At the moment that I’m writing this letter to you, I’m sitting in my living room, with my laptop on my lap, on a small couch that is low to the ground because the legs are removed.
Directly in front of me is a window and French door opening to my backyard, where I can see a tree with dead leaves still clinging, a fence and the house behind the fence, and another few trees with leaves and needles draping a curtain of green across my view. In front of my window is a little altar on which I burn incense (Shoseido is the only kind that doesn’t give me a headache), and there are all sorts of trinkets from different people and places covering my windowsill.
It’s hard to stay in my hermit-like little bubble and keep imagining I’m self-sufficient when my surroundings tell me otherwise.
I live in a house built almost 100 years ago by people I do not know. My altar is a wood topped old elementary school desk which I’ve repurposed. Older than me. Built who-knows-where. On my altar is a tree from a friend. A gaudy yellow vase with yellow ceramic flowers on it that I couldn’t pass by at a garage sale three years ago, hosted by people I don’t know, and the vase made by someone else I don’t know. There is a brass container for my candle, made in India. There are dishes made in China, and a beautiful pottery cup made by my friend Claire up in the Yukon, sent to me, out of clay that was mined and shipped to her from somewhere else, maybe the States, maybe not.
On my window sill is a matrioushka doll from Russia, origami paper cranes from Japan and candles from Mexico.
The news coming from the United States and the political decisions that Donald Trump is making is anything but united, and, although I’m in Canada, the new governance is and will continue to have worldwide impact. No one is immune.
I am sitting here, in Canada, feeling a strange sense of déjà vu, and a humming of distress combined with a fortified sense of clarity and knowledge of how to take action (I posted an effective action for Canadians on my facebook page, please do read it, then connect with your Members of Parliament).
What has always been clear to me, but is sitting at the surface of my awareness right now, is the knowledge that our individuals actions, so easy to dismiss as an uneffective drop in the bucket, are actually the most powerful actions we have.
How we choose to use our personal resources has deep power. How we use our voices, our dollars and our attention is very very important. So important. Feeling powerless is a reality, but we always have a choice to get involved and making meaning in our own communities and circles of influence. This requires faith and courage, but it IS effective.
For me, these small choices include volunteering to help a friend market and fundraise because she is creating a CD about justice, which my daughter is singing backup vocals on. Other small choices of mine include speaking up when people make snide remarks about others appearance, culture, race, etcetera. Small choices that have impact are to use my voice and say: ‘that is not ok. That is not true,’ and to keep on saying it.
My sense of déjà vu comes from the era of governance that Canada just came out of. Under the Prime Ministership of Stephen Harper and the conservative party, Canada had an exceptional amount of rights, regulations and funding to at risk populations slashed. These changes have had a direct impact on myself and many people I know, yet there was very little action or outrage in Canada as these things were happening.
The difference was a matter of style. Stephen Harper carried out his funding cuts and policy changes in secrecy, silence and thus, it was very very easy for most of us to complacently not know, to swallow our outrage, to feel despair and to let it happen, thinking it wasn’t really a big deal, that it didn’t really matter, but the truth is that it does, and those policy changes are having a lasting impact, even after our government has swung politically closer to the centre.
Donald Trump’s loud in your face shockingness at least makes space for reaction, for outrage, for action. His recent entry ban on citizens of Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Libya and Yemen, including refugees, immigrants and people with US green cars has sparked protests at airports all over the US.
We are so interconnected.
Canada has a Third Part Agreement with the US that impacts these same people trying to enter Canada (and if you’re Canadian you can take action on this – more info on the most recent post on my facebook page).
We are so interconnected.
To my right is a bay window where my dining room table is, and outside those windows is a large cluster of green leafy bamboo, waving gently in the wind.
On my table are textbooks and tarot card decks. I don’t know where they’re made, but I DO not it’s not in Canada. Art supplies, notebooks made in Canada, paper for printing from pulp mills all over the place. Fabric and table cloths. A wooden weeping Buddha statue that, regardless of where it’s made, has deeply rooted philosophies that come from India and Tibet. A ceramic bird from Mexico.
The thing almost all of my things have in common is that they are made and sourced from places that are not in Canada.
Although I get almost all of my ‘things’ second hand at local thrift stores, they are still all created and sourced somewhere far away, made by someone far away, and I couldn’t access them, even second hand, without these connections that are so essential.
We are so interconnected. We are also all so powerful. Where we place our attention matters.
My refrigerator is humming slightly, and my laptop is giving off a slight murmur. Someone in my neighbourhood must have a wind chime, a nicely toned one with lower sounds, because I can hear it in the background occasionally, and it’s a very pleasant sound.
Small bird chirps punctuate the stillness from outside my window as well, and just now the firehall sirens started up, which tells me there’s an emergency somewhere in town, maybe even a real fire. I say a small and silent prayer for whoever is in need, and draw my attention back into my living room.
My feet are resting on a rainbow striped carpet that I love like crazy even though it’s getting a little stained by now. I got it from Ikea 13 years ago at the age of 25, when I moved my year-old infant daughter and myself from the Yukon to Toronto to get my Master’s degree. It was my first adult purchase. Adult, in the sense of buying something that felt very pricy, which was all about claiming space as my own. All about making my little tiny apartment feel like my home, infused with my style, and an object that made me feel happy, happy, happy. It still does.
Oh. And my Masters’s degree at York University, living in Graduate student housing, with my daughter attending the cooperative daycare? It illustrated how interconnected we all are.
Staff and students were from all over the world. The languages, cultures, skin colours and faces reflected every nation you could imagine, all of us drawn together by a common desire to learn and connect. It was an incredibly diverse and humbling experience.
Quality of attention matters.
It’s a funny thing, having a couch this low to the ground, and it’s actually very comfortable. Today, we had a friend over, who is quite a bit shorter than my daughter and I, who are just shy of 6’0”. She said it was a couch for short people.
I think that’s true, but even as a tall person, I find it so comfortable, leaning back, with my legs stretched out resting on the rainbow coloured carpet in front of me.
You may be wondering why I have a couch so low to the ground. Like many things in my life, it happened through a combination of chance, laziness and curiosity.
One day, not so long ago, my daughter took a flying sideways leap at the couch, intent on landing in a loungey position, exactly as she has done many times before. Only, this time, when she flew over one arm rest she misjudged her leap slightly and instead of landing on the two cushions, she landed on the further armrest and one cushion. Just off kilter enough, with just enough pressure to cause the couch leg, which was already old and slightly askew (as we discovered later) to buckle and fold, making the loveseat to collapse in time with my daughter’s landing, in a skidding motion amidst shocked peals of laughter.
It was really quite funny, and my daughter being the bubbly animated person that she is, the moment was even more funny.
This was on a Sunday afternoon, and I decided I didn’t want to make the trek to Home Depot that day to find a leg replacement, so we unscrewed the other 3 legs and left the couch as it was, lower than our other one, closer to the ground, and somehow super cosy.
A few weeks after that, we discovered that the bottom of this couch isn’t entirely flat, so there’s a seesaw effect when more than one person is sitting on the couch. The second person plopping down causes the first person to be bounced upwards on their side in response. And when one person gets up, the other one gets a little thunk closer to the floor.
It’s been months now, and although my original intent had been to replace the legs, making it look more normal, making it match the other loveseat, making things look more ‘grownup’ I actually just have no desire to change the leglessness of our little loveseat.
Because my short friend felt comfortable on it. Like it was made for her body. Because I like stretching my legs out and feeling closer to the ground. Because it’s kind of a funny conversation starter. Because my daughter gets such delight out of the seesaw effect. Because I’m short on time and why would I want to go to the effort of replacing the legs and raising it higher off the ground when all of these these are creating experiences of delight, joy and laughter?
Life is full of happy accidents, they’re fun to encounter, but it takes practice to be available to them.
I can’t say that I’ve always appreciated happy accidents. Whenever I get too invested in how things ‘should’ be, and how things used-to-be, I find I’m completely unable to observe, notice and experience the accident and all of its possibilities.
Whenever I’m preoccupied with making things work a certain way, I’m completely unable to see alternatives and options and resources and ways of doing the same thing differently, and often, more efficiently.
We are all so interconnected, and quality of attention matters.
Whenever I have fixed ideas in my head, my real life experiences suffer. I can’t inhabit them, I can’t appreciate them, I can’t accept that things are exactly as they are in the present moment because my heady ideas are thumping away with a volume that I can’t ignore.
Living in the world of ‘shoulds’ and internal resistance, the world where we are always wanting things to be other than they are doesn’t help anything.
However, accepting that things are as they are, then planning on how to take action to create a world that is more healthy and caring, this helps everything.
Which brings me back to this letter that I’m writing, right now, at 3:19pm on Sunday afternoon.
I usually schedule these letters in the early morning (so that folks on Eastern standard time in North America will also get them in the morning) and I usually write them at some point on the Friday or Saturday beforehand.
Sometimes, however, things don’t work according to schedule.
I’d planned to write the letter yesterday evening, but that would have required me to sacrifice some quality time with my daughter. We’d planned to watch two Tim Burton movies with cosy blankets and snacks. Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, both with Mia Wasikowski, who is one of my favourite young actors.
Had I stuck to my schedule, which has involved a great deal of work lately, I would have sacrificed even more of my time with my growing daughter. And the point of all of the work I’m doing is not to miss out on her life, particularly as she grows more and more ready to leave my home.
So we shopped for snacks (Chicago mix popcorn, salt and vinegar kettle chips, mini profiteroles – yes, we went all out, to the point where the man behind us in line at the grocery store commented on our party plans) and we got ourselves cosy under lap blankets (one crocheted by my gramma for me, a small wool plaid one for my daughter), made tea, poured our treats into bowls, pushed play on the movie and carried on, matter-of-factly farting and burping (in the way that you do with those you live with day in and day out), soaking up the crazyiness of Lewis Carrol and Tim Burton (which incidentally carries some current and relevant examples of how to change what you don’t like about your society via our heroine Alice.)
I worried a little about how I’d get this e-letter sent out today, because I value consistency, and want to be reliable.
But here is where the magic of being present to happy accidents, of plans gone awry, comes in. I forgot that my daughter made plans with her friend for this afternoon, so when she left the house a couple hours ago I was granted the unexpected and incredibly spacious luxury of uninterrupted time to write and plan (I have trouble even describing how much this makes me happy!)
I am finding that the biggest growth in my life, and the thing that gives me the most resilience, has come from learning how to accept what is before me.
Learning to accept the realness of the present moment and settle into it, whether I want it or not (because as we know, present moment experiences aren’t always fun or pleasant or desireable.)
Learning to slow down the constantly churning hamster wheel of thoughts and resistance, of clinging to the past, and striving towards the future, and noticing what is around me instead has brought me, simultaneously, the most peace, and the most effectiveness when I do take action.
The biggest blossoming for me has come from learning to accept my circumstances for what they are and see the beautiful moments in the mundane, to feel present to them, and to open into the pleasure of my couch, my carpet, the gentle sounds around me, the trinkets and colours and breath in my body.
My biggest growth has come from pushing into the unspoken rules and secrets of my self and my family and my culture, planning for change and finding my voice, but always, always, always simultaneously to that, learning to cultivate a quality of attention that comes from slowing down and just noticing what is around me, what is present in my life, and what I can connect with and appreciate, without striving or resisting.
I haven’t always chosen paths that have been easy. Put another way, the paths I’ve found myself on, sometimes by choice but sometimes not, have not always been wanted. Put another way, the gap between what I think I’m going to get in life, and what has happened instead has been hard to reconcile.
Finding meaning in my circumstances, finding meaning in how I ended up where I am – via understanding my ancestors, my culture and my gender – this is what has given me a lighter touch, a deeper groundedness, and has allowed me to drop some of the seriousness I’ve felt burdened by, and allowed me to feel more resilient and joyful.
Finding meaning has given me more courage, more access to my voice, and more resilience.
Finding meaning and acceptance is, for all of these reasons, so powerful.
We are so interconnected. We are so powerful. Where we place our attention matters.
If you know your attention is fragmented, if you know you’re finding it challenging to make meaning and change in your life, it helps to go deeper into your own self first. It’s by truly knowing and connecting with yourself and all that has shaped you, that you’re better able to step out into the world and create meaning there, and use your voice with power and clarity.
On February 20th I’m running Personal Mythmaking, an 11-week course and circle for people who are committed to knowing who they are, what and where they come from, for people who are longing to feel so deeply rooted on such a powerful foundation that they will be unruffled by life’s circumstances.
We investigate, inquire, ask questions and learn to inhabit our bodies.
Our 11 weeks together mix weekly themes (such as language, culture, ancestors, body image, place and physical environment, heroes and villains and more) with playful storytelling/fairytales, embodied anatomy prompts, creative writing prompts and videocalls until, by the end of it, you’ll also have written a surprising, beautiful, optimistic and glorious story of yourself and your life.
Personal Mythmaking is a small and intimate course (no more than 20 people), in which I’m devoted to providing you with tools and skills with which to awaken your own inner knowing, your creativity, and your connection to your body.
If you have questions, please do reply to this e-mail to inquire. Or, if you’re curious about signing on but want answers, I’m also happy to chat (free, of course) via telephone or skype. I am also happy to set up payment plans for you, please just ask.
Dr. Tonia Winchester has this to say about Personal Mythmaking:
“Janelle is a guardian of your sacred truth, and will create a safe space to play, know, understand, and emote. She will bring out your inner guide and create new pathways for success, love, and abundance.
She is a delight to work with, sharing deep, provocative writing and embodiment exercises peppered with giggles and heart-catching anecdotes. She will transform your life.”