On the four Sundays leading up to Christmas we light Advent candles—one candle per week, each with a different word associated with it: Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.
Usually the first Sunday of Advent falls on the same date as an important Canadian sporting event: the Grey Cup. [The championship game for the Canadian Football League.] Usually we host a gathering of neighbourhood friends for a Grey Cup party involving unhealthy food and beer. A kind of Canadian Superbowl party. At some point in the evening, we still the TV, quiet the conversation, and take time to be peaceful, to appreciate each other’s friendship, and to light the candle of Hope.
This year the Canadian Football League did not play at all due to COVID. There was no Grey Cup. There was no gathering of friends.
We lit the candle of Hope, but something was missing.
But that’s when we feel hope, isn’t it? When we feel that something is missing. That’s when we yearn.
This year, there is a whole lot of yearning going on. So . . . many . . . things . . . we are missing.
In these times I try to remember that the sunshine side of hope is faith. That’s when we relax in the knowledge that all shall be well.
When we hope, our bodies are taut, we lean forward with fists clenched. In faith, we relax, drop our shoulders, breathe . . .
We hope because something is missing. We have faith because someday, somehow, something’s coming. Get ready.
This post from my previous site is another one that continues to gather regular traffic.
Way back in 2012, I was standing at my kitchen sink washing dishes when I saw something that made me stop in the middle of scrubbing a pot: a creature in my back yard looked suspiciously like a rat. Yikes.
I watched it for a while wondering how much rat traps cost. Then I realized that it looked like a rat, but it didn’t behave like a rat. It behaved exactly like the other squirrels frolicking around my yard.
It was a squirrel with no fur on its tail.
The next day a second squirrel with no fur on its tail appeared; this one was grey. What was going on? How could there be two squirrels of different colours with furless tails?
I have since learned that they probably had mange, but at the time I didn’t know that.
What made my heart glad was that all the squirrels, whether they had fluffy tails or not, played together happily.
In that fabulous story, some Sneetches have stars on their bellies, but Plain-Belly Sneetches had “no stars upon thars.” In the beginning, the Star-Belly Sneetches won’t associate with their plainer counterparts. By the end of the story, after Sylvester McMonkey McBean sends them all on several trips through his Star-on or Star-off machine (only ten dollars each) the Sneetches no longer know “Whether this one was that one . . . or that one was this one / Or which one was what one . . . or what one was who.”
In other words, the Sneetches discovered that it’s what’s inside that counts. That’s something my backyard squirrels seem to know instinctively. They play together whether or not there is “fur upon thars.”
The Sneetches learned, the squirrels know it. Can we figure it out?
I first read about desire paths in The Old Ways: A Journey by Footby Robert McFarlane, People and other animals create desire paths when they opt for the shortest, fastest routes to destinations.
Cow paths are the most famous desire paths. The cows take the shortest, fastest route between their pasture and milking time. I have seen flocks of sheep on desire paths too.
You have a desire path in your neighbourhood; I’m sure of it. There used to be one a few hundred feet from me in the park behind my house. Before COVID, my neighbours and I would beat the grass down while taking the shortest, fastest route to the bus stop.
This year, that desire path is gone. With COVID, people are either working from home or commuting to work in a different way. The grass is green and full, as if the desire path had never existed.
Our desires changed so we quickly and effortlessly beat down new desire paths—around our neighbourhood, between our at-home desks and the bathroom, or maybe between our TVs and the refrigerator.
We effortlessly opt for desire paths every day. When we park at the grocery store and walk diagonally across the lot, we take a desire path. When we jaywalk to get to our favourite coffee shop faster, we’re choosing a desire path.
We know where we want to go, nothing holds us back, and we take the steps to get there the fastest. Easy right?
Why are other goals harder to reach?
Why don’t we simply jaywalk to the right career? We should be able to fast-track to the perfect relationship. To lose weight, all we have to do is eat less and exercise more.
But it’s more difficult when the target is uncertain, or when our emotions get in the way, or when the goal feels impossibly out of reach. We travel long, circuitous routes (or maybe never reach a destination) because we become paralyzed with fear, or we don’t believe we deserve love, or we compare our bodies to others.
For those not-so-clear, scary, long-term goals, it might help to:
Place them in your favourite coffee shop in your mind.
Do as the cows and sheep do and never spend one second comparing yourself to others or believing yourself unworthy.
“You have to understand that it is your attempt to get special experiences from life that makes you miss the actual experiences of life. Life is not something you get; it’s something you experience. Life exists with or without you.”
—Michael A. Singer in The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself
On Hallowe’en, we will have a second full moon in one month: a blue moon.
The moon moves the waters of our massive oceans, so it’s not difficult to believe that a force that mighty could have an effect on me too. Perhaps the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun creates some ebb and flow in the water of my being.
At the very least, a second full moon in a single month makes me turn aside—take a break from my usual busy-ness and preoccupations—and pay attention.
It is a break from trying to make special experiences happen so I can appreciate life’s actual experiences.
The blue moon is not something I create. It exists with or without me. I get to experience it—the beauty, the gravitational pull, the brief and rare glory.
I am an optimist. I CAN’T HELP IT. When unfortunate events occur, my natural response is: “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”
This past week I was alarmed and disturbed when someone brought the phrase “toxic positivity” to my attention. The Psychology Group calls it “the dark side of the ‘positive vibes’ trend.”
We define toxic positivity as the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations. The process of toxic positivity results in the denial, minimization, and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience.
— The Psychology Group: “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes”
Has my relentless positivity been annoying the heck out of people? Have I been robbing people of their sorrow? Maybe I have friends who are secretly licking wounds I unintentionally inflicted on them?
If so, I apologize, but I CAN’T HELP IT.
It’s not that I don’t ever feel sad, or disturbed, or angry. I do. But I am incapable of dwelling in those states, and I find it hard to understand it when people do.
If there was ever a time for people to explore the breadth of emotions, it’s during a pandemic. Over the past seven months I have felt sad, disturbed and angry. Of course I have. But I’ve also been saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. How can good come of it?”
I have been practising gratitude at every turn, and I have found so many things to feel positive about. For example, I am grateful to have acquired the skill of picking up a tennis ball without using my hands, so as to (ahem) not touch other people’s balls.
When I asked my Facebook friends, they too had found many positives amongst the negatives.
Physical Activity: My friends took up physical activities they had never done before, or had not done in a long time: tennis, biking, walking, and stand-up paddleboarding. One friend described her new kickboxing habit as a “great way to work out the COVID angst.”
Technology: We have learned how to use online communications platforms. We are doing online coaching, yoga and fitness classes. One friend learned how to use a coverstitch sewing machine to make athletic leggings with a professional look. And, of course, there’s online grocery shopping.
Connections: We aren’t seeing people like we were before, but we’re seeing people in a different way. One women meets a 94-year-old friend from Scotland every week via Zoom. Many people have met neighbours they never knew before, because suddenly everyone is working from home and going for walks. We’re helping each other with groceries and dropping off baked goods. We’re enjoying family time. playing games, eating together. While stocking up on books before the lockdown, a friend met someone who runs a writers group.
Services: Two of my friends learned how to groom their dogs. Many, many of them cut their own hair or a family member’s hair. We watched YouTube videos to learn how to do just about anything. Another friend has learned how to do her own gel nails.
Hobbies: Sewing, cooking new things, gardening, drying seeds, and canning are on the list of hobbies developed in the past seven months. I’ve been doing lots of writing. One friend started buying and selling used vinyl (albums in my lingo). He is, “having a blast. Meeting all kinds of interesting people (at a distance) and adding considerably to [his] music knowledge base.”
Self-care: Through all of this we have been trying to take care of ourselves. The physical activity is helping with that. One friend lost 30 pounds. Another friend has taken up a meditation practice.
These are all little ways of dealing with the negative. When can do them when we’re sad, mad or angry.
Collectively we’re saying, “Okay, let’s deal with this. What good can come of it?”