Monday, March 27, 2017

Are We Here to Learn?

school desks

I heard some time ago that life will give us what we need to know. As we progress in spiritual understanding, we integrate more and move closer to enlightenment.

I like this map of our lives. It feels right to have some sort of meaning underlying our existence.

Yet to call it "learning" may call up ideas of some sort of graded system. We may be here to learn but not like in school where we learn to pass tests, achieve our goals, finish with the program and then move on to the next level. Learning isn't something we do, but something we experience. We meet what life gives us, live it, experience it, and by that, what we need for spiritual growth is in us.

We're all made differently. Not everyone is interested in spiritual growth, or learning about life, or even the slightest bit curious about why we are here. Yet each of us fits into the world in a beautiful and unique and fulfilling way.

This means I can learn with the sense of curiosity and wonder of a child, rather than seeing life as a puzzle to be solved or mystery to be unraveled. All while resting in the deep assurance that I am being led towards grace.

First published in April 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

When a Gift is Given


A friend gave her mother a thoughtful gift for her 80th birthday celebration. She called many of the people her mother knew and asked them what they liked or admired about her mother. Then she complied the answers into a booklet.

When I was asked to contribute, I said that I admired her "kindness" and her "curiosity about life." As I spoke, it occurred to me that what I told her may have said as much about me as her mother. Kindness and curiosity are qualities that are important to me at this time.

I wondered if this was the same for the others who contributed.

Then I wondered if my friend's choice of gift was the same too? She's been hard on herself lately. Perhaps her choice of gift reflects how much she values being loved and respected.

When a gift is given, the energy doesn't just go one way. It's shared.

Monday, February 27, 2017



Judy and I were sitting at her table talking about our differences. Sometimes we're this way, sometimes that, each of us needing to be right where we were at that moment.

As we sat there, I imagined us all as kaleidoscopes, built of ever-changing lights and patterns, some of which we see and some we do not. We shift and change according to the karma life wants us to look at: our thoughts and other perceptions, our beliefs and ideas, our history - past and future, our pains and joys, our actions and intentions, our cells and genetics, our surroundings and environment, and all the intricacies of each.

Complex, ever-changing, fitting into a bigger world that is just as complex and ever-changing, a kaleidoscope within a kaleidoscope. None are ever the same. None are the same as anyone else's.

When we rest and simply experience it, suddenly an interesting pattern comes into view. Maybe that's me. Or maybe a new flower that blooms for a day and then becomes something else.

We get caught up in the pretty pattern over there, or the ugly one over there, and forget that the whole picture is changing even as we look at it. What we focus on reflects our own beliefs, hopes, fears, judgements, assumptions, feelings.

The very fact of looking changes it.

I told Judy how I imagined us all as kaleidoscopes. How nice, we decided, that our kaleidoscopes came together in such a beautiful pattern that day, that we could sit there at the table and enjoy some happy talk with each other.

First published March 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

photo by Rudolf Ammann

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curvy Yoga


In a yoga class many years ago, I used the word "fat" to describe my body when trying to find my way into a pose. The teacher jumped right in and assured me I wasn't fat, that I was well ... I forget what she called me, but it was something more pleasant to the ears. She thought I was denigrating myself, but I wasn't. I was stating the obvious when asking for options. Something about her approach left me feeling worse than before I'd asked for help.

In the book "Curvy Yoga," the author Anna Guest-Jelley explains why. She says, "While I appreciate people trying to give me a compliment, they kind of make my point for me. I'm fat and beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive, even though our culture certainly tries to convince us that they are."

This book is a gift. It's about yoga, but more than that, it's about accepting ourselves as we are.

The first thing I needed to do when I opened her book was confront my own lingering cultural bias against being overweight. I looked at the photo of the author and all my old fat-shame made me want to judge her as I had judged myself. Confronting my own bias wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

Anna Guest-Jelley is outrageously honest. She's the perfect person to guide us, she knows. Her humour and joy help us find our way back to the curiosity and sense of play that defined us as kids, when we trusted ourselves and trusted our bodies.

We live in a judgemental world; I recommend "Curvy Yoga" to anyone who was ever made to feel ashamed of who they were, yogi or not.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For the Birds

Sunrise bluerocks1 j

Decades ago, I did an exercise in a book about discovering your life’s work. But oddly, the answer to "work that will be most fulfilling" to me was "watching the birds." It didn't seem like work at all.

It started to make more sense when I read an article by a scientist about how looking up at something in the distance above the horizon, can help trigger spiritual awakening when conditions are right. It engages the parts of the brain that are "other" centred rather than "self" centred. Dr. James H. Austin, is taking up bird-watching. He says,

"Any time you can go out and keep all of your visual and auditory senses alive — looking above eye level, hearing behind you as well as in front of you — you’re performing meditation in the natural world. You’re poised for any stimulus coming from anywhere. It’s as down to earth as you can get and still be up in the sky."

Watching the birds. I love this stuff.

Revised from the story first published January 2012 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Flower of the Life Force


A flower that is blooming doesn't look down on the buds on the next plant. The buds don't look up at the full bloom and push themselves to become that. They grow according to their nature and circumstances - pushing, yes, effort, yes, but not to achieve anything, just to be what their life demands of them. There is no better or worse. Just beauty in expression.

Blanche Hartman used Dogen's saying "Realization is effort without desire," as a koan for years. As she watched the progress of daffodils blooming, she realized, "Here was effort without desire right in front of me all the time! Just letting the flower of the life force bloom right here, right now, wholeheartedly and with nothing held back -- giving ourselves completely to whatever arises right in front of us moment after moment."

The flower of the life force. I like that.



Okay so I surrender to that pain in the lower back.
I finally reach the point where I give up and hand it over to a higher power.
There is nothing more I can try or do.
It just is there and I must accept that it may never go away.
That is when I have the best shot at having it go away.

But then when that pain in the shoulder comes up, first I try to see if it's the new bed - it started right around that time.
Then I try the computer desk, the office changed right around that time.
But then there was a whole lot of emotional work going on at the same time with big changes in thinking, emotions and relationships.
Maybe it's about that.
If I could just find the cause of all this, then maybe I'll find the cure.
If I can uncover the karma and release it, then that will end the karmic pattern.
I know better, but this is what I do anyhow.
In the end, we're making new karmic patterns all the time.
Causes are much farther reaching than we may know.
Pain management may be impossible.
A solution may never be found.
Solutions are always as simple as acceptance.
But we do fight that.
Over and over.

We don't really know what all our attachments are until we give them up.
Even then, they may not be revealed.