This May marked the twenty-first year I have been writing.
Of course, I had been stringing words together before that. In fact, in Grade Five I won an award for my writing. First and only award to date. But May 1988 was when I began consciously writing. It was when I decided, subconsciously at first, to become a writer.
My first writing venue was a street lamp near my suburban Burlington Ontario home. My first genre: really awful, angst ridden teenage poetry. My first topic: heartache, loss, nature, the doors of perception (I was reading Jim Morrison’s poems at the time), and love. Yes, the kind of love between two people, but also a bigger love that incorporated the rest of humankind, and the universe.
With the exception of Jim Morrison, not much has changed.
Then, as now, I felt that I was a conduit through which the universe might communicate.
We all are.
Writing is the tool I have used to channel my particular part of the universe’s energy.
For the longest time I thought it would be photography. Starting in about 1985 or so I was pretty dedicated to the art of black and white photography. But working in a professional photographer’s studio for a few months after graduating from high-school pretty much put that ambition to bed. I still love to view the world through my camera. A single image can say as much as any essay or book I might pen (I won’t insert the cliché). But it is when I am at the keyboard that I feel most in touch with the creative energy of the universe.
A number of years ago I started seriously writing fiction. I penned my first short story in 1994, while living at Grand Canyon National Park for a winter. I’ve written two or three dozen short stories and a couple of novellas since. In 1999 I spent the better part of my summer researching and writing a novel called Across the Universe. I got about 300 pages into the project and stalled. Summer’s were short in the Canadian Rockies.
In 2003 I began writing the Cole Blackwater mystery series. Writing can often be hard work, but writing about this hard-edged, soft-hearted environmental sleuth was easy. Once I established a pattern to my writing the words just flowed. Making time to write, and to write every day, was a challenge, but once seated at the computer, following a story-line scribbled on a sheet of butcher paper or typed out in rough, the words just poured out of me like water. It was as if, after many years of searching, I had found the tap and turned it on.
The first book took its own sweet time to congeal, but not so for the second and third books in this environmental murder mystery trilogy.
Circumstances played a role in the ease of this writing, mind you. I found myself, in the early days of 2007, with more time on my hands that I might have chosen: I had recently separated and was living on my own – Rio and Silas with me three nights of the week – so I could rise at 5am and write for three uninterrupted hours each morning. My consulting work was steady but not overwhelming, so throughout the day I could return my attention to the misadventures of Cole Blackwater to edit and revise what I had written that morning.
I wrote the first draft of the second book in the Cole Blackwater series in 28 days.
The third book followed soon there-after. It was much more intricate, with a very complex and disturbing antagonist, so it took two full months to pen the 500 page first draft.
Writing these books was pure bliss.
It was easy. They flowed. I knew beyond a doubt that I had discovered my dharma.
Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means purpose in life.
According to Deepak Chopra – whose book the Seven Spiritual Laws of Success has meant so much to me over these last few years – there are three components to the ancient law of Dharma.
The first is that each of us has a unique purpose in life. The universe has conspired to give us human form to discover that purpose.
The second component of Dharma is to express our purpose through our unique talent, or talents.
The third component of Dharma is to serve humanity, and all of creation, through those talents.
Chopra argues that if you can discover your purpose, express it through your unique talents and serve others doing this, then you might tap into the unlimited abundance that the universe is able to provide. This is not merely physical wealth, but emotional and spiritual abundance too.
This might be true; I’m still waiting for the largess to arrive in the mail in the form of a royalty cheque.
What I know for certain, however, is that by discovering my Dharma – or what will certainly be a part of my life’s purpose – I have been able to tap into an abundance I had never imaged existed before in the universe.
When I am writing sometimes I “disappear.”
Stephen Legault, physical form – balding, slouched over the keyboard, cup of tea growing cold close at hand – dissolves. What remains is part of the electric current of spirit I have described elsewhere; an extension of all life, or all the energy and information that has existed for all time, blinking in and out of existence, taking on the momentary form of people, of planets, in contact with everything else in the universe.
Momentarily I am simply a conduit through which the ideas, the energy, the love of all life can pass, through my heart, out my fingers, and onto an electronic page.
It’s an imperfect universe, and so the creation is also imperfect. The universe, obviously, could care less for spelling and grammar mistakes. Its also struggled with past and future tense. And it’s got a certain affinity for vulgarity. But when I am truly connected with my Dharma, my purpose, I am a pipeline through which the universe’s energy passes and I am left to experience the sensation of bliss; where I feel as through I am all things and the boundaries between the hard-edged physical me and the softer, more supple energetic world vanish.
Several times, during my stint writing the third Cole Blackwater book, the experience was so overwhelming I had to stop writing all together, press my hands flat against my desk and close my eyes to allow the sensation to move through me. It was like cold fire passing through my entire body, and it brought tears to my eyes.
Anything that feels that good can’t be to far off from what the universe intends for you.
My blessings are many, because I also feel such bliss when immersed deeply in nature, when being fully present with my children, and when absorbed in the rapture of my wife’s generous love.
There is a theme here: you and I are temporary beings, having taken physical form, and we have a chance to experience our single, or many, unique reasons for being if we choose. That purpose need not meet anyone else’s notion of meaningful. Your purpose may serve humanity in ways only you might understand. But when we are living our lives in a way that expresses that unique purpose fully, there can be bliss so profound that it stops us cold. It is that bliss that I live my life for, and through.
It’s hard to know the right thing to do when it comes to parenting.
There’s no manual.
There are lots and lots of books filled with advice, but no actual operational guide.
And that, of course, makes it pretty much the same as everything else in life.
Rio turned seven in January. It seems like so long ago now; we’re halfway to eight. But at the time it felt momentous. He seemed to go from being a little boy to a little man almost overnight.
In the yogic tradition our lives are segmented into seven year periods of development that follow the progression of the seven chakras. The first, or base charka is about connecting to the earth and the material world; it’s about stability. About getting our footing in life.
The second, or sacral chakra is about sensuality, creativity, enthusiasm and exploration.
According to the Yogic tradition the seventh year is a period of transition and contemplation.
Rio is moving through such a transition now. Its beautiful, and challenging, to be a part of it. In the end the best I can do is watch, hold his hand, and love him as he deepens his experience of this extraordinary life.
Earlier in the spring Rio and Silas, who is now almost four, and still very much connecting with the earth and seeking stability, spent an afternoon at Clover Point, looking out at the Juan de Fuca Straight. I was frustrated because the afternoon wasn’t going as I had envisioned. It was cold, and when we traipsed down to Mount Doug beach half an hour earlier it was in the shade and felt like winter. I complained bitterly. I turned the two children around and, still complaining, traipsed them back up to the car and made for the more dependable Clover Point. The sun was out but so was the wind, and my mood which was sour from a day of too much city and too many responsibilities was as biting as the breeze.
We settled onto the beach and after a few minutes of sun and stones and waves I was able to relax. Silas bouldered while Rio contemplated me as we draped ourselves over a driftwood log.
“Dad,” he said, and the rarity of his using my title rather than the more familiar “Stephie” surprised me. “Dad, is it hard being an adult?”
“Sometimes it is,” I said without hesitation, and then exhaled loudly into the chilly air. “But most often we just make it hard.”
I turned and looked at him, at his beautiful face. “We have expectations about how things are supposed to be, and when they aren’t, we get frustrated or angry and make ourselves unhappy.”
Attachment leads to suffering.
“Do you know what expectations are?” I asked.
“Things that we hope for,” he said.
“That’s right, things we want to happen. We have stories playing in our head all the time about how our lives are supposed to be. When the stories don’t come true we are unhappy. Adults have a lot of expectations and life often doesn’t turn out the way we want. It’s not that it’s always bad. It’s often very good. It’s just that we can never really know what’s going to happen, so we have to let go of our stories. Does that make sense?”
He smiled and nodded. “Why do you ask?” I said.
“You once asked me if it’s hard to be a boy,” he said.
“And is it?”
“No. Not really.”
I pulled him over the log and held him in my arms and we looked for beach glass and he told me all the things that he wanted to be when he grows up. It was agreed that he could be all of them and many, many more. We agreed that I could be all the things I wanted to be too, and many more that I hadn’t thought about yet.
Early summer now, and Rio and I are lying on his bed, reading books. The boys spend about forty percent of their time with Jenn and I; the rest of the time they are with their mom and step-dad Andy. Both boys spend a lot of time talking about their lives at their other home when they are with their respective parents. I hear about Kat and Andy a lot, as I think they hear about Jenn and me a great deal too. Sometimes, however, I grow weary of the list of cool things that Kat, but mostly Andy, do with the boys.
I don’t have anything against Andy. In fact, I really like him. If I could hand pick a step-father for the boys, I’d pick Andy. He’s smart, funny, loving, adventurous and practical. He teaches them a lot, and loves them deeply. But I get pretty jealous of the fact that he gets to see them more than I do, and sometimes when I get my four nights with the boys, I don’t feel I need him coming along for the ride, even if its only in the endless parade of stories the boys trot out about how they spend their time.
So I said to Rio, “You know, you told me you like to have adult conversations, so I’m going to tell you sometime in an adult way. When you talk about Andy so much all the time, it makes me a little jealous. I wish that when you and I were together that we could just focus on us, and maybe not talk about Andy all the time.”
Rio looked at me and said, “Well Steph, it’s just that I like Andy better. He’s funny, and he wrestles with me more.”
It wasn’t said to be mean; it was said matter-of-factly.
It felt as if someone had punched me in the stomach. I lay back on the bed next to my son and looked at the ceiling. He read his books. People have said some pretty awful things to me, and about me, in my life, but nothing compared to this. Nothing. I felt sick. I felt like I wanted to run away. I felt like weeping.
Suffering is caused by attachment. I am attached to my love for my son. For my children, and for my wife. You never expect to hear that one of them loves someone else more. Especially not your seven year old little man.
I fully expect to hear both my children tell me they hate me. I just through I had until they were teenagers before that happened, and it would be because I had stopped them from drinking all of my beer.
But hearing Rio tell me he liked Andy more brought all my fear to the surface. Since leaving two-and-a-half years ago, I’ve been afraid of loosing my children. I’m not afraid that I won’t ever see them again: I’m afraid that I will slowly be replaced. Rio’s casual statement cut me to the quick.
So I lay there and looked at the ceiling and wondered what to do? Get angry? Yell? Run away? Cry?
I had to take all of that emotion and turn it; I had to take that frustration and anger and most of all, my fear — that black, oppressive fear — and turn it into love.
Fear casts a shadow over love, but love can overcome fear.
So I rolled over and grappled with the lanky kid and said, “Andy wrestles more, does he? We’ll see about that!” and I put the little bugger in a half-nelson and pinned him. Well, not really. But we did wrestle.
It was a momentary victory: conquering fear; conquering my habitual angry response to fear.
But my dread didn’t abate. For the next two days I felt angry and upset. Finally, when she was sick of me over reacting to everything, being cantankerous and mean Jenn said to me: “Why don’t we just talk about what this is really all about. It’s about you and Rio.”
We talked it out. A seven year old can’t know how much a simple statement can hurt. He may not even mean it. As Jenn told me, “one day the monster loves broccoli and the next he hates it….” And Jenn reminded me, for the thousandth time, that I am his father, the only one he will ever have.
And then a couple of days later, when I was dropping the boys off with Kat, I mentioned the story and she laughed and said, “Yeah, I think they like Andy better than me most of the time too….”
Its best not to take things too seriously.
Now I think back to a time late last fall when Rio, Silas and I were engaged in a familiar tradition: we visited Ross Bay Cemetery. The leaves at Ross Bay Cemetery are great for jumping in, and the boys love to create huge piles and leap into them. Who doesn’t? The cemetery was little more than an interesting setting for our activities until Rio asked about all the headstones and who was buried beneath them.
“Some people get burnt up!” Silas added to our conversation on burial.
Rio shot him an angry look and then cast his eyes down. Then he started to cry.
“What’s the matter?”
He hooked his arms around me and cried into my chest.
“I don’t want you to leave me,” he said, sobbing.
“I’m not going to leave you,” I said.
“I don’t want you to get burned up. I don’t want you to leave.”
It’s hard to know what to say.
“I love you,” I finally said. “I love you more than all the leaves in the world; I love you more than all the stars in the sky” I said, repeating our familiar refrain. I held him while his tears dried. “Everybody dies someday. We just have to love each other as much as we can while we’re here together.”
I suppose that was enough said, because we built another pile of leaves and jumped up and down in it.
The message of that moment isn’t lost on me now, six months later: love them while they are here. They love you, you fool. Love them and then let them go. You don’t ever forget about them; there isn’t a moment you don’t love them more. You just have to let go.
When Rio was born I dubbed him my little Taoist master. At first he didn’t know it, but slowly he’s coming to understand his role as my teacher, just as I have a role in teaching him. It’s an awesome responsibility, just as it’s an amazing opportunity.
It’s worth considering just exactly where, in terms of seven year cycles the father in this equation is at: at thirty eight, I’ve just entered the sixth stage, or chakra. It’s also known in some circles as “the third eye.” According to most resources I consulted for this entry, this seven-year phase of life is when we might shed off our illusions in time to integrate all of the qualities of each chakra and experience true reality. One online entry reads: “The sixth chakra is the chakra of forgiveness and compassion. Forgiveness is the power to let go of anger, hatred and resentment and to discover, in humility, the nobility and generosity of the Spirit. It is the one that dissolves all our conditionings, ego, habits, false ideas of racialism, and all our misidentifications. It is the narrow gate which opens the way for our consciousness to ascend to its final destination, which is the seventh center.”
It’s not easy. There is no instruction manual. The lessons come hard sometimes, if they come at all. It would be far simpler to just ignore them and watch summer reruns on TV.
Three lessons by a seven-year old. A boy, so early in life, grounding himself, finding his feet and exploring his world. A man, approaching the middle of the journey, but also exploring the true nature of the experience of being human.
We’ve all heard the banal, new age expression that “we’re all one.”
I’ve written about this myself many times, talking about my experiences with my children, and the mirror of nature that we all reflect.
At the quantum level, where the hard boundaries that seem to exist between us evaporate into fuzzy, swirling clouds of subatomic matter — blinking in and out of existence like an old movie projector — there can be no way to discern where I begin and where you end. Despite being the basic building block of all “things,” the atom is curiously empty of almost anything. 99.9% of an atom’s mass is concentrated in its nucleus, where the protons and neutrons hang out, but this only constitutes an infinitesimally small fraction of the atom’s actual size. The rest is an electron cloud, held together by electromagnetic force inside an electrostatic potential well. This cloud is almost entirely nothing at all. In addition, this bundle of nothing can best be characterized as potential matter, because until it’s observed, it’s neither a particle (a thing) or a wave (movement). It’s potentially both at the same time.
And that’s the stuff we’re made up of.
What’s more, the theory of entanglement states that everything that was once touching is still touching – and it was all touching at the moment of the Big Bang. Two electrons separated from one another by a great distance both react at the exact same moment when one of them is disturbed. Twins often react the same way. And so to does everything else in the universe, only on a more subtle scale.
The space between us is an illusion of our senses.
So we’re mostly nothing, with no hard boundaries, composed of matter that is simultaneously the potential of both a “thing” and “movement,” and we are touching everything else in the universe at the same time.
I guess the reason that we don’t often see the world as it actually exists is because our sense of taste, sight, hearing, smell and feel have developed to keep us from being eaten by sabre toothed tigers and from falling into lava flows rather than experiencing the world as wavy masses of blinking energy without borders or limitations.
Most of the time we can’t see it, taste it, smell it, hear or fee it, so like the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, it simply doesn’t exist. (The same can be said of God, but that’s for another story.)
Here’s the crux of my argument in favour of one: I have experienced this union in my day to day life.
Recently I experienced it on the most singularly important day of my life so far.
Two weeks ago Jenn and I were married. It was an amazing day, and the culmination of a year and a half of days both wonderful and challenging as two people, in the early-middle of their lives wove their worlds together.
We married at a small lodge in the mountains west of Canmore, Alberta called Mount Engadine, and were joined by Rio and Silas, our immediate families, and a few close friends. The backdrop of the mountains, moose grazing in the meadows a few hundred feet from where we wed, and the circle of loved-ones who joined us made our marriage magical.
I’ve long held that love is the most important thing in the world. I teach Rio and Silas that. I’ve not always been able to live as through love were paramount, but I’ve tried hard to demonstrate this belief through my actions.
I’ve more recently postulated that the love is the energy behind the creation of, and underlying existence of everything in the universe. The energy released by the Big Bang that has now created a billion swirling galaxies, and that when imprinted with the information also present at the moment of creation now forms everything from platypuses to people, is actually love.
Its all energy and information, just rearranged to create stars and starlings; planets and plankton. Love is the energy; the energy is love. Human kind’s greatest gift from evolution is that we are perfectly adapted to be receptors for, and expressions of this energy. While the rest of the creatures we share this planet with live by this energy on a day to day basis, we can’t be certain any of them experience love as we do.
But for human kind, it’s a certainty. We experience perfect moments of love. And when we do, we’re conduits for the raw energy of the universe. People often describe these moments of union with another person, with their children, with a pet, or with a beautiful place as feeling connected, or feeling as through they are a part of something much larger than themselves. Sometimes we go so far as to explain that they feel a certain…oneness….
And of course, we do. That bond we feel when experiencing love is actually a moment when the barriers to understanding the universe as it really exists evaporate and we sense the pure energy that forms everything in the cosmos binding us to everything else.
It is bliss.
There is no proof for this conjecture about love. There never will be. This isn’t about the scientific method of inquiry. This is about direct experience. This is what I have experienced in my life, and that can’t be supported or disavowed by any set of controls or experimentation.
On a sunny afternoon in the Rocky Mountains I experienced once again the bliss that alerts me to my connection with everything else in the universe, and with the magnificent energy of love. I held hands with Jenn on the broad sundeck of Mount Engadine Lodge before gathered friends and family and committed my life to her.
When she walked out of the lodge on her father’s arm to greet Rio and Silas and I standing hand in hand awaiting her appearance, I felt a tunneling of my vision that I hadn’t ever experienced before. I must have shooed the boys away to sit with their grand parents because suddenly we were there, alone, facing one another. I was lost in her.
In that moment there had never been anything more beautiful in the universe to me than Jenn.
Carl Shields, our marriage official, read our service. It was simple and eloquent. We choose to include a passage from Kahlil Gibran’s 1926 book The Prophet:
Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and must have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.
I bumbled the whole I do thing, thinking that Carl’s question was more properly answered (phonetically speaking) with I will, and then had to quickly add “I do” lest the whole service go off the rails (it’s a present tense, not a future tense thing Jenn reminded me later).
And then suddenly we were married. It’s just a word; just a legal formality. But it isn’t really. It’s an affirmation of one of the most profound aspects of the human condition. It’s a celebration of what may well be the most unique experience of the fundamental backbone of the universe. We human creatures are receptor towers tuned to experience the pure energy of the universe: love.
When I married Jenn, it was a public declaration that two such human beings had come together in a union of that pure energy, of that pure love. And if time and the graces of that same universe are willing, it is only the very beginning of what we can do with that magnificent energy.