How to Make Decisions

November 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

When making big decisions, I’m the kind of person who weighs all my options, thinks about the worst and best possible outcomes, ruminates ad nauseam about what people think about me, who will be mad at me and who will accept me. I consider my future, my past, my reputation. When making big choices I’m up at 3am staring at the ceiling waiting for a sign, turning over tarot cards for an illusive answer, or scribbling my thoughts down into a notebook hoping something clicks.

To give you an idea of how agonizing this is, I’ll tell you a story.  When I was 8 years old my dad agreed to get me new curtains for my bedroom.  We set out in the morning to look for the “perfect material” that my mom could then sew into drapes.  We drove to every single fabric store in Victoria, from the big- box fabric warehouses to the ma-and-pop boutiques on neighbourhood side streets.  By the end of the day, I still hadn’t made up my mind. The next morning, weary and disillusioned, we set out again, revisiting those same stores hoping a sign might come down from the heavens –“Buy this one!” a godly voice might suddenly bellow (and by this time my dad was praying for that) — to indicate the “right choice”.

Finally, I settled on a soft floral fabric, though it wasn’t perfect. I’m not sure what I was really after during those two days, perhaps I was not just struggling with the kinds of curtains I wanted but with the kind of person I was.  “Hey, what the heck kind of person was I anyway!?” was the question I was absorbed in.  Was I a pink floral princess or was I a white linen girl, maybe rather an 80s modernist (I did love Cindy Lauper)? Would I be a punk rocker, should I be buying black? Who I Am was somehow imminently tied up with what curtain fabric I was going to choose.

Maybe an inability to make decisions is also a lack of connection with who we really are and what we actually want, and maybe these times also point to a crossroads.

When we care about the decisions we make it is because we care deeply about life and believe that there is a perfect answer out there in the world that can create some kind of harmony between our inner and outer selves. To this day, I believe this is the truth.

Some choices just feel right and we can’t explain why.  I am writing this from a renovated turkey shed on a 15 acre farm. I am isolated by normal standards and cold. I have to walk in the sleet and through the dark fields to arrive home at night.  I have to pee under the stars and avoid bucks grazing grass in my front yard, but my heart says “yes” (for now). It knows what is right for me, even when my brain doesn’t have any answers.  The times I have lived through logic or obligation  (and believe me there were many) I have been left sadly disappointed.  When I have fought against my inner wisdom this has only ever robbed me of joyous moments.

Last night I had dinner with an 81-year-old woman. This woman had lived through more pain that most would dream of in her life, including having lost not one but two of her children. Last night she held my hands and told me to repeat these words “I am my own best friend.”

I had never said those words out loud before.  She said this was something that I, like her,  had probably never learned in life.  Being a friend to ourselves is not just a cliché it is about living from the centre of ourselves, and staying in integrity with who we are.

Most decisions require a leap of faith, a step into the void.  But perhaps what we’re most after in the choices we make is this: Is what I am doing a decision that brings me into harmony with myself?

If so, we feel it in our bodies.  The “right choice” isn’t always something that happens in our minds, it happens in the alignment of our actions with our higher self.  Suddenly, if we have made the right choice, we notice we are standing taller.  We’ve come into alignment with the Self, we acted from what we believe in and not from fear (which diminishes the self). We’ve been put onto the right path even though we might not know where it leads or what will happen next.

The muscles in the body relax. The heart opens. Possibility awaits.

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Life by Memory

December 12, 2011 § 3 Comments

In elementary school, we learn the times tables by heart, through a process of rote recitation.  It doesn’t take long before we know that 5 x 4 equals 20, or 10 x 10 is a hundred.  This knowledge becomes so embodied, that even 10, 20, or 50 years later, the memory of it hasn’t gone away.   It’s the kind of knowledge that lives inside us, like our name, langauge, where we come from, and who we love.

If we stop to think about it, most of what we know to be true about life is based on memory – not just the kind of memory that tells us about a phone call that we need to return, or what’s on the calendar for Saturday night, but memory that makes sense of the world and gives us an identity within it.

There is perhaps nothing more sacred than a memory.  Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can return to certain people, places, or objects that remind us of what we hold most dear: our memories of how we want to be loved, our memories of a childhood long past, our memories of a country to which we can no longer travel, or our memories of a dream we once hoped to fulfil.   We return to city streets, to trees, beaches, and to one another, to regain what has been lived in, and lost to, the past.

Culture is passed along through memory also, and so is knowledge, but so are other things even less tangible like safety and love.  When we have these feelings we know that our memories have being cherished and protected by our family, culture, and society.

When I was living, working and travelling through Morocco in 2005, I was continually amazed by the relics of Jewish history I stumbled upon in dusty corners of mountain villages, or down narrow corridors of medieval medinas in large sprawling cities.  And yet, the Jewish comunity in that country has long since disappeared.  After the founding of Israel, and then the Six-Day War,  generations of Jewish life in that country came virtually to an end, as Moroccan Jews began a mass exodus to far-flung lands such as France, Canada, and Israel.

Upon returning to Canada and spending time with Jewish Moroccans who had decided to leave their country of birth forever, it struck me as profoundly fascinating that this community had such an elaborate and well developed tradition, culture, language, and religious expression that had developed in a county that was no longer accessible (either by choice or by fear).   For most immigrant communities, the culture of origin is still accessible through a place on the globe, and the culture often remains deeply embedded within a particular landscape.  In comparison, in Morocco, most synagogues have become museum pieces, if they are not left to crumble into ruin, and the traditionally Jewish neighbourhoods have been all but vacated, stripped and mined of their treasures and left derelict. It occurred to me that this immigrant experience was a life lived by memory, as opposed to a life lived in direct access to the living landscape of a culture and its traditions.

Since this year of discovery and travel, my creativity has been inspired and enriched by Jewish theology and stories.  I see Judaism as built upon a theology of longing to return to particular land, and ultimately, to union with something greater than ourselves — the ultimate homecoming.  Judaism is a spiritual life and community that thrives in exile (diaspora).

But the more I have looked at these ideas, the more I have seen them as, not only specific to Jewish history and stories, but as universal truths that live inside of the hearts and experiences of all people.

One of the most tragic things about being human, I think, is that we can’t go back. In every moment, we are asked to let go.  We are asked to move into something else: a strand of hair that has turned from auburn to grey; a smooth patch of skin that has started to wrinkle; a garden that has transitioned from abundant to brown, like the unstoppable journey of seasons who visit us and then leave.

One of the worst things you can do to another human being is deny her the sanctity of her memories. This is why wars are fought. We don’t fight so much over the resources themselves, like water and land, but over the sanctity of our memories that are found within them – the place we had our first kiss, birthed our children, spoke our language, said good bye to our parents.  Land becomes sacred because of the lives we have lived there.

Through our connections to landscape, and even to objects (an old torn sweater, a photograph, a piece of jewellery, a painting) we remember the past and sometimes, we think, if only we held on tight enough we could bring it with us and into eternity.

Becoming Conscious

November 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

The ancient Greek philosophers said that in order to love someone, you must first know him.   True love comes out of a depth of knowledge we have for another person, and, in my opinion, this is a life-long process, as human beings are universes unto themselves.  Love happens in the continual opening up to knowledge about who a human being is and what they care about.    It is something that happens every time we meet one another, this is why we ask “How are you?”  We are saying, I want to know you, because I care about you. I don’t want to know the “you” from last time we met, I want to know the you today, again, anew.  Don’t forget in Genesis it was Adam who “knew” Eve, and that’s how it all began, with knowledge … yes, we all know what that really meant.

For this reason, I think that the quality with which we see another person is the foundation of all love.   I have found that working as a journalist and filmmaker can be akin to a kind of therapy.  Journalists are powerful listeners. We are in essence saying to our subjects, “You have a story to tell.  I see you”.  Perhaps there is no greater gift we can give another person.

Some Medieval philosophers also posited that God created the world and human beings so that the universe could become conscious of itself.  I simply love this theory.  It is kind of like the koan which questions, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”  To what extent does the universe exist if there is no one to be conscious of it?  Does humanity make visible the beauty of the world, through our strivings to gain knowledge of it?  Does humanity make nature precious, through our ability to love?  Are we not in a continual relationship with life, because of our consciousness itself.

Descartes said “I think, therefore I exist.”  Some spiritual teachers, such as Eckhart Tolle, have called this a “fundamental flaw” because it is actually thinking that separates us from our true nature, which arises in the absence of thought.   I would say that, in the interpersonal realm, I exist not because I think, but because I am seen. In other words, I exist because you exist. I exist because you see me.  And you exist because I see you.  This is why we have a deep longing for connection that is built into the fabric of our biology.  Our connections give us life, not only socially, but spiritually as well.  Our connections make us human and whole.

At the same time, in the absence of being seen by other people (hey, it could happen), we know we exist because we have a relationship with ourselves also.  This is called self-knowledge. And self knowledge is also self love!

I was lucky enough to have shared my week with a quite cute blonde who made me conscious of the sad truth that I’m not really a dog person, even though I love this cutie enormously.

Thanks for reading.

Containers

November 3, 2011 § 1 Comment

Last winter I was living temporarily on Salt Spring Island, but still had my apartment back in Montreal. I didn’t know where I wanted to live and was flitting back and forth across the country trying to loosen my ties and make a decision one way or another.  A friend who I’d been having Tuesday morning coffees with over the winter finally let me have it:

“You’ve got to drop anchor,” he told me, concerned.  “First of all, you’re going to open a bank account.”

I realised then and there, that if I was going to have a livelihood on Salt Spring, a small island in the Salish Sea, with a rural population that hovers around 10,000, I’d need a place to put my earnings.  I needed a container.  Of course, I had a bank account in Montreal, and even a branch in Victoria where I could do my banking, but not having an account on the island was both a practical and psychological block to “dropping anchor.”

There’s been a lot of talk of late about the Law of Attraction, which posits that what we think about soon becomes reality.  I’m not sure I believe there is a universal law that manifests the quality of our thoughts into a lived experience. I have, at the same time, noticed the consistency between cause and effect. It’s not so much that what we think about becomes reality, but that what we make room for, tends to develop and grow with very little effort.  Build a container, and you will soon fill it.

A good example of what I am talking about is Facebook. Have you noticed that your brain has started to automatically generate status updates?  Whenever something of note happens to me throughout the day, I automatically think of it in terms of a status update. For example, two days ago I was doing my grocery shopping and on the car-ride home came up with this: “You know you are from Salt Spring when you go to the grocery store on a Tuesday afternoon, you hang with Raffi in the cheese isle, you think your gumbboots look hot, and you can’t get out of there without spending $100 — and you can’t even spell gumboots.”

If it weren’t for facebook, would I be thinking in these kinds of sentences? Would I be communicating this way? Would I have even noticed the humour in my shopping experience?  Facebook has come to define what we want to communicate and how, a bid for connection across the cyberspace, a container that shapes our thoughts and even how we make sense of our experiences.

Another example is this blog.  It is the container for my ideas, essays, poetry and prose.  Was I writing this much before I had a blog? Not even close. It’s only because of the container — the format of this blog– that I am spurred on to write, and now I can’t stop. I have a container that needs to be filled, people!

I build a garden and suddenly, six months later, I am eating salads and fruits from it every day.  The garden is my container, it exists and so I’m contributing to it, filling it with what it expects of me, and then, around harvest time, I find that it is full.

This isn’t voodoo or magic, it’s simply the miracle of life itself — that all containers long to be filled, they long to do their job.

Perhaps the most important thing we can ever realise is that people are our containers also. They are our containers — our keepsakes– for how we come to view ourselves and make meaning out of our lives.  Some people are our containers for love and trust. Since they see our beauty, we want to give them more of it, we want to fill them up with the offerings of ourselves.  But other people are a different sort of container, they see our shortcomings, or they ignore us,  and we seem to produce more and more of what we don’t like – invisibility, frustration, and pain.  Sometimes, we even come to believe that we are bad or not good enough, simply because we’ve found there is that pesky container that needs to be filled!

We’re other people’s containers, also.  When a parent’s face lights up when her child enters the room, she has become a container for the child’s light, and the child learns he is a star, he’s found a container of love.

Our containers, eventually, become our identities.

As for me, I’m happy I opened that bank account.  I’ve got more in it now than when I started last year.

What Is Found There

October 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there

William Carlos Williams


Why Can’t We?

October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth,
“You owe Me.”

Look what happens with
A love like that,
It lights the Whole Sky.

– Hafiz

We don’t say to our cat

If only you wouldn’t stare out the window so much, then maybe I’d love you

If only you didn’t wake me up so early,

Leave your fur on the furniture

If only you didn’t  sleep so much

I could love you then

If only you didn’t stay out so late, and had a different kind of purr

Kitty, get a better job

Then I’d love you

If only you looked a little more like Muffin!

 I could love you then

Instead

we say

I will feed you and pet you until the end of your days

I will keep you safe and warm

There’s never been a cat like you and there will never be another

Why can’t we love everyone this way?

It’s Not Our Job

October 16, 2011 § 2 Comments

”For years we have worked for power, money, and prestige. Now all of a sudden we’ve learned that those are just the values of a dying world.”

-Marianne Williamson, Return to Love

During the shooting of my film Taxi Casablanca, I spent a day interviewing a well-known Moroccan feminist and activist in Rabat.  She and her colleague from Oxfam Quebec piled into the back of Zakia’s taxi and I interviewed them  as we drove around the city.

At one point, I asked her how she could reconcile the liberal rights for women she was advocating with the religious laws as they are practiced in Morocco, especially when at times the two appear so opposing.  I was expecting her to give me an historical and impassioned  interpretation of the Qu’ran that would somehow conform to her visions for equality and justice.  Instead, she looked me squarely in the eye and said this:

“We are demanding justice, it is not our job to figure out how to conform our demands with the religious texts, it’s up to the authorities to do that.”

This was a really awakening moment for me. I’ve always believed that in order to have justice, I must also be responsible for finding the way there.  This has at times felt daunting and impossible.  In fact, what this woman was telling me was that we don’t have to be learned intellectuals or people of authority to know the difference between right and wrong.  She was saying that fairness is a birthright.  We don’t have to be lawyers, scholars, translators, or versed in hermeneutics; in fact, we don’t even have to be literate.

Justice is something that lives inside of the heart.  That is why children have some of the most finely honed abilities for discerning fairness.  They know when they’ve been neglected too long and need attention, they know when they deserve to be seen, encouraged, loved, or when a toy that was taken from them should be returned.  Justice isn’t something available only to those who can defend their positions. It is something true for every one of us, it’s democratic that way.  It’s a feeling. It’s an experience.

All too often, we use our minds to make an argument for what we think is right. We hire lawyers, draw maps, enforce rules, buy guns.  Usually, we use our mental faculties to get away with something that we know in our hearts is wrong, rather than to defend and protect what we know is right.

When I think about some of the injustices I’ve experienced in my own life, I immediately try to come up with a solution, a way of reconciling; in other words, instead of listening to the knowledge of my own heart, I get to work, I envision the solution, I become the advocate, I read books, I make my case, I convince and cajole. Today, I want to say that sometimes simply  what I  feel inside is enough.

Inspired by the occupations that have been happening in cities around the world, from what little I know about this movement, I wonder if it is indeed a protest of the heart.  This protest isn’t as much about solutions, as it is about acknowledging what we know is an injustice, acknowledging that the injustices taking place across our planet and in some of our own lives, are enough to make us weep.  We don’t yet know the way out, and maybe we can’t, until we have fully acknowledged our experience.

Perhaps then we can ask,  How do we find a path to justice? How do we find the solutions?

Perhaps, at the same time, it’s not our job.  Perhaps simply demanding it is enough.

The Context of Things

October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you really want a mind bender, you can meditate, as I have been, on the context of your life.  We are all born into a particular context, a set of circumstances that shape our sense of self.  Context, as it turns out, often soon becomes identity.   The circumstances can be as simple as the birth order you were born into, your height, and the shape of your body, or they can be as complex as the words people used when they spoke to you as a child, the decisions that were made on your behalf, or the amount of money your family has.  All of these factors come into play, they are our filters for how we see the world. If you are the shortest boy in your class, you may come to identify as “small” and all the connotations that come into play. Similarly, if your boyfriend left for Mexico one day, never to contact you again, you might conclude that you are simply unimportant or disposable. You might spend your whole life trying to be taller, or trying to be accepted. What a drag!  Then again, if you’re born into a wealthy family, you may identify with abundance, or if you’re often told you are beautiful you might move through the world quite relaxed.

As long as we rely on the outside world to define our sense of self, we are at the mercy of circumstances that, I can’t help but think, are somewhat random. This then becomes an ontological question.  What is the nature of my existence? Am I the sum of my circumstances, or am I something more?

The philosopher Thomas Aquinas believed that one way to prove the existence of a God was to meditate on the idea that God, unlike the many other particulars of our lives, cannot be thought not to exist.  In other words, God is not something that is contingent upon the existence of something else.  Other philosophers called this Being the “unmoved mover.”

Each of us have characteristics and traits that we can be sure would exist regardless of whether or not we were born blond or a brunette, in Beijing or Bombay.  Isn’t there something you would do or be, whether or not you were told you were beautiful or ugly, whether or not you were ditched or cherished?

This is actually a really profound and liberating idea!  Could it be that we exist both 100% in relationship to our life circumstances, and 100% regardless of them?

Perhaps our destiny, and therefore our happiness,  is found in the parts of ourselves that cannot be thought not to exist, the parts of us that are necessary regardless of circumstance, the parts that exist always and already….

No One is Free Until Everyone is Free

September 15, 2011 § Leave a comment

There comes a time in life for every one of us when we have to, in one way or another, step out of the closet.  Some people have noticed that shame, fear and self-consciousness are a part of our very human existence, the fabric of what it means to be a person.  Theories about this stretch right through our history back to the story of Genesis, when Adam and Eve ate from a forbidden fruit, recognized their nakedness, and from then on, felt ashamed of who they were.  It is not easy for anyone to be truly, wholly, herself.

This week I walked along side my cousin, who identifies as lesbian, in the amazing Salt Spring Island pride parade.  As I walked with her through downtown Ganges, I felt the vulnerability of all eyes on me, and of what a fragile feeling it must be to come out of the closet as gay, to your family, your community, your country, and your friends.

I started to  think about what it means to me to support, love, and encourage my family members and friends who are gay, and realised that I not only stand by them because I love them and want to support them on their paths to become ever more fully themselves, honest, authentic and cherished people in this world, but that also, truly no one among us is free until everyone among us is free.  So I also walk for myself.  As long as one group of people remain repressed or persecuted, judged or shamed, I know that this remains a possibility for my own life also.  The energy that judges and seeks to suppress the life of a lesbian woman, is the same energy that keeps all of us from expressing the totality our vibrant and whole true natures.  There is no one among us who is not vulnerable to this force.  And therefore, we must all stand together for the rights of our friends, family and neighbours. Their freedom is our  own freedom also at the deepest imaginable level.

Consider This

August 20, 2011 § Leave a comment

“These night’s that I’ve been on the road
Through my window the moonlight she shone
And on my walls the fire she danced
Playing out my very last chance to run, run, run, run

[…]

There are millions and millions of people around
On my TV, walking my streets, making sounds
And I can walk with them I love them I need their love
There are others I have known as poor souls, sores exposed
The the run-of-the-mill, the destitute, and the cold
Sores exposed to the blisters and shards
Where any kind of kindness is as far as the sun, the sun
The sun, the sun, run, run, run, run”

-Martha Wainright, Factory

Consider that you already have everyone you will ever need, and that there has never been, and never will be, anyone missing.  What would happen if you already believed this about your life?  How would you treat the people in your life?

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