Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fufiling a Prophecy

Thomas Moore, in Care of the Soul, writes that we should try to bring more mystery, magic and sacredness to our daily lives.  Well, how about fufilling a prophecy?

You don't get to do that everyday!

A week ago, Brother Edward and I were chit chatting at the abbey about the reasons he became a monk.  He shared that years ago, as he prepared to enter the Scourmont Abbey, he had been at an evangelical Church, where somebody had prophesized about him.   They claimed that he "would touch thousands through the apostlelate of the smile".  In other words, he would spread light and love through his smile.

But how do you do that when you're a cloistered monk?   He didn't think much of the prophecy at the time.  

Well, I can vouch for two things.  One, Brother Edward has a great smile.   You feel it when he laughs and talks jovially with you.   Two, he has surely touched hundreds of visitors as they have passed through the Abbey.

As he spoke, I had a strong intuition.   I knew immediately it was essential I get his peace portrait for the 1Mandala project.   It wasn't easy-- snow storms, his limited availability, and bad lighting, meant I had to be very intentional about getting his photo.  But, together we did it.

Maybe its just me, after having got to know him, but I love this peace portrait.   I will be using it as one of them premier inspiring photos for the 1Mandala project.   If you're on the list, you'll be seeing it shortly.

And so too will 'thousands of people'!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Pain and the Pleasure

Can you have one without the other?  Last night, making my camp in a lonely Belgian forest, I decided to treat myself to a warm cup of coffee.  Alas, the transition for my newly adjusted teeth from cold (its kinda cold out here even in Belgium!) to warmth was too much.  I lay in agony in my little tent until my aspirin took hold.  

Yet, I am euphoric to be back on the road.   Freedom!   The open road.  The unknown.   Its immensely fufilling to be soaring across the Belgian coutryside.   I am following a canal into Brussels.   The trail is flat, car-less, and the water beside me still.  The trees reflect into its placid surface disturbed only by the languid swim of the ducks and herons.   Half the time I am riding with no hands-- arms outstretched to the sky.  My teeth are improving daily fortunately, and if anything the sensations deepen my consciousness of not only my food and drink, but of my moments.

I sit in a nice, warm cafe in Halle-- a town along the canal on the way to Brussels.   A long long time ago, Gerry remarked that my journey was taking me not only geographically but linguistically into the unknown.   I was have left English speaking Northamerica, to slightly, differently spoken England.  Then I moved to France, where my second language has been put to the test.   Then to the French part of Belgium, where French is spoken not only with a different accent but different terms and words.  Now, today to be precise, I have emerged into the first town where Dutch is the predominant language.  People still speak French, but not as much.   The balance will slowly change as I move North to Holland.  No more French there!

Yet, this linguistic barrier is proving to be another pleasure.  I love the challenge of languages.   It seems that challenge, lack of comfort, dare I say, even a little pain, are the harbringer of pleasure and satisfaction.   I tell you, tonight when I sleep in a real bed, in a warm house, it will deeply pleasurable!

"Ein cafe ass tu blief"

One coffee please!


Thursday, November 27, 2008

Goodbye Comfort. Hello Open Road

I have been at the monastery in Belgium for over two weeks now.  

 It has been nice.  Oh my goodness. It has been nice.   

My long cycle through France to get here was an intense exercise in existential uncertainty.   Day in and day I knew not where I would sleep or eat next, nor shower, nor wash my cloths.  Everything of course worked out marvelously, but it was a tad intense.   It was in this state that arrived at the monastery.   I marveled and beamed gratefullness at everything from the small cot to the warm showers.

Not only have I had three square meals a day, my own room, a killer WIFI connection, my own wood paneled office with vaulted ceilings, showers any time of day, and even laundry access, I've had a limitless supply of coffee and Belgian beer!   

And the monks really seem to like having me around.   They've taken pleasure in introducing me to the many other visitors and groups that have passed through.   A handful of these grand encounters I've recorded on the blog.

Normally visitors can only stay a week.  They Monks have more than bent the rule for me and have insisted I stay longer to wait out the bad weather.  Not to mention, their help with my teeth and our late night talks about art and life.  They still insist that if I wish to stay longer, I can.

Yesterday, Pere Jaques and I took a walk through the woods around the Abbey.   Its beautiful out in the expansive fields, orchards and forests of the monastery.   He lead me to a cabin in the woods-- a hermitage.   Equiped with a wood stove, kitchen, electircity, fire wood, bedroom and all the fundamentals.  He was basically offering to let me stay here over the winter.  My own place.  No rent, free meals down the path.  Electricity.  Gorgeous location.  

Alas, there comes a point where one must push on from comfort. 

My journey and the open road are calling me.   Iam reminded of some lines by Walt Whitman.   

"Allons! we must not stop here, 
However sweet these laid-up stores, however convenient this dwelling we cannot remain here, 
However shelter'd this port and however calm these waters we must not anchor here, 
However welcome the hospitality that surrounds us we are permitted to receive it but a little while.

...Allons! the road is before us!
It is safe -- I have tried it -- my own feet have tried it well -- be not detain'd!

Its cold and snowy outside.   I leave with only my summer sleeping bag and gear that just barely was sufficient during the Fall.   Yet, the road beckons.  What lays before me I know not.  I leave restored physically, spirtitually and dentally.  The 1Mandala project has progressed in leaps and bounds.  My cloths are clean, even my spice container is refilled.

The Unknown looms before me.   It offers no promise save that of no more comfort and of mystery.   Definitively daunting,  my heart beats faster and my palms sweat.   

Yet, the Unknown beckons.  

Allons!  On the Open Road towards Brussels I now head!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baguette Forest

I was going through my notes yesterday when I came across this journal entry.  It was never posted on my blog.  the experience happened a month ago while cycling through France when I was out of Euros and couldn't find a place to exchange my pounds-  not that I had much to exchange!   I never posted it because its seemed almost preposterously surreal.   Hearing the Lord's prayer today-- "Give us today our daily bread--   has inspired me to share it.

This morning, I awoke in a field far from any towns.  It was a crisp clear day as I poked my head out of the tent.  However, that past night, I had finished off my remaining food supplies.    I snacked upon my final apple, drank some water and set off a little hungry. 

Eating is important when you're cycling each day.  I wondered to myself: "What am I going to do for breakfast?"

My road took me into and through a lush oak forest.  The sun was rising and the golden rays were beginning to come through the yellowing canopy of leaves.  A dirt side road caught my eye.  I decided to turn off.   It looked like the perfect place for my morning yoga.  I cycled in a leisurely 50 metres or so.

It was then that I noticed the baguette. 

 It was on the side of the little road, untouched, not even dirty.  I cracked it open. It was all but fresh.  Then I noticed another. And another, and another!  Literally dozens of baguettes were scattered down the forest road for the next hundred meters.  They were at most a day old, completely clean and untouched.  It had rained that morning, and these had not been touched by it.

I was in awe.  More, fresh baguettes than I could ever need!  I felt like a character from the Old Testament blessed by mana falling from the sky.  

I knelt down and praised the universe.

As I got up, I discovered the chestnut.  I had been shown in England and in France how to eat them.  There were fresh, ready to eat chestnuts, everywhere.

What a breakfast.

Addendum:   The baguettes that I collected that morning, paired with a bottle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar, lasted for three to four days.   The bag of chestnuts that I collected lasted two weeks.  As I leave the comfort of the Abbey, this is a good experience to remember!

Yoga in the Church

Here at the Abbey, morning mass occurs everyday after breakfast.    The mass, with its echoing spiralling chants is beautiful.  I feel compelled to go.    However, on the road, this was usually the time when I would do my morning yoga.

The collision of habits, yoga and Church, is proving intriguing.   I am not Catholic, nor can I follow all of the French liturgy.   To enrich the experience I have been doing Yoga during the service.

One of my great partners, Gabrielle, showed me how to do Tadasana.  Its a seemingly simple yoga pose where you stand perfectly straight.   She told me how at a special workshop for yoga instructors, her guru had them work on the pose all day.   There are endless subtleties in just standing tall to work out!   Conveniently, you blend right in with everyone else who is standing up!

Early in my voyage, I had a landmark 3 hour conversation with Bojan, a chiropractor and his wife, a massage therapist, about posture, energetics, and personal beliefs.  One of his observations was that Christian religiosity tends towards bad posture-- just think of the image of bowing in prayer or lowering one's head in humility.   In my travels since, I have been observing the veracity of this in congregations across cultures and, alas, in myself.

By contrast, in Tadasana you stand tall and breath.   As the mass progress, as the chants flow, I have been working on this.  One's posture completely effects the way one absorbs one's world.  It is a great way to absorb the 'vibrations' of the mass.

 In an another encounter this summer, I met Patrick, a sound healer.  I really didn't think much of the concept, that is, until I experienced it first hand in a forested limestone gorge near Galstonbury, England.   Wow.  Deep, carefully crafted sound waves reverberating through your body can be a powerful experience.  It can take you quickly to higher states of consciousness.

Patrick, would totally dig the chanting here.   A Parisian priest I met yesterday observed: "You close your eyes and the chanting lifts you directly into communion with the Lord".  

A blizzard hit Belgium and it snowed again last night.   I am compelled to stay yet longer.  I really want to get back on the road and I am getting ancy.   

Standing in Tdassana, breathing deeply, and absorbing the deep intonations of the chants is fantastic way to immerse myself back in the moment.   The timing is as it should be.  I am indeed in a beautiful space.

Monday, November 24, 2008

With Gratitude

click to see larger version

I've been feeling enormously blessed lately.

My time here at the Abbey in Belgium has been one of peace, recuperation, and of creativity.

What a great combination. The peace has served to inspire not only the recuperation, but the creativity. Here is my latest painting, done in my time recuperating. It is a gift to Pere Jacques and the Abbey. It reflects how I feel about my rich and harmonious moment here.

The title is: 'Avec Gratitude' or 'With Gratitude'.

I was a little concerned on how it would be received. One never knows with aesthetic taste over culture and continent! There is art here in the Abbey, however 90% of the pieces have a guy hanging on a cross.

However, Pere Jacques immediately put it in on prominent display in the cafeteria. Visitors and staff have been commenting favourably on it every since. Yeay!

The best is at lunch when I get to listen to people talk about it who have no idea that I am the artist! After a while I get to step in and say with unique authority: "I think the artist really meant to say..."


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Belgian Kids Make Snowmen Too

Yesterday Pere Jaques and I went for a walk outside in the freshly fallen snow.   We made our way to an old farmhouse that the Abbey uses to host children's retreats.   There was a group of a dozen or two Belgian kids visiting-- scouts.   I was impressed by their progressive balance of genders!   In Canada scouts tend to still be all boys.

We were invited in for hot chocolate and cake.   The kids had just been building snow men outside.   Yep.  They do it too!   Apparently its quite rare to have snow like this at this time of year in Belgium and it doesn't stay for very long.

One thing led to another and I was talking to the kids about Canada over our hot cocoa.   I talked about how we have snow that stays all winter, the ways kids play in it, how cold it gets, etc.  You know, reinforcing all the good old Canadian stereotypes!  

However, they were particularly interested in our animals.  Bears to be precise!   If you hit a bear on the nose what will he do?   If you try and run, can they catch you?   If you take their food away do they get upset?  etc...

Hopefully, twenty years from now, somewhere in Canada's North, my answers will prevent the needless loss of life of several Belgian tourists!

I am Special

Oh my.   

It has snowed here in Belgium.   It is officially Winter.   This is sure going to make cycling interesting.  I am reassured that it will melt shortly.

I am now decidedly special.  How many other people are cycling across Europe in the middle of Winter?  

Hmmm.... perhaps 'unique' is a better word. 

Perhaps even 'insane'!

Friday, November 21, 2008

I am not a Serial Killer... Really!

Alright.  This post is a must read.  Especially for all of you out there who may have doubted the verity of some of the crazy tales I have told on this blog -- Vaughn!  At long last I have solid proof for my reality!   

In fact, it was even published in the Fortworth Star Telegram in Texas.

Waaaayyyyy back in steamy July, when I was riding through West Virgina, I met up with Buzz and his family.  A splendid evening followed.   I had promised to follow up with an e-mail but, alas, I lost the business card.  

I blogged here on the experience and it was soon buried into the data detpths.  There it lay, until just last night when I came across it in my archives.   Some web searches later, and I was able to drop Buzz a line.

It turns out, a professional writer, he too wrote about the evening! 

Now, I am a little biased, but this is tremendous stuff.   It was a chore not to wake up the monks by laughing out loud when reading it.  I am quite amused by how similar it is to my account


By Buzz McClain


            Something happened this summer that has stayed with me for a month and a half. It was a small thing, but as they say in the field of education, it was a learning moment.

            I took my 10-year old son Luke and two of his friends to our cabin by the river for an overnight stay. Tyler and Trevor are at that nutsy cuckoo stage where everything is funny; and they are, by and large, action-oriented kids. That said, I think Tyler watches too much TV, plays his video games too long and listens to his iPod a bit more than he might.

            But who am I to judge? I remember doing my homework while simultaneously watching the entire primetime offerings of whatever TV station was on. But of course, at our little cabin there is no TV, no DVD player, not even a GameBoy. The entire place is wireless – as in, having no wires. For entertainment we dig fishing worms.

            In any case, after a very, very hot day of cavorting in the river we adjourned to the bonfire and for some reason I just could not get the massive pile of wood to burn, no matter how many old copies of my wife’s Us and Hello magazines I piled under it. Realizing we required advanced technology, we made the quick trip into town to the Dollar General for lighter fluid.

            Coming out of Dollar General with our hands full of bottles of flammable accelerant and medieval foam swords (come on, you cannot go into Dollar General with three boys and not come out with foam swords), I saw a young man snapping shut his over-burdened panniers on his 10-speed bike. He picked up a well-worn map from the ground and carefully inserted it into a plastic holder on his handlebars. He was wearing compression shorts and a nifty old-fashioned shirt that tied across the placket with laces, pioneer style. He was not, as they say, from around these parts.

            He mounted up and pedaled to the parking lot exit which drew him near our truck. And that’s when I asked: “Where you headed?”

            He grinned and said, “Berlin.”

            Well, I knew there was a story there, because we were a good, oh, 10,000 miles from Berlin, Germany and as far as I knew, they haven’t finished building that bridge across the Atlantic.

            “Where are you staying?” I asked. It was near dark, and if he was camping he was going to be pitching his tent with a flashlight, as there are no public campgrounds for miles.

            “Oh, I’ve got a little tent,” he said. “I’m not sure where I’ll pitch it. Somewhere.”

            “Well,” I said, “you can do that, but we have a cabin not far from here that has a spare bed and a shower.”

            There was a slight pause while he took this in. “A shower?” He said it in that disbelieving way you do when you hear something that’s too good to be true.

            “Follow us. It’s about half a mile.” I rolled up the window and as we pulled onto the road I noticed how quiet the three boys had become.

            They were stone-faced in shock. In fact, there were tears in Tyler’s eyes.

            “What’s up, guys?” I asked.

            “Dad,” Luke struggled to say, “he could be a serial killer.”

            “Mr. McClain, we just saw ‘The Dark Knight’! He could be like the Joker!” Trevor said. “He could kill us in our sleep.”

            “Guys, guys! Calm down. He’s a guy on a long bike trip. He doesn’t need any help. He didn’t ask for anything. And he doesn’t want anything. But he’s been on the road a long time, and a soft bed and a hot shower will feel good. Sometimes you trust your instincts about people.”

            The boys were not convinced, not by me, anyway, but by first-hand exposure to Russell.

            As it turned out, Russell was an artist from British Columbia, from the area way up near Alaska, and he’d been biking more than a month. He was on his way to New York to catch a plane to London where he would buy another bike and pedal to Berlin where he hoped to receive a commission for an art installation.

He specializes in oversized mixed-media mandalas; imagine symmetrical snowflakes made up of photographs or fruit or tiny army soldiers – he’s done them all. I know this because he showed me impressive photos of his work on his iPod touch, a gadget I hadn’t touched before that.

He had the 32-gig version, and that baby could fly. Really remarkable fluidity. Not that I want one for my birthday or anything.

As it happened, Russell was at the Dollar General because of his iPod. “I’ve had the worst day of the trip,” he said. “My iPod fell out of its case, got caught in the spokes, snapped off at the headphone jack and sent me into a ditch and broke my sunglasses. I was getting new headphones and sunglasses when we met.”

Russell said the highlight of his day was our home cooked meal and cold beer, plus getting our bonfire started to the delight of the boys. What can I say, he’s Canadian, he can start fires.

But as the fire burned down to a warm glow in the dark I found Tyler sitting alone on the swing near the woods. He was crying.

“Is it because you still think Russell is going to kill us in our sleep?” I asked. (May as well just lay it out there, right?)

“No,” he sniffed. “I just want to go home. I can’t explain it. I want to watch something.”

“We’re watching the fire,” I pointed out. “We’re catching fireflies. We’re throwing glow sticks. This is better than TV.”

“I just want to watch something,” he repeated. “I want to go home.”

Taking Tyler home – three hours away – was out of the question, but he was sobbing like there was no end in sight.

And that’s when I remembered Russell’s iPod touch. “Come with me,” I said gently.

We found Russell in the kitchen. “Say Russell, can Tyler check out your iPod?”

“Sure,” he said. “Here. I’ll boot up a game you can play. This is a cool one with race cars. If you turn the iPod the screen turns too. See?” Tyler put the earbuds into his head and was lost to us for at least 45 minutes. When he finally relinquished the iPod to Luke and Trevor he’d recovered from his previous misery.

Long story short, Russell’s day was saved, Tyler’s night was saved and three boys learned that sometimes you can give something to someone who doesn’t need anything, not knowing they might give you something back.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Thank God for the Pain

This could be a long entry.  I've got alot of time, alot of ideas, and.... alot of pain.

Its been three years now that I've had some dental issues that really needed to be addressed. Every visit to the dentist I'd be reminded that it needed to be done.  Alas, working as an independent artist in Canada, there's virtually no support of any kind.   I know, because I've repeated entreated my Smithers dentist to do an exchange of art for services, I've written emergency artists grants, and I've been compelled to sell paintings specifically to pay for dental work.  

As you can tell by my blog and art site, I am full out serious artist-- yet despite that, and over a dozen grant attempts to Canadian organizations for authentic help (just in 2007!)  nothing came of it.   I was reviewing my accounting for 2007 just the otherday and was shocked at just how little money did come through.

Last, night, as I sat in the dentist's chair, what in Canada would have been thousands of dollars and months of appointments, were done in three hours.     Three very long hours that is!  I arrived at 7:45 and he worked til 11:30PM.

Yes, that's right:  Just 'he'.  There were no assistants, secretaries, no fancy reception area, no couches or other extravagancies.   The Belgian dentist, who had all the latest equipement, techniques and skills, did it all himself.   The monks had set up the appointment three days prior.   Two wisdom teeth and several years of issues were all dealt with in one decisive, fell swoop.  

Now, that's what I can a Dentist.  I have nothing but respect and gratitude for his work and his marathon dedication last night.  He just did it.

As I sat there, even during the exquisitely uncomfortable extration of a reluctant wisdom tooth, I was thanking and praising the universe!   Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.   I simply couldn't fathom all this was manisfesting so suddenly.   Every issue was addressed.  My teeth are perfect.

Ha ha!  Thank God for the Pain!

OK... this would normally be where I end the post, but I am going to push on.  This might get a tad personal

I am a firm believer that physical ailments are largely the consequence of our outlook on ourselves and life--  it is over time and through habit finally manifest in our body.  So what do my dental issues say about my mindset?   I know that I have been long reluctant to reflect and talk about this.   That in itself says something.

It is said that people often eat sweet things to compensate for feelings of aloneness.   I hardly feel alone now, perhaps that is why I've been able to manifest this healing.  I know that I certainly have felt alone and have tended towards sweet food.    This pattern has cycled through my life and has had an effect on my teeth.  I know my Mum has had similar issues with her soft teeth.

One of my major set of problems was also caused by brushing too hard.   That is quite interesting.  Brushing was my way of trying to deal with what I knew were increasing dental problems-- but not really deal with it.  It was my superficial bandaid.  Ironically, by brushing hard I did more damage than good.   This was what the dentist emphasized.

Interesting.  Well, in my pain killer stupour today, I will have lots to ponder.

Here's a quote to close on:

" "no man is hurt but by himself."


Diogenes said that, and he was right. Every person's

experience is created internally, by him or herself. No

one outside of you can tell you what anything means,

or whether you are "hurt" or not.

If you feel hurt by something or someone, it is the result

of your decision to feel that way. This may be tough to

hear, but it is true. You can change your mind at any

moment.about how something is affecting you."

-- Neil Donald Walsh

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Leaving Leafs

Its a grey, wet day here in Belgium.  

Most of the leaves have now fallen from the trees.  They carpet the forest floor in a mass of grey and brown.  

Yet not all the leaves.  A straggler caught my eye.   In the most vivid hues of red and orange it still sung its autumn song.   I picked one up.  Then another.  

The drizzle continued to fall.  A monk in the distance worked away in the garden.   I knelt.   A pattern of leaves soon took shape on the group before me.   Soon a yellow leaf caught my eye, then another still green.  It was almost as if the forest was building the mandala through me.

I smiled as I walked away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Hundred Brilliant Suns

Wow.  Talk about good vibes.

This weekend three dozen mildly mentally handicap Belgians took their annual retreat at the Abbey where I am staying. Over breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the communal cafeteria, I had the pleasure of getting to know them.

Being a strangely accented Canadian I definitely stood out. Conversations, jokes and laughter broke out easily as we shared our meals.

What warm and wonderful people! Their smiles were absolutely luminous. It was as if I was surrounded by a hundred brilliant suns. Everywhere I looked, my gaze was returned by smiles, smirks, waves and laughter. Handshakes, hugs, pat and kind words were dispensed as easily as the Spring rain falls from the sky.

I couldn't help but think the group would make fantastic participants in the 1Mandala project.

After explaining to the leaders how I was looking for portraits of peace, I was introduced to the group. The room of handicap people broke out into spontaneous applause and jumping up and down when they were told I wanted to take their pictures to share with the world. I've never felt so warm inside after an applause.

Yesterday, after lunch I set up my camera to take photos. Those who wanted to could come and pose. They all came! A long line up extended down the hallway. I asked them to look into the camera and send their peace to the world.

After a three day retreat, they had alot of peace and joy to send out.

My camera's preview screen is alas busted from 3000 kms of trials and tribulations on my journey, so I can no longer see the photos I take! Thus, technically the photos aren't the best. However, the vibe that comes through them makes the set one of the most powerful I've ever taken.

Of course, I, nor my camera had much to do with it-- its the amazing person in the photo!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fantastic Flemish Fun

This Abbey is a special and magical place.

Only 24 hours ago, I was telling my 1Mandala team that translating our core text into Dutch was becoming urgent.  I am about to set off towards Brussels and the Dutch/Flemish speaking part of Belgium.

A few hours later, Father Jaques introduced me to Annelies and her eight Flemish students who are on a small retreat here.   I gave a little presentation on my project.   I mentioned how one of the challenges was translating the basic message into different languages.   They jumped in and offered to translate the project into Dutch!

That evening, what I expected to be done in a week, was done in two hours.   Now, I am sure there's a few accents and revisions that need to be made, but the heavy work has been done.  An evening of poker, Uno, and intense Dutch lessons lasted late into the night.   

Danku vel!   What great guys!  

Now, if only they can stay a little quieter during the silent meals.



Door de wereld wakker te schudden en de nadruk te leggen op de eenheid kunnen we onze verschillen vergeten en het leven leiden dat iedereen wil. Om onze eenheid uit te drukken bouwen we aan een enorme gemeenschappelijke Mandala. De Mandala is een cirkelvormige kunstvorm die al sinds eeuwen gebruikt wordt door spirituele tradities over de hele wereld om mensen bewuster te maken. Onze 1Mandala wordt nu gebouwd uit zelfportretten van mensen uit alle hoeken van de wereld die vrede uitstralen. Het is de bedoeling deze gigantische 1Mandala van 10000 vredesportretten op 10/10/’10 te onthullen tegenover het gebouw van de VN in New York. Help de 1Mandala te bouwen door je portret en je vrede te delen.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Magical Muheim Movie

ALRIGHT!   At long last this movie is online for the world to see.

Its been almost a year since this movie was shot. 

 What a fabulous experience it was.  It was a key moment in my artistic development: realizing how fantastically more fufiling it is to work with others rather than toiling all alone on a singular piece in one's studio. Not only is the artistic potential exponentially more grand, but it is soooo much more fufiling and downright fun.

Working together with the 260 students of Muheim Elementary, we created this grand mandala on the theme of taking care of the world.  Each student of the school, from Kinder garten to Grade 7, was invited to make a mandala while reflecting on what it means to take care of the world.   I then put all the individual mandalas together to make the grand mandala in the school's gymnasium.

See if you can figure out how we did the 'magic in the movie'!   


Rembrance Day from Vimy

It was only a few days ago that I passed through Vimy, France.  My route, as I have noted before, has had the uncanny tendency of passing through areas of France that are seeped in the history of World War one and two.  Perhaps Canada's most well know war memorial is found at Vimy.

As a Canadian passing through so close, I couldn't help but make a pilgrimage there.  

The monument at Vimy is moving, vast and imposing in its bare, yet grand simplicity.   Vimy was the site of a decisive Canadian battle in which thousands died.  The names of 16,000 soldiers are written all around the base of the monument.

It is a moving place.  Today, as bells ring, and as flowers are laid all over the world, it is a moment to remember.   To remember the sacrifice of so many and the enormity of it all.

Standing at the monument, I couldn't help but think, that despite the undoubted value in not forgeting the tragedy, that there is something amiss.  I have seen perhaps too many war monuments in the last month.    I wasn't able to put my finger on it, until, cycling away from Vimy, a flat tire forced me to pull over by a tree on the side of the road.  There, I discovered a small monument, evidently erected shortly after the war.

Roughly translated the monument reads:  "For Our Liberty and Your Liberty, Here two valiant French Shooters were gunned down by Fascist Hitlerites".  It was then, on this extreme version of a monument, that it hit me.  Subtly, unintentionally even, the monuments and the ceromonies that remember the wars of the past, perpetuate the same fundamental divisions that are at the root of wars and conflicts.

Veteran cemeteries are set aside by nationality here in France.  The Canadians buried here, the Americans there, the Germans, way over there.   The very same divisions on which the soldiers lost their lives are preserved in their deaths.

Remembering how terrible war can be, is important.  Yet, if we really do not want it to happen again, we must do more than remember along the lines of battle.  We must remember above and beyond those divisions.  Indeed we must erase those very lines.  

Without divisions, borders, and prejudices, then and only then, do the reasons for war melt away.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Best Beer Ever

The weary traveler looked up at the sun.  In a blaze of pink clouds it was beginning to set.  Should he make camp, or continue on into the night and into the strange land ahead?  A mysterious abbey awaited him somewhere on an unknown road.  The sun's lingering light momentarily broke through the clouds.  Emboldened he kicked his trusty aluminum steed into gear.

Passing across the French/Belgian border I felt like a character from some medieval tale  Robbed, pennilless, yet while singing joyfully to the cows, I headed into a strange new country where Trapist monks in an old abbey awaited me. 

 The half moon rose above the shadowy fields.  A thick and low mist shrouded the trunks of trees.  The road, damp and glistening in the moonlight, gleamed like silver snake winding into the distance.  

My route dwindled into ever smaller and remote roads.  Finally, not a street or house light remained.   Even the road signs were no longer of metal, but carved in wood.  At one point, thunderous crashing arose in the bushes beside the road, and a heard of wild beasts dashed across the road.  I stopped incredulous.  I learned later I had seen a troop of wild boars.  

A wrong turn, and additional 7 kms later, and I made it.  The driveway wound up to a massive wood door.  The chapel bells rang as I waited.  At long last a diminuative yet spritely old monk opened the door and beckoned me in.  

"We have been awaiting an eternity for your arrival".

(he really said that!)

I was served a late but much welcomed dinner.  I explained I had come 3000 kms by bike.  "You could use a good strong beer couldn't you?" asked Pere Jaques rhetorically.  It really wasn't so much a question as it was a prescription.  He came back with a special bottle of their strongest brew.  Beer happens to be one the abbey's finest products-- their Chimay brand brew.

Wow.  That was good.

It was the best beer I have drank in a long time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

You Can't Buy This

-- a terrible nightime shot of my fresh ingredients

My bike is laden over with the autumn fruits of France: A pumkin, walnuts, apples, fresh cream, and artisan bagette. Stopping on the side of the road talking to farmers, all but the bread and cream were thrust insistingly into my hands. This evening, I take their gifts and am eating au Royale! Cream of apple and pumpkin soup, with nutmeg and walnuts.  

Its so immensely fufiling eating like this-- there's no packaging, no trucks driving hundreds of kms, no middlemen at all! I've either seen the food's field, or shaken the hands of its tender. The food is fresh and filled with intention.  

You may have heared of the 100 mile diet-- a movement to eat more locally and seasonally. Well, I am eating the 10 metre diet! I have been eating from right beside my road. In Canada it was berries and salmon, in the US corn from the fields, in England, black berries and apples, here in France, mussels, crab, chestuts, and more. The last few days I have been picking up the left over potatoes from the harvest-- they are the ones the machine didn't catch, and they would be left for waste. Its amazing really, how much abundance is out there just waiting to be picked up!  

A curiously realization has thus struck me: I am beginning to discover a joy in having no money.  

I know-- that must sound strange.  

In my journey I have had moments with much money, and others with next to none. In the moments of nothing-- the most amazing and magical things happen. Because of the theft yesterday, I only have a few euros left for the next few days until my bank transfer completes. I used to really fear being broke, yet now, strangely enough, I am starting to take joy in it.  

I suppose if I had money, I would have loaded up at the super market. Right now for instance-- meeting local farmers and fishermen-- is exponentially more fun than shopping in the supermarket, and a fraction of the cost. Instead, I have stopped and talked to them, they've invited me into their homes, I've played with their children and we've been all blessed.  

I haven't asked for anything, but again, my bike bags are bulging over.  

You can't buy this.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Everything Stolen

I write from the Police Station in Cambrai France.  Tonight, for a moment, I had nothing.  I had stopped to check my e-mail at a MacDonalds, and left my bike outside.  When I returned to check on it-- it was gone.  Of course, on it were all my possessions, equipement, food and gear.

I jogged around the dark alleys of the neighboured and turned up nothing.  I didn't realize til then it wasn't the best neighbourhood.  I called the police.   We jumped in their car and zoomed about.  

There it was.  I haven't been so happy to see my bike in a longtime!  Everything was on it, except for my gloves, food, and bank card and passport.  The latter are admittedly quite important.  Tomorrow I will be feeling the wind on my hands.  I have a few dollars to last me the next few days-- while I move my money around to the cards that I still have.

While standing in one of the dark alleys with no remaining material possessions, I searched myself for what I felt.  You know it wasn't so bad.  I actually started to get excited at the new bike and equipment that I would now be able to upgrade to!  How materialistic!  

I continue now towards the Beligian border.  I leave with a great appreciation for the people of France.  Asking nothing, I have been shown kindness and generosity at every turn.  From farmers,  to ex-presidential ministers, from professionals to students, from elders who have lived through the war to children who know nothing of it.   

The police have let me stay in their barracks tonight, and even the thief insisted on leaving my bike with all my essential gear in a place where it could be easily found!