Happiness is…

This morning when my husband and I decide to take the grand dog to the dog park, the temperature is a pleasant –6 with patches of blue sky showing through thin cloud cover. As we stand on the deck out of the wind, I wonder if I’ve overdressed and will soon be sweating. In the car, I am too hot.

By the time we arrive at the dog park, the sun looks like an ivory disk under a gossamer veil. Out on the open field, the clouds move in, hanging low with their bellies ragged and torn. The wind blows over the land with icy cold gusts. Gooseflesh pimples the skin under my jeans. I pull down my hat and put up the hood of my jacket. My husband’s fur-lined aviator hat protects his ear, but his nose, chin and forehead are very pink.

The dog, however, doesn’t care what the thermometer says; he’s always up for chasing the ball. Today, his doggie smile stretches from ear to ear. I can’t help but smile too. Condensation from his huffing breath whitens his whiskers with frosty rime just like the earflaps on my husband’s hat.

I’m freezing. My cheeks are stinging. My husband’s face is red and raw. All I can think of at that moment is, “Give me a hot chocolate and I’ll be content.” Now that the dog is happily exhausted, we walk briskly to the car, and I tuck my chin into the furry collar of my jacket. My glasses fog up and my nose runs. I feel alive and invigorated by the cold. My senses are tingling.

I love the delicious feel of being alive.

So often, I hear people say, “I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.” “I’ll be happy when I can go on a cruise.” “I’ll be happy when I can find the right home.” I wonder, “Is it really true that they’ll be satisfied?” When those things happen (or not) the wish list increases. The desire for more is always at work. All those If’s and when’s take over, and suddenly they’re expectations.“

If I lament missed opportunities, I’m also creating a list. “I wish I had…” “Why didn’t I…?” “What if I had…?” Now I’m on a trip down memory lane!

A friend of mine calls this phenomenon time travel. The grand dog’s happiness appears to be a function of time travel. He has expectations for the future when I say, “Dog park” or “Walk” He’s learned from past experience. “Oh boy! Oh boy! Here comes a treat!” Like me with a hot chocolate! Give him a chew toy. Throw a stick. Scoop out a dishful of kibble. He’s delighted.

For me, the gift at the dog park is Presence. One half hour there and my heart sings “Happy!” Afterward, I’m aware of the savory spices in the turkey soup we eat when we get home, warm air flows from the furnace, and the physical weariness that comes from fresh air and exercise is exquisite.

The grand dog is a Teacher. I am a willing Student. Today’s lesson? “Happiness exists right here, right now. Not tomorrow. Not last week. But here in this present moment.” Good doggie.

A marriage is like…

Last week my husband and I celebrated 36 years of marriage. I could write that these years were sweet wedded bliss but I’d be lying. We’ve struggled through some tough times. Despite our differences, we’re still here, still together and moving forward. You could say I’m a stubborn cuss or say I’m a persistent person. Either way, the same words fit for my spouse.

Because I love metaphors, I Googled “metaphor for marriage.” A metaphor, as you probably know, is a figure of speech that refers, for rhetorical effect, to one thing by mentioning another thing. The search engine results for marriage included metaphors like these…trees…swords forged in fire…a horse and carriage…a duet…a road…seeds…gardens…and a host of other associations. I read every idea and marvelled at the way the contributors elaborated on their meaning. Not one fit my experience.

The truth is a marriage is created by two unique individuals, and if nothing else, we are that. My husband and I have such distinct personalities it’s a miracle we’ve gone on this long. After completing my research, I concluded that I had to find my own parallels.

I sat for a long time waiting for a metaphor to come into my mind. During my reflection time, I remembered a family holiday that included white water rafting on the Kananaskis River in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. A group of multi-aged tourists showed up for the trip, donned raggedy wetsuits, helmets and lifejackets, and then armed with paddles and enthusiasm, we waited impatiently to set off. We felt brave and up to the risk; possibly a little apprehensive. After an instructivel lecture on rafting techniques and a safety demonstration, we piled into the raft. After our guide showed us basic paddling skills, we maneuvered our craft through an easy section of fast moving water. When our crew put their backs into the oars, we became a team. We felt brave gliding smoothly around rocks large enough to create eddies. We even survived a few nose-dives that sprayed up and soaked us to the skin.

Towards the end of the adventure, we tied up on the shoreline and scrambled along the edge where we were instructed to throw ourselves into the water. Some of us were doubtful. The rafting coaches pressed us. Plummeting into a frigid mountain river took my breath away. The river took hold of each one of us and carried us 50 feet downstream where our guides waited, laughing, to pluck us from the stream.

I’ll never forget the exhilaration and shock of leaping into that water. This was the link to my metaphor!

Like a new river rafter, you first experience marriage as if you are leaping into a cold mountain river that looks beautiful from afar but turns out to be risky for the innocent participant. Initially the novelty of romance and delight takes your breath away. You feel like you can handle anything. After awhile, the excitement wears thin, and you struggle to keep your enthusiasm going. Eventually you realize there is work to it so you put more effort into it. Emotional turmoil tumbles around you, pushes you off-balance and threatens to wash you onto the shore or send you scrambling over the rocks. Slippery stepping stones in your life upset your footing. Your well-anchored opinions are washed away like gravel, swept along in rapids, and tossed over thundering waterfalls. At the sharpest curve, you learn to respect the river. Sometimes you are submerged like waterlogged debris in the current; sometimes you float like a fallen autumn leaf. Eventually, you surrender: to the flow, to life, to the love that brought you to each other in the first place. After the rapids, you realize the current is slowing.

Where you once saw your husband as a heavy rock holding you down, you begin to appreciate him as an anchor. You realize the two of you handle the current in different ways; you learn to stand and let the wild water flow around you. He understands your need to float in still pools. You both learn to listen to the silence and stillness of the forest unconscious. His sharp edges smooth out, and his dark sediments slowly settle into fertile growth. The drama of the wild water fades. On the flood plain you learn to go with the flow.

Metaphor is a big picture tool that provides clarity. It shows me the similarities between a wild river ride and a marriage. It helps me step back and see the complete, overarching story of two souls who have learned to travel with the flow of life. From this vantage point, I can consider the future, and instead of focusing on the small details of past turbulence, make decisions that take the whole of the river’s course into account, from spring source to the wide sea.

So tell me in the comments…what is a metaphor for your relationship with your partner?

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila

Lonely Lila comes to me in darkness
when the interface grid is offline
when my soul radiance dims
i hear her whistling in the dark
then i’m not afraid
to share the gift of words
to light up the world
with forgiveness
and acceptance.

it shocks me to know
the live wire of my heart
when amplified and grounded
is powered by a great Wind
the natural source of all love

then Lila leaves her lonely lair
she illuminates the way, makes my heart shine
my eyes twinkle and my words hum.

(c) Kathie Sutherland 2015/02/03

Fairy Tale Wisdom

“Even as children, our Inner Heroes set out to challenge the world. In the last two thousand years, nothing has helped this exploratory need as much as the fairy tale.

“I know what you may be thinking. “Fairy tales? Is he kidding? Why, those things are positively frightening. Children see enough violence on television — they don’t need kids pushing witches into ovens and evil spells and poisoned apples.

“Stop for a minute and remind yourself how long the fairy tale has been with us — in every nation and in every civilization. Surely there must be something significant here, an insight so important as to transcend time and mountains and cultures to arrive in the twenty-first century still intact. 

“What distinguishes the fairy tale is that it speaks to the heart and soul. The fairy tale confirms what we our.selves have been thinking all along — that it is a cold, cruel world out there and it’s waiting to eat us alive. Now, if that were all the fairy tale said, it would have died out long ago. But it goes one step further. It addresses itself to our sense of courage and adventure. The fairy tale advises us: Take your courage in hand and go out to meet the world head on. According to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairy tale offers this promise: If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer any foe.

By recognizing daily fears, appealing to courage and confidence, and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents us all with a means by which we can understand the world and ourselves. And those who would deodorize the tales impose a fearsome lie upon us. J.R.R. Tolkien cautioned, “It does not pay to leave a dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.” Judging from the daily averages, our land is filled with dragons.”

 * An edited quote from Jim Trelease‘s Read-Aloud Handbook

Although I am long past childhood, I too believe in the fairy tale as a learning tool for acting with courage and confidence. This is part of my soul journey.

We all share a common road, which is the never-ending journey into ourselves. My Storyteller is getting old, and she’s hobbling along this path mapping my life in poems and short stories. She creates metaphoric, mythic landscapes to show where I am, where I have been and where I might go.

Fairy tales are one way to remember the Sacred Being we have forgotten, buried as She is under all the stories we use to protect ourselves from dragons. We can search for Her in our memories and find meaning by listening to the emotional tone of past events, using our senses, finding words for previously unexpressed experiences, embracing symbols from the vast store of the unconscious using metaphors, imagination, wordplay, flashes of insight, while appreciating the sheer joy of wordsmithing. For me, the fairy tale is a healing concoction from The Alchemist, a magic elixir that can transform the lead of my fear into the gold of understanding.


My Storyteller’s Tale


The Storyteller squats by the well in the gathering place of the townspeople. No one pays much attention to a dusty old Gypsy woman so she sits quietly and observes the people and their lives. Her embroidered skirt is muddied at the hem and her boots are worn down at the heel. She wears large gold earrings, a strangely marked talisman around her neck, and her thick grey hair is held back with a red silk scarf adorned with coins.

On this particular day, a market day, people bustle around her. Children with dirty ears and ragged clothes chase each other until she bids them come and sit with her. They call out to the beggar by the gate and he comes too, his craggy face lined and his toothless mouth grinning. The stripling lad from the inn and the young barmaid arrive not long after, holding hands and nuzzling each other. Mothers with babes in their arms purchase trinkets at the market stalls and then settle in to nurse their infants in the shade of the elms. They have come to hear the Gypsy woman who tells tales of wonder and magic.

With her begging bowl beside her, the Storyteller weaves tales about the trees in the wood, the smell of the dusty road, the wizards who travel there, and the dragons who live in the caves beyond. The old woman travels far and wide, visiting countries at war and those in peaceful times, during droughts and floods, through seasons of plenty and years of starvation. She sees babies born and old men die. She suffers and yet, she considers herself as happy and innocent as the dirty children beside her.

A young woman asks her to tell a story – a true story of a Princess and her betrothed, a Prince who will one day be king. After a time of thoughtful silence, the Storyteller begins her tale.

“Once upon a time, a silken-haired Princess sat in the palace garden admiring the roses. She felt safe there on her little bench in the sunshine. She pines for her Prince, who has been far away fighting on a distant battlefield.

Suddenly, a horde of marauding soldiers seeking revenge for the murder of their King, break through the gate and carry her off. Naturally, she quakes with fear. She has never been outside the palace walls. As they tie her behind the wagon and ride away, pulling her along, she thinks, “I will never survive all alone in the wild country.”

The Storyteller pauses dramatically, looking at each face in the audience.

“On arrival at the soldier’s camp, the beautiful Princess considers her predicament. No one will protect her or guard her honour. She concludes that her Prince is not coming to rescue her, even though she had always thought that was what Princes were to do. She says to herself, “If I am to move forward, I must rise above my fears, persevere and be strong.”

Her situation is dire. She is hungry, thirsty and tired. Even though she appears beaten, she feigns weakness to fool the soldiers. One takes pity on her. He unties her hands so she can drink from his cup, and she slips free and takes his sabre. She twists this way and that, leaps nimbly away, and runs to the paddock where the horses are tied. She untethers a white stallion, throws her leg over its back and gathers the reins.

The soldiers rally.

“One shouts, “You can’t escape now. You must stop and surrender.”

“A second guard yells, “Wench, give up your feeble efforts! We will take you anyway!

The Storyteller pauses. In an aside to her listeners, says, “Will she escape or will she stand firm? Will she run for her life or will she take up a sword and fight?”

Her listeners lean forward. The Storyteller speaks faster and louder, gesturing as she acts the Princess’ part.

“Our Princess is ready to ride away but she reins in the horse, jumps down and stands fast, facing her enemies. She meets them in a Hero’s stance, her head held high.  She slashes and slices. Suffers cuts and wounds. She fights with confidence; she fights a good fight! And when they are all lying in the grass moaning or dead, she remounts the stallion and rides away toward the castle.

The listeners echo her words, “…the good fight.”

The Storyteller steps forward, holding the young ones spellbound,

“Everyone in the kingdom knows this Princess as a sweet and gentlewoman, and not one to fight and make war. How has this happened, that a peace loving girl has been transformed and now wins a victory by the sword?”

“She is a Heroine!” the audience gasps.

“Perhaps…” the Storyteller pauses again.

“She has a special power, my friends. Yes! Our Princess chooses to act on her own behalf, to take back her power through her actions.”

“What??” A young listener in the audience says, “She chooses?”

“Do we not all choose which battles to fight?” asks the Storyteller. “The Princess chooses to own her power and courage. She works with life rather than resisting. Her hand is loose on the sword not clenched. She understands that she alone is responsible for her freedom.”

No sooner is this statement out of the Storyteller’s mouth than the one who requested the Princess story, jeers, “That is not the story I want! The Princess must be saved by her Prince.” There are others who shake their fists and throw spoiled tomatoes and rotten cabbage at her. Splat! Splat! The audience howls but the Storyteller does not retreat.

The crowd yells, “You are mad! Everyone must abide by the law and submit, including the Princess. What story are you weaving? No one has this freedom. Begone!”

But behind them, at the back of the crowd, the young barmaid cheers and her fellow too. A mother under the elms is smiling though she says nothing. The children play at sword fighting at the village wall.

The Storyteller understands that of which she speaks. She, herself, is free to move about, to decide which stories she will tell, and to tell them in her own way. She begins her tale again, her voice rising above the din.

“I weave this tale so you may see that you are like the Wise Princess who may someday be Queen. Hers is the story of us all. You too can choose courage to own your life and its path.”

It is evening now and the sun is going down. The villagers have heard and seen enough. They drift away to tend to their homes and families, the barmaid returns to the tavern, the babies are asleep in their mothers arms, and the children are tired of their games.

The Storyteller sees that her bowl is empty but her heart is full. She has a bit of bread and cheese in her bag and that is enough for her.

The next morning the Storyteller, having shared her wisdom, gathers her meager belongings and sets out on the road to the next village.


The moral of the story? We all have the freedom, right and responsibility to choose our way.



Unearthing Essence

Since I began this blog, I’ve been paying more attention to the words I use, to their energy in the world, and to the things they convey. I’ve noticed that the subject matter I choose is often about the pain of the past. Many beautiful poetry, prose works and other artistic expressions arise from the rubble and hurt of people’s lives (think Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath and Ernest Hemmingway). I get judgmental about my writing when I continue to pull the darkness back over myself; like putting my head under the covers when it’s a beautiful day outside. Maybe that’s why, when I was a teen, my Dad woke me up by flicking the light off and on and announcing loudly, “You’re missing the best part of the day.” I didn’t like it at the time but now I see that he appreciated mornings and was grateful for the renewal that a new day brings. 

In my recent writing, I’ve tried to ease up on rehashing the past and spend more time becoming aware of the lessons that are right in front of me. I am aware that by telling stories over and over again, I am peeling off layers in a search for the essence buried under the mundane events of my life. Many days are not very interesting, exciting, or dramatic, the very things I use to create stories and poems. Perhaps that’s why I write, to relieve the tedious and repetitious nature of things. So I asked myself this morning, “What could I be writing that would be neither pained or boring but true to life?”

I could write that it was my daughter’s birthday today and that she loved all the Facebook messages she received and she is looking forward to her birthday supper with friends. I could write that her puppy, Jax, is the cutest grand dog ever, and I love that he communicates so much with his quizzical facial expressions. I could write that I finally got a good night’s sleep after a couple of long awake nights and I’m feeling more perky today. I could write that my husband makes the best oatmeal porridge, which is much better than mine probably because he uses the large flake oats and cooks it a long time.

Anyone can write about ordinary everyday stuff like this but some writers like to unearth the essence of things. They try to link today’s birthday with previous significant birthdays like turning 18 or 30 or 65 or describe the animated messages on Facebook. They try to write the thoughts a dog might have. They try to portray a peaceful night’s sleep or one with horrid nightmares and by doing so, understand themselves. They try to take the reader step by step through the precise measurements and cooking style of an oatmeal specialist. They try to write with appreciation, gratitude and renewed amazement at the darnest things.

What fascinates me is digging deeper than the surface fluff in search of treasures that exist at a spiritual level. Spiritual for me means writing in awareness of and integrating ordinary physical, emotional and intellectual experiences to find the extraordinary and connect that to All That Is. That’s one of the reasons I love metaphor. It’s a tool to connect concrete things to a spiritual abstract. I’ve been known to include a bit of twisted humour in my poems, a paradox or two, and find weird relationships between unrelated subjects. Riddles and puzzles stimulate questions about the Mystery and create synchronicity too.

Let’s consider a dog’s perspective, for example. Dogs are very intuitive, sensual creatures, present and focused on whatever they do, totally in touch with their natural instincts. A dog teaches me to stop and listen. I follow this inclination whenever I can because it feels like meditation when I pick out individual sounds and follow them until they are gone. One caveat I hold to as a general rule is… Steer clear of dog kibble and milk bones. 🙂

Here is a poem I wrote in 2001 that captures a dog’s imagined perspective on spring.

spring cycles

my dog teaches freedom
tugs at the leash
rushes headlong into the walk
she knows where she is going

i follow in her wake
believe her instinct
go where she goes
she has untamed advantage:
singular focus on scented breeze

here I stand
distracted by a plural mind
caught up in the colour of new lilacs
squeals of children at play on bicycles, water gurgling in gutters

but my dog knows better, raises her nose
obeys the call of the wild wind
with the smell of God in it


I believe spiritual essence lives underneath everything including the mundane. I’m always looking for it, asking questions, and listening for messages about the mystery of life.

If you like the idea of poetry as a spiritual quest, check out my poetry books on my Bookstore page.





Playing with Perspective

My first memory is of a tiny speckled bird shell. I remember wind blowing and dark earth. I cannot say where it was except that when I was three, we lived near Penhold, Alberta. I wrote a short story based on this momentary glimpse of innocence and wonder, and it brought back feelings about my parents, siblings, and summer picnics. Somewhere inside me, that curious child still lives.

I loved the outdoors back then. I was fascinated by caterpillars and feathers, dandelion seeds and ants. I loved to touch, smell, taste and observe the world around me. I noticed that round rocks roll and leaves fall down not up. In those days, at the playground, I tested my ability to climb, jump, swing and twirl. I developed physical strength, coordination and balance, as well as social skills, creative game playing, problem solving, confidence building, and a connection to people and place. At the time, I didn’t realize I was learning. It was all play to me.

What is your first memory?  Is it a small snippet without context? Writing about this memory in the present tense may bring up feelings about the experience. Feelings do not know the date and are just as powerful to your Child as they were when the feelings first arose.The gift of this approach to stories from childhood is described by Alice Miller in her book The Drama of the Gifted Child…”the experience of one’s own truth make it possible to return to one’s own world of feeling at an adult level – without paradise but with the ability to mourn. And this ability does give us back our vitality… awareness of old feelings is not deadly but liberating.”

Your story is unique because it is your perspective on events, a viewpoint that may be far from the factual truth but very accurate in terms of emotional and intellectual insight. Memory is unreliable because it comes to you as a reaction to a present event and manifests as a fleeting glimpse of a scene from childhood, an emotion such as fear or fun, an impression of a person, even a reaction to a smell. I recall tears welling up in my eyes once when I smelled pipe smoke. I turned toward the smell expecting to see my father smoking his corncob pipe even though he had passed away 30 years before. This is the power of memory.

Now, as I near “senior status” I’ve been visiting a new playground – the one in my imagination – where I can grow by playing with perspective. I’ve learned a great deal about my inner world by writing from my senses, feelings and especially, from my imagination. I can creatively capture a moment in a poem, a sentence, a story or vignette. I do not want to miss the miracles that occur every moment of every day, the way a Child perceives the world, free to explore and experience with the joyfulness of an open heart and mind.

I experienced this today when I stepped outside into cold winter air. The sun was shining in a clear blue sky. Chickadees hopped about in the spruce tree beside the deck. Snow glittered. As I write this now several hours later, I remember the feeling of cool air on my skin and the aliveness of the moment. I set aside my complaints about icy highways and wind chill factors and instead, choose to see the world with new eyes. This is the gift of your Inner Child.