Reflecting back to the “Why”

Reflecting back to the “Why”

I believe that there is an intimate relationship between thoughts, words, and action. But my words haven’t always flowed freely as I seek to express what presses against the walls of my mind. They halt against dams and stutter into deltas, resulting in incoherence and confusion — not only for my listeners, but for my own mind as well. I question the validity of my own contributions, and often relegate my words to the safety of silence.

This blog has been a haphazard (at best) attempt to reflect on the power of expression, and how it is developed over time. Sometimes expression is in words, sometimes in images. Sometimes it is clear and to the point, sometimes it is abstract but nonetheless rich in those truths that cannot always be best explored in precise language. Sometimes expression is meant to communicate a point, sometimes it is meant to share a human moment or inner reflection.

Purge thou thy heart that We may cause fountains of wisdom and utterance to gush out therefrom, thus enabling thee to raise thy voice among all mankind.
– Baha’u’llah

I hope to connect with others who are learning, reflecting, speaking and writing, that we may share such insights with one another. I hope that if I were to pursue this blog, to develop my writing in quality, ability, style, and quantity. This is not a task to be done only on one’s own. Thus, I come here to express, to reflect, and ultimately to learn.


Rainy Day Brews

I have had a turbulent relationship so far with the weather of 2014. Kicking the year off with the aftermath of one of the most destructive ice storms in Toronto’s recorded history, we learned first-hand the difference that harmless-looking little drops can make, as the incessant frozen drizzle brought towering trees, fancy homes and vehicles to destruction, and effectively plunged most of Canada’s largest metropolis into cold and darkness throughout the holiday season.

This was just a preview for the long, cold, dark winter that would follow us for the next three months without pause. After moving from Toronto to Peterborough, Ontario in January, my husband and I adjusted ourselves to the fact that we wouldn’t see much of our new town while we hibernated alongside neighbours in our homes as a slate-grey sky dropped mountain after mountain of snowfall upon our humble abode. The loneliness that already accompanies winter bleakness was exacerbated by being a new face in a new town while working from home, as it isn’t easy to make new friends when no one wants to even leave their house for three months, including us.

And then, as if by some sort of forgotten miracle, signs of spring suddenly started to shed their optimistic rays upon us. There was sunshine! And warmth! The thermometer read 16°C today – amazing! And tomorrow it’s 21°C – unbelievable! People are having weddings again! And look at all the bicycles! Drive slowly to avoid the kids playing ball hockey in the street! Aren’t you excited for summer?

Never mind that as the snow melted most of the towns north east of Toronto started to flood, including our lovely Peterborough Little Lake putting a couple public parks and parking lots underwater and making some halfhearted threats to deluge the basement of the local art gallery. But still we responded more with amusement and fascination as small crowds convened over the footbridge to take pictures or watch winter-weary tweens dare each other to wade into the frigid overflow, filling the air with shrieks of shock and delight. Meanwhile older Peterboroughians responded to the increased lake capacity in their distinctly outdoors-adventurous way.

1398028986456   VIA @HARLEYWPAYNE ON TWITTER, from

And then, this week. It started off well enough — on Monday a beautiful sunny day in the plus-teens Celsius. On Tuesday it rained. And rained and rained. I had the day off and tried to go out, defying the effect of weather on my mobility, but the chilliness and wet along with a head cold I had acquired over the weekend only made me more miserable. On Wednesday it rained. I didn’t try to go out as my head cold worsened. I started feeling more and more distant from other human beings. I downloaded Candy Crush, breaking my personal cellphone game ban and giving into addiction. Today I woke up to more rain. As my body craved sleeping an extra hour in the morning rather than running to the gym, I took it. Heavenly.

Scanning through my Instagram feed that morning, I later noticed that I wasn’t alone among my friends in my mid-week rainy day blues, and many of them had turned to the comforting aroma of coffee to help them make it through the otherwise dreary day. Determined to make this day better than the previous days of the thus-far disappointing week, I decided that a freshly ground brew was the perfect way to start today off on a sunnier note.

If only I could photograph the amazing aroma...ground to perfectionbreakfast brew

With every sip of fragrant brew, the sky seems a little bit brighter. Spring is here, and this is just part of it. There will soon be leaves on the trees. There are lots of friendly faces around, both new friends and those yet undiscovered. Summer is coming. And I am writing.

Better luck next time, weather of 2014!

Take back the commute

As the bus pulls up I can see the dismay on the line of people waiting at our stop as they see that it is standing room only. The novels that passengers have in their purses and the notes they have to cram in before school will go untouched as they stand pressed, shoulder to shoulder with a stranger and just try to keep moving to the back of the bus and keep out of everyone else’s way as much as possible

And suddenly, faces brighten as they see the near empty bus just half a block behind. Some won’t dare risk the potential few minutes delay by not taking the bus that is already further ahead. Others eagerly seize the chance, knowing that it is just as likely that their bus will have fewer unloading stops with so few passengers, and may whizz ahead of the other, to later get held up behind as they are first to reach the long line of passengers at the next stop. Despite all the hypotheses and calculations, there is really no way to know, and its a choice akin to trying to guess which checkout line in the supermarket will move the fastest. There are too many variables.

In any case, many choose the empty bus simply for the opportunity to sit and use their commute for a purpose other than just getting from a to b. The books and the e-readers and the chemistry notes and the cell phones all come out. From one perspective this may appear anti-social. But for others, this may be the best opportunity they will have all day to think outside their regular routine, to reflect, to imagine or learn something new.

But we can just as easily waste that time, use those moments to inwardly complain about each moment spent on the bus instead of catching a bit more sleep or getting a bit more done at the office. We can spend the whole time mindlessly flipping through Facebook or twitter, not for the purpose of catching up with our contacts or organizations, but as a way to kill time. Once we are killing time on our commute, we are not able to live in it and draw strength from the extra time at our disposal.

So in my years of public transit commuting, I have been trying to be purposeful with the hour-long buffer I have between home and the office, and can share a few of my favourite options to fill my time purposefully, rather than killing it.

1. Read books.
I recommend pursuing different kinds of books, as long as they are books you enjoy. For example, I like to intersperse fictional page turners with the meatier non-fiction or something of specialized interest, to make the time fly and keep the momentum going. If you are driving, take the chance to delve into to the wonderful world of audio books!

2. Write.
I know I’m not alone in feeling that a moving vehicle is one of the places where I feel most productive in writing, from fiction to blog posts. In particular, when I have a certain word count goal in mind, I can get a good few hundred words edge on my goal even if all I have is a tablet or smart phone to work with.

3. Catch up with people.
There are sometimes times in my life when all of my evenings are booked solid or I have too much work to do after hours, making it hard to find the time for a good catch up session with my parents. So I just started calling in the morning, as my mom was getting ready for work and as I was sitting on the bus. Of course there are downsides, like eavesdropping on uncomfortable conversations and your neighbour having to pretend that they didn’t just hear intimate details about your life, but at least you may have made their day more interesting!

4. Catch up with current events.
Whether it’s through picking up a paper from the news stand closest to your bus stop, tuning to the local news radio station on your headphones, or browsing your favourite news sites through your phone, this is a great time to catch up with the headlines and editorials of the day.

5. Make lists.
The “transition zone” between home and work can be a reflective time to take stock of where things stand in your tasks and your goals, and organize your thoughts more systematically. Or just make lists of your favourite books you need to catch up on.

6. Catch up with tunes.
Is there anything like the perfect sound track to put you in a good mood, whether it is energetic, or contemplative? If you don’t like taking up space on your mobile device with mp3s there are also a host of good streaming apps out there. My current favourite is Songza, with a variety of playlists even geared towards the time of day you are tuning in.

7. Learn something new.
Do you always wish you had more time to pick up a new hobby or skill? This can be a great time to read up or even try things out in your new domain, from computer programming to knitting to poetry. It may not be the best place to take up the cello, however.

8. Dream.
Some days I prefer to put aside all of the more productive pursuits and just stare out the window in the company of my own thoughts, taking the time to quiet my mind and prepare for the day ahead. Sometimes that’s the best start to a good day that I could ask for.

Whatever you do, make sure it is a space for refreshment and reflection, preparing you for a good day and giving you an extra gift of time for whatever matters to you. The whole point of to take back your commuting time; it’s yours.

What do you do to make your commute time worthwhile?

High Definition

I often think of the woods as quiet and still, but in fact they are full of movement. The quiet settles upon me, forcing me deeper under layers of nylon and polyester stuffing.

When I look around me in the woods I can’t help but see in high definition, as every point in my line of vision holds a tree or rock or piece of life, and I am in constant process of readjusting the depth of my vision to choose my focus and blur out the rest.

Or else I can relax my eyes to take in the whole, able to tell of no detail and describe no object but with an impression of the whole — impossible to glean insight into, without sacrificing scrutinizing of the one.

Death, or the Non-linearity of Life?

I have been thinking a lot lately about time and its overt and subtle manifestations in our lives. Yes there is a linear element to it; the words before and after, now and then give reference to the ever-changing fluidity of time and our lives within it. Linear time has a purpose, and gives us purpose to nurture things, grow, progress, and strive to make each day better than the one before.

But there are other characteristics to time. Some are obvious and others are hardly perceptible. For example, time also unfolds in seasons and cycles, seemingly going backwards to somewhere we have already been. We see this in our seasons – the promise of spring will always return again, no matter how dark and cold the winter, and while it is the same spring we have always known, at the same time it isn’t. Civilization has its cycles, as certain historians point out the parallels in the rise and fall of civilizations from birth to golden age to decline, and yet as familiar as these stages seem they are the same but different.

sunburstAnd then there are those things that are beyond and outside of time completely – nearly incomprehensible to our finite minds and understanding, and yet we have enough of an inkling of something beyond what can be measured and defined to know that it’s there. This is where my mind goes when I think of death – because I can’t be sure than it in fact really is “death”, as in “end”. Or rather, if it is the moment in which life and soul is no longer bound by the linearity of the finite world we know.

It’s a tricky subject to write about, but three things have been constantly on my mind this week: the passing of my best friend’s mother from cancer this year, the tragic death of a dear friend of mine in a bus accident a few days ago, and my little sister’s upcoming surgery to remove a (hopefully benign) lump in her breast. And then somewhere along the way, while visiting family in Jordan, we experienced the horrific gassing in our neighbouring country of Syria, and the current aftermath on the world’s stage, played out just a few kilometers from our home.

My heart was broken and re-broken by the two deaths occurring so close to one another, and their suddenness made me hold even tighter to my little sister and sleepless nights glued to newsfeeds, worrying for our friends and family in the Middle East. Amidst the shock and grief for loved ones and their families, selfish thoughts creep in – I’m only in my 20s, I lament, this is the season of my life to be celebrating weddings and babies, not saying goodbye to loved ones or fearing for them – a selfish thought, returning me to the victim as I struggle to make sense of these events in a way

But to say that death should be only isolated to one stage in one’s life is to lose the opportunity for greater perspective and meaning into the purpose of every stage of life – of which death is just another.

Death is confusion to our senses. There is the shock of disbelief – she is so young! They were so innocent! It is not easy to process death within the framework for love, success, and fairness that we comfortably operate within from day to today. We struggle to comprehend what of it defines as a true tragedy, and of what we experience is simply part of life, made fearful by our own failure to comprehend what is?

It is not wrong to feel angry or upset at situations of injustice that take the life of a loved one before their time. The events unfolding in Syria and elsewhere are robbed of justice and dignity. To lose friends and family before their time to a reckless truck driver or a disease that had gone undetected by doctors for a decade speak to the failure of larger human systems beyond the scope of our control.

what makes you smile

But am I to link the identity of those I know and love with a tragedy? Each and every one of these souls lived a life that was full of joy and purpose – how can I imagine they are so easily extinguished? I need to learn to separate the injustices from the circumstances of each situation from the progress of the soul within it. This is not to ignore or become passive about the injustices that need to be combatted in our world, but rather to choose to focus on the progress and dignity of a soul beyond the circumstances of their physical death.

When seen from a point of finality, death can seem to render life a mean and pointless struggle for existence that can ultimately never be won. But when broadening our vision beyond the finite limitations that material existence forces upon us, death helps to give purpose to life. To remind us that there are limits to our time here, so we have to think about how we spend it, but that outside of these limits, there is so much more that is simply too far beyond our understanding to grasp.

These words may not be comforting or resonant to everyone, but are merely my own feeble attempts to catch a glimpse into the elusive mystery that is one’s death – and thus, to better understand our life. I will close with a passage that was shared at the funeral my friend’s mother, whose words have changed the way in which I think about death completely.

“O SON OF THE SUPREME! I have made death a messenger of joy to thee. Wherefore dost thou grieve? I made the light to shed on thee its splendour. Why dost thou veil thyself therefrom?”


Deep Freeze

In my new home I find myself outside of time, of routine and of purpose. I’ve had the bounty of living in very purposeful places over the last decade, able to hit the ground running on every landing. Here I have dropped down with a soft frozen thud; there is meant to be purpose here, but in sub-zero temperatures it’s difficult to spend much time outside in our new location, and working from home I see little more than the four walls that surround me.

The silence stretches out solidly enough that a frozen barrier has been extended between me and the rest of the world. Are we waiting for the summer sun to thaw us out? Like the maples in our yard, will I sit here looking skeletal and barren, yet inside teeming with life waiting to burst forth with the coming of a distant spring?


Posted in response to Daily Prompt: “The Outsiders” –

Sun-soaked city

I took this photo of the Amman skyline late one afternoon, in the five-minute window when the sun was painting the buildings a fiery orange before dipping quickly away below the opposite horizon. One of Amman’s most famous mosques crowns the cacophony of windows and roofs, against a pristine and spotless sky.

Amman horizon

Posted in response to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Horizon.