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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Exploring Relationships

Exploring Relationships

It has been said that we become who we are through the relationships we have with others. I remember sitting in an auditorium at some point when the speaker said that our first awareness is of the limits of our own body - we move and feel and touch to discover that we do have boundaries. Our feet signify that we don't have bodies that go on forever. Then we become aware of an 'other' - usually a parent. We now realize that beyond our own physical limits, there is another 'body' to which we start to relate. 

It's through relationships that we learn who we are.... we belong to this family, not that one; this region, not another; this country, this culture, this community etc. In fact, several philosophies go as far as saying that we only become aware of who we are because of our relationships with others. 

I have come to understand that EVERYTHING is about relationships...   we have a relationship with our body, with money, with work, with our environment - with everything that is around us. However, the most important relationship is the one with our inner self. Our inner self goes by many names - our soul, our spirit, God, Universe, Source of All That Is - it doesn't matter about the label. It's that non-physical aspect of who we are, really, inside. 

So much of our time is spent on improving/perfecting our relationships with people/things outside of ourselves. We find ourselves trying all sorts of different strategies to make this happen. Yet, we often neglect the only relationship that matters - the one with our Inner Being. The strange thing is that when we get THAT relationship right, then all others fall into place. 

This is not new thinking. It has been a part of religious philosophies for centuries. I think this is what Jesus of Nazareth meant when he said, 'Seek ye first the Kingdom of God..... ' also stating that 'the Kingdom of God is WITHIN you' (emphasis mine). Once that relationship has been tended to, 'then all these things shall be added unto you.' The Gautama Buddha said, “If you truly loved yourself, you could never hurt another.” The Hindu Laws of Life include these statements:  Listen To Your Soul: You have to grow from the inside out. None can teach you, none can make you spiritual. There is no other teacher but your own soul. Be Yourself: The greatest religion is to be true to your own nature. Have faith in yourselves! 

It would seem that there is an underlying awareness that we need to put our own house in order so that we can empower ourselves to bring love, acceptance, and healing into all other relationships. 

Once we become aligned with our true selves, once we get that relationship right, the world is our oyster!

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Friday, 15 August 2014

Change can be scary... but it can also expand your horizons!

Change can be scary... but it can also expand your horizons!

This last week we've noticed that some of the trees in our area are beginning to change colour - already in the middle of August!! This early reminder of the oncoming season of Fall was a bit of a shock - especially as our summer has not been one of the warmest and sunniest on record. 

It got me to reflecting upon the passing, transient nature of things - that life, itself, is defined by change. It is inevitable, because nothing really stays the same. Since change is going to happen anyway, we have a choice - to resist it, or embrace it. Or we can initiate a change of direction ourselves. 

25 years ago, today (August 15th, 1989), I immigrated from the U.K. to Canada - one of the biggest changes that I have ever chosen to bring about. The remembrance of this transition is what prompted this blog post. 

I had visited Canada on several occasions over the previous decade or so, but in 1988, I decided to stay for a longer period of time - (five weeks, in fact) and to travel out west to fulfil a dream of mine. I had seen a friend's pictures of his journey through the mountains on the Rocky Mountaineer train (then, VIA rail), and had always wanted to do that - to sit in the bubble car and take in vista after vista. 

In August, 1988, I brought that ambition into fruition, flying to Calgary and then taking the train through to Vancouver. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was to see (though one Japanese tourist told me off when she found out that I had, at that time, not been to Scotland before coming to the Rockies!!). The splendour and magnificence of the mountains - one peak after another - pierced something deep within and I know that they continue to call to me even to this day. 

My 5-day stay in Vancouver forever imprinted a love for this city in my heart and, together with the ferry trip to Victoria, marked me for life. "You had me at... lakes, trees, and mountains!"

When I returned to Toronto for my final week in Canada that year, my brother and his wife took me to visit their friends, Geoff and Sandy. I had known Geoff from way back, and it was at his kitchen table that the seed was sown about coming to live in Canada permanently. In fact, I still refer to this as the 'table of decision'! 

After I had been back in the U.K. for a month or so, I  found myself thinking - I don't want to reach the age of 60 and wonder 'what if' I had moved to Canada. Once you have reached that stage, you HAVE to go, or you'll always wonder. 

I remember some of my friends told me that they felt I was very brave to be making such a change. To be quite honest, it didn't feel that way at all. What I remember is a sense of excitement and freedom. And the inner happiness of knowing that, at the tender age of 38, I could uproot myself and redefine my life from a new perspective, in a new country. 

It was relatively easier for me than for many others - I had a roof over my head, thanks to the kindness of my brother and sister-in-law, who took me in for my first few months in Canada. I also had a secure teaching post with the Scarborough Board of Education. I also had the names and addressed of a couple of mutual friends to call upon. Nevertheless, it was still a challenge and I will always be grateful to those who helped to ease the transition - on both sides of the pond. 

To get back to what I was saying about change..... I knew that before I could embrace that which was going to be new in my life, I would have to let go of some elements that had been part of my life up until then. Familiar surroundings, culture, friendships, workplace - even aspects of language and verbal expressions  - these were all about to undergo a transformation. While I have been blessed with wonderful long-lasting friendships that are as strong as ever today.... the physical distance from those friends was a challenge to be faced. Inevitably, some of those friendships gently dissolved and I had to embrace that reality.
Of course, family is family - wherever you are - and those relationships have also deepened, in spite of the miles that separate. 

Change can be scary. There is a part of us that gets comfortable with the status quo and resists anything that 'upsets the apple cart'.

I remember that someone had said to me, in my teenage years, that when you make a change, only alter one aspect of your life - either your job, your relationship, or your where you live. He said that when you do this, you retain some continuity in life that enables you to move forward more easily. I have found this to be true. However, when you have excitement for life, it can sometimes allow you to embrace change at several levels, simultaneously. This is what happened to me, back in 1989, and I have not regretted that decision even for a moment. 

So, what's my point? 

My point is - if you are thinking about making some kind of change in your life, know that, although there are some things of which you'll need to let go, you will be making room for something new, and if you embrace the new, you'll find a new, expanded platform from which to experience the world around you. 

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Saturday, 9 August 2014

Discovering French River

Discovering French River

We had often passed the French River Provincial Park on the way to and from the GTA, and we always promised ourselves a visit one day. 

Yesterday, we were able to fulfil that promise as we had two wedding planning meetings - one in Parry Sound, and the other in Garston, near Sudbury, and they were spaced apart enough for us to fit in a visit to the museum at the park as well as a 1.5 km hike to Recollet Falls. 

I always think I'm extremely lucky to meet such wonderful couples at these planning meetings, and yesterday was no exception. Super people - and a joy and pleasure to work with them, and I'm really excited to be meeting them again on their special days. 

We had been to visit family in Ajax, so we left very early so that we could be in Parry Sound for our 11:00 a.m. appointment with the first couple. We actually missed a lot of the rush hour traffic as we took the back roads to Hwy 400 and then we were going in the opposite direction to the commuters. We arrived in Parry Sound a full hour before our meeting, so we spent some time down at the waterfront - another favourite spot of ours.

The 30,000 islands tour boat was just leaving when we parked, and we were able to catch sight of a couple of seaplanes - one taking off, and another landing. I was also hoping to see a train going across the high bridge that spans the Sound. It always fascinates me to see these long, double-decker freight trains crossing a bridge that has very little in the way of walls on either side of the track. 

Meeting #1 accomplished, we left the Sound and headed north towards Sudbury. When we saw that we were ahead of time, we knew we were able to dust off another mini ambition and decided to take in a visit to French River, the first designated Canadian Heritage river, noted for being one of the routes of the Voyageurs at the time when New France was in its heyday.

Starting with a tour of the Visitor Centre (with an entry fee of only $1.00 each) we took in the 'Voices of the River' exhibit with interest. It's always a good thing to see artifacts and hear personal stories about times and events which had only been shared through text books at school. It was very well done, and we also learned about protected species that are in the area - including the Massasauga Rattlesnake, which is peculiar to the Georgian Bay area. 

Taking note of the warning sign at the entrance to the hiking trail, we ventured along the 1.5 km pathway over rocks and gnarled roots to finally reach the Recollet Falls. A returning passerby we met on the way there said she felt they were more like rapids than waterfalls, but I don't think that was a fair assessment. They were not among the most spectacular natural water features we have seen, but beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder and, for us, it was well worth the trek.

Another returning passerby told us that he had seen some water snakes at the falls, and we were eager to get some pictures of these non-poisonous reptiles. Unfortunately, there were none to be seen, even though we stayed there a full 15 minutes to take in the scenery. 

One slightly disturbing observation..... the appearance of a newly-dropped red maple leaf on the trail!!  I looked up to see the colours beginning to appear on some of the maples - already at the beginning of August!!!  No, Mother Nature - while I love the colours of the Fall, let us please enjoy a few more weeks of summer before you bless us with your splendour!!

It's good to have a bucket list, no matter how short or long it is. When the intention is there, the opportunities will surely follow. We were able to cross this item off our list in a pocket of time that were given to us in between our two appointments. We're looking forward to other opportunities to come our way - and when they do, we'll be ready. 

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Sunday, 3 August 2014

Wedding Ceremony Planning Meetings...

Wedding Ceremony Planning Meetings

One of the joys of being a wedding officiant is that you get to meet couples, young, and not-so-young, who radiate that sparkle of love and affection which makes the world go around. I love presiding at the ceremony, but there's something rather special about sitting down with people to plan out their special  moment. 

It's always interesting to chat with them to find out where and how they met, what their plans are, and what is going on in their lives. The trust that people offer - and the depth of what is sometimes shared makes me feel very humble. The underlying essence of HOPE can be discerned every single time, as they sift through all the options available and choose how they want their ceremony to be. I always leave these planning meetings with a sense inner peace and the knowledge that I have been uplifted by what is best in our human experience - two people coming together with love in their hearts and a desire to share their happiness with friends and families. 

Working from a given template, they are free to add, subtract, or change the ceremony - or scrap it completely and start over. Acting as a facilitator (which is what I do best), it is my job to leave them feeling confident, with one less thing to worry about on their wedding day. I get to witness many different ways that couples come to an agreement about something, whether it is a small issue, or something considered to be more important. For some couples, the decision-maker has already been agreed upon; for others, there is negotiation until one will concede a point to the other; for still others, there more of a consensus that just seems to come to the surface. It's whatever works for each couple. 

A special joy for me is when the couple have children and we devise ways in which we can involve them in the ceremony, if that is what they want. It's wonderful when the young ones participate in a meaningful way which cements the family relationships. 

Most of all, it's all about them.... and provides me with at least an hour where I can be totally selfless (a rare occasion!!) while I focus upon their wishes for their wedding day - and for that short time when they declare their love for one another before those gathered together to witness the moment. 

What an awesome thing it is to be part of this process, and part of this significant time in their lives!

For more information, visit: All Seasons Weddings   

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Friday, 1 August 2014

Day 17 - July 31st, 2014 - Wawa to Elliot Lake

Rockies Trip - Final Day (17) July 31st, 2014
Wawa - Elliot Lake


The last day of our trip was fairly uneventful. We had hoped to swim in Lake Superior at one of our favourite spots. Mark did take a brief dip at Katherine Cove, but it was too cold for him to allow the water to venture above his waistline. Most of the drive was shrouded in fog or low cloud which rolled mystically off the hills and over the lake. It had its own beauty in a way, and there were some remarkable shots we could have had taken, but missed because the moment had passed. At times, the driving conditions were very poor, so we took our time and drove accordingly. 

We may have already mentioned that the locals say that if you don't like the weather around Lake Superior, just wait for 5 minutes. We have seen that to be true, but we also know that weather patterns can be very localized and we were moving along. That being said, what a difference a bit of sunshine makes. 

Whatever the conditions, we always choose to make the best of it, and Mark was happy to take a break from driving. 

He was especially happy when we stopped off at one of our favourite restaurants - The Voyageurs' Lodge Cookhouse, just 30-40 minutes north of the Soo. We've been here when camping in the area. The food is basic, but good, and the staff are very friendly. I particularly like some of the signs they have dotted around the walls - including this one from the bathroom: 

Mark was even more happy when we encountered more wildlife - perhaps not as spectacular as the grizzlies and elk out west, but interesting just the same. This was probably the closest we had gotten to a couple of sandhill cranes that were hanging out on the side of the road. I had not seen the coloured markings on their heads before. 

Stopping at a farm that we have seen so often on our journeys back and forth to the Soo, we took some pics of some domesticated Bison. I have often wondered what the difference was between buffalo and bison, so I looked it up and, to my surprise, buffalo are officially not to be found in North America (in spite of visiting Head-Smashed-In-Buffalo-Jump a few years back.... and bit in the song about where the buffalo roam!) Apparently, buffalo are only to be found in Africa and Asia, and bison in North America!  Who knew! I think that, as language is so fluid, buffalo has become the generic name for these creatures. There are several physical differences, too. If you are interested, here's a link to check out: Differences Between Buffalo and Bison

About 40 minutes from home, there had been an accident on Highway 17 which snarled the traffic up for over an hour. We edged along slowly and, while hoping that there were no fatalities or serious injuries involved, couldn't help appreciating the irony of the fact that we had traveled 1000's of km only to be held back just minutes from home!! No complaints, though. We used the time to plan out the weeks ahead, and check e-mails etc. on our mobile phone. 

It was truly a welcoming feeling to finally arrive to see our city sign as we approached home. We've found that, no matter where we travel and how much fun we have, we still get excited at the thought of living in Elliot Lake. 

We'd like to take this moment to thank each and every one of you for following our trip out West. Your comments have been much appreciated and it's been great to have you 'journey' along with us. 

With the warmest of regards, 

Alan and Mark 

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