Category: Journal

Gift Giving & Receiving

Gift Giving & Receiving

Imagine a bubble…

It was late in the evening as the gentle voice of Monika Muryani guided me in an online meditation. As instructed, I filled my bubble with a request. Send me a gift in the coming week, a gift easily known, seen and recognized. One that will make me say, A-ha! I asked for a gift and this is it.

I watched my bubble drift into the sky and into The Field, into the energy of All That Is.

As soon as I awoke in the morning, the bubble-request sprung to mind. Oooh, I wonder what my gift will be, I thought, then went about my usual morning activities. The meditation leader said the gift could be as simple as a cup of coffee or a smile from a stranger.

Setting out on my morning walk, I noticed the wind was picking up. Is this it? A gift of nature? I inhaled the ozone-rich air of an approaching storm, cool against my cheeks, and smiled. If I have to ask, then this probably isn’t it, I thought.

I noticed many gifts of nature that week. The gurgle of the water at the creek, the cardinal’s song that sounded like his spring mating call even though it is autumn-winter. The warmth of the afternoon sun.

There were other gifts, too. A pleasurable day spent shopping. (I hate shopping, so ‘the gift’ wasn’t what I bought, but the fact that the day was enjoyable.) Finding out my line dancing class was being renewed in the new year. The sound of my own laughter in my period of mourning. Who wouldn’t laugh at cedar shrubs decked out as Santa-gnomes?

Still, I kept wondering, Is this it? Is this THE gift?

This morning, the last day of the meditation timeline, I saw a teen walking toward me, his back hunched from the weight of his backpack. I’d seen him on other mornings. Each time, for one brief moment, as we passed each other, there was just him and me—a young man and an old woman—alone in the world at 7 a.m.

Now, I typically greet the people I see regularly on my morning walks with a cheery, Good morning. But teens, like this one, would routinely ignore me, keep their eyes forward, and walk quickly by. I kept persisting, hoping they might actually greet me in return some day. Lately though, I’d given up. I stopped greeting the people that never replied. Instead, I’d try not to look at them, just like they pretended not to notice me.

But this morning was different.

As I silently passed this male teen, already a foot taller than me, he turned and smiled! Reflexively, I smiled back. For that split second, we connected.

This is it, I thought.

Truly, that moment was a special gift. And even as I write this, it brings tears to my eyes again. Yet the bubble meditation brought me another gift—the gift of observing. Throughout the week, I was in a state of mindfulness, of noticing ordinary things. Hans Christian Andersen once wrote, “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we are so used to them we call them ordinary things.” Each day, my world was filled with ordinary miracles and I was filled with gratitude.

And, not only was I noticing ordinary miracles, I was expecting them. This was a paradigm shift. Believing and knowing that good things are coming my way, that each day holds promise and potential. Not just know it, but to feel it in my being.

That is the gift!

So, go ahead, imagine a bubble…



With gratitude to:

Monika Muranyi for the meditation, Nov 23, 2022, Kryon Circle of Twelve.

Braedon McLeod for his bubble photo.

           

The Art of Pretense

The Art of Pretense

Today I stopped pretending.

I stopped pretending I was the kind of person that would iron crumpled tissue paper in order to re-use it someday.

Briefly I thought about how it might be re-purposed. I remembered the stained glass vase I made in grade four with torn bits of coloured tissue paper and Modge Podge. Yeah, I didn’t bother to pretend I would make one of those.

I could have pretended that tissue paper was recyclable and tossed it in the blue bin. That way, if ever informed otherwise, I could exclaim, “Well, I didn’t know!”

But today I stopped pretending.

I checked online and found tissue paper (and wrapping paper) are NOT recyclable. Sure, you can throw it in the bin and the garbage collectors might dump it in the truck. But, at the end of the day, at the other end of the line, it will not be recycled.

While tissue paper is biodegradable, we can’t pretend it happens efficiently when mixed with trash that isn’t.

Tissue paper is compostable, but I can’t pretend I want the coloured dyes on my vegetable garden.

And those gift boxes? The ones with layers of Christmas tags, one year’s tag covering last year’s and the five years before that, boxes with the corners slightly squashed from storage and small tears in the sides…I stopped pretending I was ever going to re-use those either.

I stopped pretending the mess in my wrapping storage didn’t bother me. So I sorted the bins—one for Christmas, one for other occasions. I stopped pretending flattened bows would ever adorn a present, that the gawd-awful gift bag—Who gave that to me?—would be re-gifted in this lifetime.

I sorted the bins, stacked gift bags neatly by size and occasion, gathered all the fluffy bows in one bag and discarded the flat ones, and arranged rolls of tape, side by side, with the pens and gift tags. All that remained was a pile of wrapping cloths. My furoshiki phase.

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of gift wrapping using fabric squares or oblongs in plain, bright colours or perhaps imprinted with pink cherry blossoms, an image of Mt. Fuji, or sakura waves. Bunnies, cats, sumo wrestlers. And tied with fancy knots around the gift. The wrapping techniques are used for square objects as well as those that are long, flat, slender. There’s a wrap for a wine bottle, another for two bottles together, or various sling wraps for carrying heavier items. Furoshiki is eco-friendly. Perhaps this year I would create some Christmas wrapping squares?

I carefully folded the cloths and placed them in my bin as a reminder.

Sometimes I still pretend.

Red Cars & Green Hearts

Red Cars & Green Hearts

If you look for red cars, you’ll find them everywhere.

Look, there’s one! Oh, another. And over there.

It was an exercise assigned by one of my profs at college and it was true—red cars were everywhere! Were there really more red cars than any other colour? Or was it simply that we were tuned to see red cars, so that is what we noticed.

In these last how-many-is-it-now years, it seems all that is wrong with the world is being highlighted. Whether it’s our political, educational or medical systems, that which is broken, that which isn’t working any more, is being highlighted so it can be changed. Or deleted.

We’ve become attuned to seeing red cars everywhere.

Let me switch gears here and say that music is a barometer of the people. (Stay with me while I connect the dots.) Song lyrics are often social commentary put to music. Think Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi. Bob Dylan, Blowin’ in the Wind. John and Yoko, Imagine.

Personally, I’m a fan of new country music. Now, some might dismiss country as merely songs about drinking, trucks, and breakups. (If that’s all you hear, maybe that’s your red car, er, truck?) And I’ll admit there is a lot of that in country music. It’s part of the human condition, so why not. And those breakup songs are often full of anger and revenge. Maybe it’s even why we love them, why we sing along.

But then comes a breakup song that’s different. It’s full of tenderness and love. Compassion. It made me sit up and notice. It wasn’t a red car. It was a green heart!

Stay with me while I switch gears again. I promise it will connect up.

Love is green. This occurred to me when looking at the colour chart for the chakra system. The heart chakra is green. The heart chakra is Love, thus Love is green. Then I began to notice green grass and green trees. Even green cars. The earth emits the frequency of love. It’s beamed out from Gaia to remind us Love is everywhere. The speckled green of zebra grass. Blue green of hostas and spruce trees. Red green of Japanese maples.

Not only is green/love everywhere, the song tells me there is a shift happening. From anger to forgiveness, from blaming to taking responsibility for self. From pain to healing. From red to green.

Now maybe I’m reading too much into one song. Maybe it is just another breakup song. But I’ll take green hearts over red cars any day. I prefer to think, as Bob Dylan wrote, the times they are a changin’.

Many thanks to Old Dominion for another great song, No Hard Feelings. Apologies in advance…you will have to watch an ad before you can hear the song. (I have no control over that or the ad! Just saying.) But if you liked their song, too, send them a green heart.

Mystified

Mystified

Have you ever looked out an airplane window and wanted to touch the clouds? Or walk on them, like an angel in a cream cheese commercial?

This morning, an hour after sunrise, a soft mist hovered over the field, across the path where I intended to walk. I smiled at the thought of being in the mist, like being in a cloud. What would it feel like on the skin of my bare arms, bare legs? Would it feel as soft as it looked? Like a gentle caress?

But as I approached the mist, it moved further away, then off to the right. I couldn’t seem to get into the mist. Turning, looking back at where I’d been, I realized I had already walked through the mist.

Sometimes it is only when we look back that we can see where we’ve come. Sometimes, being in the mist is not chaotic or soul wrenching, but is subtle, delicate, elusive. A soothing and tender transition.

As I look back at last month’s experience at Sage Hill Writing School, I remember a feeling of being held in the palm of compassion. By my instructor, by all the faculty, by my classmates, by the writers in classes of different genres. For ten days, I was a writer. We talked about craft, shared our stories, our processes, our goals. We allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. We respected and honoured that vulnerability in each other, in ourselves. We began to see ourselves as writers. Not just see it, but to be it. To experience it fully until the knowingness was imbued in every cell of one’s being.

I am a writer.

Yes, there is still much to learn about this craft, yet the knowing I am a writer now resides more fully. Or perhaps, having been through the mist, I am now seeing clearly what has been there all along.

With gratitude to Sage Hill Writing School.

For this opportunity, I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Donna Costa |
Green Light

Green Light

~Your submission has been accepted.

Words that delight any writer waiting to hear back on publication of a story.

~Your application has been accepted.

Words that delight this writer waiting on a grant application. Woo hoo!

The purpose of my grant is for a Writing Mentorship with Susan Scott, who has been my editor for a couple years now. She polishes my stories and has been instrumental in helping me get published in Queen’s Quarterly, Nurture Literary, and Prairie Fire (forthcoming). During the 5‑month grant period, we will be working on five separate stories.

Woo hoo!

The grant will also fund a writing course at Sage Hill Writing School. I’m so looking forward to ten days of writing, writing, writing—my instructor is Lorri Neilsen Glenn—meeting fellow writers and hanging out in the literary community.

For these opportunities, I acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

Donna Costa |

Thank you. Merci.

Green Light Photo by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez 

One Woman’s Treasure

One Woman’s Treasure

Sometimes I lose my sh*t. Like when people throw crap in the river.

In the woods beside the river, there is a hangout for locals, with logs in a circle, rickety webbed lawn chairs, and once-ergonomic office chairs. I understand the need to claim a place as your own, a place to meet with friends. (I even wrote about a hangout in my book, Breathing With Trees.) But what enjoyment comes from throwing trash on the ground? Or in the river? My river! My sacred place.

As I stood at the water’s edge, I fumed. It was hard to ignore the rusty metal bars of the patio swing chair discarded in the river. I sang my morning song of gratitude to Mother Earth and apologized for the sin against her. Giving thanks lowered my anger a few notches. Down to mere annoyance. Still, it was challenging to complete my meditation, with that thing triggering my emotions.

The 3Rs—reduce, reuse, recycle. Perhaps the chair in the water was being repurposed, as a trigger for me to explore my emotions?

The next day, as I approached my sacred spot at dawn, a great blue heron lifted off its perch—the discarded metal frame—and took to the sky. A magnificent 5-foot wingspan overhead before it settled on a nearby dead tree.

What a blessing! A heron had come to share my sacred space. I’d seen herons in the river before, but they always waded further up the stream. It had come to my spot because of that piece of metal junk. It cared not that the trash was polluting the stream. It simply made use of what was available to roost, to rest, perhaps to search out fish. It flew in and flew out. There was no anger, no annoyance.

As I pondered this, I remembered the words of Dali Lama regarding another emotion, “If you can solve a problem, what need is there to worry? If you cannot solve it, what use is there to worry?”

Perhaps anger is the same? If there is an action needing done, do it. If there is no action you can take, what is the use of anger?

Right now, the river flows high and fast. But when it is safe to do so, I will don the hip waders that my husband kindly bought for me to use in our home pond, and I shall pull the trash from the river. It does not belong there.

But the memory of the heron will linger on, the treasure from the trash.

Return to the Breath

Return to the Breath

My teacher says that a good meditation is one that you did. She also says we get the meditation we need, not always the one we want. I am participating in an 8‑week training based on Buddha’s Brahma-Viharas, also known as the Four Virtues. These are: Loving Kindness, Compassion, Sympathetic Joy, and Equanimity/Peace. (The breath work is sometimes called affectionate breathing or mindful self compassion.)

I begin by noticing my breathing, letting my body breathe me. In and out, my chest rises and falls. When my mind wanders, I return my focus to the breath. Then I release the breath-focus and whisper four phrases in my mind.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

Whom am I asking? Some omniscient god who bestows wishes? Is it my god or your god? Is it all one? I don’t want to share my god right now. Just let me have these minutes with god to myself. Leave us alone please. I bring my attention back to my breath, then repeat the phrases.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

Perhaps it is not god I am asking, but myself. In what ways do I deny myself? Block myself? Not allow myself to receive?

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

The phrases remind me of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but with safety as the foundation, necessary before all else. Is happiness essential before being healthy or peaceful? Is it even a hierarchy? Or are they all equal, interconnected, like Olympic rings?

Return to the breath.

May I be safe.

I breathe in and out. The energy of Safe resonates through my beingness. I hear: I am that. I cognize the truth—that I am safe, and Safe is embodied in me. I marvel at the oddity of feeling so completely safe in these times.

May I be happy.

There is an expectation to feel the emotion in my beingness, just as I had previously with Safe. Instead, there is silence. Darkness. The breath breathes me as I resist both the silence and darkness. Impatient, I move on.

May I be healthy.

Once again, I feel the truth of it, feel Healthy resonate, a part of every cell of my being. I am that. Again, how strange, yet marvelous, that I feel healthy in these times.

May I be peaceful.

I feel the energy of Peace. It is different than that of Safe and Healthy. Peace is thing, overlapping my right side, slightly off to the side. It is attached to my beingness, but not centered with me. Or perhaps  I am not centered in peace. Did peace move away or did I? Pulling Peace to me, centering it with me, it covers me like a hollow shell. It does not fill my beingness, but waits for me to welcome it in more fully. Instead, I return to the breath.

May I be happy.

Silence. Darkness. Am I unhappy? Am I blocking happiness? What’s wrong with me? My breath quickens. I grab Peace which I have let wander off. I pull it over me like a shroud. Try modified versions of the phrase, my teacher had suggested.

May I be happy just as I am. May I be happy with things as they are.

Silence. Darkness. What if I find my own phrase, my own words?

May I be joyful.

The earth opens. A geyser of joy shoots up my body, erupting out my crown chakra in crystal droplets of happiness.

May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be peaceful.

I return to the breath.

Angel On High

Angel On High

Christmas decorations gather dust on the mantelpiece. Merry reindeer, whose antlers upturn in jubilant salute to the heavens, now slump their calico-clad bodies toward the hearth. A leg-lamp memento from The Christmas Story is switched off, no longer glowing like sex in the window. For the first time, the angel we have seen on high has not fallen from her precarious perch on the nativity’s stable roof. The letters on her angelic banner proclaim Gloria to the deafening silence.      

In years past, when my children were small and decorations didn’t get boxed immediately after the New Year, I would mumble, “La Befana”—the Italian Christmas witch. She arrives on Epiphany Eve to deliver candy (or coal) in children’s shoes. Never a major celebration in my husband’s Italian family, I was happy to toss a few candies my kids’ way in order to use the excuse.

This year, Epiphany has passed, uncelebrated. I flop on the couch and glance at the mantle. It had been an effort to put up those sparse decorations. Why bother? What’s the point? I asked my husband, my lack of enthusiasm in direct proportion to the limited contact with my grandchildren, to the lack of children’s laughter. The Christmas‑with-no-tree was blessedly over.

“I should take those down,” I mutter. Words are the only effort I can muster. The decorations, I know, will still be there tomorrow.

Ennui blankets my soul like the drifts of snow that wrap around my house. I don’t resist the weariness. A minimum of tasks gets completed. Walk the dog. Shovel the driveway. Eat. Library books, unread, are renewed automatically online, only to sit unread again. Day drags into night drags into day. The metallic sound of the mailbox interrupts the tedium. I debate the likelihood of incoming mail versus the lid merely flapping in the wind. I don’t get up.

Across the room, an amaryllis bulb emerges from the dark peat. I mark its growth on paper like the pencil marks that once marked the door frame to track children’s height. Kindergarten, grade one. On and on until I had to reach above my head to score the line.

The plant’s green stem grows half an inch overnight, then one inch, two, each day shooting skyward at an increasing pace. At twenty inches, the upward growth slows, energy now redirects to the bulbous tip which swells in gestation. At the apex, the slit of an opening as the swollen labia-sepals begin their separation, parting unhurriedly to birth the blood-red blossom.

Some day soon, I will emerge from this darkness. Not yet. For now, I wait in expectation, listening, trusting, in the angelic Gloria.

Originally posted Jan, 2022.

Songs & Poems For Year’s End

Songs & Poems For Year’s End

Worry.

Give me that single word and I hear the raw emotion of Patsy Cline singing, “Why do I let myself worry?”

Indeed, why do we worry? Now I’m not asking what you worry about—it’s easy enough to have a list of reasons—but what is the purpose of worrying?

The Dalai Lama tells us, “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it is not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”       

In the early years of my marriage, finances were meager. Two small children to feed, a paycheque that, according to Stats Canada, was at the poverty level. Living paycheque to paycheque, sometimes no paycheque at all. In time, things improved. Eventually, we sold the house we’d lived in for twenty years. Among the items to be discarded were stacks of past bills and copies of cheque receipts from those worrying times. The emotion attached to the papers was still palpable.

As I shredded the documents, I felt the pointlessness of it all. What had worry accomplished? Nothing beneficial, that’s for sure. Worrying affects sleep, appetite, relationships, performance, and health. But worrying didn’t fast-track payment of the bills or buying of groceries. When we couldn’t do either, worrying didn’t change the facts. (Thankfully, there was always a pot of spaghetti and meatballs simmering at the in-law’s house when our money didn’t quite stretch to the end of the month.)

So, why did I let myself worry? The lyric implies that worry is a choice. To do or not to do. Sometimes doing worry is a habit. It’s what we’ve always done. There’s comfort in the familiar—even if the familiar is painful and self-destructing—rather than choosing something else, something untried.

But what can we choose instead?

For one, we can choose to take action. As suggested by the Dalai Lama, doing so can shift your mind from focusing on the problem to focusing on solutions. 

Another worry antidote is gratitude. Author Alison Wearing proposes a “ridiculously simple thing to do”—give gratitude—to lift your day. Say/sing good morning the moment you awake. Thank your bed, your pillow, the blankets. “Thank […] every damn thing about you.” (Fellow writers, check out Alison’s memoir writing program!)

One of my favourite gratitude greetings is this poem by Robert Louis Stevenson often used as a wedding prayer or table blessing.

Another form of giving gratitude is the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address. There are various translations, long and short versions. These words that come before all else put your worry into perspective by recognizing the many gifts already bestowed on us.

Kryon, as channeled by Lee Carroll (Dec 8/21) says to imagine yourself in the future when your problem is over and solutions have been found. You don’t know now what the solutions will be. You don’t know how solutions will happen or how long they will take. Nevertheless, project yourself  to when it’s over, to how that’s going to feel. Take on those feelings and bring them back to your Now time. In NLP terms, this is called modelling your future self. Powerful, indeed.

Love music? What’s your favourite worry song? Mine, of course, is Patsy. There’s something homeopathic—like cures like—in listening to worry wailing. Before you know it, you start feeling good. (Yay, Neil.)

I’ll admit that it’s not always easy to not‑worry. Will it always be a work in progress? With practise, will the feelings of the solution state (gratitude state) become the default state of being?

Worry or not-worry? It is a choice.

And freedom of choice is a true gift.

For that, I give thanks.
 
Photo by Hello I’m Nik on Unsplash

Originally published Dec 28, 2021.

Painting Lessons

Painting Lessons

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a paint night hosted by Moses Lunham. I first met Moses in 2018 at Museum London where he held a class in rock painting. Each finished rock displayed one word of the Seven Grandfather Teachings. Truth rock sits on my desk, always in view as I write. Some rocks, like Respect and Wisdom, grace my herb garden, a lovely reminder when I’m picking Gaia’s bounty.

I’ve been following Moses Art on Facebook since we met, but my schedule never synchronized with his paint nights. Until this one. It helped that it was a Zoom gathering.

You may have guessed from my book title, Breathing With Trees, that I am enamored of trees. Just like one of the characters in the story, I am building a tree wall in my writing office. Life imitating art.

Each piece on my wall holds significance. The metal tree sculpture was added when I published my book. The framed birthday card of birch trees and a John Muir quote was a gift from my dear friend, Colleen. There’s dried cedar from an ancient forest where I hiked with my son. When I saw that Moses’ paint night was to be Falling Leaves Moon, I knew I wanted it to be part of my tree wall.

My past experience with painting was limited to rock painting at Museum London and grade nine art class. The art materials were inexpensive. (Moses sent me a picture of the supplies needed, available at any dollar store.) During class, Moses expertly angled the camera while giving instructions, knowing precisely when to zoom in on the palette as he mixed his paints, when to zoom out to show the whole picture, giving a wide viewpoint. He talked while we worked. About the painting, about his culture, about the technique.

The hours flew by and, before I knew it, I’d finished my painting. I examined the result, comparing it to Moses’ canvas. My leaves were too big, my sky too dark, the fallen leaves too many. Worst of all, my trees looked like cornstalks, not trees. Disheartened, I left the painting on the easel, determined to paint a new one the next day to correct all the errors.

Life got in the way and, for the next week, I didn’t have time to paint. I’d see the painting every time I stepped into my office. After a few days, my inner critic softened. I began noticing what I liked about the painting. The blue of the moon, the arc of the earth.  I remembered the joy I felt in creating it.

On morning walks, I began noticing the fallen leaves. Fat linden leaves and thin larch needles. Pointy pin-oak, jagged beech, gingko fans. Tree shadows on the sidewalk reminded me of the play of light and dark in the painting. I discerned bare trees silhouetted against the morning sky. Trees with a graceful central branch. Bifurcated trees with Y-shaped branches as if giving a blessing. Yes, even, stubby branches that looked like cornstalks. All different, co-existing. Accepted.

Slowly, I realized that paint night wasn’t about having a thing to hang on my wall. It was about creating a relationship with Gaia, becoming attuned to her colours and shadows, to her beauty. Paint night was a chance to experience the sacred. To find acceptance for myself. To reframe mistakes into learnings.

It’s true, my picture didn’t look exactly like Moses’ painting. It wasn’t supposed to. We are all different. We each bring unique perspective to creation. Isn’t that a gift!

Chi miigwetch, Moses and Gaia, for the painting lessons.

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