Tuesday, November 24, 2009


There is a teaching that lists everything that goes wrong in my head. They are called the Five Hindrances, these emotions/thoughts/vedanas/tendencies that interfere not only with my meditation, but with my spiritual progress. Sloth and torpor, restlessness and anxiety, desire for sensual experience, hatred, and finally doubt. They are all children of my mind, born from thinking. And they come back again and again, when I sit on the cushion or talk to my parents or browse in a bookstore or share in a meeting. They are relentless.

Right now it is doubt. I am doubting everything; my faith in Buddhist teachings, my belonging in the rooms of AA, the ability of my mind to solve everything, the desire to rely on anything but. I know my mind makes me crazy; Bill W. called it insanity, the Buddha said we are all mad. Right now I want a way to reconcile my spiritual beliefs with my sober life. And this is the first time they've come to such a head.

I used to believe in god because it was easy. And what was wrong with that? It made me happy and I believed it to be true, this higher power and benevolent force whom I could appeal to for solace and guidance. And when I realized the fallacy of it I knew I could never go back. Like an alcoholic who knew she could never drink again with a clear conscience, I knew I could never again turn it all over to something else and let them take care of it.

But now I am at that point: do I have to believe in god to stay sober? How do I choose? Delusion over happiness? Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy? At least in the short term?

So Bill W. says:
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of god as we understood him.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
5. Admitted to god, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
6. Were entirely ready to have god remove all these defects of character.
7. Humbly asked him to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with god as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry that out.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

and what would the dharma say?
1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that by going for refuge to the three jewels of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha, we could restore our sanity.
3. Made a decision to let go of that which we cannot control and to take up a spiritual life.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves, or acknowledged "all the evil we have heaped up through our ignorance and foolishness - evil in the world of everyday experience, as well as evil in understanding and intelligence."
5. With the ideal of enlightenment in our mind we "confessed our faults" to ourselves and to another human being.
6. Were entirely ready to release all these defects of character, "with our hands raised in reverence and terrified of suffering".
7. Humbly admitted, "just as it is, with its many faults, that what is not good, we shall not do again".
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed (practiced confession) and became willing to make amends to them by acknowledging our actions and striving to rectify them.
9. Made direct amends wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it (practiced confession).
11. Sought through meditation to deepen our connection with the three jewels and to see and accept things as the really are.
12. Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

August and everything after

We spent almost as much of August away from Norwich as we spent in it. First came our trip to Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival. My first time in Scotland, first time in Edinburgh, first time that far north, first time to the Fringe. After only seeing Albertan Fringe Festivals, to be in the city where it all began some 60 years ago demanded another level of awe and respect for the organization needed to produce a Festival of this magnitude. Hundreds of venues spread over the city centre, weaved into castles, churches, assembly halls, downstairs pubs, restaurants, and city streets. Seventeen hours of theatre in 72 hours. We stayed with Tom's friend Simon, a filmmaker living in the heart of the city, so we could walk to all the venues. I occasionally ran - twice I sandwiched a show in between two others, so I needed to sprint across the city to ensure I made it to the next one in time. We ate a lot of meals "on the hoof" ("on the go" to us North Americans) as we wove through the majestic city of stone in the (mostly) good weather as vast green hills loomed up from in between and behind the buildings. All this running around only added to the frenetic energy of the festival. Tom's friends put on a musical called Barbershopera II, the second collaboration of their barbershop-quartet-inspired musicals. Two of the cast also starred in Afternoon Delight, an acoustic guitar performance of comedy songs from "The Dinosaurs Were Gay" (an explanation of why the reptiles really went extinct) to "Man Boobs" (a lament of one of the guy's issues with his large-ish mammary glands) to "Green Party, Get Sexy" (an appeal to a national political party to stop wearing socks and sandals so as to appeal to younger, hipper, constituents). Hilarious. I also saw Janeane Garafalo do stand up, but that was mostly to satisfy my adolescent nostalgia from watching her on Reality Bites. One of my favourite pieces was a one-woman show that told of one woman's experience of four morning-afters: grating, bracing, and honest. But my number one was a dance/movement piece called The Chair by C-12, a four person company (http://www.c-12dancetheatre.com/). It told of a black man's childhood of abuse and relationship with his mother, his later affair with a white woman, and his subsequent imprisonment as he looks back at his life and forward to the future he's lost. They told the story completely through movement and a soundtrack of 30's/40's ragtime juxtaposed with evocative piano solos. Stunning. After sixteen shows in three days, we kissed Edinburgh good-bye to go home for a solid week of work before journeying to...

Snape, a village in Suffolk, the county south of us. Snape was once home to a maltings, a collection of buildings that soaked and dried barley to transform it into malt for beer and whiskey. As the production of these goods became more consolidated, maltings closed up and down the country. Most are derelict and unused, but this particular maltings was restored by Benjamin Britten, a British opera composer, who transformed the main building into a music hall. Now it hosts the Addleburgh Music Festival and Snape Proms, the name for their own little festival. Tom and I spent two nights in a cute little B&B. During the day we walked in the fields and on the marshes, perused the gift shops and nibbled at the cafés at the maltings, brought the median age down by about twenty years, and ascertained that even though we were probably on the smallest of incomes we seemed to be the only ones not complaining about the prices or the food. On the first night we saw The Puppini Sisters (http://www.thepuppinisisters.com/) whose CDs are amazing with their updated versions of wartime classics and their doo-wop adaptations of modern pop songs (check out their Walk Like An Egyptian cover). The performance, unfortunately, didn't quite live up to our expectations. They had terrible sound quality in the first half, and their on-stage schtick faltered because of it. Still, their energy and vocal proficiency astounds. The second night we heard three poets read their work: South African Finuala Dowling, Briton Alan Brownjohn, and American Sharon Olds. I could take or leaves Brownjohn, but Dowling mixed the hilarious with the hearwrenching with aptitude, and Olds cut me to the quick. She described the book of poetry she wrote about her father as "poems about my relationship with a...difficult man." This piece grabbed tears from my eyes and wrung them down my cheeks.

The Race by Sharon Olds

When I got to the airport I rushed up to the desk,
bought a ticket, ten minutes later
they told me the flight was cancelled, the doctors

had said my father would not live through the night
and the flight was cancelled. A young man
with a dark brown moustache told me
another airline had a nonstop
leaving in seven minutes. See that
elevator over there, well go

down to the first floor, make a right, you'll
see a yellow bus, get off at the

second Pan Am terminal, I
ran, I who have no sense of direction
raced exactly where he'd told me, a fish

slipping upstream deftly against
the flow of the river. I jumped off that bus with those
bags I had thrown everything into

in five minutes, and ran, the bags
wagged me from side to side as if
to prove I was under the claims of the material,

I ran up to a man with a flower on his breast,
I who always go to the end of the line, I said
Help me. He looked at my ticket, he said
Make a left and then a right, go up the moving stairs and then

run. I lumbered up the moving stairs,
at the top I saw the corridor,

and then I took a deep breath, I said
goodbye to my body, goodbye to comfort,
I used my legs and heart as if I would
gladly use them up for this,
to touch him again in this life. I ran, and the

bags banged against me, wheeled and coursed
in skewed orbits, I have seen pictures of
women running, their belongings tied
in scarves grasped in their fists, I blessed my

long legs he gave me, my strong
heart I abandoned to its own purpose,
I ran to Gate 17 and they were

just lifting the thick white
lozenge of the door to fit it into
the socket of the plane. Like the one who is not
too rich, I turned sideways and
slipped through the needle's eye, and then
I walked down the aisle toward my father. The jet

was full, and people's hair was shining, they were
smiling, the interior of the plane was filled with a
mist of gold endorphin light,
I wept as people weep when they enter heaven,

in massive relief. We lifted up
gently from one tip of the continent
and did not stop until we set down lightly on the

other edge, I walked into his room
and watched his chest rise slowly
and sink again, all night
I watched him breathe.

After the frantic pace of Edinburgh (and that poem), the calm of Snape, plus the two hours of languid train journeys, put me in relax mode. Home in time for one night in our own bed before I packed my tent and my sleeping bag and headed off to...

Buddhafield East, also in Suffolk, but only a 25 minute drive away. I went to the same event last year as a cautious Canadian in England on a visa who found meditation uncomfortable but essential and who wasn't sure about all this Buddhist stuff. This year I arrived a married Buddhist (with leave to remain in the country!) who still found meditation uncomfortable most of the time.

I pitched my tent, rolled out my sleeping bag, set out my Wellie boots, and went to sit by the fire. Last year it was rainy and cold, this year was sunny and toasty (helped by the duvet I brought with me this time). Last year I oscillated between wanting to belong and demanding to be left alone, between feeling needy for talking to people and feeling stand-offish for taking refuge in my tent; this year I jumped in with two feet, and when I wanted to talk to someone I started a conversation, and when I wanted to be alone I went off on my own. No guilt, no second guessing, just being myself and resonating with my choices. I sat in workshops on Non-Violent Communication and caught a glimpse of how to talk to people I don't like or don't want to connect with in a way that doesn't exacerbate those sentiments. I woke up to meditate at half seven every morning (except Sunday). We had a puja (ritual) every night. I practiced yoga under the sky. I met inspiring order members as well as non-Buddhists. I got an English tan. But what transformed me, what made everything else seem like candles against the light of its fire, were the workshops by Vajradaka. An ordained member since 1971, he articulated and explained the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Metta Bhavna to me so that I felt I meditated for the first time in his workshops. Now I meditate with curiousity, with excitement, with alacrity. My practice is now usually joyous and fruitful - and always worthwhile.

So now I am at home, at rest, and ready for the next bit. May you all be well. Lots of love, namaste, Andrea

from the moon of honey to three people in a two-bedroom house

We came back from honeymoon on a high of Italian sunshine and honeymoon bubble bliss. We left for Paris the day after the wedding, so we'd left all our friends on 'pause'; we returned to excitement and congratulations, prolonging our giddiness and the newness of marriage. We reveled in introducing ourselves as 'my husband' and 'my wife' - each time I say them I remember we belong to each other, that we're committed to a shared vision of our future. When I'm asked how it feels to be married I say amazing because something has shifted. Sure, 'married bliss' exists, but like all bliss, in handfuls and fleeting flashes, like sunsets or candles on a birthday cake. I'm surprised at the subtlety of changes - when I imagine the future, when I see me walking through Venice or eating at a café back in Calgary, Tom is there with me, not specifically invited but there because I know he will be. We set up a joint bank account and realize I can let go of the idea of 'mine' as it seeps into the concept of 'ours'. I still have 'my' account - can't let it go all at once - but I'm recognizing that there is no separateness in the same way. When I leave one job (at The Green Grocers) to start another (as the Fundraising Coordinator at The Buddhist Centre), I need to ask about the ramifications for him of more hours and greater investment. We learn how to weave co-dependence into our strong senses of self.

After the ecstasy comes - well, perhaps not agony, but a diluted version. Being back home for awhile, we found ourselves on, as Tom calls it, "the comedown express". After all the energy of planning, entertaining, marrying, and honeymooning, this is it - back in Norwich, in a two-bedroom house that we share with Ben, Tom's brother, in our jobs and in our lives. I found myself irritable, playing the part of a long-suffering wife after a few weeks at home. I felt frustrated and claustrophobic. My practice faltered - I no longer meditated at home, and my study groups had finished for the summer, so I felt disconnected. It scared me that after so much happiness could come so much heaviness. But I could see that was partly why it felt so heavy: because of the ecstasy of the previous month. How could June live up to May, with her weddings and family reunions and Italian escape? So, we took action. We visited Mair and Dad as they came back through London at the end of June. We had sunshine picnics. I looked at Norwich anew. I snapped new pictures of familiar things, like the rubbish bin I walk by every day to work that someone left a dismembered computer beside. We celebrated our one year anniversary of togetherness - a month after our wedding. We booked our trip to Edinburgh in August to visit the Fringe Festival. We decided to go to Suffolk for a posh music festival. I signed up for Buddhafield East, a gathering in a field full of yoga and meditation and practice and communal living for the last five days of August. And life loses that tinge of melancholy as it fills with the prospect of newness.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

the life of a Campbell and a Loudon...from me to we

I couldn't stop there; it's not really complete if I tell you about all of this without all of Tom. Let me begin again, at the beginning. I'll go all the way to the end (of May, anyways). And then I'll stop.

May, 2008
Tom and I meet at The Greenhouse, the vegetarian cafe where he works as a Volunteer Coordinator and Project Developer. I think I met him for the first time on the evening of May 31, when I came to The Greenhouse for an evening dinner, and he thinks I had come to The Greenhouse once before to ask about volunteering. Maybe we'll never know.

June, 2008
After a few bumping-into-each-others at The Greenhouse and a live show at a local pub, I end up at his house for dinner with his brother and another friend. A few days later I make him dinner (in his kitchen, of course) to say thank you. And then we lay on his back lawn and watched clouds roll by.

July, 2008
We tip-toe through our first month of couple-dom, dodging boy- and girl-friend questions and stealing kisses. We make each other meals (vegetarian, dairy- and chili-free) and visit art exhibitions and talk and not talk. I tell myself I can't take a picture of a man I've only been seeing for a few weeks...but when his parents visit for a few days we spend some time in each others' company. I think they approve. Of me. Of us. In the preliminaries.

August, 2008
Katherine Cofell's leaving do at an Indian restaurant and an English provides the excuse for picture taking. Our f
irst couple shot, with hands gingerly placed on shoulders and chins dipped in shy excitement.

I visit a field in
Suffolk for Buddhafield East, a gathering of meditation, yoga, communal meals, and sans Tom. He welcomes me home with a chocolate nougat cake, the same one he wooed me with on the night we first kissed.
And then later in the same month, our tentative two month anniversary celebration with dinner at Cinema City. I bought him a box for his collection of teas, from green tea with echinacea to lemon and ginger to nettle to Malay rooisbus chai.

September, 2008

Our first vacation - all the way to Brighton on the southern shores of England. I say to his mom, Bridget, "It's one thing to be living together in the same city in your usual routines, but if we can travel together...that's compatibility."

Walking on the pier I play him Artists Are Boring by Kingdom Flying Club, skipping and dancing with one earphone in each of our ears.

On the beach I play him Peter Bjorn and John's Paris 2004: "I'm all about you, you're all about me, we're all about each other"; "While I'm sleeping/You paint a ring on my finger with your black marker-pen";

"We need this precious time just to comprehend."

October, 2008
I go on my first Buddhist retreat at the beginning of the month, and celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving in the middle. With a collection of Buddhists and Brits (not mutually exclusive labels), we have a bring-and-share/pot-luck dinner with vegan perogies and cabbage rolls for my Ukrainian roots and steamed green veggies and potato bake for my new English ties. Bridget and David come back to Norwich for a visit, and the four Loudons (brother Ben, dad David, mom Bridget and my dear Tom) plus this Canadian kid head for dinner to The Last Wine Bar. We all approve of each other.

November, 2008
I always think of it as my month because my birthday's in here, but this year I share it. Tom organizes a trip to London - dinner at a vegetarian restaurant, museum visits, drinks at a pub with all his old friends, now to be my new ones. He buys me a most perfect green coat for the winter that's hinting hard at coming on soon. We head to Whatton, his hometown, for down time with the folks and English countryside walks.

December, 2008

A mixed bag, really. A retreat finishes at the beginning of the month and makes a better impression than the first, but I'm still not running to sign up for my next one. Another trip to London peps me up: this time to see Les Miserables, Tom's favourite novel brought to stage in his guilty enjoyment of a West End musical. We make up for it by viewing the indie production of Barbershopera, the creation of Tom Green and Rob Castell, two of Tom's classmates while he was doing his playwriting MA. (You can join their Facebook fan page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Barbershopera/155504540230). Then comes Christmas in Whatton - the family of five is four for a lot of the time due to fractured pelvises and hospital stays, but we triumph over the wintertime blues, Bridget roasts the potatoes in oil instead of goose fat, there's turkey for them and a mushroom tart for me. Happy English Christmas.

January, 2009
We spend my favourite New Year's in 27 years at Frank's Bar with all my workmates and their significant others and a whole lot of other super significant people (most whose names escape me). We dance; I drink Dandelion and Burdock and remember there's too much sugar in it for me half way through the bottle and then switch to coffee; we come home at half two and watch It's A Wonderful Life; I wake up at seven and practice yoga in the garden as the world wakes up to a new year.

At the end of the month we venture to Cambridge. I forget my camera, or my camera runs out of batteries, so there are no pictures of the day we got engaged. There's sunshine and a picnic and a reading of Alice in Wonderland, but none of them really have anything to do with each other. But "yes" means telling people, and so to make sure we're not kidding we walk straight from the train station into Frank's Bar, tell everyone who's working, and have elderflower cordial with sparkling water to celebrate.

February, 2009
On the second I turn five and he knew it was coming so he bakes me a cake: all organic and all sugar, with beetroot juice to make the icing pink. We head back to London for Avenue Q in the last days of its run at Noel Coward Theatre, and then head up to Portobello Road in search of a wedding dress. I have a vintage prom dress in mind, but instead we find From Somewhere, a shop which "up-cycles" clothes by sourcing discarded material from the garment industry and sewing it into new creations. The girl in the shop shares her enthusiasm for the fashion and the ethos, and we're sold - on the concept and on a knee-length dress coupled with a cape.

March, 2009

We begin the lead up to the day. Emails, invites, cupcakes, Certificates of Authority (required for foreign nationals to marry British citizens). Tom books honeymoon train journeys.We take solace in days of walks in spring sunshine and bringing old friends back up to speed with our new life. In a lot of conversations and emails in which I tell people I'm engaged, they answer back, "Congratulations! To who?" We revel in the aloneness, but the planning frenzy seeps into even the most well intentioned laid-back, eco-friendly, low-cost affair. We enjoy Norwich's cinema offerings, 103's dinner menu, Take 5's crypt entertainment. We say so long to our good friend Cat Spurden who goes off to seek her fortune in the Youth Hostels of the UK. I take off in the last week to Taraloka, a women's retreat centre on the Welsh boarder, and come back refreshed.

April, 2009
The last month of singledom - and sanity. We keep saying "we're basically done, we could get married tomorrow", and it's kind of true. At the end of the month, Jackie and Sam visit from Tokyo and we get to have a trial run at showing off Norwich before our families descend in a few short weeks. My first experience of my worlds colliding in over a year - not just those of past and present but of fellow partners and housemates. Between the delicious meals, hanging out at home and on the streets of Norwich, in the sunshine cobblestone streets and the grassy knolls of the Plantation Garden, outside the boxes of crossword puzzles and on top of the squares of a giant chessboard, we managed to all get along just fine.

May, 2009
A few months ago
I asked to become a mitra at the Buddhist Centre, and Tom lovingly accepts my invitation to attend and share this important public commitment to my practice. The following week we celebrate his birthday with a trip to Sheringham and a choo-choo train ride to Holt, with lunch at the famous Byfords and a surprise chocolate cake waiting back home at Frank's Bar. We count down as the family arrives - Mom and Tara via London on Wednesday, May 13 and then Mair, Dad, Bridget and David on Friday, May 15.

May 18, 2009

post-May 18: honeymoon highlights
In Paris, at a sidewalk cafe
somewhere along our 26 hour train journey to Sicily

on the ferry to Milazzo

the view from our apartment on Salina
our tans beginning to darken...

...mine a bit more than his
the cove we found on the west coast of the island

at one of our many pasta dinners

practicing yoga and Tai Chi

view from a the top of a mountain

through Rome on the way home

...it's not a honeymoon without Paris

home again

Much love to all of you. I don't know if I'll ever update this regularly, but I'll try to let you know periodically when I do. Otherwise, drop me an email or find me on Facebook. May you all be well and full of life.

Namaste, Andrea Lauren (Loudon) Campbell