In this time of seasonal feasting, it is inevitable that we remember fondly those stories, many made into films, that take us to a place of reverent nostalgia regarding our own past ritual feasts. The Christmas Dinner in Little Women is always one of my favourites, along with a modern version of the crazy Christmas togetherness in The Family Stone. Every time I see Elf I laugh and cry because the naive, child-like part of me wishes every orphan could end up a loved and valued Elf in Santa’s workshop. Generosity, forgiveness, and love are always on the menu in our favourite stories, as well as a balancing portion of the kind of satire we find in Eating Raoul, Tampopo, and The Hunger Games. Recent food documentaries A Place at the Table, The Power of Community, and Food, Inc. help us to understand why we are so preoccupied with food in our culture, and the First Nations peoples’ experiences recorded in Standing Silent Nation let us know why we need satirists like Jon Stewart to rival Jonathan Swift and his “A Modest Proposal”. These films and many others illustrate how food brings us together and separates us but one stands above the rest because, while it is about food, it is also about the spiritual nature of life, even in the midst of great feasting.
In Ontario, we celebrate Thanksgiving the second Monday in October, a time when harvest is in the air and fall fairs abound. It is a quiet holiday, sometimes combined with closing up the cottage for those families who have a summer place on one of the beautiful northern lakes. Most often Thanksgiving in Ontario centres on family; many college students make the journey home from college, often for the only time before the big break in December, and extended family members scattered to the four winds gather at the ruling matriarch’s or patriarch’s home to share celebratory family dishes and catch up on family news. For those without blood relations nearby, close friends gather on this holiday for potluck dinner parties in which stories are exchanged about the origins of recipes and the transformation of rituals over time. Food stories often reflect the bitter and the sweet aspects of these gatherings.
People define Grace in many ways, often in relation to specific religions. The definition I like best is an inclusive one that captures the feeling of being in harmony with wherever I am and whatever I may be doing. For me, feeling a sense of unimpeded energy flow, of easy passage through Scylla and Charybdis should they suddenly appear, and of trust in the deep underlying intelligence and purposefulness of life on Earth puts me in the amazing zone of timeless perfection in which all things fit together in mysteriously beautiful ways. For me, this state describes bliss, the eternal now, and the peace beyond human understanding.
Sooner or later, life presents us with a condition for which we need expert medical attention. A bone fracture, a bad tooth, cataracts, heart-valve challenges, and cancer diagnoses are examples of circumstances that call for a deepening relationship with the medical practitioners in our lives. Many of us attend pre-surgery appointments with apprehension and even dread. Happily, EFT can reduce our anxiety about medical procedures before we have them, and, with frequent, specific use, shorten our recovery time.
One of the courses I teach for the Community College of Vermont, Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) has as its motto Trust the Process. Many college courses, especially Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses, require very strong left-brain, critical thinking skills. Theirs is the world of logic and clear measurement. While PLA and many arts courses require these same critical thinking skills, they also develop right-brain functions such as reflection and intuition, open-ended, often ambiguous processes for which the reminder to “trust the process” is most helpful.
Looking out on a beautiful autumn morning on Stannard Mountain in Vermont, I marvel at the creative expressions before me. Nothing is ever the same when I look out my window. Just now light shifts, leaves drift from increasingly bare tree limbs, and birds weave their unique patterns of flight among the rocks of a decaying stone wall. Two nights ago, a wild rain storm took down the better half of an old cedar that has been a part of this landscape for a very long time. Life itself is ever creating a new reality, and we, Life’s human expressions, are called to do the same.
There is a concept in Japanese philosophy known as Wabi Sabi. While this term has had many different meanings over the centuries, here in the west we have borrowed the term to express the staggering beauty we find in the imperfections of life. A wander through any forest confirms the wisdom of a Wabi Sabi philosophy. On a recent hike up Camel’s Hump here in Vermont, we discovered fallen trees in various states of decay, leaves in the process of browning, and a path sometimes rutted by the feet of countless ardent visitors. Stepping off the path, looking high into the canopy of trees, and allowing afternoon sunlight to illumine what it would, we were awed by the exquisite harmonies we found there. Objectively, we saw rotten wood, decaying leaves, and churned earth; aesthetically, we witnessed the dance of life in one of its most vibrant and inspiring expressions.
I first read about the large but invisible group of culture changers known as cultural creatives in 2000 when Paul Ray’s and Sherry Ruth Anderson’s book, The Cultural Creatives: How 50 Million People are Changing the World, hit book stores. I believe I heard about the book on a CBC radio show, but I can’t be sure. What I can be sure of is the electric shock of recognition I felt when I heard the authors describe their research into a sizable but largely invisible segment of Americans whose values set them apart from mainstream culture.
Most of us are positively and negatively affected by weather changes. On sunny days we smile (for the most part), and when it has been raining torrents for what seems like weeks, we grumble (unless we are building our Arks.) While there is something to be said for the glories of every season, we here in the upper half of the Northern Hemisphere appear to revel in our summers more than any other season. Perhaps this is because local fruits and vegetables are with us in such abundance, or because digging in the dirt and walking in the sunshine connect us with our essential humanity. Not many of us let go of summer without a few bittersweet sighs. We may delight in the autumn colours and brisker temperatures, but there are those boots and coats we have to dust off and slog with us wherever we go. While summer is an expansive time and expansion is always exciting, once fall comes, its contractions announce the birth of a whole new way of being in the world.
We usually get our wood for the winter in early summer. This timing creates the luxury of a long slow stacking process, something we enjoy because there is no rush in getting it accomplished. Sometimes we stack as little as a cord a week. Our young strong friends scoff at our slowness, telling us they can stack a cord of wood in an hour. We admire their strength and speed even as we luxuriate in living in life’s slow lane, at least some of the time. The slow and steady rhythm appeals to us because stacking wood comes with certain risks, pinched fingers, bruised arms, legs, and feet, and complaining backs included. And yet, all of these possible injuries are overshadowed by the wisdom of our relationship with wood. As the sages tell us, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”