Birds in Scarborough

I noticed the birds this morning on Markham

My drive to work, passing strip malls, concrete sidewalks and several Tim Hortons

My eyes wide, perspective shifted and the sky opened up to my

Seeing

The seagulls flying overhead

The hundreds of small birds clinging to the telephone wires, lined up across the intersection

The majestic bird with a wide wingspan and a peaceful spirit (is it a hawk, or an eagle?) soaring over all of us in our hustle and bustle

Did these birds arrive this morning, awakening Scarborough with their presence?

Or have they always been here, in their beauty and grace, but I have failed to notice?

All I do know if that my heart is a little more open this morning

Thankful for the birds.

Advertisements

Seeing, Hearing, Feeling Nature

“To understand love, we understand life. To be able to love, as subjects with feeling bodies, we must be able to be alive. To be allowed to be fully alive is to be loved. To allow oneself to be fully enlivened is to love oneself- and at the same time, to love the creative world, which is principally and profoundly alive.” – By Andreas Weber, in book Matter & Desire (p. 5)
Riverphoto
I’ve been spending a lot more time in nature, because when I am in nature, I feel utterly alive and connected to this living world. Of course, I am alive all the time (and so are you) and we are all connected, to each other and to our living world (our reciprocal breathing with trees is but one example). But I forget. In the hustle and bustle of my to-do lists, I forget how alive I am and the miracle of this. Nature helps me to remember.

With my full life of juggling parenting two kids and a busy job, I don’t have often have the luxury of time to find nature outside of the city. Of course, being in wild nature is awe-inspiring, and I have loved my opportunities for canoe trips or even snorkeling in the ocean with sea turtles. But I have discovered that nature is everywhere, when I step outside and pay attention. I now look/listen/feel for nature everywhere I go and every chance that I can be outside. And when I find nature, I stop, breathe and look/listen/feel and acknowledge our aliveness together. Nature smiles at me when I walk by a tree and the leaves dance playfully in the wind. Nature smiles at me when I look up at the sky (oh, how many years I have spent forgetting the sky!) and the clouds lazily drift by. Nature smiles at me when the birds sing from the bushes (now that I’m listening, there are birds everywhere singing so many songs!). I am learning to tune into my senses (seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting) that I feel have been turned off (or way down low) for years.

I have discovered amazing nature at both of the college campuses where I work. At one campus, there is a magnificent ravine waterway with so much wildlife living there. I go there as often as I can, taking my shoes off to walk in the water, feeling the cold flow of the water through my toes and the soft slippery moss under my feet. I watch the ducks swimming, the heron fishing in the river, and even the occasional deer who shyly appears and then quickly retreats back into the forest. At the other campus, there is a small forest, with lots of wildlife living amongst the tall trees. I walk quietly and slowly in this forest, so as not to miss the beauty of life surrounding me. I try to embody Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions for walking meditation: “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”

One interesting tool that I have discovered helps me to really tune in with my senses, is my iPhone. I love capturing the moments of life in front of me through taking video on my iPhone. While there are so many things to say about how our phones distract us from being present, I have found that using my phone to take videos of nature has helped me to be still and present, to watch and listen. I also thoroughly enjoy watching the videos after the moment is over, to remember and reflect on that moment of life.

Here are two videos from my walks in the forest:
White Butterflies playing together – https://youtu.be/bVCQWue2BCo
Birds chirping through the sunlight – https://youtu.be/qBcG1FLO168

So, the next time you’re outdoors, I encourage you to stop, breathe and look/listen/feel. What nature do you see? What nature do you hear? What nature do you feel? And if you don’t feel nature, what nature do you want to feel? Lie down on the grass in front of your house, or lean against an old oak tree trunk. Give yourself permission to run in the rain or take your shoes off and feel the ground (or river) under your feet. Remember and celebrate that you are alive and living in a profoundly alive world.

A Sunday Morning in June

Oh, how I love the morning!
The sun, filtering through the leaves
The leaves whispering hallelujah, as they dance with the soft breeze
Breeze of wind, holiness embodied in air that I cannot grasp but coolness that tickles my skin
And the birds, oh the birds
Singing their songs, so many sounds, high melody mixed with rhythmic chatter and single-note chirps
A symphony in my yard that wakes me to this new day

Looking at Flowers

I am taking the challenge to live now.
Not as I have been –
Scuttling on ragged claws,
eyes blinded by the search for
newer, better and brighter
circumstances
eyes looking so hard for a paradise of story books,
eyes that feel so heavy under the weight of expectation.

I am choosing to be alive now.
And life is found only when eyes
are open to notice fragile moments,
only when my body is alert
only through a waltz that is easily unnoticed,
when we take notice of the fairy dance in rings of tangled flowers.
Life begins when
I am quiet enough to see.

Gaia Roars

Part 1

Gaia roars,
Rumbling from her belly,
Her love growing from the depth of her anger,
She is bigger and
older
than all of us.
And I witness her rage,
Grass growing through the
paved highways,
Her assertion of taking up space.
Gaia roars.

Part 2 – Can’t You Hear Her?

“The blue sky is her mind, the green leaves pulse with her blood, the wind is her breath, the rain, her water of life. She is Gaia, the Earth Mother, but also subtler than that.” – Ram Dass

You told me (tucking your body in tightly, looking at the ground)
that you couldn’t dance
anymore,
knowing of her ongoing rape,
by skidders
and corporate judgements.
You looked past me, because I was too small to love,
And you had boxed yourself too tightly into rage,
Screaming into your pillow at night,
Rocking back and forth is sobs.
You told me that you were afraid of
going crazy,
like every woman who breaks my
silence late at night,
falling into the insanity of rage,
warranting straight jackets
and solitude
in a cold, white room.
You told me that you were too
dark to love.

But no.
I love you, because you are the darkness of Gaia’s corners,
the wilderness of hurricanes and
ocean storms.
And yet, you and I, we are also
both maple keys,
burying ourselves into the soil,
imagining our future as two
entwining trees, grounded but spreading,
dancing wildly,
celebrating our rebirth.

Trees

My Bear and Barracuda – Lessons In Nature:

I yearn to be closer to nature. Like so many of us, I live and work in the city, spend a lot of time behind brick walls, in office spaces, staring into a computer. I long for that feeling of peace and serenity, where I feel most alive and deeply connected to this beautiful pulsing earth that I am living on. My senses come alive. I long to walk in the forest, breathe deeply the fresh crisp air, swim in the ocean, lie down in a field at night and watch the stars in the sky twinkle, and listen to the rustling of the leaves.

But nature isn’t always blissful. Because with nature comes wild animals, with teeth and claws and potential aggression. I have been thinking a lot about my fear of wild animals because one of my goals is that I want to spend more time in nature, and take more adventures into the wilderness. I would like to find a way to do this alone, to be comfortable with myself on my own in nature. Perhaps this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but I was raised in cities, went to city day-camps, and my experience with nature was somewhat limited. Unlike many of my friends who went to sleep-away camp as children and are now comfortable solo camping or portaging in Algonquin Park for weeks, I have no idea how to keep myself alive. And I am afraid of the animals.

My fear doesn’t just come from my imagination. I have had two specific run-ins with animals in my brief time in nature. In my early 20s, after I finished university, I hitchhiked out to the West Coast of Canada to live life. I had no plan, besides meditating and living in the moment and meeting kindred spirits along the way. I did WOOF’ing (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) for a few months in British Columbia, where I was given room and board in exchange for helping out on the farms. I was at one farm that was situated near Nelson B.C, and the farm was surrounded by forest. By the time I was there, I had been traveling for quite a while, and I felt tired and lonely and ready to come home, although I didn’t admit it to myself. The bohemian lifestyle of traveling without purpose was difficult for the Type-A part of me that I so desperately wanted to reject. As much as I tried, the folks I met on my travels did not feel like my people. And truthfully, I didn’t love the manual labor of farming that I idealized, and I was exhausted.

In this context, I was sleeping in my tent at the farm and I woke up with a start at 4am to the shaking of my tent and the loud sound of breathing and snuffling. I looked beside me, and the shape of a bears head was under my tent pushing it up and down. I am going to die. My brief 22 years of life passes through my mind. I can’t breathe. I can’t make a sound. Finally (probably in seconds, but it felt like years), I snap out of it and yell loud and fierce: “Get out of here!”. Immediately, the bear retreats and my tent stops shaking. I’m afraid my heart is going to explode out of my chest. I lie there in silence. I don’t know what to do. I decide, after a few minutes, that I need to get the hell out of here. I hate it here. I hate farming. I get up, unzip and step out of my tent. I see the bear sitting there, about 4 feet away from me, watching me. I look him right in the eye. I feel strong and angry. I point at the bear and I yell again: “Get out of the here!”. The bear looks at me, and saunters away from me to the edge of the forest, now probably 30 or 40 feet away. As my heart races, I take down my tent, pack up my stuff, and get the hell out of that farm. I hitchhike to Vancouver, buy a plane ticket and fly back home to Toronto.

Fast forward 21 years later, and my wife and I are celebrating our 15-year Wedding Anniversary in Akumal Bay, Mexico. We have come to Akumal because we love the ocean and we have just recently realized that we love snorkeling. Snorkeling connects us to life under the ocean, and it is such an incredible feeling to silently witness these creatures – fish of many brilliant colors, sea turtles and sting rays, just living their beautiful lives in the sea. I am living in bliss this vacation – we are getting up at dawn each morning to watch the sun brilliantly rise over the ocean, and then spending 2 hours peacefully snorkeling, all before breakfast. I am so relaxed, until probably day 4 of our trip, when we’re snorkeling and we literally almost swim right into a Barracuda! We scream into our snorkeling masks and swim to the beach as fast as possible. “Did you see that? What the hell?” We find out at the beach that he has a name – Barry the Barracuda, and he has lived in Akumal Bay for many years. Barry is well known, and the regulars who come here know him well, and take underwater photos of him (this is Barry, a photo that another guest took and sent to us for our ‘souvenir’).
Barry

He’s harmless, they say (just don’t wear dangly earrings). I don’t believe for a minute that he is harmless – Barry is a wild Barracuda!
We consider whether our snorkeling days are now over. I’m not sure if I can enjoy snorkeling while knowing that Barry exists (and that I might run into him!). Maybe we should just go to spa for the rest of the vacation? Read more and enjoy the pool? But after considering our options, we decide that we love snorkeling too much to give it up. We go back in the ocean, with the knowledge (and fear) that Barry lives there. And as I continue to enjoy watching the beautiful fish and sea turtles (and boy, do I love the sea turtles), I have lost my innocence that I am safe. With wilderness comes animals, and not always the harmless ones. I snorkel with one eye out for Barry, and the strange thing is, now that I’m aware of his existence, I keep seeing him. So I keep my distance, recognizing that this ocean belongs to Barry and not to me, that I am a guest in his home, and I try to send him positive vibes (so he doesn’t eat me, of course).

These two experiences of the wild are so different from each other, that I can’t possibly compare. In the bear experience, I am completely alone and I run as far as I can – literally onto an airplane to get back to the city. With Barry the Barracuda, I feel safe enough (not being alone, knowing the beach is close by, being older and more grounded in myself) to choose to take a small risk, to live with fear behind my eyes as I continue to swim in the ocean. What I do know from these experiences, is that being in nature is not the disney experience of sunny skies and bird songs (although there are those moments too), but instead its embracing both the bliss of beauty and the heart-pounding terror of fear. And beauty and fear don’t have to be dichotomies for each other, but can be experienced at the same time. It’s not about preferring one feeling over the other, but for me, it is about being open enough to accept whatever experience is in front of me. As Pema Chodren, one of my favorite Buddhist authors writes: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh.” (When Things Fall Apart – p. 71). That is the gift that my Bear and Barracuda gave to me – two fresh moments of facing my fear, being thrown out of my nest of comfort and waking up to life.

Walking the Hydro Corridor in Scarborough

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

I had worked at the Centennial College for 3 years before I found the walking trail behind my office at Ashtonbee Campus. It’s unbelievable to me now that I hadn’t explored my surroundings in all that time, but just drove to my parking spot, ran to my office, worked away and then drove home. Ashtonbee Campus is in an industrial area of south-west Scarborough, surrounded by big box stores, factories and a whole lot of ugly suburban sprawl. I was engaged and oftentimes overwhelmed with my job, first as a Professor and Coordinator of our Social Service Worker Program and then as an Academic Chair, to take a breath, let alone take a walk.

I can’t remember the first time I walked and found the Hydro Corridor path behind our campus, but I can imagine that something pushed me out the door. I walked behind the campus, across our student parking lot, and found a space of open air to ground myself and breathe. I found a bike path (that I later googled and learned that it goes all across Scarborough), and nature – trees and birds. There are so many birds in these trees – sometimes the sounds of their chirping is deafening. And that one walk felt so energizing, that I have now tried to get out and walk as often as I can. Walking helps me to refresh and recharge in the middle of the day, taking me out into the fresh air, and on an adventure of discovery.


My favorite discovery on my walk has been finding an art installation that is on the back of our Ashtonbee Campus. It brightly says, like a message in a bottle or a fortune found in a fortune cookie: “Read between the power lines. Look up closer.” The message also depends on where you are standing, as the ‘power’ and ‘up’ are on walls going inward, so if you don’t stand at the angle where you can read the full message, but you stand directly in front of the art, it reads: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”


I love this message on so many levels. First, I literally remember to look up at the sky (‘Look up closer!’), which is so expansive and changing, to see the clouds and revel in the nature that is always there above my head. I literally feel like I walk around with blinders on, forgetting the sky that is always above me. The message reminds me that nature is everywhere, between the power lines and industrialization, between the cars and roads. Take notice! Take notice of the plants growing in the cracks between the sidewalks. Listen to the birds living and singing in Scarborough. I don’t need to escape the city to revel in nature.

And at another level, when I stand directly in front and read the message: “Read between the lines. Look closer.”, I am reminded to think differently, to try to understand what is happening ‘between the lines’. This message seems to come at the right time, as I am usually walking because I feel a weight on my heart and mind. I am walking to sort out a challenge or an issue, either work-related or personal (or both). This message gives me hope that I will solve it, if I can think and/or feel differently about it, if I can ‘look closer’, revealing what is happening ‘between the lines’. I need to take my time, not be afraid to ‘look closer’ (and not be afraid to feel how that feels), and not jump to conclusions too quickly.

I have since found out that the Toronto artist, Sean Martindale was commissioned to create this art (along with Centennial students and high school students from Wexford Collegiate), which is called “Between the Lines”, as part of the Pan Am Path Project, connected to the Pan Am Games in 2015. Through this project, there are art installations all along the ‘Pan Am Path’ – trails connecting Toronto’s communities from the west end to the east. You can check out more of Sean Martindale’s work here: http://www.seanmartindale.com and learn more about the Pan Am Path here: http://panampath.org/art-and-trails.shtml and http://friendsofthepanampath.org/.