Relearning How to Cherish Life in the Moment

blogimage2I heard a loud whump, and ran to the back room of my farmhouse. The splat on the window indicated a bird had hit it. Opening the side door, I gazed upon the spread wings of a bird laid out on the porch floor. Oh my God, was it dead or alive? Quickly putting on boots and gloves, I approached the bird and saw his head twitching. Removing the gloves, I spoke softly and applied therapeutic touch over the body. I gently lifted one wing, and dislodged the bird’s talons – very impressive – from the wet snow underneath. What I later identified as a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk gingerly stood up, but did not change position for several more minutes. His head darted in all directions, as I backed up. Stepping forward again, the hawk hopped away from me, then stopped, so that I disappeared indoors, still worried whether a wing had been broken. But, blessedly, through the window, I then saw it perched on the porch railing. Noticing it gone a few minutes later, I stepped outside, and heard a rustle from a nearby bush, followed by the hawk emerging for a low flight across the pasture.

The message here is, care enough to take action in the moment, before it is too late. Doing so requires being tuned in sufficiently to one’s immediate environment to heed an unexpected or unusual sound or visual image, and be willing to investigate – fully.

Look at the photo below of a similar yet different fallen sharp-shinned juvenile hawk. The photographer (see Postscript) relates that he recognized it was alive, did not disturb it, and was delighted to see it fly away an hour later. My hawk was cushioned in a bed of snow, and needed remedial attention immediately.


If I had ignored the initial `whump’ or peeked out the side door, and assumed – wrongly – that the bird was dead before checking more closely, yes indeed, the bird would have died, its talons stuck, and soon frozen, in the deep, wet snow. This incident is not the first time that I have been vigilant, and caring enough, to rescue a bird and save its life from an unnecessary premature death.

Another pertinent lesson that I have been reminded about in recent weeks, however, raises the question, how vigilant are we about our own self-care? For those of us who are passionately committed to advocacy for social and environmental justice (and other significant issues) in the larger world, and/or overwhelmed by the constant call of care-giving loved ones, one’s own well-being can be pushed aside as the lowest priority.

A recent diagnosis of cancer radically changed my own worldview 180 degrees away from focusing too much on all of the woes in the world, as well as a list of regrets of what had transpired through life to cause me endless sorrow. Worse, I recognized how profoundly I had succumbed to chronic anxiety which almost entirely snuffed out joy in being alive at all, thus becoming unconscious to life in the moment.

The impact on the hawk of the unforeseen whump on the window could be a metaphor for the aftermath of the whump on my consciousness in hearing the initial diagnosis of malignant melanoma. Such a transformative moment changes everything forever, initially entering the body and feelings, before registering in the mind.

I blessedly can add, however, that the speedy actions of, respectively, my family doctor, a dermatologist, then a plastic surgeon, within a month of my doctor first seeing the unusual mole on my arm, followed by two biopsies, resulted in all cancer successfully cut out. Mind you, I had not bothered to show the doctor this mole through many months, so that I am darn lucky, because I sure had the crap scared out of me early last December.

This blog post is my way to process what has led to a more awakened perspective. I write it in the spirit of encouraging other helping professionals, volunteers and caregivers to avoid similar pitfalls. Please take time to reflect on your respective patterns that could undermine your own well-being.

The lessons for me are not to dwell on past disappointments or future uncertainties, any of which can paralyze us with anxiety and fear. Moreover, I had driven myself last year in efforts to revive my professional profile; but, at what cost is the question to address.

Most important – as I have relearned – is to cherish life in the moment, even as we contend with existing circumstances that are not pleasant or easily acceptable, such as chronic health issues and financial hardship.

We all have vulnerabilities, sometimes exposed through encountering unexpected dangers, and other times when previous traumas are reawakened through how others treat us.

Vulnerability resides in patterns of anxiety rooted in past traumas and subsequent projections of anxiety into the future, not to mention very real currently existing sources of stress – singly or collectively – which can overwhelm us. Transcending them is easier said than done. Yet transcend them we must.

Consider the young hawk’s vulnerability, slamming into an unexpected window. If another caring creature had not arrived on the scene, the hawk could have become lunch for one of my neighbour’s several barn cats who prowl the area.

If I had not been held in the embrace of my circle of friends in Toronto where I had agreed – synchronistically it seems – to house sit throughout the holiday season, I could have remained in a precarious condition of health, mentally and emotionally – between the second biopsy and the lab report’s findings two weeks later.

Therefore, critical moments of intervention are valuable, even life-saving.

Nevertheless, when we feel flattened, or stunned by an unexpected event – even while graced with the caring support of one or more intervenors – it still, ultimately, is our own responsibility in choosing either to give up or rise up to take the next step. Those who care about us only can provide encouragement, compassion and love, but the ultimate choices in our pathway forward in life are ours alone.


Note the young hawk whom I encountered (similar to photo above). He bounced up, next pausing several times as he surveyed the surrounding landscape, choosing to walk forward, step-by-step, with interludes of stillness and reflection. How regularly do our choices include such interludes, in regard to reflecting on our inner landscape and how we respond to outer world challenges?

Granted, the hawk’s initial stillness was the obvious consequence of being stunned from hitting the window. Similarly, I felt stunned from the initial diagnosis of cancer, and floated through several days in a mental fog after the news.

Stillness and reflection, admittedly, have been mostly absent from my life in recent years, particularly during the year 2015. Last year was bookmarked by two personal health scares. Between them I drove myself relentlessly in nonstop mental productivity, culminating in the worst burnout experienced in many years this past autumn, prior to the diagnosis of cancer.

Ignoring the signs of accumulating effects of overwork on mind, body, and emotional state had been a lifelong habit that I thought I had kicked.

The year 2015 originally had held much promise in opportunities to pull together the major themes of decades of professional and volunteer work, in writing, facilitating workshops, and oral public presentations.

These interwoven themes include how and why to deepen understanding across cultures – specifically Indigenous vis a vis Euro-western cultures – as well as deepen understanding of the wounded soul, universally, through the perspective of spiritual psychology. The third theme on human consciousness, added in more recent years, connects the outcomes of human actions to the plight of all planetary life. My quest now is to illustrate how such patterns can, and need to be, transformed to heal and restore our humanity and, as well, treat the planet’s life support system with more respect and intelligence.

Consequently, after recovering from painful chilblains on my feet as a result of a broken furnace through several weeks of 2015’s beginning months – and even through that discomfort, writing conference presentation proposals for deadlines – I continued to feel as driven as a freight train, to make up for lost time.

Indeed, like a freight train under a tight schedule, I felt constantly under pressure to meet a series of deadlines, rushing to unload freight at each station as well as piling on more freight before continuing on the route of obligatory stops. the nonstop demands became overbearing and, worse, the freight carried was too heavy for the train’s engine to keep running at its optimum.

Here, metaphorically, the freight that sorely burdened my inner train engine was continual research and organizing of data to rework into coherent presentations, endlessly loading up research and packaging data, to deliver it for each and every deadline. Pushed to the limit, my engine was brought to an abrupt halt caused by total mental exhaustion.

Meeting my `Waterloo’ was the end point reached not just from creative, joyful commitments in 2015. But, while busy in the transformative work that usually regenerates me, as does receiving the acknowledgment of peers, something else much less rewarding was burning out my engine.

From spring through to early autumn was moral pressure – self-imposed – to challenge the numerous flaws in the Joint Review Panel (JRP) environmental assessment report published May 6, 2015, regarding a proposed deep geologic repository (DGR) next to Lake Huron. The report, incredulously, approved the DGR to receive a licence to go forward.

Our small coalition of local citizens in Bruce County had devoted months out of our lives through three years, and counting, to bring forward independent research and intervene at two public hearings, as did longstanding environmental organizations, and independent scientists. We all felt betrayed, because our research was co-opted (when not dismissed entirely) by the JRP to create almost 100 recommendations for mitigations (yet unproven to be effective) if something goes wrong. By then it is too late, once radionuclides are released into the environment. To proceed with a DGR is morally irresponsible.

Therefore, we also felt outraged, and propelled to continue the fight, the newly elected federal Minister of Environment now making a decision on March 1, 2016 – a decision that might well be challenged.

Analyzing more than 500 pages of the JRP report to submit an informed written submission to the federal government, by end of August 2015, was no small feat, particularly sandwiched between other deadlines on more pleasurable work. Nevertheless, I am like a terrier with a bone when I take on a cause, moral fortitude and sheer persistence pushing through every obstacle like a bulldozer.

My ultimate goal, to fight against this abominable nuclear waste dump, is to produce a book in 2016. I pumped out two writing grant proposals, the larger one requiring a 40-page manuscript double spaced, for a mid-October 2015 deadline. (That followed completing a major essay on an Indigenous theme for end of September, to be considered for publication later in 2016.)

By end of October, I was blotto, inner fuel tank empty and burned out.

In Toronto through the holiday season, aside from seeing friends, I thought I could cope again, to work on a 6,000-word essay, due end of January 2016, on “honouring the sacred feminine.” No, I am not a masochist, just a bit dim at times. I was oblivious – until a couple of friends read me the `riot act’ about self-care – to the negligence I perpetrated upon my own inner `sacred feminine,’ basically my very life force.

Thanks to (how many?) interventions since last August, I rediscovered the meaning of the verb, “relax.” I stayed off a computer in Toronto except for scheduling social dates, and emptied my mind from as much left-brain thinking (analysis) as possible.

What I have relearned is a reminder why I relocated from the city to a modest homestead in the countryside, choosing a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity to restore health previously broken from overwork, and because my soul cried out for inner peace. I also knew that my intellectual mind needed a retooling to wind down.

The tools needed to restore balance within each human being and, indeed, collectively in human society today, are not based on technological fixes. We instead need to relearn how to connect with the earth and the always accessible lessons from the world of Nature when our heart and soul awaken. The choice always is ours to listen up.

The beautiful, powerful, yet also vulnerable, hawk illustrates the qualities in all of us, when we pay attention. We human beings are biological creatures, yet susceptible to living out-of-balance, and inflicting the consequences of that mindset on all other forms of planetary life today, so painfully evident in climate change and extreme weather.

Whether we learn sufficiently as a human species to restore more balance in our own lives – overburdened in the developed world by so much ridiculous, and unnecessary, artificial baggage and materialism, with the subsequent self-induced stress and disconnectedness to what really matters – is an open question.

Doing so begins in the heart and soul of each and every person, when we can listen once again to those inner voices and not give all the power to the intellectual mind which is not adequately equipped in itself to assess the root causes, beyond merely the symptoms, of the challenges of survival we now confront.

Always, always, I am so grateful to be alive, when I open myself to the beauty and joy around me in each moment. All it takes is stillness and reflection, and the grace and humility to be thankful for everything that sustains life, and to learn from Nature’s messengers.


May the Creator bless that dear young hawk, a messenger who inspired me to communicate once again what really matters – caring, presence and love.


Photo of hawk laying on porch found on Flickr, taken by normanack

Photo of hawk on fence found on  BIRDS CALGARY, taken by Bob Lefebvre

Photo “Alert Baby Hawk” found on another website, photographer unidentified








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A Season of Gratitude for What Really Matters

blogimage2Participation at this year’s winter solstice gathering on December 21st at the home of Tony and Fran McQuail bestowed the gift of one of the most loving, beautiful, and spiritual, Christmas season gatherings that I ever have experienced in my entire life. Being welcomed by this Quaker family into their circle of family members and friends has been an experience of soulful, loving fellowship. We sat huddled together in Tony and Fran’s cozy stable, all seated on haystacks, their gorgeous horses nearby, and also accompanied by a large sleeping dog and several, playful kittens. Tony recited the Nativity story punctuated by brief interludes in which we sang carols. We then relocated to another festive building to enjoy a potluck feast followed by games and sharing stories.

Is not such a fellowship, and embracing the original Christmas story, at the essence of the meaning of Christmas? Indeed, the sanctity of life itself is what really matters.

How the honouring of this sanctity of life is played out is through the love and caring that we give each other, and all other earthly creatures and planetary life in our midst, all of which we so vigilantly must protect, as a human family.


Doing so is what we hold in common, and our diverse actions to protect, heal and restore all forms of life offer us opportunities to heal, as well, regrettable divisiveness both globally in regard to the human family, and personally in our familial, professional, volunteer, and community interactions.

The best New Year’s resolutions, indeed, can be focused on promising to take actions through the coming year in the spirit of healing and reconciliation, for good relationships, whether within one’s personal family, a workplace, an organization, or the community where you live, and also offering financial, or simply emotional, support to those folks committed to activities that serve humanity and the planet’s well-being.

The healing begins through each and every small, random act of kindness. Too often, however, the behaviour patterns that tend to reside in various layers of our unconscious obstruct us from expressing our better qualities.

One common example – usually unconscious – is passive-aggressive behaviour, such as rejecting affection and offers of assistance, so that the giver feels unwelcomed and unvalued by those who exclude the person who wishes to participate in their lives. This happens in family dynamics, organizations and, undoubtedly, at all levels of power and control in the world.

A second common example, related to the first, is the denial and refusal, consciously yet more often unconsciously, to recognize with honesty and humility one’s own responsibility to make amends for causing harm, even when not intended. Regardess, harm is caused by omissions and thoughtlessness. Sadly, such behaviours impact all levels of relationship, from the personal to the global.

These foibles in human nature are universal and why transformation of consciousness is what I identify as the essential first part of our 21st century human project in order to evolve, and develop our ways of being, to carry out the second part – restoration of an imperiled planet.

The challenge, meanwhile, is for us to rise above the personal outrage we so justifiably can feel, but which can paralyze us into inaction and blaming. Sometimes, we need to grieve about who and what we need to let go, and shift energy away from fretting about other people’s hurtful behaviours. Instead, the preferred task is to redirect energy to focus on life-affirming reflection and activities.


Indeed, what can be more productive than awakening our Higher Self, where our emotional, mental and physical energies can be mobilized from a place of spiritual outrage through acts of caring that proactively confront what is hurtful and destructive.

For example, through the past two years I began to participate within a coalition of concerned local citizens to become one of the oral intervenors at two public hearings, in order to fight against the potential licensing of a proposed deep geologic repository for nuclear waste next to Lake Huron, in the Great Lakes Basin.

Each of us, in our own ways, had to rise above our anger – and disbelief that such as an environmentally risky project even could be proposed at all – to channel our respective energies, instead, in the pursuit of various types of research. The task, ultimately, was to provide solid evidence for all the reasons why this project is scientifically indefensible, as well as identifying ethical issues, based on the many uncertainties. Our struggle continues.

Indeed, what sustains me through many years are: longstanding personal friendships; having a sense of purpose for my existence that goes beyond personal comfort and pleasure; a place of belonging; the fellowship of like-minded colleagues who stand together, in extensive volunteerism, to confront various types of injustice; and the willingness to see one’s life journey as a spiritual quest in which to continue growing, learning and deepen one’s caring.

Despite financial poverty, I therefore feel very rich because of feeling embraced within a circle of caring people. First of all, on an emotional level, at times I have felt so vulnerable that, without my close friends who share my spiritual beliefs and environmental concerns, I have come close to falling apart. Their love most of all sustains me through the `dark nights of the soul’ that have visited upon me on several occasions.

Choosing such a life journey, and engaging in the protection of whatever sustains life – for that is the spiritual essence of environmental activism – offers continuing opportunities to meet caring individuals. I am strengthened through these beautiful relationships, and pray that my reciprocal offerings reinforce the strength of other caring individuals.

In recent months, for example, I joined fellow local citizens and agencies in lobbying against the removal of protection for “locally significant wetlands” in my county. Each of us submitted letters to our county council, to challenge its new amendment to remove such protection, as did regional conservation authorities and other agencies.

Regardless, the Council was considering a vote to remove protection, until a December public meeting in which two citizens – me and a retired science professor from the northern peninsula – both showed up to give oral presentations that helped better inform newly elected municipal councillors. We won, as proactive, concerned citizens! Council terminated the amendment, and agreed to pursue a more complete environmental mapping as we had requested.

The lesson here is to: be aware of the issues wherever you live that could threaten the health and safety of future generations; be persevering; prepare your research; and last, but definitely not least, show up and speak your truth, because that is how life-affirming changes can happen – in the unexpected moments and through the actions of just a few caring folks.


Indeed, we, collectively as a human family, have arrived at a historic moment that calls us to action, to affirm life. What are the ways in which we, across cultures and across diverse religious paths, can demonstrate the essence of perennial spiritual teachings that preceded today’s major world religions, and originated in, for example, Indigenous belief systems whose teaching still have value today?

The essence of such original teachings were grounded in respect, and love in all of its expressions, directed to and embracing the basic earthly elements and species that make human life possible. As the Indigenous teachings tell us – albeit misunderstood and undermined through most of Euro-western cultural history – we human beings are the youngest brothers and sisters of all Creation on Earth. Therefore, we need to relearn that our very sustenance depends upon all other planetary life.

For many weeks, since the mid-October Thanksiving celebration in Canada, I have pondered how I could best present this message. But, a series of crises, personal and otherwise, repeatedly delayed this blog post. Regardless, I chose to focus on urgent activism since the early summer, discerning between the timeliness and wisdom to act rather than simply write about issues here, when either immediate attention was needed or ongoing intervention through other forms of writing.

As I now complete this message a few hours before the New Year bells ring in 2015, I sincerely hope it offers inspiration, hope and possibility in your life.

May you choose to offer kindness and generosity to others, and feel gratitude for everyone and everything that enriches your own life.

May you also feel inclined to co-create a world in which all of the human family can experience love and dignity to enjoy a life worth living. Collaborate across genders, generations, and cultures, to heal and restore an increasingly wounded planet, so that the children yet unborn also can experience a life filled with beauty, meaning and love.

Blessed be.

POSTSCRIPT: Visit The Meeting Place Organic Farm to be inspired by the loving example of the McQuail family in the produce and knowledge they contribute for the well-being of all life, holistically.

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Then they came for us – How “strong and free” is Canada?

blogimage2Dear fellow Canadians, do not ever take freedom of expression for granted. Many years ago I had my eyes opened to the various levels of social injustice in Canada, working fulltime as a freelance journalist. My previous rose-tinted eye glasses as a complacent Canadian shattered into countless pieces on the earth of a Canada praised in our anthem as “The True North strong and free.” These days, increasingly, we all need to pay attention to a few more lyrics in that anthem, such as: “we stand on guard for thee.” In short, more of us need to get off our duffs to demand, and safeguard, freedom of expression that continues to be diminished by Harper’s federal government.

Our national news media, God bless them, are paying attention, telling us about the latest targets of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), which include PEN and OXFAM. These actions ought to outrage anyone who cares about freedom of expression, and who needs to become more aware that the CRA net is widening to capture and lessen the grassroots power of organizations which support social and environmental justice.


Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay must think Canadians are idiots to believe what she said, cited on online, in a news item by The Canadian Press, dated July 10, 2014: “CRA audits occur at arm’s length from the government and are conducted free of any political interference. Our government is committed to ensuring that our tax system is fair to all Canadians.”

Those words espouse a blatant lie. How do you explain the pattern of organizations selected by the CRA to undergo expensive audits – following the 2012 federal budget which bequeathed 13 million [taxpayer] dollars, increased from the initial eight million to the CRA dedicated to this task? Contrast those selections with non-selected organizations, such as the Fraser Institute which “can happily enjoy immunity from any challenge under Canadian charitable law,” according to Warren Bell.

Warren Bell contributes thought-provoking opinion columns to The Vancouver Observer. Dr. Bell is a family physician and Past Founding President of Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment.

In his brilliant exploration of the Anglo-Saxon history of “charitable status” – whose origins were in 1601, based on an enactment from the British Statute of Elizabeth – an insightful article which I advocate that every Canadian read, Dr. Bell concludes:

Charitable tax law affords an opportunity for the federal government to attack groups it doesn’t like, while cloaking its behaviour in hoary anachronistic enactments… On the other side of the coin, charitable tax law allows groups which lobby for things that a particular federal government favours to steer clear of CRA disapproval.

The Fraser Institute is a prime example, Dr. Bell informs us, of a “prominent corporate lobby group,” who promotes itself as an “independent public policy research and educational organization.” Moreover, in its materials and presentations, the institute always identifies its “educational purpose” or “research finding.” Important to note is, the Fraser Institute espouses the beliefs and attitudes of the Harper administration.

Compare the above with what befalls charitable organizations, increasingly, which have challenged the Harper government on a number of fronts, domestic and international. In doing so, any intelligent person can discern a pattern of those organizations being targeted for audits, and more aggressively since 2012.

This pattern is a serious threat to freedom of expression in Canada. The reason is, loss of funding diminishes activities that enable our democracy to thrive through protection of, and strengthening, the safety and health of humanity within and beyond Canada.


Some audits can take more than a year. These intrusions not only raise the legal costs of the targeted organizations. But, as well, they distract staff from operating effectively and raising funds, because the auditors want to see all documents and correspondence. Furthermore, even the threat of having to undergo an audit can cause confusion and upset, not knowing what the CRA will label as “political” to then revoke charitable status.

The consequence of this audit pattern is rightly called “advocacy chill,” by Gareth Kirkby, a former journalist and now graduate student in communications. In Kirkby’s 2014 MA thesis, he maps this pattern, based on research including interviews with the leaders of 16 such organizations. The Canadian Press cites Kirkby’s thesis:

The data suggest that the current federal government is corrupting Canada’s democratic processes by treating as political enemies those civil-society organizations whose contributions to public policy conversations differ from government priorities.

In The Canadian Press interview, Kirkby identifies three particular charitable sectors that appear to be singled out for CRA audits: environment, development and human rights, and charities receiving donations from trade unions.

This moment in Canada is not the first time in history that such sectors have been attacked. The words “Then they came for me,” have an origin so chilling that the entire piece of prose in which these words first appeared has been used repeatedly since 1945 by diverse groups, and individuals, to challenge various forms of oppression.

Martin Niemoller (1892-1984), regardless, was the German Protestant church minister who first composed them. He created several versions of his longer `statement’ for diverse audiences to whom he preached reconciliation and disarmament through the rest of his life, after seven years in Nazi concentration camps until liberated by the Allies:

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

The above version of Niemoller’s famous statement can be found on the website of The [American] National World War II Museum, in a lesson plan for teachers titled “Resistance Movements, Partisans, and the `Righteous Among the Nations’.” The lesson plan identifies the various German resistant groups, and concludes by inviting reflection on Niemoller’s statement as related to the universal issue of individual and collective responsibility.

If any of my readers believe that I am overstating the comparison between then and now, consider this fact. On May 27, 2014, Lawyers Rights Watch Canada sent a written statement (several pages) to the 26th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, titled: “The Shrinking Space for Dissent in Canada.” It revisits the themes of concern that I identified above – and much more!


Let us look at PEN Canada, a nonpartisan organization of writers. It is renowned for defending persecuted writers and fighting censorship – both abroad and within Canada. John Lorinc, journalist and PEN member, wrote an excellent opinion piece on PEN’s political advocacy titled “PEN audit will come back to haunt Tories.” (Here’s hoping.)

What’s immediately more heartening is that within days of news breaking out about the CRA auditors arriving at PEN offices, PEN Canada received a number of new memberships, plus six generous financial donations.

The very exercise of auditors deciphering whether any organization’s activities – when explicitly nonpartisan as is PEN – meet the government’s definition of political activity should give us pause about what is going on here.

The exercise is utterly ridiculous when the mandate of these targeted organizations is to protect the freedoms that enable a democracy to function as a democracy, which fundamentally means protecting freedom of expression as a basic human right.

Let me be clear. When the production and distribution of knowledge, to raise awareness on pertinent issues of our time, is diminished because the government actions targeted to limit funds for knowledge production, doing so is called “political repression.”

Regarding OXFAM Canada, member of an international humanitarian confederation, the government bafflegab that attempts to dissect OXFAM’s mandate, in questioning whether it is “preventing” poverty rather than “allieviating” poverty, needs to be read to be believed. See “Canada Revenue Agency says ‘preventing poverty’ not allowed as goal for charity.

The political targeting of a longer list of organizations that focus on humanitarian and environmental advocacy is painful, given the harsh reality that we now occupy an imperiled planet. Such organizations are trying to wake us up to pay attention about restoring the wounded life support system of the planet before it is too late in regard to safeguard the well-being of future generations.

Interestingly, and sadly, the only organization thus far that actually did have its charitable status revoked in 2012 is, incredibly, Physicians for Global Survival (PG). Read that organization’s name again – Physicians for Global Survival.

Who could be more important to support than physicians (and like-minded scientists), who are dedicated to study, gather, analyze, produce and share knowledge critical for human survival on our environmentally-imperiled planet??? Actually, value the creative professionals too, who create stories based on this knowledge to engage our attention.

The reason to revoke PGS’s charitable status, identified by the CRA, was “excessive political activity.” PGS is a member of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1985.

PGS’s mission includes: Abolish nuclear weapons; Prevention of war; Non-violent conflict resolution; Social justice; and A sustainable world. In other words, this nonpartisan organization of physicians realizes that every aspect of life, in regard to peace, safety and health, for people and for eco-systems, is intertwined.

The CRA perceived the above as “excessive political activity.” Can we not interpret the PGS mission, alternatively, as focusing on efforts to protect, and restore where necessary, a world worth living in?

Fortunately, some people recognize and value PGS’s tremendous efforts and – even without receiving charitable tax receipts – continue to support Physicians for Global Survival, so that it can pursue its life-affirming activities.

My hope today, in restoring the Canada in which I once felt proud to be a citizen, resides in a larger number of fellow Canadians at the grassroots level having the courage, the integrity – and taking the time – to challenge the undemocratic actions of the Harper government. These include, yet reach beyond, the current, federally-influenced, CRA preoccupation.

Reflect on the freedoms that you cherish. Consider various ways to offer support to – and perhaps even join – specific causes, to ensure that fellow human beings can enjoy these freedoms as well.

The well-being of the human family and our planetary home depends on active caring.

PHOTO CREDIT: afagen via photo pin cc, for image of sign shown outdoors

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Still Point Where Activism and Contemplation Meet

blogimage2I heard an ominous thud on the window, and saw a bird drop into the bushes. In early spring, the twigs are dry, brittle and sharp. Would the bird still be alive? I donned boots and gloves to rush outside and extricate a stunned, very startled, yet blessedly still living bird. He was entangled in a jungle of twigs crushed by the heavy, relentless snowfalls of a long winter. I spoke to him softly, and tenderly lifted him out, so as to avoid further injuries. One eye was closed. His head darted side to side, while his racing heart thumped visibly.

The bird’s talons had grabbed onto my gloved finger, and held on for dear life, or so it seemed. According to a later internet search to identify it, the bird looked like a juvenile downy woodpecker, precisely as the bird looks here in the photo. I gently stroked his head and back, a red cap covering his head fully (unlike the adult male).

I continued to express my affection and reassurance that he is safe now. In no way did I want the feral cats of the neighbourhood81282832.JDJVumSn.IMG_2439 to have him for lunch. These cats prowl my land, and keep down the mice population. But, seeing them prey on birds is not pleasant.

What if the woodpecker can no longer fly? I decided to seek the advice of my neighbour Bob, a retired farmer. The bird and I took a stroll down the road, although I kept hoping that he would feel strong enough to fly away. As Bob and I discussed the situation, the bird finally flew off my hand. He reached a nearby tree, hooking his talons onto the trunk about eight feet off the ground, his heart still visibly thumping. Bob reassured me that his barn cats rarely climb trees.

Living immersed in the world of Nature, every day I am reminded of the sacredness, and vulnerability, of all creatures. This is not Disney World. The uncertainty of life is a fact, and a teaching, to learn how to be fully present in each moment of beauty and joy.

A rather large raccoon in my barn appears to have met a fate less fortunate than my woodpecker. Some days ago I began to explore my barn regularly, the nearby creek’s overflow reaching the eastern barn door. Empty of domestic animals, my barn’s intermittent wilder occupants recently included a raccoon that I initially hoped was only sleeping. Each visit I looked through the doorway of the large stall area, not getting closer to it, because raccoons can be vicious and/or carry rabies. The visible raccoon, in the same position through several days, at least found a dry, final resting place.

For the flooding in my region this early spring has been major. Time alone will tell how the web of life in the natural environment has been impacted, as well as farmers’ crops. My small pasture beside a creek had transformed into a pond, while neighbours’ larger fields and woodlots became small lakes. The land must dry out, or thaw out (after the most recent snow and sub-zero temperatures), before deceased animals can be buried, or be relocated in the bush to rejoin the cycle of life in the natural world’s food chain.

So, you may ask, how do these encounters relate to the still point where activism and contemplation meet? What is so different today from my earlier life – swallowed up by non-stop activism – is paying attention to self-care, and also being present in the moment more often.

Hence – the still point. The simple act of rescuing a bird filled my heart with joy. As for the raccoon, I felt compassion and serenity in acknowledging that the animal’s life had ended in reasonable comfort, given the bed of straw indoors.

At the `still point,’ our consciousness merges with the sacredness of life itself, in which acts of caring are in the moment yet timeless, with no thought about past or future. We also let go `attachment’ and control over the cycle of life and its mystery.


          “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
          Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
          But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
          Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
          Neither ascent or decline. Except for the point, the still point,
          There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”

The above passage is a renown excerpt from the first of four poems by 20th century poet T. S. Eliot, known collectively as Four Quartets, the first poem titled Burnt Norton. Looking up references to Eliot’s “still point,” many online sources exist. However, I found the fewer number related to Eastern philosophy the most illuminating.

Eastern scholars point out Eliot’s study of Sanskrit and Eastern philosophies, such as Hinduism and Buddhism. These scholars, furthermore, have explained at length how symbols and imagery from such Eastern sources influenced his writings, including the Four Quartets.

Eliot Scholar Nidri Tiwari, in her book Imagery and Symbolism in T. S. Eliot’s Poetry (2001), uses “archetypal criticism.” She identifies this form of criticism as having a parallel emergence in an age torn by the anxiety of two World Wars and, moreover, an age dissatisfied with scientific and materialistic concepts of humankind. Hence: “The archetypal approach sought to restore to man the entire humanity.”

(The late James Hillman’s classic work Re-visioning Psychology (1992 edition), which I recently read, similarly illuminates the significance of archetypes. Hillman argues why they ought to be paid much more attention in the field of psychology.)

P. S. Sri’s T. S. Eliot, Vedanta, and Buddhism (1986), reviewed by Alan Jacobs, calls for more recognition of such Eastern influences upon Eliot’s vision, a vision that was implicitly spiritual and a fusion of Indian themes with a Western worldview.

In contrast, a Wiki entry on Burnt Norton, regrettably, totally omits mention of the Eastern influences upon Eliot’s writing. Worse, the Christian themes in his work are characterized by several critics as diminishing the greatness of the writing. George Orwell, for example, said as much.

The criticisms in the aforementioned Wiki article illustrate to me once again, – as I have stated a number of times in earlier blog posts – the fractured consciousness of Western culture. The Western mind has been socialized to be overly analytical and dualistic, and does not comprehend holism with ease.

By the way, Eliot is not above criticism; for he had human flaws including prejudice. Regardless, as a man of his time, he made an effort to make meaning of the plight of humankind, and seek some resolution through his particular spiritual quest.

So often these days I hear references to this historic moment as Orwellian. Indeed, Orwell was a visionary about what would befall human beings, if we were to succumb to authoritarian oversight inserting its ubiquitous presence into our daily lives, in various insidious ways. `Big Brother’ is evident, and increasing, because of too much human complacency, rather than more of us proactively acting on moral responsibility to protect democracy, where it still exists and is slowly being chipped away.

As for activism and contemplation, you may next ask me: “How can a person seek to make a difference while, apparently, living “away from it all”? My answer is, sad to say, there is no “away from it all” or safe place on this planet any more.

My purpose of relocating from a large city, in fact, seven years ago was not to run away from an urban environment so obviously out-of-sync with the planet’s life support system. Rather, my intention was to journey towards a deeper understanding why we, as a human species, have become so misguided in how we live on this earth.

To become a more effective helper in the wider world, I intuitively recognized that I needed an environment that would provide opportunities to pull me out of my head – emotionally stressed out, overly analytical, and intellectual – into my body.

Indeed, I wrote a doctoral thesis on this very topic, how helping professionals and activists tend to overwork in helping other folks, and burn out repeatedly, because we ignore our own inner emotional and spiritual needs. Renewal of energy is essential.

Meanwhile, since early last year, I now find myself deeply engaged, with a local group of concerned citizens, actively fighting against the insanity of a proposed nuclear waste dump, planned close to the shore of Lake Huron. (Among several blog posts last year on this topic, read “The Yin-Yang of Democracy – Use It or Lose It.”)

While still living full time in the city, I had begun the practice of contemplation. Choosing to embark on an inner journey, in other words, can be initiated anywhere. For my own pursuit, I chose studies and training in the concepts and practices of psychosynthesis, which I have woven into my daily life.

Wherever we live, restoring the planet’s health requires honest awareness of the incompleteness within each of us, and the willingness to develop practices that guide us towards wholeness.

The journey of personal transformation is inextricably linked to global transformation. The reason is, we experientially – in our bodies – come to appreciate how human life is interwoven into planetary life at multiple levels of energy.


One simple revelation, for me, has been the discovery that life-affirming physical labour in a natural setting not only grounds a person’s whole being yet, moreover, lifts the spirit. Physical work on my homestead also instills humility, gratitude and grace, to feel blessed in experiencing cleaner air, the beauty of the stars at night, and witness the rhythms of Nature replete with the freshness of surprises each day.

Activism and intellectual contemplation, meanwhile, could be said to be two sides of the same coin. Both pull our minds into the past and the future, to challenge the status quo and how it became established, in order to transform what the future can hold.

Yet they also differ, and offer a counterpoint to each other. Activism often incorporates public, group expression to advocate for external changes within the collective society. Its focus is outward, to challenge institutional structures, considered to be rational systems. At its best, activism seeks the larger good by advocating for more effective social and environmental justice.

Spiritual contemplation, although possible to practice silently in groups, can be a private, individual, inward journey, whose process and outcome is organic rather than constructed. Its focus is the understanding and transformation of one’s own consciousness. Paradoxically, a person then can begin connecting with different levels of consciousness – that also could be referred to as different levels of energy – to experience the interrelatedness of our individual soul with other beings and the cosmos.

My personal belief is, the weakness of much well-intentioned activism is the omission of understanding how the external forms that we create are profoundly influenced by the invisible and internal patterns of our unconscious. Without this recognition, the same flaws in human systems and institutions get repeated, even if their external forms look different. Authentic global transformation calls for healing the split in human consciousness.

Today, what holds back individuals from co-creating a better world is not a lack of technology, a lack of money, or a lack of information. What holds back any person is simply a lack of caring, and a lack of will to make a difference.

Transforming our consciousness, regardless, is possible to begin every minute of every day, through a simple act of will.

That possibility is a story for another time.

PHOTO CREDIT: downy woodpecker (juvenile male) by Liz Stanley – Check out her website, an impressive example how a citizen can engage in environmental awareness regionally, and creatively.

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Heather Robertson’s Life Deserves Remembrance

blogimage2Heather Margaret Robertson will go down in Canadian history as the representative plaintiff in, and driving force behind, two class action suits that set a precedent in protecting the rights of freelance writers. The legacy she leaves us, following her death on March 19th, her 72nd birthday, is multi-layered. It includes not just the 16 or more books she wrote, grounded in cultural and geographic history, and her prolific writing for major newspapers, magazines and CBC-radio work. Her legacy, moreover, resides in her generosity to fellow writers throughout her professional life.

Her accomplishments speak for themselves. But, who was Heather Robertson, the person? The deeper questions to ponder are, how and why do certain individuals become standard bearers, manifesting qualities that can teach us about what really matters?

Individuals such as Heather Robertson – who focus on the larger good rather than their own success, and who choose privacy and personal dignity over blowing their own horns endlessly – are those heroines (and heroes) who too often depart this world unheralded altogether, or without being appropriately recognized in the national news media.

Close to two weeks after Heather’s life ended, locating mainstream news sources which paid attention to the loss of one of Canada’s most courageous writers has been a challenge.

Those omissions perhaps do not matter to the departed individual. What I suggest, however, is that they are our loss, collectively as a society, and individually at a soul level. How do we rise to who we can be, without examples of authentic heroism? Where do we learn about those individuals who fought the battles that had looked impossible, and won?

The most well-known public battles, which Heather took on with fierceness and tenacity, were the legal fights against huge media corporations in two class action law suits that she led. In doing so, she won millions of dollars to benefit hundreds of freelance writers.

These cases included Robertson v Thomson (which went to the Supreme Court of Canada), followed by a second class action settled out of court, and popularly known as Robertson 2, in which she took on several other large media corporations together. The issue was the reproduction of freelance writers’ published work on electronic databases – for corporate owners’ profit – without permission or reimbursement to the original authors.

These two battles continued through 15 years of her life. Think about it.

As her close friend Elaine Dewar identified, in a11929068227070 recent phone conversation, to do so called upon Heather’s inner resources of “courage, grit and all kinds of patience. There were lots of points where we didn’t know whether we’d win or not, and it was a constant source of worry for Heather.”

I had a glimpse of the stamina and endurance required by Heather to get through the tedium, the uncertainty, not to mention the offensive arguments from the Thomson corporation’s army of lawyers. They exhibited a willful ignorance in regard to how the electronic database exploitation violated, and undermined, the ability of writers to earn a decent livelihood.

For I sat in the court room every day of that first legal case, in a row further back, watching, listening, and consciously giving my energetic presence to support Heather. She never forgot, and expressed her gratitude in our occasional future encounters.

Important to mention is that her two stalwart friends, and fellow award-winning writers – Elaine Dewar and June Callwood – also were present. They sat on each side of Heather every day in that court room, and stood by her through everything.

The victories, by the way, won against these media corporations, was not simply about money. For Heather Robertson, winning was about the principles of fairness and giving respect. Heather’s own compensation from Robertson v Thomson was a mere $5,000.

This revelation is given on Slaw, Canada’s online legal magazine, in a blog post by lawyer Simon Chester, a few days after Heather’s passing. He also praises her diligence as a highly informed and proactive plaintiff.

Regrettably, neither The Globe and Mail nor The Toronto Star have yet shown the courtesy to provide any journalistic acknowledgment of Heather’s passing, to date.

Among the few news sources that were quick to do so The Winnipeg Free Press was the first. Indeed, this newspaper is where Heather began her vocation as a professional journalist. CBC-Radio One’s program As It Happens acknowledged her passing later the same day.

Where she and her husband Andrew Marshall have lived for many years, King Township, Ontario, the local York Region news also acknowledged it. A previous York Region interview with Heather, in 2012, more descriptively revealed her passion for history, and her years of local volunteerism to promote interest in it.

Firebrand” – the title saying it all – is an outstanding feature interview with Heather Robertson, published in the Ryerson Review of Journalism‘s Winter 2012 edition. Regan Reid’s article gifts us with chronological highlights from her life, that help us understand Heather’s strong character and early influences that shaped her life’s pursuits.

To honour Heather in my own bricolage of gathered facts about who she was more fully as a person,Heather Robertson I also have inserted three photographs. The first photo (above) shows Heather more formally, elegant yet reserved. The second photo brings a smile to my face; for I see a sparkle in her gaze, a glimmer of the inner person, relaxed and joyful in natural settings. The third photo (below) shows Heather’s grace and dignity, despite the affliction of cancer.

A lot of detective work was needed, to cobble together Heather’s extensive achievements, and to discover the many awards. Even the Wikipedia entry does not name all of them.

One award missing on Wiki, for example, is the 2011 NMA Foundation Award for Outstanding Achievement, bestowed on Heather by the National Magazine Awards Foundation. Its online awards page for her includes a list of accolades from fellow writers.

Heather also was honoured by fellow writers in receiving the 2011 Graeme Gibson Award from The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC), and the 2003 Lawrence Jackson Outstanding Achievement Award from the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC), formerly called Periodical Writers Association of Canada). She was a founding member of both national writers’ organizations.

Heather generously gave her time to many individual writers, including me 25 years ago. That’s why I was there for her in that court room. And, yes, I was fortunate to be one of the hundreds of freelance writers who benefited financially from both class action suits.

She also graciously accepted my invitation to participate in one of several public forums that I organized on media literacy at Toronto’s St. Lawrence Centre Forum in the 1990s.

That public forum “Is Diversity of Expression Under Siege by New Technologies?,” sponsored by PWAC, was moderated by then Metro Morning, CBC-radio host Andy Barrie. The Forum panelists included Heather, veteran journalist Doris Anderson, internet expert Jim Carroll, and Even Solomon, then an expert in new media and social impact, one of CBC Newsworld‘s news anchors, and current host of “Power and Politics.”

A few days ago, yet another recognition of Heather Robertson’s life appeared in The Winnipeg Free Press (WFP), which speaks to why she received awards from fellow writers (on top of a number of book awards). The fact that respect does come full circle is evident by Gordon Sinclair, Jr.’s WFP article titled “Writer’s best legacy: respect for her peers.”

Mr. Sinclair’s article is deeply touching; for he relates some details from her early life, her noteworthy feisty spirit, a spirit that nourished Heather’s capacity to survive through a series of cancers in the later years.

Remarkably, given these very private battles, Heather produced one more book, titled Walking into Wilderness: The Toronto Carrying Place and Nine Mile Portage (2010). It received an unusual award, the first of a new Speakers Book Award, established in 2013 by Ontario Legislative Speaker Dave Levac.


Heather’s passing in her sleep may appear to be sudden and unexpected. Yet, given the battles that she had fought so courageously for so long, perhaps the still, small voice within said: “It’s time, Heather. You have done enough. Be at peace now.”

She departed this world without fanfare, without further suffering, yet with her dignity intact. She did it her way.

God bless you, Heather, for everything you were and everything you contributed in this earthly world. We will not forget.

PHOTO CREDIT: (top photo only) Aaron Marshall

POSTSCRIPT: Finally, on April 3rd online (April 4th, print edition), a feature obituary appeared in The Globe and Mail, contributed by freelance journalist David Hayes.

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