The air was crisp, almost making one’s nostrils sing to breathe in the fresh cleanliness of a beautiful winter day, the falling snow light and fluffy as it settled on the newly delivered eight cords of wood. While tossing the split logs into the cellar, it was cold enough not to sweat and warm enough not to be shivering in one’s boots. The activity was exquisitely invigorating.
On such days, feeling fully in charge of my life and liberated from the unavoidable tedious routines for survival, for a while, it feels glorious to be alive. Here I am, living my life’s dream, taking care of my own small plot of earth that, in turn, takes care of me.
Doing so began by choosing a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity. Since the 2008 economic downturn, however, it has become essential simplicity. Yet each and every day, I give thanks to have a roof over my head, the basic necessities of life, and the freedom to express an awakened awareness about what really matters about living.
This gratitude to be alive heightened following a serious car accident four winters ago, which could have been fatal. I wrote about it in my first blog post, after launching my website in December 2011. Surviving that event deepened the very concept about existence on this earth, and how we give meaning and purpose to this phenomenon.
Why am I still here? What are the spiritual lessons still to learn? Who do I value in my life encounters and who values me – from the Higher Self within us? How and where can I be a helper, in ways that I feel valued instead of exploited? These are questions that any of us can reflect upon.
What I have learned as so important for a person’s continuing growth through life is to be open-minded and open-hearted to new experiences, instead of fossilizing into familiar, comfortable habits, to which older generations can become accustomed and to which younger generations are socialized to aspire.
Of course, one could extrapolate on that reality of human nature, in regard to the entire fabric of mainstream society, in which so many people insist on maintaining “business as usual” while the threads in the fabric of our collective existence in a globalized world are pulling apart, stitch by stitch. Indeed, in catastrophes, whole rows of stitches rip apart, leaving people in despair at the losses of everything they depended on for a sense of security.
We live in a time when many people are confused and overwhelmed at the choices between love and fear in regard to welcoming, or not, the possibility of co-creating a new humanity as we journey through an increasingly visible period of transition.
But in writing this post, I really do not wish to speak about the big issues. Instead, I simply want to relate a story to illustrate how I make meaning of life, day-to-day, to transcend what, otherwise, easily could become the constant angst of what tomorrow may bring.
One aspect to make meaning is to discover the joy of living in the moment, with gratitude. Doing so means engaging in the dance between joy and despair, and letting go of control and feeling stuck so that joy can take the lead.
For I have learned the hard way, in taking the road less travelled, as a helping professional and activist, that allowing the woes of the world to take over one’s life is the perfect recipe for repeated burn out, and can almost destroy one’s health.
Since relocating from a major city to the countryside, I listened to the call of my own soul, rather than the well-intentioned cautionary remarks from some friends, most of them sadly no longer walking with me in my new life. Through life’s journey, we inevitably grow apart from some people and, in certain cases, discover we honestly never were in sync, to even have a glimmer of understanding about each other’s soul.
But, to be fair – and what is a profound reality about life’s journey – it often can take many years through a lived life before a person even gets in touch with his or her own soul. Many stories exist about how particular individuals do not find their true calling until their later years, possibly not until a life crisis provokes a radical change of heart and mind.
Another benefit in being open to new experiences, at any stage of life, especially if you already have dedicated your life to noble causes for the larger good, is to expand your love for other people and the earth to include yourself.
That awakening took the greater part of my own life, to no longer immerse myself in the world’s troubles, but instead to learn how to create inner and outer space, to revitalize joy that had been absent for too long. Doing so required slowing down, experiencing the world of Nature that I felt so intent on protecting, and regenerating my energy through a self-sustaining way of life rather than give away all my energy continuously.
So, looking back on that particular crisp winter day, I smile at an extra, unexpected delight that happened. Mackenzie, the lad whom I hired to help me, asked whether he could listen to his favourite radio music channel. I put a radio in the cellar, and cranked it up so that the country-western music could be heard for a quarter mile.
To be honest, country-western music has not been on the list of my preferred musical genres. Regardless, I learned something about how a familiar, longstanding preference can change, when we let our self be open to serendipitous opportunity. Such a moment depends on the larger context, such as the setting, the activity, and the companionship.
No other music could have been more suitable! I was so energized that, after Mackenzie went home for dinner, I continued tossing logs indoors until mid-evening, lit by the barn light and the moon, the music booming. Everything looked beautiful, as the long shadows of the trees, bushes and pasture fence stretched out along the snow.
The peace of the countryside is captivating. Even so, nothing lasts forever, because the yin-yang of life is our fuller reality. The power of experiencing bliss is for the reason of its fleeting quality.
Five days later, one late evening, I experienced the other side of my pioneer lifestyle. My century-old farmhouse has a wood/electric furnace and two woodstoves. Electricity is so expensive that I burn wood as much as possible in the colder months. But, the dark side of burning wood is the potential build-up of creosote.
Creosote is a tar caused by burning wood that is “green” (not properly cured for several months in the sun) or “wet” for other reasons. If it builds up, it can cause a chimney fire and burn down your house.
Given the lack of money to pay for this winter’s wood supply, I delayed delivery for many weeks. Eventually I had to ration my final pieces of last year’s supply of wood in the furnace. Hence, I was not burning enough wood to get a healthy, hot fire going, through maybe three weeks or so. A few weeks is all it takes to cause a problem, as my chimney sweep just informed me.
So, what happened? For the umpteenth time, after a few days of using my newly arrived wood, once again I heard the danger signal of sizzling wood, which means it has not dried out sufficiently to burn properly and obstructs getting a fire hot enough to avoid creating creosote.
First, I heard the smoke alarm on the second floor go off, and running upstairs to wave a towel underneath would not stop it. Then I put my hand over the air vents in my two spare bedrooms above the furnace chimney side. The heat was red hot, and a vertical band of black soot already had accumulated on the wall above each vent.
Next, I raced down to the cellar, and looked at the heat gage on the pipe behind the furnace. I almost had a heart attack – the gage was at almost 1200 degrees, and I knew that it was out of control. Then, I almost went into orbit up the stairs to the phone in my main floor home office, and perhaps 15 minutes or so later, the whole volunteer fire department of the closest town arrived, bless them.
They were impressive to watch, and learn from, the firefighting team spreading out to every floor including the attic, to check for indicators of fire. Very soon they determined the fire – which very shortly could have reached the chimney – was contained in the furnace. One firefighter showed me a nifty instrument that can see through the walls, ceiling and floorboards, to reveal hot spots in the air ducts. Wow!
Meanwhile, they took apart the scalding pipe and left it in the snow, for my chimney sweep to put together and finish cleaning out a huge amount of creosote in the back of the furnace. He also would have to chop out the remaining large, hardened chunks of creosote not knocked out by the firefighters, chunks that were close to choking off any air flow from the furnace through the pipe and out the chimney.
So, dear readers, my message for today is, metaphorically, keep the air flowing in your life journey. Sometimes it gets too cold and other times it gets too hot. That’s the yin-yang of life. But flow is good.
Most important of all, do not let your mind and heart get clogged up from old habits and fear of change that stop you from experiencing any flow at all, and harden you like a crusty chunk of creosote, snuffing out the light of life.
Choose to be wood in the fire that burns brightly, rather than smoulder and end up at a dead end as tar stuck in the darkness of a furnace wall or pipe. By burning brightly, you affirm life, giving warmth to others and welcoming change that lights up the world. In doing so, you transform your own energy from the physical plane closer to the spiritual plane and, thereby, evoke the lightness of being that, in one’s final act, is like the clean white smoke that billows up the chimney into the sky and the heavens above.