Some years ago an acquaintance called me a “colonist”. I was mighty offended because I felt I had nothing to do with the genocide (a word I also argued with) against North American indigenous people. Fortunately, I’ve got enough of a curious nature that I did a bit of self examination. After having read the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Executive Summary and a handful of books recommended by some friends I tackled University of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course through Coursera. I finished it last night and realized that I’m no longer threatened by being a colonist. It is fundamentally true. And, more surprising, early pangs of guilt and fear have been replaced by a positive sense of responsibility. Looking forward in optimism always feels better than looking backwards in shame. For this, I’m feeling pretty grateful.
I’m feeling terribly compulsive. Recently I had a customer berate me and a co-worker in a way that I haven’t been torn down in decades. A real threatening tongue-lashing. Fortunately my boss has been utterly supportive and we’ve been told to hold off on service while the situation is resolved. The client has been calling, his staff have been calling, and I’m going mad trying to ignore somebody who has really treated us pretty poorly. It goes against all my nature not to provide good service and remedy the situation. But this one is out of my scope. And there’s a good lesson there because not every problem I run across is within my ability to correct.
I had revelation about the tradition of story telling this week; one worth writing a few words about. A few weeks ago, I attended a Truth & Reconciliation seminar. Something that struck me about this session, and others I’ve attended in the past, is that Indigenous people will tell stories about their challenges. I’ve often wondered why there weren’t words of action and direction about what we can all do to make reconciliation work. (Don’t get me wrong, these stories are really important and it is important, as a settler, to listen.) Recently, and as a result of attending this session, I’ve been working on U of Alberta’s Indigenous Canada course and, this week, did the section on Indigenous Law. This is where the light went on; apparently there is no written law and much of the legal framework of how Indigenous communities work is to communicate their “legal” system through stories about the land, creatures, creation, and community. As with any good parable, these stories have a great deal to tell us about how to interact with each other and the world. It is an important part of the story telling that individuals, rather than being told what to do, be free to derive the important meanings from the stories and interpret them on a situational basis. And now I’ve learned how to be a better listener because these aren’t just people telling stories, they are mentors and guides.
I have been a bit of a depressed mess recently and I see the smallest problem as being all my fault. As a programmer, I’ve really worked hard to not be a “finger-pointer”. When there is a computer problem, it is usually not safe to assume that it is the user, 3rd party software, the hardware, or the operating system. It is important to keep in mind that, as the developer of a major piece of software, the problem may well be in my code and I should work hard to eliminate that possibility before moving on to other sources. Unfortunately, I’ve integrated the “it is my fault” idea into my identity; so much so that my To-Do list has started looking to me like a list of faults that I need to fix and faults that I’m about to create. Worse, this belief has bled into the rest of my life so that I immediately assume any stressor is my fault and I assume responsibility for fixing it. Because life isn’t a program, the fixes become messily codependent boundary violations and result in self-loathing and a desperate attempt to make myself as small as possible (so as not to introduce new bugs). Ironic, isn’t it, that what has been a positive trait in my career has grown destructive in the rest of my life? Now to go debug it…
Today’s Headspace meditation said that when our mind wanders during meditation it often goes off into pleasant thoughts. Well, that’s news to me. When I mentally wander I go to what’s on my mountainous to do list at work or what’s worrying me about relationships. It can actually make me a bit antsy about sitting doing the meditation because there is so much to do. It occurred to me, at first, that there’s a warning sign there and maybe I need to find those happy thoughts again. It further occurred to me, as I was writing this, in fact, that this is the whole point of meditation; to clear the mind of all that baggage, be in the moment, and, as a result, find the pleasant things more often during the day.
Since reading the TRC report last year, I’ve been trying to figure out how to get involved, gently, in the process of reconciliation. This isn’t easy; there are people out there who have suffered greatly and I know little of their culture or how to begin reaching out, never mind finding solutions. I’m worry about taking missteps that might offend or make the process more difficult. I’ve also been wondering, because of my Green Party involvement, whether I’m trying to simply score points – add some political traction. It occurred to me today that the reverse was actually true; my involvement with progressive politics has brought me to ask the questions. Asking the questions has made me realize that it is in my benefit, as a compassionate person, to lean in to my discomfort, reach out, and learn.
My day developed into one of remarkable contrasts. It started with a Facebook conversation with a pair of Libertarians. I have to admit it wasn’t a comfortable thing. I like to find common ground with almost anybody and work hard to be respectful but they weren’t having it. At one point they accused me of being “an enemy of the people” and of having “sinister plans” and felt that it was okay to describe a fellow Green Party member’s opinions as “Hitler-like”. Mostly because we stand up for some regulations to try to deal with social justice issues. This evening I attended one of CBC’s Beyond 94 sessions – a public forum on the ongoing process of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous people. These sessions are remarkable; the stories of pain, hardship, broken families, and anger are palpable. One fellow told the audience, the majority of whom were white, that it wasn’t our fault. This person, and his family, have endured real suffering at the hands of my ancestors and the society that has given me so much and yet he stood there and reached out with compassion. What a stark contrast to the privileged old white men who hurled insults at me because I care about others. It seems like my day was designed to present me with two possible choices on where to invest my heart and soul. Easy choice.
There is a great deal of content on the web about the benefits of playing music; boosting memory skills, improving team playing, teaching discipline, etc. I was pondering these benefits as my band played its way through four gigs over this St Paddy’s weekend. I put out a load of energy in every performance (at least, if I’m doing it right) and yet I can come off stage feeling emotionally and mentally refreshed. It occurred to me that maybe there’s something underlying all those benefits. Performance is a complex thing; playing the instrument, remembering the words and arrangement, listening to tone and timing, and engaging the audience. Keeping that all working together requires being absolutely in the moment. There is a conscious practice of observing yourself drifting away and intentionally pulling your attention back to the music. The times that the music is at its absolute best are when you are fully there; mentally, emotionally, and physically engaged in the art and audience. That mindfulness, the being in the moment, is as good a mediation as any.
At times I wonder why I keep getting on stage and playing music. I’m a utilitarian guitar player, not a particularly talented vocalist, and neither songwriter nor gifted arranger. And yet, last night, we played the first of four St. Patrick’s gigs, and I re-discovered the magic. It wasn’t a big venue but it is cozy and we had a full crowd. We played our set and truly loved the music; not just enjoyed it but fully embraced it with our fingers, voices, and hearts. We pass that passion on to our audiences and they pass it right back to us in a beautiful symbiosis fueled by sharing music. This is why I keep doing it. It isn’t about the money, or the accolades, but about the pure joy of sending a few people home, myself included, a little happier than when we arrived.
Comparing ourselves to others is a risky place. We took in a local performance of “Once” at a local theatre last night. Musical performances always leave me somewhat conflicted. As a mostly amateur musician, I constantly measure myself against the musicianship of professionals. In one part of the story a certain individual is told that they play okay but should not sing, ever, and I couldn’t help but wonder if that might be what I look like to the rest of the world. The company in this play was filled to the brim with fantastically talented performers. While walking out, thoroughly entertained and thinking, as I always do, about where I stand with respect to music, I realized that it is a simple choice. Not quite Yoda’s black and white “Do… Or Do Not. There is no try” but a more subtle choice between inspiration and discouragement. It would be easy to go out into the night in a muddle of emotions but I realized, in one very lucid moment, that I could leave fully inspired. For that, and for the gift of music, I am very grateful.