Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Just Another Spiritual Adventure With The Mountain Dreamer

People make assumptions. We all do it. I am sometimes surprised at the assumptions some people make about me because they’ve read something I’ve written, or heard my medicine name (and that can go either way: either Enlightened Spiritual Teacher or Flaky High-Woo-Woo Nut- wrong on both counts) or know someone who knew someone who once attended a ceremony I lead or a retreat I facilitated.

Once, a lovely young woman who was interviewing me mentioned something about a television show she’d watched and then apologized, saying, “Oh I know you wouldn’t watch TV – you’re probably meditating in the evening.”

Yeah. Right. That’s me- in a constant state of meditative serenity.

I could not help but think of inflated projections on Saturday night. I’d gone to get groceries after an early dinner. (Yep, life in the fast lane.) When I got home, unpacking included unwrapping a twelve-roll pack of toilet paper and stashing it in the cupboard under the bathroom sink.

Suddenly I noticed a strange smell- an odd chemical scent. I was alarmed.

For those of you who don’t know, I recently came out of a (new record for me) seventy-three day migraine. Like most who suffer from this affliction, my migraines can be triggered by chemical scents, and you can bet that after two and half months of agony I was hyper-alert to anything that might send me down that road again.

I sniffed around cautiously and discovered it was the newly purchased toilet paper. They make scented toilet paper! Who knew? I closed the cupboard door and stepped out onto the balcony to gulp some relatively fresh air. But there was no way around it- I needed to get rid of the offending toilet paper rolls. The trouble is, they were now mixed in with old rolls- all white, with no distinguishing pattern on the paper.

This is how I came to spend my Saturday evening sitting on the bathroom floor, sniffing toilet paper rolls one at time and stuffing the stinky ones into a garbage bag between breathing breaks on the balcony. At some point, as I lightly passed another roll under my nose to detect what the manufacturer called “chamomile fragrance,” I muttered to myself, “Yep, just another exciting and enlightening evening with Mountain Dreamer.”

And I started to laugh.

I was still laughing and shaking my head as I took the garbage bag to the recycling bin outside my building. The good news is I did not get a migraine, and laughing at the whole predicament truly sent me to bed with a smile on my face.

The truth is I don’t know anything about enlightenment- and have never claimed I do. But I do know that not taking myself too seriously makes life easier and more joyful. Laughter makes me glad to be alive, even if it is in a world where resources are used to create something as absurd as scented toilet paper.

Good to laugh, wherever we can, whenever we can.

Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Possibility of Healing After Death

My father died of advanced Alzheimer’s one year ago tomorrow- April 22, 2015. He was eighty-three. My brother died three weeks ago today, of an aortic aneurysm. He was sixty years old.
I’ve been kind of quiet this week, just sitting with my own heart and what arises in the stillness.
Often the death of those close to us reminds us of our own mortality and encourages us to live and love fully and deeply. In the shamanic traditions in which I was trained this is called making Death an Ally.
My father and my brother had not spoken in years. My father wanted nothing to do with my brother because he was an alcoholic, and my brother’s anger with my father for abuses during his childhood meant he did not want contact. I do not judge either’s choice not to be in touch- they did what they felt was right for them- although I was witness to the pain this choice reflected and created.
I cannot help but wonder if their paths will cross now, wherever or whatever continues of these two men I knew and loved. I have no set belief about what happens after we die (and I am fine with that.) I can imagine reincarnation, movement to other realities, or other scenarios, and I have an overwhelming sense that whatever happens it is truly. . . okay.
But, I cannot help but imagine some kind of encounter between my father and my brother. . . . elsewhere.
If this is possible- how might it go? Will death soften their hearts and offer them perspective on how each did the best he could without denying the harm sometimes done by the other’s best to self and others?
I don’t know. But as I sit quietly during these days of remembrance and grief, I find myself hoping for some healing between them. I like to picture them sitting in the small red row boat we had, fishing. I imagine them in companionable silence, enjoying the northern wilderness they both loved, appreciating the quiet together.
And I know that this is my vision. I can't know if something like this is even possible- and I am okay with the not-knowing and the holding of this hope. Envisioning this possibility is my way of holding them both in love right now, a way of remembering what matters and what does not, a way of helping to heal the family spiral. ~Oriah
Deep gratitude to Karen Davis for this beautiful photo found on Open Door Dreaming this morning.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Losing My Brother

I've been off line for awhile, dealing with some health challenges. Thought I would be back last week, and then (as so often happens) life intervened in my plans.

Last Thursday, on the final day of March, my brother Doug, died suddenly at the age of sixty when an aortic enlargement (that he did not know he had) burst. These enlargements run in the family and can be monitored if they are known- I have one, my father had one, both discovered by tests for other medical conditions.

Doug and I were only sporadically in touch over the years, but we'd had a number of phone conversations more recently when our parents were both diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He was often preoccupied with how he was going to die. Doug had been an alcoholic since he was a teenager and was beginning to show signs of alcohol-induced Alzheimer's. He was not interested in giving up alcohol, and I accepted that this was his choice. He was however worried that he would be incapacitated by Alzheimer's and linger long after he wanted to be here. In this, the death he had was mercifully quick and without suffering.

My brother and I lived very different lives- but, of course, we shared our beginnings. Here we are at Easter in 1960- I was five and he was four, with our baskets of chocolate eggs and jelly beans. I look at the face of this boy. . . .and I pray that he is now at peace, without pain or suffering. I remember his innocence, our shared silliness, and. . . . I hold tenderly the girl who could not protect her little brother, and the boy who bore the brunt of our father's woundedness. Like all of us, he did the best he could. May he feel held in love now. ~Oriah

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Impulse To Blame

The urge to blame someone- anyone- when our plans are disrupted or things go badly is. . . . well, it’s human, but often not very helpful. Years ago, running between work and mothering, always a little behind with just a bit more on my daily to-do list than could be accomplished, I often screeched to a halt just in time to make dinner. On one occasion, a little too late in the day, I made a tuna casserole and went to finish responding to emails as it baked in the oven. Too soon the timer rang. I zipped into the kitchen, telling my youngest son Nathan, then fourteen, to set the table. In one smooth motion, like some kind of Olympic speed skater, I skimmed across the kitchen floor while putting on oven mitts, pulled the oven door open, grasped the casserole, and swung around to put it on a pad on the table. And I dropped it. The glass shattered. Steaming tuna and macaroni spewed across the floor tiles. I stood with my mouth open and my eyes wide, unable to look away and overwhelmed with feelings of disbelief and frustration. But before I could even make a sound, Nathan- in a brilliant effort to avoid being targeted unfairly simply because he was the only other person in the room- said with feeling, “Oh no! Who can blame for this?” And all my anger evaporated in laughter. Nathan’s words became my mantra for those times when I’ve found myself semi-consciously fuming about things beyond my control that were messing with my carefully laid plans. Stuck in a traffic jam, late for an appointment: who can we blame for this? Cat threw up outside my bedroom right where I’d step in it as I started my day: who can we blame for this? It never fails to help me take a breath and smile. Oh, I know there are situations for which someone could and hopefully will be held accountable. (If you are looking for examples I’d recommend seeing the movies, “Spotlight” and “The Big Short.”) But even when this is true, unless we are personally in a position to make this happen, life is more easily savoured when we can let go of the blaming and move into what needs to be done. Generally, life is better when we can laugh a little, take a deep breath, scrape the hot tuna off the floor, and start again. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Getting By With A Little Help

Tell me about a time when kindness touched you and made it possible to face the unknown with hope. Years ago, physically depleted and confused, I braved the drifting snow and drove into the city. I had no plan, I only knew I had to do something. I was becoming increasingly ill and isolated in the rural property I shared with my then-husband. 
Intuitively, I drove to a neighbourhood I knew near the University of Toronto. Parking on a side street, I thought, "Now what?" I phoned a friend who lived nearby. She was at work, but her husband, Jim- who I did not know well at all- answered. I mumbled something about being in the city. . . .not being sure why. . . . and wondering what to do. 
Without hesitation Jim invited me to drive over to their apartment building, saying he'd arrange for me to park there. When I arrived, the doorman directed me to the parking garage, and Jim came downstairs with a printed list of apartments for rent in the area.
I wasn't sure i was looking to rent something in the city, and if I was what that would mean for my marriage or my life. But I spent the day looking at apartments and, to my surprise, I gained energy as the day went on.
The thing is, what touched me most that day, was how Jim- this man I barely knew- had responded. He had not treated me as if I was crazy, had not tried to sort out my confusion or solve my problems. He'd offered what he could- a place to park (no small thing in downtown Toronto) and a suggestion of places to look at so I could explore my options. He was kind, and his kindness was a reminder that I was not on my own, that I was connected to and supported by the Life we share.
I think we tend to underestimate how small acts of kindness can make a big difference. We sometimes feel we need to find or give complete answers when, in fact, there are no once-and-for-all answers There's just life, in all it's wonderful messiness filled with opportunities to extend or receive the kindness that helps us through.  
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

I looked at this beautiful photo from Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming and thought- if kindness had colours this would be it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For My Dad

Today, was my father's birthday. He died last April- on Earth Day- which seemed appropriate since he was the most in-his-body, connected-to-the-earth person I've ever known. Because he had suffered horribly with Alzheimer's, it's been hard to grieve his passing- I was relieved for him, glad he was free. Recently I wrote a little story about my father. It just bubbled up one morning. I share it here to honour him and to honour the sweet ache of missing him.

My childhood was shaped and scoured by the Spirit of Winter. In 1963 my family moved four hundred miles north to a small town set between trackless wilderness and an incongruous patch of flat farmland.

I loved the cold, the sharp edge of the wind at forty below zero that cut through mental defenses and made me feel deeply alive in my body. At night the darkness held the hum of frigid power lines, and the house cracked and moaned on its foundation as the frozen earth heaved and sighed.

Once, in the midst of high winds, the wind chill was calculated to be seventy-five below zero. We dressed in layers and covered every square inch of exposed skin to go out and shovel drifting snow so a hearse could retrieve the recently deceased body of someone’s beloved from the hospital across the street.

I remember stepping outside, shovel in hand, swaddled in long johns and itchy wool and a one-piece skidoo-suit, toque on my head and a scarf covering my face. I may just as well have been stepping outside naked- the forty mile per hour winds at forty below zero cut through all layers and whisked away my body heat in seconds. Shocked I just stood there until my father hollered above the wind, “Keep moving!”

But he was the one who cleared the way that day. My brother and I, both in our early teens, lasted five minutes tops before he sent us in. I remember watching from the kitchen window as he dug in front of the vehicle one foot at a time, motioning the driver forward little by little until they could get to the street where a plough waited to clear the way.

That was my father: a burning coal against the power of ice and snow; a man who trusted his physicality and threw himself against the elements when someone was in need; a man who reveled in working to provide, who did not fear sweat or frigid cold or the need to do what had to be done.

Not too long after this l I started getting up at five am so I could serve breakfast and do dishes at that hospital across the road before school. It was my first real job. My Dad took me aside. He said, “This is up to you, but remember, you’ll be working for the rest of your life- don’t be too eager to get started.”   

I replied, “But I want this job, Dad.”

He nodded and smiled a little sadly. “Okay,” he said.

I get it now. He valued the ability to work, but he wanted me to have more time without that pressure. But I was my father’s daughter, and off to work I went. He was right of course- it was the beginning of a life of work. I love how he wanted me to know it was okay not to start so early, and how he acquiesced to my determined spirit.

For this and so much more- thanks Dad. I miss you. ~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

(Deep thanks to Karen Davis at Open Door Dreaming for this beautiful photo of a cold dawn.)

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Stealth Strategies

Sometimes you have to get sneaky to get around your own defenses, have to use stealth if you want to know the truth about your life, no matter how hard and wonderful that life has been. The new book is a memoir, so it is deeply personal. I know, if you’ve read the other books I’ve written you’re probably wondering how it could get any more personal.
But it can. And it does. And some of it is not pretty. Some of it is hard.
For a while, each time I wrote for a couple of days, I would get very sick, and that’s not a fun way to live.
So, now I write fast in small pieces, no edits, no reviewing. And then I go out and walk. I walk for miles after I write one of the stories from my childhood. I walk to feel my skin, bones, muscles and sinew meet the earth and the icy wind on my face. I listen to the sound of my inhale, the release of my exhale, the rhythm of my beating heart echoed in my blood.
I walk to make sure I stay here, because here is where I want to be.
As I walk I invite another story to come. Sometimes I walk for a couple of days before the same story pops up frequently enough to let me know it’s next. I write an identifying detail about the story on a post-it note and put it on my desk, because it is amazing how easily I can “forget” – can go completely unconscious about what story is next.
The next day I get up and go about my day- doing my practise, making a smoothie, putting in a load of laundry, answering emails. And the whole time the neon coloured post-it calls to me like a prayer I offered yesterday that will be answered today.
Today’s post-it says, “Dad’s Funeral,” which is more of an adventure story than that title might suggest.
And at the right moment- like right now, after I write this- I will quickly open the Word document and write about what happened that day and how it left me in awe of our ability to survive and thrive in dark places. Writing like this is like slipping through a door someone left ajar, being careful not to set off any alarms. I’ll slip in, write fast before the inner censors show up, and then slip out.
And then, I’ll go out and walk.
And, Spoiler Alert: it works out well. Even though some of the journey is tough, it lands in a place of joy and gratitude. Sometimes I can't believe it myself, but it's true; the act of writing, of creativity however it manifests in our lives, makes room for more Life to rush in and fill us with awe for simply Being here.
~Oriah "Mountain Dreamer" House (c) 2016

I love Karen Davis' photos at Open Door Dreaming. The ones of docks always make me smile as I spent a lot of my best dreaming time as a child sitting or lying down on docks feeling myself amongst the clouds or the stars.