brushing uptime has flown by as my departure from Canada becomes imminent. there are no more second chances now, no more excuses to put things off; procrastination is deadly. even though I say that, of course, there are still a bunch of things I still haven’t gotten to on my list of Tasks Of Great Importance. one of them is to pay my last couple of bills and call to cancel my cable, phone and so on (seeing as I’m moving out of my apartment as well). yeah, that’s a lot of things to do all at once, alright. It feels like I’ll barely have the time to finish tying up all the loose ends here before I have to fly out—which happens next Friday, the 27th.

I must admit I’ve had my head in the clouds a little, anticipating the trip and visiting so many new places—that’s normal, right? Having to plan out an itinerary for myself that spans five months means that I have to think ahead… in fact, I think I’ve been doing more thinking ahead than I’ve ever done in my life. Anticipating, anticipating, sometimes patiently, sometimes not. Getting things done one step at a time, checking things off my ample to-do list as they come, adding more as I go. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve been able to get accomplished, actually. I suppose it helps that I have several people—my parents, good friends, the folks from HR at work—helping to remind me of all the things I need to take care of before going. Shots are all done, but I need to pick up a bit more medication for the trip (anti-malarials, that kind of thing). Visa’s done, and it got done surprisingly quickly at that, thanks to the kind folks at the Vietnamese embassy. Tickets are all booked, including stopovers in Tokyo each way to allow me to rest a little; thanks go to Laurie at Bytown Travel for helping me get that set up.

So what’s left? Cleaning up and moving out of the apartment, of course; doing my taxes for the past year; saying my goodbyes to friends and co-workers; packing my bags; gathering up cash, traveller’s cheques, and other essentials; contacting credit card companies to let them know where I’ll be (and to expect purchases from strange places); oh and so many other little things I was hoping to finish up before leaving but am I going to have time to do them all even if the clock is ticking down ohcrapohcrap… even with all this stuff to do though, I don’t really feel nervous yet—excited is more like it. I can’t wait to get on the plane and go, to end up in a completely different place. There’s just something about travel that’s given me a sort of permanent wanderlust ever since I was young. Not just the act of travelling, either—the anticipation. The sweet knowledge that you’re about to embark upon the journey of a lifetime, one that will lead you across to the other side of the planet for five whole months. Wondering aloud and quietly, what will this bright, bold and beautiful future bring?

With all these thoughts about the future, I have to pray just to keep myself grounded in the present. Thinking ahead is fun, but right now is where everything happens. So that’s where I am—right here at home (at the mall again, actually—hah), doing the most I can right now as my efforts and God’s confirmations will allow. As a closing note, I feel as though I’m starting to understand this concept of “confirmation”—you take the first step and God gets you running. Seeing this trip across the world come together piece by piece has helped show me what it means.

moment of reflection as the city freezes

morning traffica night of cold, blowing wind follows a quiet, gloomy friday’s worth of work. winter stubbornly spends its last few nominal weeks like an angry tyrant who knows his demise looms and who is bent on causing as much hardship as possible to his long-suffering subjects before that fateful day. on some streets, there are still puddles sitting, liquid and rippling; on others, strong gusts have thrown them up and frozen them into rough, icy cobbles.

funny how my heart is so warm in the midst of all this ice, so glad in the midst of all this gloom. i have my sights set on a much warmer place indeed, and soon, after less than a month’s worth of waiting now, for the first time in my life, I’ll be gone to live in the warmest place I’ll have ever been: Vietnam.

really a five-month-long visit more than any sort of immigration, I’ll be there from roughly the 1st of April ’til the 1st of September, visiting newfound friends and making more, seeing sights, experiencing the culture—and, perhaps above all, taking the opportunity to serve humanity in some of the small ways I’ve learned to serve. namely, I’ve been asked to help the Baha’is of Vietnam put together a website for their national community, a public face to help their country and the world to get to know them better. I’m looking forward to it—it’ll be an exciting project to be sure, one that’ll test my ability to manage projects and determine customer requirements, as well as my intercultural consultation skills. Baha’i consultation is the same wherever you go in the world, but communicating well across cultures is more than just your regular task, requiring a greater level of patience, sensitivity, wisdom and love. I only hope God will confirm my efforts.

i wonder about my readiness for this period of service, ever since i became burnt out after a two-year period of service in the province of Québec several years ago. Then, like now, I set out around Naw-Rúz, hoping that the budding springtime (still obscured by the usual remnants of a Canadian winter) would herald a spiritual springtime within me—a long-awaited rejuvenation that I hoped would take my frightened, self-absorbed consciousness and raise it to a level that God might deem acceptable. Seven years of lessons later, I feel as though much of the darkness that surrounded me has lifted—and a great deal of naiveté replaced with a deeper understanding of God and spiritual things—but still I feel fear, hesitation, trepidation. I wonder how my mood will fare, how my bruised—yet healing—psyche will hold up to the coming stress. I wonder how I will react to the challenge of service—with fear and doubt, or with courage and faith? I wonder how I will react to the people—will I choose to retreat into my shell and hide my heart from those I meet, or will I dare to open up my soul to them? will I be cold, like the ice that slowly coats the streets of Ottawa? or will the Vietnamese summer—and God’s love and blessing—warm my heart?

toronto regional conference: first reflections

IMG_1783“Wow—just wow.” was my first reflection upon entering the conference hall on Saturday morning at the Toronto Regional Baha’i Conference. Wordless reflection, of course, since I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to put together a sentence. Over 4,000 people attended, according to official reports; I’d never seen that many Baha’is in one place before—and I live in Ottawa, where we’re used to getting upwards of 700 people at Naw-Rúz celebrations. With the Toronto and Guadalajara conferences, over 50,000 people have come to the conferences across the world so far. The atmosphere was joyful, exciting, electrifying, full of energy. Imagining all those people gathering together as beloved guests of the Universal House of Justice, conversing together, studying and planning their future together is one thing, but seeing it in action is another.

IMG_1620 Parts of the conference were like an immense reflection meeting; more powerful and flexible, though, as many people workshop-hopped from their own clusters to devote their attentions to neighbouring clusters in need of assistance in meeting their goals before Ridván 2009. In all, eight clusters were identified in Eastern and Central Canada as priority clusters—among them our neighbouring Outaouais cluster, which includes the city of Gatineau—that were in line to establish their first intensive programs of growth in the coming months. I was able to hop over to join the Southeast New Brunswick cluster during a break to share some good conversation with Baha’i friends from the Moncton area. It was very clearly illustrated how closely the Universal House of Justice was monitoring the progress of the Faith in our areas, and how directly our efforts during the weekend would reach them. The support and love from the Institutions of the Faith was evident at all levels.

IMG_1700One of the very inspiring parts of the workshops was seeing how the junior youth stood up and made their voices heard in consultation. Some of them who we may never have heard before raising their voice in great assemblies showed little or no trepidation in offering their ideas and making their points of view known. Their contributions made the experience dynamic and bolstered the confidence of all present. One of the participants commented, “imagine if all reflection meetings were like this conference—we would get all of our planning done in minutes!”

That’s it for now, but you can expect further posts on the regional conference here—I took pages and pages of notes on my trusty Macbook and I’m expecting to take time to synthesize them and share them here with you all. Mad love to those who are gathering in Vancouver this weekend for the second Canadian conference, and to the rest of the friends throughout the world who are engaged in this world-shaping process.

blog action day: thinking about poverty

sip?“really, though,” I thought to myself while jotting down notes about blog action day’s chosen topic of poverty, “what am i doing sitting here, sipping on a milkshake, when the three dollars I paid for it could have paid for a meal for a hungry child?” I still don’t have an answer. But it did get me thinking—thinking hard enough to put together a few thoughts on a topic I admittedly don’t think much about. thinking about wealth, family, and social position, and how I tend to take them for granted, just because that’s the way things are. thinking about what poverty means in Canada, one of the more affluent nations of the world—where, according to my own employer, the Conference Board of Canada, and to OECD statistics, one out of every seven children lives in poverty. thinking, and wondering what in the world one person could do to stem the tide of what has been and continues to be a global epidemic that afflicts billions of people.

In 2001, the United Nations set eight overarching goals for development, the “Millennium Development Goals” (side note: I’ve gotten real tired of things being named “Millennium”. they named a bus stop near my old high school “Millennium” for pete’s sake). The first of these goals—which also touched on topics such as education, gender equality, and the environment—concerned the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Specific targets? halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day; achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all, including women and young people; and halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. That’s no small task, I pondered to myself as I looked for a way to tackle this issue from my own perspective. How in the world are they supposed to do that, especially given the repeated failures of aid programs through corruption, misappropriation of funds, the creation of dependency in the receiving nations that elicits cries of “neocolonialist pigs!” in the radical West? Sure, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, there’s enough food in the world to feed everybody, but aren’t there still 780 million people who are still chronically hungry? What are they going to do, air-drop hamburgers?

Thankfully, through the agency of some good-natured spirit, I happened to find out about a study session on the Baha’i International Community’s recent statement, Eradicating Poverty: Moving Forward as One that happened tonight. After attending and taking a bunch of notes, I put together a few highlights in typical dan-jones style that I’d like to share with you.
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on my semiweekly trips to the gym, I phase out for fifteen to twenty minutes or so watching the closed-captioned news on the TVs as I dutifully jog my heart out on a treadmill. last month it was olympics, olympics, olympics, which I enjoy for sure, but this month it’s all elections, elections, elections. bleah. and this year, we may very well have federal elections in Canada AND the United States at about the same time, which (as far as I can remember) doesn’t happen very often. Canadian elections I’ve always watched somewhat in the spirit of a deranged game; they’re short, vicious, and get your adrenaline going. American elections I watch more in the spirit of a slow-motion train wreck. Why anyone would want to spend over a year going through so many motions, procedures and ceremony to elect their leadership invariably elicits a reaction of horror and awe from me. In reality, though, either system has such glaring flaws that I find it genuinely difficult to participate — and impossible to involve myself — in election mania in any meaningful form.

First off, I don’t think I’ll ever understand the partisan political system really, or how anyone could claim that a “party” can ever truly represent them. God gave to humanity the gift of a diversity of views — how do they suppose that aligning oneself with or subscribing to the ideals of a “party” will advance the process of exchanging such views? Instead, all it does is obscure the truth and make every problem more difficult to solve, because people are too busy watching their backs, toeing party lines instead of being open, honest and frank. Second off, why are we to vote only for the rich and lucky ones who can pony up the most cash to pay for a glitzy campaign? Why can’t we vote for those people who, in our hearts, we truly believe deserve the station of servitude to their country, who show forth actual merit, virtue, character and solid worth? Why narrow the field to only a select few? Third, if our goal is to promote a unified nation, what is the point of such an adversarial system, both in the process of electioneering and campaigning, and within government itself? Why do we have to listen to week after week of pundits on Side A slam the pundits on side B, or the candidates on side B denigrate those on Side A? It’s not pleasant, for Pete’s sake. Why do we have to argue over whose kids are alcoholics, whose are pregnant and who forgot Poland? Unified societies are built upon cooperation and consensus. Why not try those out for a year and leave the bickering behind? If we find that we prefer the bickering afterwards, well, we can always go back.

In short, my impression of the prevailing partisan electoral systems in Canada and the US is that they don’t seem to support human dignity or its unity. To me, all they seem to do is to make problems harder to solve, because those who are elected to serve are too busy dealing with matters of the human ego. And I’m afraid that’s enough rambling for now; it’s getting late. Got more TV to watch at the gym tomorrow. As usual, I’d love to hear your comments.

imperfect part 1

There are a number of things about myself that I don’t quite understand. Perhaps chief amongst these right now is perfectionism—being unsatisfied with anything but perfection, especially when it comes to the things I try to accomplish. Truth be told, my own tendency towards perfectionism been getting me down lately. It manifests itself as a sort of negative, intolerant attitude that minimizes the things I do. I suppose that may also describe “low self-esteem”, to refer to the pop psychological concept that seems to plague all or most of Western society.

I’ve been told by many different people, Baha’is and otherwise, that I’m too hard on myself, that I beat myself up about things rather than being kind, gentle and firm with myself, accepting gradual improvement rather than immediate perfection. I’m still having trouble understanding the whole issue. Part of me wants to be gentler with myself, but another part wants to challenge myself to improve. I tend to be a bit rough while “challenging” myself, I suppose—throwing myself into uncomfortable situations and trying to force myself to use my intuition to adapt to the circumstances. Sometimes it works, but often I end up freaking out and messing up, or at least things don’t go the way I wanted them to go—which is that I would learn how to do something that previously made me very uncomfortable and all would be well and good. In fact, this has happened before, but more often than not, the feeling of accomplishment would be overwhelmed by thoughts like: “It was a fluke”, “Look how exhausted you are, you’ll never be able to do it more than once”. And the dark feelings of anxiety and despair come back.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this really, but this is a burning issue in my life that I expect that I’ll revisit sometime soon, so I wanted to post this and leave it open for comments from all of you.