Thursday, June 30, 2016

Shoes

Shoes


I headed off to a big shopping mall on Boxing Day (the 26th) to see if I could find a pair of pants.

In years past you wouldn’t have found me there. Too many people. Too much going on. But I seem to be able to handle the crowds now. It helps to expect crowds. It helps to not to feel like I’m responsible for every bit of information that passes through my energy. I may have finally developed some good boundaries. Yay. Even better, I found a pair of pants. Yay again.

I found myself watching people go by while I waited for Tom to look through a store. I was sitting comfortably and was in no hurry. I didn’t watch the people really. I watched their shoes. It occurred to me that we are very very wealthy, and not just in comparison to those in third world countries. Not one single person who passed by my spot had ratty, holey or worn out shoes. All were spotless, many brand new.

When I was a kid, we were not poor.  We lived in a nice house in a middle class subdivision. We ate well. Three square meals a day. Yet we had only two pair of shoes. Good school shoes and sneakers. That was it. We polished the leather in the good shoes when we were going to church or Brownies. We threw the sneakers in the washer when they got dirty and whitened them when they got horribly stained. Then when we grew out of them, we got a new pair with a bit of room in the toes for our feet to grow. In the summer we got one pair of flip flops and by the time the end of August rolled around, we had worn holes in the soles and were keeping the flip flips together with adhesive tape.

When I look at what we have now and take for granted, a part of me wants the simplicity of two pair of shoes. Another part of me likes the fact that I have more and can choose from more.

Is there a moral to this? Not really. Just saying.



First published January 2103 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Why I Meditate

Flowers

I started to meditate in my early 30's I'm in my 60's now.

As a kid, Mom was firmly religious and Dad was firmly secular. They were both wonderful people: honest, brave, creative, full of love and laughter, and I loved them both. But I felt I had to choose.

Since Dad's view seemed to be more accepting of people as they are and provide more opportunity for a larger community, and Mom's side seemed more like a club you had to say the right words to join, I swung over to Dad's side.

By the time I reached 30, life had already hit me with some blows that had knocked me to my knees and the secular-only approach wasn't working. My main goal in life since I'd been a little kid was to be happy. So I turned to meditation to see if I could attain a happy mental state that wouldn't impair my ability to function, (in other words, without drugs.)

It took practice, but it was the right thing for me to do. I'd been so busy listening to the loud voices: phones, tv, news, opinions of others, that I was missing the subtler voices.

For me it also cracked open an intuition I was taught to ignore as a kid who shared a twin-thing. It led me to Buddhist practice and eventually back to the church I left as a disgruntled teen. In fairness it's because the local parish priest is amazing. I'm still a practicing Buddhist, but go to church every Sunday. I find no conflict at all between the two.

Stilling the chatter is not for the faint of heart, it takes courage to step into the unknown. Timing is everything. I had to move into it when the time was right.

How has it changed my life?

  • Well life is still hard at times, some mornings I do not want to get out of bed. It is happy and sad, fun and awful. But I am easier with life.
  • Under all that grand mess is something wonderful that I have met now and again and want to learn more about.
  • As splendid as the mind is, I treat it more as an assistant, than my boss.
  • Stilling the chatter has taught me that I am not supposed to get life right. What a revelation !
  • It's taught me that it isn't the big ticket things that make me happy but the 100 little joys in a day that when added up make for a happy day. But I do have to pay attention to them or they fly right by.
It also taught me that there is a way to bridge the opposing views of my parents. Meditation taught me that there is room to love us all, and love well.

Releasing Worry

BookImmortalDiamond


I flipped open Richard Rohr's book "Immortal Diamond" in the middle of the night when my thoughts were running rampant and I wanted to release worry and opinion.

I found this gem in one of the appendices. He says,

"Next time a resentment, irritation or negativity comes into your mind ... and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space because such commentaries are almost entirely lodged in your head. There, surround it with silence (which is much easier to do in the heart). There, it is surrounded with blood, which will often feel warm like coals."

This is similar to tonglen, in that it gets these thinking patterns out of negativity and into a place of warmth and compassion.

I found it worked well when I surrounded the worry with warmth, rather than silence. It seemed easier for me.

When I went back to sleep my dreams became fun and interesting and open.



First published February 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Salutation to the Dawn

Sunrise bluerocks1 j


A friend reminded me of this poem that I heard as a girl. She told me she’s tacked up on her fridge:

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!

For it is life, the very life of life.

In its brief course

Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:

The bliss of growth

The glory of action

The splendour of beauty

For yesterday is but a dream

And tomorrow only a vision

But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness

And every tomorrow a vision of hope.

Look well, therefore to this day!

Such is the salutation to the dawn.

– Kalidasa, Indian Poet

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It'll Show Up

SuzukiRoshi


Sunday is my day for reflection, contemplation, and ease. Through the week, something will be floating around my thoughts, rising to the surface. If it is ready for me to look at, I’ll take some time on my day off to explore it a bit.

Funny how that works. Out of the zillions of thoughts, ideas or other bits of information I am surrounded with, something in me says, “pay attention” to some and “ignore” the rest. Like I’ve decided to tuck that bit in the back of my mind to save for later. When I need to visit that same theme again, something else will draw my attention, I’ll see how it’s similar to the older bit, and see if the time is right to form anything out of them.

I guess that’s what creativity is.

Whatever I need to know will show up, because something in me insists on it.

When I am working, I can not reach for information. I can’t demand it comes. I can’t fake it ’til I make it. I must sit and wait and see if it tells me what it wants me to know. I have to expect nothing, and trust in the outcome. Even if the outcome isn’t what I want. Even if it is nothing.

When ideas are flowing, sometimes they all demand my attention at the same time, and I’m left with a muddle that seems to have no cohesive story or form. It’s best then to tuck them all back in my mind and wait until they are ripe.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but I read some time back about how a student of the zen master Shunryu Suzuki told him that she wanted to remember an important point in the talk he had just given. He told her to forget about it, that she already had everything she needed within her. I have tried to live like that since.

Trust is trusting that I can wake up 5 minutes before the alarm, or feel an urge to rise from meditation after 10 minutes. Trust is remembering that what I need to know will show up.



First published October 2011 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Imprints

Filesoffice

My office has stars on the ceiling.

My daughter put the stars on the ceiling when the office was her bedroom. She liked the way they glowed after the light was turned off for the night. She painted the walls blue and then painted white clouds on the blue walls. These were some of the things that made her feel good about the room. When she grew up and I moved my office back upstairs from the basement, I kept my daughter’s stars – and I added my own touches that make me feel good about the room – like the mirrors that bounce the light around, and the colourful file folders.

I don’t think of her every time I notice the stars or the blue walls that still line the closet. But something lovely of her has been left behind in this room. It adds a sweetness to the work I do in here. Long after this room passes on to someone else, her energy and my energy and even the energy of all the people who have talked with us while we have been here, will leave their traces.

We leave imprints wherever we go. The world is changed because we have been here. If the energy that lingers is difficult, it can be easily cleared, but when it is pleasant, we may want to keep it around for a while, even though we know it will eventually dilute and then dissipate.

But for now, I work in a room with stars on the ceiling. And I hope that whoever inherits this room from my daughter and then from me will enjoy the traces we have left behind.


(Update June 26, 2016: Since this was written the room has become our main TV room, and yes, it still has her stars on the ceiling)



First published July 2007 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Stillness

Cattigger

Some people are constantly on the move. For some, it is their nature to be activity oriented, happiest when in motion. For others, however, it looks more like restlessness, almost as though they are afraid to slow down.

John Daido Loori, in 'The Still Point' says,

"Every other creature on the face of the earth knows how to be quiet and still. A butterfly on a leaf, a cat in front of a fireplace; even a hummingbird comes to rest sometime. But humans are constantly on the go. We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness, we never fully experience our lives."

I wonder why this is so hard? Are we afraid that if we stop we'll never get started again? Are we afraid of what we'll find if we are just being ourselves?

Yet, it's within that very stillness we avoid that we can meet ourselves. From stillness we can see our natural kindness. From stillness, we can make better choices. From stillness we can allow ourselves to be guided by our natural inclinations and to have faith that they will bring good results.

In and of itself, stillness provides us with a depth and richness of experience that we often miss while we are in motion. I stop often while walking. In that moment of stillness, I can take it all in: the sudden beauty of a dewdrop on a spider web or the grace of a bird taking flight.

Henry David Thoreau said,

"I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise until noon, rapt in a reverie amidst the pines and hickories and sumacs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around ... I grew in those seasons like corn in the night."

I may not have the hours that Thoreau devoted to experiencing himself in nature, but I can give myself a few minutes each day for stillness. When I do, I rediscover that stillness is the very underpinning of my life.



Adapted from "Mystery", first published March 2001 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Mystery

Nebula

By mystery, I don't mean a puzzle to be solved or an intellectual exercise. I mean mystery as the very stuff of life.

For me, this mystery of here and now is the feeling of wonder and interest and involvement we get in participating in life. Albert Einstein said,

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."

Perhaps we are too eager to find all the solutions to life's problems. If we move into life with a sense that we already have all the answers we need, or satisfied that all the important answers have been taken care of, we miss out. We miss the opportunity to open to the new and fresh. We miss a sense of engagement in life. We end up feeling disconnected and fearful and joyless. We miss the point.

If instead we move into life with a question mark - not needing the answers, but wondering what this moment is all about. Just wondering. As we take this open-ended approach, we make ourselves more available to realization, more open to insight. Life begins to reveal its mysteries even as it makes room for more questions. When we allow ourselves to let go of a need to understand or control life, life shows itself to us as something that is marvellous and precious.

From his book "The Faith to Doubt", Stephen Batchelor speaks of mystery in a delightful way. He says,

"When confronting the mysterious we can not rely upon any logical or technical means to gain insight. For as soon as we attempt to "figure out" a mystery, it ceases to be such and becomes a mere problem. ... Unlike a problem, a mystery can never be solved. A mystery can only be penetrated. A problem once solved ceases to be a problem; but the penetration of a mystery does not make it any less mysterious. The more intimate one is with a mystery, the greater shines the aura of its secret. The intensification of a mystery leads not to frustration (as does the increasing of a problem) but to release."

Life itself is a mystery. It can not be solved. It can only be penetrated. And as we penetrate it with interest, it leads to release. It's a release that's joyful and connected. It's fun. So let's let ourselves be perplexed, to be questioning, to be curious. Let's see life as a mystery to be enjoyed and see where it takes us.



First published August 2002 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Priorities

Garden


I was mulling over a longstanding problem the other day when walking home from a neighbour's house. It was one of those annoying problems that never seems to get resolved. Not big. Just annoying. But something lovely happened as I was walking along the lane. The fragrances of the summer day were so strong that they pulled my attention away from the problem and back into the moment. They reminded me that there were more important things to do than mull over problems.

We had a summer rain that day after a dry spell. After the rain, the scents came alive around me: sweet balsam from the poplar trees, the rich odour of wet earth from the ditches, the ripe clover being cut in nearby hay fields. It was a feast of fragrance. In that moment while walking along the lane, I asked myself which I would rather do: continue to be mildly upset over a chain of events I could do nothing to change or fix, or enjoy the scents of summer.

Well, the scents of summer won.

But it was close.

I like solving problems. I like working through mental puzzles. It can be gratifying - yet it can also be seductive. Too often I'll dwell on something I can not change in the false hope that by worrying it through I'll get somewhere with it. I know better, yet it is an old habit. And even as I inhaled the rich, sweet scents of summer, I was aware that I had a strong impulse to say to myself, "Well that's nice, but let's get back to this problem." It's almost as though some part of me had decided the problem was more important.

I know better, though. In "A Path With Heart" Jack Kornfield suggests that our senses, having dulled by time and inattention, heal when we pay attention to them. He says,

"The eyes, the tongue, the ears, and the sense of touch are rejuvenated... Colors are pure, flavors fresh, we can feel our feet on the earth as if we were children again. This cleansing of the senses allows us to experience the joy of being alive..."

On this day, the present moment demanded my attention.

I'm glad it did.



Revised from story I first published July 2005 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

We Need Dancing Shapes

Sunrise bluerocks1 j

"In the past, people would stare into the fire for hours when they wanted to think. Or stare at the sea. The endless dancing shapes and patterns would reach far deeper into our minds than we could manage by reason and logic. You see, logic can only proceed from the premises and assumptions we already make, so we just drive round and round in little circles like little clockwork cars. We need dancing shapes to lift us and carry us..." "Logic comes afterwards. It's how we retrace our steps. It's being wise after the event. Before the event you have to be very silly."

-- Douglas Adams



First published May 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Where You Stumble

Shell and pearls

"It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."

-- Joseph Campbell



First published October 2012 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Things Change

Tulip faded

"'That things change' is the reason why you suffer in this world and become discouraged. When you change your understanding and your way of living, then you can completely enjoy your new life in each moment. The evanescence of things is the reason why you enjoy your life. When you practice in this way, your life becomes stable and meaningful."

Shunryu Suzuki



First published September 2011 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Life as a Dream

Rowboat

When we were kids, we had a song that we used to sing in rounds:

    Row, row, row, your boat,
    Gently down the stream.
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
    Life is but a dream.

I didn't get it. How could life be a dream? Now, I see the rhyme a little differently. With a longer perspective on life, it's easier to see life itself as a dream that we are dreaming, with ourselves as principal characters in the story.

I think what gives our waking life more intensity is the emotion, the attention and the belief that we give to it. When dreaming, we can be frightened, but there may be a small part of our mind able to tell us that it is a dream and that we will wake up. The heat of the emotion can be strong, but we don't feel like the very 'self' of us is at risk. While awake, we feel this self is threatened. We think that the waking self is the real one and the dreaming self the not- real one.

Yet there are moments when we realize that both of these selves are not-real. We know that they are constructs of something deeper that has brought them into being.

It can be useful to see life as a dream that we are living. When we don't feel that our very self is at risk, we can relax and enjoy the ride a bit more. Since life is never entirely in our control, it can be a relief to be able to let go. It can also be useful to let our dreaming self inform our waking self more.

When sleeping and dreaming, we are not tied to time or space or belief. For example, when I was a kid, I learned how to ride a two-wheeler in a dream. The dream was so vivid, I thought it was real. It wasn't until after I'd brought the skill into my waking life that I'd found out it had been a dream, and by then it was too late to go back. Even though a dream, it was real. What's more, we can do this sort of thing intentionally with practice.

As our consciousness expands and perceptions broaden, we can become aware of other realities - other dreams. Some may seem more real than waking life and some may seem less real.

Yet the question of how real they are is not the important question. I feel the more important question is "Who is the dreamer of these dreams?"

"Row, row, row your boat" is a rhyming song that has been with us for many generations. I wonder that it lasted in a world that likes to make clear distinctions between waking life and dreaming life. Perhaps it has lasted because it is true.

Perhaps life is a dream.



First published May 2005 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Simple Pleasures

Pinksocks

I love hanging out the laundry in the nice weather.

It's not just an excuse to get some fresh air and sunshine, it's good for me. The simple pleasure I take from it gives me a time out from all the other matters that want my attention and helps integrate me.

Sometimes we split ourselves up into bits. Too much thinking, too much emotion, too much well, whatever, and we need to reassemble the bits again to find out where we really are and what we really are doing.

Hanging laundry on a warm summer day does it for me. It's a feast for the senses: the contrast between the cool wet textures of the fabrics, the warm cinnamon scent of cedar bark and the drowsy sweetness of ripening apples, the quiet clicking of a wren, the steady hum of bees, the radiance of the colours and the sky.

I wouldn't feel the blessing in such a simple pleasure if I was mentally writing my next article or nursing a grudge against that fellow who cut me off in traffic. Taking unashamed physical joy in the activity gives me the space to bring body, emotions, mind and soul together.

I never apologize for sitting outside to eat lunch, or for stopping at the side of the road to skip stones in a creek. Not everyone might agree that getting up at 3 am to watch for shooting stars is a valuable way to spend time, but I know better. Where else than under a starry night can I know that I am a part of something timeless?

I love hanging out the laundry in the nice weather. Simple pleasures like this make me feel more whole.



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

Being Like Water

Boyne River

We are happiest when we are not fighting life. Being like water is moving around obstacles the way that water in a river freely moves around rocks. Fluid, accepting, allowing. Finding the easiest course. We are like water when we go with the flow.

But we often don't in small ways and in big ways.

For example:

Small: The wind blew a neighbour's garbage can right into the road. I had to get out of the car to move it so I could get by. I thought nothing of it. It was a force of nature.

Medium: Someone parked so close to the back of my Jeep in the parking lot that I had to move the Jeep ahead a bit to get my grocery bags into the back. A bit annoying, but no big deal.

Big: We were about to leave for an important family get-together. I was ready at the door for an hour, but Tom wanted to check the brakes on the car since it is a long drive. He decided that brakes were not good enough so took them apart to fix them right then. We were hours late. I hate being late. I wanted to spend quality time with the family. I didn't want them to think I was being rude. I didn't want them to think I was married to a rude husband. I wished Tom had attended to the brakes yesterday. This was not the plan. You see how quickly a simple thing has escalated to become a big deal? The deal was all in my head. Tom is like a rock in a river. He is a force of nature. I could no more prevent him from looking at the brakes than I could prevent the sun coming up.

Humungous: Well, some things are almost too big to talk about. When Clift and June got older, they set up their finances figuring that when it was time, he'd go first. But June did instead. Clift said, "This isn't what we talked about. This isn't how it was supposed to happen."

The garbage can was pretty easy for me to handle gracefully - a small rock for me to flow around. But maybe that's the way to look at this. When we meet with the small stuff and handle it reasonably well, that can give us practice to move up to the big stuff - the stuff that really scares us.

Who knows why life does what life does? There are a thousand, thousand causes and conditions that bring about each event in our lives. As brilliant as our plans may be, we can't begin to take all those thousand, thousand things into account. There's no point in getting annoyed at the rocks in our river. Big or small, they're a force of nature. We just need to move around them the best way we can.

That's when we are at our happiest. When we are not fighting life, but flowing, accepting, allowing and moving into the easiest course. We are at our happiest when we are being like water.



First published March 2010 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Easier Does Not Equal Ease

Icecream

I was driving home after a busy day and dithered over stopping at a sick friend's house for a short visit. It was a bit out of my way and there was ice cream melting in the back of the car, but I knew she'd appreciate it. I'm her friend. I the end, I asked myself which choice brought greater ease. I went straight on home.

There's a difference between ease and easier. It was certainly easier to drive straight home. But greater ease about the choice wasn't a measure of how difficult it was, but how my gut felt. I felt a gut clench at taking the detour and stopping at her place. So I went straight on home.

Whatever my choice, it needs to feel right. Balance is achieved by doing what feels right. When I feel unease, it is life pushing back. So I have to ask myself, "What do I feel?" or "What do I need?" or "What brings me feelings of ease right now?" Not my friends, or neighbours. Not an authority figure or my inner critic. Me. Life.

When I am drawn to something it is spirit drawing me to spirit, life drawing me to balance. When I feel a joyful urge to throw myself into the lake on a hot day, it is the lake and my connection to it that is calling. The urge doesn't come from only me and the lake, it comes from the interconnection. Me-Lake. I call spirit. Spirit is calling me to call spirit.

On that day with ice cream melting in the car, it was home that called me.



First published June 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Vardøger

Kettle tea

For years my daughter and I experienced vardøger when my husband, Tom, was about to come home from work.

We would hear his car in the lane about 10 minutes before it actually arrived. Since we never knew when he'd be finished work or arrive, this signal made it easy to shift from one activity to another during that 10 minute interval.

After Tom retired, I didn't get vardøger very often and I thought maybe it wouldn't arrive again. But I heard it again the other day before he drove in. And then the next day, I heard my friend's car in the lane a little while before she was due for a visit. When it happened this second time, I set my kitchen timer for 10 minutes and then got busy with other things. When the timer went off, I looked down the lane, and there her car was, turning into the lane right at that moment.

Vardøger literally means "warning soul" in Norwegian. In "The Sense of Being Stared At", Rupert Sheldrake writes, "Typically, someone at home hears a person walking or driving up to the house, coming in and hanging up his coat. Yet nobody is there. Some ten to thirty minutes later the person really arrives to similar sounds. People get used to it. Housewives put the kettle on as the vardøger arrives, knowing that their husbands will arrive soon." Etiäinen is the Finnish version of the same thing. Like vardøger is in Norway, etiäinen is not an extraordinary phenomenon, but a common part of everyday life.

I like this. It's one of those sweet little mysteries that doesn't need to be understood or solved, just enjoyed.



First published March 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Listening to Bells

Soldiers Tower with Carillon U of Toronto

Early one morning, when the weather and wind were perfect, I could just make out the sound of the train's warning call 20 km away as it traveled north from Alliston. In the summer, when the air is right, I can hear the kids talking down at the bottom pond, over a km away. Sometimes I can make out some of the words along with the laughter. If I am lucky, I may hear a church bell off in the distance, sweet-toned, ringing again, and again, and again.

There's something about the sound of a bell that warms my heart. I heard the carillon at University of Toronto once. 51 bells. It was so beautiful, it gave me goosebumps.

Of course there are bells that announce news: Like the one at a neighbour's summer home. After working all week in the city he drove up here on weekends to decompress. He was so happy to be here he clanged a noisy bell outside his back door to announce his joy each Friday evening. We'd hear the bell and announce, "Gord's up." Or the temple bell in a small village that was rung to announce a happy event. Ayya Khema wrote, "The bell allowed the villagers to share their joy." Or the bells in the clock tower at Toronto's Old City Hall, tolling the hour.

There are bells that clear energy: Like the singing bowl that friends gave me a while back. When I use it right, the tones and overtones are clearing and soothing. Or like the small chime with the pure musical tone that I use at the beginning of workshops to clear the energy in the room and get everyone's attention. 

I think my favourites though, are the tiny bells. I have a few scattered around the house - small tinkly things that sometimes move in the breeze as I walk by with a sound like the whispers of a forgotten song. These bells make no demands. Yet their voices reach deep within and without.

Maybe I like bells so much because when I hear them it's a chance for me to stop talking and stop thinking and just listen.

Sound can carry me into another dimension.

The first thing I do when I begin my meditations and prayers is settle down and pay attention to the sounds around me: the clock ticking, the creak of the house timbers in the cold, the chickadee's call ringing through the pine trees. It pulls me out of the visual, which occupies so much of my time, and into the moment. I don't listen in order to identify the sounds, but to adjust my perceptions and thinking.

Although on that still, clear morning when I heard the sound of the train so far away, I was curious enough to want to identify it. Then, once my curiosity was satisfied, I let the sounds around me take me into a quieter place.

Ayya Khema *Taken from "Being Nobody Going Nowhere" by Ayya Khema.



First published May 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

The Birds Notice

Bluebird

We take it for granted how much we influence the world around us and how much it influences us. We barely notice how when we walk near a bird's nest, the birds will either quiet right down or call an alarm. While under the tree, if I suddenly feel a rush of anger, without perceptively moving my body, the birds will pause.



First published December 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Who Wins ?

Cards canasta

When I was a kid, I often beat my brother at Canasta. He took the game and the outcome very seriously. He played to win. What he didn't realize at the time was that while I enjoyed winning, I didn't mind losing either. I liked the fun of seeing what strategies may work one day and how the cards come out another.

Like any card game, winning was about skill and about luck. We were probably equally matched in skill. And all in all, we were probably equally lucky.

Since he worried about the outcome, his approach to the game was short term. With his vision set on the win, he tightened his playing style, and let his intellect and skill be in charge. This may have helped his focus and determination but it also made his moves predictable. With my vision set more on the fun of pitting myself against a worthy opponent, I could think a bit more out of the box. He took risks at bad times, hoping for a change in fortune. I took risks when it was fun to take risks. Sometimes I'd play the whole game in an outrageously risky manner just to see how it might turn out.

I wonder what it might have been like if he had played the way I did, not to win or lose, but just to play? I bet there would have been more laughter - not the "HA! I won!" crow of zero-sum achievement but the silly, "Isn't this fun?" sort, the kind where everyone wins.



First published February 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Just Not In Us

GeordiLaForge

Years ago on a talk show on TV, they were exploring ways to lift themselves out of some sort of emotional jam. When asked, one woman from the studio audience stepped up and told the hostess she just couldn't do it. The TV hostess was the picture of rags to riches, the embodiment of hard work and willpower leading to success. And here in the audience was a woman who clearly wasn't ready to put this good advice into action. When pressed as to why, the woman gave a number of reasons. The hostess saw them as lame excuses and told the audience member that she wasn't really trying.

I didn't agree. There was no lack of effort here or even commitment. This woman who stood up wasn't making excuses, she was trying to explain that she just couldn't do it. She was hoping for answers and what she got was a dressing-down. The simple version is just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and do it. While that may be good for TV ratings, it may not work in the real world.

When I was taking physiotherapy after getting a new hip (it's still wonderful by the way), some of the joint-replacement people who were there along with me couldn't manage the schedule of exercises at home, and their results suffered. Those who weren't in the thick of it might think "If she just does her exercises, then she'll get the results." But it's not that simple. For the lady next to me with the new knee, it just wasn't in her. She didn't have whatever inner drive or circumstances or thinking patterns or beliefs or background or genetics or karma it would have taken to jump into the work at home. I can't know what it was, but I was next to her in the physiotherapy room, and no fault to her at all. It just wasn't in her.

A story that really helped me internalize this was a Star Trek story. Geordi and Beverly were in the cargo bay and had to put out a plasma fire without assistance from outside the room. The only viable solution was to hang onto something tightly, evacuate the air (and the O2 to feed the fire) into space and then once the rush of air-to-space was over, get to the other side of the room to a switch that would restore the atmosphere. They'd have to hold their breath and fight to stay conscious in the process. Beverly made it. Geordi collapsed along the way. So what made it possible for one and not the other? There was no lack of effort or commitment. No fault to either of them. No blame.

A client of mine was offered a chance to take a vacation with some relatives. They did all the work to make it happen, even to finding her a flight during the busiest time of year. They knew she had reasons for not going and did their best to eliminate each of those reasons so she could go. She wanted to go and found great pleasure at the idea of the trip, yet she just couldn't do it. For her, the trip was too much. And she felt terrible about letting them down. It just wasn't in her.

As for me, I saw the difference between 'not in me' and 'in me' right up close recently. 

For some reason last month when the time changed from winter time to summer time, something inside me changed along with the clocks. I felt more cheerful. It was easier somehow to find the commitment to get onto the yoga mat first thing in the morning, when for the last year or so, I've had to push myself. Some might say I'd reached some sort of tipping point as a result of pushing myself day after day. But I'll tell you, that's just not the case. It wasn't just yoga. It was like a switch flipped inside me. I don't know why. 

So here I am, instructed by my physiotherapist not to do any back twists or forward bends for the next week, not even to tie my shoes. And I want to get onto the yoga mat. If this was a month ago, I would have shrugged and felt relieved that I didn't have to push myself to get onto the mat. Now, it's different. I'm happy to substitute other postures for the ones I'm not to do this week. What is it in me that makes it seem a joy now? What made it so hard before this? Same person. Same amount of will power. Same understanding of consequences. Same respect for what I want to do. Same ability to focus on process and not end result.

What changed in me? I don't know. If I did, I'd bottle it up and sell it for a million bucks. It feels pretty good.

But I am really grateful for it. It makes it easier to look back on the Janet of 2 months ago and see her more tenderly. The upswing I feel right now is not an upward curve based on accomplishment or hard work or eliminating roadblocks one at a time, but a gift, one that is certain to change at some point ahead. When I find myself pushing to make life work in the future, I hope I remember this, and see my efforting self just as tenderly. 

Sometimes, no matter how worthwhile, or how deep the desire, with no fault to us, whatever it takes is just not in us.



First published April 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Mind the Gap

Blouse

I have a card in my tarot deck called "Nothingness." It refers to a time of transition. That in-between time. Something is finished and the next thing not yet in sight.

I can always tell when I am in the middle of another gap: I go to the store, eager to buy a new top, ready for the fresh and new. I pick up the perfect top, then get it home and realize that it wasn't as perfect as I'd thought. It can take two or three tries like this before I get smart and give it up for a while. During the gap time, I feel creative and eager to jump into a new project, but no matter how hard I try, it's just not right. It's as though part of me is embracing the new me, but the old me hasn't quite let go.

During the gap, nothing seems to fit right. Nothing seems to work right. Stuff around me may break down, first the car, then the fridge, then 2 lightbulbs on the same day. It can be uncomfortable.

When I swapped out from a Windows computer to a Mac, there was this awful period between being competent on my old computer and being competent on the Mac. Suddenly I was in neither world. I was stupid on the Mac, and when I needed to work on the windows computer, I found I was newly-stupid on it too. My sister (who is a computer teacher) told me to expect to be stupid on both for a while. "Give it 6 weeks," she said. "Then you'll be fine on both again." All I could do was keep at it, give more time to any work I had to do on the computer, and wait it out, trusting that I really would be fine with the change. She was right. It took about 6 weeks.

A humbling 6 weeks.

When we move through the gap we discover that we aren't quite who we thought we were. We are re-creating ourselves. That's where the word recreation originated - renewing ourselves, even in the sense of mental or spiritual renewal. It's a good time to think new thoughts, to let ideas drift through, form and coalesce, then separate and form new patterns. It's a good time for insight to arise, but also a good time not to settle on any of it as a concrete truth. It doesn't hurt for me to remind myself that who I think I am is just a mental idea - a snapshot that I like to carry in my pocket. Yet the snapshot doesn't give me the whole picture. It can't accurately say who I was when I made it, who I am right now, or who I am becoming.

In my tarot deck, this gap time is described as a time rich with possibilities that have not yet manifested themselves. It's not a time for doing, but a time for being. So if I feel a strong desire to go shopping for a new top, I might want to leave my money at home. If the top I see in the store is really all that perfect, it'll be there later on. It might be better to drift a bit, and relax as I re-form myself. As my mother used to say, it's a good time to "Make haste slowly."



First published July 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Ritual

Coffee

I just made a small pot of coffee to sip while I write. It's early in the morning and the ritual of coffee-making brings me a sense of "okay now, it's time to get started on my day." Kettle, filter, grinding beans, my favourite cup, the scent, the time it takes to brew - all are a part of the ritual.

This is small but it's valuable to me. When out of town at a hotel, I may check out the nearest coffee shops the night before to see where I can find a cup in the morning. At my sister's, I can look through her cupboards. I found a packet of hot chocolate the last time I was there and substituted that for the coffee. I may think it's about the coffee, but when I have to change it up, I realize it's not. The ritual is there to support my 'starting the day.'

We set rituals in place and pay attention to them because we want to underscore the meaning the of experience. The rituals may seem superficial, but they are the exact opposite of that. They help us attend to the meaning underneath by giving us a structure around the meaning.

I lost sight of that when I first started developing my own spiritual life. I thought the rituals themselves were superficial. I discarded them. And then immediately I started building rituals of my own to support my spiritual life. I set up a meditation cushion. Said a few words before each meditation. When in the trees and listening to spirit, I held my hands a certain way because it seemed to support the practice. I felt by taking my own approach I was being more honest. But I discovered differently. When I went back to church, I didn't want to say words that I didn't believe in or participate in mandatory rituals that had been in place long past their 'best before' dates. To resolve that, I looked to the meaning behind the words and activities. What I found surprised me. The meaning had been there all along. Some of these old religious institutions have been going for a very long time. There's a good reason why they have persisted.

Some of the joy we take in ritual is about the pagentry and theatre. A coronation is a ritual. A wedding is a ritual. The grandness of the event gives us all, participants and spectators alike, a way to set the experience more firmly into our lives.

I used to eat the brown M&Ms last. That was a ritual that added depth to the treat. Setting the table with the good dishes at Thanksgiving sets the tone of the importance of the event. One of my favourite rituals is baking a birthday cake, cooling and frosting it, putting a coin inside the cooked cake, sprinkling it with colourful sugar beads, then presenting it to the birthday girl and singing while she blows out the candles.

When I step outside each morning and listen to the sounds around me, it helps me reconnect with the whole world. When I light a candle for a friend, it helps me bring the emotions I am feeling into a positive physical form. When I feel overwhelmed, making a cup of tea is a small ritual that can bring me back into myself.

White the rituals themselves are not the meaning, they are not superficial. We need them. We love them. We use them all the time.



First published October 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Humour Has a Place in Spiritual Growth

Cattigger

Sitting in vipassana retreat. Silent. Very serious. I found it joyless at times. The teachers, while well versed in their field, took themselves pretty seriously too. I didn't see them smile much.

Anyhow, well into the first long sitting, some guy in dreadlocks started to do some loud, specialized, odd breathing thing. In that quiet, serious meditation hall, it sounded as loud as a gong. I loved it. As I listened to him, my sense of humour kicked in. I was caught by the sound of it; it sounded a bit like a cat trying to throw up a hairball, you know - that ackk, ackk kind of thing.

Spiritual growth has a certain dignity to it. Yet humour does too, when it's not pointing fingers, or hiding from the pain of reality. Real humour is about the absurdity of life. The longer we live the more we come to see that each time we try to settle on a truth or fact or take things too seriously, we find we have spinach in our teeth. Humour keeps us humble; it's what makes us human and it serves as a good counterpoint to self-importance or too much piety.

When I sat in that meditation hall after the hairball thing stopped, I could feel that the pressure in the hall had released, as though everyone had taken off a tight shirt. Even if it wasn't his intention, and even if it made the leaders frown, it was the perfect way to break all that deep dark difficult energy.

Taken at the same time, spiritual growth and humour invite a sense of tenderness in us, an understanding that we are all together in this same weird boat called life.



First published January 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Boot Camp for Flowers

Tulip

It's like all the flowers in a garden were lined up in a row and told they had to be better flowers. "You! Yeah you, the one with the crushed petals. I know you grew up next to a rock, but you'd better stand up straighter or you'll never get anywhere as a daisy." "And you! Yeah, you. How come you're so short? I know you didn't get the same nutrients as the others but how about a bit more effort now! You're not trying hard enough to be taller." "What about you? Your soil and weather were perfect to make you the most beautiful flower ever. How come you look average?"



First published November 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Pig Sayings I Have Found Helpful

Pig


"Never teach a pig to sing. It annoys the pig and wastes your time."
    and
"Not my pig. Not my farm."



First published March 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Ego Stuff

Jan20071201

Someone who works hard to shed ego - attachment to ideas of who he is - may get to a point where he thinks he has finally released ego. As soon as he thinks, "I am someone who has shed ego," it's a sign that his ego is still strong and well.

This makes me smile.



First published April 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Coming Brand New Into The Day

Moon

Ellis Peters wrote, “some come brand-new into a new day and have to rediscover their griefs… Some nurse their griefs into the night.” I guess that’s why we are encouraged as kids to say a prayer at bedtime. It sweetens our dreams, releases our worries and lets us start fresh the next day.



First published May 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Instinct

Geese

I wonder how much we have deviated from the inner wisdom we all possess. We're so busy analysing the world that we forget we are living here. When birds flock to warmer climates in the Autumn, they do this out of instinct. Instinct, in the sense of being more in tune with their connection with the world. They feel the inner need to go and they don't reason it out or analyse their choices. They simply go.

I often feel the inner urge to organize and fluff my nest at this time of year. I can fight it if I want, but if I do I may lose something important along the way. If I make a pattern of fighting it, due to a busy schedule or rational cause-and-effect thinking, my whole being is in conflict.

I may think I am being rational. But even my rational mind suspects that the birds have it right.



First published October 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Body Wisdom

Pie

If I assume that our bodies are always leaning towards finding balance, then even when our minds overwork with worry or analysis or remembering old sorrows, perhaps this is the body's way of giving us/it a chance to process them, accept them, cry them out, perhaps and then move ahead into a more balanced state.

To take this idea even further, I have found that my body retains extra fluid if I eat too much comfort food. Then tears are closer to the surface making it a good time for me to process the difficult emotions that I'd been using comfort food to soften. Again it's like my body is trying pretty hard for me to do what I need to do to recover some balance.



First published November 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Flame Wars, Twit Filters and Meditation

Fire

When I first started using computers and communicating with strangers via bulletin boards (early 90′s) disagreements often flashed up into total flame wars. I found it really seductive to get embroiled in the fight – after all I had a valid point, too. After some time, I realized that the flame wars really juiced me up and it felt great to get all that juice going without the counterbalance of real danger to temper it. It was a little habit-forming.

After some time, I realized that many of those who started flame wars or who liked to get caught up in them wanted the fight. Wanted to fight. It wasn’t about the original topic, or the even the validity of anyone’s opinion. It had nothing to do with understanding. It was about the juice of battle.

In the midst of one particularly juicy battle, I decided to stop being a part of the conversation. I stayed back and watched the conversation from my safe distant position. It was tough to sit back and let go of the battle but it was interesting to watch how eager my mind was to participate. I found the longer I lurked, the less likely I was to get embroiled. Yet I was still participating just by watching. I was still caught up in the fight. So I did the next hard thing and stopped paying attention to it altogether.

In groups offline, I started to see the same dynamic at work. A distant relative would start a conversation with a controversial topic. I think he hoped that people would take his side and that the family consensus would create a common enemy. He often did manage to get most of the group to feed on this supposed injustice. But I was often the odd person out. I didn’t agree with the majority and would wade in, thinking that they were looking for understanding. Then the pack would turn on me. I discovered that the topic itself was unimportant. Understanding wasn’t what they wanted, maybe needed. They wanted to feed off the battle.

I’m better at spotting trolls online or offline now. They are experts at manipulation. Energy vampires. I’m not afraid to use the twit filter to avoid seeing their email. I’m not afraid of leaving the conversation or the room when something boils up at a meeting or gathering. I don’t have to apologize or explain myself. I can simply walk out the door and move on to something I find more enjoyable. They won’t like it, though. My daughter reminded me of a family get-together when she was a kid. The conversation turned into a bitch-fest that she and I wanted no part of. So we moved off to another corner of the room and started our own conversation. At one point, we found it so much fun, we laughed aloud. All the others stopped what they were saying and turned to us. Accusingly. We ruined their fun. Oh well.

Getting better at spotting this dynamic at work has helped my meditation practice, too. Thoughts can be just as seductive. In a meditation retreat I took a long time ago, I was in a prime spot in the back corner of the room, right near the sliding door. I could let in a bit of fresh air or close the door when things got too cold. But a woman nearby really wanted to be in charge of the patio door. For the first day of the retreat I got fully caught up in this battle of wills. It was juicy, entertaining, and occupied a lot of my thinking. The second day, I decided to drop out of the battle. I watched how my thinking still wanted to be caught up in the facts and opinions of it all, and how when I could no longer feed on the battle, I had to feed on my own inner resources. It was worth the effort. I had an unexpected moment of insight into this battle that brought up feelings of joy and peace that were much more compelling.

Well, that’s pretty much what meditation is all about: dropping opinion, redirecting thought, and trusting that we can unearth an inner richness that can sustain us as well as the battle. There’s no promise of a payoff that seems as immediately juicy, but it does pay off. Under the dirt, we may find gems of insight, perspective, shared laughter, and maybe even an unexpected moment of bliss. It can sustain us in a much more compelling way than any flame war.



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

Poof !

Yin yang

If for each of the things we perceive there is a counter-thing: strength-weakness, light-dark, faith-doubt, then for every being is there a counter-being - that once they merge, neither needs to continue to exist? Poof, I'm gone!



First published January 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Making Something of It

RoadsideField

The essence energy that I perceive
    leads to my concept of it
    which leads to language
    which leads to analysis and opinion.

It all starts out pretty innocently, and then being human, we make something of it.



First published February 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Meditation Without Striving

Pema Chodron

In the book "Taking the Leap, Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears" by Pema Chödrön, there is a bit about taking a relaxed attitude towards meditation. The example she used was

"The image often used is of an old person, sitting in the sun, watching children at play, with an attitude of nothing left to do."
I could immediately relate to this, and I know I can remember it.



First published March 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Perfect !

image by https://www.flickr.com/photos/scragz/

A hard lesson when getting older: People never want your opinion about choices they are making. Even the ones who specifically ask for your opinion don't want it. They want approval. This is how I have learned to answer: The wedding? It was perfect. The choice of yappy little dog. Perfect ! The new tattoo with the picture of your latest girlfriend? Perfect ! It's been a hard adjustment for me. I like my opinions. But it's made things smoother.



First published June 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Putting Away Unfinished Business

Basket

I said something at the book club the other day, which now, in retrospect I wonder wasn't a spoiler for a book I'd read but another member said she hadn't finished. I do like people to think well of me, and haven't yet given up my longstanding habit of trying to be perfect, so I wondered if I should do something to put these vague uncomfortable feelings to bed.

I drew a card. The card suggested I let it go.

But how? It still was niggling away in the back of my mind as unfinished business and I wanted to clear it right out of my energy.

Then I had an idea: I imagined I had a basket beside me, put the unfinished business in it, and handed it over to my angels. If there was some action I needed to take on this in the future, I could trust them to hand it back to me (hopefully with instructions.)



First published April 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Getting It Wrong

Marjean

When in yoga class, one of my favourite instructors says, "Do it badly. Get it wrong."

It's a refreshing perspective for all of us who are expected to be better parents, better partners, better workers. Advice comes at us from all directions about how to get healthier, how to be more productive, how to look younger than our age, how to slim down. I even see young women criticizing other young women in public about their appearance or parenting.

How did we get so critical? And judgemental? And unloving?

Never in all of these things is the idea that we are already good enough, that we already try hard, that we already burn the candle at both ends, that we already are productive, hardworking people.

When my yoga teacher asks us to get it wrong, her words are not empty. She never asks us to do more than we feel comfortable with, yet she encourages us to stretch ourselves at the same time. There's no undercurrent or hidden agenda. She doesn't judge, she likely doesn't have an opinion at all.

I want to be like her.



First published May 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Resonance

PianoKeys

In my Sunny Day this morning, my joyful intention was "Today I'll stop to smell the flowers, and the cinnamon buns and the coffee." Later in the morning, I got sudden whiff of chocolate. I paused and enjoyed it for a moment. So was the reading suggesting I would encounter many lovely scents? Or was it inviting me to pay attention to the ones there? Chicken or egg? Prediction or self-fulfilling prophesy?

I wonder if it isn't both. When we resonate with something, we meet it and it meets us back.

In his book, "The Physics of Angels," Rupert Sheldrake spoke about how if you lift a piano lid, press the sustain pedal, chant 'ooo', the piano says 'ooo' back. Say 'aaa' on the same note and the piano replies 'aaa'.

Each of us (who is) created, resonates with all of creation.

It's more vast than my mind can comprehend.

People ask me how distant healing or readings can possibly work when the person doing the asking is sitting 1000 miles away. Resonance may explain some of this. As I put myself in a harmonious energetic state, this state resonates with that of the angels or other high energy I am getting, which also resonates with the same energies in the client. The positive energy is already in us all, but by meeting, it resonates between us all, across space and time. Prayer isn't just a thought to wish someone well, it is living it: wellness meeting wellness, or joy meeting joy, or ease meeting ease, or trust meeting trust, and when more of us join in, the resonance becomes stronger.

Music can do this. When many in a group get into the right "energy space" (for lack of a better term,) there comes a point when the music becomes a presence in and of itself in the room with them. When the musicians all feel that presence, they know they have transcended themselves.

Ok, while this talk of transcendence and crossing time and space sounds pretty high and mighty, it doesn't hurt me to remember that this is about real moments in everyday life. A kind thought or a shared laugh resonates across space. A reminder to stop and smell the flowers resonates across time with a waft of chocolate scent in the air.

Our joy is bigger than we know.



First published November 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

If It Looks Like a Duck

rubber ducks

Whenever I have a significant dream, I head to my personal 'symbols' dictionary. I like to find meaning in things. I love synchronicity, and like to look for symbols and patterns in the world around me.

Some years back, a friend told me I was reading too much into the symbols and patterns in my life. He said, "If it looks like a duck, and walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's probably just a duck." Maybe. Maybe not.

When I get ants in my kitchen, I ask myself "what is bugging me?" Right around the same time as the infestation clears, so does the issue that was bugging me. Maybe they are coincidental. Maybe I am making something of nothing. But making the correlation itself satisfies me, whether it is right or wrong.

A lot of the symbols I see do have clear and actionable meaning. For years I had recurring dreams where I'd lose my wallet or purse. I'd get frantic in the dream trying to find it. One day I noticed that the "creator" energy was coming up in my daily readings at the same times as these dreams. This energy is all about losing my identification with an earlier self. Losing my ID. Maybe these lost purse dreams were not about the money but about the ID. Sure enough, when I next had the dream I was lucid enough to suggest to the Janet in the dream that this wasn't a cause for concern, but just a change in my role in life. My dream self relaxed, and the dreams vanished until the next strong change of role in my life came along.

Recurring dreams about school served the same kind of purpose. I started by not finding the school. Then in the next, I got there, but couldn't find out where to register. I was stuck in that dream many times. Then it moved ahead to getting registered but being late for class, and therefore being afraid I'd fail due to lack of attendance. This one stuck around for a while too. Then I was on time, but couldn't find the classroom. These were all really, really frustrating during the dreaming process. There was a lot of fear and anxiety involved. But when I finally found the classroom, and on time, the teacher looked at me and said, "You don't have to be here, you already know this," and I was released from the struggle.

I can see a lot of meaning in that, but aside from the meaning, the simple fact that my dreaming self was making progress was reassuring. As was the fact that my dreaming self could feel a lot of the distress so I didn't have to while awake.

Often my dream symbols are literal and related closely to language and metaphor. Losing my ID = a change in role. Going to school = a search for knowledge or understanding. If a wall is coming down in a dream then there is likely a "wall coming down" or a barrier dropping in my waking world. Being in the driver's seat in a dream = "being in the driver's seat," the one in control.

I get bug dreams too. And the ones in the dreams can be horrifying. But when I wake after a bug dream, I record it quickly to see exactly what I remember happening. How big they are, how many, how I felt at the time. The literal sequence and the language can be more relevant than the action that takes place. When I see bugs in the rafters of my house the symbolism is meaningful to me. A building = my self. My childhood home = my younger self. Bugs in the rafters = something in my mental state or mind or head, or beliefs that is bugging me. In a recent dream, they were too big to eradicate, so the best solution, the experts told me in the dream, was to take a vacation or get some distance from them. It made perfect sense, waking or sleeping.

I started my own dream dictionary when most of the dream dictionaries on the market failed my needs. When a bear appears in one of my dreams, I can be pretty sure it's about fear. That's not what the dream dictionary says; it talks about Mother Earth, or healing totems or other such stuff. Not in my world. In my world it's fear, plain and simple, because the symbol came alive for me on a camping trip when I was a young woman and had an "OMG that's a BEAR outside our tent!" experience.

Over time the meaning of a symbol may get more clear and I can get closer to the heart of things.

When I waken from a dream and just KNOW it's important, I jot it down and hope its meaning becomes clear one day. When a dream recurs, then I figure I'm working to make some progress on an issue. I may not know what it means at the time, but understanding may come later.

My last bug dream was important. After speaking with the experts in the dream, I came across the 'mother' bug and instead of feeling horror, disgust or fear, oddly, I felt a deep affection for her. This was unexpected. Yet, loving the bug in the dream hastened my ability to be okay with what was bugging me in my waking life. Who knew a bug dream could be a healing dream?

Sometimes I have a recurring symbol in a dream, and if I have time, I'll search back through my dream file to see where I'd seen it before. If I'm lucky, I discover a similarity, and maybe even a word or phrase that seems present in them all. Ahhhh. That's what shoes are all about!

When I get the "thunderbolt" card several days over a week in my daily readings, and at the same time see deer in the yard, I know that change is in the air, strongly. To move in harmony with that, if I have an urge to reorganize my desk, I'd be wise to reorganize my desk.

When my purse got caught on the doorknob on the way out to buy ice cream, I wondered if it was life's way of showing me how conflicted I was about it. Maybe the new me didn't need that ice cream. But if I remember right, I got the ice cream anyhow, because, well, ice cream.

When contemplating a possible future while drinking coffee one afternoon, the sip of coffee got as far as the back of my mouth and wouldn't go farther. I literally 'couldn't swallow it.'

Sometimes though, if it looks like a duck, it may be just a duck. In my dream notes one morning I wrote, "Weird dreams all night about some sort of electrical wiring or container. This went on much of the night. Woke with headache. Wondered if the dreams were related to the neurology of the headache. But then again, maybe I just drank too much coffee yesterday."

But then, maybe not. The card I got this morning in my Sunny Day was "The Dream." In the context of tarot it can be about moving away from some notion of obligation or emotional responsibility. I wondered what might come up later in the day to relate to that. But when I looked at it again, and saw what I was typing here in this article, I laughed out loud. That's no duck.



First published December 2015 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Loose Threads

Unravellingthread1

I met up with Sharon a few days ago. I haven't seen her in a couple of years. I had forgotten how self-centred she was, and how she uses her faith as a shield to distance herself from others. There's a part of me that wondered at my mild dislike of her, yet I wasn't concerned. She probably reminds me of a relative who used to use her own beliefs to shore up her sense of ... something.

I will likely never figure it out, it's just one more loose end that'll never get tied off.

I wonder if we are all bold fabrics. We wear our egos like shawls. Yet they are constantly unravelling here and there. We scramble to fix the holes and gaps, but no matter how hard we try, there is always another thread straying.

Maybe that's a good thing. The effort of tidying things up is satisfying to ego, but doesn't make for real trust in life and in the spark of divinity in us all. We are not fixed constructs, we are supposed to be unravelling. Our true self is vulnerable.

If I see the loose thread, maybe I can celebrate it, knowing there are a thousand thousand more where it came from that I can not see. And when my life eventually unravels completely, maybe I can celebrate that too.



First published February 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

The Cloaks We Wear

Cloak

I may have believed in the past that most of us have the ability to be kind and gracious even in the worst of circumstances. I don’t believe that any more. When in pain or under great stress, there may be no room for anything but a need to take care of oneself.

I’m Canadian. We are considered polite. I was raised to be polite. I like to think of myself as polite. Yet I have discovered that cloak of politeness, no matter how pretty a cloak, is still a cloak. It covers the small anger at someone who isn’t listening, it covers the hurt feeling when left out, it covers the loneliness when loved ones are distant.

When really under stress, or under the influence of powerful sedatives, or when in pain, it can be pretty hard to keep that cloak up on my shoulders. I hate that. When that cloak falls away (along with all the other cloaks I wear), it means I can not control this situation, even if it is uncomfortable. It means my best interests are not in my hands. It means I am at the mercy of others who may or may not be nice to me. It’s just me, without the ego, without the ideas of who I am, being vulnerable and helpless.

I was in the hospital recently getting a new hip. The whole experience was positive (although tough, it was surgery after all) and I am grateful for all who where there to help: my husband, my brilliant surgeon & the other doctors who took care of me, all the nurses and physiotherapists and all the others who worked in the background to make my life better. At the same time, it was a time of helplessness and vulnerability. I didn’t always have space to be my usual kind, compassionate, intelligent, funny self. I heard myself groan after a faint when being assisted in bed and felt a bit surprised at how, well, feral the sound was. But what really surprised me was a single moment when I went into the hospital bathroom and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I was a stranger. I didn’t recognize that person. It was as though I was seeing myself through someone else’s eyes. The lady in the mirror looked round and nice and vaguely attractive (even though bed-head was ducktailing my hairdo) and grandmotherly – all traits that could be used to describe me, but she was not familiar. She was a blank slate, a total stranger. My idea of self had been stripped away. I wasn’t scared or weirded out by it. I felt oddly neutral about the experience. I wondered if I was seeing myself without that cloak.

Getting the cloak removed also stripped me of any pride. Well, for a little while anyway.

But it gave me more. It gave me a whole new appreciation of the old lady in the next bed who may have been capable of doing more for herself but didn’t. Maybe she just couldn’t. I watched a woman express her impatience and frustration rudely in a waiting room – trying to micro-manage her situation and upset that it wasn’t working. I wondered if she was in pain. I could almost imagine her cloak slipping off her shoulders. Later, when a woman in the physiotherapy room went on and on and on and demanded ever more attention from the therapist, I was still curious. I wondered if she was in emotional pain, or if she might be lonely. Sometimes people talk a lot when they are lonely. She seemed to be trying very hard to keep her own cloak over her shoulders. Pride. Sense of self. Ego. I bet her cloak was a beautiful one.

Pain, loneliness, unease, fear – no matter the reason for our bad behaviour, it wouldn’t be there if it weren’t an attempt by each of us to make things better for ourselves. None of us like that sense of vulnerability when the cloak falls away.

It makes things easier when we are met by people of great tolerance. The nurses were unfailingly kind to the woman in the next bed. The volunteer in the waiting room met the rudeness of the patient with a smile and assistance. The physiotherapist listened to the talker for longer than he needed to. He seemed to sense her need to bolster up her pride.

The whole experience was good for me – not just because of the new hip, but it gave me a deeper appreciation of tolerance and how important our pride becomes to us at times when we are vulnerable. And it gave me a greater ability to be tolerant of my own un-Canadian (or un-spiritual) rudeness, when my own stress levels are high.



First published September 2012 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

In Spite of My Best Efforts

Willow

A card flipped out of the deck I was shuffling for a reading and dropped onto the floor. If I take the approach that Life/Universe/Angels/God is trying to make things better for me, then this card was the one that would be perfect for Colleen. For some reason, the energy of Willow Tree resonated with her on that day, its energy of protection, support and eternal friendship exactly what she needed.

I could have picked up the card, put it back in the deck and re-shuffled, assuming it was a clumsy error. But I'd rather believe that there is meaning in life, a greater loving plan.

I've seen enough evidence in my own life to know that sometimes the Angels laugh with/at me in a delightful way. I've been sidetracked from my plans often enough to find that the detour is actually a better route than the one I had in mind. Even when I am determined to see my own plans through, Life will steer me lovingly towards a better solution.

I may not ever know what the higher plan is, or be able to make any assumptions about my day, but it's nice to know that in spite of my best efforts to direct life the way I think it should go, my Angels have my back.



First published July 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Janet's 5 Rules of "NO"

Counting

Saying "No," didn't used to come easily to me. I was taught as a kid that I was supposed to say "Yes," to take care of others before myself. While these were great ideas, they didn't work well. I'd do too much and then get sick and be unable to do anything. It was one extreme or the other. It took years for me to learn that by saying "No" in a balanced way, I would have more to give. It's like digging a new garden. If I go too fast, I deplete myself and then have to stop, but if instead I find a rhythm I can maintain, I'll go for hours without feeling depleted.

So the trick to saying "No" well is to drop some of the things I'd normally say "Yes" to long enough to restore that rhythm.

I can always tell when I've lost the rhythm. My stress levels go up. Everything seems harder. I get snippy with people. I say, "No!" to innocent requests with an emotionally laden afterthought like, "She should know better than to ask." These signals all tell me I've said "Yes" too much and need to dial it back a bit.

So here they are. Janet's 5 Rules of "No." (I count them out on my fingers.)

1) "No," without apology.
2) "No," without explanation.
3) "No," without leaving room for negotiation.
4) "No," without fear of consequences.
5) "No," without hard feelings.

Here's why.

1) No apology. I am the best judge of what I'm up for at any given time. I give when I have it to give. I don't when I don't. I need not apologize for knowing (or figuring out) where my limits are. 

2) No explanation. Adding an explanation can mean I'm trying to justify my refusal. See rule 1. Knowing what my limits are is reason enough.

3) No room for negotiation. If I follow my refusal with "But if you're really really stuck..." that is not saying "No." It's saying "Yes."

4) No fear of consequences. "Will he stop loving me if I don't pick up his socks?" If his love is true, he may grumble, but he'll see that fair is fair.

5) No hard feelings. I learned this one by watching my sister one summer afternoon. She had 4 small kids at home. It was a hot day. The neighbour asked over the fence if she could borrow my sister's wading pool. My sister looked at the pool, thought about her day, and said a kind "No," before moving on to her next task. Nothing added. No emotional load. Just the facts.

I've struggled with all of these off and on. Some are harder at times than others. The big message for me though, was that I don't have to wait until I'm depleted to say "No." Quite the opposite. And I'm entitled to go even farther. I can say "No" because I'd simply rather not. "I'd rather not" is an early sign that my energy levels are dropping. Like digging the garden, once the rhythm is restored, I'll have lots to give.



First published December 2014 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Effort Without Desire

Mountain1 j

From Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance An Inquiry Into Values by Robert M. Pirsig

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire.The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are the things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow.”

About Me (in the manner of Amélie)

Bookshelves

I dislike:

  • Music that stops three notes before the end.
  • Horror films. “Shaun of the Dead” doesn’t count.
  • Chartreuse, the colour.
  • Auto seats designed for people with no backsides.
  • Scented air fresheners.
  • Road signs turned the wrong way.
  • Any green dessert. My sister won’t eat them either. We don’t know why. She and I are twins you know. Fraternal. We both have doppelgängers somewhere. Not each other. We look like sisters, not twins. Hers is in Toronto, last spotted near the University of Toronto campus. I have at least two. One in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the other seems to be everywhere. Strangers come up to me on the street and talk to me as though I know them. This happens more often than you’d think.

I like:

  • The scent of vanilla. As a kid I kept an empty vanilla extract bottle on my dresser.
  • Rocks. Rolling them especially. In the garden the flowers are nice, but building the rock walls, well that’s satisfying. A stone story: My husband was out with a fisherman buddy to check the weirs at The Wolves, some islands off the New Brunswick shore, 30 or 35 years ago. He came back far too late but he brought me back a stone from The Wolves as a peace offering. The perfect size to fit my hand, the perfect weight, the perfect silky texture. I still have it around here somewhere.
  • The absurd. That may be why I have so many Douglas Adams books on my bookshelves.
  • The sound of a pipe organ at full crank in a place where the acoustics are half-decent. It’s thrilling to feel the different tones through the floor, through my skin to my bones, filling the room right up to the rafters. The deep, composite sound seems to support the very building. Digital is fine, but even with the best speakers, it doesn’t come close to the real thing.
  • On the same note (pun intended) interesting chord progressions. When the movie “A Beautiful Mind” came out, my sister told me to buy the soundtrack. She knew I’d like the chord progressions. I was a teen when the Beatles, the Stones and the Beach Boys were coming up with new stuff all the time. But I was raised to love the classics too, and swing, and silly old tunes from the early 1900’s. Mom taught us to read music before we learned our letters.
  • Being pressed back into my seat as a plane ascends. After a steep and fast ascent to altitude on one trip, my sister turned to me and said, “That was worth the price of the ticket all by itself.”
  • Similarly, the sensation of someone writing on my back for lack of a flat surface.
  • Books. Reading. As a kid I promised myself that one day I’d have a house full of books and I’m happy to say I do. Yeah. Paper. You can’t take an iPad to the tub. Well, I can’t anyhow; my hardcover copy of The Hollow Hills by Mary Stewart is a lot thicker than it used to be. Some of my books were my Dad’s. All have been read and many have been re-read.
Well that’s me.

Put on Your Rubber Gloves

Rubberglovesalamodestuff

When I was a kid, I loved to make a game out of avoiding chores I didn’t want to do. If I avoided the job I didn’t like, I won. If I couldn’t avoid taking out the garbage, I’d rush the trash down to the end of the driveway as quickly as possible, so I could get to something I liked better. But I wasn’t winning. Not really. My win meant someone else I loved lost. That didn’t feel good.

As I grew up, and could no longer avoid unpleasant jobs, I decided I needed a better approach. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life bitching about the things that I couldn’t fix or change. I wanted to make peace with life as it was.

Awareness and curiosity were my best tools to get started. The next time I found myself grumbling as I pushed the vacuum over the uneven carpets, I stopped to see what was really going on in my energy. What I discovered surprised me. The problem wasn’t about vacumming at all, it was about half of my energy winging off to the book I would rather be reading, while the other half pushed the vacuum. The split in attention did something to me. It disrupted my integrity. Something that was whole was no longer whole, and I lost something in that.

So my job then, was to stay with what I was doing, even if I didn’t want to be there. My book would still be waiting for me when the job was done.

At one of the first meditation retreats I went to, I was given the opportunity to put this into practice in a powerful way. For my daily work meditation I was assigned the task of scrubbing toilets. Now, I’d gone into the retreat thinking that this would be a time of great silence and spiritual growth. I pictured myself sitting joyfully on the meditation cushion washed in bliss, feeling uplifted and at peace. What I got was toilets. If I’d arrived there earlier, I could have chosen a task a bit more pleasant, but I was late to the party and didn’t know the tricks. Yet the tricks were just like the childhood tricks that left me feeling empty.

I was told to treat work meditation like any other meditation – pay attention with all the senses, stay right there, and when thoughts wander to other things, bring them back gently again and again to the present moment. Kindly. Patiently.

So that’s what I did. I did my best to focus on the task itself. I paid attention to the details: the curve of the bowl, the scent of the cleaner, the cool feel of porcelain, the light and shadow in the room. At first my mind really wanted to think, “But people did stuff in here! Strangers!” But I reined it in and remembered that they were just people, and that I was wearing rubber gloves.

On that day, I made the choice to simply be present and see what happened.

As I kept bringing my attention back to the job at hand, it stopped being about liking or disliking, it even stopped being about toilets. Instead, it started being about a quiet joy.

The care and attention I was bringing to the job opened up something lovely in me. Without a split attention, I was whole. My happiness was not to be found in finding ways to outsmart life and avoid the unpleasant. It was to be found in doing what life asked of me right then and right there.

That was 20 years ago. What I learned has served me well. When my husband was in surgery after a tumble, I chose to simply be present in the waiting room – not to divide my attention, but to stay right there with the uncertainty, with the sounds of activity, with the passing of time. That night, when I called to update our daughter, Lynne, she asked me how I could sound so happy. I wasn’t happy that this had happened to Tom and the family, but by the time I’d called her, I’d already spent hours choosing to be contented, bringing my attention gently back, time after time, and delighting in the sights, sounds, feelings of the moment. Of course I sounded happy.

David Foster Wallace put it well in a commencement address. “… if you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow … hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down.”

On fire with the same force that made the stars. I love that.

I may not be able to avoid the unpleasant – sometimes I have to put on rubber gloves – but by choosing to take care of each task wholeheartedly, I choose joy.



First published March 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.



Photo of rubber gloves by alamodestuff

Turning Away

Handsmichellelynnegoodfellow

A new client came by a while back for a reading. Once the reading was finished, we chatted for a while before she got ready to drive home. In the short few minutes that followed I was introduced to a culture of racism so deeply ingrained in her that she didn’t even see that she was wearing a pointy white hat. That kind of antipathy comes from fear and hatred, and a host of other causes and conditions, many of which she might never be able to see or from which she might never be free. She smiled and confided and chatted easily as though the stuff coming out of her mouth was as sweet as honey.

I didn’t know how to respond. How do I answer such complete conviction? I forced a smile, changed the subject and gently steered her towards the door.

That night I dreamed about a woman getting out of a car and coming towards me asking for me to accept or help her. I felt reluctant. She seemed like someone who was ineffectual, whiny, and yet so solid in her views that there was no getting through to her. I looked at the block I’d put between us. It appeared like a bubble of water in front of my chest and shoulders, extending farther out from my shoulders than my chest. Even as I saw this, I knew that even though I didn’t want to drop the block, I’d have to. But I didn’t want to let in this woman. I was afraid if I let her in, whatever it was in her I didn’t like would infect me too, and I’d be just like her. I woke up in tears.

As I jotted down the dream, I realized that my aversion to the woman in the dream was the same as my aversion to the client, which was the same as the client’s aversion to those she feared.

That left me with a choice. Do I add to the antipathy, or do I find a way to turn towards her and the me who doesn’t want to be like her?

I knew the answer in the dream. The stronger the aversion, the stronger the need for acceptance.

We are complex in our beliefs, often stuck in conditioning so deep that we can’t see what it is. For example, I said, someone “jipped me” the other day not knowing that what came so innocently out of me was a slur against Gypsies that I’d picked up as a kid. Once I realized what I said, I wondered how, when a simple phrase is so deeply embedded, can I prevent myself from saying it in the future? I don’t know if I can.

But I forget; the client and me and all of us are made of goodness. A sermon at church a while back was about the sower of seeds: seeds can fall on rocky soil, in thistles, or on good ground. Goodness is goodness is goodness. No matter where goodness is put, it will either fail to flourish or flourish. It’s still goodness. The seeds are not at fault for not flourishing.

Maybe instead of turning away, I need to reach out and hold her hand.



First published April 2016 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.