My introverted, contemplative husband, Ian, has agreed to be my first interviewee for this Profile section. Ian is a biologist specializing in birds, and he is also a landscape ecologist. So what is he doing living in the city? I will keep a sixty year story short.
Ian was born and raised in Vancouver. In 1977, he and I met at the start of a three month residential program at a 'growth centre' on Cortes Island, B.C., called Cold Mountain. (It was on the property which is now Hollyhock.) We remained in a relationship for a year or so before going separate ways, until we reunited a few years ago (one reason he is back in Vancouver.)
Ian lived on Cortes on and off over the years, returning to Vancouver to study Fine Arts and work on his biology degrees at UBC. About nine years ago he moved from Cortes Island to central Vancouver Island. Besides being here in Vancouver with me now, he is also here for family reasons. His parents and one brother still live here.
Though living in a city has its challenges for a contemplative, Ian is not only here for the people he loves. He finds there are benefits for his spiritual and creative development. He is presently studying Theology as well as returning to pottery classes. He also appreciates the spiritual community he is finding here. Furthermore, Ian finds the challenge rewarding. It is good practice, he says. "You are challenged in ways you are not in a rural environment, and it can strengthen you spiritually." If you can do it here you can do it anywhere.
He does find there are significant drawbacks though. "What leaps to mind is all the impressions. Even colours can overwhelm. At times there is a sense of overload." He can also feel bombarded when there are too many people.
Noise can be especially jarring for the contemplative soul. Ian's pet peeves are air brakes on buses and leaf blowers. He says that if he could choose one miracle it would be for God to magically transform all leaf blowers into rakes or brooms. "What would that do to human kind's perception on God and reality?"
That briefly sums up the urban part. What does being a contemplative mean to him? Ian describes it as living a life that is a step slower and just outside the main hubbub of life. It is primarily holding a state of awareness. This can be described as a kind of mindfulness - "breathing, presence and allowing impressions to flow, having compassion, responding rather than reacting. It involves being centred and seeing the world and one's self from a deeper perspective."
Having known Ian for over forty years, I can say that he has been a contemplative type for a long time. I recall when he was nineteen, he liked to "putter." He taught me a great deal about mystical traditions and the invisible world back then, which I deeply resonated with. He agrees that being contemplative is a strong and persistent element of his nature.
There were events in his life that were turning points and when he realized he was not cut out for the conventional life. These mostly happened in his teen years. He had more than one experience being at parties or drinking with friends and stepping outside alone, just being with the sky and air and field and feeling that there was something more for him, a call. On one occasion he saw an owl and felt the owl was watching and communicating to him that he was living an inauthentic life.
Besides a slower pace and living simply (he is always working at having fewer things), Ian does have some practices. He is a novice in the Third Order Society of St. Francis. He does Centering Prayer (a form of meditation) every morning, and strives to hold a heart centre throughout his day rather than be in his head. Home, he says, is his sanctuary, where life is less chaotic, and generally simpler. He has a commitment to awareness, and enjoys listening to the rain fall. He reads but prefers books that are simple and eloquent, and evoke essence and metaphors without excessive verbiage.
Ian is a talented carpenter and craftsperson. Besides working with clay and stained glass, he has been building a wall outside our home in the Comox Valley. He finds pleasure working with materials that go back in time. "Even stirring a pot in the kitchen can transport one back through the ages." And that you can do wherever you are...