Sunday, June 29, 2014

Take Me to the Forest

PKOLS - Saanich, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

Take me to PKOLS after a summer rain to wander amid the forest of Douglas fir, big leaf maple, western red cedar, Pacific dogwood and yew. Douglas Creek winds deep through the valley below in the place where the faeries reside under giant mushrooms, bouncing on fern fronds and dangling their slim faerie legs from the white fungus outcroppings of these mighty rain forest giants. 

Take me where the trees whisper stories of those who rose from the land, for I am a visitor here on the lands of the WSANEC peoples and I am grateful to share the wealth of this place with all of the life of the the land and sea provided by our universal mother. 

When I lose my connection, when my path grows dark, it is to this forest I return. This is where I remember to breathe deeply - Douglas Creek reminding me of how it all flows, sometimes with less, sometimes with more. I remember how blessed I am when I press my palm to the mossy trunk of the mighty cedar and scan her connection from earth to sky. I walk the beach below, placing my hands in the water, knowing my intention can travel the globe this way as I send love to all, thanking the perfect Salish Sea for carrying my wishes beyond my reach. 

Douglas Creek - PKOLS
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

The sound of the sea, the cry of the gull, the waving flag of the big leaf maple, the scent of cedar and fir, senses heightened to the truth: we have all we need. Unpack your fear and anger here. Lay yourself out on the pebbles and sand surrounded by ribbons of bull kelp and eelgrass, crab and seastar. The sea otters and seals will watch over you. Let the tide wash you clean and be grateful to the great mother for listening and stroking your fears away. Give thanks and a promise that you will care for her and the life she provides for your sustenance - spiritual, physical and mental. Say hello to all those who have come before you and those who have passed. Thank them for the beautiful lessons of their lives and learn to be free of the chains of fear and loss. 

This place, this land, this forest - I am so grateful for all I have, for every breath, for my life. Take me to the forest, to the sea, so I might wash myself clean and give thanks.

I dedicate this post to Zack Downey and the Downey family. Tania, Wayne and Brooklyn have lost a son and a brother way too soon. I will not forget Zack's bravery and his dedication to life and the love of his friends, family and team mates.

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 29, 2014

The Salish Sea from the Saanich shore
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

The Beach
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2012

Sunday, June 22, 2014


Empathy in Difficult Situations...
Gillian Cornwall - c. 2010

Empathy - I have been thinking about how we act on a day to day basis in our personal lives but in the workplace as well. Leaders and colleagues can appear to have a void of empathy for those with whom they work. This lack of understanding can have some disastrous results, not the least of which is the alienation of the team and their emotional divorce from the organization. This can be the first crumbling brick in the demise of an institution or business.

All leaders can benefit from coaching in the process of empathetic engagement. It takes desire, primarily, to learn how to acknowledge the problems or difficulties of a colleague. It takes development of emotional intelligence. It takes dealing with your own issues first and not packing your emotional stinginess in your lunch kit everyday and hauling it into the office. 

Certainly, it is unwise to get right in the depths of the pit with others when they are down. If you are both in there, then how will one of you guide the other out? Who will hold up the light to show the path? 

It is essential to acknowledge the fact that the person is in the pit and that you are aware that they might be uncomfortable or afraid in there. If you skip this step and go right to, "Hey, at least the pit wasn't bottomless!" or "Don't worry, you'll get out." and walk away, it becomes entirely apparent to the person in the pit that you do not want to know they are in there at all. In fact, you are entirely dismayed or indignant that they have been so thoughtless in sharing their predicament. "Pit person" should have quietly withered away to nothing without disturbing you. Obviously, in this context, this is NOT the way to go about recovery and healing. 

Once you have acknowledged the situation, as an effective leader, you can offer direct assistance if you are able - this too is a form of empathy. If you are out of your league with an issue, it is still essential to acknowledge its existence with the person. Once you have acknowledged, if you are uncertain in how to direct the person, you can tell them you will get back to them (give a time and date) with resources and make sure you follow up! Be real and be true. Your position makes your time no more or no less important than that of your colleagues. The amount of money you are paid to do your job is irrelevant in this scenario. Time taken to work together is an investment beyond measure. Remember that the people with whom you work are your colleagues, fellow humans, all deserving of basic respect. They are not "your employees", rather they are employed by the organization and you have been hired to lead them.

Know your responsibilities as a leader. 

Know the resources of your organization. 

Know the rights and benefits of your team.

If you don't know, find out now before the next scenario arises. 

Do not make assumptions about the person's experience or feelings based on your own history.

Once you have held up that light and helped guide the person from the pit, set a time to follow up and talk about it. This may involve listening and it may involve redirection to other resources. Keep your judgments to yourself and be clear about the time frame and methodologies you have in which to assist. Be empathetic and kind. The people with whom we work are our employer's 'human resource'. Think about these two words carefully. Think about them together and separately and their meaning and implications. Be honest - both with yourself and the person with whom you are engaging. 

It is not your responsibility to "fix" whatever is happening with the person. It is unlikely they need nor want "fixing". As Oprah said on her last show, "...every single person you will ever meet shares the common desire. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?..."

Try it. See people. Hear them. Acknowledge what they have said to you and let it flow through you without judgment or personal need. You needn't carry it but hold up that lantern and let folks know you are willing, as a fellow human being, to offer light and guidance as each of us makes our way down our own individual paths. 

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 22, 2014


The following articles, books and scripts have been of great help to me on my journey to being more empathetic along my path for emotional and social intelligence:

Gillian Cornwall, c. 2006

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

The Cornwalls - circa 1964
Photographer Unknown

Ah, the joy of family photos -particularly those with small kids. I do not look happy. I can't recall this moment but I recall the feeling. 

There is Chris in the back left - he was a great brother and a dutiful son. I miss him. My dad was probably trying to make some kind of joke to get us all to be happy and laughing. Phil, my youngest brother on the bottom left was probably being imaginative and pretending he was launching us all into space or something.... My mum was likely being very proper and trying to simply get a nice family photo for our wall. As I said, I was probably sitting there bawling because, Bruce, my middle brother to my left in the picture was likely bugging me in some way or I was just cranky and tired. Who knows but, valiant effort photographer, valiant effort. 

Now that I am 52, I think back on my past in a different light than I did in my twenties and thirties and forties. Gad, I am aging -but it's better than the alternative! I still feel like the wild child I was at 19 ...some days.

Anyway, I think of my family life as a child differently now. Not just because I have had years and thousands and thousands of dollars of counselling but also because distance from my own childhood loans a different light to it all. My family life was tempestuous and brutal at times. Bad s--t happened. My dad and mum had issues that they both brought into the relationship long before we were twinkles in their eyes. They were folks with difficult pasts and little resource to resolve their own childhood traumas. I wish they had found the kind of amazing counselling that I managed to find for myself along the way. I would like to believe they did their best - even if some days their best was less than optimal. 

My father was abusive in different ways throughout his life. He grew up at the hands of an abuser and so the cycle carried on through him. I do not mean to say he was awful all the time. This is where, now, the child Gillian has healed (though the scars ache some days). I can remember the good stuff too. My dad was the guy who drove me to soccer every week and stayed silent to my mum after I was kicked in the teeth or dinged my head off the goal post. He knew I could tough it out and he didn't want her to stop me from playing. He saw my potential in sports and arts and supported my efforts and abilities. He didn't seem to want me to be a different person than who I was (and who I still am in many ways).

He was the one who supported me when I wanted the drum set for Christmas - though my mum put the kibosh on that one. Apparently drums weren't a ladylike choice of instrument in the sixties... He drove us all over North America on family vacations. He bought us treats. He got to be the good guy when my mum was mad at us. 

He did his best despite the errors he made in raising us on our paths to adulthood. I can't say that I've totally let it go because I know our potential as adults was impacted by the abuse. It takes something away from a person and it takes a very long time, if ever, to restore that sense of self-pride and ability. For many victims of abuse, you never get it back fully. You simply learn to be an advocate for goodness and understanding. You educate. You watch for it in younger folks and help them along their paths if you can. You show your scars and explain the road you have travelled. You use the lesson of your parents lives as your greatest inheritance. This is how the cycle is broken. This is how you learn to understand and, perhaps, forgive. You needn't forget. Remember your path. Remember the road you have travelled. Remember the good and the bad in the people who raised you. Allow yourself the time and the space required to heal. Forgive, if you can. 

The pain carried and doled out by others is not yours to carry forward through time. It's okay to put it down. You deserve to be joyful. If you have good memories of people who did bad things, that's okay. There are acts of kindness in each life. If you have not yet dealt with parental issues or abuse, please get help for yourself. You deserve to be unburdened and to find a life of joy. There are many resources available and your path is your path. You do not need to follow a prescribed path to wellness. Be kind and gentle with yourself. 

I wish I could travel back through time, to England, to the houses of my grandparents or their parents before them and provide a healing energy on those homes. I wish I could unravel that painful history and give my parents a better life. I'm grateful for the life they have given me and the opportunity to sit here today, to write this piece and share it with you. I hope they can see from beyond and know that I am sorry for their pain, that I understand and that I am well. 

Love heals. I breathe in the healing love of the world and return it to the world with my own breath exhaled. We are one. We are connected and together, we have all we need to heal and live well. 

On this Father's Day, I remember the guy who did his best and let him know, in the great beyond, that I am well. I am strong. I am grateful for my life. Thanks Dad.

-Gillian Cornwall, c.June 15, 2014

Summer in Ontario 
at one of the many lake resorts we were lucky enough to visit
Me, Phil and our Dad
circa 1966.

If you are being hurt by someone, there are resources to help you:



Kids Help Phone:




Sunday, June 08, 2014

Real Food

Hand-picked from Alberta's Farm
Gillian Cornwall, c December 2008

Okay, so first I should explain this picture I guess. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. I won't even start with the Hawaii wallpaper mural behind me but under the sunshine yellow Arborite table (circa 1970), my feet are still caked with red mud from the fields of my friend Alberta's farm on the island of Lana'i in Hawaii. This was a great day. My partner at the time, being far more bold than I, pulled into the drive of Alberta's farm unannounced and we waited until Alberta showed up. I asked if we could come to see the farm one day and she said, "Sure, come by tomorrow and I'll show you around." 

Well, I thought this was pretty cool as I had watched this land progress with an abundance of produce and row upon row of banana trees and I wanted to see how things were going. Lana'i* used to be owned by Dole and all of the arable land was used to grow pineapple. The community revolved around the production of pineapple. People got up to the siren in the morning and worked the fields until the siren sounded again to end the day. 

We arrived at the farm the following morning - thinking we would just take a look around in our shorts and flip flops and maybe buy some fresh stuff before heading to the beach. I was staying for a month in a guest house in town so we were doing a lot of our own cooking and this was a great opportunity to eat local produce and learn about local growing practices.

Before we knew it we were helping to plant lettuce. We are not talking little tiny back garden rows - rather fifty foot long rows ...many of them. The soil was wet and lush and, where the hose had leaked, the ground was ankle deep in mud. It had been a ridiculously long time since I had felt that slippery squelch of mud on my feet - probably since I worked on a farm on Salt Spring Island, BC and amid the sheep, horses and chickens, I also kept a 40 foot by 80 foot garden. 

We helped plant for a couple of hours and then Alberta showed us around the incredible Eden that she and her husband have created. Here are some photos from their creation and the place from which we collected our bounty for the rest of our vacation meals.

 Yup. That's an avocado TREE!

Alberta picking us some lemons 

 banana flower 

 Alberta had a number of types of bananas growing

You have not had papaya until you have had one straight from the tree with a squeeze of fresh lime!  

 No small undertaking - years of labour and love

 Walking with Alberta through the banana grove

 Alberta under the avocado tree with her special avocado retrieval tool
I was obsessed with this tree. 

The Avocado Pear, hanging beautiful and full

Spinach, picked by Alberta as part of our "pay"

Amazing. I was reminded of this yesterday when Jodi and I went strawberry picking in Saanich. With the warm sun on our backs and a blessing to the earth, I bent to my task with the casual ease that comes with knowing you do not have to do this for a living. I ate no more than two ...okay three ....while we picked, my hands stained red by the sun-warmed, juice packed fruit. I watched the fuzzy bumble bees pollinate the surrounding flowers and wondered if I would come across Peter Rabbit, curled up, sleeping in the sun, full of the garden bounty! It was a perfect, sunlit, blue sky day on the Saanich peninsula just as that day had been in Hawaii. 

There is nothing on this earth like growing and harvesting your own food. Nothing will ever taste better and little will bring more satisfaction. I feel so blessed to live in a land that provides such incredible food (and wine!) and while we can produce little in our balcony garden, I am pleased to be able to have the herbs and odd tomato plant growing.

Remember those who farm for us while we toil behind desks throughout our days. Pay homage to the land that feeds us. It bears greater significance to our livelihood than our computers. Love that land; give back to it; be kind to it. 

I wrote this poem some time ago:

For every house we live in
For every school we raise in which to learn
For all the buildings in which we toil
Let us not forget the land on which they stand

For it is the land that is our true home
The land is the teacher of all we need to know
The land is the provider of all we need to grow
Let us not forget the land.

Saanich - by Michell's Farm
c. Gillian Cornwall

*To learn more about the culture and heritage of Lana'i, please visit: 

Gillian Cornwall, c. June 8, 2014

Sunday, June 01, 2014

The Rain Coast

 Rhododendron Spring - Victoria BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. 2007

Every lick of colour
sopping springtime blooms
wet paint in every green
fills the canvas of my town

Splotching pinkest pinks
Camellia upon Camellia
the fair flower that leaps whole
to the grassy bed below

Rhododendrons grow as trees here
floral monsters in pastel
a million pink and purple tongues 
catching raindrops from the sky

Now I lay me down among you
on this verdant, spongy ground
raincoat and gumboot clad
wash me clean into this land

-Gillian Cornwall, c. June 1, 2014

 Saanich - Vancouver Island, BC
Gillian Cornwall, c. May 2014.