Comforting Words: 05/2006

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Instead, Have Tea

It is confession time.

I am a control-freak.

Those of you who know me well might be laughing your heads off at this time, thinking “And this, Claudette, is news?”

No it is not, however, after many years of soul searching and actually “letting go” of much of my controlling ways, I think I am finally coming to terms with my inability to run the Universe.

This reality came to me quite by chance (is there any such thing?).

As I glanced through the mail walking up the steps to our third floor apartment, a familiar blue and white envelope got my attention. It was a letter from my daughter’s college and something told me it was not good news.

This was the second piece of correspondence from the college to her in two weeks and given the conversation we had just before her move into independent living, I knew this letter held information that I did not want to hear.

Is anyone noticing the dominating pronoun of the preceding paragraph - “I?”

Barring the fact that the letter was not addressed to me or even about me, what was to stop me from opening it? Having seen enough television shows and read so many novels in my younger years about partners secretly opening their spouses’ mail, I knew how to go about doing this.

Was it an act of God that the kettle was sitting on the kitchen counter?

Reluctantly, I looked away from my would-be tool of mischief and went to my bedroom. I slowly placed the letter on my dressing table but that was only after raising it to the sun-lit window to see if it would give me even the smallest peak into its content.

Some reading this might think me delusional when I write that as I hissed my teeth and took the letter up from the dressing table, I heard that ‘still small voice’ deep in my being asking me, “Are you going to keep detouring down this road or are you ready to let everyone, including A., live her life?”

The advice to “let go,” has over the years become key in the arsenal of pop psychologists and motivational speakers. It is one that I often use; however, for me there is a deeper meaning and significance. Letting go is not synonymous with ‘no longer caring’ or ignoring a situation or a person. On the contrary, for me it means to “let be.”

Lyrics from a childhood song come to mind – Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future is not ours’ to see, que sera, sera. Do you know it?

The version I know was done by Doris Day and basically the mother’s response to her daughter’s questions about what the future holds for her is – “Let it Be,” which incidentally is the name of another song by Paul McCartney.

My confessing this to you today is not because I love to publicly shame or degrade myself, admitting my temptations to peek into my daughter’s mail. I share this because each of you can identify with this issue of trying to control other people’s lives, especially the ones you love the most.

What I have come to learn is that I cannot live anyone else’s story or dreams. This lesson came the hard way and after many years of self-loathing, trying to live up to my mother’s expectations or to fulfill her unmet dreams.

This ‘drama’ continued to play out in my life as I moved from relationship to relationship. It seeped into my professional life and into my interpersonal relationships. If I could not control the situation so that things worked the way I needed them to in order to fulfill my (mother’s) hopes, then I would succumb to someone else controlling my life, hoping that they would pay me back for being the good little girl.

Based on today’s almost performance, it is obvious that even after all these years of soul-searching, praying and spiritual counseling I still have work to do. My rejoicing, however, is loud this day because I caught myself, listened to what I truly believe is the Voice of Spirit and gently placed the letter in another envelope and addressed it to my daughter to be mailed on my evening walk.

The desire to control others manifests in a myriad of ways; it is a default and defensive mode that we have learnt. I invite you to unlearn it, let yourself and others ‘be’ by being sensitive to your inner voice that always, always tells you when you are not.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingUnplug the kettle or make a cup of tea instead!



Friday, May 26, 2006

Roosting Chickens

Regular readers and members of the Comforting Words Community will recall the drama of our moving house last year. Well, less than twelve months later we did it again – moved that is.

Unlike last year, however, there was no major drama. Yes, we hired professional movers, not a drunken one-man outfit. I made sure of this by calling at least four times to confirm the size of the truck, how many crew members would be assigned to our job and the time of their arrival. We went further and had all this information in writing.

Yet, the lesson remained the same as again I was reminded that “I have the power to choose how I will respond in and to any situation or circumstance that confronts me.” (Paradoxically Vulnerable, June 2006)

Last year we moved because the financial and physical stress of maintaining the house and land was too much for us. Our decision then was to relocate to a smaller place, a townhouse, where the property management company would take care of the snow-shoveling and the landscaping. More important, this place would cost us less and provide each of us the space we needed to get our thoughts together.

It was the latter piece I forgot as the possibility of moving again this year arose. Instead, I was busy focusing on my daughter’s abrupt decision to move out, then her request to return two weeks later until she saved enough to move out, my job search and, finally, my daughter’s decision to take time off from college for a year and move into her own apartment.

My woman-friend A loves when I use this word – Synchronicity – it is one coined by Carl Jung which for him meant that there is an “acausal principle that links events having a similar meaning by their coincidence in time rather than sequentially. He claimed that there is a synchrony between the mind and the phenomenal world of perception.”

As things unfolded this past month or so, including my return to a book by Dr. Raymond N. Holliwell entitled “Working with the Law,” the pattern of synchronicity became clear to me. The seemingly unconnected events of my daughter’s decisions, my seemingly unsuccessful job search and moving yet again were really ‘results’ of my (and Juds’) thoughts and decisions the previous year.

Opening my journal of 2005 to the pages around March through May, I found my prayers (thoughts/desires) and notes of our decision to find a new place to live that would help to ease our financial and emotional burdens. As I read on, the central theme of those prayers struck me.

I know for sure that some of you share my spiritual/faith beliefs, while others share my understanding of the human sciences and the body-mind-spirit connection. You will therefore more readily understand this statement by Holliwell: “Only your own can come to you, and be sure that all that is yours will become manifest.” (Working with the Law, 1992, pp. 122)

Another way of saying that, a more Jamaican way, is “the chickens have come home to roost.”

Reflecting on the experiences and challenges of last year and the thoughts we held, I said to Juds, “Things could not be any different now!” Looking at me as she always does when I make these hanging declarations, she dryly responded, “What?”

“I found it in my journal…we declared that we would give ourselves a year in this townhouse to sort ourselves out and that is precisely what has happened!” I also reminded her how many times over the past fifteen years she would gleefully say to our daughter, “Come on eighteen!”

We had both forgotten that prayer, thought, desire, deal - whatever you choose to call it. Neither of us remembered that lesson that was taught to me (and shared with Juds) when I became conscious of my spiritual journey and the body-mind-spirit connection. It was a simple enough teaching that brought to my awareness that our thoughts and words have power.

Daily and minutely we consciously or unconsciously speak or release our desires/thoughts/prayers to the Universe, without being fully cognizant of how creative they are until we see chickens roosting on our proverbial window sills.

Once Juds and I realized that we were experiencing exactly what we asked for – that we are now empty-nesters, enjoying an improved relationship and living in a smaller apartment just under a year since our last move – we both said in our own ways, “Thank you God,” and finished unpacking.

For those who prefer a less spiritual tone, what this experience has reminded me and I now remind you is to “be careful what you wish for…as you will surely get it.”



Photograph available at Yahoo Images

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Sponge Cake

Before we head to our assigned areas, every morning the chaplains and student-chaplains at the hospital where I work gather to hear a report of the previous day’s on-call shift and share a reflection and prayers for the day ahead.

This morning’s reflection was about sponge cake! I could not resist sharing this with you, not because of my love of food rather as it was such a ‘sweet’ (pun intended) inspiration.

Sharing from the book “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, the chaplain leading our reflection read from a chapter where the author told a story about her grandmother.

Remen’s grandmother grew up in Russia (I believe) at a time when the people were facing one of their most difficult periods and many, including Rachel’s grandmother, went hungry. People would share whatever they had with each other and this lesson remained with Rachel’s grandmother for the rest of her life; it is also one that she passed on to her daughters and grandchildren.

Years later, the family migrated to the United States and along with the memories of sharing another thing was passed on – a recipe for sponge cake.

Rachel tells the story of her grandmother saying to a child who was terrified that he/she had accidentally broken an egg in a house that had very limited food, “Great, today we will have sponge cake!”

Maybe I do not have the details accurate but I know I am bang on with the moral of the story. You must understand that this story is coming from someone who was diagnosed with a chronic, life-limiting disease at the age of 16, yet continued to lead a full and successful life as a medical doctor and educator.

The impact of the recipe was so vivid in Rachel’s life, particularly when the doctor gave her and her mother the news about the disease. Hearing the news, Rachel’s mother said to her, “We will make sponge cake!”

In your life and mine there are many broken eggs. Truth be told, I think there are days when it seems that my greatest achievement is breaking some eggs.

Eggs are every dream and hope held; it is the potentials and the possibilities we see in life, including hopes for a happy, meaningful and long marriage or relationship, a new job or promotion at the one you now have, debt-free living, a life-enhancing relationship with your parents, your children’s success in school or living an addiction-free life.

When these dreams can go awry or your egg(s) is broken, the temptation is to sprawl on the floor right next to it, wailing and cursing the Universe for what it is doing to you. “What the f… am I to do now?” has often been my cry, “That was the last fr…ing egg I had!”

Grandma Remen’s advice to her daughters, and now to you and me, is do not be sidetracked by broken eggs. She invites us to instead make it the main ingredient for this evening’s supper and invite the neighbours!

I feel so blessed by this story and I am so grateful to the chaplain who shared it. Baking was not my forte in cooking classes but who cares! I am making a sponge cake today! Email me if you would like the recipe.



Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tree Medicine

Sitting at the window seat towards the back of my #43 bus, I was blankly staring out the window until the upright uniformity of the trees caught my attention.

The section of the city where I reside always reminds me of another tree lined city, Kiev; another cross road in my life and this morning was no different.

Much earlier, I had sought inspiration from a televangelist who from time to time has just the message to lift my spirit. However, his message missed the mark this morning and so there I was staring out the window of the bus, gradually noticing the trees along the route.

The trees here reminds me of Kiev – the Ukrainian capital where my daughter was born. Kiev was also the city where I once thought that things could not get any worse than they had after the stillbirth of my first child and the death of my marriage. At my lowest point, my only solace was to walk the tree-lined streets of the city praying to a God who I swore had disowned me because of all wrongs I had done.

As I looked out the bus window at the trees along this southern street in Edmonton, I knew God was not only very present but is with me. The trees told me so.

Every tree that we passed hailed out to me, seriously, saying, “Never mind the wind, you stand tall like us, hold your head up, stretch your arms out like our branches, reach for the sky girl!”

The wind of change and uncertainty has been blowing strong in my life and there have been days when it feels as if it will break me. Paying closer attention to what the trees were saying to me, I almost pasted my nose to the window.

What I noticed was that although many of their branches were bent, some severely so, each tree seemed to be reaching upward, increasingly laden with new leaves, in celebration of spring and life.

“Oh my God,” I thought, “they seem to be praising and giving thanks to God!”

Goethe once said:
“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.”

That was the lesson the trees of Kiev and now Edmonton were teaching me. That was what that fortune cookie message meant by nature being one of the greatest physicians.

The wind of life can be mighty but it cannot take away our power to decide to give thanks and praise nor can it take away our decision to be happy – no matter what.

Getting off the bus at the hospital, I placed my usual call to Juds to say I had arrived and to her “Have fun,” my response was “I will.”



Saturday, May 06, 2006

Cookie Wisdom

Eating out or buying take-out was not something we did a lot of when I was a child as my mother could not afford. The rarity of this probably explains why I can vividly recall the first time I had food from a Chinese take-out restaurant called Pagoda.

The food was great but it was the fortune cookies that held my fascination – what a concept! My mother guarded them until my plate was empty and then gave me the honour of cracking them open and reading them aloud as she could not read that well.

She, my mother, truly believed that the wisdom contained in these cookies would impact her life if taken seriously so she would listen attentively to every word and then secure the little bit of paper. It was only later that I would learn that she equally cherished the numbers at the back. She would use them in the hopes of winning “pick-a-pow,” a game of chance sold by a Chinese man at the market.

I remembered this recently as I saw a fortune cookie on our kitchen counter. It was a leftover from an impromptu lunch Juds and I had the week before. This is a new thing for us, having impromptu and inexpensive meals at little restaurants around town, and we have been making a list of where the best menu items are. Unable to finish this particular lunch, we had it packed and A., my daughter, and Angello shared it leaving this fortune cookie.

Almost a week later, feeling “peckish,” a Jamaican colloquialism for wanting to snack, after having a very, very small breakfast based on doctor’s orders (that is another story) I spotted this lonesome cookie and snatched it up. No one loves fortune cookies more than Angello, my dog, and so he demanded his share, leaving me with little more than the strip of wisdom.

The week was not going too well for me as I was feeling under the weather and a bit tense about the changes in our lives. My greatest desire was for ‘this’ – all that it represented – to pass. Only a few days before my daughter informed me that she was not returning to college in the fall and was moving out (again) but this time to set up house. Added to the anxiety and some amount of anger that I was feeling about my job search and the full brunt of the emotional stress of hospital chaplaincy, my spirit was waning.

Thinking (and hoping) that maybe this fortune cookie held the lucky numbers for the lottery, which was over Cdn$14 million – enough to ‘solve' my problems – I was not too upset with Angello for eating most of it as I read the words of wisdom.

As my mother did years ago, I bought a lottery ticket with the numbers from the cookie but it was the words of the wisdom that lifted my weakening spirit.

“Nature, time and patience are the three greatest physicians.”

Like my mother, maybe the fortune cookies will not win me a million dollars but it seems they do have the right words at the right time.

The moral of this story: You don’t need a guru buy a fortune cookie!



Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Welcome Maia!

It has been a while since my last post and for good reason.

On the one hand I could say that April is really not my month after all. So much has happened in our lives during this last month that you would have forgiven me if I thought of giving up on everything.

The paradox - and yes there seems to always be one - is that April's roller coaster gifted me with a great deal of clarity.

There where days which were too long for me, especially the one on which my daughter moved out. Then there was the day I received from her one of the most powerful letters I have ever read and then she moved back in a week later.

April was also the month that the full reality of being an immigrant woman of colour in Canada came home to me. On the other hand, that reality has, unapologetically so, become fodder for my research work. It is a gift that I hope to one day share and use to support other women of colour in this country. Who knows, maybe this will make a difference in the lives of at least one woman of colour somewhere in Canada.

Watching the paradoxes unfold, the darkness of my April slowly lifted and I held on, refusing to give up but needing time to re-energize. Like all of you who have faced challenges that cause you to question almost everything you believe in, I knew that I had only two choices and one was not really an option: (1) to give in to the despair or (2) to trust God.

And so Maia is here - the goddess of Spring. I still do not have the answers to the many questions that knocked me down but guess what?

I will trust the Divine anyway that Her plan is far greater than any I could imagine.

This morning I went to my books in search of inspiration and found this in an old issue of Science of Mind (January 2002). It is a reprint from Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World by Kent M Keith:

People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centred.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Welcome Maia!