Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Role Of Religion & Inner Wholeness As We Seek Global Peace

Quaker pastor and author Philip Gulley.
"I have a friend who believes a personal relationship with Jesus is essential for peace. He cites as proof the violence and upheaval in nations that aren't predominantly Christian. Though predominantly Christian nations aren't exempt from violence, he believes that is an aberration, not indicative of a general trend. I believe my friend, despite his many virtues, is unaware of the tendency of Christians to be just as violent as our fellow religionists.
I don't say this to denigrate Christianity or any other faith. Religion, when grounded in an ethos of grace, forgiveness, and reconciliation, can be a powerful tool in the struggle for peace. It matters little whether that religion is Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or Hinduism. What matters is the believer's commitment to the highest ideals of his or her religion. But our tendency to believe our own religion or nation is uniquely qualified to attain a virtuous goal is part and parcel of our dilemma - we believe the best about ourselves and suspect the worst about others. This inward lack of trust breeds outward suspicion, generates ill will, and makes peace all the more unlikely. 
Violence is a human problem with a human solution. I believe in a Divine Presence, but I see little evidence that God miraculously intervenes to bring peace. While some who work for peace are motivated by religious principles, even those who are not religious have a role to play. The work of reconciliation begins when we believe in the inward capacity of people of all religions (and people of no religion), nations, and cultures to contribute to that end.
Inward wholeness is the foundation on which outward peace rests. We live from the inside out. Inward imperfections rise to the surface, just as magma pushes through to the earth's surface. Consequently, the work of peace begins with a sincere consideration of our inner condition and its effect on our world. Does our greed create economic inequality? Do our prejudices make it easier to despise and exclude others? Do our religious beliefs breed distrust? Do we expect moral perfection from others with little awareness of our own ethical frailties? What inward deficiencies of our own push to the surface in our lives, causing harm to others? 
~ Philip Gulley, "Living The Quaker Way: Discover The Hidden Happiness In The Simple Life," 2013. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Recovering Our Love Of Mystery

"As our dark nights deepen, we find ourselves recovering our love of mystery. When we were children, most of us were good friends with mystery. The world was full of it and we loved it. Then as we grew older, we slowly accepted the indoctrination that mystery exists only to be solved. For many of us, mystery became an adversary; unknowing became a weakness. The contemplative spiritual life is an ongoing reversal of this adjustment. It is a slow and sometimes painful process of becoming 'as little children' again in which we first make friends with mystery and finally fall in love again with it. And in that love we find an ever increasing freedom to be who we really are in an identity that is continually emerging and never defined. We are freed to join the dance of life in fullness without having a clue about what the steps are."
 ~ Gerald G. May "The Dark Night Of The Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth" 2005.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Terrorism & You: Go Ahead And Be Afraid

The last few weeks, and if I'd been paying closer attention the last few months, have perhaps been the most shockingly violent that I've seen when turning on The National or listening to CBC Radio 1 in the morning. Like many, I largely ignored terrorist attacks by ISIS, al-Qaeda, or other extremist groups, because the attacks were in the Middle East or Africa, and frankly, that kind of stuff just happens over there.

However, when it happens in the West, whether it be in Manhattan, Ottawa, or Paris, I stand up and take notice. But my thoughts tonight are not about the hypocrisy of caring about terror closer to home or where the majority of victims are white (and it's a huge hypocrisy, even with racial undertones); my thoughts are about the reaction that our leaders suggest we have in response to terror.

After the attacks of 9/11 as well as those in my capital city and then in Paris, one by one Prime Ministers and Presidents from affected countries as well as those in solidarity with them, well, they seem to have a common theme in their messages:

"ISIS (or insert other terrorist organization here) wants to make us afraid. But they have failed. We are not afraid. Instead these acts have brought us together and we are stronger than we have ever been in our resolve."

Friends, have you seen any interviews from the streets of Brussels this weekend, where Belgian leaders have declared a state of emergency and banned public gatherings while deploying major security throughout the capital? Have you seen the look of worry on the faces of Parisians as they're still shell-shocked by the acts in the Bataclan club and the restaurants?

This is my thought tonight. Don't be afraid to be afraid! Fear is an emotion, and I've too often found in my life that when I try to bury my emotions, whatever they may be, the consequence is often ugly, from further anxiety to physical, mental, or emotional illness.

Like hell there's nothing to be afraid of rather than fear itself - sorry FDR! If it isn't scary to think of the possibility of walking down a city street and being beheaded, or attending a concert and having terrorists walk in and use the crowd as target practice, or having a Molotov cocktail thrown into your place of worship, then I don't know what is.

The question then is, what do we do with our fear once we stop playing pretend and admitting that it is present? I don't have all those answers tonight as my sleeping pills kick in, but I think it can mean many things, including being mindful during our day, breathing deeply, and reducing the amount of time we spend in front of the gory images coming out of Paris or wherever it may be.

But for god's sakes, feel free to feel afraid. It's not going to kill you, and you're not handing a win to any terrorist.

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Monday, November 9, 2015

Tempest In A Pee-Cup

Each of us faces adversity in our lives. Some of us seem to face more of it than others, and to varying degrees. We're unhappy with our relationship statuses (stati?), jobs, family life, or how our preferred sports teams are performing. Someone cuts in front of us in line at the coffee shop, or we get caught in a rainstorm without an umby. 

However, on this day, I can think of no greater challenge, no greater frustration than having to pee on command. That's right, this entry is about pee.

This morning I went to the hospital in order to have blood work done - my cholesterol is "off the scale" at times according to my doctors - and peeing was not the only obstacle that I faced. I had to fast for twelve hours before having my arm poked in a not-so-random act of vial-in-ce. That's right, I had to forego my toasted tomato sandwich, banana, yogurt, and soy milk (at this point you may be thinking "Good for you, Mark Andrew! That's a fairly healthy breakie!") And you'd be right. 

However, immediately after having my blood drawn by some prick (ahem), I faced the dreaded task of having to slip into the side washroom and attempt to take a leak into a small plastic jar. I hate doing this. I've hated it for as long as I can remember. And that's because I'm almost never able to do it. Call it performance identity or call it by any other name - I just can't do it. Knowing that I would have to go through the stream-lined process before going to the hospital, I drank three and a half cups of water before the short walk down the street to the lab, but to no avail. After about fifteen minutes - yes, fifteen - of remaining in the washroom attempting to contact Flo (it was such a long time that I could have written an epistle,) I gave up and sheepishly walked out of the washroom with the empty cup. The nurse - or technician - or phlebotomist - looked at me approvingly, thinking I had done the deed, and motioned me to place the cup on the silver table beside me. I had to reveal my frustration, and she was kind, but also gave me the look that a mother gives when she has to tell you that Fluffy was very sick and wouldn't be coming home anymore. 

I felt so defeated.

I proceeded to walk the three minutes to the local Tim Hortons in order to have some lunch, now that I could at least eat, and there was a swarm of high school students in front of me on their lunch break. I kept thinking, "I bet none of these kids would have difficulty peeing into a cup." I had my lunch, consisting of a sandwich, a Canadian Maple donut, and a dark roast coffee (with two creams and two sweeteners, because I knew you'd ask), and I found a paper and read several articles. And then it came. NO, not literally!!! But all of a sudden, because I wasn't being prompted, I felt the relief to, well, relieve. 

After completing the task, I walked back to the hospital and walked into the lab - something that I do often with other people's various samples, as I volunteer at the hospital. However, it was strangely different this time. When I went to hand the biohazard bag containing the cup which therein contained my pee, I felt a sort of pride, the kind of pride that a child must feel when they finally master the art of using the potty. I then felt a strange kind of disappointment that no one was giving me a sucker or ice cream in order to reward me for my accomplishment. This had been a day to remember, and it was only 12:30pm. Needing some validation, I asked the lab technician: "On a scale of one to ten, how fabulous do I look today?" 

"Well, I'd have to say... 'yer an eight." 

Mark Andrew Nouwen

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Pretty In Pink? Cancer Is Not Cotton Candy

It's that time of the year again. No, I'm not talking about Remembrance Day, nor am I talking about Christmas, though by the displays in many stores, December 25th is just around the corner. What's with that? It's early November.

It is the eleventh month, so that can only mean one thing: men across the country will bid adieu to their Gillette and Schick razors, and take up the call to rise for Movember. Yes, Movember. I too have decided to grow my beard out again (you're welcome ladies).

However, I am not doing so for "cancer awareness."

According to Prostate Cancer Canada, "Movember is the month formerly known as November, where men and women across the globe join together to raise awareness and funds for men's health, specifically prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men's mental health. Men (also known as Mo Bros) sign up online at" Yes, that's right, Mo Bros.

I was similarly unsettled several weeks ago when I went to a local hockey game in my small city and they were making a big deal of the players wearing pink jerseys as well as skate laces, etc to "raise awareness" for breast cancer in conjunction with an event called "Bowling For Boobs." (It makes me wonder what's next - Ninjutsu for Nuts?)

My problem is two-fold when it comes to campaigns such as the popular Pink Ribbon campaign as well as the countless runs, walks, fundraisers that dot the landscape each and every year. (Each month seems to be an awareness month for a certain type of cancer).

1) And I'll put this in bold, though I'll refrain from using capslock: We're "aware" already, for god's sake! What it is about awareness? Do organizers think that just because we hear an announcement for a benefit barbecue in the park, that thousands will steer their cars to the side of the road and say, "Holy Shit! There's a breast/colorectal/lung/prostate cancer crisis in this country?!" Who among us has not either been personally affected or known someone very close to us personally affected or who have died of this horrible disease? Enough awareness, it's time that more is done to actually see it and tackle it for the terrible disease that it is. More research, more money, stronger commitments. Now, I do realize that some of these fundraisers and benefits and campaigns do support and provide money for research. I guess I would just like to hear the usage of the word awareness disappear. In the last two years alone, I have had two cousins, a great-aunt, an aunt, and a good friend die of cancer, with other friends or family members surviving lengthy battles with it. I'm aware.

2) My second point is that cancer is not pretty. But there it is, pink pink, everywhere! According to the source of all things, Wikipedia, the pink ribbon was adopted as the official symbol of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in 1992. Since that time, you see pink on everything from t-shirts to teddy bears to car decals to toilet paper packaging. What you may not be "aware" of is that the Pink Ribbon movement is also a big money maker, with a significant amount of your donations not going to cancer research. Another interesting piece of history is before the dawn of the pink ribbon, Estée Lauder and Self Magazine initially approached Charlotte Haley, who had begun a peach-coloured ribbon campaign to press the National Cancer Institute to increase its budget for cancer prevention research. Haley refused to be part of what she felt was a commercial effort, so Estée Lauder and Self changed the colour of their ribbon to light pink in 2005, to circumvent Haley's efforts to stop them. Since then, billions of dollars have went to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, with consumers thinking that just because something has the colour pink on it and the words "cancer awareness" or "cancer research" on it, that your money is going to those things.

But back to the "cancer is not pretty" notion for a minute. Let me say now that I am sure that supporters wearing pink and rallying around family members and friends has helped millions of women and men throughout the years, and it will continue to do so. But there is a large group of people for whom this is not the case. I have not personally had cancer, but many who have or who have been affected by it say that "dolling" the disease up by slapping pink on it is not helpful to them.

To this effect, I highly recommend that you go to this link and watch the extremely eye-opening and somewhat shocking 2011 documentary Pink Ribbons, Inc. which talks about where the money is going, as well as how dolling up cancer is more than a little frustrating for many who have had or currently have the disease. It's worth skipping a movie on Netflix and watching this hour and a half doc.

So this November, I'll grow the 'stache, but I'll call it an early playoff beard.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Our Need To Reinvent The Wheel

"What I have discovered by following the call to consciously discover and live the meaning in my life is not something unique or new. It echoes the experiences and insights of seekers and students and teachers on many different spiritual paths. Sometimes, when I write in my journal of some insight I have had into my own experience, I realize that it is familiar, similar or identical to something I have read or heard from a spiritual teacher. And I laugh at my own sense of discovery. One morning, shaking my head at the length of my journey to discover the truth in something I had been told years before, I think to myself, 'Does each of us have to reinvent the wheel?' Even as the question comes I know the answer is yes. Yes, each of us needs to experience the truth for ourselves, each of us needs to follow our own path to self-realization even though the self we realize is in essence identical to and not truly separate from all others. There is simply no way to get there except by going through the process yourself."
~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer, "The Call: Discovering Why You Are Here"

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Allow Yourself To Be Fully Received

Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 ~ 1996)

"Giving yourself to others without expecting anything in return is only possible when you have been fully received. Every time you discover that you expect something in return for what you have given or are disappointed when nothing comes back to you, you are being made aware that you yourself are not yet fully received. Only when you know yourself as unconditionally loved–that is, fully received–by God can you give gratuitously. Giving without wanting anything in return is trusting that all your needs will be provided for by the One who loves you unconditionally. It is trusting that you do not need to protect your own security but can give yourself completely to the service of others.
Faith is precisely trusting that you who give gratuitously will receive gratuitously, but not necessarily from the person to whom you gave. The danger is in pouring yourself out to others in the hope that they will fully receive you. You will soon feel as if others are walking away with parts of you. You cannot give yourself to others if you do not own yourself, and you can only truly own yourself when you have been fully received in unconditional love.
A lot of giving and receiving has a violent quality, because the givers and receivers act more out of need than out of trust. What looks like generosity is actually manipulation, and what looks like love is really a cry for affection or support. When you know yourself as fully loved, you will be able to give according to the other’s capacity to receive, and you will be able to receive according to the other’s capacity to give. You will be grateful for what is given to you without clinging to it, and joyful for what you can give without bragging about it. You will be a free person, free to love."
~ Henri Nouwen, "The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Welcome To Wild Open Spaces!

Welcome to my blog, Wild Open Spaces. I'll be writing about spirituality, politics, social justice issues, and life in general. In the past I have tended to be rather polarizing in my writings; I am looking to change that, while still remaining passionate! Thanks for Liking my page, and I look forward to our conversations!