Confessions of a Gambler

November 22, 2010

Part 1 I don’t have a problem!

I have never thought I had a gambling problem; I have always considered casino gambling a form of entertainment, something I manage along with my other entertainment; it was never seemed to have much compulsion attached. I used to visit Reno and Las Vegas occasionally. That is until they built a casino close enough to my home that I could walk or cycle to, then things began to change.

The Edgewater casino is located in a stunningly beautiful part of Vancouver. It is on False Creek, an inlet that circles the southern aspect of the city. With views of oceans and the mountains, the new Olympic Village development, the Science Centre, Granville Market and David Lam Park it is a hub of activity surrounded by a wonderful wide waterfront pathway that is shared by cyclists, roller skaters and pedestrians. It has always been one of my favourite afternoon strolls, then akin to the serpent appearing in the Garden of Eden, they converted the previous BC pavilion from Expo ’86 to a Vegas style casino. (Note: Governments in BC at both provincial and city levels have a voracious appetite for gambling dollars; something that resembles the addictions of the poor patrons they feed on.)

From this time on, my life began to change. From an infrequent foray, (normally with a friend), to a casino in a distant suburb, gambling became a much more frequent secret, solitary shame. I chose not to share my behaviour with my friends particularly the spiritual community of which I was part. In this way a dissonance was set up between my outward persona and my secret self. I saw gambling both as undesirable yet at the same time harmless. I was single; it did not impact others; it brought some added excitement to my life; I never lost more than I could afford and for the most part I was in control.

Then as a result of some personal growth work I undertook, I was able to move gambling out of the shadow and own it. During an amazing two-year program called the Art of Spiritual Guidance, we did a weekend on the shadow. Briefly the shadow often represents part disowned in our life and one of the goals of the weekend was to “find the gold”. It involved a dress-up portion where we assumed a shadow persona. I wore a tuxedo and went as the playboy lover, gambler, I think I expected once I had brought it into the light that it would lose its power over me. I even spent a week using my DecisionClarity process to determine if it was time to stop but the answer suggested there was something to learn from this experience so I soldiered on. I learned to manage my addiction and only take the amount of money that I was prepared to lose. I became more observant of myself. I noticed if I won a large jackpot there was an immoderate desire not to leave until it was all gone. There was an energy that took hold that I did not particularly like, yet at some level seemed to feed me. Friends would notice a frenetic focus that could engage when I was in the grip of the mania. I still had moments when I did not like who I became when I gambled; it seemed so inconsistent with my role as a spiritual coach yet I continued. Sometimes I would take occasional breaks but always going back. Each month there would be the insidious monthly mailer from the casino, and often the Lotteries Corporation as well, enticing me to return. It was as though the beady eyes of a snake were fixed on its prey waiting to devour me. And so it continued until one day everything shifted.

Part 2 – Stuck in Resistance

I have never thought of myself as an addict. Surely addicts have a big problem; they have dysfunctional lives; they have no self-control; their addictive behaviours create social and economic problems and upset lives. Fortunately I have never lost more than I could afford; in fact I have always been able to choose to stay away when I chose; I once took a six-month sabbatical and did not find it difficult but I have finally realized I have a well-disguised gambling addiction. This insight did not come easily and started with my niece Amy was coming for a visit from the UK; she had a song featured in a surf film and was going to the premier in Salt Lake City. Amy and I had always enjoyed trips to the casino together, one time in Vegas we had won a $1000 jackpot. However the day Amy was due home from Salt Lake City I had developed an urge to go on my own. It was not planned but precipitated by a coupon from the casino that was about to expire and combined with a walk, which is one of the ways I rationalize my visits. When I got there I rapidly lost my money and noticed a familiar sense of frustration that impacts me when it hits my “fairness” button. A completely illogical need to keep playing until I win takes hold; normally this is managed by running out of money but this time I had my bankcard with me (normally I leave it at home). Somewhat surprisingly this totally insane strategy began to work and I started to win. As my winnings mounted I would glance at my watch, knowing that Amy should be home by 7.00 pm, yet as time passed I made know move to leave, I was having too much fun. I rationalized that we had not made any agreement for me to be there, she was thirty-years old and quite capable of taking care of herself.

Consequentially Amy arrived home to an empty, dark house and was quite miffed with me. I had no idea she would be this upset and funnily enough I didn’t feel that guilty. I wrote in my journal the next day “yes it was inconsiderate but I did end up having a good time.” (I find myself shuddering at this shallow, self-serving justification.) During the discussion the following day we reached an impasse. She asked me how I would have felt had the roles been reversed and I could honestly say that I would not have been bothered (which is true.) She was not willing to explore any of her own feelings around abandonment and feeling hurt. Although I could admit that I could have phoned her, I just did not think of it, I tried to make up by taking her to Avatar and out for dinner which seemed (at least temporarily) to have eased the pain.

A couple of days later I was feeling really good. I had all the preparations for a dinner party well in hand and asked Amy of she wanted to go for coffee. As we walked to the coffee shop I observed that she seemed a little down and she responded “Just contemplative” I asked if she wanted to share and she said, ”No”. I wondered if it was about the casino and after suggesting she may feel better if she talked about it, so I asked, “Is this to do with the casino?” After hesitating somewhat she advised me that she thought I had a serious problem to do what I did.” I did not react to this assumption as I thought this was to do with her hurt feelings. I asked if she thought it was terrible that I could place my gambling ahead of her interests. Her response was to suggest that I should look at myself not her. At this point I was not interested in doing that. (Interesting reading this and observing my resistance after the fact!)

In response I told her the Zen proverb about the two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walking side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger monk for help. The embarrassed young man, fearing for his reputation would not help her while the elder monk willingly carried her his back.

Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left and both monks continued their route in silence. As they approached their destination the young monk could control himself no longer. “How could you carry that woman?” he cried out. “What woman?” the tired monk inquired. “Don’t you even remember? That woman you carried across the stream,” his colleague snapped. “Oh, her,” laughed the sleepy monk. “I only carried her across the stream. You carried her all the way back to the monastery.”

We made some peace over this by both drawing runes. Mine suggested that this whole experience was part of my soul’s journey. It did remind me that there came a time when it was necessary to cut away the extraneous but I was not ready to follow that advice. Amy’s rune reminded her that she can’t change me, I had to change myself and it seems I am not ready to do that.

The next installment of the addiction saga happened after Amy had returned home and I returned to the scene of the crime. This time I really got stuck in a pattern of pouring more and more money into the machine. I visited the ATM twice as once again I had my bankcard with me. (So much for my limiting the losses strategy) I became obsessed by the sense of unfairness and envy. Everyone around me was winning and I was pouring money into the machine having no fun, no features and no winnings. Yet I could not leave; it was as though I was punishing myself; the more money I lost the worse I felt but I could not stop. Then the machine gave in and I won back most of my losses. The compulsion seems so powerful but totally illogical. There is a mystifying excitement combining frustration at losing and excitement at winning yet I can never get enough.

I wrote in my journal the next morning, “Maybe Amy is right and I have a gambling problem.” I drew a rune. I got Reverse Growth – aspects of character can interfere with growth of a new life. You may feel dismayed at failing to take right action. You may be required to fertilize new ground. Correct preparation ensures growth. Examine what has occurred and my role in it. I realize there is work to be done. My commitment is to be curious about my life. There is no point in doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

Part 3 Sorting Things Out

I shared my disastrous experience with my meditation partner Trish, who told me about a book on addiction that I might be interested in reading called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Mate who is a physician in the dodgy part of Vancouver treating serious addicts. I felt unsure about its relevance to me, I decided to order it from the library and check it out. I found the book profoundly valuable, not only because it helped me see my addictive tendencies quite clearly but it also helped explain the nature of addiction and just what occurs in the brain to make addictions so difficult to break. First the characteristics of addiction are as follows: it feels compulsive and can preoccupy the mind, it impairs your control over behaviour, there is persistence or relapse despite evidence of harm and dissatisfaction, together with irritability or craving when the activity, drug or goal is not immediately available. Well I could check compulsion, impaired control, persistence and relapse as well as craving. The brain impact is fascinating. Addiction is a different state of the brain and simply stated addictive behaviour feeds the feel good chemicals – endorphins and dopamine into the brain and the more you have the more you want which why enough is never enough. I have always been curious about why the more I gamble the more I want to gamble. A planned two hours at the casino turns into six or seven hours. Now I can see why. In his book Dr. Mate also suggested some tools to deal with the addictive compulsion. They are adapted from a program designed by Dr. Jerry Schwartz to address brain lock, related to obsessive-compulsive disorders that present some similarity to addiction. They are 1) Re-label the urge as a thought that does not have to be followed 2) Re-attribute, that is blame your brain, it is not a real need 3) Re-focus by finding something else to do that distracts the desire. 4) Re-value by reminding yourself how negative this behaviour is for you. Then Dr. Mate adds a fifth step, Re-create by substituting an activity that positively feeds you.

I found this very helpful and a combination of following these five steps together with a variety of other options, (the excitement of the Olympics, skiing in March, and my previous negative experience) combined to keep me away from the casino so it was the April before I considered another trip. I was trying to devise a safe way of being entertained without falling into old patterns. The casino had sent me some coupons valued at $40, which combined with a potential $22.50 bonus from my Gold card could result in a guaranteed profit of $62.50 as long as I managed my expenditure. It seemed worth a try! However then I threw my I Ching and despite trying hard to ignore the reading, the change line said it all “You are returning to an old delusion blinded by self deception and infatuation. The way is closed. Think about where this desire comes from. Whatever you do, don’t act it out!” Well it doesn’t get much clearer than that; and as I reflected on the words I realized that I had developed precisely the same plan in December and failed dismally. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result – that’s the definition of insanity isn’t it? I realized that despite my work the desire to go to the casino was still strong and sometimes I could not be bothered with the five steps.

Somewhat disappointed that my excuse for going to the casino was extinguished, I picked up the book I was reading titled You Are Here by Thic Nhat Hanh and encountered yet another amazing synchronicity. The passage I read was about eliminating desire for behaviours that we wished to change by using mindfulness. He used the example of drinking whisky. “Drinking whisky mindfully you will recognize what is taking place in you – your body, your liver, your relationships in the world.’ he advises, “don’t tell yourself to stop but when your mindfulness becomes strong you will just stop. It is not about judgment or joining battle with your addiction.” So what would it be like to gamble mindfully? To observe the impact on my body, my energy, my sense of self, my relationship with others and noticing my experience? I was already familiar with my pattern of breaking agreements with myself on how much money to spend and how long to stay. Was it possible to stay mindful in a casino and change the relentless desire to spend more money and more time regardless of whether I am winning or losing? Could mindfulness overcome the desire to carry on?

Interestingly enough during the next few weeks, mindfulness did reduce desire. Each time I reflected on taking a trip to the casino, the mindfulness seemed to mitigate the desire to go. Once by changing my mind, I encountered two nesting bald eagles; it seemed an amazing affirmation of my decision. However, on May 9th while on a walk around beautiful False Creek I found myself outside the Edgewater Casino. I sat outside for a moment and reflected on whether to go in. It seemed absolutely safe as I had only $20 in my pocket. However no risk also led to no fun. In less than fifteen minutes my money was exhausted; I observed a sense of resignation as the dollars slipped away; it was obvious that I would have spent more if I had it. I reflected later on what I had learned. Whatever money I take I am likely to lose as the addiction energy to keep going takes over. An interesting paradox is created by the newer machines; because the feature is hard to get, you have to invest for a while to get it, when your perseverance pays off you often don’t get a pay out sufficient to cover your losses. As I reflected on how I was feeling I realized that being mindful really helped me manage my desire perhaps over time it would eliminate it completely. Everything says it’s a mug’s game so why go back? Perhaps this was the last time.

Part 4 The Crash

I am sitting on my front deck feeling disconsolate. Once more I have fallen into the hole of my gambling addiction and this time worse than ever. I feel like a complete failure, disappointed in myself and frustrated that all the diligent work I had undertaken had been for naught; I feel lost and abandoned with a sense that all my personal growth work has been a big waste of time, and all the work I had done on my gambling addiction seemed for naught.

I had not even entertained a visit to the casino; I had cycled down for a haircut; Val my hairdresser had done a great job; it was a beautiful day, I was on my bike; I decided to cycle to MEC where I would return the odometer on my bike that just wouldn’t work consistently. My route took me down to the seawall for a spectacular ride beside the water. It also took me past the casino and I found myself making an impulse decision to drop in for half an hour and spend $20.00. This would give me lots of time to continue on to MEC then get home in time for Kirtan, which I had decided to attend. Unfortunately this spontaneous decision proved far from mindful and I sank into a depressingly familiar pattern. The control of taking limited money was not in place as I had my wallet and my bank card; in hindsight I can see I was doomed from the moment I walked in and soon I was breaking agreements with myself, staying five hours instead of half an hour, wasting $300.00, missing Kirtan and feeling really dumb. At least I resisted drawing more money out of the bank machine; I came as close as standing in front of it with my card in my hand before resisting the folly and leaving.

My experience left me in a philosophical downward spiral. I notice the disappointment I am feeling wants to go beyond my gambling. My life seems to have lost some of its magic. Despite making a commitment to living a soul directed life guided by synchronicity and serendipity, I find myself engaging in untypical, inconsistent, unsoulful behaviour. I find myself wallowing in a slough of despond; my foundations rocking; I am questioning my worldview, my life meaning and the use of oracles to guide me. I am struggling to see opportunity arising out of this chaos. Then something magical happens, I notice a Tarot deck sitting on my book case; it was left from a meditation evening earlier in the week; I pick it up, it is the Osho Zen deck; the one I find the most critical and pointed and tend only to use in a crisis. Well this seemed the appropriate moment; it could be my last reading ever. I draw three cards and gaze down noticing I am feeling annoyed at the outcome. The first card or the overview is Healing, the second or the current state is Nothingness and the third or the outcome is Rebirth. It didn’t feel much like healing to me. Then I begin to read the response. Healing: “Deeply buried wounds from the past are coming to the surface available to be healed, naked and vulnerable, open to the loving touch of existence, under the influence of the king of healing we are no longer hiding from ourselves.” Although I had no idea what this had to do with my gambling, I was sufficiently interested to keep reading. No-thingness: “Being ‘in the gap’ can be disorientating, even scary, nothing to hold on to, no sense of direction, and not even a hint of what choices and possibilities might lie ahead” This really resonated with how I was feeling and I sensed a glimmer of hope that perhaps I may find something to help me in the is reading. The passage concludes; “Something sacred is about to be born.” The third card, which represents the outcome or future in the spread was Rebirth: “whatever state you are in right now, be it sleepy and depressed, or roaring and rebellious – be aware it will evolve into something new if you let it. It is a time of growth and change.”

I felt an immediate shift; it was as though my faith had been rekindled; there was meaning in this experience; what I had to do was treat this whole incident with curiosity and discover just what it was trying to teach me. I reflected back on my gambling experience the previous day. It had occurred so unconsciously; what on earth could have caused me to visit the casino so impulsively? Some words of James Hollis flashed through my mind, “these energy charged clusters of our history…. (that) write our biographies, frame our futures and circumscribe our freedoms.” He was referring the fact that sometimes our behaviour does not appear related to the present moment but rather is a reaction to a past wound. What unconscious energy from my past had circumvented my conscious control and caused me to visit the casino. I decided to spend some time reflecting on the moment when I first began to gamble. It had occurred when I was in my late teens in England. It started with frequenting penny arcades, then progressed to frequenting dog tracks and horse racing venues. I realized that I was always on my own; I had been a very lonely teenager, a result of going to a boarding school and not making friends in my own town; my one close friend had got his girlfriend pregnant at the age of sixteen so I was left on my own.

And then in a flash of insight, it all came together. Gambling had become a way of dealing with loneliness; the venues provided a community of sorts and the excitement of the wagering – win or lose – would circumvent the pain of loneliness. I had created a complex that could be triggered by an unconscious sense of loneliness. I did not necessarily have to feel lonely; unrelated events that caused me to be alone could trigger the response; I never wanted to gamble when I was socially engaged. On this particular Friday two events had created the “perfect storm”, first a planned visit to some friends on Vancouver Island was cancelled due to a conflict, secondly, my regular Friday night sushi companion was not available. The complex did the rest.

So another piece of the puzzle falls into place; I now have an awareness that when the desire to gamble erupts, it has an origin in loneliness. I sense this may help me substitute pursuits about which I feel more comfortable. I have no problem with gambling as entertainment; I just don’t like what it does to me; I don’t like the way I can convince myself to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. Perhaps one day I will visit the casino for entertainment but I know that moment is not now.

Postscript: About a month after my last visit to the casino I decided to borrow a step from the “Twelve Steps” and admit my powerlessness to control my addiction on my own. I wrote these words: “I recognize that I have no lasting power over my gambling addiction; the desire returns; it subtly persuades me to fulfill its need; I continue to do the same thing over and ever expecting a different result; I desire to stop and I surrender this to my higher self.”

 

Note: It is now almost four months since I frequented the casino. This weekend I went for a walk around False Creek and past the casino, something I have been avoiding. I went in to go to the washroom, I walked around looking at the players and sensing what a solitary, lonely activity it is for most people there. I walk out feeling a sense of freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

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My 100th Blog – Thank you Lorne

November 19, 2010

This is my 100th SoulClarity blog. It has taken over two years to achieve this landmark. When I reached ninety-nine a form of paralysis set in; it seemed a significant milestone that required an extraordinary response, something scintillatingly brilliant perhaps or a stunning insight into the human condition that was worthy of this auspicious event. But no such epiphany materialized. Instead I decided to create a tribute to a remarkable person without whose contribution this adventure would not have begun.

It was my friend Lorne Craig who first urged that I should start a blog; he had more confidence than I did that I had meaningful stories and experiences to share; he overrode my protestations that I did not have the expertise to do this; he waved away my concerns that I did not know a widget from a dashboard and he expressed with confidence that even I could use WordPress if I made the effort. So in September 2008 I made my first entry and still it goes on. Like a monster that could not be contained, I now have three blogs, one for my SoulClarity work, one for when I am on the road and a final one for my rental property. And to my surprise I really enjoy it.

Yet in fact harassing me to start a blog represents a small aspect of the impact that Lorne has had in my life. Our paths have intertwined like a caduceus during the past twenty-five years. We met when I was a big honcho in the advertising business and Lorne was cheeky, irrepressible, precocious, talented art director fresh out of college. He was fun to work with and produced some wonderful creative during the time we worked together. He was so impressed with his own talent that at a tender age he launched himself into his own agency named Big House Communications and despite the grave misgivings of everyone else in the business he achieved success. Our paths crossed again when I had become an independent marketing consultant and I introduced to him to two of my clients (Chevron and Whistler) where he made an amazing contribution. In return, at one time, I worked with him and his partners to clarify their mutual goals and objectives. As my business interests diminished we stayed in touch through an ingenious device known as ‘The Board” a small group of guys who would meet for beer at Biminis every four weeks at around 4.00 pm on Wednesdays. It seemed so much more appropriate to slip out of the office for a meeting of the board.

However, it was in 2004 that he began to play a much more significant role in my life. My own journey had taken many twists and turns and resulted in a new passion in my life, helping people to make decisions from a place of inner wisdom. It culminated in the writing of a book titled “Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions”. After I decided to self-publish I e-mailed him to ask whether he would design a cover. I still recall him walking into Biminis and throwing my e-mail back at me and exclaiming, “What do you call this – a brief?” I found out that he actually wanted to read the book first and then he took his responsibility extremely seriously. We met over sushi where he presented me with a series of designs. Somewhat crestfallen I realized that none of them really resonated however, because he was doing this for a commission of 10% of revenue (which was likely to net him nothing) I did not feel I could ask him to keep working. When I explained that I really could not see how it was practicable for him to get inside my head, he replied, “I can do this, you just have to work with me.” Next time we met was a magical moment, he had crafted a look that more than exceeded all my expectations, I just loved it. He then proceeded to design not just the cover but also the whole book. I was ecstatic with the result and sometimes think that his tasteful, clear, artistic design has as much or more merit than the words it enwraps.

It was a short step to ask him to incorporate the design elements of the book into my website and although my only complaint was for the painful delays, but what can you say when it is being done for free. A few lunches at The Smoking Dog over red wine likely encouraged the process. My friend Geoff who took on the coding described Lorne as “the rate-determining step” some weird term used by very bright people who have PHDs that unfortunately did not speed Lorne up at all. Finally the book was printed, the website finished (www.decisionclarity.com) and Lorne even came up with the web address that also became the name of the decision-making model: DecisionClarity.

Then our friendship took an unexpected twist. Over a celebratory lunch at Fuel, I was sharing with Lorne some of the work around the concept of the Soul Journey I had been doing as part of a program I attended called The Art of Spiritual Guidance. Suddenly he announced that he wanted to do some of this work with me. So we embarked on a spiritual guidance relationship that resulted in weekly one-hour sessions at no charge. Lorne took to this like a duck to water shouting a clear intention to the universe  while down at Kits Beach after a session. “I’m on the cosmic road trip, bring it on.”

So of course the universe responded and I am certain at some time Lorne will recall his own unique experiences in his cosmic road trip book. Our journey took another twist when Lorne announced to me that he insisted on paying me for my time. “This has too much value”, he told me and so I had my first client for what I eventually termed Spiritual Coaching and offer under the banner SoulClarity, the web site and business cards of which became another exquisitely designed project by Lorne.

So thank you Lorne, friend, true renaissance man, artist, musician, creative master, proud family man and fellow companion on the Journey of the Soul. Lorne is sole proprietor of Unicycle Creative http://unicyclecreative.com and on top of all his other accomplishments; he can even ride a unicycle.

Note: Lorne insists I add the following postscript: “So blog on… maybe toss a few more of my lesser qualities in for balance (notoriously late, falls into the hole all the time, etc etc)”


Farewell Charlie, may you rest in peace.

November 13, 2010

Charlie and I on Pemberton Golf Course.

This week I received the shocking news that my dear friend Charlie Richardson has passed away unexpectedly in Mexico from a heart attack. At first it seemed incomprehensible that vibrant, ever cheerful, good-hearted Charlie could have “shuffled off this mortal coil.” Yet gradually as I conversed with friends and we shared our stories it began to slowly register, Charlie became passive tense rather than present, as reality sank in. The night before I heard the news I had an experience that in hindsight seemed particularly meaningful. A friend and I were meeting for our weekly meditation; at the close of the evening we draw a Tarot card which usually throws uncanny insight on some pertinent issue; I had purchased a new Tarot based on the poems and teachings of Rumi that I was anxious to test out. She went first and initially expressed some discomfort at working with this new deck. Finally she drew a card; it was No 20, Judgment reversed. As I read the interpretation I could sense that she was not finding it particularly significant. Somewhat disappointed I shuffled the 74 cards and drew…. the same card, also reversed. What were the odds of that? I put it down to new shiny cards and discarded the experience as meaningless, dismissing her suggestion to read it again. The next day after hearing the news of Charlie’s death, I felt drawn to look at the cards again. The poem on the front of the card by Rumi read, “By love, the dead are made living.” Spooky – I think Charlie made one last appearance! A couple of days later I reflected on this synchronicity and decided that one of the ways I could show this kind of love was by reflecting on positive memories of Charlie. In this way he would indeed be brought alive.

Charlie and I met in the early eighties when he was hired as an account executive by McKim Advertising. He was a real find, smart, energetic, persistent  and experienced and I looked forward to a lengthy relationship. Alas, when I came to conduct his very positive review and present him with a salary increase, he looked at me in horror and said, “Oh this won’t do.” and named a figure that he had in mind, that was somewhat in excess of my own earnings. When I explained the reality of the agency business, he politely informed me that he would need to leave. Charlie was a real straight shooter and you always knew where you stood.

We parted on good terms and stayed in touch but did not really renew our relationship until the nineties by which time he had become a direct marketing whiz and I introduced him to my client at Whistler. This relationship went well although at times Charlie could barely hide his frustration at the missed opportunities of data base marketing. At one time I recall trying to explain to a client that when Charlie inferred he was abysmally incompetent that he didn’t really mean it. During this time we established a tradition that lasted until this day. We used to meet once a month or so for a beer or two in Kitsilano. The group began to expand in size so we named it the Board and all our sessions were described as Board Meetings. It seemed so much more gentile to suggest we had a board meeting scheduled than an afternoon beer. Our political differences became the subject of great discussion, Charlie holding the conservative line while I took the more liberal but no matter how intense the debate Charlie never took umbrage and there were never hard feelings.

The other place where our friendship grew was on the golf course. Charlie was totally passionate about his golf game. I recall our first game together, in the mid nineties at Riverway golf course, we shot about the same score, well over a hundred. Today my score is likely somewhat worse and he has to give me 24 strokes a round as a handicap and still wins. Even in this he was as always generous; we played for the beer at round’s end but if his team got ahead he would adjust the handicap to try and sustain the tension until the last hole or two.

It seems hard to believe that I will no longer open the door and see his smiling face, normally wearing shorts and T-shirt no matter what the weather. The Board will meet one more time in his honour as we had already booked the date. I am sure Charlie will be there in spirit. Rest in peace my good friend


What A Blessed Life

November 9, 2010

What A Blessed Life
What A Lucky Find
The Ending Of The Search
The Stopping Of My Mind
How Can I Express
The Changes Taking Place
The Only Words I Guess
Would Be Amazing Grace

lyrics by kirtana

I am sitting in my Karma chair, the fire is glowing brightly, I am warm and cozy on a grey miserable Vancouver Fall day and I am feeling immensely appreciative for the life I have been gifted. I just finished reading from James Hollis’s book The Middle Passage where he is talking about the challenge of work versus vocation and how many people struggle between the need to make money and the desire for fulfillment. I realized how blessed I have been during the past twenty years to be able to combine my work, my personal growth and my vocation. From 1973 to 1991 I worked full time in the advertising/marketing business and was fortunate enough to have jobs that although stressful were never boring, were financially rewarding and gave full rein to my skills as a marketer, communicator, strategic planner and manager. It was an amazing time full of deep lows compensated for by spectacular highs, sometimes in the same day. I still recall sitting in my boss’s office receiving accolades as he informed the President of McGavins that I had been promoted, only to have my warm glow interrupted by my secretary to take a call from our largest client informing me that all the work we had been doing for the past six months was rejected and they were going to hand the business to their Quebec agency if we could not solve the problem in four days. However despite the ups and downs, without really stretching myself I reached the pinnacle of my profession, far too unconscious to be troubled by any concerns around vocation or whether  my soul was fulfilled.

Then my mid life crisis at the age of 45 resulting in me dumping everything – wife, job, friends, in what some considered to be an insane love affair that took me round the world for a year on two first class tickets acquired from the myriad airline points I had accumulated. And from that time,  January 28th 1991, I never worked full time again. I started my own consulting practice; at times I worked very hard; I made very good money but maintained tremendous flexibility in my life until my last client stopped paying me at the end of 2008 when I was sufficiently financially secure to have little concerns about the future.

During that seventeen years I was able to sustain a lovely balance between my working life, a deep exploration of myself and a new awareness of the world of soul that led me to seek a vocation that perhaps would be more meaningful than advertising. My quest took me to the Unity School in Kansas, then a two-year program called The Art of Spiritual Guidance followed by part time studies at the Vancouver School of Theology where I was enrolled in a Masters program in Theology for three years. During this period I learned to combine my world of business with my inner world, realizing that life’s lessons could equally manifest in the business arena as in the therapy group. As Jonn Kabatt Zinn famously wrote, “wherever you go there you are.” This all contributed to the uncertain and unfinished journey of self that could not even have been imagined by the atheistic advertising executive in 1991.

It was in 1999 that my quest for a vocation took a giant leap when I became a volunteer at The Centre for Integrated Healing, (now Inspire Health) seeking something more meaningful in my life. My work as a marketing volunteer evolved into assuming responsibility for a presentation on decision-making. In turn this led to my passion for exploring the inner world and how critical decisions offered the incentive to go to a deeper level than the battleground of thoughts. feelings and fears, that got in the way of finding clarity. This insight unfolded into the glorious discovery of the inner world of intuition and eventually to the conviction that the events of my life have meaning if I can only learn to see it. The result has been a book and CD on decision-making (Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions), and eventually to my Spiritual Coaching practice and Intuitive Guidance workshops supporting and helping others to find their way. What A Blessed Life indeed.


Reviewing the Christian Myths

November 8, 2010

Recently I was invited to a writing circle by a friend of mine; at one point I found myself recounting some of my experiences from theological college and how very human and imprecise the writing of the gospels had been. In one course on the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), the professor had walked into the class and made the following statement. “Today we are going to consider the “synoptic problem. I am sure some of you here believe that these are the literal word of God. Today you will come up against a dilemma: either you are incorrect or God made a lot of mistakes.” Our studies demonstrated that there is a lot of disagreement between the authors that comes as a result of their own predispositions. For example Matthew was a Greek speaking Jew; it was very important for him to connect Jesus to the Messiah predicted in the Torah; this led to some almost comical errors with profound long lasting impact over the next two thousand years. Matthew did not read the Torah in Hebrew but in Greek and in the Greek version known as the Septuagint, Isaiah prophesies that the Messiah will be born of a virgin so Matthew claims that Jesus was born of a virgin, Mary. However the Hebrew version actually says the Messiah will be born of a young woman, so perhaps the virgin birth comes to us as result of a translation error.

After sharing this story I received a lovely e-mail from one of the group, “I cannot tell you how much you inspired me to re-review the gospels just with your comments.” and asking me to recommend some reading. “I want to come back to the Bible but I gain from the stories when I tap in to passages as metaphor.” I wonder how many people like the pair of us have been put off by the literalism of so many commentators. In fact my studies had helped me find personal meaning in Christianity once again. There is nothing like theological college to reveal the transparent flaws of the original writers. Matthew even has Jesus riding on two animals at the same time (a colt and an ass) when he entered Jerusalem because he was trying so hard to conform to a passage in the Torah but he failed to realize the original was for dramatic effect. I recommended to my friend Elaine Pagels book Beyond Belief, which takes a look at early Christianity and how many of the early factions developed different beliefs. The early church was a bit like Christianity today, everyone developing their own unique slant on Jesus teachings, however because there was fear that a fragmented church could not survive, there was great pressure to introduce conformity and exorcise teachings that were considered inappropriate. But who should decide? There was a great deal of lobbying by two distinct groups and in some ways they were similar to the fundamentalists and the new age Christians of today. One group who would seem to be represented to some degree by the teachings of John positioned Jesus as the unique and only Son of God. Another group led by Thomas believed that each of us contain the divine and should trust our own discernment for truth.

Well John won out and his gospel clearly tries to put down Thomas, (the story of doubting Thomas is only found in John.) Once I could see that John’s writing is very specifically focused on his agenda then I could begin to ignore his more polemic statements and enjoy the beauty elsewhere. Thomas’s gospel was eventually banned and found only in 1945 at Nag Hammadi after being hidden for likely sixteen hundred years.

As a teenager I had rejected all of Christianity because so much of it seemed irrational, often blood thirsty and offensive. Once I was able to put aside that which represented the baser positions of the authors, I could relearn to love the teachings themselves.

Note: I would highly recommend Elaine Pagels book to anyone who is interested in understanding how the orthodoxy of Christianity evolved.


Can Journaling Help Your Health?

November 2, 2010

Recently, on my long drive home from California, I listened to Christina Baldwin’s Lifelines, a CD recording about journaling. Christina is a pioneer in journal writing, her workshop Self as Source, profoundly impacted the writing of my book Life’s Little Book for Big Decisions and I recommend journaling as an essential component of the DecisionClarity process. However on my long drive past the glorious beaches of the Oregon coast, she introduced a concept that took me by surprise; it was the idea that journaling can actually improve your health.

University of Texas at Austin psychologist and professor James Pennebaker believes that regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. He encourages writing about stressful events to help you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of stress on your physical and mental health.

In Decision-making, writing about the factors creating confusion and exploring your emotions, brings fear and anxiety up to the surface and I have long propounded that moving our fear from the dark into the light reduces its power over us. Sometimes we can feel our body relax as we own our anxiety rather than suppress it; darkness is often a breeding ground for fear; it expands like bamboo proliferates underground to emerge when you least expect it. It is no surprise that these emotions can create damaging stress but how encouraging to realize that the simple act of writing can help to overcome the negative effects.

“Emotional upheavals touch every part of our lives,” Pennebaker explains. “You don’t just lose a job, you don’t just get divorced. These things affect all aspects of who we are—our financial situation, our relationships with others, our views of ourselves, our issues of life and death. Writing helps us focus and organize the experience.” For more see http://www.utexas.edu/features/2005/writing/