At one point in my life, I had retreated to the Courtenay community center sauna to warm up what may have been a frozen spirit. It was while I started to feel some warmth in my toes that I heard a voice from the dark say “do you know that Vancouver Island is part of Japan?”. I must confess that I was tempted not to reply. I was numb and I was simply craving solitude. As fate would have it, cabin fever and numerous cold hours of being a humble chair life operator on Mt Washington had driven me to this humid haven. I decided to open up to my sauna mates inquiry. He said that he was a geologist and explained to me that the upward force of liquid magma from the depths of the Pacific Ocean was constantly forming a thin plate that eventually formed the solid land mass that became both Japan and Vancouver Island. I was sincerely hesitant to even ponder my sweat mate’s hypothesis. While the heat had started to create sweat droplets on my brow, the notion of Japan and Vancouver being part of one similar land mass was simply not sinking in.
What I had come to accept was that like the bumper sticker on my old Volkswagen “Burfle”…. my “mind is like a parachute, it only works when it is open”. The relativity of this simple message became more potent when it was fused to the vivid images of my youth. I use to watch my father “sky diving”. He would leap out of an airplane after tossing out a much loved teddy bear which also had a parachute. For a few brief sickening seconds, I would watch in horror and then sigh when both the parachute on my father and the teddy bear opened. Some how, parachutes, teddy bears and my own understanding of faith became part of the roots of my own spiritual tree of awareness. Some where in those thawing minutes in the sauna, my own awareness opened and I accepted the notion that perhaps within some terra firma there is the magic that inspires bonsai trees, butterfly museums, goats on roof tops and a zen koan about killer whales. While the seed of my career as an outdoor educator was planted by the tranquil and mystic waters of Quetico, Ontario, that seed grew into a gentle swaying conifer in the soggy forests of Vancouver Island. So when I rolled onto the ferry heading towards Vancouver Island many years later, I smiled a beatific smile and felt “the parachute open”. Some how I knew that my journey to the island would get my feet safely back onto the ground where nature nurtures happiness like a well cuddled teddy bear.
After way too many numerous trip around the sun, I had lost touch with that zap between my toes and the earth below them. Inspired by my new found challenges with gravity, I convinced my self that it made perfect sense to visit key paddle boarding centers or stores in British Columbia. On a logical level, it was a creative means to rationalize a journey that had a modicum of marketable flow to it. “Yeah, I will just write about something that folks would like read about”. “I will create an adventure where you could create your own script and scenes”, the whirr of rationalizations seemed abundant on that rainy day in March. I began by googling paddle board centers in BC and forwarded emails. As a “blogger”, I proposed that I was pursuing a mission to interview and visit with all the key paddle board centers and stores in British Columbia.
Once again, I was dreaming up ways to sell an oz like journey like the coca cola kid looking for that Australian sound. I had made that journey to Australia and managed to avoid winter for five years! This time I was off to see the Kahunas instead of the wizard. The only center to promptly reply was Pacifica Paddling Center. I would learn why within the first few minutes of arriving at their centers doorstep.
I am not sure what I expected when I finally found Brentwood Bay on Vancouver Island. After a few random turns and a conversation at an auto repair shop, I discovered that Brentwood Bay was right in the middle of what is now thought of as Vancouver Islands “wine country”. One of the joys of not having GPS is that you get to use practical wisdom. You embrace getting lost. You given the chance to make choices and mistakes and in between, you find those random tiny centers of rare human activity. There was a ferry, a spa, a general store full of odd items from China and a hidden walkway to a dock. Next to a wooden boat company was a sign for Pacifica Paddling Center. As I walked down the stairs, I started to feel a forgotten calm returning. My intent was simple and to the point. I was here to inflate my paddleboard and let the mirror like surface of the bay slowly tease away the tangled thoughts between my ear lobes.
As I stood inside the office of Pacifica Paddling Center, another nudge from the past began to reignite. I had once worked in a place like this. Yes, it was true. I was once a passionate individual who was fully prepared to spend their life celebrating the merits of all things natural. I believe that it was those ying yang vibrations within all living things that made life the magical thing that it was. I wanted to change the world enough to sing along with Pied Pumpkin and actually feel their enthusiasm.
Nestled between a boatyard and a ferry terminal, Pacifica Paddling Center looked out into a bay that was a truly a gateway to calmer waters. The owners Sandra and Peter welcomed me as “the blogger”. Looking into Sandra’s eyes as she talked about the company, I could tell that she was sizing me up. She knew I was up to something else. Meanwhile, Sandra’s other half, Peter was busy building a new dock. As I set off on my evening paddle, I felt a sense of being in a place of acceptance. I was returning home to a place where I had never been before.
After my paddle, I deflated Clarrity on the upper deck of the Paddling Center and there was the familiar exhaustive sound which was much like a constipated whale passing wind. A cheerful voice rang out from an adjacent house. “Ah..thank you!” and a mischievious grin looked out from the window of a lovely cottage next to the boatyard. Following a few glasses of wine and an invitation to camp on his lawn, I would learn that some Zen masters could be noble ex drug dealers and than there names did not have to be Lao Tzu but “Brian”. I guess that when you take the chance to open your heart to the universe, you have to be prepared for novelty behind some of those doors that open up. Having walked into the warmth of the interior office of Pacifica Paddlings office and then shared a comfy chair and Brian’s wine, I started to feel my own frigid roots of trusts beginning to thaw. While I was attempting to quiet my own thoughts and fall asleep in my half made tent. I heard a chuckle from the window. My evening meditations now complete, I thanked the spirits for my welcome back to sweet smelling and well groomed soil of Vancouver Island.
It was during my week long voyage around the island that Brian’s wisdom started to sink in. Among the tales that he shared with me was his own life intent for “down sizing” and a unique “reformed dealer” ethos of “not selling something that you were not take or buy your self”. In the past few months I had noticed that my own belief systems had flowed back to Allan Watt’s Wisdom of Insecurity. Like Brian’s own personal intents, I was attempting to understand the “down sizing” in my own life. Unlike journeys of my past where I was busy expanding new horizons, I was now having to let go of segments of my own spiritual and soul journey. In the past, it was all about taking all the pieces and seeing how they stuck together. Now, I had either lost or misplaced many of the pieces of my own life’s puzzle. Follow my own inner canine wisdom there was now eat, sleep, poop and play. The poop part was the piece that was not making sense. There were mountains of the stuff in my own mindscape. Yes, I could fertilize a mushroom factory for decades.
So I decided to live humbly and following a monk’s path. I slept in my tent or in the back of my pre 2000 truck. Each morning, I awoke early and paddled into calm bays to watch the dawn.
When I visited my daughter in Victoria and took her to Brentwood bay, I practiced my own Zen riddles with her. So as I was teaching her how to drive my truck I remarked that “In life, you need to find neutral”. I then smiled and said “the lucky thing is that this truck is an automatic!” As she confidently navigated through the parking lot of a juniour high school parking lot, I admired the swaying of nearby trees and the felt the warming glow of passing sun. Within the constantly changing clouds, rays of light refracted peacefully. Like my own thoughts, they soared and flowed with the heating air currents as I sat calmly as the tire rolled over a curb.
Once again, Sandra welcomed both my daughter and I to Pacifica Paddling. While we planned a possible paddle rental and date, there was that simplicity both in conversation and intents. While we discussed details, Sandra flawlessly answered more of my random question and offered directions to a campsite where I later would view the most amazing sunrise and listen to a spell binding version of the Eagle’s song Desperado by two elderly gentle who came and then quickly disappeared from the picture, leaving me with this picture and an odd feeling that it had all been staged for my own learning.
A few more days later, I returned to what was now becoming my safe haven “Pacifica Paddling Center”. Sandra grinned and said “ I know what you are up to, you are on a walk about”. Up to that point, I had not really thought of that notion. A walkabout was supposed to be about a rite passages into adulthood from youth. I had been there and done that! I gave the T shirts to my daughter to make a duvet cover and hung a few photos on the wall. If my current voyage was about anything, it was about losing the rigidity of adulthood and rediscovering the impetuousness of youth. Yes, I heard Brian’s advice. I was “down sizing”. I was attempting to rewrite my own story and let go of notions that had frozen my own soul. I was happily shedding away pounds and making new friends and strong muscles. My credo was: Live with happiness, health, be active and mindful. While my toes were on my paddle board, I was reawakening my own personal well worn and tested “woodsy” wisdom. While human nature had worn me quite thin, taking my soles and soul into for a ramble through a few hours in the woods managed to carve away a quiet place to embrace the cooling hush of the wind at a summit.
After agreeing that 32 degrees below zero was pretty much like 25 degrees below zero. My conversation with Peter, inspire a lining up of all the domino pieces between my own two ears. “As I see it”, Peter proposed “if it is not covered up, you are going to feel it”. Our conversation seemed to meander like a brook heading to the ocean. Now into the topics of paddling, nature and his own past endeavours as a bush pilot, Peter paused, smiled and hit me with a zinger. “You know” and then he paused again and looked me in the eye and said “ you do not have to follow the flow or the speed of the river. You do have the choice to find that safe and calm eddy and go against the rivers flow”. Only a few weeks prior to this moment, some one had told me, “the budha said that you cannot push the river” and now I was getting the zen flap jack flip side version. All I could do was grin and looked out at the bay. There was just enough time for a final paddle down a secluded inlet. Paddling against the wind, I dropped to my knees. I could hear one domino fall. At the end of an arm of Brentwood bay that ran along side Butchart Gardens, sitting on my board with my toes in the mud there was another thunk” between the ears prior to glint of sunshine peaking through the cloud. I munched a granola bar, sipped some Gatorade and watched an eagle soar above me. “Kathunk” went another wobbling domino. Paddling back to harbour, I met up with a happy tandem kayaking couple. She wanted to know about my board and he was just happy to be with his partner again. There was that giddy and bouyent sensation of new love in their gestures and conversation. Yes, they were new to the island and the magic seemed to be seeping out of the soil and into the air. We laughed and talked about the joys of the island life. I did envy this couple for their new found joy. Another domino went “plunk” between my meditations and a blast of wind tickled my neck back to impending reality. Prior to three or four consecutive “bonks”, I spread my stance and dug my paddle into the water. No paddling against the river. Find a safe eddy and regroup. I was attempting to “down size”. Another fresh blast of wind inspired a mad dash across Brentwood Bay as an impending storm started to show it’s self. “Thunk, plunk and pffft” went the last remaining dominos.
As I came by the Pacifica office, Sandra was busy calling folks and insuring that they did not set off into harms way. She looked down at the dock and made sure that all rental folks were safely returning. It is said that there are folk of actions and then the are the rest of humanity. What was clear was that Pacifica Paddling Company was based upon those simple ideas that Brian had mentioned. They personally cared about those who came to visit their center. With a nudge of a paddle, folks can easily drift into an environment that takes away the rough edges. Without a bunch of hoopla, they trusted the simplistic powers of nature to nurture. Sadly, I would have to go home early. A paddle with my daughter would have to wait for another time. An impending storm was too strong and I had to get ready for a new school year. Meanwhile, prior to returning to school, I had promised my self that would have one last “back eddy” to put things into perspective.
A few weeks later, when I started my first class of biology, I had just finished talking with a young man who I have been mentoring for the last two years. He was born in China yet he had spent many years in Japan. During this discussion about the challenges of ESL sciences students he said “here we use science to explain nature. In Japan I was taught that nature reveals it’s secrets to science.”. There was a big budha grin on his face. I looked into his sparkling eyes and smiled. Perhaps the magic in the soil was both in Japan and Vancouver Island.A few minutes later, I stood before my new class. They were half awake and looking as enthused as a stray herd of wild bovines. I looked back at them and wondered “What could I do to inspire an insightful voyage into the world of physiology, nature and self discovery?”. What could I say or do that would calm their turbulent teenage waters”?
For just a few seconds, I stood speechless and enjoyed the peaceful silence within my classroom. I reflected upon of those things that I had both gained and lost in my own life. Where had my latest walkabout taken me? How or why would I even bother to explain a form of universal love that goes outside the realm of humanity? Would I replicate Feynman’s wisdom by stating that forget about science and learn about love. Was there a place for peeling away the frosty exterior of the educator and inspire deeper perceptions that could explain both personal and scientific terms the many layers of being hurt? Would I ignore my own origins of a pain that seemed to come forth every time another piece of the puzzle faded away? What was it that kept me seeking out journeys leading towards healing?
I heard Brian’s voice say “down size”.
While I adjusted my tie and purposely stepped forward, my mind seemed to slip into neutral. I had been here each year yet the moment never seemed the same. The new year was now beginning to flow and I was seeking that one calm back eddy to find my own peace. Outside, the sun shined onto a few stray leaves of plants within my classroom. In a flash, I saw the beauty of solar energy turning into a new form of energy. With each breath, I thanked the plant for their oxygen and a smile grew upon my face. I looked back at my students and said , “Greetings and welcome to my class. Let’s explore the world of biology and human physiology. First of all let’s discuss the following words”. I turned to the chalkboard and wrote. “medicus curat, natura sanat”. (medicine cures, nature heals). Looking out the window once again, I could see Brian’s Cheshire Cat smile looking back at me.
zen and the island