Monday, November 20, 2017

Little Jots

I have little bits of paper everywhere. Reminders, grocery lists, to-do's, phrases from books or magazines. I like things organized, so I'm not living in a sea of them; they're all sitting in tidy piles or clipped to the fridge or pinned to bulletin boards or tucked into wallets.

But they're everywhere.

They are like odd little snapshots of my life from the time I jotted them down. The bit of paper that says, 'dish soap, butter, furnace filters', sits right next to, 'the world is won by letting things take their own course.' I jotted down 'Leeloo perfect' a week or two ago when I watched that sci fi movie - what was it called? the one with Bruce Willis? The Fifth Element? Anyhow I loved the woman who played Leeloo. Her name meant 'Perfection' in the movie. And I wanted to remember the name - might make a good name for a story or for a drawing or for a hamster or for a granddaughter. So 'Leeloo perfect' is in the pile of notes on my desk, at the top of the pile.

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I really enjoy coming across a slip of paper that's been sitting in an old coat pocket. It's better than finding a dollar. Chances are it's just an old grocery list, but sometimes it says, 'childhood slights are painful because your goodness was questioned.' And it touches me again. '...your goodness was questioned....' Feels good to read it again.

Sometimes when they float to the surface, these little jots have meaning again, even if they are a snapshot of something from last week or last winter. Different meaning, maybe. Deeper meaning sometimes, given that I have lived more life since I jotted them down. Even the grocery list reminds me of who I was that day. But not all of them retain their value. Every now and then I have to sweep through them and toss a bunch out.

But when I do, I often come across another gem that I want to keep. Like the quote from Suzuki Roshi, '... when my talk is over your listening is over. There is no need to remember what I say... you have full understanding within yourself. There is no problem.' I laugh when I see this one, jotted down on a little slip of paper to remind me that I don't need to.



First published February 2008 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

A Watched Pot (Never Boils)

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My favourite Star Trek episodes are the ones where time gets weird. Causality loops, time paradoxes, alternate timelines - I love them all. Years ago, when I was involved in a minor fender bender in a taxi, I was amazed at how time slowed during the event. I watched broken glass shatter in slow motion and then wash up over the hood like a wave of water, then wash back out towards the other car again. I was amazed at how much detail I picked up in what I knew was just a second or two of time - each individual bit of glass discernible. After a moment, time became normal again.

I suspect most of us have experienced time's inconstancy. When we were kids, the school holidays were endless, yet now, vacations zip by like shooting stars.

Time bends and changes according to our activities - each with its own rhythm and pace - different for each of us. In meditation we can speed up time or slow it down according to our needs. Some athletes use meditative disciplines that ask for intense focus to stretch time out when they are "in the zone" in competition. Other meditations may go by so quickly we wonder that half an hour has passed.

When under stress, time becomes much slower, just as it did for me in that minor accident. In dreams, time takes on dimensions we can't begin to fathom in waking life. I learned to ride a bicycle in a dream. I packed hours of learning into minutes of the dream and awakened to live the full value of what I'd learned.

There are many theories that try to answer the question of why time is so inconstant. Many of them agree that it's the quality of the experience that determines how long it lasts. Children pack new experiences into each hour of the day, laying down new neural pathways in their brains as they do. They are very awake to the world around them. They live with great intensity. Events have more meaning. As we get older, we tend to have less novelty, less intricacy, less intensity - life has less meaning.

So if we want any experience to last the way our school holidays did when we were little, we might act a bit more like kids and a bit less like adults: Take a deeper interest in what's in front of us. Cram new experiences into our days. Learn new stuff. Engage different areas of our brains. Practice meditations that let us shift out of our normal consciousness. Turn off the tv or put down the book and go for a walk instead.

Time may not get as weird as it does on Star Trek, but perhaps the more we play with time, the more time we may have to play.  



First published September 2009 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Link to the Eternal

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For over 35 years I have noticed a stress pattern in my life. Every April and every October, for some reason, I feel more stressed than my daily life could explain. I used to call it 'my six-month-meltdown.' But after a while I realized it happens right when the seasons are changing. Just like squirrels rush to put away as many seeds as they can, just as mice rush to fluff their nests, I feel the urge to put things right, and so do the people around me. We're mammals, too. Yet even when I work with this change of season, some years I get stuck in a bit of a funk.

I found myself looking for something to watch on Netflix the other night. It took a while to choose. I tried something from 'my list' and watched for 5 minutes. Nope. And another. Nope. And another. Nope. You've got to understand that Netflix is fairly new to me. I live out in the sticks where internet has been slow and expensive; when I got Netflix I was like a like a kid stepping into an ice-cream parlour for the very first time. So what was this impatience with everything on offer?

Finally, I tuned to The Time Travellers Wife, an old favourite. I relaxed and let the time travel stuff be fun and interesting, let the love story be sweet. But it wasn't until Alba showed up that I realized she was what I needed the most. Alba was a kind, impossible being who reassured everyone - she was a link to the future, a link to the eternal. That was what I needed to break my funk - an impossible, reassuring voice that reaffirmed my faith and own connection with the Divine.

Who knew watching TV could link me to the eternal?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How Things are Phrased

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Language is meaningful to me. How things are phrased, subtle nuance can have so much bearing on my emotional patterns as well as thinking patterns, it’s always nice when I suddenly see a new way of thinking about something, a new way of phrasing it, so that the results are kinder to everyone, yet still true.

“He may not care about this,” (or my feelings) may be accurate, but the way it is phrased seems to say more about the caring or not-caring part. It affects my feelings. Instead I can choose “He doesn’t think that way.” This states the facts in such a way that it doesn’t have to lead to emotional conflict or hurt feelings.

A simple change of phrase can change the whole mental, and then emotional landscape.

When an observation becomes personal, it slips into judgement.

Here's another: "I don't eat sugar" is different than "I can't eat sugar." The former implies that I'm on board with the choice. That latter suggests its's something imposed on me from outside against my will. When I consider a choice freely made, I don't fight it as much.



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

Wrong Foot

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It's Autumn. The mornings have been staying darker longer and I often get up before the sun. So recently I've been reading the news - pages I enjoy, news sites I trust and so on before going out to my prayers in the trees. But the last few days when I was reading, I noticed I was getting angry. And this mental activity made it harder for me to settle into prayer/meditation later on.

It struck me that timing may be everything. News sites, magazines, blogs and other interesting stuff on the net are pretty much all about people influencing me from the outside - some lighthearted, some not as much. As long as I am letting it capture my interest, I become a receptacle for it all. It's all a lovely distraction, but as long as I am letting the voices of others' opinions inform my day, I'm starting off on the wrong foot.

To start on the right foot, I realized I'd be better to start my day with prayer or meditation or yoga - something that brings me into the moment and connects me with the eternal. Just stepping outside first thing, even in the dark, and feeling the breeze on my cheeks and the breath in my belly connects me to the flow of life. It gives me the inner resources to meet the day in a more cheerful and optimistic frame of mind. Later in the day when I go to read the news or check in on the sites I enjoy, I'll have a better inner landscape with which to handle the clickbait and ads and opinions that dominate the online world. I wont be quite so caught up in the drama or captured by the allure of shiny things - not so out of step with life.

So this morning, I started on the right foot. I got up before the sun, turned on a light so I could see what I was doing and did my prayers outside on the front deck in the still, quiet air of early morning.



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

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Chicken or the Egg?

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For years, a man feared having a heart attack. He worried often about it in his daily life. When he did eventually have one, was he foretelling his future? Or did all the energy he spent on the worry about it lean his life more strongly in that direction?

When a teenage girl got an image of her friend falling down the stairs, she emailed me. She'd had a fight with her friend and was so angry she feared she may have caused her friend to fall. She asked me if she made her friend fall, or if this was her natural intuition showing her an upcoming event?

Anyone who has worked with awareness knows our mental landscape and the beliefs we carry affect how our lives unfold. When we dwell on the negative, it makes our outlook more cloudy. When we take time for the joys in life, our outlook becomes more sunny. In a study with children who had tummy aches, researchers had the kids use imagery and imagination to help them feel better and it worked.

Yet, as we work with awareness, we also discover how life tends to nudge us in the best directions for our well-being. Our ability to be open to life's messages and go with that flow can give us a heads-up when we need it. Our intuition opens up. We see stuff we would have otherwise dismissed.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the man's concern about his heart bring about the heart attack, or was it a prediction of events to come? Did the teenager's vision predict her friend's fall or did she cause it?

I don't know.



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

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Expectations and Assumptions

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(With apologies to Tom)

Expectation kicks us in the backside every time.

If I expect Tom to take out the garbage in time for the truck and he doesn't, my expectation isn't met and I get annoyed and then mind kicks in to try to manipulate the circumstances and find a solution to the "Tom not getting the garbage out on time" problem. 

It's what many of us automatically do. If something is wrong in our outer world, we try to fix the problem so that outer world matches our expectations. But the real problem isn't whether or not Tom puts out the garbage on time, it's the fact that I don't want to accept that he may not. The real problem is, "I don't want this."

Seeking a solution to the "taking out the garbage" problem rather than the "I don't want this" problem is easier and more comfortable for me. Seeking by itself is a pleasurable activity. Finding resolution feels good. I can let my mind take up the whole thing and make it into an intellectual exercise, see if I can get all my ducks in a row.

But it doesn't solve the real problem, the "I don't want this" problem. That's real world stuff. Emotions. Discomfort. The stuff that's really going on, not the stuff in my head.

The real world stuff is the fact that I may not be able to rely on Tom to put the garbage out on time – regardless of his good intentions, regardless of my good intentions, regardless of my efforts to make it happen.

In the real world, when I have expectations, they are often not met. Life isn’t perfect. Neither are we, we’re just human.

So, then I have to decide if I am willing to live with that less than perfect garbage thing/Tom thing. It’s a tougher choice because it challenges my worldview. It takes a bit more work.

But life doesn’t go more smoothly because it meets our expectations, it goes more smoothly when we drop those expectations.

For me, choosing to turn “I don’t like this,” into “That’s life,” is a much happier choice.



First published August 2013 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.