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I was delighted when I was  recently asked by editor and writing teacher, Allyson Latta, to create a Seven Treasures blog post for her website. I was to select seven items from my life that had meaning for me, and to write about them.

Allyson published the post on her website. Not all of the photos could be displayed in the post due to technical restrictions. Below I’ve included a link to my Seven Treasures blog post. I’ve also included all of the photos I refer to in the post, in the order in which they appear. I hope you enjoy reading about them.

CLICK HERE to be taken to the post.

Here are the photographs: (1) My mother’s wedding dress (2) Kindergarten Bird  (3) Musical Brooch  (4) Photo of my grandparents in 1911
(5) Painting of the Buddha  (6) Cultured Pearls  (7) Well-travelled Backpack

1. My Mother's Wedding Dress4. Kindergarten Robin DSC02121A5. A Very Musical Brooch DSC02279A3. Photo of my Grandparents6. Hand-painted Buddha DSC02269A2. Cultured Pearls DSC021537. My Hiking Knapsack DSC02299A

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Last Friday I grabbed my camera and headed out to greet the early spring day. I felt the sun on my face and the cool crispness of the air. My intention was to experience the world around me through my senses. From atop a birch tree came the two-note call of the chickadee – “Spring’s here!” I heard the rustle of dried leaves still clinging to an oak tree. 017

I listened to the regular thuds of my new walking shoes against the packed earth of the path and heard the “squeaky toy” call of the Canada Geese as they cavorted in the lake.

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The low bending willows cast watery shadows on the surface of the river. Red dogwood fringed the shoreline. 007

The red-winged blackbirds had returned to the marsh and were vying for prime nest spots. The air was filled with their “conk-la-ree” calls. 016

Back home, I applauded the resilience of the snowdrops pushing up through the leaf mulch and snow in our garden. I felt satisfied having greeted early spring in person!

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I recently ventured out one evening to attend an event called Move with the Groove – an evening of spontaneous dance for women.  I arrived a bit early, and the organizers suggested I go and warm up on the dance floor.   

At the end of a wood-panelled corridor, I entered a cavernous room lit only by candles.  I felt my bare feet connect with the smooth surface of the wooden floor.  As my eyes adjusted to the light levels, I realized I was the only one in the room.  Music was playing, and I began to move slowly, my arms outstretched.  My whole body felt pulsed by the insistent beat.  My feet pounded out an intricate rhythm, my soles connecting with the floor, my hands speaking a secret language.  My body began to move forward, picking up speed, propelling me, sending me soaring into the air, the force of the rhythm carrying me clear across the room.

“I have entered a realm of absolute freedom,” was the thought that flashed through my mind.  In that split second, my body’s movement connected me with the trajectory of my heart.  I was a four year old girl again, the one who was always captured in home movies spinning, shaking and moving to the beat.  I knew I WAS the beat.  I WAS the dance.

Soon other women began to arrive, edging into the space, and gradually becoming swept up by the music.  We danced separately, connected by the same rhythms, expressing them in our own way, in semi-darkness. We danced for the sheer joy of the dance.  No audience.  No praise.  No attempt to impress. We just let our bodies move the way they wanted to move.  Thoughts couldn’t stick to us. We left all that behind. Song after song, rhythm after rhythm, for well over an hour.

Eventually the last song faded, and we stood feeling exhausted and exhilarated, the sweat cooling on our skin.  When we walked back into the night, our steps were more fluid. We held our heads high.  We knew we hadn’t just joined the dance – we became the dance.

I love to sing and chant with others, so when I heard that a chanting and yoga retreat was being offered at Shanti Retreat Center August 3 – 5, I was intrigued.  Shanti Retreat Center is located on Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands.  To reach Wolfe Island, you take a car ferry from Kingston.  The crossing takes about 20 minutes.  It crossed my mind that I wouldn’t know a soul at the retreat, but I reasoned that since this was a yoga gathering, people would be friendly. (They were).

I left home before 8:30 a.m. and after a few missed tries at catching the ferry (it was Friday of the Civic Holiday weekend) I found myself on the upper deck, enjoying the wind in my hair and the beautiful view of the Kingston skyline.  Approaching Wolfe Island, you can’t miss the giant wind turbines that dominate the coastline.  I later learned that there are a total of 86 turbines on the island, and that their presence is quite controversial.

Shanti Retreat Center was a short five minute car ride away from the ferry dock.  As I made my turn down their lane, I noticed the sign telling me “Aaah…..you can slow down now – 15 km/h.” I sighed and exhaled.

The experiences of the days that followed meld into swirling patterns, like the colourful pieces of glass in an old kaleidoscope.

  • sumptuous vegetarian meals enjoyed on the deck overlooking the bay
  • agama style yoga in the spacious yurt
  • friendly people, including two great roommates
  • a silent morning walk at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday
  • a refreshing plunge in the St. Lawrence river

But for me, the most meaningful experiences were of the kirtan.  Kirtan is the Sanskrit word for “to repeat,” and it refers to the call and response singing of ancient chants. We were blessed with wonderful guides.  Shyamdas, author, musician, Vedic scholar, Sanskrit translator and devotional practitioner. Shyamdas lives in India six months of each year.  Adam Bauer, Shyamdas’ “soul brother”, and soulful kirtan singer.  Brenda McMorrow, singer/songwriter, and Canadian devotional chant artist, based in Guelph, Ontario.

To the accompaniment of harmonium, drum and bass, the musicians sang the mantras, and we added our voices in call and response, the sound building, and our hearts opening to the sounds. The feeling was one of complete unity. I literally floated back to my little waterside cottage each evening.  

As I lugged my suitcase to the car on Sunday, and drove slowly down the narrow lane to the main road, I felt the reverberation of the voices in the closing ceremony still echoing around me.  Once I got off the ferry, I popped one of Shyamdas’ CD’s in my car stereo, and found myself chanting all the way home on my four hour drive.  There was no question that I did what the sign posted over the door to the yurt said – I “followed my bliss.”

    Namaste.

The skies last Saturday morning were overcast, and the air was cool.  But that didn’t dampen my spirits as I walked across the grounds of the Sharon Temple in Sharon, Ontario.  I was on my way to fulfill a dream.

The Sharon Temple is a breath-taking, three storey, wooden structure.  It was built between 1825 and 1831 by the Children of Peace, a group of former Quakers who settled in the area. This group played a key role in setting up Ontario’s first co-operative, and the province’s first homeless shelter.  The temple was primarily used for the collection of alms for the poor.

This was a perfect setting for Spiritfest 2012 – A Festival for the Creative Soul in support of the York Region Food Network.  The event was hosted by the Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum, developed and organized by David Rankine and Liz Jefferson, and supported by numerous volunteers and staff.  The event featured an artisans’ market, heritage craft demonstrations, children’s activities, poetry readings, a drum circle, and musical performances. 

I was honoured to be asked to lead the opening sound meditation.  I have always wanted to sing inside the Sharon Temple.  It is a sacred space, and its wooden structure and soaring ceiling give it incredible acoustics. A steep curved staircase, Jacob’s Ladder, leads to what once was a musicians’ gallery high above the meeting space, hinting at the temple’s musical past.

I planned to sing to the accompaniment of a large crystal bowl, and set up the bowl near the front of the stage.  People started flowing in through the tall wooden doors.  After the welcome and opening comments, I kneeled on a cushion, and started moving a mallet in a clockwise direction around the rim of the bowl.  The rich tones of the bowl’s vibrations filled the air.

I began to add my voice, singing a chant I composed called There’s A Light That Surrounds You.  As I began to sing, I could feel energy flowing through me, the sound of my voice combining with the sound of the bowl, moving upwards towards the high ceiling.  People began to sing along and soon the space was filled by our combined voices.  Even after we stopped singing, the beautiful vibrations hung in the air. 

Afterwards, many people told me they were moved to tears by the experience.  I felt humbled by this, and so grateful for the opportunity to fulfill my dream of singing in the Sharon Temple with such a warm and receptive group of people.

Last Saturday night I was reminded of why I make music.  Our group, The Appalachian Trance Project, played a local venue called the Everything Chocolate Café.  Can you think of a better place to play than café that serves up both coffee and chocolate?  The people who attended were not only supporting local musicians, but also the café – a local small business. 

It was such a joy to look out into the audience and see so many familiar faces – the faces of neighbours, people we see at the farmers’ market, people whose gardens we visit.  There were the faces of friends from the city, a young singer just starting out, plus some people we met for the first time.  During breaks, we did some “cross-pollination”, introducing people in the audience to one another.  It was an honour to be able to give, to share, to move people’s hearts – people who were right in front of us in our own community.

We’re an eclectic mix of musicians. Dave Rankine plays mountain dulcimer, cigar box guitar and a tiny instrument he calls a ‘dulcilette’.  Tom Warney (my husband) plays banjo and guitar.  Fernando Villalobos plays a variety of percussion instruments (that night it was the djembe drum).  And I play harmonium, autoharp, tambourine and crystal singing bowl.  To this mix we add our voices.  The music we make is unique.  We play old Appalachian tunes in a new way, and we write and perform original songs. It’s not music you’ll hear on the radio.

Dave Rankine said something to the audience that really struck me.  He said “culture is something we create together.”  And that’s true.  People used to gather at kitchen parties, barn dances and corn shuckings.  They would take turns making music, reciting poetry, and telling stories.  They were creating their own culture.  Unfortunately, popular music has become a mass-produced commodity that is made commercially.  With new technology, musicians don’t even have to be in the same room to produce a recording.  So called “culture” is created by the industry, and fed to the consumers, with the bottom line being profit.

That night, for our last number we involved the audience in singing a chant to the accompaniment of a crystal singing bowl.  The lights were turned down, and the beautiful sound of people’s voices joining together in song filled the air.  When they headed out, they took those lovely sounds with them, out into the cool evening air.

I’d like to urge you to support local independent musicians.  Check out folk festival listings and local coffeehouse performances.  And don’t miss Spiritfest:  A Festival for the Creative Soul 2012 to be held on Saturday, June 2, 11 – 5.  This is a FREE family-friendly all-day festival of creativity on the grounds of the Sharon Temple National Historic Site and Museum.  Enjoy musical performances (our group will be there), an artisan’s market, heritage craft demonstrations, children’s activities, poetry reading and a variety of creative celebrations.

For information updates visit www.davidrankineart.com (scroll down to bottom left hand corner of the website) and Facebook:  Spiritfest: A Festival for the Creative Soul.

 “Accord your nature with the way, and go free of troubles.”

From the Hsin-hsin Ming:  Verses on the Faith Mind by the Third Chinese Patriarch of Zen, Seng-ts’an, 606 A.D.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been doing anything but “according my nature with the way.”  My life has felt like this painting – chaotic.  As my to-do list lengthened and the weight of responsibility pressed down on my shoulders, I have been anything but calm.  I became short-tempered.  I stayed up on the computer later and later – midnight, 12:30 a.m., 1:00 a.m.  I felt I couldn’t keep up.  Instead of approaching my creative pursuits with enthusiasm, they felt like burdens – just more things to be done so I could cross them off my list.  Even daily meditation felt like another “thing to do.”

What was I so busy doing?

Rehearsing for upcoming concert with my music group, helping to publicize the gig, taking the 6 week on-line Blogging from the Heart class, trying to respond to all of the group’s FB posts, and view all 148 blogs (impossible), attending a 10 week writing class and completing writing assignments outside class, writing posts for my new blog, keep up with email, FB and Twitter, going for an early morning  walk/run at the track followed by core strength classes twice a week, meditating 20 minutes each day, helping elderly relatives in the city get to appointments, working on a complex handmade project – a birthday present for husband, getting a manuscript ready for an upcoming writing retreat, doing volunteer work for the local writers’ community, preparing a newsletter/bulletin for my writing group.  Plus working on my own writing, spending time with my husband and friends, shopping, laundry, and household tasks.

My husband had been suggesting I slow down – but instead of really hearing what he was saying, I rattled off a list of the reasons why I had to keep up this pace, in order to “get everything done.”  My body began to tell me to slow down – I felt lifeless, bare-bone tired.  Then a massive sinus headache forced me to go to bed and sleep for twelve hours straight.

Finally it was my writing that spoke to me in a way I couldn’t ignore.  I’m currently enrolled in a ten week creative writing course with award-winning poet and novelist, Barry Dempster.  In the third part of a three-part in-class writing exercise, we were asked to imagine a presence had been watching us that day.  We were then to allow the presence to write about us.  I was shocked at what emerged on the page:

“She has been trying to do too much, be too much, refusing to look inside to hear that soft voice that says ‘I just want to crumple into a chair and read a book, or go to sleep at 8:00 pm.’  The inner tyrant shouts the orders and most times she complies.  The detritus of a creative life surrounds her – piles of books, writings, artwork, musical instruments huddled in the corner.”

I got it. The message came from inside, from a part of me that I had been effectively blocking. I knew I had to take immediate self-preserving action. Here are some of the things I did:

  1. I started going to bed earlier, that very night.  This sounds simple, but I had so much more energy the next day, and in the days that followed.
  2. I  did only what really had to be done on my “to do” list, and left the rest for another day.
  3. I got out into the fresh air for walks with my husband.
  4. I had a delightful lunch with a new friend.
  5. I treated myself to a day of Soul Collage™  with the amazing Sue Reynolds .  A leisurely drive into the country, absolutely delicious home-cooked food, a welcoming fire to take off the early morning chill, the company of friendly souls, and a day of intuitively selecting images and creating Soul Collage™ cards. (I’ve posted a photo of some of my cards, but have blurred the image a bit, both because the cards are so personal, and because they contain potentially copyrighted images from magazines).

I know that for my creativity to flourish, I need to nourish myself.  I need to go back to the well.  And as the beautiful Zen quote at the beginning of this post says, I need to “accord my nature with the way.” The last photograph in this post expresses the way I want to feel most of the time.  At least I’m moving in this direction.

How do you nourish yourself when you’re under stress?