Daniela Ginta, The Mindful Writer

Freelance Writer and Photographer, Author of the Mindfulness Blog

Tag: life Page 2 of 6

Are We Grateful Enough For What We Have?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on January 1, 2018.

As I am writing this, approximately 8,000 homes in the Fraser Valley, possibly more, are still without power due to extreme winter weather. Kamloops is under a thick blanket of snow too, and it’s not over yet. It’s started snowing again this morning.

No complaints from where I am standing. I love winter and its beauty renewed by a fresh layer of snow every couple of days. I am also aware that if you have power and a decent amount of food in the house, it’s but too easy to call it charming and snuggle with a book and a cup of tea until you feel like poking your nose out. Which you might soon enough because shoveling notwithstanding, the white fresh powder is fascinating and there’s nothing like a walk in the deep snow with red cheeks and eyes swimming in the surrounding white wonderland.

Again, if you have all you need. We do, and that is to be grateful for. But what if power goes out, or you’re stuck on the road somewhere? Not fun. If there’s one thing that became more evident than ever in the year that we leave behind is how comfortable we have become with having our necessities taken care of. Clean (enough) air, running water, hot or cold, power, food available in stores. Shortages due mostly to extreme weather conditions bring out the question though: what if we did not have this, even for a short while?

In one of his essays, George Monbiot, a British writer, and political and environmental activist, mentions a sobering quote he heard during a talk: ‘Every society is four meals away from anarchy’. Food for thought indeed, no pun intended. It goes for more than just food I’d say, and the concept is surely worth a closer look by all of us.

What better time than now?

At the end of the year it’s good to pause and consider whether our levels of gratefulness match the life we live, more so when the daily news provides an insight into the realities of life without the comforts we’re often taking for granted. All of us who are not struggling with poverty, or other harsh realities that hack at one’s peace of mind and overall well-being, are we truly thankful for what we have?

Imagine, for example, if there would be no running water and we had to go back to melting ice or snow, so we can have drinking and cooking water. Forget laundry machines, dishwashers, daily showers or baths, or hot tubs. It sounds preposterous and yet…

Much like the Fraser Valley residents have experienced and some still do, imagine having no electricity in your home at all, even for a couple of days. Is that enough to bring up our gratefulness to the point where we ponder carefully over how we use resources to prevent waste in the year to come?

Same goes for food. We had plenty of headlines and investigative pieces on food waste in Canada and we have had the report on poverty come out with dire numbers. Can we learn from the two and bring the numbers to zero in both cases? It can be done, it should be done.

Looking back at what 2017 brought, there is much to consider in terms of blessings. From the easily forgotten blessings of everyday life, to the dramatically increased needs in situations of crisis (floods, wildfires, power outages), we have it good. Not perfect, as many can attest after dealing with extreme situations, but good.

We have heartful people around us, willing to open their homes, wallets, and arms to embrace those in need, we have creative minds that can help a community evolve, and we have, above anything else, freedom to express our opinions. We have a health system that allows for people to be given care without having to sell their homes to pay their medical bills, and we have access to information and knowledge, as well as services of various kinds. Room to improve on all of these you say? For sure, and just as well we have the choice to help influence some of those changes by choosing to change the world around us for the better, from our immediate one (yourself) to your immediate community and the community at large.

The list of blessings is a long one, and our gratefulness should match it. We are better for it when we are thankful. To recognize that is to be humbled, and in doing so, is to be lifted above simply taking everything for granted, and instead responding to the obligation to give back in any way we can. Even by being kinder towards those around us, family, friends, or strangers, and by creating a positive ripple with each of our actions.

Happy New Year to all!

Learning To Be A Leftie; With Gratitude

Part of the definition of humbled comes from having one’s body part fail in some way. It’s a swift and powerful reminder of how fragile the balance is after all, and how easily forgotten our limitations are. When I say limitations, I do not mean we’re fragile by design and thus doomed, but that the tissues that form our bodies are, after all, no matter how many miles you run, swim or cycle in a day, breakable. Knowing that adds beautiful dimensions to life, doesn’t it, just as much as it adds that inescapable feeling of doom. Do not give into it though, that’s not what this is about.

More humbling yet is that the occasional painful reminder inserts itself mysteriously into your daily routine and there’s not telling where it came from or when it will end. There’s also a silly resemblance to a mouse you’d hold by its tail, if you will, though no tails are needed to paint this picture. You’re the mouse. It’s the nagging discomfort that holds you upside down until you figure out how to reposition yourself upright with grace and dignity; or at least one of them.

I am learning how to be a leftie these days, for two weeks ago a tendon in my right hand decided to travel away from its well-designed groove (or what seemed to be well-designed up to this point anyway) and over the knuckle it went, leaving an empty space behind and lots of questions in my mind as to why the sudden change. Mystery is the salt of life? Perhaps. Less funny when you’re it. Acceptance, they say, is what carries you to where the said grace and dignity reside.

Past the annoyance of pain and inability to carry on with the usual activities using my trusted right hand (I trust them both, but I have obviously favourited my right one so far), there is a side of me that is fascinated with the current limitations. As I walk around protecting my right hand from further injury, I am humbled by the realization that the rest of me works just fine and that that is a level of wonder many of us have come to acknowledge as an ordinary state of affairs as we go about our day. I’d say we ought to declare that a sin of some sort.

Would it be too much to say we take ourselves for granted? Never before has more research poured out our way, laying as thick as can be the knowledge that should keep us working in good order for the rest of our lives: eat healthy instead of pretending to or finding lame excuses to binge such as ‘you only live once’, sleep enough (despite of the lifeless blue-bad-for-you-light gadgets promising the world which by the way, they’ll never deliver but we take our chances anyway), get up and move around so our veins don’t turn stiff too soon; you get the idea.

The thing is, for the most part, we go about our days treating our bodies with a certain degree of recklessness, fully unaware of the wonders they carry within. On the days when a Facebook post reminds us poetically that we are but stardust, we throw a longer gaze at our sun-kissed forearms or spend a few extra minutes looking at our reflection in the mirror, wondering how it is that atoms linked together become vision, taste, or awareness of the sudden flutter of a moth we startled as we walked by and brushed against the curtains.

So here’s to wishing that my days spent as a leftie (that will be a few weeks, I am told) will leave me with an extra helping of gratitude for being able to clench my fists whenever I need to (in the near future), or sew a button on my oldest son’s shirt, or paint, chop onions and carrots, make apple sauce, and throw some dice when the days end with playing a board game, which I am hoping they will. Simplicity. Taking sips from the half-full glass and trusting that it’ll never run empty.

It’s the simple things that carry the biggest reminders; perhaps because as we go through life we realize that there is no big story waiting to happen that will help us unlock gratitude. The secret lies with the small, simple events that we spin into long threads, day after day, which then we make into tapestries, knots showing, because that’s what this story is all about. Some times are knottier than others. Be it so, keeping it real is what we’re here for. To wish for no bigger blessing than to be able to remember all of this I go along, no matter if my hands are available to help me do so, that is what I am hoping the days spent as a leftie will leave behind.

You Are Human Before Anything Else; It’s What’s Left Behind

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 16, 2017 

Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.

Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.

I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.

An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.

The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?

From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.

It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.

When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.

A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)

Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.

Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.

Kamloops Is Still A Good Place To Be

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 2, 2017. 

There’s this curious phenomenon that happens to many of our family’s out-of-town guests when they come for a visit: they fall in love with Kamloops. Sure, for most of the year, hills are dry, though the wild west appeal is certainly present and charming. The summer of 2017 was painfully smoky for long enough to scare away visitors and make us all feel shortchanged when the leaves started turning.

There’s the occasional pulp mill smell, which can be a rude pungent awakening on an otherwise pleasant morning, or evening, for that matter, and yet despite of that, Kamloops inspires to many a homey feeling, for lack of a better way to define that special something.

You stroll through the downtown and it’s pleasant. Not perfect, but that is not the point. Life isn’t either. There are many an eye-pleasing places you can stop by, whether to eat, shop, or grab a cup of coffee and watch people walk by. Even if you’re new in town, the chances of bumping into a familiar face are high; a good thing. Blame it on the many events that Kamloops is hosting throughout the year, or the lively farmers’ market that seems to have grown in popularity this year, especially on Saturdays (a very welcoming sight indeed!)

There is beautiful nature surrounding Kamloops and breathtaking sunsets. Some might say that it all sounds nice and sweet, too much so, if only I could get my blinders off and realize that the many issues that plague our downtown and city are a terribly sad and frustrating reality. They are, without a doubt.

There is the downtown parking (though I still think the former KDN building could have been used for a better purpose,) the presence of many transient people, who can occasionally be aggressive (a friend’s teenage son was recently aggressed near the library), or the ones begging for change, which many people find annoying and intrusive.

City-wise, we have a heartbreaking yet-to-be-solved drug overdose problem, we have careless, distracted, or impaired drivers whose actions make the news too often, and a frustrating lack of family doctors. There are many homeless people still, and we have a recycling issue that leaves much to be desired. There is rush hour traffic, and we have a long way to improving public transportation in some areas and becoming greener. Then, there are the issues that divide the city, such as mines and pipelines, and have been doing so for a long time.

There are a lot of things that can be said about Kamloops, some better than others. But here’s an extra good thing that the recent byelections revealed. That there are many who care enough about all that Kamloops is and isn’t, to put their name out there, share their beliefs, and hope for a seat in the council or to become mayor.

It’s no small thing. It takes courage to do that. The campaign time was short, which allowed for too little knowledge of the candidates, and not enough dialogue with the voters; the percentage of voters was dismal, many are saying, at a humble 21 percent.

We now have a new mayor and a somewhat refreshed council. They will be facing much heat when it comes to the divisive issues, and they will be measured against their predecessors. There will be personal attacks and social media will be raging at times. Which makes me say, once more, that I am amazed at how many Kamloops citizens got ready do it, nonetheless.

Low voter percentage can be blamed on apathy, lack of time to find out who’s who, or a plain old ‘who cares?’ attitude. Hopefully, by the next elections we will double or triple that percentage. If some of us care enough to put themselves out there as candidates, we should all care enough to take time and find out what they stand for and ultimately vote, so here’s to a better next time. Meanwhile, there is much to be proud of. First, that many candidates put time and courage in signing up for the race. It’s the age of people taking jabs at people on social media simply for being out there. Hats off to those who signed up for the task anyway.

As for the ones who got elected, let’s hope we can find good ways to cheer them on, encourage them, criticize constructively rather than attack them, and thus help in seeing some of the many issues Kamloops is facing, solved, or at least improved. Dialogue is everything.

As with everything else in life, you take the good with the bad as they say. Kamloops issues are no different. There’s a lot of good things that are immediately apparent and then there are the stagnant many things that chip at that good image. Those we elected can change some of that during the next year, and chances are they can do a better job if we supply feedback, involvement, and insist on having a dialogue. If voting was a few days only, dialogue can be an ongoing thing until the next round of elections.

Meanwhile, Kamloops is still a great place to be. Here’s to seeing good and better things happen under the new leadership!

Marigolds And Fall. A Song That Keeps Repeating

I sit at the top of the stairs with a plateful of Italian plums after working in the garden. The harvest so far includes four squashes of variable sizes, one gigantic zucchini, a bucket of red and orange tomatoes, and a bowl of shelled beans, red and white. The red ones are plumper, according to lil’ boy, whom I half-buried in a dry pile of bean bushes for the purpose of shelling.

I pulled out bunches of overgrown red and golden dry grasses, disturbing the marigolds and causing a storm of fragrance to clutch to my nose. Their smell is strongly pushing its way into my memory, stomping on everything, leaving but my dad’s slender figure, crouched over weeds and marigolds in our garden. He would work and tell stories, or joke about this or that, or answer many of my many questions about the garden.

He’d find bugs and show them to me, his voice steady and pleasant. My mom would come and join us, standing on the stone path, her hands carrying traces of flour and delicious smells from the kitchen. Dinner was both a promise and a gift, wrapped in togetherness.

Fall, the smell of dirt and marigolds, my mom’s voice calling us to dinner, and the occasional buzzing of a lost and forgotten summer bug, the distant wailing of a train, they all surfaced today when I chased the summer out of our small garden.

I sit at the top of the stairs realizing, plum after plum, that I ache for those times of gardening with my parents. My sister is the only other keeper of these precious times… I sit and remember, plum by plum. It’s no use to get teary but I do. I miss fall gardening with faint smells of leaf smoke from the piles everyone gathered at the end of September.

I look at the pile of garden waste I made in the back yard next to the garden patch. There are the huge squash and zucchini vines, tired and sloppy-looking, the broken tomato plants, weeds, and the dry bean and pea plants. A pile as big and colourful as my pile of memories. The sky is a beautiful, dreamy blue, gossamer-like clouds spread all over the hills, softening thoughts and dulling the sharp edges of memories that are happy and sad at once.

It’s a progression of sorts, I know that much. Summer to fall to winter and spring again. This is where you get to try again next season. People transition to memories and to more memories. That is the part that leads to the inelegance of my gaze, all teary and bending under the weight of all that cannot be again. It’s the part I process by sitting at the top of our back stairs, looking over the dry hills poking into the blue, and, eating plum after plum, dusty hands and all, I make peace, once again, with the fall, the garden where my parents visit only as memories and my stubbornness to let go.

The afternoon air hugs me warm and fragrant. I walk through short, stubby grass back to the garden. There are still the thick, dark kale bushes to care for and a whole bunch of green tomatoes to ripen. There’s the rosemary and lavender bushes; they will survive the winter. As for marigolds… I’ll plant some again next spring.



In Memoriam Christopher Seguin – Living To The Fullest, Giving To The Fullest

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 25, 2017. 

On Friday morning during a hike with a friend and our dogs, the conversation drifted towards what it means to live with gratefulness and to not take people for granted. I carried those thoughts with me throughout the day, wondering yet again, how to best convey what is of value and worthiness to my sons, so they can build their journeys in a way that matters. Not just to themselves, but to those they love and are loved by, as well as to countless others they can help along the way. Because that’s what makes everything worthwhile. Because life is not a solitary, selfish pursuit.

Friday night came with the heartbreaking news of Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing. He was an active, wholehearted presence in our community, but most of all, he was known as a loving husband and father to two young sons.

The sad news touched me deeply as I have lived through the sudden death of my loved ones. I remember feeling guilty for looking at the blue sky and for being able to smell flowers and wake up to another day. I was angry for all that was taken away from me too soon, and too suddenly. It was hard to make sense of something that was senseless, unchangeable, and yet a part of life.

In losing many loved ones starting from an early age, I have grown into someone who does not value things (to a fault, really,) but time and presence. I grieved for my children losing their maternal grandparents before they had a chance to build enough or any memories with them. I grieved for all the things I wanted to share with my parents about my life as an adult, and as a parent myself.

Healing meant passing on the stories my parents once told me, going back to those words of wisdom heard over many a cup of coffee and long-drawn dinners, and sharing that with my sons, in hope to keep their grandparents’ presence palpable.

Without being a fatalist, I often remind myself and my family that what we have is now. We can guess about tomorrow, but we do not have much of it in our grasp. That we do not is not discouraging but reinforcing the fact that making every moment count is what matters in the end. There is no telling when that last day comes.

We find healing through honouring our loved ones’ legacies and making them an integral part of our lives. A mesh of sorts that carries adversity, courage, kindness, humbleness, heartbreak, joy, and resilience. A mesh we inherit, add to, pass on, and thus contribute to that big picture we know nothing of when we first arrive and we marvel at during our journey.

Christopher Seguin’s legacy is one that much can be built on. He helped many through his hard work and dedication, he lent his time, energy, and heart to many causes, and he left a most beautiful and indelible mark on this world through the love for his family.

In a beautiful message to his son from the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro he said ‘It is adversity that evolves us… It is through carrying the heavy loads that we grow stronger, and it is only through solving the world’s problems that we grow smarter…’. He contributed a lot to solving some of the world’ problems by helping many in the community and beyond, and now his legacy inspires all of us to continue his good work.

Rest in peace, Christopher Seguin. Thank you for being a big heart in this community. You are a role model Kamloops is fortunate to have had and to continue to learn from.

Please consider contributing to a trust fund account for his two young sons at any Kamloops CIBC branch.  

Live and Let Live – Does It Still Apply?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 18, 2017. 

Two years ago on a sunny early afternoon in June while driving to Vancouver, my family and I witnessed something that has yet to be surpassed in absurdity and, I got to say, horror. Passing a lady riding her motorbike up the hill past Merritt, we noticed that she was texting while driving. Distracted driving taken to a whole new level. Talk about a teachable moment for the boys and a new level of awareness for us adults.

How many people do that? How many people I drive by who, unbeknownst to me and many others, are either distracted by their phones, are under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or tired enough to fall asleep, even for a second, which is often a long enough second to change lives forever and for the worse? How many times was I, my loved ones, or you and your loved ones close enough but lucky enough to still be here today…

Stats provide numbers to answer my questions. Many times. Car and motorcycle crashes in British Columbia have been increased in the last three years. According to ICBC stats, the number of crashes in BC in 2016 totalled 320,000. Which translates into an average of 875 collisions a day. Some are mild enough for the drivers and passengers to walk away and thank their lucky stars, while others result in tragedy.

There are 1.2 fatalities (to a total of 430 deaths per year,) and 18 hospitalizations per day, according to BC Injury and Prevention Unit. Impaired (alcohol, drugs, and extreme fatigue) and distracted driving (cell phone use) are the leading cause behind most of the crashes. Then comes speed.

I wrote before about speed and its ill consequences. I have been told by many that in Europe they have many highways without any speed limits, which leads to fewer crashes due to better flowing traffic and better driving. It’s an argument that could go on for a while I suppose. Regardless of what other countries’ rules are, in Canada we do have speed limits and they need to be heeded, or else risk a speedy mayhem of some kind. Should the day come when we’ll have some ‘no speed limit’ corridors, we will hopefully be wiser and better equipped to drive safely.

Until then, there are a few things that need attention in order to help everyone on the road get to where they are going safely. Laws that are reinforced constantly and tough punishments for those who violate them, given that they do not just put their lives in danger but many others’. Periodic drug and alcohol roadside screening checks as well as increased patrols to prevent distracted driving, province-wide (and further) education that puts the insanity of using cell phones while driving into perspective, installing traffic cameras especially in high risk collision areas, the list could go on.

We need to be good sports and model good behaviour for children when driving is concerned. If so many things that life throws our way are unpredictable, safe driving makes for one heck of a good chance of not dying sooner than we should, or becoming incapacitated in any way. Most of motor vehicle crash victims in BC are between 20 and 24 years old.

The thing is, all of this works better if we all do it. Well-intended individuals can be affected by someone’s careless, impaired, or distracted driving and, truth is, no consequence seems fitting for a life lost or affected irreversibly by an accident.

Beside the fact that it could be any one of us, there is yet another piece to this. It could happen whether you are in a car, on a bike, or simply walking like Jennifer Gatey did last November when she was struck and left to die on the side of the road.

The stories and tears that the victims’ families and friends carry in their hearts forever are heartbreaking. They make temporary news and make many of us more mindful, at least for a while. The reality is, according to all the stats above, we have yet to come closer to making the streets and highways safer. We are more rushed, we sleep less, and there are those who try their luck with driving under the influence or checking the cell phone while behind the wheel.

It takes one second for things to change forever. When you think of the millions of seconds we spend on the road every year, that means millions of chances to make it out alive every time. It is worth taking another look at our ways and putting a better foot forward.

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