Oct 1 2014

Waking Up

Rory Holland

This week I am writing down a detailed list of all that I eat and drink. It’s part of a coaching thing I’m doing. I am typing out loud everything going into my mouth. It feels somewhat confessional.

Observing myself is an interesting practice. I like to think that I am pretty aware of what’s going on, but it isn’t until I have to sit and remember that I see what I missed. Did I really buy an overpriced cookie and coffee yesterday afternoon? Yikes, was that two or three glasses of wine last night?

Being conscious about how I feed myself would seem a pretty obvious and simple thing – however, how does that explain the feeling I get when I’ve eaten too many tortilla chips, or when I wake in the morning after an evening of red wine & port?

How much of my day am I really just asleep at the switch? Never mind the meals, what about time, energy, thought – where’s all that going? As a kid one of my favorite excuses was “I didn’t realize”. Not much has changed, evidently.

It just seems odd that I’m not aware of all that goes on between my ears, or at least am not paying attention to it. Clearly, I’m not alone. The word bandied about in yoga class these days is ‘mindfulness’. I know the idea isn’t that novel, but the ‘new and improved’ packaging of the concept is in line with this sliding into unconscious that our society seems to be doing.

I remember my brother recounting one of his first Zen experiences. He was ‘sitting’ with a group. All quiet and still. When all of a sudden the Abbot yells “Wake up!…this is what we’re here for!” Amen to that.

Sep 30 2014

Stop Weeding

Rory Holland

The bane of any gardener or farmer is weeds. On a large scale, the best remedy is herbicide. Kill the bad. In fact, fighting fire with fire is a common method of dealing with anything we’re against. We like wars – even when they are with ourselves.

There is a lot wrong with me – everything from contrary opinions to addictions. I love the sinner, but hate the sin. Conventional wisdom suggests I go to battle with the lousy shit in my life. But, maybe there’s another way.

When we worked on the farm last winter, weeds were not a priority. Instead the focus was on the plants, the vegetables, and the trees. The mantra was advantage the good and disadvantage the bad. We worked to feed the soil, to plant things next to each other that supported mutual growth and strength. Sure, we did our share of pulling and slashing, but only enough to reduce vigor and give the things we wanted a chance for a foothold. Everything was healthier as a result.

The dark isn’t a thing on its own. It’s just the absence of light. Go figure.

Rather than chase around my head for personal weapons of mass destruction I could instead give attention to that which generates the opposite – health, generousity, friendship, community, etc. Stands to reason, the more up, the less down right?

And how ‘bout if I applied that to my relationships with others? Now we’re talking. This is large scale behaviour modification. If I ignore the negative, it likely won’t go away, but it’s sure to get an inferiority complex.

Wrestling change out of myself and others is both exhausting and futile. However if I light a candle for what is right, and good, and true, the dark will take care of itself.

Sep 29 2014


Rory Holland

The other night we watched a total tearjerker. Nice enough story, but the male lead was way over the top, and the ending was absurd at best. It had all the standard conventions – minor key music, close up long takes, and dramatic reversals of fortune. I was all emotional and completely sucked in.

How did I let that happen? How could I fall for it? I think it was precisely because in real life it doesn’t happen like that. Who wants to watch ‘normal’ on a Friday evening when I can get that all week in my own life? It was attractive because it was extraordinary.

A good movie lets me live vicariously. It is a safe place to experience vividly the good and the bad without living through the consequences. It’s not like an escape so much as a testing ground.

It begs the question for me though – how do I take some of that out of the safety of my TV room and into my day to day? What about those bold expressions, risks, and taking chances and feeling all that goes with them?

Story pulls me in with the assertion that life can be more than the, in comparison, muted normal I experience. It stands outside the constraints, structures, and ‘shoulds’ and beckons with a ‘what if?’ It swings the pendulum to the far side – and gives me something to reach for.

I refer to scenes from films all the time to explain how I feel. In fact, I prescribed a whole movie to someone last week who had a broken heart (High Fidelity). It was the perfect medicine.

All to say, that cheesy movie that had me all teary and farklemt has left me thinking about the plausibility of implausibility.


Sep 26 2014

Food, Glorious Food

Rory Holland

Last night I was standing in a parking lot in the middle of downtown. There were carrots, lettuce, and spinach growing all around me. Two acres of vegetables in raised beds. The farmers live down here – many of them fighting their own demons. “Hey what’s the point of sobriety if you don’t do something with it” says one young woman with dirt under her fingernails.

This isn’t therapy, it’s good honest work. In a wonderful turnabout the staff here harvest food to be served in restaurants and sold at farmer’s markets. Growing is better than dying. Feeding is better than going hungry.

Food is as much an activity as it is a thing. It’s a process – a deliberate, hopeful process. At its best it is a catalyst for community, for conversation, and for a worldview that can connect the dots between the farm and the table.

In light of this, the idea of a burger-on-the-lap from the drive through seems absurd. “Grabbing” something to eat sounds almost offensive.

The Catholics share a ‘meal’ together each Sunday. The Eucharist is that moment when folks walk up to the front and get a wafer from the priest. It is meant to be a reminder, a way to draw the supplicant closer to their God. It is eating as a spiritual act of remembrance.

A meal served slow and with intention inspires both gratitude and responsibility.

We’ll all eat today. May each occasion be an opportunity to consider the sweaty brow and dirty hands of the growers, the creativity and effort of the producers, and the tremendous chance we have to taste, and eat, and know that it is good.


Sep 25 2014

Quiet Revolution

Rory Holland

A friend just lost a large financial sponsorship to an event he’s holding because he published a letter condemning the military actions of his country. The, now former, donor didn’t like that he was against the US going to war so they withdrew their support. I am so proud of him.

I had a visit with a young woman yesterday. She has started a micro loan fund with money she received as inheritance. She is lending to organizations and companies who are seeking real environmental change. “What’s your collateral?” “Friendship”. These are funds she could have used as a down payment on a house. Instead they are being put to use for the good of others.

Later in the afternoon, at another meeting, I’m with someone who has dedicated herself to getting young farmers back on the land. She gets paid peanuts – but she is so passionate about the need to preserve and support the growth of local, small scale farms.

Then there are my friends who live and work in Liberia. They are ‘stuck’ here in Canada and can only watch as their adopted country is ravaged with Ebola. They spend all day working on how to help – using their own dwindling savings to support the efforts of those over there.

Watching the news can bring on a sense of despair and despondency. There is a lot of bad shit going on. But, at ground level, in small but vital ways, there is change afoot. There are those who have stepped into economic harms way to work for a better neighbourhood, country, planet.

We would all do well to find these individuals, organizations and even companies and stand beside them, hold them up, and cheer them on. Give money, give time, but most of all give respect .

Sep 24 2014

First Step

Rory Holland

I was meeting a friend for a drink. Seeing him walk in it looked like he’d lost weight. “Hey man, you’re looking slim!” To which he responded as if in a confessional, with a litany of forgive-me-father-for-I-have-sinned comments about not exercising, overwork, and eating too much. I absolved him by ordering beers.

I totally understand where he’s coming from. It’s really hard to live the life I want. In fact, it’s tough living the one I should. There are always reasons, circumstances, or seemingly insurmountable walls to climb that convince me to stop. I submit to a power lesser than myself and pull up short.

Any wonder the first step of recovery for addicts is confessing they are powerless and their lives are out of their control. In other words, they recognize that they just can’t get there from here. It’s time to surrender the keys. Not sure the good folks at AA should hold the corner on that market.

I don’t do what I want, and do do what I don’t want. Or something like that.

I have another friend who, when I am in his presence I feel like I’ve slept in my clothes and only speak like Woody Allen in Annie Hall. He has it together. I believe he follows through on what he says. It appears he has this thing called discipline. Yet, what’s missing? The technicolor, the surround sound of life. It’s like his music is coming from a transistor radio.

Me and my non-gym going buddy swap stories of family and adventures. I introduce him to another friend at the bar to whom he provides some really great professional advice. We are both out of control, powerless guys, not quite getting to where we’d like to be, but enjoying the journey nonetheless.

Sep 23 2014

Thank You Mr. Cohen

Rory Holland

I heard the song again last night. I know even Leonard himself doesn’t want it played anymore. It’s been covered by everyone but Miss Piggy. But, still. “Love is not a victory march, it’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah” is one of my favorite lyrics of all time.

Yesterday I got a note from a friend that his dad had died, his last living parent. I saw on Facebook that, after a long labour, a woman I know gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. Another was gushing about her new man. In a phone conversation I heard about the hurt from a relationship that had just ended. All stories of sad, happy, struggling, life giving, empty, full love.

With over 50 years here, I’ve been at it for awhile, but I still don’t really understand my heart. Yesterday I had someone tell me my life was perfect. Not in the quality sense of the word, but the quantity – All that I am is all that I need. It often doesn’t feel that way. I stumble around seeking to add, to get, to have whatever it is that might solve the cold and broken part.

This is a hard thing we do – sharing ourselves with each other. You’d think over the millennia we’d have figured it out. Yet it remains the great human dilemma. Then again, maybe it’s not something to solve. Maybe, instead, it’s part of the whole and the worse needs to be embraced along with the better?

Seeking the victory march is like an unquenchable thirst or looking for buried treasure with no map. It’s the dissatisfaction of more.

In my world this morning there are those in grief, in joy, and in heartache. Loving and being loved is imperfect. Hallelujah.

Sep 22 2014

I’m The Decider

Rory Holland

It’s simple, or at least it should be. I’m hanging a gate on a fence in the yard. I’ve got the hinges, screws, and drill. However, for the life of me I can’t get my brain to picture how it should attach so the thing swings freely and closes level. It’s only once it’s ‘on’ I can see what works and what doesn’t. Three or four tries later, it’s all done and fine – but not without a few extra holes in the post.

My best thinking is done after the fact. Once the decision has been made, once the benefits or consequences have been experienced – then I have a clear idea of what I should do. My resolve is sharpened with hindsight. Rather than considering ‘then what’, I tend to me more of a ‘now what’ kinda guy.

I recently built a chicken coop. A neighbour dropped by to admire my work. “Why’d you put it up high like that?” I had put the little building on two foot posts – but could not come up with a reason why. “he wanted a place for the chickens to have shelter from the weather” chimed in Lisa. Yah, that’s it.

My ability to under think, and just decide, has led me down incredible paths. I’ve started businesses, I’ve lived in different countries, I’m married, I have kids – all enormous choices, with outcomes far from certain at the beginning. However, that same skill has caused a fair degree of anguish and ‘If only’ over the years. Money’s been lost, relationships damaged, and now the hens have to climb a steep little ladder to their roost.

Somewhere in between the over and under is the genius. I’ve never been there, but I am sure it’s a nice place to be.

Sep 19 2014


Rory Holland

It’s late. I am sitting by myself away from the incredibly loud sounds in the other room. The place is full of young, hip people. I feel like a chaperone at a high school dance.

I’m at a festival of avant garde music and new media because my middle son – he’s the musician – said I should come. He’s not here, just me – and lots of folks in skinny jeans.

I’m not sure if it’s my age, or that I’m not avant garde enough, but I wasn’t really digging the guy who was dragging microphones covered in rags across the floor while wearing a gas mask. That’s when I retreated for quieter ground.

I do see one or two others who could be approximately my age. We nod as we pass, like secret agents in an eastern European train station. It would be totally un-cool to actually engage – “hey, you look too old to be here too!”

I was excited, and still am, gas mask notwithstanding, to come to a weekend like this. Out of my comfort zone, and past my bedtime. So far none of what I’ve seen or heard is easy to understand. Each artist is pushing a boundary, a convention, an assumption. My mind can’t just run on autopilot. I am forced to think, to discern, and even consider what I am experiencing from their point of view.

This is about both appreciation and education. It’s not so much ‘what to think’, but rather ‘how to think’. I don’t understand German Electronica, but the very act of trying seems a worthy exercise.

The last act of the night is some DJ from LA. I ditch. No point hanging around. The guy’s way too mainstream.

Sep 18 2014

Driving Out Of Control

Rory Holland

Living on an island I am beholden to that which is greater than myself. BC Ferries. To get from here to there I have to submit to their schedule – which, in reality, is often no more than wishful thinking. To secure a spot in line for the morning run requires leaving my house at a precise time. A five minute delay is the difference between being on time, and well, missing the boat completely.

From the moment I pull out of the driveway my calculation assumes that the road is mine. What I don’t anticipate is the driver ahead of me choosing, for whatever reason, to amble along at the speed limit. I immediately assume they are doing it with complete knowledge that I am trying to make the ferry, and are trying to teach me a lesson. I hate them.

The experience forces me to understand that the road is not all about me. As I gaze at the taillights in front I realize that, in fact, I am about the road. Sure, there are things I could do to make my life easier – like leave sooner – but even then there is no certainty.

From the weather to my home internet speed – I have so little control. I do like, and often use, the phrase “make life happen, or it will happen to you”. More and more though, I am not sure I have as much choice in the matter.

Unwittingly, slow driver dude has been teaching me. Circumstance is sometimes the only higher power required. There is the tension between taking responsibility and letting go of the situation. I can’t make him go faster. I can’t make the ferry run on time.   At 40km per hour, it is simply all happening, and I am a part of it.