23 February, 2017

Waiting... the art of preparation or anticipation

My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers.
Tom Stoppard
Life is so busy, isn’t it? We rush from one activity to another. When do we take a quiet breath? The whole idea of waiting, the art of preparation or anticipation, has disappeared from our lives. When and why did this happen?

20 February, 2017

19 February, 2017

"What do I believe to be true?


Friends are writing from around the world: distressed, confused, and saying they are experiencing a continual sense of dread. A dear friend from the States wrote about what it is like to wake up every morning to the "the horror show of Reality TV invading the White House". We are all frantically trying to figure out what is real news and fake news and who offers an infallible source of the former.

It is not enough to consume facts through watching television reports or reading newspaper articles. Germans love to do this. They love the idea of being "informed". Which is not a bad thing to do, but it does not mean that we can base all our opinions and beliefs on things we read. It is not enough to watch on the side-lines. If there is something monumental happening in the world, it is not possible to wait and see. We all must take steps forward and enter into the confusion and chaos.


When the refugees started coming into Germany two years ago, it was quickly evident that we were living in historical times. I, like many million others, were aghast at the plight of the people and yet fearful about what it would mean to let them into our borders. During the first year, there were daily reports about the ongoing events and, overall, many of the reports were positive and hopeful in their tone. They applauded Merkel for her (unfortunately one of the few EU members) humanitarian act of letting the refugees into our borders.

Yet, as you can imagine, many Germans had serious trepidation about these developments. And since both my husband and I are immigrants, many of the conversations we had with friends and colleagues was about this new influx of immigrants. It was a draining time. Trying to convince others that millions of refugees should or could be allowed to come here. Eventually, I began to lose my patience during these conversations. Because they were only intellectual debates. None of the people I was talking to had any personal contact with refugees themselves. They arguments were based on facts from television reports or third-person anecdotal information.

So, I became rather radical in my strategy. If someone started talking along the lines, "we just can't let them all in", I would ask them bluntly how many refugees did they know personally and what were they doing to positively make the lives of these people safe. You can say, I just got fed up with talk. This meant many of my German friends and colleagues relationships became somewhat distant. I was so passionately moved by the plight of the refugees and didn't want to hear from others that it wasn't our problem.



This was not a good development. It created an Us and Others mentality in me. Us being immigrants, new and old. Them or others, Germans and German bureaucracy. Not good. It created a situation where I was living in a bubble. And look what happened during the last American presidential election...

Now, two years on, I have become convinced that the best ways way to partake in conversation in these times is to share our personal stories, as well as reliable as facts. I believe the media, as well as us consumers, should be providing the answers to these two questions:

"What do I believe to be true?" and "What have I experienced concretely that has led me to this belief?".  

Here is one such belief I have developed about the "refugee situation" in Germany.

I believe...

We can allow more refugees into our country and we will survive economically.

Why concretely...

I have lived in Germany for nearly 35 years and we have faced numerous momentous social-political changes during this time. Each and every one of the changes has created a more robust democracy and, overall, we have continued at have a strong economy.

I came to live in German in the baby years of the EU. A time when American and Russia were the only two major political powers contending for influence. The EU became another such power. A second change happened when the Berlin Wall collapsed. We managed to create a unification of state with millions of people whose only commonality was their language and history 50 years old. Another such example of massive change occurred when Germany signed the Kyoto Agreement. The daily practices of individuals and compliance of industries to environmental restrictions have shifted greatly over the years.

Nowadays, I am back to talking to Germans about the refugees living here. I can do it now with more patience and persuasiveness. It is a long-term process and it is good so. It shouldn’t be easy, otherwise it would not be real.

Most of the conversations I have about the "refugee situation" though are directly with those who have come here from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and some of the other seven countries the US President is so interested in banning from his borders. They are lively conversations filled with fascinating perspectives, laughter, heartfelt debate, and often as not, tears. My heart is filled with stories of their lives before war, their experiences coming over here, and their struggles to stay in this country and build of life which is safe.


A place safe from hunger and strife, it is the least we should give them for having lost so much.

17 February, 2017

Travelling the trains


It's been a long dark grey winter. Then a day of beautiful sunshine finds its way up north and follows my travels through the country. What a fantastic experience.

09 February, 2017

The Afterlife


Having been raised as a strict Catholic during the 60s and 70s, my notion of the Afterlife was heaven, hell, and purgatory.

Somewhere during my grade school catechism classes, I had an argument with the Irish priest giving us a lesson on baptism and how only those souls who had been baptized into our church were given the chance to enter heaven. When I asked him if babies who die are allowed into heaven, he said not if they haven’t been baptized. He explained that their (poor innocent (my words)) souls still possessed the stain of original sin. As you can imagine, it was at this point that my young mind began to dismiss belief in the Catholic church and the concept of heaven and hell in the Afterlife.

The one good Christian lesson I did learn was from my grandmother, a staunch Catholic. She told me that every night before she said her prayers, she would count her tender mercies. She would think of three good things she did for others, and three good things others did onto her during the day. This is one of the best exercises in gratitude I have had the joy of practicing. It influences the way I interact with those dear to my heart, as well as those strangers I encounter randomly.

Later, in my late teens, I dabbled in Zen Buddhism. For a decade or so, I attended regular retreats and meditated daily. Along the way, I learnt (a bit) about reincarnation. Not enough to say I understand or believe in it, but certainly enough to see parallels with the thermodynamic rules of entropy and enthalpy.

A friend of mine, who was raised as a Buddhist in Thailand, told me something about karma that I carry close to my heart. She said we are put into this world with three types of karma. The one is filled with challenges from past lives we are meant to overcome. The next is one is lessons we are meant to learn, now, in our current circumstances. And the last, is one we fill to carry us into our future lives. So, each kind deed or word spoken can fill any of the buckets…


Today is the anniversary of my father’s death. On such a day, I tend to think about his Afterlife. Where he is. What he is doing. It is a day, which begins with meditation. I will also go to my favourite cathedral and light a candle for him; in gratitude, for having had him in my life. Yet, I also know he still lives on close to my heart. I believe his spirit will guide me today, as it does every day. Wherever or whatever Afterlife is, I believe it to be interlocked with sorrow and joy I’m experiencing right now.

05 February, 2017

... it's what you see


The days are slowly growing longer
Still, I while away hours reading
Endless news feeds until an internal
Switch short-circuits. Time to turn off
The media hysteria and quietly close
The door behind me and venture out
Into this bright winter day.

29 January, 2017

Disconnect from reality

I've been talking to friends recently about the turbulent times we are experiencing. Universally, they mention how overwhelmed they are with all the developments of these last weeks. We sit there shaking our heads in disbelief.



As most of you probably know, the political landscape of Germany has changed considerably in the last two years with the arrival of over a million (officially) or two (unofficially) refugees and immigrants. Most of them coming from those nine countries on the President's travel ban list.

It is encouraging to know the US judicial system can react as quickly as the government is able to issue new orders.



And it is also equally encouraging that people are ready to show up in protest. These are all important forms of activism.

I believe the way we, as citizens and as political voices, treat the (still) millions of refugees seeking safe harbour is of critical importance to the survival of our cultures.

It is not enough to watch the news or call your congress spokesperson, or march the streets. No, each and everyone of us needs to experience a fundamental change of heart. The plight of these people is our plight. They should not remain faceless or nameless. A change of heart only can happen when you closely know someone or a few someones who are struggling for their lives.

The people I know here in Germany, can be divided up into two groups. Those who approach our "refugee situation" intellectually, and those of us who use our hearts, as well as our brains. Those of us who work and befriend and share the struggles of the refugees and immigrants, are changed people.

We no longer fear or question the validity of their rights to stay here. We are incensed when our politicians resolve to allow refugees into our borders wavers. But, most importantly, those in need have names and faces and they become our friends and family. It is the easiest, most effective, though admittedly modest, way of becoming part of the solution.

21 January, 2017

Let's talk about balance



Today (hopefully) many many people are going to be marching for women's rights in Washington DC and other cities worldwide. Some of my friends are going to be there braving the cold. I wish to send them off with my thoughts and gratitude for their bravery.

I am watching the news live. Something I didn't do yesterday during the inaugural ceremony. The only reporting I read was a post a dear friend wrote about the speech. 

The Upward blog is new, and this is their reason for starting their blog,


"With recent changes to the political landscape, I feel a need to speak up. Even if no one hears me, in the very least I said something. I feel a need to keep my eyes open, to watch what is happening and not turn away. I feel a need to write. Not necessarily about politics per se but about what my watching causes me to think and feel. I need a place to put my angst and anger."

So please give the blog a read.

Always something new to discover...


Even though I have been riding the train between Hamburg and Munich on-and-off for over 25 years, we passed a small lake 30 minutes out of Frankfurt, which I had never seen before. How are there always new places to discover along the way? 

20 January, 2017

Healing powers of music



I have known some wonderful people in my life who have been art therapists and never quite understood what it is they do. They say they use dance, painting, music to help heal their clients, but it seems obscure. This video, "Hitting the right note: the orchestra helping stroke survivors recover", illuminates how music can heal.

The project shown in this video tool place in 2015, but it was nice to read the work has continued.


15 January, 2017

Living out loud



I wrote recently about my wish to partake on a study of the word "wisdom" this year, but what I forgot to do is name this journey. I have gone on such a journey before, so I know it will not be a pleasant meander, but a messy battle.

Viola Davis talks about this messy battle of being an artist so beautifully. During her speech she quotes Emile Zola...

"If you ask me what I came into this life to do, I will tell you: I came to live out loud."

I realised that "living out loud" is exactly the road I wish to walk this year. So let it begin!

09 January, 2017

Behind your image...


The morning has risen / a lone bird sings outside my living room window / my work week begins / so grateful my calendar is full this month... self-employment is a constant flux between creative fire and sluggish despair / yet / so grateful / how precious / to explore all of the undulating nuanced landscape called life.

08 January, 2017

Promise to myself, my promise to you



The night after the US elections, I promised myself that I would not concern myself with American politics for the next four years. Nevertheless, I want to put this last video in my blog, and then I promise you, my dear and wonderful readers, no more commentary of any sorts about the going-ons in the White House ...

After this post, I will be able to refrain from following obsessively all the twittering and fluttering of the media. This does not mean I will not follow global news: just the other stuff that passes for news from across the ocean.

To this end, I tried to delete my FB account this morning. Only to find out that they only offer the option to "deactivate" my account. I am going to put my son who is a computer scientist and see whether he can't rectify the problem.

07 January, 2017

Wisdom

Years ago, at the beginning of a year I would take one word and plant it in my "heart's garden" to observe and explore the whole year through.


Eight years ago, the word was Trust. This year I decided on Wisdom.

My journey will be intellectual, philosophical, spiritual, and even scientific. It will span readings on the wisdom of crowds to the wise words of the desert mothers and fathers. I will research and study and contemplate and experiment Wisdom the year through.

If you have any suggestions for authors to read or directions my journey could take, please leave a comment.

01 January, 2017

Turning off my autopilot



This new year is going to be one of exploration and adventure... not one of trying to do things better, or becoming more healthy, or undoing past wrongs, or overcoming those constant fears and worries about the future (think Trump)... no, it is going to be about doing things differently... with love and tenderness, with tenacity and boldness.

31 December, 2016

Tar Barrel in Dale



A few years back I wrote about the group Unthanks and their New Year's song Tar Barrel in Dale. The song is lovely and inspiring...

"Throughout the year
When we sing this song
Old friends and new friends
Sing along.
May good fortune be with you,
From all sorrows refrain
Till that happy 
When we all meet again."



It is lovely to see the band has continued to grow and grow.

Happy New Year to all!

Gratitude


It has not been an easy year, this 2016! Last year a friend of mine, who knows something about Chinese Horoscope, said 2016 the Year of the Monkey, would mean a lot of trouble. And that is how it turned out!

2017 year is the Year of the Rooster. I am a rooster and so, I thought... hey, sounds good. But, after a perfunctory search, I found out this year does not bode well

So, instead of brooding about whether the next year is going to be unlucky, I decided rather to express my gratitude for all those persons and events that have made 2016 a better place to live.

I am so grateful..for my life companion (husband): you are the foundation of all my love and joy / to my son: who I am so proud of and wishing a good start in his first job after graduation, to my daughter: you are the sunshine of my existence and the bravest woman I know / Shae: so happy to be a part of your journey / 

friends: those near that lovingly share my day-to-day existence and those far (tiny island in the Philippines, Auckland, Singapore (now Sydney), Willimanstown, Montreal, Vancouver) who reach out over skype and bring joy from all over the world / to my refugee ladies: every conversation we have makes my heart grow / to Joan and Catalina: your art changed my thinking about what is possible and how even something temporary can be eternal / 

for the many trips I took this year / 

and lastly, to myself for being such a good Rooster (we are said to be beautiful, kind-hearted, hard-working, courageous, independent, humorous and honest.)

And to each and every one of you who read this post and have been such dear loyal readers all these years. A very very Happy New Year 2017!

21 December, 2016

Anticipation



Our (grown) daughter and son are both making their way home for the holidays from various parts of Germany!

No snow here in the north, but plenty of good cheer.

We've decided on doing a radically low-key Christmas this year. Parents get no presents. Children get three presents (one from mom, dad, and sibling). No tree. A few candles. Very few decorations. And plenty of music.

It's going to be fun to see if we still experience the Christmas spirit.

17 December, 2016

Walkie Talkie

Years ago, when the children were small, I had this need to escape the chaos of the house on occasion. Inevitably, I would end up calling a friend of mine who lived around the corner and ask her whether she wanted to go for a walk. My husband called what we did, walkie talkies, because there was a fair amount of both of these activities going on.

Here we are now, over twenty years later still sharing the daily going-ons. What a treasure a long friendship is.

(The photo above is taken just around the corner from where we live in the city.)