Note: this started as an Instagram post but got really long and I figured I’d post it here as well…
A couple of weeks ago, I got back from a trip to Sweden and Iceland. I saw the Swedish countryside, the grand old city of Stockholm, and the weird and wonderful Land of Ice. I got rained on more than I prefer on holiday. I ate more than my share of Swedish pastry. I laughed more than I have in a while. And I loved both places for so many different reasons…
1. Friluftsliv. Swedes embrace the outdoor life better than anyone. We kayaked (in the country and in the city), backpacked, slept outdoors, foraged for wild mushrooms (and later turned them into dinner), walked for kilometers on end, ate apples from the tree, picked berries at the side of the trail, fell asleep by a lake with stora björnen over our heads…
2. Fika. Afternoon coffee and cake as an excuse to take a break and talk and laugh and share stories or gossip or recount family history… We don’t do this enough here, so busy are we at being busy.
3. Skyr. Like yogurt, only better. With muesli, or fresh berries, alongside Swedish pancakes. Followed, later, by buns (of the cinnamon variety)… this is why friluftsliv exists. And the double-digit kms.
4. Trolls. Or lava rock that could be any matter of ancient fabled thing. That mythology wends its way through the culture(s) is romantic in a medieval castles and dragons kind of way.
5.Rúsínan í pylsuendanum. Icelandic for the raisin at the end of the sausage. A rainbow, a parting of the skies after a downpour, chance meetings with kind strangers…The icing on the cake as it were: that which tops off something already good (or maybe it’s just a raisin).
I write nearly daily. Sometimes the ramblings are mere crap flung on a page, to unstop a dam and let the quality words out to play. Hopefully. [some of the less-crappy bits are HERE, if you’re curious]
Case in point: I finished this today, a mélange of exasperation, daydreaming and misfit ranting. I’m not sure I like it as much as other things I’ve penned, but the words badly wanted out and I like it enough.
The more I travel, the more I want to see and hear and learn and experience. The more I become a member of a larger sphere of experience and citizenship, the less I feel beholden or attached to this small (and shrinking) one from which I hail. This citizen of the world thing has merit: belonging is a mindset.
And if belonging is a mindset, I need to wonder whether one belongs because they strive to fit a mold. Or: if belonging is an effortless thing, where once you find that place, you won’t want to ever leave, will I find it? Have I already?
And does it become a place to leave once you’re there?
And as I write, I read…in doing so, I stumble across inspiration for the next adventure (and the one after that); in the process, procrastinating by plotting points on a map or two (or 6) and planning the first leg of the next holiday.
Some of the best books read in the past few months (travel, fiction, fantasy that approximates our absurd reality…). Africa, Pakistan, Eastern Europe, Discworld:
Glorious Sundays such as today are meant for forest bathing. And so I go, to break in the new hiking boots, to contemplate my place amidst the trees and forest critters, to indulge my aging pup, to visit my secret cache of wild blueberries, to breathe in the mossy air in hopes of dislodging stagnant words…
I don’t know why, but this made me think of a brilliant Soul Asylum song:
Last year, I wrote an article called On Messing Up the Bed and Other Things I’ve Learnt From My Dog. Having an aging companion, we begin to reflect upon the things they add to our lives and the things we learn as our days with them become of the numbered variety. And so, on January 1st I tasked myself with a project. Seemingly simple, I was going to take one picture of my dog each day and post on Instagram. Lest I become boring or, gods forbid, that crazy dog lady, I began to add anecdotes and, as the weeks marched on, Dog Wisdom. And so began the #instagus project.
Against a backdrop of fear, name-calling, hate-mongering, loss (So. Many. Untimely. Deaths.), frustration, exhaustion, disbelief, anger, resentment, uncertainty, instability (…) this year, I was determined to focus on the simple truths of what was known, the realities of what lay in front of me and the notion that I am only able to change myself, how I view the world and how I interact with it each day. Dog wisdom channels Yogic wisdom, and one wonders where each begins and ends. Perhaps dogs are, in fact, the ultimate yogis.
During the year, what emanated from the posts were pleas for introspection, for kindness, for an adherence to values. Dogs teach us that there is magic in simplicity, that a methodical butt-sniff tells us if we’re dealing with friend or foe (regardless of breed or gender or silly dog attire), that kindness exists regardless of pedigree or socioeconomic status. And in this surreal year, a year in which humans tried to teach us that we must deceive and humiliate and pimp out our values in order to win; that a book should not be read, and moreover, should be judged by its cover; that some lives are more important than others; that money trumps pretty much everything, I’ve been compelled to live by Dog Wisdom rather than emulate these human actions. If I’m frank, humans have not been good for humanity this year.
I thought it fitting to wrap up this chaotic, merciless, infamous 2016 with a some of my favourite Dog Wisdom posts and reflections on how this galumphing, snoring, sometimes smelly-headed, fart machine helped me get through this year…
While uncertainty reigns, hold fast to the values of truth, integrity, humanity, kindness; appreciate natural beauty. Satya. Ahimsa. Asteya. Bramacharya. Aparigraha.
Dogs don’t see uncertainty around them, the world is just what it is. We humans project our fears, biases and ignorance on the world we encounter each day, while dogs see (and seek) love, food, shelter and kindness. Yoga teaches us 5 Yamas — Satya (truth); Ahimsa (non-harming); Asteya (non-stealing); Bramacharya (restraint); Aparigraha (non-grasping) — I’ve found these to be powerfully simple guides to help get through the overwhelming barrage of negativity that 2016 flung at us.
Dogs help us see that happiness is a good stick, a walk in the woods on a perfectly crisp fall day, and a warm place to sleep. They teach us to cherish the little things and seek adventure (or at least the spirit of it) in the everyday routine. 2016 sucked in countless ways. But there were highlights, too. There were parties and friends coming to visit; faraway holidays and European chocolates; neighbors helping neighbors and free concerts; hiking and kayaking and swimming in the ocean and beautiful sunrises…
Set intention, allow for the unknown, and the Universe responds in interesting ways.
Ever notice that when you stop fighting and yearning for something very specific, if you really identify what it is you’d like to see realised and stop making things so complicated, that opportunities and ideas and resources make themselves available? Dogs seem to go at their days with the intention of a nice romp or a long walk or simply earning a treat. The chased squirrels and found tennis balls and random dogish interactions are part of the journey. Canines show us that it’s our job to conjure up a willingness to explore every day, and embrace a belief that there’s just a little bit of magic left in the Universe to help things work out.
Focus intently on that which is in front of you. Expect bumps because there are no perfectly smooth paths; in doing so, distractions won’t warrant that much attention when they arise.
Yoga sutra 1.30 says that there are several kinds of obstacles that can be expected (doubt, carelessness, laziness, failure to detach from want, ungroundedness, illness, etc.) that distract us and get in the way of our path. By focusing on the immediate, the real, the stuff going on in front of our eyes, we can live less mired by the “what-ifs” that usually don’t come to fruition unless we let them. By paying attention, we can get more out of what we’ve got instead of attaching expectation (or anticipation of failure) to what may never come to pass. In this way, we don’t take for granted the good, we can let go of what isn’t serving us, and most of all, we can appreciate the cosmic humour in daily life.
Dog Wisdom: 99% of car rides result in an adventure. Our minds get mired in the “what-ifs” of misadventure that detract from the possibility of great adventures ahead.
This is the important stuff: Taking time to sniff out the truth. Listening to the heart. Letting go of what keeps us small and fearful. Surrounding yourself with those who care about your imperfect self. Giving to, or doing for, those who need it more than you do. Laughing at, and learning from, your mistakes. Sharing what makes you feel strong. Spending an afternoon in the forest. Listening to the soft snoring of a woods-weary pup…
Happy 2017, my friends… here’s to a new year full of possibility and new adventures.
And to 2016: You’ve been unceremoniously unfriended. Please don’t write.
I write; pretty much every day. I write to release the shitstorm of words in my head. I write to explain what goes on in my heart. I write to make some semblance of order of my dreams. I write to make sense of the jumble of ideas. I write to figure out what to do or say or make or try next.
Some days, the heart words and the head words jockey for first position. It is on these days that I should very much heed my inner barometer, my inner jumping-up-and-down-guy, waving his hands, trying to tell me to just SHUT THE F*CK UP. That inner guy says, DO NOT SEND THE EMAIL. AND FOR f*ck sake DO NOT LET THE WORDS OUT OF YOUR MOUTH.
So of course, the words get put on paper to try to explain the head and the heart and their perpetual duel; more words, later released from the keyboard, then mouth, in order to explain the between-the-lines meaning of the written words. Neither of which do much beyond muck up an already feet-on-eggshell-esque day, weekend or week.
We say “put on paper” as if invisible ink could or would dry up our electronic words or that which their unintended implication, sting, obfuscation or misalignment(s) have wreaked.
And then we finally shut up — the mouth, the fingers on keyboard, the pen on paper — only to bottle up what Might Come Out if we dare ever open our lips to speak again. Here, in the Brain, during the quiet, the words begin to pile up again, emotionally-charged adjectives and nouns and Pronouns. Many exclamation points and perhaps even more question marks.
I have learnt over the past few years that this is normal. That we of introverted constitution have these internal cacophonies of thought and words, these out-of-tune 6000-piece orchestras (accentuated by flute and tuba duets, par example) blaring their discordant tirades on a near-consistent basis in our minds. Small, yet weighty, bits are let out to play each day; the rest of the words kept in check for future use…
[cross-posted to my Medium page. Check that out here]