister and brother-in-law's place.  Upon seeing Jonathon, my sister's husband, I congratulated him with a spontaneous  hug.  That was a first for me.  I've known him for almost thirty years and we've never hugged each other before.  An easy-going exchange of Hi! has always   sufficed.  But as soon as I saw Jonathon it just happened.  We hugged each other. 
The same happened with Brent.  I've never hugged him before, either, but I figured it was only polite to offer my congratulations with a quick hug, so I did.  What's more, it felt completely natural and right.  Who knew?
That's the power of love.  It's contagious, and I felt a love vibe as soon as I arrived at my sister's homestead.  She and Jonathon had been working long and hard to create a warm, welcoming place to celebrate Maija and Brent's wedding, and it showed.  The love and care they invested in building and grooming the property was palpable, which is why, despite years of resisting overt displays of love, I caught the love bug.
It was a truly joy-ful time for everyone there, and that's just as it should be.  But on a very personal level, I experienced one small note of sadness, which was entirely my fault.  After the beautiful, deeply thoughtful ceremony, which my sister had tailored especially for the bride and groom (obviously!), there were photographs taken of the wedding party.  Of course that's standard procedure at most weddings, and a photograph or two of the bride and groom with their respective families is part of the package.  But for some strange reason I thought that I should stay clear of the photography session and leave the young wedding party to do their happy business.  As I socialised with other guests I remember thinking maybe I should go and check out the photo shoot and see if there might be a family photograph that included me.  And of course there was.  Why wouldn't there be?  But I didn't go.  I honestly don't know what I was thinking.  Maybe all that pervasive love got me dazed and confused.  I had a momentary lapse of plain old common sense.
This small, sad story of mine is rather telling, however.  I write frequently about my sense of feeling just slightly separate or outside of the mainstream of life.  I liken it to the archetype of The Fool, who observes life from the outside.  This can be a good thing when it offers objectivity, but there's flip side to the Fool as well. 
I made a foolish choice.  The family wedding photograph shows all of Jonathon's immediate family, as well as Brent's.  My sister's birth family isn't represented at all, because I'm the only member of our birth family she has left, and I wasn't there.  I know that love can make fools of us all, but not being included in a family wedding photo is not the kind of fool I want to be.  At least I'm grateful this unhappy wedding anecdote doesn't hurt anyone but me.  Aw geez, anyway. 
I learned a lot about love at my dear niece's wedding, because I witnessed so much of it.  I've never seen Jonathon as happy as he looked that day.  As he watched his beloved daughter marry her soul mate, I saw the same man my sister fell in love with so many years ago.  No wonder it seemed so natural to hug him when I arrived.  But it gets better - I hugged him as I was leaving, too.  It was as easy as pie.  And I did the same with Brent. 
"That's twice in two days I hugged you," I said to my new nephew-in-law.  "Everyone here is so good at expressing their love.  I think I might get used to it someday."
Brent smiled with joy he couldn't contain as he answered with words of wisdom far beyond his years, "It's a learning curve."
So mote it be.
- G.P.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bird Power

Signs heal.  I've needed a lot of self-help lately (by lately I mean the last six months or so, hence the dearth of blurbs on this little web of mine) and recently I've come upon a couple of signs that have packed a healthy dose of spiritual medicine.  Thanks to a couple of powerful messages from the Universe, I've made great headway in the last couple of weeks in mending parts of me that were broken.
The most recent round of depression I've been through has been a result of feeling older but not better.  Losing rather than winning.  I know that's typical of going through a life-review at my age, but the banality of such self-reflection doesn't make things any easier.  If anything, it makes it harder, because I don't want adjectives such as "typical" or "ordinary" applied to me.  That would make me boring, too.  Oh Goddess, please no, not that!  So when signs appear to a veteran sign-seeker such as me, things start to look up.  And signs are anything but boring.  In fact, they're magical. 
The signs that helped me on my path to recovering from profound self-doubt came from Nature herself, as many of the best ones do.  A couple of weeks ago while walking home from yoga practice, I was waiting at a crosswalk for the light to turn green.  The view from where I stood overlooks the large, urban park in my neighbourhood.  I could see a small group of about five or six birds soaring high overhead in the distance.  Their flight patterns clearly indicated that they were raptors of some sort, which wouldn't be unusual, since the park is home to a few species of hawk.  However, the wing span of these particular raptors was much larger than any hawk.  Even from the considerable distance from which I viewed the birds, I could see that they must be eagles.  If this had happened a year ago, I wouldn't have come to that conclusion so readily, because the park was not home to eagles. But six months ago people began to report that a pair of bald eagles had taken up residence there. 
Bald eagles!  Awesome!
It was thrilling.  After several minutes of gazing at the grace and beauty of these extraordinary birds in what seemed like the most unlikely of places, I rushed home to look up words that described groupings of eagles.  I found several, including congregation and aerie, although my favourite word to describe a gathering of eagles is convocation, which literally means "calling together."  I felt as if those birds were calling to me personally, and I received their message loud and clear.   
The eagle is the emperor of the bird kingdom, and amongst other things, symbolises strength, authority, and messages from the divine.  He also represents great change and renewal in the wind.  It was impossible for me not to place some significance on the appearance of those proud and regal creatures when my self-esteem was at an all time low.
But the eagle isn't the only bird that's had a message for me lately.  Three times in as many weeks a sparrow has landed on the window sill outside my study and tapped on the window pane.  I don't know if it's the same sparrow or a different one each time, but it certainly caught my attention due to its very bold, unusual behaviour. 
Sparrows are one of the smallest and most common of birds, and serve as itty-bitty prey to the mighty eagle.  But despite its size, the sparrow is a tough, resilient bird, and has flourished in adverse conditions when others have failed.  It shows us that even a humble little bird can triumph, which is why one of its attributes is self-worth.  So I figure if a seemingly dime-a-dozen bird dressed in plain plumage represents dignity and self-worth, there must be a lesson there for me.
Although Eagle and Sparrow are spirit guides coming from polar opposites of the bird spectrum, some of their messages are very similar.  I would have noticed and enjoyed seeing those birds at any time, but the unusual circumstances under which they appeared gave me pause. Those birds were speaking to me, because that's what spirit guides do. They're not called guides for nothing.  And that's not New Age hooey.  It's ancient wisdom.
I won't stop reading between the lines or looking beneath the surface when something out of the ordinary or special happens.  Unseen, in-between places are where magic abides and healing begins.  Signs are grand metaphors in the stories of our lives.  Most people live without them and are perfectly fine.  But I'm a writer who loves a good metaphor, and up until recently I wasn't fine.  That began to change when a couple of winged messengers delivered timely wishes to get well soon.
Magic happens.  Signs heal.  So mote it be.
- G.P.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Vanity Sanity

Vanity, as a personal attribute, has a really bad rap, and I don’t think it’s entirely deserved. It’s true that excessive concern for one’s appearance leads to extreme dieting and harmful cosmetic surgeries, but a certain amount of vanity can be healthy. I know that because I’m vain, and it serves me well.
When I’m depressed I don’t care how I look, which is a typical symptom of depression. If I’m feeling low, but not so low that I can manage to put on a face and don some nice clothes, the finished product I see in the mirror lifts my spirits a little, albeit temporarily. “Practised” properly, however, vanity has longer lasting effects.
Vanity is part of the reason I practise yoga. Yoga doesn’t just help me spiritually and psychologically, it keeps me looking fit and trim. If I wanted only the mental health benefits I get from yoga, I’d stick to meditation alone. But I want to look good, too, so I practise to maintain a certain level of grace and ease as I move through my daily life off the mat. 
A good friend of mine once told me that he was one of the most superficial people he knew. I was rather shocked to hear him say that, until I fully understood what he meant. In the 35 years I’ve known him I’ve never seen this “superficial” friend of mine be rude, unkind, lose his temper, or make a fool of himself. He refuses to engage in crude, hostile, aggressive behaviour because it’s ugly and destructive. He’s also given me some of the best advice I’ve ever had - It doesn’t matter what happens, my dear, as long as you look good. 
Those words are by no means as ill-conceived and shallow as they seem. My sage friend was  saying that we can’t control everything that happens to us – and shit happens, it’s a part of life – but we can choose how we react. Responding to the most trying of circumstances with strength and grace looks a lot better than having a meltdown. Besides, getting into an unseemly flap only makes matters worse. 
In his novel Girl on a Swing, Richard Adams described someone who has a nervous breakdown as  a person who no longer cares about appearances. When I first read those words many years ago, I realised how I must look when I acted out my despair for all to see, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. I was an aspiring actress at the time, and my cringe-worthy, off-stage histrionics had a lot to do with my need to be heard. The good news is I got the attention I needed; the bad news is I sometimes made a pathetic spectacle of myself. Yikes.
I still need some form of dramatic self-expression, which is why I pay so much attention to my appearance. If the only way I can express my best and most attractive self is to focus  on my appearance, then that’s what I do, because costumes and makeup are some of the actor’s most useful tools. Oscar Wilde, who was a major proponent of the cult of Beauty, once said that one should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art. And there’s another reason I practise vanity- because I aspire to a life of Beauty.

Being vain would seem to belie my yoga practice. A true yogi shouldn’t be concerned with how she looks on the mat, nor compare herself to others in class. Although I’m well aware of that, I frequently fail to leave my ego outside the studio doors. I also have the very unyogi-like habit of checking myself out in mirrors and shop windows, but those moments of apparent narcissism are to make a note of my carriage and alignment, and not to admire myself. Honest. And given the choice between embarrassing, self-absorbed habits, or not giving a damn if I look like crap, I’ll take the former any day.
Self-maintenance gets more time consuming as we get older, and if we don’t take the time to keep ourselves as healthy as possible, the body declines more quickly. I’m no longer young, and haven’t been for a long time. Given the current youth-obsessed culture it means I have less reason than ever to be vain.  And there’s the irony, because the older I get the more vain I am.
Gyms are filled with people of all ages working out to stay healthy and fit, but a lot of those fitness freaks take pride in looking “cut” or “buff”. That’s vanity, plain and simple. The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, a man who’s in the vanity business, has said that vanity is the healthiest thing in life.
It’s normal and healthy to want to look and feel our finest; to be as beautiful as we can be. At its best, vanity is another way to appreciate Beauty, which is a noble and enlightening pursuit.  The poet Rumi said it beautifully - Let the beauty we love be what we do.
- G.P.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Word Power

My all-time favourite movie quote is from Chariots of Fire, one of my all-time favourite movies.  It's a true story about two British runners who competed in the 1924 Olympics.  I have paraphrased the quote only slightly...

God made me fast. 
And when I run, I feel His pleasure.

The quote has stuck with me for the three and half decades since I first saw the film.  The screenplay, by Colin Welland, deservedly won an Oscar.  The words are spoken by Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish missionary. 
I don't believe in God -  at least not the God that Liddell refers to - but I've thought about these words so much recently that they've almost become a mantra of mine, and have helped me get through some of  the worst days of winter. 
I've always yearned to feel the sort of blissful inspiration expressed in that quote.  I don't run, nor have I been doing anything that has invoked divine pleasure.  Yoga is supposed to do that, but I haven't been practising it much, and it's been a long while since my longest-held passions, acting and writing, have transported me from the mundane. 
This quote has been a much needed beacon for me.  The words are so powerful that when I think about them, I feel a flash of what Welland so eloquently describes through the character of Liddell.  It reminds me that peak experiences are possible, especially when I'm doing something I love.  Such is the power of words; they can heal and inspire.  Surely that's what heartfelt prayers and apologies are meant to do. 
My muse hasn't been around lately, because she only shows up if I do, which I haven't done.  I think things will be easier when the Sun, a pagan deity if there ever was one, finally returns.  In the meantime, I'll continue to muse on beautiful words that have the power to brighten the darkest days. 
So mote it be.
- G.P.