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The pain then is part of the goodness now

So sometimes we are confronted with the pain of others and its raw and its hard and it hurts, both them and us. You know, we make choices in our lives and sometimes, I think about those choices and it’s hard to see the path linking them through time… that golden filament weaving through the events and moments of our lives, driven forward fast and inexorably by time’s arrow darting forward ever forward and our decisions behind us and our minds somewhere in between trying to grasp and compute what happened, what’s going on and where the arrow might be going to land.

The train just passed over a bridge that forded a river of black glittering water, like polished obsidian in the night. There was a light from a factory on the riverside, lights making a flickering pattern like gold brocade on black velvet fabric, stretching out like a ribbon across the land, leading away from the train and city and into the darkness of the faraway night full of mystery and dreams and the future and the past.

I noticed an armada of geese or ducks — I couldn’t tell ’cause I was far away looking down at them from the window of the train, like polished black figurines again the altnerating gold and oily black of the water below.

I’ve been thinking of how a friend had a moment where she was weak and succumbed to that pinprick sliver of time and now regrets and doubts and hunches her shoulders when she walks, worrying that carefree days may never again be hers.

Her mind is trapped in the dark lake of memory and reminding and the half-remembered thoughts of that black ribbon tracing back into her past and through a Moebius strip into her future, making her worry and doubt. I was thinking as I look out and feel the cadence and shake of the train that whatever bad she had in the past led her to something really good now and that something to celebrate and be joyful about. I told her that being around folks who care now is a blessing not to be taken lightly and if it took a dark passing to get into the light, then that’s a good thing and focusing on the old grumpy dark of the past only casts shade on a sunlit present.

Her eyes teared up and she said that it was a kind thing to say but I just said that it was the truth, simple and obvious. It was a moment of mutual understanding and it was pretty good.

I wonder though if words and pictures don’t objectify our feelings and the misty tangle of our memories which are complicated but sublime and so reduced when we we fit them to a word or a drawing or even a photo.

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Trains and travel

I am on the train from Ottawa to Toronto when I will take a bus back to my city, Hamilton. Whether it is silent and sleepy lights of the train at night with the murmuring voices of folks on their cell phones talking to people that it sounds like care about them or whether it is the rumble, rumble of the wagon and the feeling of being in pulled through the countryside…  I feel the jerky calm of transition as I move over the kilometres.

I have learned to find a separate peace on the move, particularly on the train because of its rhythmic cadence and the diffuse focus of the other passengers: some on their laptops absorbed by the blinking rectangle, others by their conversations longstanding or newfound, and yet others on their cellphones with family and friends or lovers lost or losing like the man sitting across from me who is making a last desperate attempt to convince someone hat he will be more available…

The train is a microcosm of life and I think about it while I sit here comfy and a little groggy after a long week in Parliament and some train wine behind me. I’m tired in that delicious way that makes you think about the next step.. a cold walk across union station to the bus and then a dark and cold walk from the bus to my car in Hamilton. And the cold stark light of the LEDs in the car and the trip home after midnight. In the cold and black of the night illuminated by the car beams and lit by my flickering memories of the week.

 

Thank you snowy morning

I woke up today to fluffy snowflakes floating down, softly and silently, on a slant because of the wind. I had woken up with a beating heart and some fear because I guess I had gone to bed worried about things.

I felt a little out of sort, nervy and out of sync. I almost knocked over my coffee cup when I reached out to grab the jar in which I keep my coffee beans. I didn’t feel good about that, it made me feel like I wasn’t up to the day.

And then the snow.

Large flakes, floating sideways in the grey morning light, a screen that brought mystery to my backyard, making the trees seem faraway as if in a dream. As I looked at the trees though the snowy mist I felt my heart rate slow, warmth come back to my limbs. Slowly I felt control return.

Slowly I felt control return. I noticed my breath again and felt the warmth of the coffee cup in my hand. Breath after breath, my muscles unclenched and I regained the smoothness of my movements.

I don’t know how long I gazed out the window, watching the snow slant silently – couldn’t have been longer than a minute or two – but it felt like time stopped. My day’s course was reset. It went from being a troubled day to smooth, calm one.

That snow helped me find my flow. I am grateful.

It has been a good day.

Lemon tree

Yesterday I picked a lemon from my lemon tree. It’s a Meyer lemon tree, and it stands quietly in the corner of my study by the window and the heating vent, looking outside and thinking of how much it misses summertime when it was on the porch bathing everyday in warm summerlight and the sounds of birds and chipmunks and squirrels and their friends.

I had spent time pollinating the tree, using a q-tip, stealing some particles of pollen from one flower and sprinkling them onto another. The effort yielded three four little lemonlings, which have since grown into lemons waiting to be plucked.

 

Lemon tree yielded her first fruit!

A photo posted by Alex Sévigny (@alexsevignyphd) on

So there it was, my first lemon like a little sun at the end of a green stem. I plucked it from the tree and grated its rind making for a wonderful, lemon-tangerine smelling zest characteristic of Meyer lemons. Scraped and cut and squeezed, my little lemon contributed to a lovely lemon pasta, the recipe for which you can find here.

 

Lemon pasta. With freshly picked lemon from lemon tree. Delish!

A photo posted by Alex Sévigny (@alexsevignyphd) on

The last half of the lemon’s juice gave up a beautful red kale caesar salad with vegenaise. Bitter and juicy and creamy and sweet, the salad was a wonderful end to a lovely meal. I was glad to have turned my first harvested lemon into a scrumptious, simple meal. I was thankful.

Swimming is beautiful

Last night I went for a nice swim at the Westmount Pool in Hamilton on the mountain. It was lovely to swim again after being away from it for a couple of weeks. I felt renewed.

There is something really special about community pools. The energy of a legion of people doing aquafit or just families having a lovely time playing in the water is soothing and makes me think of how happy people can be when they just splash around and laugh and giggle and do things together.

The warmth of the lights, the din and the water lend a certain feeling of security and belonging, while the fact that it fades into a faraway hum when my head is underwater in a rhythmic cadence of din and then distant hum and din and distant hum is mesmerising and relaxing. I feel my tension muscles relax and my mind open with each stroke, with the movement forward and the repetitive nature of the whole thing.

Length after length, stroke after stroke, breath after breath.

It reminds me that I’m alive and that everything happens in increments, despite it sometimes feeling as though it is all coming at me at once. That with every step, I making progress toward a goal, even if that goal is just to swim another length, back to where I came from.

After the swim, I love the humid air of the pool and the cool down period standing under the shower, feeling my body’s muscles moving in a coordinated way after working together to propel me forward through the water. I get a funny feeling that I know my body better when I stand in the change room, drying off and moving. My actions feel more fluid, more coordinated.

Swimming is beautiful.

Relevance is the new reputation

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2017 MCM Reunion and Professional Development Day in Manhattan. It was held at Lubin House, which is the New York City Campus of Syracuse University.

What a wonderful few days it was. Thoughtful, interactive lectures and the chance to connect and reconnect with great colleagues and friends. All of this in the heart of NYC, one of the world’s most dynamic and exciting cities.

I heard many great lectures that I will comment on over the next few blog posts, but was most struck by a sentence uttered by Gary Grates, an MCM alum from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.

He said, “Relevance is the new reputation.”

It’s a profound insight. We live in a world of instant access, dialogical relationships and media that has infiltrated every single corner of our lives. We exist, as Marshall McLuhan predicted, in the flow of information and pattern matching is our greatest asset and skill.

In a literate print-driven world, reputation is based on what has been written about you, what exists about you. Reputation is an inventory of assets and action catalogued as assets.

In a dialogue, media and information-driven world, reputation is the result of fit, of insertion, of a feeling of relevance.

Sweet moment on the train

I took the early morning train from Ottawa to Toronto today. It was dark when I started and I watched the quiet misty winterlight rise up as though from the forest floor. It was magical and made me feel like meditating but instead I read some of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums which I have been working through in stolen moments of free time.

I was struck that during breakfast in the train, one of the attendants picked up a baby girl of one of the passenger and walked her around the train whilst the young mom had her breakfast. It was natural and friendly and cheerful. No guile or pretence.

Life should be more like that, shouldn’t it? Trusting and helping each other in a brotherly or sisterly way should be a commonplace.

That would make for a better world, in my mind anyhow.

Q & A on my first year as a vegetarian

It has been almost a year since I left meat behind and changed my diet. People often ask me about what my experience has been like: Has it been hard? Did it cause you social stigma? What was hardest to give up? Are you protein deficient?

I thought I would compile my answers to some of the top questions I have gotten at dinner parties, social events and on planes, trains and automobiles as people heard that I had become plant-centric and plant-based.

Plant-based eating is the future. Millennials, rich people and highly educated people have known for a while, but we are on the brink of everyone else finding out now.


Why did you do it?

I did it for health reasons. After my father had a stroke, I started to get serious about my own health. His stroke happened on my 42nd birthday and it was a big deal for me – a shock and a reminder that no one is immortal.

I started looking into health causes of strokes and cardio events. All the evidence I could find was that veganism or vegetarianism reduces all cause mortality by a significant margin. This was brought home to me through the work of Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn whose book: Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease is very convincing. I highly recommend it.

Since then I discovered the wok of Dr. Michael Gregor, How Not To Die, which is an engaging read demonstrating the healthful power of vegan/plant-based eating.

Are you going to become vegan?

Right now, I am not on the road to becoming completely vegan.  However, I would say that I eat plant-based meals 60% of the time right now, with my only exceptions being eggs, cheese, and oysters!

Have you seen any health benefits?

Yes. Enormous. I have lost 20 lbs. My blood pressure has plummetted. As well, when I actually have a string of vegan days, my blood pressure gets down to 100/60, down from 130/80 when I was eating meat. As well – particularly on vegan days – my resting heart rate has dropped from ~77 to ~60.

But don’t you lack energy?

No, quite the opposite. My energy level is very high and I never get that sick feeling that I used to after eating meat. In fact, I recently bought a bike and have a goal of doing a triathlon this summer. There are many examples of plant-based and plant-centric athletes, such as Brendan Brazier and Rich Roll.

Ok. So you started for health reasons. How about the animals?

To be honest, I was not very aware of the plight of animals on farms when I started my vegetarian adventure. The fact is that many factory farm animals live lives of torture and suffering.

Watching movies like Cowspiracy and listening to Rich Roll’s excellent podcasts has reinforced this for me and brought home the healing power of plant-based (vegan) living. From duck-down coats, to your cosmetics tested on animals, to the coyote fur brimming your parka’s hood — you are being made a participant in the torture and slaughter of innocent sentient beings.

Once I came to this realisation, I couldn’t unthink it.

I am done with meat and I do my very best to avoid products that use animal parts such as skin, fur, feathers and down. Does that mean I am throwing away my leather couches or jacket? No. That would be absurd and disrespectful to the beings who gave their skin to the creation of that furniture or those clothes. Will I ever buy another leather couch or jacket? No.

So before you think I have become an animal rights fanatic or something let me explain.

Through my own lifestyle change, I have discovered that ending my consumption of products that depend on violence towards animals or their bodies and minds has enhanced my awareness of suffering in people too.

We should strive toward a non-violent, cruelty-free and suffering-free society for all sentient beings. That means animals and people.

How about the environment?

Animal husbandry is a greater source of emissions. The pollution doesn’t end there, either. Whether it is the incredible amounts of animal waste that factory farms generate or the methane those animals emit, the animal husbandry industry is a major contributor to climate change and polluter of our lakes, rivers and soil.

Was it hard to give up meat?

Yes, at first, it was. I longed for a burger at first. But after a while, I guess my microbiome changed and my body and mind stopped craving meat. In fact, I recently went to buy olives at the grocery store and found myself in the middle of deli section where the olives are found. I felt sick. The area looked like an abbatoir or a morgue. It smelled like death. I saw body parts all around me. I was repelled and left as fast as I could.

Do that mean you have become a delicate petal?

No. It means that over the course of the last year my body’s microbiome has changed and things that used to smell good to me now smell really gross.

How about cheese and dairy?

Well, I am not vegan. I enjoy cheese and eggs. I don’t like milk – I never have. I have always preferred soy or almond alternatives.  I love cheese in my pasta and on a caesar salad. I do prefer vegenaise to mayo.

On the one hand I recognize that cheese is full of saturated fat, which is bad for me. On the other hand, I don’t eat it massive quantities.

Also, I think (although many will disagree) that cheese and eggs can be ethically sourced. I have visited the farm that produces the eggs that I buy and the chickens look very happy. They run around the barnyard, eat lots of kale and bugs and worms, and run happily toward the farmer when he approaches. They really love him.

How about fish?

Well, I was a pescetarian for the first half of the year, but then I gave up the fish as well. I did this more for ethical reasons than for health ones – fish farming has a strongly negative environmental effect. Also, I found that my taste for flesh has really diminished and I don’t crave fish flesh. I have to admit that I still love oysters!

How about vitamin b-12 and omega-3?

I have discovered that you can get more than enough of both of these through flax and chia seeds or by supplementing. There is nothing better than overnight oats with lots of chia, hemp and/or ground flaxseed. Fortified almond milk can be a great source of b-12 as well.

How about protein?

Well, I still eat cheese which has protein. As well, I eat a lot of kale, beans and grains, which also have a lot of protein!

Has this been hard, socially?

Ha. No. In fact, I find that there are tons of veggie options at most restaurants. You just sometimes have to get a few appetizers and a salad instead of a main course.

Also, most people I have spoke with tell me that they would like to reduce or eliminate the meat in their diet. The percentage of vegetarians has been growing enormously in the last ten years, particularly among millennials who are the likeliest to be vegetarian of any generation.

I think meat-eating is going to quickly become something that old people, less-educated people and poorer people do, like smoking.

Alex, are you a fanatic now?

No, I am not. I have made a conscientious choice to do something for my health, for the good of animals and to help build a better, cruelty-free world.

Do you judge me for eating meat, Alex?

No, I don’t. You are just making a different life-choice than me.  It’s a choice. We live in a free country. You can do as you please.

It comes down to a simple thing: I don’t want a sentient being to have to die so that I can eat a meal.

New Year’s Resolutions 2017

 

In 2016, my resolutions concerned trying to craft a life amid the enormous amounts of work that I do. We are all storm-tossed as we sail the seas of career, personal goals, and relationships. I made it my aim to be mindful and examine the different elements of my life and try to find myself in them. In that, I feel I met those resolutions. 2016 was a year of growth and self-awareness. A good year.

In terms of health and fitness, I definitely got somewhere. First, I became pescetarian then vegetarian. Then I lost 20 lbs, going from 192 last New Year’s Day to 172 today. I can run and swim now, too.

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

  1. Write a book. I have been thinking about several themes and gathering data for a while now. I am now ready to give shape to these patterns of thought in long form. I haven’t really felt ready until now.
  2. Pray, meditate and be mindful. I will continue along the path that I started on a year ago and try to meditate and pray daily. I have been starting the mindful practice of saying a quick, silent, unobtrusive prayer of gratitude before meals – no one even notices! Prayer, meditation, and mindfulness don’t feel like a chore so much anymore, so I am hopeful for this year.
  3. Build on the basic fitness I have achieved to become an athlete again. Last year, I invested time and became quite good at running and swimming. This year my aim is to learn to cycle effectively and maybe complete a triathlon. Not to compete, just to finish. This will mean getting overall weight down to a lean, muscular, 150 lbs or so.
  4. Find time to build a real life. I work incessantly, but I am feeling that neglecting my personal life has actually been holding me back from achieving the things I want. Right now, relaxation seems to involve mostly just collapsing exhausted in front of Netflix. I need to find time for true rest and leisure – actually spending time doing simple, fun things, maybe even with other people.

So there you have it. Let’s see how it goes.

The Outdoor Pool

On sunny summer days, the water calls
Transparent between blue walls, reflecting the sky
We gather in the change room, often silent
Stripping down with no pretence
There are ladders in the pool
No hierarchy though
Just grace and speed and will
The coolness of the water
Distant splashes around you
Brief bursts of music through your cap
Rhythmic breathing bringing calm and peace
Perpetual movement going nowhere but far
Repetition becoming contemplation
It’s a quiet place
Where you’re together but apart
And it’s ok

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