Saturday, February 13, 2021

Driving In Silence


When I am booked for a day of substitute teaching, I start my day with this view: the sun rising over the River Philip where it meets the Northumberland Strait. 

I have a particular practice for my drive to school: I do it in silence. I listen to the 7:30 local news as I'm pulling out of my driveway, then I turn off the radio. No more news, no chatting, no music. Not even classical.

I tried classical, it was lovely, but I prefer the silence.

I need the silence.

Whether I'm doing the 15 minute drive or the 30 minute one, this time of silence -- and eye-boggling beauty -- centers me for the day. It calms me and allows me to speak kindly to myself (especially necessary if my brain has given me a 3 a.m. blast of negativity and doubt and worry). I tell myself I am a good teacher, I am capable and intuitive, and trust my instincts. I remind myself teaching is meant to serve the students; this work is not about me, about my insecurities and regrets, but about being the best teacher and mentor and cheerleader these students deserve. Even if I feel I have failed to become the teacher I should have been twenty-five, even fifteen years ago, I am not failing them when I bring my enthusiasm and creative and good nature into the classroom, when I meet them where they are in that moment on that day. 

And it works. By the time I arrive at school, I embody the words and I carry the power of the silence into the school. 

One of the greatest problems of the modern world is our lack of silence. We are bombarded all the time with sounds and images -- noise for our ears and eyes, for our minds and spirits -- and we don't get the chance to think our own thoughts, hear our own voice. 

We don't give ourselves time in silence anymore. We are afraid of what we will discover, what we will hear, what truth we will face. It happens -- I've been shocked and upset by what surfaces in the silence as I walk or drive. But it's necessary -- the silence AND the truth. We can't keep rolling down our road without knowing who is driving and why we are going in that direction. 

I told this to the Grades P-1-2's the other day, that we need to take breaks from our computer games, that we can't hear our own voice if we don't find silence every so often, that we need to hear our own thoughts and our own ideas rather than listening to everyone else's all the time. 

I attempted to plant a seed of knowledge, self-knowledge, in them. 

I do this, in my substitute teaching -- toss little seeds of hard-earned wisdom to them. I get a day, one chance, and all I can hope is my seeds fall on a couple of fertile hearts and minds. 

Monday, February 08, 2021


 I tried to put it into words in a conversation last night with my best friend: "It's as if everything else has to fall away so that I am forced to do what I've been avoiding, so that I'm forced to do what I have to do." 

That's as eloquent as I could be but she understood: The writing is done because the teaching wants attention. As long as I can justify writing a book or working on an article, I will not pursue teaching opportunities, and honestly, I want to. And I need to. 

I never thought, after the last fourteen years, that I would reach a point where I wouldn't be writing anymore. But I'm tired of my freelance life; I'm tired of juggling three jobs that don't provide a routine or financial stability. The pandemic, and the new focus on Indigenous writers and writers of colour, has shrunk publishing, leaving little or no room for the gentle musings of a white, middle class, middle-aged woman. It's sad that my writing is better than it ever has been, but it's still not good enough. 

This happens. A great hockey player gets hurt and can no longer play; what does he do with the rest of his life? A famous soprano develops nodes on her vocal chords; what does she do with the rest of her life? A brain surgeon hurts her dominant hand in a car accident; what does she do with the rest of her life? 

You get my drift. 

Someone is always letting go of a dream, of a goal, a plan, a relationship, a future they'd hoped for, counted on, really, really wanted. 

Right now, I have five books on submission. 

Five. In four different genres. That's incredible. Incredibly stupid, perhaps. It's just me doing what I've always done: not putting my eggs in one basket, throwing a lot of rocks up into a tree to see what I knock down, trying to keep my options open. If no one wants my non-fiction, why not try fiction? If no one wants my novel, maybe they'd want a children's book? People seem to like my spiritual writing so let's pitch that book. It doesn't matter, as long as I'm writing. 

Then again, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result. 

I've run out of options, and I've run out of hope. That's why I've shifted to curiousity. Hope is attached to something - a certain book I want to publish, a particular class I'd really like to teach - and that hope can be dashed. But curiousity has no attachment; curiousity allows me to try, apply, reply, to  see what happens, and be happy when it does, whatever it is. It's different, I promise - hope versus curiousity. The non-attachment is important; it frees me up to let go of writing, let go of expectations, and lets me try anything. Curiousity gives me confidence, whereas hope makes me anxious. 

Trust me, I know what the opposite of hope is and it's not a happy place. So I'm curious about what is going to happen next. 

I'm still writing, of course, but there's no pressure on it. It's contest season so there are four essays to submit to four competitions; likely the last year I'll do this. There's a novel I'm going to work on but I'm not thinking about getting it published; it's just to keep me writing, it's just to say I finally finished it. 

Being adrift -- drifting like snowflakes in the wind -- piling up and melting away -- is not so bad. I'm curious what I'll end up doing. I'm confident I'll end up doing something interesting. I realized the other day, I've always done interesting things, I just didn't realize it. Didn't appreciate the opportunities I was given because I had certain ideas about my life and my goals locked down -- which didn't allow me to see better ideas. 

What am I going to do with the rest of my life? I don't know. For the first time, I'm not concerned. I'm not even scared -- and I should be! I really should be! That's the power of curiousity: Something better will come along, and now I'm ready to welcome it, whatever it is. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Death of a Chicken, Then and Now

When I first moved to Nova Scotia and married Dwayne, our first goal was establishing a flock of chickens. 

A year earlier, before I'd even met Dwayne and while vacationing alone at our then-summer home on Pugwash Point, I decided having a chicken coop in my backyard was a major sign of success. It meant I'd accomplished something. 

So Dwayne made that dream happen. 

Chickens are a great way to start with farm animals (sadly, despite my greatest efforts, they have not proven to be a gateway to bigger livestock); they are easy to take care of, but there was a bit of a learning curve for me (often involving my Disney-style of chicken keeping and Dwayne's longtime country boy style). Especially when it came to dead chickens. 

It's been over 12 years since we built the chicken coop and moved in an ever-changing flock of hens; we're on our third rooster. Our first one was short-lived; being inclined to fly out of the pen, he was grabbed by a fox on his third or fourth day with us. When it comes to death and the chickens, we've been lucky; we haven't had any issues with marauding raccoons getting into the coop, or the pen, and killing a bunch of hens all at once. We lost one pet hen, Betty, to a fox -- she was snatched out of the yard while Dwayne was mowing the lawn! 

On the other hand, Sasha, who suffered a terrible head injury at the beaks of her fellow hens, survived the attack then survived free-ranging all over the yard as she recovered. That's the hen who passed away of natural causes, but ended up riding around in the back of Dwayne's truck in the days following his stroke. 

That marked the first time I personally disposed of a dead hen. Up until then (2018), I'd always left it up to Dwayne to get rid of the bodies. But the day after he returned home from hospital, I realized what his chore the week before was supposed to be -- and we both realized he'd forgotten to drop Sasha's body off in the woods on the way into town. It was up to me to drive the truck, with Sasha's decomposing body in the back (remember, this was August!), up the old lane and cart her deep into our woods where the dog wouldn't find her. 

I placed her under some ferns and placed leaves over her body. As I held my breath. 

From then on, disposing of the bodies of dead hens was my job, which is why they now get a burial and a little ceremony. 

When I think back to the first time I opened the coop door to see a chicken lying dead on the floor and remember how I freaked out and cried and couldn't deal with the floppy-headed body, it's a source of pride (okay, this might get weird) that I now can pick up a body, place it on the shovel and take it out to the field to bury it. 

Or take it into the woods and place it in a snowy grave where the fox might find it. 

This was the subject of one of my essays in Field Notes, and it keeps coming up: how people in the country, people who live around wildlife, who have livestock live closer to death than people who live in towns and cities. Many of us experience the death of a pet, but the consistency and dependability of death in a rural area is unique, I still believe, and gives us a greater appreciation of life and a better equanimity about death. 

What do I say to a hen I'm burying? 
"Thanks for the eggs. Thanks for being a good hen." 

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Never Too Busy For a Walk in the Snow


The new year has started with a rush! 
I'm working to an unexpected and very tight deadline, hoping to wrap it up today and get it sent off.
But this morning, I looked out the window and it was still snowing.
That soft, flaky snowfall that is perfect to walk in, quiet and peaceful and calming.
And I thought,
Seriously? Am I so busy that I can't take 15 minutes to start my day with a walk in the snow? 
Imagine missing out on going for a walk in my favourite kind of weather! 

Never, ever be too busy to go outside and inhale snowflakes. 

Inhale snowflakes.
Exhale snowflakes.

Inhale peace.
Exhale calm.

Inhale happy.
Exhale contentment. 

Friday, January 01, 2021

New Year. Be Happy.


This morning, when I got out of bed and looked out the window, I saw a bright star. Then I saw others, but that first star, that first sighting was enough to jolt me.

Jolt me awake.

Jolt me aware.

Jolt me into remembering.

At the end of 2018, I saw these stars sprayed on this sign post and wrote:

“Life is about moving forward. Whatever is happening, regardless of how hard you cried the night before or how uncertain the coming days seem, it's always about moving forward.

Follow your star – YOUR star, not someone else's. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. Be true to yourself.

Life is about moving forward, no matter how many stop signs you think you see. Follow your star. It's shining at you for a reason.”

And I needed to remember that. Just as I needed to remember what my yoga instructor in Vancouver said on the eve of the new year in 2002 (a few months before I would begin my journey back east):

"Make this the year you go towards what makes you happy."

I needed to remember that every year, every day, is an opportunity to let go of what is dragging you down, holding you back, keeping your from being happy.

Like love is an overarching word for compassion, mercy, peace, hospitality, etc., “happy” really means contentment, satisfaction and joy. I needed to remember that I am already happy with my life, even if work seems incapable of moving forward.

This morning, when I was sitting on my yoga mat, I wrote this:

“My biggest struggle now is with optimism and hope. I know I have much to be grateful for, but in one area of my life – work – I am scared. So much is falling apart, or not coming together, that I have no idea what I will end up doing. The fear of NOTHING consumes me.”

So that star in the sky and those stars on the signpost reminded me that I only need to be curious.

Curiousity is a neutral state, vaguely positive, but definitely looking ahead and moving forward. It isn’t about being passive and waiting for something to happen, but curiousity is fuel for the work.

I may not feel optimistic or hopeful, but I am curious.

Curious about what will happen this year. Curious about what I will accomplish this year. Curious about what I will end up doing.

So that is Plan B for 2021: Be curious.

As Albert Einstein said, “I’m neither clever nor especially gifted, but I am very, very curious.”

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

20 Takeaways of 2020


That photo was taken at 1:15 am on January 1st, 2020. Two tired, happy, danced-out people thinking that intentionally partying away the old year and welcoming the new year would make a difference. 

Well, at the very least, I've had the happy memory of that fun night to carry me through this year that did make a difference -- but not in any of the ways we expected! We certainly won't be partying this year, and I do believe bedtime will be a sensible 9 pm. 

When I sat down to think about 2020 and my impressions of it, the ideas came out as words, rather than sentences. So instead of a long essay, here are some thought-provoking ideas (based on my experience with the pandemic from my safe bubble in rural Nova Scotia, my tuning into the news several times a day, and my reading on social media). 

(in no particular order)

1. Sacrifice

2. Hoarding versus care packages

3. Family

4. Neighbours

5. Grief

6. Connection

7. Isolation

8. Essential (services; travel; interaction) 

9. Acceptance

10. Resilience (teachers; students)

11. Courage

12. Death

13. Uncertainty

14. Common good

15. Zoom versus room (online vs. in person)

16. Comfort

17. Fear (abuse; violence; school as safe space)

18. Masks

19. Need vs. want (shopping)

20. Creativity (adaptability; technology) 

For me, when I think back on 2020, I’m conscious of the sacrifices others made for the common good, especially those working in essential services. Health care was obvious, but we suddenly recognized that employees at grocery stores and coffee shops are essential workers, too.

The pandemic reinforced my belief that acceptance is only ever the way forward; resistance and denial are the path of heartbreak, hardship, and grief.

Speaking of grief, the past year also opened up our thinking about letting go – reminding us that loss isn’t just about the death of a person, and we are all affected by grief, whatever the reason is.

In many ways, 2020 made us more compassionate, more considerate, and more aware. At the same time, wow – humanity lost a lot of ground, and squandered its potential, yet again. 

If we are going to learn anything from the year 2020, if we are going to work on anything in 2021, it’s THE COMMON GOOD. That's the way forward, but it's going to take a real commitment to stay changed -- to have seen our potential and to start pushing back on those who want the world to remain the same. 

In 2021, the phrase, "We're all in this together" needs to become a mantra, rather than a cliche. It needs to become imbedded in our cells, in our beliefs, in our interactions and in our policies. 

I honestly believe we came thisclose, we actually reached the edge of that possibility, we saw the shimmer of the other side, and I remain committed to my optimism that we can make the world a better place for everyone.

Perhaps I sound hopelessly na├»ve, and perhaps that's another takeaway for me from 2020: I am more hopeful than ever that we can change, and stay changed. 

Happy New Year, my friends. May this year be kinder and gentler to you, yours, and everyone. xo 


Thursday, December 24, 2020

O Christmas Trees

Here are the trees I painted using the cuts leftover from building our gazebo two years ago, specifically the plywood from making the octagonal roof. 
My little painted trees in amongst my favourite real trees, including the birch tree that has guided my Tree Pose during morning yoga for 14 years. 

So we have arrived at Christmas Eve and it's a beautiful day here in north-western Nova Scotia, bright and cold. Sunshine before rain and wind tomorrow. We have a windchill of minus 13 this morning -- but a high forecasted for 6 degrees! 

I was up early this morning because I hadn't yet written my message for tonight's service and I don't like waiting until the last minute! You never know what can happen so it's always best to have it done. So in the quiet and dark of early morning (after feeding the pets, of course, so they wouldn't harass me), I sat down at my desk with my mug of chai tea and wrote a short message for the Christmas Eve audience. Here's an excerpt: 

~ We heard these words in our opening song, O Holy Night:
“A thrill of hope – a weary world rejoices.”

We are weary, aren’t we? 
Weary of letting go, of giving up, of not knowing. 
Weary of the chaos and confusion, of the uncertainty and anxiety, of the protests and problems, the hatred and the violence. 

So much unravelled this year, in our own lives and in the world. 
Much of it we couldn’t control, and it felt like it was happening all at once. 
It was exhausting, and it’s still exhausting. 

 It feels like the end of the world as we know it.

And here’s the good news: That’s IS the good news. That IS why we are rejoicing this Christmas. 

Because that’s what Christmas is really about. The end of the world as we know it. 
The end of one way of living, and the beginning of a new way. 
The way of love.

Love is an all-encompassing word that stands for a whole lot of more specific words – and actions: 
Kindness. Mercy. Peace. Justice.
Fairness. Compassion. Equality. 
Acceptance. Tolerance.

The WAY of love is also specific: An end to oppression and persecution, an end to poverty and the rich-getting-richer, end of tyranny and war-making, and the end of hoarding abundance. 

This year has opened our eyes – and our hearts – to those who have less, those who are quiet and humble, those who are grieving, those who hunger and thirst for honesty and decency, those who work for peace and justice.

Those who are weary. 

And we, too, are the weary ones. We are shaken out of our complacency, we are seeing with new eyes, we are ready to follow that star – and believe.  ~ 

Even though many of us are in lockdown, or preparing for it, are separated from family and friends, are "stuck" at home with all the same faces since March, there are so many blessings to count. It is better to be grateful than regretful. 
I love the lights at this time of year. My favourite part of the Christmas season is early morning yoga by the glow of the Christmas tree lights. 
And listening to the soundtrack of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every day since December 1! 

May your favourite rituals of the season bring you comfort. 
May the lights of the season remind you that the real meaning of Christmas shines clearly no matter what is going on in the world. 
May you remember that Christmas is only one day -- but its spirit carries us through every single day.

From my home to yours, have yourself a lovely little Christmas -- be safe, be well, be ready!
Sara xo