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Waterloo Region CrossingDespite all my preparations for the Waterloo Region Crossing, to be honest I wasn’t sure whether I would manage to complete it. While I had done my best to get in shape, my training sessions had involved going an hour at most. Determined though to at least do my best, I made sure I was ready to board the bus in Waterloo by 6:15 am (before the sun was even up!) for transport to the event’s starting point.

For those that do not know, last weekend I participated in this trek for which the focus was to raise awareness of, and funds for, homeless citizens. I had chosen to participate in a shortest, 8 km Pioneer version of the trek, though others who had signed up for full 65 km would walk for nearly a day.

My confidence was buoyed at least somewhat because I would be doing the trek with my friend Suzie Nunes. Just, as I have shared, I had additional reasons for participating, Suzie would be walking for Detlef (Duff) Becker. Trauma survivor and previous street person, Duff had been planning on doing the trek, and had tragically passed away just a couple months previous.

Night sky

Night sky. Not a picture of the sky that morning, and that’s how dark it was when we set off!

Setting off!

Walter Bean Trailhead

Walter Bean Trailhead

After a short ride, the bus arrived at our starting point, the Walter Bean Trailhead. Following a brief recognition of the traditional First Nations land that we were on, everyone started off down the path. And a mighty group we were! About one hundred trekkers in total, much more than the handful of those who participated the previous year when the trek started.

Right away, I noticed what a mistake it was for me to not be wearing my ice cleats! Starting off as fairly icy, the trail quickly became at certain points like an ice rink!! Stopping to put on my cleats, (cumbersome Velcro ones that had been purchased years ago), nearly all the trekkers passed us, minus a few at the back who were in the support crew.

Charles Whitlock

Event volunteer Charles Whitlock

This made me nervous! Not the best of navigators, I wanted to stay with the group in case of an unexpected turn that got us lost. Eventually to my relief though, around the point where we turned onto a path along Blair Road, my friend and I got hooked up again with some others. This included professional hiking leader Charles Whitlock who I did not mention earlier, but had done my gear check the previous day.

With my legs at this point already starting to ache, I enjoyed hearing some of Charles’ travel adventures to take my mind off how I was feeling. When he eventually went on ahead, I happily noticed around that point how far we had already come, and felt hopeful that I would finish the event.

A “Rare” opportunity

Sign Lamb's Inn located in Rare Charitable Research Reserve
Despite my spirits being lifted, I will admit I was relieved to discover we had reached the point where we could rest and recharge at the Lamb’s Inn. This was part of the Rare Charitable Reserve, a place roughly just a twenty-five minute drive from my house. Unbelievably, I had actually never visited this place before. I felt excited to be exploring parts of my area that were so close and yet previously unexplored by me!

The walk continued along the Record Heritable Trail, along a pedestrian bridge that crosses the 401. Although the scenery at that point wasn’t wonderful, I was impressed by the creation of this bridge that made it possible to pass what otherwise would have been an impenetrable barrier.

I believe that, around where the trail passing the Doon Valley Golf Course, we encountered some deep inclines. I remember, despite wearing cleats, holding onto the railing to prevent myself from sliding down the icy path, trying not to slide into a fellow trekker in front of me. Glad-fully that did not happen and there were no injuries to report!

An event of great significance

Bald Eagle - Back from the Brink

By now also having passed Conestoga College, we were in the final stretch, walking along a trail that ran through some cornfields. Around then perhaps the most memorable part of the trek for me occurred – a bald eagle flying was spotted flying in the sky!

Too high up to get a photo, I would never have noticed it if not for some other trekkers pointing it out. Despite how hard it was to see, everyone seemed incredibly thrilled to see it, and a trail sign that we had just passed underscored the ecological significance of the sight. As the sign described, bald eagles were a once common sight over the Great Lakes area, but had become an endangered species since the mid-1950s. What a miracle it was then to see this beautiful bird!

Seeing an eagle on the trek had great significance to me personally as well. That is because for me, eagles are signs to me of the need to take perspective and look at the big picture. I had undertaken the trek out my desire to challenge my self and start living out more of my dreams. The eagle seemed to me a powerful reminder to do continue doing this.

The last stretch

Suzie and I at Pioneer Tower!

Suzie and I at Pioneer Tower!

Following this, we only had a short distance to go. Though a difficult last bit it was for me! My boots were digging into my ankles and my legs felt as stiff as boards!! Despite having chosen the shortest trek, I started feeling unsure whether I was going to make it. I knew though that this trek was important, and, despite my discomfort, continued on.

When we at last reached Pioneer Tower, I could not believe it! Though my muscles were tired and I was hungry, this trek that I had so long prepared for was actually done!!! Where this will all lead, I did, and still do not, know. I am glad though for the experience of it, one that I expect to remember for many years to come.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

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Early on, I realized that going around town to buy my gear for the Waterloo Region Crossing that I participated in last weekend did not make sense to me. My reasoning for not wanting to do so was this: I didn’t want to be trying to make the ends justify the means.

Briefly, for those that do not know, I participated in this trek to help connect the dots between homelessness, land-use, and global climate change. While the first two issues were what the event organizers had focused on, after a lot of thought, I decided that I also wanted to do the trek for climate change too given how these issues were closely interrelated.

Especially after having put so much thought into my reasons for participating, I wanted as much as possible to align my goals for the trek with how I prepared for it. This included my process of getting “in gear” so-to-speak, with my equipment.

Aligning with my goals

A photo of a Nissan LEAF (Author: EurovisionNim. Source Wikipedia)

A photo of a Nissan LEAF (Author: EurovisionNim. Source Wikipedia)

The most obvious reason for my decision was that forking out funds for gear that I might only use once ran counter to my goal of raising money for homeless citizens. Given that they often cannot afford the clothing they need, how would it make sense for me to purchase clothing that I might never use again?

As for driving around town unnecessarily, for those that know me, that may seem confusing given that my family owns an all-electric vehicle, (a Nissan LEAF to be exact in case anyone wants to know). A type of vehicle that I want to quickly add I know not everyone has the means, or should be expected, to buy, and that I realize we are quite fortunate to own.

Without a doubt using an EV saves A LOT of energy compared to the average combustion engine vehicle, and we try to augment that by charging it at night when electricity is more likely generated from hydroelectric and nuclear sources. These being energy sources that at least have lower “downstream” carbon footprints once the necessary infrastructure is put in place..

However, driving reduces the lifetime of the battery, and the manufacturing of batteries, as well as the vehicle itself, whether electric or not, results in the production of greenhouse gas emissions. So, for relations relating to my transport, I did not want to drive around town unnecessarily while purchasing equipment for the trek.

Less obviously although also important to me, I did not want to purchase my gear from mega-stores. This is despite how difficult this can be given that, for the most part, this is at least where most real-life (as opposed to on-line) sales occur nowadays.

I won’t mince words in saying how frustrated I feel with how these stores perpetuate urban sprawl — frequently locating away from the heart of the city, using up large quantities of land, and stealing customers from small local businesses so as to bring about urban decay and the loss of local jobs. The impact on the homeless includes less land being available for affordable housing, and the location of goods and services in inaccessible, car-centric places, amongst other things.

Having said this, *without a doubt* I realize that buying from these stores also can be a necessity nowadays, especially for those with less disposable incomes or with many members in their household. As I said, trying to find products other than in these stores can be difficult, and I shop in them too occasionally. Trying to avoid shopping at them just made particular sense to me in the context of my trek.

The approach of the tortoise

Aldabra giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys gigantea) (Source: Wikipedia)

Aldabra giant tortoise (Wikipedia)

My solution to dealing with these challenges was to adopt the approach of the fabled tortoise as opposed to the hare. I did a little bit to prepare my gear each day or so, for a couple of weeks prior to the event. This gave me time to go gear hunting – first in my home and then with my outdoor-loving friends and neighbours.

Even with all this,  a few days prior to the trip I discovered to my great panic some items that I still needed (including electrolyte tablets which I had not even heard of before!). Fortunately, firing off a couple more email messages and texts helped me find people who kindly lent them to me.

There were also a couple items that I still had to buy, including some mitts that I felt I desperately needed to avoid potential frostbite as well as some gaiters to keep the snow out of my boots. I did though purchase these items from stores that I have greater respect for (including one largish store that at least is located in a fairly central location) and that I was able to visit en route during another trip.

Warm mitts!

Warm mitts!

Check, check, check!

Pharmacist at Alphamed Pharmacy

Helpful pharmacist at Alphamed Pharmacy

With all the difficulties I had experienced with preparing up until that point, for some reason I had it in my mind that the gear check would be also challenging. To my great joy, my experience was pleasant and everyone who helped officiate this process was quite encouraging.

The only hitch arose when I was asked if I had Band-Aids. Technically they weren’t required, and common sense dictated that I needed to bring some. As we had run out of quality ones at home, I ducked afterwards into a small local drug store, Alphamed Pharmacy, that I hadn’t visited before. As I was in there, I shared with the pharmacist why I needed them, and he, without me even asking, offered me a discount on them. Not a major discount, and I nonetheless appreciated his thoughtfulness.

***

This last experience in the pharmacy encapsulates my experience with gathering my gear. It felt like my entire ‘tribe’ of family, friends and larger community helped me get outfitted for the trek. I was so glad-full for their help and excited by the feeling that everyone was coming together to make the trek possible! A much-anticipated trek about which, at long last, I will try to share with you about next.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

I desperately needed to train! That was the discovery I made when I first started preparing for the Waterloo Region Crossing, a trek that happens in the dead of winter with the goal of raising awareness about the risks of exposure for the homeless.

I’ve already shared a little bit about this trek earlier, a trek that, after a fair amount of preparing, I finally ended up going on last weekend. I’d like to talk more though about my process of training, a process that as I was to discover, had both physical AND emotional aspects.

A difficult start

The warmest pair of gloves prior to the trek!

My warmest gear for my hands prior to the trek!

Most definitely part of the training that I needed was physical. I just needed to don my gear (more on that to follow), get outside, and start moving! I knew this because, during my first brief training walk just three weeks prior to the trek, I was barely able walk a half an hour was around my small neighbourhood. How I would manage the 2 1/2 hour, 8 km ‘Pioneer’ trek that planned to do, I had no idea.

Running counter to this need to walk though was the possibility of knee troubles. In the past, pain in my knees had prevented me from with doing physical activity. I worried that with too much walking, they might give out on the day of the trek.

That leads to the emotional component of my training process. I was, to be honest, feeling quite nervous about it all. It had been a looooonnnnng time since I had done anything seriously physical. Yes, I had done long distance running in high school, biked in university, and cross-country skied during what I call my paid labour days, though my days of doing all that were long in the past.

My Training “Strategy”

The glamorous headgear I wore for training in -30 degree Celsius temperatures.

The glamorous headgear I wore to train in -30 degree Celsius temperatures.

A mom of a young daughter and volunteer, finding time for just a brief walk can be difficult. Determined though, I found ways to train, fitting in small walks here and there. At the beginning, I was able to only find time to walk about a half hour tops. Then one day I excitedly realized that I could get in longer one-hour walks in Kitchener while my daughter was in gymnastics. Or at least I felt excited until the first day I went to train at that time.

That day I realized, to my horror, that day we were in the middle of a -30 degree Celsius cold snap! A cold snap complete with strong winds as well!

Not to be deterred, I put on nearly every warm article of clothing I could outfit myself with. That is minus my face mask and ski goggles, which I carefully, surreptitiously, donned outside the gymnastics centre, for fear of how I would look to the other moms at the centre.

(While in reality, the moms there are all quite lovely and would have probably thought nothing of it, my high school memories of trying to ‘fit in’ kicked in that day big time…)

In-to the cold

Bracing myself against the cold, I told myself that I was doing this all for an important cause, and set out for an urban hiking adventure! Despite having to forge my way, without even gaiters, through some deep snow along a nature trail that had not been cleared, I somehow managed.

To my surprise, I made an amazing discovery on that hike. There within the city on that trail, surrounded by trees, birds, and fresh white snow, I reconnected to my love of nature and the outdoors.  “How could I have forgotten that I so *need* this?” I wondered, which lead to the thinking, “This is so close to me. I must to do this more often!”

My inspiration continued

My experience that day further inspired me to continue training, albeit even though I could only manage to do it every couple of days or so, and often only for a little while. As opposed to the cold snap continuing, the weather was constantly changing, with it being sometimes cold, then milder, then cold again in the time leading up to the trek.

Although this weather was inconvenient in that I never knew quite how to prepare, it kept me aware of my purpose in doing the trek: to help connect the dots between homelessness, land-use and global climate change. The climate was changing in strange and unpredictable ways that had dire implications for all of us, especially the homeless, and I waned to raise awareness about that.

What is next

That basically describes my process in training for the Waterloo Region Crossing. Had I stopped with this, I would have met my desire to challenge to myself and pursue more of my dreams, as I had realized I wanted to do following a recent health scare. While these experiences had great significance me, I feel I have some other important stories relating to the trek that I’d like to share, hopefully soon.

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

The Waterloo Region Crossing started last year as a crazy idea to raise awareness about the risks of exposure for the homeless by going on a 65 km trek in the dead of winter. Involving then only a few people, this year the event was opened to the public and amazingly about 100 participants signed up. I, for reasons I will share here, was one of them.

A difficult, yet important journey

waterlooRegionCrossingMap2019

For the ambitious, the full trek involved journeying across the Region nearly non-stop for almost a full day, starting at the Walter Bean Trailhead in Cambridge and ending in at the West Montrose Kissing Bridge (see map). From what I read about the previous year’s trek, this was a journey that pushed people to their limits.

Fortunately participation no longer requires doing the full trek, with a mid- and short-length trek available too. I personally opted for the shortest, 8 km Pioneer version of the trek.

Nevertheless, participating in any length of the event still required a great commitment in fundraising, gear preparation and such. Not to forget being ready to board a bus, for transport to the starting point, at 6:15 am!

The attraction of the event

The growing awareness about this event could perhaps not have been at a more fitting time. Late this past December, long-time friend of the Working Centre, trauma survivor and previous street person, Detlef (Duff) Becker, passed away. Although I did not know him, other participantsdid and made the trek at least partly in memory of him.

As for what drew me to participate, those reasons, as for anyone I guess, are complex. In part though I felt compelled by how the trek also sought to highlight the root causes of homelessness, by exploring the impacts of rapid development in Waterloo Region.

While by no means an expert in homelessness, my background in land-use planning helped me see the connections between these issues. People are homeless largely because we aren’t using the land in ways that provide adequate affordable housing and economic opportunities, not to mention a host of other planning reasons.

long-time advocate for responsible planning, this seemed incredibly important to me. I had often felt conflicted with concerns over urban sprawl and its resulting destruction of green space and agricultural land, as well as the lack of affordable housing. I was excited at the thought of exploring both issues together!

I was also attracted to how all money raised from the trek were going to the Working Centre. Far from just trying to put a bank-aid on the issue, the organization tries to deal with the root causes of homelessness.

Personal reasons to participate

Still, in considering why I wanted to do the event, I was not satisfied with walking just for these reasons. I also wanted to connect the dots to another issue that is near to my heart: global climate change.

Far from being a separate issue deserving attention elsewhere, the climate is closely intertwined with homelessness and land-use. As I have heard many a time, urban sprawl perpetuates the burning of fossil fuels and destroying forests means less carbon being removed from the atmosphere.

What is more, tragically climate change is both exacerbates the effects of,  and causes, homelessness. For instance, the homeless face increased exposure to heat wavesand cold snaps caused by a changing climate. Unfavourable growing conditions caused by climate change also result in rising food prices and thus an increase in the cost of living.

For a long time, I have dreamt of an ideal world where people would join forces to work together and get at the root causes of *all* these issues. Yes, it has been deeply buried in my consciousness, ignored by me for most of the time, and it has been there nonetheless.

Rather than wait for that to happen, I made the decision to sign up and do the trek. Deciding to share with others my reasons for doing so, which is why I am writing all this now.

To me, these reasons made my journey on the Waterloo Region Crossing a truly GREAT TREK. I want to tell you more about my experiences on the journey itself. However, that seems better left for another time, hopefully not too long from now…

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My Story of the Waterloo Region Crossing 2019

[Story 1]  [Story 2]  [Story 3] [Story 4]

newLeaseOnLifeMy last birthday marked a major milestone. I turned forty-nine, just one year short of having lived half a century. The gravity of this didn’t really hit me hard until my church had a requiem service recently where we reflected on the aging process and death.

As I sat in my pew, I found myself thinking, for the first time, seriously, in my life, I am getting older. I really am getting older! I do not have an infinite amount of time at my disposal. What am I going to do with the time that I have left on Earth?!?

I feel I have begun to find my personal answer to this question, but before I elaborate on that, I need to provide some context. About two years ago now, the doctors relayed to me some devastating news: they thought I very likely had ovarian cancer. They wanted to operate, right away, and beyond that, who knew what else. Chemotherapy? Radiation??? The future was looking quite uncertain and scary.

I knew that the chances of recovery from ovarian cancer were low, even with the solutions they were offering. I also knew that filling my body with radiation and chemicals was not an approach in line with how I had generally sought to live, in harmony, as much as is possible today, with the Earth.

In saying this, I want to pause and add, emphatically, that I am not saying those who opt for such solutions are wrong. Especially when faced with a life-or-death decision, such solutions can make sense. I know this first-hand, because I came perilously close to possibly having to make such decisions myself. They just weren’t, in the end, the solutions that I realized I wanted to pursue.

So, instead, I decided to take a radically path. Drawing on the advice of a couple people with whom I had some trust and with the help of family and friends, I opted for a completely natural approach. This involved radically changing my diet, starting certain supplements, practising intermittent fasting, taking up Qi Gong (a therapeutic form of Tai Chi), doing body work, and eliminating stress from my life as much as possible.

The results were astounding! Rapidly, my CA 125 levels (a blood test that can be used as an indicator of possible ovarian cancer) began to plummet. The irregular masses in my body that they had detected, using a CT scan and ultrasounds, started to disappear. Most importantly, the pain, which had sent off the sirens that my body was not healthy, abated.

And another wonderful side effect took place in me too! Amazingly, I started to feel younger and more energetic!! The brain fog that I had been dealing with for much of my life largely lifted, and I was able to think more clearly than I had for years. It was, in short, like I had been given a new lease on life!!!

So…as I sat in the church pew, contemplating what I was going to do with the time I have left here, at least in my present body, it was not an entirely doom and gloom question. Yes, I was coming to grips that I was older. There was no denying this. AND at the very point in time when I might be considering slowing down, taking it easier, and doing less, I found myself instead actually CHALLENGING myself!

What new experiences did I want to experience now, at this point time? What did I feel I am capable of now that I feel so enlivened and rejuvenated? Where could this all take me? What choices might I have the courage to undertake and dreams might I follow that until then I had felt too frightened to pursue?

What is more, excitedly, where could this take my family? My community? And how might I respond with renewed vigour to all the devastation happening on this precious planet? A planet that by all reasonable accounts is dying, just like I seemed to be dying not too long ago? A planet that I and so many others care so deeply about, and upon which all of us, including the incredible diversity of species that share it with us, depend?

These are the sorts of questions I found myself asking that day, and continue to ask myself. Rather then provide you with some of my answers though, with that, I will end. For now. Except to say I have lots more to elaborate on this, soon….

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As though Ebenezer Scrooge himself had descended upon our household, this December I found myself overcome with a sense of compassion and sadness for my six year old as she sobbed, “Mommy! Is Christmas cancelled? Is it?!? Is it? Christmas is ruined! This is the worst Christmas ever!”

Far from being just a funny episode, this experience unearthed a lot for me and my family. The details of this are told in the following six-part story.

  • Part 1
  • Part 2
  • Part 3
  • Part 4
  • Part 5
  • Part 6

“The environmental movement is dead.”

No, I am not saying that I believe this. I truly am experiencing a rekindling of hope caused in part by the experience of the falling of my family’s Christmas tree and my reflections on it afterwards with respect to what I had been learning with my intentional community, Upstart.

Nonetheless, when a family friend to me said these words to me a few months ago, they startled me. Woke me up you could say. As she was older than myself, I felt she had far more perspective on this than I do. I found myself as a result mulling what she said around in my mind for quite some time. Part of me deeply resisted accepting what she said, AND when I thought about it, I could see some truth in it.

Seeking resolution

Oil_platform_P-51_(Brazil)

Offshore oil platform. Wikimedia commons

My inner resistance to was related to my feelings regarding what I had done in the past for the environment. While I shared in my last post how I have felt deeply confused and depressed about how I might respond to the environmental crises, becoming even paralyzed as to what I might do at times, eventually this changed. After going through a lengthy healing process, I started to get involved in trying to bring about environmental change.

In fact, to say that I became involved would probably be an understatement. Amongst other activities, I joined environmental groups, organized meetings, sat on environmental committees, facilitated groups, gave talks and presentations, and wrote this blog. Everywhere that I could see a meaningful difference could be made, I undertook to the fullest of my abilities!

Then, with the birth of my daughter, this changed. I gradually became less active as I discovered that keeping up with her along with all my other commitments proved simply impossible. While I continued my involvement with Upstart and some other smaller volunteer duties, outside my home I stopped doing much work.

As much as I felt troubled by this, I was comforted by all the work I had done up until that point. Feeling confident that I had done my bit, I reassured myself that everything would “work it self out” and that others would pick up the torch so to speak and carry on without me.

These feelings continued even with the continued inaction on global climate change, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, along with the push for added potentially harmful GMOs, offshore oil drilling, tar sands and coal mining, fracking, mega dams, oil pipelines, etc. all which did not seem to make deep sense to me. Somehow I continued to continue largely blocking out what was happening on the world stage and keep my focus on doing my little bit in my tiny corner of the world.

What time is it exactly?

200px-Doomsday_Clock-_2.5_minutes

Doomsday clock. Wikimedia Commons.

Yet, if the environment movement is really dead, could I really afford to stop doing as much as I had been doing? As we often say in Upstart, “What time is it exactly?” In other words, how does it make sense to respond to the happenings of the world based on where we are precisely in the course of history? To use other ideas from my intentional community that I have employed earlier, how might I be responding given the changes that I/we deeply want, need, and value? And what impacts do I want to be having that could help bring that about?

These thoughts came to me when reflecting on how my experience with the falling of my family’s Christmas tree reflects the importance of working in the micro to bring about changes in the macro. In the process, I could not help but notice how this one small act, while as exciting and self-expanding it was for me, still is quite tiny when considering all the environmental damages happening in the world.

Then, an interesting shift occurred in me. Through my process of reflection, I began recalling everything that HAD been going on to protect the environmental since my daughter had been born and I had become less active. And I realized that it was A LOT!

Local AND global action

320px-Farmers_Market_in_Lansing_Michigan

Wikimedia Commons/Pattymooney

On the local level, I recalled the efforts in my area of the local chapter of the Transition Town movement, which promotes local efforts live more resiliently such as buying local food, Waterloo Region’s community garden council with that has been doing amazing work in promoting community gardens, and Sustainable Waterloo Region work to promote carbon emission reductions in the Region.

At an even broader level, I brought to mind David Suzuki’s Canada wide Blue Dot initiative that seeks to make living a healthy environment a right of every citizen; Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program designed to empower young people to bring about a better future for people, animals, and the environment; and Al Gore’s Climate Reality Project.

I also remembered the Occupy movement, which includes environmental issues in its list of concerns, as well as the Idle No More movement, which encompasses stopping environmental degradation amongst its goals. More recently, the Standing Rock protest over protecting water from pipelines gave a powerful voice to indigenous and environmental issues came to mind.

This is not to forget the efforts of various authors such as Naomi Klein, Thomas Homer Dixon and others, which I have been following to varying degrees, who continue writing passionately about the environment and what we might do. And that, really, is not even begin to scratch the surface of what has been happening!

Leaving behind feelings of isolation

In reflecting on all this, I came to understand that I did not ever have to feel alone! I did not have to feel alone in my efforts to protect our planet as small as might seem to me. It didn’t matter that I was just doing the “work” of change making mainly with my family and intentional community.

Instead, not only could I embrace the excitement of how no one can stop me from doing what I can. I could realize the exhilarating feeling that I am part of a movement that is much, MUCH bigger than myself.

With this, I wondered what could happen if these efforts to bring about environmental change were made plain to others? Could it inspire them to further continue in their struggles to bring about generative impacts to the planet, just as I found it was doing so me?

The giving of a Christmas present

bearInStockingSizedI feel that it is timely to be sharing all this with you around Christmastime. If Santa, or for that matter the enlightened Scrooge, was to bring the world a present, as idealistic as it might sound to say, I feel that a heightened sense of how to manage our impacts on the planet, and the other species on it including ourselves, could be the best one of all. Just as I feel my family amazingly worked together to manage our impacts following our Christmas tree experience, we as a human population as a whole could potentially do to do the same.

I feel even more inspired to think that if I we continue our work together, perhaps Christmas does not, despite my daughter’s fears, have to be ruined. Not this year and not ever. Maybe instead we can find a way to work together to bring this gift both into Christmas present, and many more Christmases far into the future. And that finishes conveying, at the very core of my being, what inspired me to share with you my story of the falling of my family’s Christmas tree!

This ends my series on the falling of my family’s Christmas tree and why I felt the story was worthy of putting on this blog. While it is officially now past the Twelve Days of Christmas, given that it is the weekend immediately after this time, I am choosing to consider this still part of the Christmas season. Before ending my reflections though, I would like to express my deep, deep appreciation for Jean Robertston, “chief wisdom keeper” of the Upstart Collaboratory for playing a crucial role in both developing and curating many of the ideas presented here, as well as nudging and nurturing my learning and understanding of them. I would not have been able to do so without her help.

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Christmas Tree Entry [1]  [2]  [3]  [4]  [5]  [6]

 

For those that have kept reading up until this point, I really appreciate you doing so! And I realize that, niceties around how my family handled our fallen Christmas tree aside, suggesting the adoption of a post-judgment mindset as I did in my last post might sound far-fetched. After all, how can a society without a moral compass of what is right and wrong even operate, let alone not just fall into total chaos?

With this in mind, I will explore here the main reasons I have come to believe that adopting a post-judgment is so powerful and effective. While I by no means aim to exhaustively explore this topic, I hope to at least to provide an introduction into some of the key ideas my intentional community focuses on around this topic.

Discarding what we don’t want

One of the most important reasons for adopting a ‘post-judgment’ mindset is that it can free people from the stranglehold of unwanted guilt and shame that being labeled in a negative way can experience. These feelings can be challenging to deal with, if not severely crippling. Ironically, rather than ‘correcting’ unwanted behaviour, this practice is often counterproductive by creating anxiety and other unwanted emotions in the one being labeled.

Because thinking clearly in a state of distress is so difficult, the application of such labels can give rise to more of the same behaviour that led to the labels being assigned in the first place. Furthermore, assigning negative labels to others wastes valuable resources that could be used to get at the root causes of why they are acting in the way that they are in the first place.

Taken to the extreme, the anger that comes with this labeling can give rise to hateful, divisive, if not long-lasting, grievances. This in turn wastes even time, because grievances prevent us from being able to work in relationship with others. This is a concern for us, given as I talked about in my previous post how working in with others is a critical part of how my community tries to bring about the change we seek. So important is getting beyond grievance that my intentional community had adopted the term ‘post-grievance mindset’.

The final letting go

While negative labels are dangerous, positive labels are as well. This is mainly because positive labels can cause us to elevate our self-image to such a height that almost inevitably we will experience fear and anxiety over some anticipated mishap or misfortune which could knock us down from our ‘pedestal’.

Of course, those being labeled still have the choice as to whether to accept them. They can decide to continue operating from a judgmental mindset and assume those labels apply to them, and thus set themselves up to experience all the possible accompanying unpleasant emotions that come with that. Or they can choose to operate from a post-judgmental mindset and decide to not see themselves in such a way.

hamsterOnWheelSized

Wikimedia Commons/Mylius

While whether the one being labeled is able to do this is uncertain, one certainty exists: no one who embraces a judgmental mindset when assessing his/her sense of self-worth is safe, or at least safe for long. Those who operate from it find themselves like a pet hamster on an endless treadmill where they are constantly running from, or keeping at bay, failure. Escape is simply not possible!

Because adopting a judgmental mindset causes people to feel themselves being controlled by some authority external to themselves, whether tangible, such as in the form of a person like a teacher or police officer, or an abstract one, such as pre-determined views of morality and how society should operate, my intentional community refers to this mode of operating from coercive thinking. Or simply the coercive. Those who adopt a grievance mindset are also acting from the coercive, because they feel that they have the right, based on some similar authority, to hold a grievance against another.

The gift we can all give

As I talked about in my last post, we as a community seek instead to be accepting both our selves and others, in whatever state or situation that we find our selves and/or others to be in. Freed of guilt, shame and all the other unpleasant emotions that come with judgment, and the similar undesirable emotions that come with grievance, we are able to make clearer choices about how to act in ways that make deep sense. Which, to repeat what I also mentioned in my previous post, means acting in ways that have the impacts that we want, need, and value.

Having said this, withholding from judgment and grievance does NOT mean that we in my community believe we can do just do whatever we feel! Far from it! Doing what makes deep sense means that actually we seek to respond to situations with great care, in ways that bring to bear the full resources of our learning and training. What is more, as I’ve said earlier too, we often connect with others in our community to help us in doing this, because they can bring added knowledge, understanding and other resources to a situation.

Given that this approach helps people to work together better to achieve the impacts they want, we in my intentional community call this collaborative thinking. Or simply the collaborative. And I believe others in my intentional community who practice this mode of operating will also tell you that its freeing qualities for both themselves and others make it truly a gift! What is most wonderful about all this is how it is practice we can ALL undertake, and give freely to one other!

The long awaited revealing

As for how all of this relates to the events regarding the falling of my family’s Christmas tree, it is this. How we responded when our Christmas tree fell enabled us to manage our impacts on each other, and thus get us in the end what we deeply wanted, needed, and valued.

To achieve this, the focus was on not judging or developing a grievance against Liliana for what happened, and so not assigning labels on her such as ‘bad’. Instead we focused as a family on what impacts we wanted to have, dealing with the situation at hand by calmly cleaning up the mess and eventually putting the tree back up. Well, ok, Richard did most of the clean up job. AND we as a family worked together to create the container for this to happen more easily by holding space for ourselves to deal with the feelings that arose in the situation, Richard’s, Liliana’s and mine included.

Liliana was provided with natural consequences for what had occurred so to inspire her to ‘pitch in’ and learn how to help in this and future situations. This is as opposed judging her and providing a punishment, which as I talked about earlier, could have made her feel inadequate, or even worse, resentful or revengeful. That would have only led to later challenges down the road in working with her!

While we did share our feelings with her about what had happened, we did so in a way that would help her develop empathy and thus better equip her to manage her impacts in the future. In other words, our impacts would affect her future impacts!

bearWithGiftSized

In short, together we were able to move to a place beyond judgment and grievance so that we could quickly put the situation, or at least the unpleasant parts of it, behind us. Consequently, minus the lack of a new tree stand immediately, (and even managing to get that eventually!), we were able to find our way to a real life happy ending. And that, I feel, is perhaps the greatest gift that my family too could give each other this Christmas!

I know, I know! I still haven’t got to the part about how all this relates to the environment. That is coming in my next post, so you won’t have to wait long now!

 

 

 

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Photo by Tevaprapas. From the Wikipedia Commons.

Photo by Tevaprapas. From the Wikipedia Commons.

Yes. Sometimes all you can do is sit tight and wait… On this crazy, wind-swept ship of life that is.

Please excuse this overused metaphor and let me explain more. I am not suggesting an approach of doing nothing. There are lots of things that painfully need addressing in the world, and a laissez-faire approach will not help. It is just that I am finding much can be observed, learned and ultimately achieved by taking in the landscape of where one is at. Whether that be at a family gathering (where I was at a few weeks ago) or any number of places (party, movie theatre, hairdresser, sitting at home etc.)

To be honest, I am feeling much more inwardly peaceful and becoming (I think) much more outwardly effective by taking into account the direct sphere of my potential influence and seeking to genuinely connect (i.e. making meaningful eye contact, listening, and relating) with people. This is opposed to more-or-less running out onto “street corners” (aka environmental events) in a proselytizing, Greenpeace-like fashion and trying to lure, herd, and browbeat people into changing.

To be honest, looking back I don’t know where I was exactly trying to get to or what I was trying to accomplish with all the environmental networking I’ve been doing in the past. Who was I trying to meet? What was I hoping to get done? How did I think change would happen?

Not that my past efforts have been a waste of time — I learned a lot and formed many important friendships. Nor do I think that people who do this are necessarily making poor choices, as I honour where they are at and what they feel they need to do. Just that there are so many people that I see on a daily basis that I can form important relationships with and work with to help bring about change. Even if that change is, sometimes, just in myself.

So, to bring this back down 20,000 feet, a few weeks ago at my family gathering I talked to my brother about why he likes firecrackers (yes, firecrackers!) and made plans to go on an important, family- and relationship-building walk in the woods with him and his children. And my sister-in-law’s father opened up to me about his grocery shopping habits and preferences, which is about the first time we’ve ever spoken at length. I met a little friend that my niece made today and in the process met the friend’s grandmother, who seemed like quite a caring individual although wanting a bit more company. Finally, my mother-in-law, who has been caring for my father-in-law with dementia, shared with me that she is looking forward to some time by herself next week (thanks to a community program that my father-in-law is getting involved in). I found myself greatly treasuring all these encounters and exchanges.

So, now, feeling now much more at peace with the swarm of oftentimes seemingly misdirected and insane activity going on around me. And much more prepared and willing to continue helping adjust the sails, if only a little bit, to shift humanity’s course. As a mother who spends a great deal of time nursing, cleaning dirty hands, and changing wet nappies, to name a few things, I take great comfort in this. And for this reason I share this deep meta-reflection with all of you.

Sow with cub, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. (c) Ron Niebrugge

Sow with cub, Lake Clark National Park, Alaska. (c) Ron Niebrugge

I have decided to try and come out of hibernation. Yes, that’s what I said. Out of hibernation, with winter just beginning. As an environmentalist and nature lover, I attest this really does makes sense, given how the seasons are all mixed up with global climate change. And as an expectant and ultimately new mother (yes! I was blessed to become a mother this past year) my time and energy has largely been required elsewhere to, of course, the most important job of all.

As a re-entry point, I thought I would blog about what I have been up to over the past while and where I think I may be heading (I did admittedly manage to write a short blog post about the nastily invasive plant, garlic mustard a while ago. But that was meant to be informative, without any personal reflection or such). For better or for worse, a fair number of things have been going on in my life, thanks largely to my wee one’s good temperament and my very supportive husband. Here they are in brief below.

Waterloo Mayor’s Forum Series on Building Resilient Communities

This three-part event series (held during the winter and spring of 2011) was a highly-ambitious project, involving a partnership between TransitionKW, The Upstart Collaboratory for Collaborative Culture Designing and other groups. We set about to shape no less than the very thinking, at the community level, about how to create a more resilient (meaning the ability to deal with changes, stresses, and shocks) community. We sought to achieve this by helping participants 1) understand the barriers to environmental and social change, 2) identify ways to overcome these barriers, and 3) explore what a more resilient future would look like.

What were the outcomes? Well, we forged a lot of great friendships and had a lot of fun. in the process, I believe we really got people pondering (myself included) what needs to happen if we want to stop heading towards the train-wreck of environmental, social and economic problems that we’re heading towards right now.

Tough Questions around Aggregate Mining

Yes, the rock, gravel, cement, and sand that we use to build our homes actually must come from somewhere, and the results can be quite contentious. My volunteer involvement with these matters started with the Melanchton mega-quarry, for which I made a presentation to the City of Waterloo Council, requesting that they petition the province for a full environmental assessment of the project.

The request was turned down at the municipal level (though it was eventually permitted at the provincial level), but continuing my work on the broader issue of aggregates in general, I presented at a PitSense event last April and later an all-party provincial review of aggregate extraction this past July.

What have I learned from all this involvement? Well, the topic of aggregate extraction is a highly contentious one, albeit falling under the radar of the general public. Whether it is possible to reach some sort of agreement amongst the various disagreeing parties remains to be seen. I believe a crucial step involves opening up the conversation to the broader questions of “Why do we feel we need so much aggregate?” and “Is the world we want to live in compatible with continuing to use it at the rate we have been?”

Increasing an Appetite for Local Food Resiliency

My involvement with TransitionKW (for which I have held various positions including Facilitator and now Ambassador, to allow time for other things) and its focus on permaculture, that seeks to grow food and generally live in a manner with as opposed to against nature, led to giving a presentation on pollination for a Jane Goodall event this past March. My takeaway? It turns out that by planting wildflowers, we can not only protect bees, but increase the productivity of our gardens, orchards, and fields!

My growing awareness of matters related to food helped prepare me for another presentation in May. This one was related to food security and global climate change for a Connect the Dots event in Waterloo. (This event was meant as a follow-up to the 350.org rallies that happened the year previous, meant to raise awareness about growing levels of C02 in the atmosphere and the need for action by worldwide leaders convening in Copenhagen). Instead of focusing on climate change mitigation though, this event sought instead to explore what is and could be done to prepare for and adapt to the changes to weather that are and will continue to happen. This again was a great experience – providing me an opportunity to sit down and think about all the ways that we can make our food system more resilient as well as recognize the myriad of things being done in our community already.

With this taste of the complexity of issues we face relating to food, I eagerly jumped at the change to speak to an urban planning class at the University of Waterloo about local food resiliency. I should perhaps mention at this point that my knowledge about food has been developing also as a result of my involvement with the Community Garden Council of Waterloo Region (for which I was Communications Lead and am now a Member-at-Large) and KW Urban Harvester (for which I am a coordinator).

The experience of giving a presentation in an academic setting was so exciting, and I was so grateful for all the help that I received, that I made the presentation publicly available. Not wanting the presentation to go to waste, I shared it with all the candidates running for the Kitchener-Waterloo provincial by-election this summer, and ended up working with the Waterloo Region Food System Roundtable in an effort to review all the candidates on their opinions on food. Unfortunately (and to be fair, at least partly due to issues of it being a quick election), I only managed to interview Green Party candidate Stacey Danckert, the recording of which I have now just posted.

With a more solid understanding of food issues beneath me, I also ended up volunteering to facilitate a workshop on access to healthy, environmentally safe food. The workshop was for an Environmental Justice Convergence event by the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG) at the end of this past August. It involved a panel discussion with various people involved in community gardens, followed by a conversation café. While the turnout was not very large, I was very happy with the event including the quality of questions that were asked. My favorites were, “How do we raise awareness about food issues to the public at large?” and “How do we share this information without making people defensive?” Important questions all.

As of now, I am continuing to further my understanding of food issues by becoming engaged in conversations about the Canadian European Trade greement (CETA) and its potential impact on local food procurement policies. I have been doing so with the Waterloo Citizens Environmental Advisory Committee (WCEAC). More to follow hopefully in the days ahead as to what develops on that front.

Tapped out on bottled water

This is another interesting issue. It both brings the promising potential for an immediate lessening of our impact to Mother Earth, while at the same time raising sharp criticism from industries like Nestle (with a bottling plant no further than nearby Guelph). As part of a single-use bottled water subcommittee of WCEAC, I have been helping to raise awareness about the issue in the city of Waterloo. The latest formal presentation on the matter was made to the City of Waterloo Council on April 23 of this year.

Political, Internet, and Just Plain-Old Democracy

The Greeks claim to have started it, and nearly two and a half millennia later we still do not seem to have gotten it right (for recent commentary on this, see the Sarnia Observer). Groups like Fair Vote Canada are still pulling out their hair as to why we can get majority governments with only a minority of the vote. In environmental terms, I know many would agree that this has meant that parties with a ‘greener’ agenda have not been able to get their concerns acted on (let alone their voices heard).

Conversations like this inspired myself and a few others to organize a Democracy Café last fall. While not a huge turnout, we had some interesting discussions. Perhaps my favorite was the idea of a citizen-driven governance system, where leadership is encouraged and developed from the grass-roots up, and feeds into higher levels of political decision-making. Is this the solution? Well, maybe not entirely, but it would sure help a lot I think.

As for Internet democracy, you are probably wondering what at all this has to do with environmental protection. And I felt the same way, until I started thinking about it a bit. But there are increasingly looming threats of Big Brother surveillance and the already existing ‘silos’ of information (i.e. in academia, commercial businesses, government) preventing us from solving the problems we so desperately need to address, to name just a few issues.

These matters motivated me to help organize an Internet Democracy Café this past month and start a blog where I have summarized my thinking on the matter as well as provided some references on the topic. My hope is that this will help motivate us ‘environmentalists’ to get out of our silos, and start connecting-the-dots between the myriad of issues we are facing.

***

Well, that about sums it up. Except to answer the question perhaps as to why on earth I have been doing all this. I will answer to say that it’s not that I have had some sort of ‘master plan.’ My philosophy on life, that emphasizes the importance of the process by which we do things, causes me not to approach things like this. But I am fascinated by the learning opportunities created by opening ourselves to new experiences and ideas. And of course, by working and aligning ourselves with different people, we can achieve even more.

No doubt these initiatives largely feed into helping me with my chosen profession as an Urban Planner. I have had plenty of opportunity to research, assess policies, review development proposals, explore the merits of processes, and so on, with everything I have been up to. All of these things have been great learning ground to become a fully accredited planner.

I hope though that as I re-enter the workforce, I can maintain my sense of adventure for learning new things and having new experiences. I believe also that this wide array of activities should give me a broader basis to consider questions around planning and how we can more effectively manage our community resources for the public good.

There are some other ideas that I have on the fire, but for now ‘nuf said’ as they say. This is one mamma bear who just might head with her wee one back to the den for a moment to ponder things a bit more. After all, there’s no point in being too hasty and you can never exactly predict what will happen next. Just look at the weather…

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