Life is a brief excursion

“Life is a brief excursion; death is always the destiny.”    – Graham Woodhouse


I remember many years ago standing at a classroom window overlooking a day care centre watching children at play in the yard.  A person was standing next to me and for some reason the conversation drifted to a discussion about death.  I shared with her that that I had been a volunteer at a local hospice.  Her response was, “Oh, that must be really depressing.”   Still looking out the window, I replied, “No, for me working in a day care would be depressing.”  Each of us is drawn to different aspects of life. Death has been a great teacher for me.

I didn’t used to think about death and dying much. This changed when as a young man I visiting a dear uncle who was dying of cancer in a hospital some distance from where I lived. I felt awkward and didn’t know what to say to him. He passed away not long after my visit and I was never able to tell him that I loved him or that I was grateful that he had been in my life. My first experience of someone close to me dying had closed me down. Afterwards, feeling ashamed, I made up my mind not to repeat the experience.

The passing of my uncle was what led me to involvement in hospice work. Since then I have learned that keeping death as part of my life is a very valuable tool.  Keeping in mind that life is indeed short and that each day is a blessing, reminds me to focus on what is important.  Who is most precious to me and how have I treated them today?  What do I really want to accomplish with my time here on earth?  Taking death into consideration helps me feel more alive and more involved in living.

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Practice Your Own Song

“The birth date comes from the first time the child is a thought in its mother’s mind” – Jack Kornfield.


In his book “A Path with Heart”, Jack Kornfield recounts a story about a tribe in East Africa where women go off alone to listen for ‘the song’ of their future child before attempting to conceive.  The mother learns that unique song and then teaches it to the father, family members, mid-wives and eventually the entire tribe.  The song is used to invite the child during conception;  to sooth and celebrate the child while in the womb;  to reassure and encourage the child while  being born; to comfort the young child when hurting;  and then, as an adult, to honour the person during important social occasions like marriage.  It is sung for the last time when that person dies.  In this way, throughout their entire life, each person is celebrated for their unique being.


While this practice is obviously not transferable to most cultures in the Western world, it opens up questions about how we love and support ourselves and how we love and support each other.


When I stop to reflect on what ‘my own song’ might be, I am led to ask myself what is it that I might sing; what is my unique expression in life?  There are many different ways of exploring this question. One approach is to ask yourself what you do really want in life.  Things like a new car, a better job, more money, to be happy, etc. are reasonable responses, but how do they relate to your unique being?  If you imagine yourself in the future lying on your death bed and looking back at your life, what do you think that you would say was most important for you in the life that you led? What were you really looking to get out of life?


Explore for a while what you really want from life and what gifts you have to make this happen.  Drop into your body and slow down your mind. You just might discover your own song and then you just might start practicing it.


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What has already been given

“…we study how to deserve what has already been given us.”  – William Stafford

This lovely phrase is the last line from a poem called “Love in the Country” from Stories that Could Be True published by Harper & Row, 1977. It immediately leads me to think about gratitude.

I spend much of my life hurrying from one thing to another; focusing on the next thing to do or the next promising experience that I may be chasing. How often do I stop to really sink into gratitude for this abundant life?  All the people that I love and the sheer beauty of nature are but two obvious examples of the rich fabric of my experience.   Practicing gratitude opens my heart and fills me with a calm sense of belonging. It brings me to the fullness of the present moment. In the present moment I am grateful to experience being alive.

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Live in your heart

“Let people live in your heart.”  – a Tokyo elementary  school teacher


I recently discovered a very touching ten-minute video on the Internet called “A Teacher in Tokyo”.  It appears to be part of a documentary originally broadcast on the CBC. The short clip follows a grade four class whose students are learning how to express what they are experiencing in life. In this particular segment they are talking about going through a death in the family.  What happens quite naturally among the children when they share these real life experiences is that all of the students end up in a state of acceptance and understanding of each other.    While being interviewed, the teacher says that one of his favourite quotes is “Let people live in your heart…there’s no limit on numbers”.

So how do we really let people ‘live in our hearts’?  Most of us understand the sentiment expressed, but what does the phrase actually mean?

If you take the time to pause and to think about someone that you love who might be going through a difficult time and you let compassion arise, you will also notice a sensation arise in your chest area.  If you stay with that bodily sensation, you will sense a general relaxation of your entire body and of your mind.  You will sense a softening, an opening up.  You will probably also feel more connected to that person and to the present moment.

In some cultures, we often refer to thinking as ‘being in our heads’.   While experiencing what we might call ‘positive emotions’ our bodies tend to relax and open; with ‘negative emotions’ our bodies tend to tighten up.  Perhaps what we refer to as ‘letting people into our hearts’ expresses what happens in our bodies when we adopt an open, inclusive state of mind that allows us to feel deeply connected to others.

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Rising Above

“May I rise above fear and sadness” – Young school girl

I saw the above message written in coloured crayon on piece of paper hanging proudly on the basement wall in a local church. It sat quietly among a collection of writings and drawings by young children that stretched along a corridor. I was touched as I read it. I could imagine a serious young person inspired to overcome some difficulty in her life.

Upon further reflection, I wondered how that young person might go about “rising above” these difficult emotions. As adults, ‘rising above’ often means pushing away or denying what feels uncomfortable or unacceptable within us. Many of us have spent (more…)

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