The Road Not Taken

November 30, 2009

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by’d

And that made all the difference.

Recently I had reason to look up this wonderful poem by Robert Frost; I suspect it is the first time I have ever reviewed it in full and I felt a sense of injustice had been done because the poem is so much richer and meaningful in its entirety. I had always related to the final few lines because they seemed to reflect some of the strange and perhaps radical decisions I have made in my life. Abandoning my job, friends and wife to pursue a mid-life passion seemed to me to reflect Robert Frost’s perspective yet as I consider the whole poem I think I am entirely wrong. Robert Frost’s decision in his poem is a very conscious one fully weighing up the claims of both possibilities before selecting the one he finally took. It was judicious, thoughtful, contemplative and reflective while my road less traveled was in hindsight the result of compulsive obsession. Robert Frost’s perspective had much more in common with the conscious decision-making perspective reflected in the DecisionClarity process than I had ever thought possible.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth

This suggests a contemplative decision where both options are examined. He did not rush for “long he stood”. He took into account everything he could see or assess. In the DecisionClarity process we consciously assess all aspects of a decision by looking at thoughts, feelings and fears impacting each possible path.

Then took the other just as fair

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

At first we get the impression that one road is much more traveled and that the attraction is for the freshness of the alternative. Yet he confesses that perhaps there is not as much difference as he had anticipated. This reminds me to ensure that I am being really honest with myself when I am considering options. The only person that I fool by my delusion is myself.

And both that morning lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever be back.

The wisdom of understanding our own limitations. Sometimes we want to convince ourselves that we don’t really need to worry about a decision; we believe that it will all be fine; we convince ourselves that we will always have a second chance. The pragmatic Frost reminds us that despite our best intentions that may not be the case as he goes on to say:

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhat ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that made all the difference.

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A Stroke of Insight part 2

November 27, 2009

I sat back in disbelief. It was as though my life had become a soap opera or reality show. Perhaps this was all ebbing recorded and Allan Funt would leap out and say, “You’re on Candid Camera”. How could something as simple as closing a bank account become so complicated and confusing?

It had started after I had returned from Europe and found in the mail one of those long complicated letters from Lloyds bank trumpeting all the positive changes they were making on my behalf while in the small print it notified me that my charges were increasing to £6 a month. Currently I was paying zero as in 2005 when they started to charge I had threatened to close my account and they agreed to rescind the charges. Actually as I recall they did agree to rescind them but then failed to do so. Because in the interests of the environment I had agreed to save them the cost of sending me statements, I did not pick up on this until six months later. I was not amused and as I recall had a nightmare trying to sort it out because conveniently they seemed to have forgotten who I was. I guess this was a sign of things to come.

This particular account is in the UK. After my parents died I decided to maintain the modest legacy I received in £s to use as incidental expenses when I visited my siblings. It seemed special to propose a toast in memory of my parents as I proffered my Lloyds bankcard in payment for lunch or dinner. It was also very enjoyable to get home and not face any credit card bills. Everything went extremely well until 2005 when the banks began to exert more pressure on their small customers by increasing fees. (I have always felt they needed to do this to bail themselves out for all the bad decisions they mage with their big customers.)

So here I was somewhat reluctantly realizing that these days were over and I needed to give up the convenience of having an account at Lloyds so I faxed them a request that in view of the fees I would like them to close it and forward the balance to me in Canada. Simple don’t you think? Well I think it would be simpler to get an appointment with President Obama. The first response is a letter from Lloyds telling me that they can’t act on my faxed instructions they require a “real” letter. For some reason they are worried about fraud. So after fifteen years someone has moved into my apartment, assumed my identity and telephone number and is trying to fraudulently close my account. Well I humoured them, sent back the requisite letter and assumed I would shortly receive settlement. Well not quite. I get a phone call from a lady named Jackie asking me to call her. Her voice seemed really nice plus she had shown the consideration of not calling me at four in the morning unlike one of her predecessors, so I was looking forward to talking to her. Unfortunately she had left me a number that when I tried to call it intercepted me with a message that I had connected to a restricted area. I tried three times with the same result. Obviously I was being taught patience. So I waited. I assumed that after a day or so she would try again and perhaps leave the correct number. But no such luck. Maybe she was mad because I didn’t return her call – I have noticed that occasionally people who work for institutions behave like that. I don’t think all banks have adjusted to the fact that they are in business to serve customers.

After a week I decided to call Lloyds and try and talk to Jackie. I got through quite quickly but not to Jackie. I encountered someone who needed to get my account information. I provided her with my account number and a strange thing called a sort code that seems to be very important. She asked me to confirm my name and full address then asked me for the last two digits of my telephone banking “memorable information” Now as I have never ever done telephone banking in the past 15 years I assumed she meant the same “memorable information” that I used for logging in on line but found out that it was not. “I need to ask you some security questions,” she announced. “On Oct 26th you withdrew an amount from an ATM in Braunton, can you tell me how much?” I laughed and said well it must have been either £100 or £200. She did not laugh and said will you tell me which it was. It was beginning to feel like I was on “Who wants to be a Millionaire” with Regis saying “Is that your final answer?”  “I’ll guess $200,” I said. There was a silence and I knew I had guessed wrong. However there was a second chance. “Can you tell me how much you spent at the Wine Rack on October 27th.” Now I really laughed. This was becoming more like a Monty Python skit than anything else. What kind of crazy security questions were these? At least in Canada they are something sensible like your mother’s maiden name. I tried a different tack. “Look I have no idea and I am not really trying to call you, you actually called me, do we really need to go through this?” For a moment she thawed and said, “Well there is a notice on your account.” I held my breath expectantly, after twenty minutes we were finally getting somewhere. “We can’t close your account because we don’t have your signature on file, we need a certified copy of your passport.”

As I write this the words of Roald Dahl from the Pig come to mind: Now comes the rather grizzly bit, so let’s not make too much of it. I saw my whimsical good humour disappear down the drain. The joke was over. “Having told me you are going to charge me £6 a month on my account you are refusing to close it?” I felt an edge to my tone, “This is crazy” “Well we have two representatives in Canada who can help you with this. One is in Vancouver.” “Then ask him to call me.” “No I won’t do that but I can get you his number.” The whole unreasonableness of the situation hit me like a slush ball in the face. They had created this problem and now they expected me to sort it out. Had they no concept of what customer service meant?”

Suddenly I became the witness to my experience. I realized I was getting a chance to live the insight derived from Jill Bolte Taylor in http://wp.me/phAyS-4y The chemical reaction caused in my body by the trigger allows me use the body’s reaction as a guide to choose whether I hold on or let go; I could get more irate in my self righteousness or take a different path. I observed the part of me that wanted to pursue the engagement but then I chose not to. I heard myself apologize for my reaction and tell her that I knew she was not to blame. I could not bring myself to ask her for the name of the contact in Vancouver so I asked her to get someone to call and discuss this with me. I felt my energy lift immediately and my good humour was restored. My problem is not yet resolved but I think I passed the test.


Sometimes It’s Hard to Let Go – Part Two

November 23, 2009

The Califrnia coast - one of my favourite drives

I realized when confronted by such an emotional minefield that I was deeply immersed in what I call “the battleground of thoughts and feelings”. I turned to my trusty CD that I had created for this type of situation. (www.decisionclarity.com) and began a 24-hour process to make a decision on what to do. The first step is to explore the logical and emotional factors that were causing me some confusion. Logically it made complete sense to get rid of the camper. We had shared an amazing journey of some 18 years but now it was a constant drain on my budget. $1,200 only two weeks ago and who knows how much for this fix. Also I no longer trusted it. For years it was so reliable and we had an agreement ( the van had lived up to) that it would never strand me away from civilization. Despite breakdowns from Whistler to Sault St Marie and Chilliwack to Mammoth Lakes I had always had help close at hand until now. Sitting beside Highway 99 in the pitch black, pouring rain almost seemed like a betrayal.

Potlatch Haven on Cortes Island

In addition the purchase of my recreational property on Cortes Island this year had started to shift me away from long camping trips. In addition it is 18 years old, parts are becoming difficult to find, it has definitely lost power and I am at some point facing an engine rebuild. Yet something wanted to stay my hand. I have such a strong emotional bond to my VW. I love the peace of the open road and being able to stop anywhere I wanted for the night. There was a sense that selling the camper represented a major lifestyle shift; perhaps a feeling of letting go of my youth. Then as I explored deeper there was fears on both sides of the ledger. Fear that it would be a huge mistake to keep it and risk perpetual grief. The image of Sisyphus springs to mind a figure of Greek mythology condemned forever pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to see it roll down again. Yet there was equal fear that I would have huge regrets letting go of something that is almost irreplaceable. (Synchro VWs are very rare.)

The second step is to commit to a series of practices to activate the inner landscape. I decided to go for a mindful walk in nature, do some yoga to music, journal the story, do the visualization that is recorded on the CD and draw a rune. This would take up a fair amount of my Sunday. The step that took most of my time was writing about my experience. I found myself taking a detailed trip down memory lane. I started to look for photographs that stimulated even more memories. I realized what a profound part in my life my travels had represented. I felt incredibly grateful for having the time and opportunity to drive as many places as I did. Some of the highlights:

Hayley and Amanda in my campervan

my twin great nieces Hayley and Amanda falling in love with it. They never could quite understand why I would insist on flying to Toronto when I had such a great van. Camping at the Arizona National Monument and experiencing a desert sunset unlike any other. It seemed to stretch almost 360 degrees. Waking up one morning at the end of March and hearing that the rain was going to stop and the sun would emerge; in response I dropped everything and drove to Long Beach and camped in 70F weather overlooking the Pacific Ocean. There I got to observe a hummingbird perform its courtship ritual as though I was a prospective mate. Driving seventeen hours and 1,000 miles to try and get home from Mammoth Lakes in California in one day and falling short by only 60 miles eventually collapsing exhausted at a rest area just outside Bellingham. Seeing a tornado on the plains of Kansas,

Mount Shasta at daybreak through the windshield

pulling into a rest area at the dead of night with no real idea of where I was and waking up to see a magnificent Mt Shasta, sunlit through my windshield window; so many memories and so hard to let go.

The third step, which is conducted just before bed, is the surrender of the decision to your deeper wisdom. It requires recording the events of the day that may have seemed relevant to the decision and than a meditation to surrender and let go of the decision. My activities of the day had not apparently shifted my uncertainty. I decided to draw a rune stone before I completed the second step. Runes are an oracle based on the Runic alphabet, used by early Norse peoples including the Vikings. Their popularity today stems significantly from the work done by Ralph Blum, who dedicated himself to the re-introduction of this “sacred oracle.”   He suggests that runes assist “training of sacred Intuition – a new way of listening to the inner voice.” I drew the rune Gateway. I did not need to read it as I knew it meant, “Do not enter yet”. This made sense as I knew that I would not make the decision until the next morning.

The fourth step is checking to know where you are. Hopefully a decision will emerge. It involves a guided meditation into a place of peace and calm and then introduces the question and allows space for a response. The answer I sensed seemed very clear: it’s time, I don’t have to worry, and I will be supported. I sat for a moment not sure how I felt then decided to read the rune Gateway interpretation that I had put off the previous evening. As I read the words I felt this amazing sense of a divine connection. “ Before you pass through the Gateway, pause and review the past, the learnings and the joys, the victories and the sorrows– everything it took to bring you here. Observe it and bless it all. Release it all. For it is in the very act of releasing the past that you reclaim your power. Step through the Gateway now.” How amazing! That was exactly what I had done the previous day and posted on  part one of the journey. (http://wp.me/phAyS-4G) Now it all seemed so clear. I felt that sense of clarity and well-being that feels so affirming. I was ready to make the decision.


Sometimes It’s Hard to Let Go – Part One

November 22, 2009

My trusty camper dwarfed by giant redwoods

I have had two 18-year relationships in my life. My first marriage foundered on my mid-life crisis, which incidentally also happened to be the catalyst for the next 18 year relationship. Not with my second wife I must hasten to add (that only lasted a year and a half), rather it was with my VW Camper. This second relationship foundered on the highway to Whistler cruising down a long hill to Britannia Beach. Suddenly I was powerless; I cruised to the side of a road that fortunately had a broad shoulder, although I did not realize the significance of needing a broad shoulder would be until the next day. Once the waiting and towing back to Vancouver was complete I contemplated what this meant. I had already spent $1,200 the previous week on the injection system and now this. The next day I anxiously awaited my mechanic to call. Finally I couldn’t stand the apprehension any further and called him. “It’s bad news! Your computer has fried and I don’t know why. There is an electrical fault that I have to trace before I can fix it and so far there are no computers available as they don’t manufacture them anymore” I shuddered and realized that perhaps this was the final curtain on a major chapter in my life. Was it time to let go?

My girlfriend Karen and I had picked up the VW in Weidenbruck in Germany. It had been our home for approximately four months. We had driven and camped our way through Germany, Austria, Yugoslavia, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France. It was then dropped off in England where it spent six months in my brother’s garden in London before being shipped to Halifax and thence by train to Vancouver while Karen and I traveled around the world. Ah what amazing memories. Berlin, Florence, Rome, Paris, Munich, Dubrovnik (just before the war started), Athens, Venice; altogether an unforgettable experience yet by the time I picked the van up at the port it had only 13,000 km on the odometer.

Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley 110F

Now it has 287,000 on the clock and has been my companion on many adventures. It was with us when Karen and I got engaged in the campground at Berne in Switzerland; the first person we told was my sister Chris when camping in Bidart in southern France; we spent our honeymoon with my sister, her husband and my niece driving to Las Vegas in the VW, Disneyland and back along the Pacific coast.  We were married and separated in less than two years but the VW stayed with me. It has driven through five provinces and twenty-one states. It has been across to Toronto twice and to Kansas City twice. It drove three times through Death Valley, the lowest point at minus 232 feet and also through the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel, the highest at 11,218 feet. It broke down in Sault St Marie, Mammoth Lakes in California (where it made it to the my friend’s driveway when the axle broke.), Chilliwack and Whistler more than once however this is the first time it has stranded me beside a highway in the pouring rain.

Bryce Canyon in Utah

We have camped together in spectacular places from the shelter of the magnificent redwoods in California to numerous beautiful beaches; from spectacular mountain vistas to the stark drama and big skies of the desert. We have been companions through many of life’s dramas and at times the van has seemed to be a metaphysical extension of my life. In Sault St Marie the boiling battery seemed to translate into my need to control my energy and indirectly led me to the life changing “Art of Spiritual Guidance” program at Hollyhock. We never had a major accident while traveling and I developed a strong emotional attachment that makes saying goodbye very difficult. It is as though it is not only the loss of a vehicle but the life change that it represents.  It is hard to say goodbye to a friend of so many years and with whom I have had so many adventures.


A Stroke of Insight

November 20, 2009

Jill Bolte Taylor is the remarkable woman who witnessed her own major stroke occurring from the right hemisphere of her brain. She has shared her experience through her wonderful book A Stroke of Insight. There are two things that particularly engaged me. One was her reflection that when the left hemisphere of her brain was seriously impaired she experienced her condition through the right hemisphere and it provided a radically different perspective on who she was. “I was no longer isolated and alone. My soul was as big as the universe and frolicked with glee in a boundless sea.” It has helped her develop tools to access this inner peace that she realizes is always available when she casts off the restraints imposed by the left hemisphere of the brain. The second thing that captivated me concerned the chapter Owning Your Own Power. Here she reviews the nature of stimulus and response and that certain emotional reactions in the brain can trigger a chemical reaction that will flood our body and cause us to feel an emotion such as anger. The key for me was to discover that this chemical reaction lasts only 90 seconds and that after that period has elapsed we enter a time when we can take responsibility for our response. So if we stay angry it is because we choose to.

For about ten years I have been working with Steven Covey’s reflection “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” At first I did not believe it. I encountered a situation with a friend of mine where I completely lost my temper with him. We were driving back from Whistler and he asked me for the return of his automatic gate opener. I laughed and said “But you gave that to me as a Christmas present.” His response was to tell me that it was still his, as he owned the cabin where I rented a room, and it was no use to me without his permission. And then it happened. I completely lost it. I interspersed my tirade with frequent four letter Anglo-Saxon expletives and let him know just what I thought of him. As I relapsed into some shock and shame about the way I behaved, I justified it by telling myself that I could not help myself, I had just reacted to an old wound. As it happened I was reading Covey at the time and of course came up against that quote. (It is so amazing how the right book always seems at hand at the right time.) At first I found myself arguing with his statement. There had never been a gap. My reaction had been entirely precipitated by his action. Then I sat in silence for a while reflecting and finally I could recall what seemed to be a miniscule gap when I actually had choice. I now realize that as the chemical reaction diminished, there was a moment when I could have taken another tack instead figuratively I pointed both barrels at him and fired.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s description of the limited chemical reaction helps me see more clearly how we can learn to use the body reaction as a guide to know that in 90 seconds we will be faced with a choice as to whether we hold on or let go. Whenever I am faced with an old wound, I may feel a reaction of shame, anger, embarrassment that flushes through my body like a warm wave of energy. This becomes the sign that I can take responsibility for my own response and avoid becoming victim of my own chemical reaction.

NB A presentation by Jill on her experience is available at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html


Let Your Light Shine

November 6, 2009

CrossSt Francis when searching for his vocation is reputed to have knelt in front of a cross that bore a Jesus figure that seems surprisingly not to be suffering. He prayed a beautiful prayer. The prayer in English is simple and beautiful “Most high glorious God, cast your light into the darkness of my heart. Give me faith, firm hope, perfect charity and profound humility with wisdom and perception, O lord so that I may do what is truly your holy will.” In response he believes that Jesus spoke the words, “Restore my church” This may have perplexed him but what he took from the message was to descend the hill from Assisi to a crumbling church and start to rebuild it stone by stone. This church became known as St Damiano and is one of simpler, plainer churches around Assisi.

Of course today we might describe Francis as having engaged in active imagination. Robert Johnson, in his wonderful book Inner Work, defines active imagination as a dialogue that you enter into with different parts of yourself that live in the unconscious. Recently I visited the church in Assisi where this crucifix stands. Feeling somewhat conspicuous I found myself kneeling at the same cross and beginning my own dialogue. Jesus to me has become representative of the Khristós or higher self. So as I entered my dialogue with the figure of the cross I asked what was required of me “You asked him to rebuild your church, so what about me? What do you have for me to do?”  The words I heard in my head were ‘Shine Your Light.” I got up and walked slowly out of the church. The dissenting voices of the critic in my head gradually replaced the magic of the moment. “Who do you think you are anyway? That’s just the voice of your personality trying to maintain your status quo. That is way to easy for a narcissist like you. Look what St Francis did – he gave up everything even his clothes. What exactly are you going to do?” By the time I got back to my room I was feeling perplexed. Did I just have a meaningful experience or was it purely a fabrication to make me feel better about my comfortable life? Then a moment of pure magic occurred. A fellow pilgrim Gudrun approached me as I was placing the key in the door of my room.  “I just have to tell you something” she began, “ You are such a shining light.” It seemed such an amazing synchronicity. It reminded me to focus on what fulfilling that simple admonition “Shine your light” may mean.

During the next two weeks I focused each morning in my meditation on understanding what this guidance could mean. What followed were three wonderful insights each of which became affirmed by an event in my outer circumstances.

First I wondered if perhaps I should make a renewed commitment to writing my blog Soul Clarity. After an enthusiastic start last spring, my fervour had dwindled to infrequent activity. As I reflected on that idea the universe stepped in to re-enforce me. I received an e-mail from someone I did not know: “I’m devouring this blog, Trevor. Your words are inspiring the flow of my life just by feeling them. Thank you!”

The second insight concerned being fully present with people in person and on the phone. I have this habit; particularly with people I am not close to, of drifting off and not being fully present. Almost immediately the universe gave me an opportunity. I was staying with my sister in Devon who inadvertently gone out forgetting an appointment she had made for coffee with a friend. I found myself confronted by someone who was expecting my sister. To my surprise I found myself offering tea. As I waited for the water to boil I realized this would be a perfect opportunity to practice. The results were quite amazing and we engaged in a deep conversation about her current life challenges.

The third insight concerned my work as a spiritual coach. I realized that this was a perfect opportunity to focus and allow my light to shine. Almost like a tennis ball rebounding off a wall, the universe responded with an e-mail from someone asking me to work with them. My awe and amazement at the universe’s personal relationship with each of us continues to expand. Our role is to be truly conscious and focus intention and pay attention. Spirit takes care of the rest.