3P Random Reflections Blog
No one ever told me about the value of knowing nothing.
Well, maybe they did, but it's likely I wasn't listening at the time because I thought I knew something.
Knowing nothing is incredibly freeing.
Whenever I know that
I know nothing, there's no need to be right, no ego to protect, nothing to reason, defend, or justify, and nothing to fix or change.
Whenever I know that I know nothing, I simply navigate life from moment to moment with whatever common
sense arises... and maybe I do a bit of fixing here and there, but my eyes are always left open to the next new moment that inevitably happens.
Whenever I know that I know nothing, I get to observe and enquire and reflect and wonder and
imagine and create and appreciate. I get to play.
Whenever I know that I know nothing, I'm actually much kinder and much smarter and much more at peace within the depths of my soul.
Whenever I know that I know something, I suffer. I have to reason, justify, and defend everything that threatens it... I have to hang onto it for dear life... and so I can't help but create within me the rumbles of anger and judgment and righteousness...
I can't help but start wars.
I wonder if that in order to live peacefully, the only thing worth knowing is to truly know that I know nothing... so that instead of building fortresses, I get to explore possibilities.
I wonder what the world would be like if everyone knew that they themselves and everyone else, knew nothing too?
P.S. The next time I inevitably think that I know something, please kindly and gently remind me otherwise. After all, I think
world peace might be at stake here.
I was 21 years old and working alone. It was not too long before my shift would end at 1:00AM at the Becker's Milk convenience store at the corner of Wyandotte St. and Lauzon Rd. in Windsor, Ontario. I was standing behind the counter, opening up various
cartons of cigarettes and filling up the columned cigarette dispensers, with whatever brands were getting low, ready for the next day.
I heard the familiar bell sound as a customer entered the door and I glanced toward him.
He was wearing dark pants, a dark long-sleeved jacket done up to his neck, a hat, and dark sunglasses. The sunglasses were a bit unusual, but the "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" song by Corey Hart was pretty popular at the time, so I figured
he was just trying to be cool. I kinda laughed inside my head. We would get every kind of crazy in this store, so this was just the next bit of unique humanity for my amusement.
He came directly to the counter, stood facing me and said,
"Give me all the money in the cash register".
I grew up in a home where there was usually more teasing than talking, and I was accustomed to looking for the joke in everything before any other intention was considered, so I thought he
I laughed out loud, and said, "Yah, that's funny! What can I get you?".
He repeated his statement. I just laughed again, "Yah you're too funny! What do you really want?"
He then reached
into his sleeve, pulled out a 10-inch knife and said, "I want all the money in the cash register, and I want you to give me all the money you keep underneath the counter as well."
No thoughts of fear went through my mind. I sort of just
thought, "Oh, he wants the money", and then began doing what occurred to me, which was complying.
A couple of scenarios and escape options flashed through my mind.
The counter was quite high, so if he tried to jump
over it toward me, it would be awkward for him to do, and so I knew it would give me enough time to run to the other end of the counter and out the back door. And if I saw him heading toward the opening at the other end of the counter, I knew I could easily
jump over the counter at my end, and then run out the front door toward the Lion's Head Tavern across the street.
I pulled all of the bills out of the register, and grabbed the bundle of bills under the counter that had not yet been locked
into the safe, and handed them over to him.
I was conscious of paying attention to the details of his appearance while I did this. For a moment I looked toward his eyes behind his glasses, and it suddenly felt personal. I got the sense
that he didn't appreciate that. He paused for a second or two, staring back at me, and said, "I want you to go into the back room".
I already had my escape plans in mind, and this was not one of them. I didn't really have time to think
what he would do if I went back there with him, but I knew it wasn't a good idea to go there. I simply said "No".
He paused for a moment, then started walking toward the open end of the counter. I got ready to jump over my end of the counter
and make a run for it. Thankfully, he never stepped up onto the raised deck behind the counter. He simply reached toward the phone on the wall and cut the cord. I remember thinking that that was clever.
He then turned back around and ran
out the front door. I watched him as he left, and noted his height against the height markers on the door, put there for this specific purpose. He was about 5' 10". I felt pleased for remembering to make note of that.
A moment later, with
no ability to call the police, I grabbed the keys, went out the front door, locked it behind me, then ran across the street. I didn't go into the bar because I knew it would be dark and noisy and busy, so I went to the pizza parlour next door, told them what
happened, and asked to use their phone to call the police.
During the whole event, and in the police investigation right after, and on my eventual drive home, I never felt fear, other than for a slight hit of discomfort when he told me
to go into the back room. After it was all over, I never had any problems sleeping, and I never got scared to go back to work or to do the late shift... although at least for a while after that, I think the manager decided to have two people covering the late
shift. I never had any lasting fear or trauma from the event. It just became an interesting story to talk about.
About 25 years later I was sleeping in my home in Winnipeg when at about 1:00AM in the morning, there was a bunch of loud
noise at the door. Someone was trying to break in.
Upon that realization, I went into a chaotic and frenzied response. I had enough mental cognition to get to the phone and dial 911 but I was barely able to answer the operator's questions.
I was stuttering and couldn't get any of my words out in clear sentences.
Thoughts raced through my mind about the possibility of how I could respond if he got into the house, but every option seemed inadequate and hopeless. I had no plan
that felt in any way safe or obvious. I kept imagining the worst.
Fortunately the police were able to get there in a couple of minutes. It ended up being a really drunk guy who had the wrong house and was angrily and aggressively trying
to get in.
I've had other fearful events happen in my life. Sometimes I've been in a state of complete calm and clarity... I was even in a car crash once where time slowed down, and where I somehow dropped into a surreal state "beyond
calm" where I knew exactly what to do, like I was directing a stop-motion ballet. At other urgent events, I've been overwhelmed and much less than clear.
Since those events and some insights into the nature of thought and life, I've gained
a much clearer understanding of fear...
Fear is not at all necessary to create action, and in fact, when it's held onto, it just gets in the way of clarity.
It isn't up to me personally as to how I end up feeling in
an urgent situation. Sometimes fear appears and sometimes it doesn't.
Even those who are highly trained for urgent and dangerous situations, can still lose their calm, fall into an experience of fearful thought and feeling, and then freeze
up or overreact.
I can't fear any person, event, or thing... I can only ever fear the made up stories that somehow appear in my mind.
Fear doesn't happen because of a person, event, or thing... fear happens because
of the thinking that somehow appears in my mind that, in that moment, I take seriously, and give meaning and significance.
Fear is not to be feared. It's simply a temporary moment of busy insecure thought and feeling, focused on the past
or the future instead of the present.
Fear never tells any truth about the current event nor does it accurately predict what will happen or not happen.
The presence (or non-presence) of fear only gives some sense of
how unclear (or clear) my thinking is in the moment.
I can still function when fear appears... it's just not as pretty or effective, and it offers a lot less options.
The human default state is calm, clear, and present...
fear is just moments of a temporary add-on of creative thought and feeling.
Even with a clear understanding of what fear is, it still arises within me (and falls away again) in all its various forms... whether for the urgent or the non-urgent.
I'm now just a lot less likely to be interested in it, to believe in it, to pay attention to it, or to give it significance, whenever it happens to arise.
Fear happens, but it's nice to know that it's not at all necessary.
It was my Aunt's memorial service.
It was a small and casual affair, held in the community room of a college student residence, near where my oldest sister lived, and on the campus of the Community College where she worked as a
librarian (forgive me, a "librarian technician" I think) her entire professional life. I often joke that she was my Google before Google.
In fact she was our entire family's Google before Google, as well as often fulfilling the role of
our family organizer and documenter and manager, which I imagine was a bit like herding cats, but something in which she held unquestionable expertise and at least a little bit of enjoyment and satisfaction in doing. She eventually fulfilled the role of my
Mom's primary long term caregiver, for which all of her siblings, including me, can NEVER be grateful enough, nor ever come close to truly understanding or repaying.
My aunt's ashes were in a small urn, placed at the head of the room next
to an arrangement of flowers. I can't remember what type of flowers they were, but I'm wondering now if there were any irises in honour of her name. As I say her name Iris in my mind, it seems like an odd name to me in this moment. I never had any sense of
that before. My whole life, she was just matter-of-factly, my Aunt Iris.
Our whole family was present at the service, but we were probably a relatively small group compared to most. With my Mom and Aunt being sisters, married to my Dad
and Uncle who were brothers, we all only had one aunt and uncle. But for all of us, it seemed plenty big enough. With 6 kids in one family and 4 in the other, and even living next door to each other for a while, there was never any sense of being a "small"
At the back of the room was a table set up with coffee, tea, and some sandwiches and desserts. With our heritage of English warbrides being brought to Canada after World War II, many in our family were serious tea drinkers.
It's my guess that my often cheeky and loving-to-tease father was the one who come up with the idea of a "tea-making apprenticeship". This was where the youngest kid, by lowest seniority, was relegated to the daily task of tea-maker, under
the guise of needing a great deal of practice to achieve the esteemed journeyman tea-maker title. No one ever gained journeyman status, since they could simply and gleefully pass on the apprenticeship to the next kid who became old enough.
As the youngest of the six kids, the apprenticeship eventually fell into my lap, and with no one behind me, the apprenticeship never left. I'm 58 years old now, and am still an apprentice tea-maker. This situation has been a source of my family's ongoing
amusement and joyful teasing for years. The silent signal of anyone's hand held up with all the fingers turned in, except for the pointer finger still out but slightly curved into the shape of a hook, ready for the handle of a tea cup, is just one of several
prompts for the apprentice to put the kettle on.
On this day, in honour of that, a delicate set of flowered bone china tea cups and saucers were put out for our use. As the service was about to start, I poured myself a cup of tea with
milk, and then sat down next to my brother Gary. I took a deeply satisfying sip, and then placed the cup and saucer on the empty folding chair in between us. I remember thinking how good it tasted and felt. There's something almost spiritual to be found in
a really good cup of tea.
At the end of the service, I went to finish my cup of tea and it was unexpectedly empty. I hadn't remembered finishing it off during the service, and my parched mouth and longing tastebuds were immediately disappointed.
As I looked up in a bit of confusion trying to trace the memory of my actions, I caught a glance of my brother's amused expression, and I immediately realized what had happened. He then looked at me calmly and squarely, and with complete conviction, proclaimed,
"That was the best cup of tea I ever had!". And I could tell he sincerely meant it.
I burst out in laughter. Leave it to my brother Gary, at the solemn occasion of the remembrance of our aunt's passing, to cheekily steal my cup of tea,
and then to sit quietly and patiently, in delicious anticipation throughout the entire service, waiting for the moment of my inevitable confusion.
My brother left this world much too early for all of us who loved him, in a tragic accident
a few years after my Aunt's service. Little did I know that this treasured memory of mine would hold even more significance, just a few years after his own passing, as a sort of cheeky wink and nod from the universe, where time, space, and matter are not quite
what most of us think they are.
Who knew that I would come across a man, whom I would never actually meet, but whose existence and influence within this chaotic "dominoes-of-circumstance" life, would fundamentally change my own understanding
of life forever.
The man was named Sydney Banks, and the many who knew and loved him will often share stories of his deep and fundamental understanding and appreciation for the PRESENT... MOMENT. This included their frequent observance
of every cup of tea being genuinely experienced by Syd as, "the best cup of tea I ever had".
I think a lot about the present moment, or "presence", these days.
It is especially brought to light in the sort of "waiting-for-the-world-to-start-spinning-again"
experience that many human beings on this planet are now in the middle of.
Many are being forced to just STOP!, and once past the initial deafening and discomforting quiet, may be starting to reconnect or reacquaint themselves with a "presence"
that has been long lost or forgotten in the insecure striving and busyness of their lives.
Many are being led onto the front lines to courageously fight an invisible foe, continually being brought back to an extreme act of "presence" in
order to maintain the safety of themselves, and the care and safety of those they are charged to serve.
And everyone, no matter their experience, are being given the opportunity to revaluate their lives, their priorities, their understandings,
their beliefs, and their participation in this thing called society, or perhaps even more fundamentally, their unique place on this planet Earth, being intrinsically woven within the infinite and intricate web of life itself. We're all beginning to see how
one pull of any thread, and the whole web vibrates.
In a way, we're all being called to ask ourselves what kind of a world we really want to live in, and what kind of presence is going to be required for us to live in it.
I don't expect that any of us can possibly fathom the full profundity of that question, but the truth is that we don't really have to.
The unconditionally loving care of life itself comes simply in each sacred moment. So that any time
our mind happens to remind us of the unique and precious gift of life, we can take a moment to savour it.
And whether life presents us with a day of painfully hard work or a day of complete rest, or a tragic loss or moment of laughter,
or a feeling of dire hopelessness or sense of accomplishment... that whatever may be in front of us in all the infinite abundance of experience that this life offers, that we somehow become present to the love in ALL of it, just like the care and appreciation
of a single, simple, ordinary cup of tea.
If we somehow keep leaning toward that, the universe will take care of the rest.
When the planets of Weather, Health, and Inclination are somewhat aligned, my husband and I will go for daily walks around the neighbourhood, usually heading toward, and up and over, an old city dump that has been converted into a hill and green space.
The official site name is Westview Park, but many in the city refer to it as Garbage Hill.
My husband and I have always referred to it as Mt. Crumpet... an affectionate and personally amusing ode to my favourite childhood
movie, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. The Grinch's home at the top of Mt. Crumpet was also the garbage dump for the city of Whoville down below.
The hill and park are not exactly your typical park paradise.
are only a few trees. In small areas where the grasses have worn away, bits of old glass continue to slowly rise to the surface, like the rocks in a farmer's field. Additional bits get tossed above ground by a community of industrious prairie dogs (a type
of gopher) who are continually digging out their underground network of burrows and tunnels.
The park is also situated in an industrial part of the city. On one side is a small rail yard, and on the other side are a couple of manufacturing
plants whose chimneys occasionally share an unpleasant odour.
However, within a very flat prairie city, it's very much appreciated to have nearby access to a little elevation, offering us an extra workout for our heart and muscles, an
opportunity to breathe in the usually fresh and windy air at the top of the hill, and to soak in city views and sunsets that are often quite spectacular.
One recent day, during our city's Covid-19 lockdown, which still allows access to
city parks, we got near the top of the hill when something unusual came into view.
First of all, I should explain that there have never been any facilities at this park other than a short paved road up to the top of the hill, a few parking
spaces, a few stone benches to sit on, and a few garbage bins emptied out regularly of their fill of coffee cups and doggy bags.
On this day however, there appeared two portable toilets.
We stopped... stared... puzzled
and pondered... took a picture... pondered again... then continued on our way.
Besides being a never seen addition to the park's facilities, and being an unusual time of the year for them to be installed (with cold weather and limited
visitors), and being even more unexpected during the inevitable chaos and rush of a city lockdown, they magically appeared nonetheless.
I noticed that the portable toilets had insulation. I'd never seen that before. These two appeared
to be leaning into each other, huddled, and bravely facing the wind and biting cold, with little custom-fitted, silver, puffy jackets that were obviously designed to be removable in warmer weather.
The site and circumstance offered me
a little internal chuckle... "Of course they need insulation for our winter temperatures!", which even now in the latter half of March were still going as low as -20C without the windchill.
The next day when we walked back up the hill,
there was another surprise.
The portable toilets were now gone.
The invisible and magical elves that had installed them, had then just as stealthily taken them away the next day. Or even more intriguingly, perhaps
they were stolen... a convenient crime of opportunity in the midst of crisis? I wonder. Hmmmmm...
My ponderances since then have given me no factual reasons for their appearance and disappearance. And in lieu of embarking on any official
enquiry, I left it all up to my unlimited human imagination... just as all of us continually do for pretty well most everything in life.
We come up with stories to help make sense of life. It gives us a sense of control in a world that
is inherently uncontrollable. It gives us a known for the unsettling unknown. It gives us a feeling of security in the midst of feeling insecure.
Unfortunately, our believed stories also tend to create, extend, and magnify a lot of our
own internal suffering... our stories often give us specific enemies that we now need to fight against or change or control. We then rally support from others to further confirm how we are right and our confirmed enemies are wrong. And as long as our perceived
enemies exist, we need them to be vanquished before we can feel better.
What's interesting is that we can barely change or control ourselves, so what is the likelihood we can cause that to happen for others or for any of life's complex
circumstances? It's also interesting to note that without the stories, we have no enemies to fight.
So.... back to the mysterious appearing and disappearing portable toilets.
The best idea I came up with for the "why"
of this odd event, was something that occurred to me because of my work with the homeless...
Perhaps the city disaster planners were requesting portable toilets to be placed around the city for those needing them, now that many restaurants,
businesses, and other public facilities were being closed. Perhaps in the initial rush and chaos, the city workers were instructed to start adding them to various parks frequented by some of the homeless. Perhaps then, once the city drafted a more cogent plan,
some of the portable facilities then had to get moved again.
I'm amusedly imagining that the city workers responsible for installing and uninstalling, likely created a story about their "genius" management enemies, who typically came up
with plans, and then immediately changed them.
And that's my story for now, and I'm sticking to it.
The interesting thing about this event, is what I eluded to earlier. In the absence of some or all facts, and even
with the presence of all apparent known facts, we still make stuff up and identify enemies.
But what we make up can NEVER be based on any pure truth.
It is always based on all the incredibly complex and mostly unconscious
personal filters of our past experiences, knowledge, memories, assumptions, biases, culture, history, heritage, beliefs, identity, fears, perspectives, preferences, views, habits, state of mind, imagination, personal creativity, and a generous soupçon
of the creative potential of the universe thrown in for good measure.
We think we know what, who, and why. We think we know the absolute truth. But all of our determined "whys" are always, at some level, and often at a significantly extensive
level, made up.
But I wonder...
What if we could consider that we don't truly know what's going on, we don't truly know why, we don't truly know what is fair or unfair, and we don't even truly know what (or who) is
right or wrong?
And although the idea of "not knowing" may seem somewhat ridiculous, or illogical, or unsettling... it may be worth reflecting on.
There is a great deal of peace and wisdom and in-the-moment common
sense to be found whenever we discover we can't really know any whole or definitive truth about any of the incredibly complex circumstances of life. In that awareness of "not knowing", we don't have to identify any specific enemy, and we become free to live
in more acceptance, understanding, and wonder for the unknown.
With nothing truly known, there is nothing to hold onto, or fight against, or defend, or justify, or reason, or figure out. We get to just watch what appears in each moment,
respond to it as we can, and do it all with much less stress and effort and resistance.
And just like those portable toilets that were magically there and then gone again, we may notice that our stress-inducing-enemy-identifying thoughts
will, if we let them, simply appear and disappear. And perhaps any time they do appear, we might remember how RARELY we need to know "why", in order to be able to do whatever our common sense tells us to do next, including the choice to just continue on our
PS... I can't believe it didn't occur to me to open the door and get a photo of the toilet paper!
He was on his bicycle, which had seen better days, and so had his clothes, being ill-fitting and likely unwashed for days. He seemed quite old to be on a bicycle, but perhaps that was just the physical imprint of a difficult life. He was peddling down
the street with two swaying bags, one strapped to each bicycle handle, and with both bags filled with beer cans to be taken back to the store for the deposit refund.
He was likely one of those I see occasionally digging through garbage
cans and scanning through parks where beer cans tend to be tossed away by the many who can't seem to be bothered with the effort of returning them. This man on the bicycle saw those cans differently.
In the past I would have seen this
man in a variety of different ways.
At times I might have felt sorry that he had to dig through garbage cans to survive. At times I might have been fearful or uncomfortable, not sure of what to expect of his actions, and being ready to
divert my eyes if he looked at me. At times I might have been relieved and thankful that I didn't have to dig through garbage cans for my own survival. At times I might have barely taken notice of him. But in each case, my thinking would have presented to
me some sense of separation between he and I, and some sense of belief that he was "less" in some way.
On this particular day however, that sense of separation and comparison, and perception as less didn't happen.
we drove by, a powerful and physical burst of connection filled my heart. I saw that he was neither less nor greater than me. I saw that we were, in a significant and profound way, exactly the same. And although his circumstances and appearance indicated that
we lived in very different worlds, where mine appeared to be the eminently preferred one, I realized in that moment that the idea and judgment of "separate" and "less" was completely untrue.
I KNEW that I could be on that bicycle, I could
be him, and I would be perfectly fine... and could in fact, be wholeheartedly joyful. I KNEW that although his outer appearance appeared to tell me a story, whatever was in his mind in that moment was completely hidden, and could have been an experience of
complete contentment. In that moment I saw that he wasn't slumped over in hopeless defeat, but was simply an industrious man, sitting upright on a bicycle, peddling through town on a spring day. At the same time, I was a woman, running errands around town
in a car, and looking out the window as I passed by. Two human forms modulating within the energetic exchange and movement of life. Equal and incomprehensibly connected.
I often wonder if perhaps in that moment, he felt it too.
I can't effectively articulate this moment of KNOWING, but it's one that comes to mind in times when my own personal story, or the stories of our world, appear to be scary or confusing. It offers a felt memory of something much more UNCONDITIONAL and IMPERSONAL
about life, something that offers freedom from any immediate need for change, while presenting a TRUTH about life that is paradoxically unchangeable.
I know I'm not alone in my sense of this. I know of others who have their own unique
stories of KNOWING this connection or realizing this awareness in their own unique way. My guess is that everyone intuits this in some way, even if their own intellect tends to reject it. My guess is also that whatever stories we may hold about what our life
or this world means, it may be worth a moment of reflection to look beyond what appears to be the chaotic circumstances in any moment. Beyond the visible there's something significant and solid and beautiful to be found.