To Be or Not To Be

As some of you know, I was away on a spiritual retreat this month. It was only a few miles from my home but quite honestly, it felt as though I was a world apart in terms of where my headspace was at.

The retreat center was located on the water overlooking a particularly lovely setting in the Puget Sound. Our vista was the westward, Olympic Mountains view and the weather was hot with crisp blue skies each day.

The nature of the retreat was about getting some clarity around who I am, what makes me tick and then, celebrating that essence, that spirit. Sounds hokey, right? I thought so, too. My initial thought was, "Yeah great, but so what? I don't care about my Being-ness....I care about knowing my Doing-ness."

But what I realized, in retrospect (and it took me five days to 'get' this) - was that cutting to the doing-ness part is a little like putting the cart before the horse. I needed to get at the animal of my Spirit. And incidentally, as I think about that - the animal of my spirit - the animal that comes to mind for me is raven. But that's neither here nor there.

I can't lie and say the retreat was all fun and games. We were a group of 17 in communitas away from our larger communities, and as is the case with throwing any 17 people together into a relatively controlled environment, we were all vastly different in our worldviews, demeanors and energies. And yet what connected us was Love, arguably the only true Real thing that exists. And therein lies the magic and beauty of connection.

The retreat was also about finally stepping into my own shoes. Think Cinderella and the glass slipper minus the fairy prince and imagined fantasy life thereafter. I can't tell you how massively powerful that ownership and affirmation of Beingness is. All I can say is wow. It's huge, huge, priceless stuff. Finally daring to look deep enough to examine who I am, how I show up in the world, what I value most, and what my role in the larger tribe of life is. It was hard, freakin' work, let me tell you and for awhile I doubted if I had dug deep enough.

But finally, finally, self-acknowledgement came. It came to me late on the last night of the program. It spoke to me in code, actually. I went to bed that final evening with an incredibly sore and constricted throat. And it wasn't until I was able to process this in retrospect the next day, that I finally got it. The essence of who I am, since time immemorial, is about voice.

Prior to that, I had spent much of the weekend focused on what I perceived others might think of or define me to be. Was I too this or that? Was I maybe not enough that or the other thing? It was driving me crazy - most especially when coupled with my rejection filter. And more importantly, it was inhibiting me from doing the real excavation work. Once I stopped doing that and acknowledged and fully embodied that it is none of my business what others think of me, then and only then did I finally get to the real work. I got alone with me and I got real.

Who I am is Inukshuk Speaks, which is esoteric-speak for a wealth of things. I chose to be visual and spiritually totemic in identifying my essence because well duh....I'm a visual and spiritual kinda gal.

An Inukshuk, for the non-Canadians in the audience, is an Inuit stone figure, akin to a mountain cairn, that looks eerily human in shape. It is a sacred show and teller, of sorts. It serves to mark and commemorate the site of key tribal events and it also acts as a silent navigator, guide and way-shower for those lost upon the roads less travelled in Canada's netherland Arctic.

It's no accident I should choose this. I've always been hugely attracted to all things northern and Eskimo. My maiden name is Quinn and my favourite song growing up was The Mighty Quinn (when Quinn the Eskimo gets here, everybody's gonna jump for joy). I used to sing it whenever we played Eskimo on the playground as kids (what else was there to do on a minus forty day in northern Alberta, I ask of you?). One of the things I miss most about living in Alberta is being able to see and be dazzled by the Northern Lights.

But the affinity doesn't stop there. I am, if nothing else, the voice of truth and justice in the dark, the epitome of the road less travelled, and I am the commemorator in my family of all things sacred and profane. Being a guide or navigator is what I've always done in life ~ it has just taken many forms, is all.

I was one of two college class valedictorians honoured with being able to commemorate our time by cracking a joke or two. I have always worked in tourism ~ doing destination tour guiding, hotel show 'n tell site inspections and business consulting on next-step kinds of directions. My business name - how's this for a little northern altitude/attitude syncronicity? - is Summitup. And my current role, a la this particular era of my life, is as Speed Demon Driver and Satellite Radio Controller of the Honda Pilot, as well as Chief Cheerleader and Guidance Counsellor to the small Schmidts.

Anyways, I share this long diabribe - not because it's profound but because it's affirming. I have been running from affirmation all my life. Affirmations scare the living hell out of me, I guess because there's so much power in affirmation and because I've heard through the grapevine that they work. It's like being the ventriloquist's puppet who after a long time lying crumpled and lifeless on the shelf, comes to life when the breath of the great Animator breathes sound through the pipes. Scary stuff. Amazing schmidt happens (my nose no longer grows and I stop punishing myself and running off with the burlesque crowd), when I finally speak my truth and claim Who I am.

I finally owned a week or two back that I am here to Speak and give voice to my essence as Still navigator and way-shower.

After trying on so many odd pairs of shoes, I finally found the One(s) that fit and I feel like I've finally found that missing piece of me that got lost with my placental matter at birth.My wise-sage daughter, who is all of 8, asked me when I got back Sunday night ~ after having lived on much laughter, many tears, and very little sleep during the course of five days that felt more like a year and the journey of a thousand miles ~ "what was it like, Mommy?"

And I said, "Well...it was a little like being thrown into an old-fashioned wringer-style washing machine and then chucked into a dryer on gentle cycle with a bunch of warm, fuzzy towels." I'm not sure she got it and that's OK. I did. Finally!

Which brings me to my final thought. This spring, during a similar but more profoundly cathartic retreat, I wrote these words to myself: "I live happily ever after on a moment-by-moment basis, and die erect like the trees to the same ~ death will kill me standing up."

Those words meant several things to me - that happiness lies in the Now, that all life is rebirth, and that my actions will pen my epitaph. But now, in light of my new self-vision, I can honestly attest that "death will kill me standing up" has renewed meaning and vitality for me.

I now see the ground upon which I stand ~ where I have lived and upon where I shall die. It is where I have always stood. My legs no longer feel shakey when I stand there.

I now understand the notion of be-longing. It's that primordial place I've longed to Be. It's my solid ground and my stake in the world and I am eternally grateful that I got to do this soul-search before I died, instead of croaking and then getting called in for death detention into the office of The Maker, who would have sternly asked me, "It's a little late now, Missy, but do you have any idea or inkling of Who you were supposed to Be?" and then having to mumble in shame, "no friggin' clue, oh Hallowed Universe ~ please, do tell!"

The End but to be continued...as always.


Stuff in My Head

Time Keeps on Slipping
As August fades into September, I’m always reminded of the wheel of time and the return of annual rites which seem to slip away in summer’s grasp but return in vengeance each autumn. Rites of passage such as the kids’ re-traipsing back to school following Labor Day ~ another year older, wiser and readier to risk and take hold of their stake in the world.

Holy Daughter is more excited than ever – despite the fact that we’re in the midst of a teacher’s strike that has postponed the start of school until God knows when. She’s excited because her school is brand-new.

And I look forward to returning, strike dependent, to my own fall rites – cocooning into creative projects like writing and volunteering and Christmas prep and new this fall – facilitating The Artist’s Way class at my Church, as well as hopefully finding the courage to splash colour on the walls of this old house.

With this seasonal return comes the eternal return to community, or in our case, overlapping communities. Soccer, ballet, Irish Dance, Scouts, Brownies, seminars, church committee all beg their place in the weekly schedule this fall, as do the inevitable Nutcracker rehearsals for both kids (Holy Daughter was cast as a Snowflake in Act I – a beautiful dance for a beautiful girl; and Holy Son, despite having grown another couple of inches, is once again playing the roles of the nephew, Nutcracker King and the Nutcracker Prince – handsome roles for a handsome boy).

I like how time circles back upon itself, shapeshifting the landscape from year to year so the soil appears freshly tilled and fertile, and the vistas, brand new visions. It is an Eliotian pilgrimage, of sorts, for to journey back in sacred return on any repeat visit is to “arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Never mind that said arrival is beginning to feel more and more like I’m riding a high-speed express train between years, akin to the train one might ride between airport terminals. Like that time and space between terminals, such a ride between the years feels innocuous, vacuous, and liminal. I am more sensitive to this sacred circling and dance than ever before – how it leads me to retrace my steps precisely with slight changes to the choreography to add some salsa to the mix.

I had the opportunity to experience this déjà-vu feeling firsthand this past weekend when Holy Hub, the kids and I travelled to Orcas Island for a mid-week camping trip.

Holy Hub and I had not been to Orcas in 15 years but it was prophetic that we should return exactly 15 years, almost to the month, since we had last stepped foot off the ferry landing there. Orcas was the site of an intensely personal retreat course we both attended (individually and separately within the span of a few months). I remember falling in love with the island in all its rugged and rustic beauty. It was little wonder, when asked to project ahead 15 years and imagine my life then that I should conjure a vision of Holy Hubby and I living on the west coast with two adolescent children, as yet unborn in thought and form. At the hedonistic age of 27, having to picture my life 15 years much less 15 minutes into the future was a long-term visioning exercise akin to walking over hot coals, which is to say an alternative form of hell.

And so it would be foretold that this prairie girl would find herself moving not just to the other side of the world, but to the west coast within 15 years, with same Holy Hub, two kids and considerably more baggage in tow. I confess, I’m a little disappointed that the huge timber-framed house with the panoramic window overlooking the Puget Sound which was the locale for my west coast family vision did not seem to come to fruition.

Alas, here is the water view out our kitchen/side deck window.

It is a lesson in living and dreaming and scheming, nonetheless. One I’ve not forgotten but one I’ve been more than a little afraid to recreate. It’s the old adage - be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.

And so here we are. And here I am, setting out to retrace the creative labyrinth, or manifest quest, as I like to call it, in communitas with other trepid creative types this fall, who fear not our inadequacies, but our “power beyond measure.” I’ve been shrinking and playing small for awhile now (even as my waistline of late suggests the opposite) but I can see, in kabalistic retrospect, that I have done so in tsimtsumic gesture. Just like God is said to have done in those penultimate moments of earthly creation, I withdrew inward in order to provide space for my darling creations to expand, evolve and flourish these past couple of years. And they have.

But I had a little lightbulb moment on this trip – when we were doing a little round table session where each family member had to say a couple of complimentary things about another member. Suffice to say the kids were at a loss as to what to say about their dear old mom. Oh sure, the usual suspects attached to the daily grind of life showed up. Chauffeur, homework-helper, etc. Not that I was expecting them to articulate their eternal gratitude that I have helped them to find and live up to their highest potential. Nothing so grand as that but I got me to thinking about my own highest potential and if I am somehow playing small by being a stay-at-home mom. And suffice to say, it got me to thinking about what kind of familial epitaph statement I want my kids to recite from their hearts at my funeral. And… “Here lies Mom. We’ll sure miss her. She always let me steal gum from her and let us listen to Radio Disney in the car.”…is not it.

On that note, I’m heading on a personal development retreat next week, aimed at giving me some more clarity on what the hell I’m actually doing on this planet. Carving out four and half days away from home with our schedule is no small feat. Holy Hub will virtually be working half-days (or no days if the strike continues) and taking the weekend off, to do the school and after-school activity runs. But the departure from the norm will be great. Perhaps the kids will see that I am more than a chauffeur and homework-helper. Somehow I doubt that. The more likely scenario is that I’ll return home with less of a vested interest in how they see me and more validation for how I see me. The wise adage that it’s none of my business what others think of me is one I continue to struggle with. It’s all part of the journey, I guess.

Nerve Endings
Speaking of journeys, my healing journey continues. My right hand and arm got wratched in the accident this summer. The whiplash has gotten progressively worse so I’ve started getting treatments at a naturopathic health clinic/college. They’ve implemented a multi-week regime for me that will encompass a combination of ultra-sound, massage and chiropractic therapy. The regular MD prescribed a night-time medication for me to help ease the nerve pain I was waking up with, but it turns out neuro medication moonlights as an anti-depressant. I stopped taking it. I wasn’t noticing much difference in the morning pain department but I was starting to feel a kind of heart palpitation feeling, not to mention an uncomfortable dry-mouth.

Chronic nerve pain sucks. But I consider we were most fortunate, in retrospect, to have sustained as minimal of injuries as we did, considering this was a high-speed vehicle collision.

Need for Speed
Not that anyone can ever accomplish much of a high-speed around here, with all the rubber neckers and gawkers. I have never seen anything so inane in my life as watching traffic come to a standstill on a freeway because there’s an abandoned vehicle on the side of the road or because there are construction cones on the roadside or because said drivers need to put their bifocals on to read the blinking traffic advisory sign board overhead. And don’t even get me started about traffic in the rain. You would think Seattlites would know how to drive in the rain…not. There’s some kind of strange correlation between the wiper blades swishing back and forth across the windshield and brake riding. I don’t get it.

Auto Pilot
And of vehicles, I have to say, we’ve owned Violet the Pilot (a.k.a. “the beast”) for almost a month now and true confession: I’m kinda digging the sunroof, heated leather seats (but not the fact that it was so cold one day this August, it merited a flip of the switch), and the satellite radio features. Holy Hub had what might be called a mini conniption when he discovered I had the XM dial tuned to Oprah & Friends – I love hearing Nate Berkus on the radio. He’s practically the most gorgeous man ever. And his boyfriend, Brian Atwood, isn’t too shabby either. Which reminds me of my first experience walking into a gay bar. It was a jaw-dropping experience on many accounts but most especially because never before had I seen a room full of such good looking men gyrating to techno music. I remember thinking, ohmigosh, THIS is where they’ve all been hiding! See how my mind works? I can go from vehicles to gay bars in just zero to 12 seconds.

Brain Food
But that’s not my fault. Blame it on the random firings of my neurons. I’m reading this fascinating book, This Is Your Brain On Music. I’ve been intrigued with music and brain patterning for awhile now, on account of the fact that the sound of music, like scent, is a great tool for tapping the memory wells. And on account of the fact that my son, the budding cellist and bass guitarist, is beginning to think and hear life in beats, which is sort of Last Mimsy woo-woo, but it’s also more than a little cool. I don’t necessarily make the same musical connections.

The author is a rock musician/producer turned cognitive psychologist and neuroscientist, who has penned such a terrific book for us nerdy types who are eternally intrigued, in a mysterium tremendum et fascinans kinda way, with all things neurological. He also dummies things down, which is no easy task, given that many of us musical neophytes struggle with discerning a staccato from a stiletto and a vibrato from a vibrator.

Memory Lane
You may be wondering how I can tie vibrator to my next trainwreck of thought. Well actually, it segues quite nicely to the latest book I’m reading ~ Loose Girl: a memoir of promiscuity. I have read so many memoirs these past couple of years, that I, too, feel more than a little voyeuristic and promiscuous. Can one be promiscuous in a literary way, I wonder? It was weird and somehow affirming to pop into a little indie bookstore on Orcas Island recently and recognize so many past-read titles throughout the store. I even saw a weight loss book by Mike Huckabee.

Political Madness
To be honest, the Orcas trip, up until that point, was a nice respite from the non-stop political madness this nation seems gripped in. And I do mean madness. How is it possible that campaigning has been allowed to overshadow real politics? Bush and Cheney have been arrogantly resting on their laurels, watching the campaign debacle with amusement, no doubt. In some ways, that bodes well for the Democrats. On sunny days, I trust beyond the shadow of a doubt that Obama will get elected. Because he stands for peace and equality and community building. But then the Republican fear-mongering blows upwind towards the Pacific on stormier days, and then I’m not so sure I trust in the hopes and dreams of the American public.

Madame Palin is representative of so many redneck mamas in this country not to mention Canada, where hockey moms rule the roost. She packs a pistol, cockily declares herself a spitfire and cut her political teeth on teen pageants and PTA boards. I’m all for women shattering the political glass ceiling but her NRA membership and Alaskan pipeline ambitions and pregnancy cover-ups scare me.

Holy Son bragged to his grandparents that if McCain wins, we’re moving back to Canada. I’m not sure where he got that but he’s not far from the truth. I don’t think this nation can sustain two war-loving Presidents hellbent on “victory,” especially when one of them doesn't even purport to know how many homes he owns. I can't believe that the victory rhetoric, relative to Iraq, is still being bantered about and served warm to a gullible public. The only true victory is peace and peace does not follow war except in the title of Tolstoy’s epic.

But maybe that’s what it’s all about: epic. This election campaign has turned into one. It’s both mentally and financially taxing. And it’s such a pity that all those campaign dollars are wholesale wasted. There ought to be a law against such gross wastes of financial resources to say nothing of our attention but then again, we’ll fixate on anything. Watching all those regular Joe, hanger-onner delegates at these conventions had me wondering: who are these staunch political groupies and don’t they have a real life?

Meanwhile north of the border, PM Stephen Harper is looking in the days ahead to call a snap election for mid-October. We’re talking about a campaign span of less than six weeks. Now that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it. Holy Hub sent me this clip of KC.

Back in the day, he was uber handsome. And so I got to wondering - where is he now? And so I took the liberty of Googled him 'cuz I was curious. I shouldn’t have done that. Suffice to say, he’s aged a tad and I don’t mean that in fine wine terms. More like a crumbly cheese.

But no sooner do I type cheese when what does Holy Son blurt out but, "Cheese makes the world go 'round!" He declared this out of the blue as though he’d solved the key to the universe. Apparently it starts with the cheese which attracts the mouse, which attracts the cat, which attracts the dog, which attracts the boy, which attracts the girl, which brings about love, which makes the world goes around.

Yessiree, it’s all circular. Journeys, chases and even time slips that shift the axis of perspective and cause all manner of disparate things like kids and retreats and island and nerves and traffic and SUVs and sex and drugs and rock ‘n roll and politics converge into one pregnant train of thought inside my head going absolutely nowhere.

Scary, isn’t it?


Back to School Blues

Some parents feel blue when their kids go back to school. Much like an anthropologist, I am fascinated if a great deal suspicious of this rare and deranged creature.

Then there are the rest of us, who rejoice a la Julie Andrews romping through a valley of flowers, singing Joy to the World, the kids are gone, there tru-ly is a God! when the kids go back to school. And we know the moment down to the millisecond, for we have been fervently marking X's on our calendars just as our fellow prisoner brethen have taught us is the thing to do until the Get Out of Jail Free card comes in.

And the ones who rejoice the most are those of us who were too stupid and idealistic to schedule the heck out of our kids all summer, opting instead of summer camps to keep things footloose and fancy free in hopes of having "family time" to visit parks and attractions. Yeah well, let me tell you, that fun family fantasy faded fairly fast - and those are the only f-words I care to share in polite company - I think it was day two of summer in this household before I began spouting the other f-words, as I recall. That was about the time I Googled to see if drinking alone without benefit of other adult commiserate-types constituted pure and certain alcoholism.

I had made it all the way to my last calendar X, without benefit of much anesthesia, as miracles would have it (and yes, I'm bragging), when what could only be classified as a parent's worst back-to-school nightmare occurred.

The school district announced a strike tonight. No school until further notice.

My latest f-word is flabbergasted, to say nothing of feeling frayed at the edges and fried for breakfast at the thought of how long this strike might potentially last. Rumour has it the last strike in these parts lasted 7 weeks. I did the math and that's just asking for Social Services to come calling.

But I'm somewhat prepared to handle this emergency in the short-term. I have an unopened bottle of Bailey's and I know with absolutely certainly, without even having to Google it, that Bailey's is a 24/7 apothecary item. No 'After 6pm only' notation there.

So I'm good to go until Wednesday at the outset. After that, I dunno. You may want to send back-up in the event you haven't heard from me. Chocolate cake and a nail file may not cut it.