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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curvy Yoga

CurvyYoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For the Birds

Sunrise bluerocks1 j


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

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

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

Watching the birds. I love this stuff.



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

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Flower of the Life Force

Daffodil


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

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

The flower of the life force. I like that.

Surrender

Mattress


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

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

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

Being a Wimp

Blowing Snow


Right now even though the sun is shining, there are snow flurries off and on and the winds are high. This isn't usually a problem, but I live in an area where whiteouts are common. Blowing snow is one thing. Being unable to see past the hood of my car is another. There's only two fairly short stretches of road between my place and the highway that get bad. But one of them, the one closest to where I live, blows in a lot. When entering a whiteout there, it may only be half a km long, but the snow might be half a metre deep in drifts. You don't know until you're in the thick of it. If a car ahead is stuck in a drift you won't know it until you're on top of it. There often is.

In my neighbourhood, local culture demands people drive through the whiteouts anyway. When I told a friend who lived nearby how nervous I get about this, she confidently said, "Whiteouts don't bother me." And they didn't until one day when the wind was up and she had to drive that one short stretch of road north of me. She arrived safely, but shaken.

Until then I tended to agree with the local culture. They must be right, I must be a wimp. After that day, I realized I was the sane one. Common sense said, "Anyone who willfully enters a whiteout with zero visibility has a few screws loose."

My choice, then, is sanity. I look at the forecast and if Environment Canada says there'll be snow and winds over 30 km/hour, I pause and do a gut check. If my gut is unhappy, I change my schedule so I don't have to drive.

Call me a wimp if you like. I think I'm the opposite. It takes nerve to stand up against local culture.

Morality

Swl1977 1978


Okay, so the other day on the way home, a woman driving in the opposite direction to me on a snowy country road flagged me down. She and her friends told me they were almost out of gas and asked for help. "There's a gas station just back a bit," I told her. "I know," she said, "But the electricity is off."

I quickly assessed the situation. She'd had enough gas to let the car idle while she spoke to the driver ahead of me and then me. So she'd have enough to get back to the main road, where she and her friends could be warm and dry while they solved their problem. I mentally worked out the logistics: distance home and back with gas, someone to assist me, time this would take. This wasn't going to work. Better for her to use what gas she had left and get back to a warm and dry place. This was not an emergency, but a convenience. When I said, "I have no gas and no easy way to get some," she drove off to flag down the next person.

Done. Finis. Shrug shoulders and move on.

But I felt a bit conflicted. My childhood training insisted that if I can help it is my duty to do so - not my responsibility, but my duty. Yet I knew there was a deeper morality. Knotted in the conflict were other subtle factors: sympathy or lack of it, judgement about their wisdom, fear that they could harm themselves further, dislike of being taken advantage of ... the list goes on. It could take me a lifetime to untangle those knots.

In the end, I needed to remember that if the women were in genuine danger, even from their own poor choices, each one of us who came along that snowy road would have jumped in without hesitation, without a thought. We live out here and are aware how very quickly things can get serious.

This day I didn't help. Another day I might have. Yet neither choice can be used as a measurement of my morality. Authentic morality doesn't rise out of rules that I must live up to, it rises out of the deep loving connection I have - that we all have - with the divine and with each other. We are all one. Spiritual practice and reminders like "Love your neighbour" can put us in rhythm with with the truth of that unity. But truth itself - the unity itself - is what guides our actions. Our job is to connect with that truth, trust it to direct us, and let it untangle any inner conflict.

The correct moral action to take on that day was to not be the solution to their problem. It was to bridge the gap between "I should" and "I am."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Emptiness and Ice Cream

Icecream


It's been ice cream for me this summer. That's how I've been feeding the emptiness. Sometimes it's chocolate. Sometimes a cup of coffee. I haven't been reaching for ease all the time, but it's often enough.

I'm hoping that by becoming more aware of when I reach and getting more familiar with that sense of emptiness and discomfort that leads me to the kitchen, I'll be stronger in my ability to resist.

This isn't about willpower. We all know if willpower was enough there wouldn't be a person on the planet with a few pounds to lose.

The feeling is familiar. We reach for ease in whatever is handy: a bowl of ice cream, a quick anger at someone else, an argument, a complaint, anything to fill that uneasiness, that feeling of emptiness. It's uncomfortable.

I could try identifying the source of the emptiness, the cause. That's a pretty good distraction. But it won't stop me for long if I'm already reaching for the freezer door. I could distract myself with another pleasure. Take a walk. Chew some gum. But again, it won't stop me for long. The first thing I may think about when I get back from that walk is ice cream. Vanilla Fudge Crackle. I could promise myself the treat in 10 minutes and hope the delay is enough to make the feelings pass. But once I get that idea in my head there will be no way I can resist in 10 minutes. I know myself too well.

What can I do instead?

Maybe I can stop with one hand on the freezer door and pause. Count off a few seconds or a few breaths and just stay empty while I do. Feel the hollow, empty feeling, that feeling I get right before mind kicks in. Just that little empty feeling. When I can stay with it for a moment I may find that it's not that awful. It's just a sensation of emptiness. In that moment I may discover that what I really need instead of that bowl of ice-cream is a good cry. Or the feeling may just need me to be aware of it. It may simply pass. We make these things so big, don't we, when sometimes by staying with it and just letting it be there takes the feeling to its conclusion.

Maybe I can see if I have what it takes that day to stay with the feeling for a bit. Timing plays a critical role. My body chemistry, old patterns, even the way the stars are lined up can make or break my efforts on any given day.

Stopping for just that second to observe can be enough to get me started, though. And even if it ends up with me filling my emptiness with ice cream, it's still a good start.



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

Friday, January 27, 2017

We're All Intuitive

Sunrise bluerocks2 j

I don’t make a good circus-style fortune teller, with the big hoop earrings and mysterious accessories. It might make for good theatre, but I don’t like to make people think I have some special ‘gift’ that others do not and I don’t like to stand on the people I am reading for to make myself seem more grand or mysterious.

Intuition isn’t mysterious. We see it in action all the time in the natural world. Animals see a lot and know a lot that we don’t seem to. We all know people who have dogs that know when their people are going to be home from work. Animals head for the hills when a tsunami draws near. In time we may be able to see the science behind these things. I just read an article about how scientists have found that bees respond to specific electrical signals of flowers. That could explain their mysterious ability to hone on on what they need. Scientists think that sperm whales may be calling each other by name. This is new to the scientific world but not new to those who have been with whales and studied them. Jane Goodall discovered a lot about chimps when she was in the forest with them that the science of that time couldn’t imagine to be accurate. But she lived with them. She knew.

So what do animals have that we do not? Access to a quiet state. The ability to be still and listen or sense what the world is telling them. I don’t know how much mental chatter and worry dogs or cows have in their minds, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a lot less than we do.

Intuition, gut feelings, psychic ability kicks in when we are at rest – when we aren’t thinking about anything in particular, when we least expect it. In the Spring, we may have an inner urge to tidy our workspace or move house. When waiting at a traffic light, we may have a sudden impulse to turn right instead of left. Before thought kicks in and we start to worry, plan, analyse and interpret, there is a small window where we are in communication with the world around us. It may bring a sudden thought of an old friend just before the phone rings. Guess who’s on the line?

As kids, we are drawn to stories that have talking animals. We may somehow know that there is some truth to this. But then our current societies and cultures ask us to turn away from that sort of thinking. Maybe we long for the type of connectedness that puts all of us – human and animal, plant and earth in this world together. Maybe we know it already is there – we’ve just moved too far away from it to hear.

In the end maybe the whole sphere of psychic stuff will be explained by science. Maybe we’ll be able to track the energy of thoughts into the past or future. Maybe we’ll know what pathways these transmissions take. It’s an exciting thought. It wouldn’t take away my job, though. There are those of us who focus on these things because of our interest in exploring them, just as there are those of us who love to work with numbers, or paint, or heal.

Intuition is not mysterious, but to be good at it, we need to learn to quiet our minds and rest in the stillness of not-knowing so we can hear what the world around us is saying to us.



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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Next Pleasant Thing

Sparrow


While walking back through the cold backyard to the house, I noticed how I was thinking ahead to that warm cup of coffee I would make when I got inside. The next pleasant thing.

Years ago, when I was a heavy smoker, the first thought that came into my head when I woke up each morning was that first cigarette. The next pleasant thing.

I stopped in the backyard to give it some thought.

This was just a bit too much like “I’ll be happy when” thinking. I’ll be happy when I marry Prince Charming. I’ll be happy when I get a raise. I’ll be happy when I have that next smoke. If I put too much interest on “the next pleasant thing”, do I consign my happiness to that future time?

What about now?

I stopped thinking and looked around. It was barely dawn. I could hear Shadow, the golden retriever, barking on the farm next door. The sparrows were at the feeders; I could hear their voices quarrelling in descant harmony. The air felt cold on my cheeks. Snowflakes held their intricate shapes for a while on the sleeves of my fuzzy coat before they melted. In that moment, life was more than merely pleasant. It was a joy.

The anticipated pleasure of coffee still gave me a lift. But it was no longer occupying my attention. My good cheer didn’t depend on it. The pleasure of right now eclipsed the next pleasant thing.



Revised slightly from the story published in February 2010 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Burden of Should and Should-Not

Easter Lily

Today's Sunny Day included:
I see you choosing to move into calmer waters, leaving 'should' and 'should not' behind and listening instead to your wise inner voice. Never doubt your compassion, even when you have to follow your own path.


The visitation for June’s husband Jeff is today in another town. June is an acquaintance. I never met Jeff. I’m not sure about going, even though I care about her pain.

I guess that’s another example of doing what I think is right vs doing what feels right. Events may conspire to tip the 'doing what feels right' one way or the other, whereas the ‘do what I think is right’ part is all about culture and thinking and expectations and likely not related to what is holistically right for me to do on this day.

I'l see how the day plays out and do what works then.


I do a Sunny Day Reading for myself each day.
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Saturday, January 7, 2017

Paradox

Chocolatebar


The more we deepen our spiritual practice, the more often we encounter paradox.

A common spiritual paradox is the paradox of surrender. To get what we want we have to be willing to move ahead quite happily without it. Yet how can we want it and not want it at the same time? When I was 9 I realized this principle but couldn't quite wrap my head around it. Here's that story:

Dad had a sweet tooth, so every now and then, he'd buy a family-sized chocolate bar on his way home from work to share with us. We didn't buy extras or snacks when we were kids so this was a real treat. There were 5 of us and the bar could be broken into 6 pieces, so one of the 5 of us got the extra piece. But it never seemed to be my turn. I argued, pleaded, tried whatever I could to sway Dad in my favour. It never worked. So finally, on this one day, I saw the extra piece, wanted it just as much as ever, but made a choice to move on happily without it. I remember wandering out the back door, and standing barefoot on the grass wondering what I'd do next, my 1/5th share melting slowly in my mouth. Not long afterwards, Dad came outside and handed me the 6th piece. This was an important moment. I knew this. I went over it in my mind, trying to make sense of it. "In order to get what you want, you have to stop wanting it." But, my 9 year old mind reasoned, "if you use this trick to get what you want then you haven't stopped wanting it have you?" Even though I knew I didn't fully understand, I promised myself I'd remember. It was important.

Paradox holds two contradicting truths together, and lets them both be true.

Here are other spiritual paradoxes we may encounter:

  • It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
  • We are imperfect creatures, yet we are already perfect.
  • It is in giving that we receive.
  • We must take responsibility for our life, yet ultimately God/Universe is in control.
  • We are each individuals, yet we can not be separated from the Whole.
  • To lead people, walk behind them.

My nine-year-old self didn't mind that she didn't understand the chocolate paradox fully. She knew she was onto something important. When my current self meets up with paradox, I try to do the same. And the more I do, the more fun it becomes. Intellect doesn't like paradox much, but when I let intellectual impossibility rest in a deeper bowl, joy bubbles up.



See also Manifesting 101

At Ease With Myself

Bookschair

Today's Joyful Intention:
Today I'll be at ease with myself. My goodness is not in question.


This morning I was reflecting on a frustrating conversation I had with a friend yesterday. I let the conversation drift into an area that might be a bit of a minefield, and when I needed to back out of the conversation, I did it abruptly, which made my friend feel uncomfortable. I wished I'd handled it better.

Being at ease with myself admits that I make mistakes. Maybe there was a better way to handle the conversation but it wasn't in me yesterday. I'd be better to simply leave it behind. Let it go. Today's another day.


I do a Sunny Day Reading for myself each day. Each includes a Joyful Intention.
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