Sunday, September 04, 2011

For the Cookie Lady- A Story about Baking and Love

This post is dedicated to Alan Levine and the memory of his mother, Alyce.

Dear Alan, the cookies i am baking are an amazing story of openness that spans four generations of my family. To honour that, the memory of your mother, and the sacred invisible web that binds the fabric of our lives together, i have reached out to my grandmother (92)  and my mother (72) to help me tell the story, because it begins before my memory does.

My grandparents, along with my mother and aunt, emmigrated from England to Canada after WWII.  After a couple of years in Montreal they decided to move to Ontario and in 1953 they settled in Willowdale with no family and no friends and facing very hard times. They were blessed to become neighbours with Grace Walker and her family. The cookie recipe came from Grace, who became known as Auntie Grace to all of us.

My Grandmother shares some memories and thoughts:

Auntie Grace (our first neighbour when we lived in Willowdale Ontario),was a wonderful baker of many luscious goodies, she told me she worked when living up Northern Ontario, in a bake shop, which is where she learned her wonderful skills re baking, many of which she shared with me, (and of course, June and Wendy, my daughters, eventually also my grandaughter Iyeshka).  One of these recipes was these delicious choc chip cookies. Our family love them, as did visiting friends and neighbours when they came to call, so often Auntie Grace's choc chip cookie recipe was requested.
One Xmas, Beric, my grandson baked the choc chip cookies for place markers on our Xmas dinner table. He made extra large ones too, almost as big as tea plates!!
Please accept my sincere sympathy in the loss of your Mother. The cookie story is a lovely memory for your family to share with others.

Blessings and good wishes, Rose Turner ..... Iyeshka`s maternal grandmother

And my mother remembers:

Auntie Grace was not our aunt but she was the closest to a grandmother that my sister and I ever had. She was an amazing friend to our parents during very hard times. We met when we moved next door as teenagers and we all gradually just became family. This continued until the end of her life.
She was a wonderful cook and was generous in sharing her recipes.  Cooking was a joy for her and we learned to feel the same about the many dishes she shared with us. We always headed for the cookie jar to see if any chocolate chip cookies just happened to be waiting for us. Our own children were always thrilled to smell "Auntie Grace's Cookies" as they  came out of the oven. They are a part of our family traditions now as they are made for our grandchildren.

Grace Walker and her family were the kind of neighbours that change lives. From preparing all the fancy sandwiches for my mother's trousseau tea, to hosting the exhausted family to Christmas dinner, to giving the first dining table (that followed to my childhood home and was the table where my brother's business was conceived and founded--now there's a bit of web history for you ;-) ).

We don't know where Auntie Grace got the recipe, but a little sure goes a long way, so there's a theory that it might be depression or wartime era.

And I don't know where the recipe is headed, but it is a deep part of women's culture and human culture to share food and the rituals around it. Recipes handed down form a bridge across which we can travel and visit those long departed. The memories they stir, the love remembered, shared and passed on again every time we pull out our stained copies and begin the familiar motions of preparing them. I'll see my grandmother's farmhouse kitchen and her old sunbeam mixer; my mother's hands holding a fork and pressing down the tops making the criss-cross pattern--and of course, Auntie Grace, her smiling face and white hair and her earrings--the big clip on kind with pearls and rhinestones.

I'm going to give these cookies away to my neighbours--both physical and of the heart. To Wray and Greg who wrapped me up in their care from the first day we moved in here 18 months ago. They have made such a huge difference to our lives--don't know quite how it would have all happened without them. To Craig and Fergus, whose quiet kindness and thoughtfulness and acceptance and joy in my children fill my heart. They inspire me with the lives they have lead and the people they are. To Ang, whose absolute and unfailing loyalty and friendship have pulled me through the darkest time of my life--not to mention the hours and hours of shear hard physical labour she contributed to helping make my place a home. To Lynne B and her partner Lynne A. for a true friendship of the heart, for wisdom, and prods and laughter, for being there to keep me alive in the darkest time. To Soos for her love and friendship and shared girlfriend-fun and hours on the phone. To linnet for her gentle wisdom and example. To Scott for new friendship that is challenging and deep and calls for me to grow in ways that I needed to.

And sending virtual cookies to Liz--the sister i never had, who is one of the only people who can totally keep me in line--hahaha. To Julie--heartflow for sure as we walk a mirrored path dearheart. To Arthur--for being a good man (and you know what that means to me) and a good friend. And to Robert and Diane--without your love and care and skill over the past three years none of this beautiful new life would have been possible. I love you both so much.

I'm going to have so much fun sending virtual cookies to dozens of people who are filling my mind and heart right now.

And to you who are reading. Have a virtual cookie--and feel the cookielove.

Thank you all. You enrich my life in profound and precious ways. And thank you Alan (and Giulia) for this opportunity to share care and love with friends and strangers.

The sharing of food is probably our most primal and ancient ritual. There is a sacredness to the breaking of bread together--and now to the baking of cookie-bread together. Love to all you cookielovers.

Auntie Grace's Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/4 lb butter
1/4 lb shortening
1 cup (scant) brown sugar

Cream together.
Dissolve 1 tsp of baking soda into 1/4 cup boiling water and add slowly.
Then add:
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 cups rolled oats
1 pkg chocolate chips (add by hand)

Drop by spoonfuls on greased tray (or non-stick). Flatten with a fork.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
Cool on tray. Makes approx. 80.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Work and Meaning

There is an awful lot being written about how to make a living doing what you love. There appears, in fact,  to be an entire industry being spawned around facilitating, teaching, and coaching the depressed and often despairing masses how to do just that. 

Now, I'm all for spending the time and effort to discern what our gifts are and then figuring out how we can ensure we are giving them to world in the best way we can. But I feel I need to speak up and put out a slightly dissenting viewpoint. I'm going to state my position, and then spend a bit of time explaining it.

So here goes:
It is not our work that gives meaning to our lives. It is our living fully, deep in awareness of our Being, our values, and our vision, that gives meaning to our work--regardless of what that work is. 

A lot of us have been conditioned to believe that our self-worth is hugely derived from what we do and how much we earn. (A University Education--is seen as the panacea and cornucopia for an abundant and meaningful life.) Many people suffer endlessly because of the pressure and force of this belief system. A simple life is devalued. Simple skills unappreciated. Much of the work that actually makes life worth living is seen as largely irrelevant and of low value in the modern marketplace (parenting, caring for the elderly, lonely, isolated, growing food, cooking daily meals, cleaning, creating celebrations and community events, mending and repairing, art, music, spirituality...)

To help explain my position further I need to dip into that last one: spirituality. 

There comes a time in the life of each dedicated spiritual seeker when the bottom drops out of the world. Sometimes it's know as encountering The Void, sometimes as the state of groundlessness, sometimes as the dark night of the soul, or even The Rot. Whatever you call it, all of the underpinnings of your life, your beliefs, your values get shaken, trashed, burned, swept away. And there is this moment of profound insight that nothing matters. Nothing. None of it. It's all meaningless. 

This is not a pleasant moment for anyone. It can happen at any time--and often in the most inconvenient. (Not that it's ever convenient to be rendered non-functional.) Along with it comes a natural and inherent terror and often despair and confusion that can become life-threatening.   It's good to have experienced friends at a time like this. What you need to know is to keep breathing and don't resist.

For those who don't immediately pack it all back up into Pandora's little box, wrap it with chains, label it with dire warnings and stuff it the hell back down into the 'disowned things i'm not prepared to deal with' pile, there is a treasure here. For those courageous few, who are willing to simply sit with meaninglessness--to allow it into intimate contact with their souls and psyches--to be harrowed, winnowed and refined by the terror--there comes a dawning. A dawning that the opposite is equally and more compellingly true. It all matters. All of it. Equally. Endlessly. Infinitely. 

In the profound illumination of that moment, all striving drops away and what is left is a pure note of choice. And the understanding that meaninglessness is the root of Freedom and that taking responsibility for what matters most--to us--is where fate, duty, and free will intersect. 

So what has this all got to do with work and meaning? 

When you understand that ultimately all work is inherently meaningless, you are stunningly freed to choose to imbue any and all work with absolute meaning. And where does that meaning come from? You. Your heart and soul. Where else? Your true nature, Being, shining through in each and every choice. 

We have all met people who have made this choice. Some consciously, some instinctively. The janitor that cares so much that we can feel it every day when we enter our school/business/offices; the clerk at the store that always gifts you with a smile and a sense of belonging somewhere; the social worker that keeps on connecting with you as a person instead of bowing in despair to a broken and unjust system. 

I've offered workshops on doing what we love for a living; I've coached people through career changes; and one of the first things i do is to look at how they can start right where they are. Once you know what you love--once you are clear about what matters most and what YOUR vision is for a better world--how can you begin, today, this very moment, to embody that?

It changes everything. 

Meaning in life is created by living fully. Nothing less. No job, no work, no matter how wonderful can give us that gift. It's something we find and create for ourselves. Starting right where we are. Now. Today. With the work that is in front of us. By daring to bring all of who we are to the table every moment. No small order. There is a lot of work that needs to be done by people with heart and soul all connected. 

So there you have it. My little rant for the day. You can worry and strive for years to find work you can love or that brings you meaning. Or you can start right now and begin to bring your love and your meaning to the work that you do already. And then see what happens ;-)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

First Animated GIF

Little learning project inspired by Jim Groom's ds106 Digital Storytelling course and my kids desire to be creators of all things digital. The little man's gonna love it ;-). Thanks Jim for the great and easy to follow instructions. This was created out of 7 separate photos taken randomly of the G-man on the swings this afternoon. Click on the pic to see it work. (At least that's what I have to do...)

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Whatever Happened to my blog?.....

Okay. I know I’m not the only one. I can trace the decline and fall of my blog directly to the increase in my use of Twitter.  Oh, I started out with the best of intentions: I’ll just tweet this kernel, this golden little nugget of what will become a fully fleshed out blog post...tomorrow. Yah. Tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.  And as we all know, tomorrow never comes—let alone the next day. 

I did notice the pattern, and consoled myself. Well, self, I’d say, all those golden goodies are all safe. Safe as houses, in your twitter account. Even safer, ‘cause I use backupmytweets. And you can go back and mine that rich vein any time you’re ready.

Still waiting.

Still waiting.

Hmm. No blog post. More no blog post. Hmm.

So what’s the problem here?

I’d like to propose a theory. It’s a theory that has to do with the energy of human creativity—with the energy of a thought. And with our nature as social animals.

Now, some folks can whack out a blog post in under 20 mins. I’m not one of those. A meaty post from me can take anywhere from 1.5 to 3 hours to craft.  That’s a pretty big investment.  I get a lot of satisfaction out of just taking that time to sit with my thinking and expand it and explore it and put it out there in pleasing and enlivened language. And in order to make that kind of investment, I propose that I need to be experiencing a deep draw to the idea, or the question needs to be a burning one for me—one that I feel some level of inner compulsion to wrestle with. It is my experience, that once the spark of an idea gets out into the world, something happens in the mind and heart of its creator. There’s a leakage of energy, a subtle dissipation of the inner container. Subtle, but crucial. Without that intense holding of the spark, the inner motivation to fan it into productive fire withers into smoke and blows away at the earliest distraction.

Enter Twitter. The social media tool that is whooshing its way around the planet and into headlines on a daily basis. At first it sounded stupid. 140 characters? What can you say of any relevance in 140 characters? Come on…you know you said it….at first. And then the challenge started. It was a bit like a puzzle, a quest.  Could you do it? How much meaning could you squeeze into that little space? We all got a lot more concise. That was one upside.

And then there was the almost immediate ego hit of replies and retweets. And do you remember Follow Friday? That was the second upside.

And how about those lightning conversations? 140 char quips whipping back and forth—maybe at a conference, maybe in the middle of the work day, or perking up a quiet evening at home?  Another nice little bit of juice, a minor thrill. Contact. Real-time engagement.  Heady stuff. Hard for an old blog to compete with all that.

Because, and I know we’ve almost all had this happen, you pour your guts into a blog post—share the very best of your thinking and feeling and wondering—and….nothing. No comments. No way of knowing if anyone even really read it—or was moved by it or stopped a moment to think. Pretty hard to sustain that over the long haul. Especially when the new kid on the block is so responsive.

So by sharing the nuggets out into the Twittersphere pre-maturely and by feeding off of the insta-hit of almost real-time feedback, I’ve fallen into a self-made morass and succumbed to the tyranny of 140 chars. And my own and a long human history of sober reflection and composition goes flushing away down the intertubes.

I’m not blaming Twitter. I’m in control of what I share and when. And turning this trend around for myself at least, is not going to be an easy task. But it’s one that I propose is worth the effort. There is something very special that happens when an individual chooses to spend time arranging their thoughts for the careful consideration of others. An important human legacy of investment in stillness, and focus and thought. Deep thought. We can’t afford to lose that.  So if you find that like me, your blogging has dropped off, consider what I’ve written. See if it rings true in any way for you. And then perhaps crack open that keyboard, make a nice hot cup of tea, and invite your thoughts to the virtual page once more.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just Say NO To Calvin Klein

Okay, so the marketing demons over at Calvin Klein have done it again. And this is the end for me. The latest ad is making hay with gang rape. I'm so done. Boycotts are not working. It's time we took one of these guys down--so maybe the others will pay attention and clean house seriously. So please join me in ending all patronage of Calvin Klein--for good--for ever. I also encourage you to scrounge through your closets and recycling depots and thrift stores for any CK you can find and return it in whatever condition to any local retailer that sells CK. Let's make it soooo damn inconvenient to carry this stuff that they stop.

Here's a link to a story about the ban of the ad in Australia. Marianne Williamson is also calling for a movement to ban it in the US.

You can email Calvin Klein to let them know how you feel.

Please help make this go viral by spreading it to all of your networks.

My letter to them is below:

To Whom It May Concern,

Calvin Klein has built it's brand around the objectification, exploitation, and sexualization of human beings--both male and female. You have repeatedly been requested to rethink your brand and strategy and you have continued to profit from the degradation of humanity. This latest ad depicting the gang rape of a woman by three men is unconscionable.

I am done with boycotts. I will NEVER buy your products again. I will teach my children NEVER to buy your products--and why. I will promote this complete end to patronage to all of my networks. I will also encourage everyone who already owns your product to return it to where they purchased it. I hope it becomes such a pain to your distributors that they refuse to carry your product.

I don't see any place for the Calvin Klein business in the new, more authentic, essentially humane culture that is emerging in ever-growing numbers. We are done with you. I hope this is the first small chime in the death knell for your company. You contribute nothing significant to improve the world--and are a major player in creating pain for young women and men.

As a practicing psychotherapist I get to clean up the mess that your company has helped to create. I work with survivors of stranger rape, gang rape, date rape, incest, childhood sexual abuse, pornography, serious body image issues including anorexia. Your corporate marketing decisions affect the mental and physical health of millions of young women and men.

I don't expect you to hear this. Others far more eloquent and credentialed than me have lobbied you to no effect. I'm throwing my voice and energy in the way of your corporate bulldozer because my conscience and integrity demand it.

In disgust,
Wendy Farmer

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Edge

Early morning walk by the sea. In the footprints of those who went down to the water before me. A young deer, raccoons—mother and child, a man—by the size and depth of the print. Following the deer track; a wandering sine wave over sand and shingle. Crab tracks. Tiny paired pinches over the ripples made by waves.

The surf flowing over and swirling around my calves. I feel the tug and pull of the sea. A gentle lure, here at the shallow edge of vastness. My mind bites the bait, swallowing down more than I want. Imagination diving far out—whales move out there, the unspeakable depths of the abyss. This ocean once full of monstrous beasts. It birthed and held them; stroking the sinuous lethality like a lover. A rippling terror flutters at the edges of consciousness.

This sea which has birthed and devoured so much life over billions of years. My feet, my tiny solitude, dipping carelessly into its margins. The vastness of it all overwhelms me. Because it is in me too. This unstoppable force. Each microscopic cell full of an ocean of its own. Pulled by the same forces, tidal risings and fallings. Busy birthing and devouring my body. This same water, this same ocean, from mother to mother, cell to cell, down from the beginning in an unbroken line of life.

Terror flutters dark wings patterning the brilliant light of awe. Perhaps this is the closest we ever come to physically touching the divine infinite. This human body, standing at the edge of the sea.

Friday, June 25, 2010

My Best or Not My Best; That is the Question

I have been doing some thinking inspired by a request from @SirHendrix that I consider sharing some of the bitter pills I have been swallowing that have been doing me so much good. One of them swirls around the various permutations of doing my best. The hardest and bitterest variation is what happens when I do my best and it’s not enough. When I have done everything I know how, as well as I know how, and still I am unable to protect or save or heal what I love. Just breathe in the pain of that for a moment. Feel the grief. Feel it sober you.

When I breathe that in and then shine that sobered light onto other behaviours that I might quantify as ‘my best’ a lot of them look pretty shabby. Then I have to be careful. It is very easy—with the lifetime of conditioning I have—to become harsh. To judge myself as wanting and failing—to take that energy and screw myself up to be better, to do more. This ultimately fails, producing more harshness or depression, or self-hatred. Harshness is not the answer.

Nor is blind compassion. I could look at the shabbiness of my efforts and say, well, I did my best. I made the best effort I could given the circumstances. Sounds pretty lame already doesn’t it? But let’s really do it justice: remember self, you are enough, you do enough. You are a good person. You do a lot. You work hard. You need to accept yourself just as you are now. Breathe in light, breathe out suffering. (It’s starting to get its claws in now isn’t it?) Hold the small self gently. Breathe in compassion for the one who failed. She has so much on her plate. She needs care too. (Are you entering the lotus position yet? I feel my fingers forming a mudhra as I type.) If I just seek refuge in the triple gem all will be well. I will be mindful of my failings and shortcomings…totally accepting of all that I am not. Blind compassion is not the answer. It leaves me unaccountable for my behaviour and the harm I may have done.

So what is? Well this is where we get into my favourite territory—the paradox—that beautiful quality of the Mysterious Absolute that allows many things to be true, even opposing perspectives. So, were the shabby efforts my best?—well, if I am wandering about behaving unconsciously ( oh come on! We all do it!) then yep, what I did was ‘my best’ in that moment. Now, when I regain consciousness, or finally attain it (here’s hoping, eh), I now have a new perspective. What does my response need to be? That I need to take responsibility for the newly revealed shabbiness of the behaviour. That I need to summon the courage to make amends. That I need to attend to growth. That I need to follow my sense of shame, not towards harshness or unskillful compassion, but towards integrity.

And to do that I have to sit with it, hell, to sit in the middle of the big stinking morass of it and get really intimate with it—body, mind, heart and soul. (Sounds like a whole buncha fun, doesn’t it?) You might try it. I offer you—Integrity—the wave of the future. (Yeh, sure….right….that’ll happen….)

Integrity is the answer to my best. Integrity is hard. It takes guts. It costs friends and family, lifestyles and livings. It weighs as much as absolute responsibility. And holds the keys to true freedom under a blaze of unrelenting light.

Bitter as it may be, I have developed a taste for it. And it’s doing me a lot of good.

Deep thanks to Robert Masters for encouraging me to explore this further in writing.

NB: To be clear, when I speak of blind compassion, I am not speaking against having compassion for the self, merely that that compassion needs to be grounded. Blind compassion is a term used to designate an unskillful application of compassion that uses it to avoid unpleasant realities or responsibilities rather than as an aid to facing them.