Heather Conn Blogs

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Grief as revolution: Are you ready to be subversive?

“Not success. Not growth. Not happiness. The cradle of your love of life is death.”

—  Stephen Jenkinson

 

Can you read that phrase without wincing or wondering what it means? It challenges many beliefs and philosophies upheld in popular western culture.

 

In the hospice volunteer training that I’m currently taking, we received a handout with a list of statements about grief. The two comments that most tugged at me were “Grief is a way of knowing. It is not an affliction” and “The willingness to suffer out loud is a gift.”

 

That last one especially confronts most tenets of western society: Don’t cry.  Get over it and move on. Don’t be sad, and so on. How many of us truly have the courage to let grief envelop us and receive any gifts that it might share?

 

That is what we’re slowly learning to do as hospice volunteers. Stephen Jenkinson, the star of the National Film Board’s Griefwalker, is head of palliative care counselling at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital. He offers the notion of grief as revolution:

 

“What if grief is a skill, in the same way that love is a skill, something that must be learned and cultivated and taught? What if grief is the natural order of things, a way of loving life anyway?

 

“Though addicted to security, comfort and managing uncertainty, our culture could learn to honour, teach and live grief as a skill, as vital to our personal, community and spiritual life as the skill of loving. In a time like ours, grieving is a subversive act.”

 

I love that approach. Rather than face grief with shame, apology, and embarrassment, we could embrace it like a much-loved friend, as cherished as life itself.

 

An excellent book of inspiration in this area, which we’re using in our training, is Alan Wolfelt’s The Handbook for Companioning the Mourner (Companion Press, Colorado, 2009). Wolfelt, a doctor who serves as director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, says: “Surrendering to the unknowable wilderness of grief is a courageous choice, an act of faith, a trust in God and in oneself.”

 

Decades ago, amidst tremendous trauma, I faced my own grief in its deepest and most despairing form. That experience, which lasted for months, enabled me to open and heal a part of myself that might otherwise have stayed frustrated and suppressed for years. As a result, I can now offer greater empathy and compassion to others who are grieving.

 

As a new hospice volunteer, I hope that I will be able to provide a loving and understanding presence for someone else to feel safe and trusting enough to open to raw, death-related sorrow. This is true soul work that heals us all.

My training is through the Sunshine Coast Hospice Society in Davis Bay, BC. If you’d like to volunteer at this centre, call 604-740-0475 or email coasthospice@gmail.com.




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June 1, 2012 at 11:07 am Comments (2)

How much do you fear death?

I recently added a folder on death and dying to my filing cabinet. It’s not that I’m morbid, but I’ve faced the subject a lot in recent months through a variety of workshops, presentations, and the death of people I know. And I’ve learned about the Sage-ing® Guild, a group for whom I facilitated several workshops at a conference. They positively affirm the elder years and encourage creating piece of mind by making “legal, medical, fiscal and spiritual preparation as a way of facing one’s mortality.”

 

By not fearing death, I believe that we make a conscious choice to live life to the utmost, not shrinking from the reality of a demise that we will all share.

 

Someone recently sent me a list of the top five regrets of the dying, based on a book written by Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative care. These are the most frequent comments she heard from people who were in the last three to twelve weeks of their life:

 

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. Ware says: “It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way.” I agree completely.

 

  • I wish I didn’t work so hard. In Ware’s words: “By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.” Again, I wholeheartedly agree.

 

  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings. How many people suppress their feelings to keep peace with others? This can result in bitterness, resentment, and even illness.

 

  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. Ware says: “It all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks.”

 

  • I wish that I had let myself be happier. “Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice,” says Ware. “When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

 

“Life is a choice. It is your life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.”

 

A woman on Orcas Island, Wa. named Alana chose to die on her own terms. She died in the woods on a bed created by her friends, who sang to her as she was dying. She wrote a prose death poem, which includes the following: “How can we know how to live if we don’t know how to die? . . .[M]aybe we could find a little appreciation for the miracle that eventually the spirit and the body separate. Is that so awful? How is it that we get so attached to all of this gross matter? . . . .

 

“If we are not feeling love and gratitude for who we are and what we have, then we are not living, we’re merely existing. If we do not live with love and joy, I am certain death will not contain them either. So now is your chance, here is the secret: Live every moment as if there was nothing more important than joy, than gratitude, than love. Put these wonders into everything you do . . .your finances, your chores, your work, your friends and family. And I promise you will never fear death or anything else and your love will be returned a thousandfold.” Amen.

 

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April 1, 2012 at 4:32 pm Comments (2)

Anti-bullying Day: How much do we value women and children?

I never thought that I’d write a post that promotes Lady Gaga, but I love the dance that Sunshine Coast elementary students did this week to her song Born This Way. (Click here to see it on YouTube.) What a tremendous way for kids to learn self-acceptance and to celebrate Anti-bullying Day!

 

More than a hundred children from Roberts Creek Elementary, Churchill and David Lloyd George schools gathered at the mandala at Roberts Creek pier in a choreographed dance, wearing T-shirts that read “ACCEPTANCE Born This Way.”

 

With the youngest kids in front, the group giggled and gyrated, arms skyward and hips jiggling, to lyrics like

 

Don’t hide yourself in regret

Just love yourself and you’re set . . .

 

In the religion of the insecure

I must be myself, respect my youth . . .

 

Whether you’re broke or evergreen

You’re black, white, beige, chola descent

You’re Lebanese, You’re orient

Whether life’s disabilities

Left you outcast, bullied or teased

Rejoice and love yourself today

’Cause baby you were born this way

Lesbian, transgendered life

I’m on the right track baby

I was born to survive

 

Whether you think Lady Gaga is an appropriate role model or not, you can’t argue the overwhelming impact that today’s popular culture has on young minds. This song and its message will reach far more children than any self-help book or class on self-esteem. Yet every effort, big or small, that gives kids the sense that they’re lovable and worthy just the way they are is invaluable.

 

Where has childhood gone in today’s world? Bullied kids, gay or straight, are committing suicide. Mothers are pushing their tots to compete as mini-sexpots in so-called beauty and talent pageants. Advertising is sexualizing young girls as more and more get anorexia at a younger age and struggle with a poor sense of body image. Increasingly, children must face their self-esteem issues on their own, as their parents bow to the influences of sex-sells media, the image-is-everything credo, and neoconservative, traditional values that make being gay or “different” an abomination.

 

At the extreme, we face the exploitation of children across the globe, including in North America, as sex and domestic slaves, child brides, and prostitutes. Whether they’re waving weapons, ordered to kill or maim their loved ones to prove their loyalty to sadistic ethnic and rebel causes, or facing death and torture as helpless pawns in the political wars of adult greed and power, children need the support of healthy and courageous adults who will help them thrive and survive, not suffer and die. They need to feel valued and loved, as we all do. (Groups such as Free the Children and Me to We are serving a vital role of support in this area across the globe. I’m not going to get into the recent Invisible Children debate.)

 

Children around the world are dying without access to basic medical care. Here in B.C., with the highest child poverty rate in Canada, we have kids going hungry and getting sick in families who can’t afford specialized medical or dental care. We have babies born with AIDS and fetal alcohol syndrome. How much do we really value children in the West?

 

Originally, I was going to write this week about International Women’s Day and the attempt by neocon yahoos like Rush Limbaugh and U.S. Republican candidates like Rick Santorum to keep women in domestic slave status. Their efforts to thwart women’s self-determination regarding birth control, reproductive rights, family and career roles are truly appalling. How far have we truly come in a half-century, since feminism gained a popular voice in the late 1960s?

 

Then I realized that the power and rights of women and children are deeply interconnected. As long as patriarchal values and controls determine laws and social customs at all levels, from the family to the world, the rights of women and children will remain devalued. Heck, it’s been 83 years since women were legally declared people in Canada. How long will it take before they have true equality with men, and most adults recognize children as our future, worthy in their own right? The young and the female have stayed invisible and silent for too long.

 

I’m glad that in Roberts Creek this week, at least, educators and parents gave children a public voice.

 

 

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March 11, 2012 at 2:43 pm Comments (0)

Open Mind, Open Heart: Finding mindfulfulness every day

From reconciliation to quantum physics to suicide, suffering, and death, the topics recently covered by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh always returned to four things: mindfulness, love, understanding, and meditation practice. I was one of the lucky people who attended his sold-out talk “Open Mind Open Heart” on Aug. 14, which the inspirational Buddhist offered at Vancouver’s Orpheum Theatre. I’ve long admired this insightful Vietnamese monk for his books of wisdom, his commitment to nonviolence, and his role in urging Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the Vietnam war. Hanh is one who truly walks the talk, literally and figuratively, when it comes to bringing full presence and loving speech to life.

He sat onstage, legs folded on a simple cushion, in his floor-length brown gown and characteristic shaved head. About a dozen male monks stood to his left and about 20 Buddhist nuns to his right, all in the same brown gowns, visiting from his Plum Village retreat in France. Hanh spent one-and-a-half hours sharing Buddhism’s “noble truths”, simple stories, and ways to exercise mindful breathing to help handle challenging conflict. He spoke calmly and fluidly, with no notes, and left room for humour despite his serious subject. He laughed after saying: “If you’re suffering when you’re sitting, breathing, and walking, your [meditation] practice is wrong.”

Any summary provided here will barely do justice to the value of his words, which prompted me to begin reading his book on anger, and wanting to meditate more regularly. One reason why I like Hanh’s approach is that he practices “engaged Buddhism,” which  transforms meditation practice into activism.

Manifesto 2000: Six steps to peace

As Hanh pointed out, it’s a lot easier to talk about deep listening, loving speech, and compassionate behavior than to live it. He mentioned Buddha’s Five Precepts embedded in the Manifesto 2000, written by Nobel Peace Prize laureates, which UNESCO circulated and the United Nations accepted. The pledge, aimed to make individuals feel responsible for creating peace at the personal level, includes these responsibilities, in brief:

1.  Respect all life.

2.  Reject violence.

3.  Share with others.

4.  Listen to understand.

5.  Preserve the planet.

6.  Rediscover solidarity.

Sounds simple, right? Obviously, the world at large is not reflecting that. Yet each of us can begin with making our own behaviour, every day, more peaceful and mindful. Hanh outlined regular exercises in mindful breathing, such as recognizing a painful emotion, scanning one’s body for tension, then smiling and releasing the tension. He said that within three months, this practice would generate a feeling of happiness and joy.

“A cloud can never die”

He spoke of suicide, chosen by so many young people who cannot bear painful feelings. Yet, an emotion can last for only a half-hour if we bring our attention down to the level of the abdomen, feel it in our bodies, and release it. This takes ongoing practice. Hanh spoke of common dilemmas in life: “Many of us sacrifice the present for the future” and “Many Buddhists think they will only be happy when they are reborn.” Yet, he reinforced that joy and happiness are available right here, right now by being in deep contact with others and all around us. To love someone, he said, you have to understand your own suffering and theirs, which gives rise to compassion. This requires deep listening and loving speech, and can lead to reconciliation, even between parents and children who have had no contact in many years. He gave several examples of this from people who have attended his retreats.

Hanh reinforced that the concept of something moving into nothing, such as the common societal view of death, is not true. “A cloud can never die,” he said; it simply becomes rain or hail.

The event began with music, song, and interactive exercises, performed by the monk “choir”. It ended with a beautiful, plaintive song, performed in French and English by an elderly nun with a gentle, lined face, which invited listeners not to fear death. Overall, the afternoon was a wonderful communal experience, one for which I feel tremendous gratitude.

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August 25, 2011 at 11:53 am Comments (2)

Compassionate living: What questions are you asking?

We’re all conditioned to find answers to life’s challenges, but sometimes, we might not be asking questions that are “right” for us. This week, while going through an old file, I came across some provocative questions I’d written down in 1990, taken from the July/August issue of Common Boundary magazine.

The questions spoke to me then, and they still grab me now, even though I haven’t produced answers for any of them. Here are two that I wrote under the magazine’s heading The Psychological Dimensions of Compassionate Living:

  • What is appropriate self-love and healthy narcissism? By contrast, what is self-indulgence?
  • What is the shadow side of compassion?

Under the heading The Spiritual Dimensions of Compassionate Living, I wrote these questions:

  • When does spiritual practice encourage narcissistic preoccupation or striving?
  • How do the meditative arts and the expressive therapies foster psychological and spiritual development?

Here’s what I wrote from Common Boundary under their heading Models of Compassion in Action:

  • Much social action seems to be driven by moral obligation and/or guilt. How would social action based on a contemplative ethic be different?
  • How can we distinguish compassion from guilt-based giving, self-righteousness, “do-goodism”, and codependency?
  • How can groups reach consensus when people have differing inner truths?
  • Where does meaningfully endured sacrifice end and violence to Self begin?

I think that each of these questions is wonderfully rich. It could take months to answer them, but I would like to address each one in upcoming weeks. For me, the easiest question is the first one. With healthy self-love, a person accepts and honors his or herself — strengths and shortcomings — and extends this love to others. Such “narcissism” means that someone is aware enough to recognize flaws and takes responsibility for them.

Self-indulgence occurs when someone is so focused on “fixing” him or herself, he forgets those around him and does not take time to extend love to others. Too often, cynics in western society dismiss meditation and other contemplative practices as “navel-gazing” yet they are so much more than that.

Looking inward and learning greater self-awareness, which, in turn, can result in more compassion and understanding towards oneself and others, is much different than reinforcing an ego identity and growing pompous and vain. The first deals with a far vaster, inner sense of Self, ultimately beyond self, whereas the latter is limited to the external self and what keeps it propped up (job, money, status, possessions, etc).

Which of these questions would you like to ponder? I’d love to hear your answers.

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July 21, 2011 at 3:43 pm Comments (2)

A Journey Within: a local treat of truth and love

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                                                                                Front row, from left: Barb, Bob, Heather
                                                                                Back row: Sandra, Robyn; missing: Eva 

After nine days of deep transformational inner work, tears, and a sense of renewed joy, I completed a powerful workshop last month called The Journey Within.

 

The experience, offered free through the employment centre in Sechelt, BC, far surpassed my expectations. A local job counsellor had recommended it, saying that it went “very deep” and that I was free to drop out at any time. That sounded intriguing. I figured that I would probably leave after a few days, hearing the usual suggestions about aligning your passions with your work, a goal which I’ve already embraced. (Yes, my ego has it all figured out. Ha.)

 

Gee, was I wrong. Under the loving guidance and openness of facilitator Bet Diening-Weatherston, our group received high-impact guided visualizations, inspirational prompts, and a safe, supportive atmosphere to reach into the darkest places of our subconscious. What a ride it was. Ten of us began, and five of us finished, having developed a visceral bond that comes from sharing one’s stories of pain, new insights, and vulnerability.

 

We received carefully worded scripts, which incorporate concepts of neuro-linguistic programming, and worked in pairs to address limiting beliefs in our subconscious. These exercises, done with rotating partners,  helped to heal relationships and destructive habits by replacing old inner dialogue and “tapes” with new images and loving words. This interactive process allowed me to make surprising connections between childhood events and adult beliefs and to access long-buried memories. Overall, this allowed a grand reawakening to my deeper Self, the part easily minimized by my impatient ego as impractical and too abstract.

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                                                   From left: Debbie, an assistant facilitator, Barb, and Bet

 The entire workshop was focused on emotional wellness and healing, targeting what blocks lie beneath our thoughts and actions and how they link to buried feelings. It felt scary but also remarkably freeing to share myself with new emotional clarity and truth. My heart ached throughout the sessions, even when I was helping others access their pain. This reinforced my sense of interconnectedness and how we all bear deep love and hurt from our  human experience. By releasing my own suffering, I found a clearer path to compassion and forgiveness.

 

On the last day, we spontaneously voiced love and appreciation to each person, one at a time,  and offered an example of our gifts or talents to the whole group. I was moved by the praise received and by witnessing the new lightness in our faces. Robyn passed around a bowl of cherries, accompanied by a poem that she wrote called Ode to Cherries. Here’s an excerpt:

Life is a bounty
   and it is up to each one of us
  to most effectively deal with the pits. . .

Some pits I like
an alluvial pit – studded with corundum
the blues and reds of sapphires and rubies
or tourmaline in watermelon pinks to greens

pitch of a tree aging thousands of years
to become amber with insects frozen in time
a pitch black night reminding me
how insignificant I am on this planet earth

Other pits are notable
for their lengthy stay in my space
old vows no longer suitable
spaces and places ready for bounty and light

So take the pits along
with the sweeet bounty of life
embrace them  release them
leaving love passion
and your radiant light.

May we be reminded to
show up for ourselves and lead the way . . .

Bless the Journey as we weave
our tapestry of Life

Thank you to Bet, Debbie, Barb, Robyn, Sandra, Eva, and Bob for your courage and willingness to open your hearts and share your light and love with me and all of us. It was a wonderful experience.

August 1, 2010 at 1:14 pm Comments (4)

A portrait: composure and compassion

Mudito Drope, an artist in Gibsons, BC, recently asked me if I wanted to pose for a colour portrait. Flattered, I said, “Sure.” When I asked: “Why me?” she replied: “You have an interesting face.” (That’s better than what one ex-boyfriend told me: that I had an “unfinished face.”  I’m still not sure what he meant by that, but I’ve never forgotten the term.)

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While posing in Mudito’s studio, I thought it would be tough to remain in the same position, but it wasn’t. I treated the exercise like an open-eyed meditation and had no problem lasting longer than Mudito’s suggested 20-minute increments. The time from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with a break for lunch, went by really quickly.

 

For some of that time, we listened to a tape of Bill Moyers interviewing Karen Armstrong about the societal need for compassion and tolerance, and about the Charter for Compassion, which Armstrong helped to forge. The charter states: “We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world.” It also declares:

“Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

The charter ends with this: “Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.”

portrait-2-low-res-vertical

I found Moyers’ and Armstrong’s conversation inspirational and easy to absorb while staying still. During my sit, a crow landed on a branch close to the studio window and a pesky flicker tapped away at the outside wall of Mudito’s wooden, board-and-batten home.

 

By the time that I left at about 1:30, Mudito hadn’t finished the portrait, but was well through it. I thought that I looked severe and sad in it, but it definitely looked like me. Besides, I was feeling sad that day, concerned about my father, who was in the hospital with a number of serious medical issues.

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It was intriguing to watch Mudito in her focused process and to see the colour palette that she uses on faces when doing portraits. On some of her paintings of people, she includes a phrase, an idea that I love. I suggested that she use “Bring a voice to what lies hidden,” which has been a creative theme for me for years and fuels my current memoir writing and SoulCollage work.

 

Mudito now has her first solo exhbition of portraits at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery, which will be on display until May 31. Check them out and enjoy.

April 25, 2010 at 3:01 pm Comments (0)

Vietnam’s Friendship Village: Peace heals the wounds of war

This week, I felt inspired by The Friendship Village, a powerful film of peace and compassion, written, directed and produced by Vancouver, B.C.-based documentary filmmaker Michelle Mason. She told a small crowd at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre in Sechelt, BC how early, gruesome images of the Rwanda massacre, which she saw while doing a journalism internship at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation news bureau in London, Eng., completely altered her career goals and life direction.

 

“I didn’t want to be a bystander,” she said. “I didn’t want to bear witness. I wanted to show stories about people who stand up for things they believe in.”

 

It took different wars to catalyze their unique visions of peace, compassion, and committed action, but shared heartfelt goals brought Mason and the late George Mizo together in her poignant film The Friendship Village. The 2002 documentary reveals how Mizo, a former artillery sergeant in the Vietnam War, became an ardent peace activist, suffered through the effects of Agent Orange, and ultimately founded a school, clinic, and housing  in Vietnam  — The Friendship Village — for children and war vets in that country who had illnesses or deformities resulting from Agent Orange.

 

 “Those of us who have seen firsthand that horror called war know how fragile life is, and how precious life is, and know that war is not the answer but part of the problem,” Mizo said during the opening ceremony of The Friendship Village in 1998.

 

The village, built in a former rice paddy 11 kilometres from Hanoi, provides medical care, education, meals, and rehabilitation for 120 children. The centre offers pediatric service for outpatients and Vietnamese war vets can stay for up to six months. A recent addition is a new building to address the needs of children with severe handicaps. The village has an organic vegetable and medicinal herb garden, water treatment facility, fish ponds, and fruit trees. The goal is to make the centre completely self-sufficient.

 

Mizo was one of four Vietnam vets who protested the war by waging a 47-day hunger strike, which prompted hundreds of supporters to join them. He received 10,000 letters a day.

 

It was difficult to see and hear the impact that the U.S. spraying of 72 million litres of Agent Orange (made by Monsanto, by the way) during the Vietnam War has had on generations of veterans and children. Babies with enlarged heads, the result of hydrocephalus. Children with twisted or missing limbs. Vietnamese war vets with horrible rashes and giant, pimple-like growths all over their chest.  

 

Mizo’s own immune system was hugely compromised by Agent Orange, rendering him vulnerable to any infection. His symptoms began with a fever, rash, and delerium. He had two heart attacks and suffered constant joint pain. The U.S. denied him medical coverage as a war veteran because of his high-profile peace activism.

 

“I was told it [Agent Orange] was mosquite repellent. Don’t worry about it,” Mizo says in the film.

 

The film states that more than one million children in Vietnam have been born with birth defects as a result of Agent Orange. Experts expect that it will take between 500 and 600 years for the dioxin from this deadly herbicide to dissipate in Vietnam. One remote village on the Ho Chi Minh trail, which received some of the heaviest spraying, is considered one of the most toxic places on the planet due to the high levels of dioxin that remain in the area’s soil.

 

One of the most moving parts of the film for me was learning of the friendship and reconciliation between Mizo and Vietnamese General Tra Van Quang. The four-star general became Mizo’s ally in fund-raising efforts for The Friendship Centre. Decades earlier, during the Vietnam war, the same general led the attack on Que Son (also spelled KheSan) that wiped out all of Mizo’s platoon. Mizo was the sole survivor of his unit simply because he had been previously air-lifted out following his wounding in battle.

 

Mizo received the Vietnamese Peace Medal. General Van Quang told Mizo’s son Michael: “Never go to war.”

 

Mason says that it took a year to convince Mizo to be the subject of her film, since he is such a private person. But since he knew that he wasn’t going to live long (he died the same year that the film came out), he wanted to share his message with a larger audience.

 

“Hope is an illusion,” he says in the film. “You have to actively work it.”

 

An international body of eight support groups raises funds for The FriendshipVillage through grassroots efforts. Carol Stewart, a Sunshine Coast resident who hosted the film screening and Mason’s appearance, has represented Canada on the village’s committee.

 

As Mizo says in the film with characteristic humility: “We can make a difference in life.”

 

For more information on this project that heals the wounds of war, see The Friendship Village.

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Mason’s movie The Friendship Village reminded me of another compelling documentary that responds to war with a message of peace and forgiveness. In Regret to Inform, director, writer, producer Barbara Sonneborn sets out to return to the same valley in Vietnam where her husband was killed 20 years earlier. A female Vietnamese, a former war leader in the same region where the filmmaker’s husband died, shows Sonneborn where his unit was located. The filmmaker wonders aloud if the military command of this same woman could have resulted in her husband’s death.

 

Rather than focus on recrimination and bitterness, Regret to Inform interviews war widows from both the U.S. and Vietnam and reinforces a message of peace. It is a moving personal account narrated and shot with poetic lyricism. Even though this was her first film, Sonneborn appears to draw on her expertise as a set designer; the film’s rich visual appeal seems more a result of magic realism than mere cinematography. The documentary’s poetic sensitivity makes it feel far more like an in-depth read of a wrenching journal rather than a detached journalistic account. I can’t remotely  imagine the pain that Sonneborn experienced when she received in the mail a tape cassette sent by her husband from the field, in which he speaks to her with love and candor. It arrived days after she received the knock on her door, at age 24, and learned that he was dead.

April 18, 2010 at 12:05 pm Comment (1)

Take it from the transcendentalists

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.”

                                                                                     — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Such simple wisdom in this powerful statement, yet how elusive this approach seems on the broader, human scale.

January 22, 2010 at 5:06 am Comments (0)

Einstein got it right

 

Not only brilliant but wise, Albert Einstein was an active humanitarian with a reputation for compassion. When he was living in Princeton, working at the Institute of Advanced Study, people from around the world wrote to him asking for advice about their personal problems. (If he was around today, TV producers would probably hound him to host a talk show called something like “Dr. Al” or maybe just “Albert.”)

 

A rabbi wrote to Einstein,  saying that he could not console his 19-year-old daughter after her sixteen-year-old sister died. Einsteen sent him this reply:

 

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “the Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.

 

“Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation, and a foundation for inner security.”

 

I don’t know if the rabbi found these words comforting, but I love them. I’ve had this quote  on my bulletin board for probably 20 years. It’s easy to grow preoccupied with our own daily struggles, forgetting that we are all part of a whole far more vast than our sense of “I.” It makes me think of the phrase “the One and the many,” a term used in SoulCollage, a process that I facilitate in creative workshops. Find out more on my website www.sunshinecoastsoulcollage.ca.

December 26, 2009 at 7:39 pm Comments (0)

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