Requiem For/From A Friend

Thank you for guiding me. You made a difference in my life. And I will miss you.

You said a quiet mind is not a precursor to peace. Your mind keeps going, but you can recognize that you don’t have to get involved with it. Don’t involve yourself. We constantly try to resist everything. This is the mind, you said. Don’t be involved with this resistance, and you will be at peace. Soften...Experience… Create a distance between you and your thoughts. Don’t engage. The mind comes up with many things. Don’t fight your mind. When you don’t engage, the troubling thought is gone. It’s kinda like bubbly bubbly Eno. Don’t identify with your thoughts, your personality. You’ll ask, who is this? But this is not conceptual, you said. This is a feeling, a sense. You will discover a power within yourself so nothing empowers you. With this new power, this new awareness, your general way of being will be at peace.

Thank you for guiding me. You made a difference in my life. And I will miss you.

The Happy Life

This past Christmas, my wife gave me things I desperately needed: socks and self-help books.

One book that intrigued me was The Happy Life by Charles W. Eliot. It was published in 1905! My 5-year-old son said, “Dad, that book smells old.”

happy life book cover
Cover of The Happy Life.
Photo by M. Fleming

I was curious to see if any of Eliot’s principles applied in 2019, more than a century after he wrote the book.

Incidentally, most, if not all, of Eliot’s insights still apply today.

Here’s one of my favourite passages:

In trying to enumerate the positive satisfactions which an average man may reasonably expect to enjoy in this world, I of course take no account of those too common objects of human pursuit,—wealth, power, and fame; first, because they do not as a rule contribute to happiness; and secondly, because they are unattainable by mankind in general.

And another:

The most satisfactory thing in all this earthly life is to be able to serve our fellow beings,—first those who are bound to us by love, then the wider circle of fellow-townsmen, fellow-countrymen, or fellow-men.

Wealth, power, and fame do not bring happiness. Loving others does. True in 1905 and still true today.

Lego and Change

My 5-year-old son loves building with Lego, and for a 5-year-old, he’s pretty good at it. Sometimes, I’ll be staring at the instructions and he’ll already have the right piece in the right place. His mind sees how little pieces come together to make something whole.

My son recently had a birthday party, and of course, he got some new Lego.

“Dad, can you help me build this?”

“Let’s eat the birthday cake first.”

“Okay. Then can we build it?”

“Sure.”

We scatter all the pieces into an open container, open the instruction booklet, and start building. He’s very focused, but like most kids, his attention span is not very long. Sometimes, I look up and he’s no longer there. Other times, he’ll ask me to complete the creation.

The last time it was a dinosaur. Unlike my son, I don’t love building with Lego. Sometimes it’s painful locating a particular piece and figuring out where it goes. Anyway, after a little hard work I completed the dinosaur.

“Check it out, buddy.”

“Good job, Dad. Now let’s take it apart and build a different dinosaur!”

“But it took me so long to build this one! Let’s just keep it for a while.”

“No, Dad. Let’s take it apart and build something else.”

It’s then when I realize it’s not about the creation. It’s about the creating. It’s not about admiring the creation. It’s about taking it apart and creating something better. It’s not about constancy, but fluidity. It’s about building something with the pieces we are given and once it’s built, using the pieces again to build something even better. It’s about improvement. It’s about growth. And it’s about spending time with my son.

Making the Beast Beautiful

The title of the book catches my attention: First, We Make the Beast Beautiful

Someone might look at the inside cover photo of the author, Sarah Wilson, and say, “It’s hard to believe someone who looks like this has so many issues.”

With an autoimmune disease and mental health challenges, Wilson has some issues.

But instead of seeing her issues as negative and detrimental, Wilson has come to discover that her so-called afflictions are helpful during her spiritual journey.

And maybe that’s why her photo radiates beauty.

She makes the beast beautiful and helps others see its beauty.

On Celebrations

What comes to mind when I think of convocation ceremonies? Happiness, excitement, accomplishment, inspiration, celebration, and optimism.

convocation program
Cover of Convocation Program.
Photo by M. Fleming.

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a convocation ceremony at the University of Waterloo. It was a great experience, and I’m glad I took part in the celebration.

The positivity in the air was apparent. Graduates were elated, family and friends were supportive, and speakers were inspiring.

The valedictorian, a composed, articulate young woman at the top of her class, spoke of hopes and dreams. One recipient of an honorary degree spoke of determination and leadership. The other spoke of the need to speak out against xenophobia. The speeches were inspiring and thought-provoking.

As I listened to speeches and then watched people walk across the stage, I remained attune to the celebratory atmosphere. And I thought, why can’t we share this amazing sensation more often? Wouldn’t it be great if this feeling was long-lasting? Why can’t we celebrate every day?

I remember reading a line from a spiritual book I once read: We are what we celebrate. I hope we continue to celebrate. But I also hope we celebrate more often. Yes, let’s celebrate the summit, but let’s also celebrate the climb.

In the Pit

My friend tells me a story that goes something like this.

There’s a guy trapped in a dark, deep pit covered in the stuff that gets flung at Tim Hortons.

He calls for help.

A guy passes the pit but doesn’t hear him. Another person hears but ignores. Another person tries to help but is unsuccessful.

Finally, another guy jumps in the pit.

“You idiot! What are you doing? Now there’s two of us down here.”

“You’re right,” the guy answers. “But I’ve been here before. And I know the way out.”

I recently returned to the pit.
I didn’t want to go.

I knew it would be hard.
I knew it would be uncomfortable.
I knew it would be painful.

I recently returned to the pit.
I didn’t want to go.
But I did.

I had to.

And I will go back again.
Even though I don’t want to.
Because there are people down there.

I tell them
I’ve been here before.
And I know the way out.

The Stories We Tell

At the time of 2:00 a.m. on a day in May in the year 2012, amniotic fluid drenched the carpet in a hallway of an 11th floor apartment on Walker Avenue.

I was excited. I was scared. I was unprepared.

By 2:00 p.m. I was exhausted. Being a birth coach is hard work! It’s especially hard for a person as empathetic as I am. By 3:00 p.m. I was in extreme pain, suffering from a migraine. The lack of sleep, the constant doling out of ice chips, and the extreme outpouring of emotions had taken their toll.

“Go home, honey,” she said. “Get some rest,” she said.

“Okay,” I said.

I went home to the soaked carpet knowing it had been the best day of my life, knowing I had experienced a miracle, knowing what it meant to love and be loved, and knowing that I had become a dad.

That’s the story of my daughter’s birth. Is it accurate? Is it embellished? Is it true? That is for the reader to decide. But I will tell you this, and it’s a truth I was reminded of this past Sunday: There are truths in the stories we tell.

After telling a story, my friend Hermione succinctly said:

Stories bring us together.

And when a rock-climbing, rebellious, spiritual, and insightful Kiwi tells stories, the truths become clearer.