Author Archives: Arlene Somerton Smith

About Arlene Somerton Smith

Plain and simple writing on meaningful topics.

Devotion and transformation

“In every religious tradition there is a practice of devotion and a practice of transformation . . .
Devotion means trusting more in ourselves and in the path we follow. Transformation means to practice the things this path imposes on us.”

Thich Nhat Hanh in Living Buddha, Living Christ
city street with a large tree in the middle
Trusting in the path, and growing through what it brings us to do.

The parent’s responsibility

“. . . it’s not the child’s responsibility to teach the parent who they are. It’s the parent’s responsibility to learn who the child is . . .”

From “R2, Where Are You?” by Tig Notaro in All These Wonders: True Stories About Facing the Unknown edited by Catherine Burns
train-winter
VIA train to university

Right after we returned from dropping our son at the train station for travel to his final university semester, I sat down to indulge in some morning reading time. That’s when I found the quote above.

Our son is about to finish his studies, but he’s not sure what he wants to do after. As parents, we want to pick him up like when he was a child and set him down in what we think is his safe, right place. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as he sorts out what works for him.

Our daughter graduated last June and is still searching for more solid ground under her feet too. As parents, we want to pick her up like when she was a child and set her down on what we think is her safe, right path. But we can’t.

We have to watch and learn as she sorts out what works for her.

After reading the quote I sipped my coffee, stared out the window and contemplated how often parents impose—or try to impose—inappropriate behaviours, activities, careers, clothing or partners on a child because they haven’t learned who their child is.

How often that imposition breaks the relationship.

Telling our kids what to do with their lives feels so much like the right thing to do because we have their best interests at heart, after all, and we want to save them the pain of mistakes.

Sharing the wisdom of our experience is a right thing, but it’s not the best right thing.

The better right thing—our responsibility—is learning who they are.

Christmas tree stars

Haiku Prayers: https://www.facebook.com/HaikuPrayers/
Christmas Tree lights that look like stars.
Christmas tree lights look like stars.

“Each of us is raised with a sense of ‘us and them.’ Initially the ‘us’ is just family, and everyone else is ‘them.’ As we get older and more experienced, more and more people join the ‘us’ but there is usually still a ‘them.’ …

Once in orbit, though, with time to not only work but to gaze at the world over a period of months, I noticed my perception shifting. As I sent pictures to the ground and commented on them, I found myself unthinkingly referring to everyone as ‘us.’ …

I would see a city that I knew well and just 30 minutes later, see that exact same pattern of settlement in a city I had never heard of. It forced me to face the commonality of the human experience, and our shared hopes and desires.”

Chris Hadfield in An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

Life as sacred pipe

“I raise the pipe of my being to the rising sun in openness and humility.”

Richard Wagamese in Embers

About a month ago, I participated in a book study about Richard Wagamese’s beautiful book Embers. That night the leader asked us to pick a line at random and answer a series of questions. The line at the top of the page was my line.

What words does it bring to mind? 

The sacred pipe in Wagamese’s First Nation context is the pipe shared in a circle as part of community. It brought to mind blessing, cleansing, centering, sharing and accepting each other in community.

What does it remind you of? 

It reminded me of the Hafiz quote from my last post and the poem I wrote for Jessie. “I am the hole in a flute that God’s breath moves through.”  

What does it call you to do?

It calls me to be an instrument for co-creating using what nature provides. Using matter–the science–to create a beautiful story.

If I am a sacred pipe, I am blessing, cleansing, centering, sharing and accepting others in community. Passed from person to person in a circle,  never-ending, with respect and with intention.

That was my line, brought to my attention just weeks before Jessie died. I send you out into the day to find your line. Choose a book you love, pick a line at random.

What words does it bring to mind? What does it remind you of? What does it call you to do?

Thinking our way to true self

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Can you eat an apple by yourself?”

That was the question asked of the children gathered at the front of the church. All of them nodded. Yes, eating an apple was an easy thing for them to do. 

“Could you always do that, or did you have to learn?” 

Roxanne Goodman, a performance instructor in popular voice with Carleton University, started her presentation with those questions. I think she wanted all of us — children and adults — to think and learn and honour our potential.

Every day she works with people who tell her they want to develop stronger, more beautiful voices. The problem is, she says, that those same people don’t have a good perception of their voice at the time. 

In other words, they want to “eat an apple” but they haven’t yet, and they’re sure they’ll never do it as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Gaga, or Elton John.  

She shared a story from her own life to help us on our path to understanding. When she was a young woman she sang a solo in her church. After the performance a gentleman said to her, “You have such a beautiful voice.”

“It’s okay. It’s all right,” she replied. 

Hearing that, he said, “Tell me, am I the only person who’s ever said this to you?”

“Oh no, people tell me that all the time.”

“Do you think that we are all lying to you?” he said. 

After that she asked herself: if she was wrong about her ability as a singer, what else was she wrong about? What else could she do that she was telling herself she couldn’t do?

She started from there, with a new belief that she had a beautiful voice. She studied to learn the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out.

She made lots of mistakes and learned from those too. 

She believes that anyone can learn to sing from their true voice if they do two things: 

  • Appreciate what they already have; believe in the beauty of their voice.
  • Sing from the depth of their being, their essence. 

She pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say we must do the thing we cannot do, but the thing we think we cannot do. 

We sometimes think our way out of facing fears and opening ourselves up to the next step. 

We can also think our way to our true self. 

I apply Roxanne’s lessons to writing: appreciating the beauty of my writing voice, learning the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out, making lots of mistakes, and allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to let my readers see me. 

Can you eat an apple? What else can you do that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t?

Start with one bite. 


Listen to what she had to say: http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Reflection-181118.mp3

Visit Roxanne’s website: www.confidencebooster.ca

Go to the Big Soul Project Christmas concert: Saturday, December 8

Start with one bite.
Four-year-old girl riding a small bicycle with training wheels.

Bicycles and women: Engineering social reform

I have a new respect for bicycles.

This one in particular. I wasn’t alive in the 1880s, but this bicycle directly affected my life nonetheless. 

First modern bicycle
First modern bicycle on display at the Coventry Transport Museum

John Kemp Starley developed the Rover safety bicycle to replace the precarious large-wheeled Penny Farthings. The safer bicycle allowed more people across more classes to get around, and some of those people were women.  

Plaque reads: Engineering Heritage Award. The low-riding position and chain-driven rear wheel allowed this bicycle to be enjoyed by all. It also played a role in the liberation of women.

Can you imagine biking with a long skirt and petticoats tangling in and around the chain?

Around the same time that J. K. Starley was engineering a safer bicycle (and lessening the impact of fossil fuel emissions hundreds of years later), the Rational Dress Society formed in London, England to protest clothing that deformed the figure, impeded movement or injured a woman’s health.

Many people (men and women) didn’t like the idea of women traipsing about in pants.

How would they tell the genders apart, by gum?

But women of the time wanted or needed to get around, and the safety bicycle made it possible. If only they didn’t have to take their life into their hands every time they peddled along with long skirts dangling around a bike chain. The Rational Dress Society was right: wearing a long skirt while riding a bike was not only irrational, it was downright dangerous.

The demand was too great and the logic too sound. Society changed, and rather quickly for the time. Bicycles allowed women freedom of movement, both in terms of clothing and transportation, and that opened up other areas for them.

Without bicycles, changes to wardrobe might have been a longer time coming.

I doubt that J.K. Starley had women’s rights or environmental protection on his mind back in the 1880s, but those are the unintended consequences of his work.

I have a new respect for bicycles.

Four-year-old girl riding a small bicycle with training wheels.
Thanks to J.K. Starley, my daughter could smile with carefree joy (in pants) while learning to ride a bike that had the same features as his first safety bicycle. (Photo 1998)