Saturday, May 27, 2017

Enjoying the Day

Tulip


When I'm busy, I get destination-oriented. "I have to finish this newsletter before I can read the book." "I need to weed the garden before I can sit down." It probably arises from childhood. We needed to learn to be responsible. We couldn't play until homework was done, or the dishes were done. Fair enough. Dad was a good example of responsibility. I used to watch him push the lawn mower long after he was too tired to continue, yet he did anyways because it needed to be done.

What he didn't teach us was that we could be content while doing the dishes, or homework, or shovelling the snow from the driveway. All I saw in him at the time was sweat rolling from his forehead, the tension in his face, and the satisfied plunk into his chair once the lawn mower was put away. He didn't look happy in the doing, but in the finishing. All he saw was the destination.

Enjoying the day is about letting myself be content with the mix of things I have to do, and the time it takes to do them: work or play. While it might feel good to reach the front of the line at the shop, I can enjoy the wait by watching my breath or listening to the voices around me. Even as I approach the deadline to get out a newsletter, I can find elegance in the language and take joy in the sharing. While fixing the kitchen tap may be mandatory, I can enjoy the pleasure of problem solving and working with my hands while I do.

If a necessary activity is difficult or painful, I can find joy by pacing myself. Dad didn't do that much. For him it was all about being able to rest afterwards. I think he was afraid if he didn't do it all at the time, he wouldn't finish it. Lately I've been resisting weeding the garden because of arthritis pain. So rather than let it become stupid, I take a kitchen timer with me. I can do 10 minutes. In fact I can do 10 minutes each morning after my prayers. So that's what I have been doing this week. Knowing that the job is not going to be painful makes it a lot easier to laugh at the black-flies trying to bite. It makes it easier to stop and enjoy the exquisite beauty of a tulip. Or the green scent of a May morning. And it brings enough joy to the doing that I know I'll be up for it again tomorrow morning. Or maybe even this afternoon.

If a necessary activity is frustrating, I can find joy by stopping long enough to get out of my head and back into the present moment or by laughing at how absurd it's become.

Enjoying the day means being where I am wholeheartedly. There is joy to be found all day, not just in those destination moments, whatever life gives me. I can be contented as I struggle to put up a bird feeder, as I unwind in the tub, as I rush to be at the appointment on time, even as I recover from bad news.

I need to remember this though. I'm a lot like Daddy - I tend to push past my limits so that I can bask in the glow of a job well-done. Especially when I'm busy, it helps to settle back into my body and notice what's going on around me. Then I can enjoy the day.



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

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Will I Try?

JeepParked1


I forget what started the whole thing. I even forget who it was. I caught myself grinding away mentally at someone while driving to Alliston for groceries. It was probably the local councillor. Sometimes just driving past his house reminds me of the day he stood in my living room and called me a liar. Seeing something juicy to latch onto, my mind kicked in. "How dare he!"

Mind examined the insult from all angles. 'Poor me' to 'I'lll never vote for him' to 'I wonder if this is about unfinished business?' I didn't realize how tense my shoulders were getting until I stopped for the traffic light at Mansfield.

All that analysis may seem like it's productive, but it's not really. It's just a way for mind to perpetuate the mental activity. Mind loves to hear itself think. And it rarely takes the rest of me into consideration. Mind didn't care about my tight shoulders. It didn't care how this thinking led to frustration, helplessness, anger.

I took a breath and relaxed my shoulders as I waited for the light to change. I didn't want to think about this guy. It just riled me up. So how could I put all this mental activity to good use? What will I try?

I could do tonglen. Maybe, but I only go to it when I really feel overwhelmed. This isn't that serious. Maybe a lovingkindness meditation? It's true I wish the guy well. But I still don't want to think about him.

I could feel all that mental energy hanging around nearby, just waiting for me to pay attention to it. I took another deep breath.

Right. The breath.

It helps to have a single simple thing I can do, something I can rely on when things are just a little bit crazy or when things are downright awful. One simple thing I can do any time, anywhere.

For me, it's my breath. No matter where I am, I have my breath. I notice my belly rise and fall with each breath. Even just a couple of breaths can bring me back into the moment.

Oh yeah, that's right. I'm on my way for groceries, driving my dear old Jeep.

Now that I've used my breath to quiet that mental activity and bring me back into the moment, I can turn to a lovingkindness meditation or an empowering breath meditation, or whatever suits me at the time. Today it's a gratitude meditation. The sky is blue. I look at the new fenders on the Jeep and see what a great job the boys did. I think I'll cook supper on the barbeque tonight.

Life is good.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Doing Laps


If I say, "I have only 5 more laps to go," then I am thinking too much about the ease of it being finished.
If I say, "I can't do this many laps," then I am thinking too much about my shortcomings (as compared to some idealized expectation).
If I say, "I hate this," then it will never get easier.
If I say, "I love this," but really hate it, then it will never get easier.
If I say, "How does this feel?" and pay attention to what is actually going on in my physical body, then I can assess constantly and make any changes needed.

Doing laps isn't about buying in to what's going on in my head or emotions, it's about how it is today, or on this specific lap, and taking joy from the doing -- like being a kid and exploring with a sense of curiosity and joy.



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

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drop It


The other day when I was upset about something I caught myself holding my energy up. I got a sense that there was a bunch of heavy pebbles, massed together in my energy a few inches above my left shoulder, towards the front. They weren’t really pebbles, they just seemed that way – a mass composed of the complex stuff of the upset: blame, hurt, anger, resolve, my thoughts about it all. It was complex and heavy and disorganized.

I noticed that I was holding it up through sheer willpower. I seemed to be trying to keep the energy up by my head so I could figure it out or fix it or problem-solve or organize it (mental activities).

And it took a lot of energy to hold it there.

It was an old habit I recognized from when I was a kid. I was raised to be rational in a culture and environment where mentally solving problems was encouraged, and expressing pain or negative emotion was discouraged. It seemed natural for me to hold bad feelings and emotions up around my head where they could be attended to in a rational manner. The school of thought at the time was that life is a mechanical construct. If something seems broken, you fix it. If you feel a knot of mixed emotions, feeling and pain, then you hold it up so it could be attended to.

Yet life is much more fluid and mysterious than that.

It took me a half a lifetime to learn that negative emotions don’t have to be solved or fixed. They only need to be felt, and then they naturally pass out of our experience. By holding them up near my head, I was blocking that natural process, encouraging the type of “This is Awful” thinking that can make it all linger and intensify. By trying to escape the pain, I was making it worse.

So as I noticed this heavy mass of pebbles, I released the effort of holding it all up and watched to see what would happen next. I wondered if it might solidify into the coldness of fear in my belly, or the heat of anger in my shoulders, or the weight of sadness in my chest.

Turns out it didn’t do any of that. It just went away. Poof!

And the phrase “Drop it!” took on a whole new meaning.


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

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

Cake1


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

Kaleidoscope

KaleidoscopeRudolfAmmann


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