Archive for the ‘Spiritual journey’ Category

It’s my life!

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

It was someone’s birthday – really that was just an excuse. It seems that this particular crew always finds an excuse for a party on Wednesday nights at sea. We were in the middle of the Atlantic, on a container ship, with not much else to do. We, as well as everyone else on board, were invited to the crew lounge for a party.

At the appointed time, Scott and I sauntered down to the lounge. Fortunately, not many of the crew on this ship smoke (mostly it is the officers that smoke), and with the crowds people, it would have been very uncomfortable if too many of them were smoking in the small room.

The cook prepared some special treats for the party – chicken wings and other finger food. Upon walking in, the crew showed their delight at our joining them by  immediately offering us drink – beer, wine, whatever we wanted. I don’t know who paid for the alcohol for the party, but we were honoured guests so it wasn’t us. In hind sight, I think it was the person having the birthday that paid – opposite to our tradition, in the Philippines, where most of the crew are from – it is an honour to buy your friends drinks.

So, with drink in hand, we joined in the festivities. This group had karaoke setup and were pretty good at it. We sang some songs we recognized as well as many that we didn’t. I had to get up and do some Brian Adams – they didn’t have Brian Adams as a karaoke CD, so you just sung along to the CD – in the crew lounge any CD could become a karaoke CD. We even tried singing some karaoke in Tagalog (the language spoken in the Philippines). Scott was OK at it; the German apprentice onboard was very good. Clearly he has been practicing!

For many of the crew, karaoke night is not just a chance to party, it is also a chance to practice English. During the party, one of the ship’s mechanics watched the karaoke with a notebook in his hand. Anytime he saw a word he didn’t understand, he would write it down so he could look it up later. I was amazed at how a particular crew member could sing along to karaoke without an accent, and yet he could barely string together a sentence in English.

By midnight the party started to get pretty roudy – with lots of loud singing and dancing. I was the only female in the room, but that didn’t stop some of the guys from table dancing – it was that wild. Of course, when the camera came out, everyone had to jump into the picture – and then see the picture in the camera window – you have to love digital cameras!

A particular vivid memory was when they put on a Bon Jovi CD. Imagine, the whole lot of us, in the middle of the Altantic Ocean, on a very dark night, screaming “It’s My Life” at the top of our lungs.

It’s my life
It’s now or never
I ain’t gonna live forever
I just want to live while I’m alive

(It’s my life)

My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said
I did it my way
I just wanna live while I’m alive
It’s my life

That sound will forever be imprinted in my mind, with the image of all of us dancing and screaming out the words as if we were the only people on earth (we were in the middle of the ocean after all).

That was four years ago, and every time I hear that song, and I hear it often as it is the third song on my daily exercise track,  I smile (and sometimes I even scream although I try to keep the scream inside). It’s my life!


Funny the things you didn’t realize you enjoyed – reading serendipity

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

When we were on our trip, I often found it difficult to get my hands on English books. When they were available in bookstores, they were horribly expensive (I paid 20 Euro or $30 CAD for a paperback book!). This was in the time before kindle, so there were limited options for eBooks – Scott had a bunch of eBooks of varying sorts on his Nokia handheld (mostly classics and fan-fiction sci-fi), but I didn’t have an eBook reader and the types of books I normally read were not available as eBooks at that time. Its actually hard to imagine life before Kindle!

In planning for our vacation to Africa this spring, I’m finding that what I long for most is the opportunity to sit on a beach (or by a pools or someplace quite) with no time pressures and read a book or two, just for fun. Interestingly, when I look back our trip, I have the fondest memories of the random books I read– the books of opportunity – ones that I likely would not have picked out on my own, but that I read because they were the only think available at the time.

Now that I have an eReader (iPad and Kindle), I can bring whatever books I want. But I find that I am missing the serendipity of the random books. The choice of books is paralyzing me – I can have any book, so how can I possibly choose! To help me recover the serendipity, I’ve decided to limit my vacation books to free eBooks. I’ve subscribes to pixelofink and free books for kindle, and over the next few weeks I’ll scan the free options and download some random books to read. From those, I’ll still have lots of choice, but I’ll be choosing from about 100 books rather than the 100s of thousands that are available on amazon. Who knows what I’ll find!

The new me

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

Last week, I started a new job. I am now a Project Manager for In-Touch Survey Systems. Going through the interview process and starting work, I realize that the trip has changed my attitudes and behaviours.

First and foremost, I have much more self-confidence. Crossing some of the less travelled roads in Canada on a bike certainly has left me with a bit of an “I can do anything” feeling. I went into the interview process feeling like I can do anything. I was not afraid to be myself and did not feel the need to create an artificial image of myself. I figured they could “take me or leave me”, and if they did not like me, then it was not meant to be. This made for a mutual interview process, where both sides were interviewing the other. I found that I left each of the interviews feeling like I would fit right in.

I find that I am much less afraid to ask for what I need or want. In Canada, our cultural norms tell us that it is impolite to ask for things. We wait patiently and hope that someone will offer us what we need or want. This applies in the workplace too, where we expect our coworkers or bosses to feed us the information we need to do our jobs. This behaviour is flawed, because it expects that those who would make the offer of assistance can read our minds and know what we need. On our trip, the flaw in our cultural norms was emphasized when our Turkish friends told us “if you don’t ask us for what you need, we will think you don’t like us.”  Sometimes giving others the opportunity to help provides both sides with something they desire.

Finally, I find that I am much calmer. When my second day of work got really busy – yes I am already working directly with customers – I found myself able to step away from the busy-ness and watch. I no longer feel the urge to make myself busy, or the need to make myself important. I am happy to be there, do the best that I can, and walk out the door at the end of the day putting it all aside (or at least mostly, I have been known to check my work email from home – mostly as a means to procrastinate on something else that I should be doing – like updating the blog!). I do hope that I can remember this calm as I transition to full time and get more attached to my job.

Thanksgiving Celebrations

Monday, October 12th, 2009

Thanksgiving is a holiday that celebrates the bringing in of the harvest and traditionally involves a turkey dinner and feast. Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated on the second Monday in October – although the actual Thanksgiving feast may be celebrated on any day of that weekend. In our area, this is usually the peak time for viewing the fall colours – that is, when the leaves of all the deciduous trees turn pretty colours making all the hills bright yellow and red.

For some, Thanksgiving is a family time. For us, Thanksgiving is a time we share with friends, catching up on all the events of the last year. Our particular Thanksgiving tradition involves renting a cottage or two somewhere between Chicoutimi, Quebec and Ottawa, Ontario. Several families decend upon the cottage for the long weekend. All the families that participate in this weekend have a Kitimat connection – that is, they have all lived in Kitimat, British Columbia at one time or another. This is one of the few yearly rituals which we have developed ourselves, rather than inheriting from our families or our society, so it is special to us.

Our tradition involves a hike to enjoy the spectacular views and a Thanksgiving feast where everyone contributes something different to the table. Dinner always involves a delicious turkey or two.

We enjoyed our hike this year on a nice bright Sunday morning, which was followed by snow flurries on Sunday afternoon! Fortunately, the snow cleared before our drive home on Monday.

This year, all the families but ours came from Chicoutimi-Jonquiere, and work at the Rio-Tinto/Alcan plants there. This is the same Alcan which Becky’s parents worked for in Kitimat, so all of them knew her parents, even those we hadn’t met before. Everyone but us has children, so it is fun for both of us to visit and play with them, but the level of kid activity is often a challenge by the end of the weekend, especially for us. This year the kids are growing up, so it is possible to send them off in the care of the oldest ones for a time. A welcome reprieve for all!

Being able to celebrate Thanksgiving in our usual way was another reminder that we are home, but seeing how the children have grown definitely showed us that time had passed in our absence.

Sunday morning walk in the woods.

Beautiful waterfall at the end of the pathway.


Yes, Scott still has some pretty amazing tan lines!

A Sunday afternoon snowfall, just to make things interesting.

Preparing a Thanksgiving feast.

Ron going a little crazy with the knife.

Sunday night we had a vistor – who enjoyed the scraps of our turkey dinner!

Forgotten “Om”, oh my!

Saturday, July 19th, 2008

The day started unhurriedly, which was nice. I really enjoyed the peace of the wilderness campsite. Our morning yoga practice was the first sign that things were not going to be great today. I forgot the “Om”! I often am surprised at how well our morning chanting of “Om” is a measure of how in sync we are with one another. If we are totally out of tune then our decisions may not be aligned, if one starts before the other, then our timing is likely to be out of sync. Forgetting all together is a sign that we are not hearing one another … and that was how the day began, with me forgetting the “Om”.

The ride to Riviere-du-Loup seemed more painful than it should have been. We were eager to get moving, but I was in need of frequent stops. Just before entering Riviere-du-Loup, Scott says “let’s make this a quick stop”. I was starving, so I wanted to stop for lunch, but I didn’t say anything. It felt too soon to stop as we wanted to get within a short ride (50 km ish) of Rimouski today. We also needed a grocery store stop, as we were out of fruit and had nothing for supper.

As we entered town, things got confusing quickly. There were no signs indicating which way we should go, and the roads got big (multi-lanes in each direction). We didn’t want to end up on an expressway. We ended up on the 132 for a short distance, then turned and headed to a grocery store. At the grocery store, I sent Scott in (rather than me), as he wanted to the stop to be quick and I am not that quick at groceries. I also felt like he wasn’t really listening to me today, so rather than deal with him thinking we needed to move faster, I figured I’d do the waiting and let him to the shopping. He came out of the grocery store with a desire to have lunch there
(he was tempted by the rotisserie chicken). So, we moved to a bench and some shade and I sent Scott back into the grocery store to get lunch. After what seemed like forever, he came back with lunch for him and nothing for me! We clearly did not communicate that one well. I ended up going in and getting pretty much the same thing he had. Not exactly an efficient stop!

Shortly after lunch, we were back on the road. I started to get a really bad headache. I was hoping we would come across a picnic table in the shade somewhere, and I could take a couple of Tylenol and nap for 20 minutes before continuing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen .. there was no shade to found and no picnic tables either.

We followed the 132 for a while rather than the Route Verte to avoid hills. There was more traffic after Riviere-du-Loup because Highway 20 ends; however, with more traffic came better roads and wider shoulders. So although it wasn’t as interesting riding, it was definitely comfortable and efficient.

After arriving in Trois Pistoles, I noticed my thighs were red and sore. I had put sunscreen on, so I didn’t think it was a burn. Scott said it looked more like a rash. I figure that something I ate has caused an allergic reaction of some kind (or sensitivity). I was quite unhappy with that, had a headache still, and was feeling uncomfortable. We looked into a hotel rather than camping, but couldn’t find anything that looked reasonable, and the weather was nice. In the end, we ended up camping at the municipal campground which was quite beautiful (another nice wooded campsite).

Pulling into the campsite, Scott made a comment that made me realize that he was under an incorrect assumption. He thought the boat was leaving on Monday, and so we needed to get to Rimouski early in the day Sunday to get some of our chores done. Actually, the boat leaves on Tuesday, so by getting to Rimouski on Sunday, we have all day Monday to do chores and relax.

Scott says:

After Riviere du Loup, the Route Verte takes all kinds of back roads and gravel pathways, but after the first bit we stuck to the highway. The wide shoulders were great – very comfortable riding despite cars and truck passing at 100+ kph. We’re definitely stronger on hills now…

The only gravel section we did was in L’estuaire – a combination of foot paths and gravel roads. It was quite a neat area, and would be fun to ride further. On one section, grass had overgrown the wheel ruts to the point where riding was getting dicey, then we ran into some serious birders on the path. That was a good hint to turn around and strike back for the highway.

Elevation Profile

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

This is a post that I wrote back on November 7, 2007 shortly after attending two public talks by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

Last week, I had the opportunity (and pleasure) of attending two public talks given by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama (one talk in Ottawa and another in Toronto). I was struck by his warmheartedness and the fullness of his laugh. The following paragraphs describe my interpretation of the various messages presented by His Holiness.

From the time we are born, the affection given to us by our mothers is critical for our development, both physical and mental. There is scientific evidence that links brain development with affection in our early years. Physical affection helps kids grow up healthy. Our bodies respond to affection with a stronger immune system.

Providing affection towards others leads to personal happiness. A corollary to that is self-centered attitudes cause loneliness. Affection also leads to trust, and trust leads to genuine friendship. From the opposite perspective, a lack of affection leads to fear and distrust. In addition, anger, fear, and hatred weakens the immune system and shortens your life. Our physical well being is linked to our emotions.

A healthy, happy community begins with healthy happy individuals. World peace begins with inner peace. Individual affection leads to world peace.

In our global world, we need to realize that destruction of our neighbour is actually destruction of ourselves. The concept of war is out-dated (obsolete), since it leads to self-destruction. The division of we versus they (us versus them) leads to war.

Conflicts should be solved through dialogue. We should be teaching our children how to dialogue effectively. We should send our kids to spend time living in other countries. This helps them to develop an appreciative understanding of other cultures as well as true friendships. Appreciative understanding helps dialogue and true friendships lead to peace.

A concrete path to world peace is to start by merging the armed forces of the world. As countries sign-on to a unified world-army, there would be no one left to fight. This would lead to dis-armament. The unified world-army would be available to all member-states in the even to natural disasters.

All religions should be respected, including the non-believers. Religions can be categorized as either theistic or causational. That is, religions either believe in a supreme being (gods) or they believe in causal relationships (karma). The best religion for a person is the one that is associated to their culture and family. This is because they are most familiar with it, and as a result they can develop a deeper understanding of it. As for the non-believers, they can choose ;).

First rides on a ‘bent

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

Over the last two weeks I’ve been riding a short wheel-base recumbent bicycle, lent to us from the Bicycle Man while we wait for our new bikes to arrive. I’ve discovered that riding a ‘bent provides a different perspective than riding a regular bike.

On my initial outings, I rode mostly on bicycle paths. I was not yet comfortable riding on the roads with traffic. The path was shared with pedestrians. The bike did not have a bell, so I found myself often speaking “I’ll be passing on your left”. When I did this, one of two things happened. The person either: turned around to look at me and said hello while getting out of the way; or they completely ignored me. I found myself torn between enjoying the interactions associated with not having a bell and concern that I’d run into someone because they ignored my warning.

After the first week, I gave into the concern and installed a bell. I now find that when I ring the bell people turn around and look at me. They usually smile and some even say hello. People coming the other direction almost always stare, say hello, or say “nice bike”.

When people stare, I’ve gotten into the habit of saying “good morning” or “good afternoon”. They are a little bit surprised, but often they return the greeting with a smile.

Today, I was riding on much busier streets. I found that I was often making eye contact with the drivers. That didn’t happen nearly as frequently or as easily on my road bike. I find that occasionally a driver will give me the right of way (when I don’t have it). I suspect that is because they want to see how one rides a recumbent. I don’t recall this ever happening on a regular bike. I’m a little worried that this may pose a safety problem, as I was taught that it was dangerous not to take the right of way when you had it.

So far, my initial impressions of ‘bent riding is that it is more social. You are in a position that makes it easy for you to look people in the eye, which often results in a hello or good morning/afternoon. The greeting may be brief, but it is much friendlier than the silent passing that usually occurs when you speed past on a regular bike.

Buying a bicycle as a spiritual journey

Monday, April 14th, 2008

I pedal quickly, practicing my spinning. The road has a gentle decline and the trees are a dingy orange-brown, typical of the early spring after the snow is gone but before the green buds begin to take over the landscape. I remind myself to take a deep breath, smell the fresh air, and experience the moment. It was early in day one of our three day trip to southern New York State to test ride and hopefully purchase bicycle for our Grand Adventure.

I had been rather anxious and stressed lately. I had not been sleeping well; my dreams filled with worry over all that still needs to be done before we can depart on our trip. A few days ago, a friend inquired about when my car would be for sale. That is when it began to really sink in. We are actually going to do this trip! Adding to the need to sell my car, I was at the end of a six-month contract. Once that finished, I would be working full-time at packing up the house and preparing for the trip.

A big area of concern for me was the lack of a decision regarding bicycles. At the best of times, I do not handle uncertainty well. That may be one of my greatest challenges on this trip, the uncertainty that is necessarily part of a long bicycle journey. Regarding bicycles, we liked the idea of riding on recumbents, but were not certain it was the right approach. We decided to make a pilgrimage to the BicycleMan in Alfred Station New York to try different types of recumbents and see if they were right.


Encounter World Religions

Saturday, April 12th, 2008

April 11 & 12, 2008

On the weekend of April 11th, 2008, Scott and I attended a workshop offered by the Encounter World Religions Centre hosted by the First Unitarian Congregation of Ottawa and the Ottawa congregation of the Community of Christ. The presenter, JW Windland, is the founder of the centre. If you ever get a chance to attend a workshop by JW, I highly recommend attending. I am envious of the University students who find themselves in his classroom for an entire semester. He is a dynamic speaker and an extraordinary story teller. I found myself captivated throughout the lecture portion of the workshop – even on Friday night!

The workshop began with a 2-hour presentation outlining the symbols and quotations from 28 world religions. What I didn’t know about the Christian faiths really surprised me. I was more familiar with the religions that originated in India (India Religions) than the variety of Christian faiths that are common within the communities in which I have lived.

It was particularly interesting to hear the presentation of my own faith, Unitarian Universalism. I realized that the information presented was more of a historical perspective of the faith – that is, where it originated from – rather than a current perspective. The presented history of the origins of Unitarian Universalism was accurate from a global perspective, but the history seems to be missing some key influences.

Unitarianism is based on the belief in one God, in contrast to the trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Universalism is based on the belief of universal salvation, that is, everyone goes to heaven. The two faith communities joined together to form Unitarian Universalism. Unitarian Universalism in Canada (and the United States) is heavily influenced by a variety of other faiths including Humanism and Pagan faiths. Some Unitarian Universalists consider themselves Christians, but many do not. A presentation of Unitarian Universalism that implies that it is a Christian faith does not feel authentic to me.

Seeing the presentation of my own faith allowed me to put the presentation of other faiths into perspective. The information was historically accurate, but I kept in mind that it did not necessary provide an accurate view of the faith communities today.

Saturday morning began with a 3-hour presentation. The religions of the world were classified into three categories based upon their origins:

  • Middle-Eastern religions: these include Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • India religions: these include Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism.
  • Balanced religions: these include native and aboriginal beliefs, paganism, and Wicca.

Within each classification, certain questions were answered that outline typically how followers of the different faiths think. The classifications are generalizations; therefore, they make broad assumptions that do not necessarily apply within specific instances.

The presentation began with the faiths that we were most familiar with – those of the Middle-Eastern religions. Middle-Eastern religions have the concept of god as a single all-powerful being (God, Allah, and Yahweh). To be a follower, you must be accepted into the faith community through some form of ritual or rituals. For example, Christians have baptism and Muslims make a declaration of their faith. You are not considered to be part of the religion until you have been accepted by an authority of that faith (clergy or congregation). Middle-Eastern faiths also have spiritual practices that involve the community. For example, for Muslims; praying together is considered more beneficial than praying alone.

India religions do not have the same concept of God; rather they have a concept of god within each person. To be a follower, you simply declare yourself to be of that faith. The focus is on the individual and the spiritual practice is individually focused. There are still group spiritual practices; however, the path to “enlightenment” is an individual journey, so there is no requirement or preference for group practice.

I was generally familiar with a few Middle-Eastern and India religions, but did not have any familiarity with the balanced faiths. As a result, I do not feel that I was able to grasp the general concepts well. From my limited understanding, balanced faiths look to the universe as a whole as god. Spiritual practices are about re-balancing things that for one reason or another have become out of balance. I think there is a paradigm shift between the Middle-Eastern or India religions and the balanced religions that I do not quite understand yet.

The presentations brought up the idea of being “culturally” influenced by a specific faith. For example, in North America, we are “culturally Christian”. The laws and morals in our society are highly influenced by Christian faiths. In Ontario, they still read the Lords Prayer at the opening of provincial parliament! In Arab nations and the most of the Middle East the societies are “culturally Muslim”. I am intrigued to discover what this really means, and I hope that our travels through Turkey, Syria, Jordan, and Malaysia will help me discover that.

Perhaps the biggest learning for me was the awareness that I was interpreting things through a Christian (and more specifically Catholic) lens. This perspective was preventing me from being truly open to other faiths. In Catholicism, you cannot participate in certain rituals until you have been accepted by an authority of the church and participated in the associated initiation ritual. For example, you cannot participate in communion until you have attended the appropriate catechism (church school) and participated in the First Communion ceremony. This means that aspects of the faith are only available to those that have been indoctrinated. I used this lens when entering any place of worship. I felt like an interloper – an outsider – and was very uncomfortable with the idea of participating in rituals. The Saturday session made me realize that I was viewing the world faiths through the Catholic lens, and once I removed that lens, I felt like a fog was lifted. I was suddenly able to see and “encounter” the other faiths without the barriers that I didn’t realize I had.

Saturday afternoon involved four “encounters” with world religions:

  • A talk by a Cree woman (Canadian aboriginal).
  • A visit to a Taiwanese Buddhist temple.
  • A visit to an Islamic Mosque.
  • A visit to a Sikh Gurdwara.

I’ll share my reflections on the various encounters in separate posts.