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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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Abounding Grace & The ‘F’ Word

angrywomanFor months, maybe even years I wrote about how I had observed the incredible life-affirming beauty of grace in action.

I wrote about people overcoming heart-shattering loss, adversity, and hardship with incredible grace; without fists to the sky, without making the lives of those around them miserable, without despair.

I wanted to be able to handle shit that way. I think we all do. What I have discovered is that we don’t necessarily want the practice that it takes to be graceful. In other words, it takes hardship to to learn how to navigate the rough rapids of change with some savvy and style; Without using the ‘F’ word, without letting the shit show shadow all of the other other elements of our lives that we have to be thankful for.

As I have been chronicling in my mid-life-move blog, Andsheshines, (Be sure to subscribe!!!)

I believe I’ve finally leveled up when it comes to coping. You can read about some of my experiences in the great adventure of preparing to empty-nest,  moving in with a man for the first time in two decades, and everything else that goes bump-in-the-night while those stages of life march onward. Time waits for no woman, and I’m going to ride my time like the wild woman that I am.

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Making Space: The Genius of Silence

coffee lakePractice makes perfect.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relied upon this little nugget of wisdom as a parent when my kiddo whines about not being able to do something. My response has always been; “How do you think I got so good at it? Practice makes perfect; get to it.

Yesterday I was anxious. The kind of anxious that feels like you have a thousand bees buzzing in  your head telling you all of the things you need to do, have to worry about, and can’t control. I was miserable; inside and outside.

Fortunately for me, I had a few hours of quiet time at the end of the day .Quiet for me is heaven. Quiet in the morning gives me time to meditate, and to take in just how fortunate I am.  It’s never a process whereby I sit cross-legged on a cushion wearing a mala made in Bali or a tunic made of hemp. No. It’s simply sitting with my thoughts.

Last night, in the quiet of solitude, I was able to spend some time reading the words of Thich Nhat Hanh.   It reminded me that my practice is not perfect. Far from it in fact. Just because I studied at the temple, attended dharma classes and go to silent retreats does not mean that my meditation muscle is exempt from a good workout on a regular basis.

As adults, we forget that our health as a whole is something that we need to practice on a regular basis.

It’s time for me to make space for some of the books and advice that I’ve gotten in the past. It’s time to make an effort again putting theory into practice.

It’s time for the genius of silence, and for my practice of peace to become a little bit more perfect.

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The Buddha at Our Feet: The Wisdom of Annie

buddhist toesBecause life is short, and our intuition is bang on.

That’s why we need women in our lives like Annie.

Annie is my new pedicure professional. She’s voluptuous, has a full-rolling-belly laugh, and swears like a sailor. She also believes in spirits and the unexplainable.

I had stumbled into her shop after having a wonderful massage from another great lady, Erin, my massage therapist. She had just finished up our hour long appointment by rubbing sweet orange essential oil in my scalp on on my face. I looked the full part of a wild woman, and I smelled like heaven.

“Oh my god, it looks fantastic! I thought you had mousse in it.” Was Annie’s response when I tried to explain away my crazy she-wolf hair.

Annie could barely take her eyes off her phone when I walked in, no doubt skeptical about having to deal with another ho-hum woman who wanted her nails shaped just so-and-not-like-that-but-like-this. But both being straightforward and open women, it didn’t take long for us to connect.

Crouched at my feet was a wise-goddess disguised as a blue-collar-service worker.

Sometimes we stumble upon people in our lives that reinforce our own wild nature. Annie is one of those people.

At first, I thought, “Sweet Jesus, save me from the blabber-mouthed fool.” But she kept talking, and I realized that although some of what she said was shocking, it was all true. True to her, true in the world, and deeper than talking about the weather, or how our children were doing so well in school. Annie gets it.

She gets feeling nervous about firsts, body image, the plate full of worries that every woman sits down to every morning. She knows what it’s like to look down and think; I’d rather go hungry than digest this shit, and she carries on. We are kindred spirits.

It is so easy to slip into the Stepford-trap of conformity, of body-hating, of tame language, or wanting what the Jones’ have. It’s so easy to not be satisfied, to crave more, to fall into the trap of feeling not-good-enough.

Women like Annie are few and far between. I have been blessed to have her in my life; a Buddha at my feet.

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Letting Fear Scream Like the Child It Is

It’s April 7th and there is snow on the ground. I feel (physically) like I’ve been hit by a truck , and you know what? I’m so miserable I want to crawl out of my own skin.

zen circle.jpgWhich is really crappy. But sometimes crappy is ok. Sometimes we must embrace the tired, sore, discouraged and frustrated parts of our psyche and let them have their say.

Today I’m not in a shit mood, that’s why I’m writing about it. I’ve gained a little more perspective and had a little more sleep.

You see,  I was also in a shit mood on the 9th. Despite the sun shining in as I drove to work,  some poor sod got the finger when he rode my bumper, and not just a flip of the bird. I must have held it up there  and waved it around for a full 10 seconds like a hillbilly waving the confederate flag. I wanted to make sure he saw it. Yah, not a proud moment.
It’s in these moments, I want to not only be aware of, but practice, Thich Nhat Hahn’s famous teaching about cradling our suffering like a newborn baby. I want to be aware of that, but what I usually do is spiritually squirm like a spoiled toddler, wanting to stamp my feet, whine until someone gives me ice cream and then tucks me in for a nap.  But I am getting better at it.

Spiritual practice is long and sometimes it feels grueling. In a culture that praises speed, cultivating grace is a long, slow, lifetime process.

Recently I’ve had the benefit of more solitude and silence than usual. Unlike during years past, I’ve had questions of clarity pop into my mind about my attitudes, reactions and fears. Better still, I’ve had the opportunity to let the reasons why come to the surface.

angry trollWaving a white flag and needing a hug, all of these reasons have come crawling out of the past. Finally. Since the distillation of my emotions and thoughts, fear seems to be their leader.

When you’re angry, jealous, sad or hurt, ask yourself why? And then ask yourself why again. And again, and again….trust me, it always, always boils down to fear.

So give yourself the bad days, the pissy, miserable moods, and yah, every once in a while you might slip up and lay on your horn for thirty seconds or flip an intentional bird. Just look a little deeper if you can when the clouds have passed. You might catch a glimpse of your fear poking out of hiding, ready to make friends.

 

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Teenage Head vs. Buddha

be here nowMy sweetie and I are not of the same vintage. We often find ourselves WTF’ing about our friends’ antics, and our choices of entertainment .Yet we persevere, giggle, and learn A LOT.

It was this past weekend at a Teenage Head concert that most of my Buddhist training came back to me. Present moment? Pul-eaze, these folks were hanging on to the past harder than me hanging on to my only child’s innocence.

The present moment was nowhere to be found. Hanging on to beer bottles like the social-teddy-bear-comfort-of-underage-drinkers, fifty and sixty-somethings duded themselves up in outfits that should never, ever, be seen in public. Ever.

Were they having fun, or out there hoping to have the same kind of fun that they organically experienced in their youth? It’s a spiderweb issue, never really to be dissected.

I’ve had the good fortune of being exposed to trauma and crisis. Yes, I did say good fortune. I say that because I’ve witnessed true grace under presssure. Whatever the age or stage, it takes grace to transition to another phase with success and with some modicum of fabulousness.

Which brings me to the crux of what I’ve been thinking about lately; how to remain happy in the present moment, and continue to be spontaneous even as fear disguises itself as good sense and responsibility.

It’s tough. “We get cautious“, my gal-pal said to me during a conversation about how we’re feeling ‘old’.  Just yesterday I was stretched out in a worn blue gown that ties at the back on the pale green sheets of a gurney, being told about parts of my internal organs that were not healthy.

edith-piaf-non-je-ne-regrette-rien-columbia-8I regret nothing; The crazy nights out, my falling in and out of love,  career changes, my devotion to my kiddo, and especially my larger-than-life-sometimes-too-much-for-you personality.

What I do regret though is the caution that has gotten comfy and is taking up space in my psyche.

So, I hope to find joy in new places, experiences and acquaintances, that maybe, just maybe will scare me a little bit.

I beg of you. Let the 80’s hair, leather and old artists go. rade it in for the some half-shaved version  of the now, more sassy leather, and support new artisits. Find something new and fresh. Live in the present moment. Allow your body and your soul to mellow and change. Rejoice in your softening.Read new authors, go see new plays, listen to live music written and performed by kids who could be your own, paint your living room red, learn to code….

Whatever you do, do it with all of your heart, and laugh. Laugh a lot.

 

 

 

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What the Women’s March on Washington Means to a White Chick

goddess
” A house divided against itself cannot stand.” ~Abraham Lincoln~

I’m as white as they come. I’m a woman. I will never be and have never been anything other than I am. I will never know what it’s like to be Black, Arab, Muslim, Jewish, financially affluent or well-connected, and the folks who identify as all of those things and many more will never know what it’s like to identify as me.

Farah Stockman’s article on the front page of the New York Times brings up a lot of really great questions about race, class, privilege and other social issues. I suggest you read it.

The Women’s March on Washington is an opportunity to come together as a community to protest the ass-hat who was elected (and yes, by a number of ‘white women’) as the next President of the United States. I believe that everyone who voted for Ms. Clinton should be in the streets to protest the twisted fuck up that is known as the Electoral College. I believe in the power of numbers and the power of kindness.

To the groups who have made the March a divisive issue, thank you for falling into the eons old trap of dividing women to diminish our power. It happens in families, in the workplace, and now, under the spotlight of a grand social scale.

For once in our history of gender, let us come together without any other motive than to access the full potential of our political clout; the marginalized power of the sacred feminine.

What spiritual, political and ethical living come down to for me is; how would you treat me if I needed your help on the street?  I like to think that we would all, when we’re eye to eye, regardless of race, creed, class, gender or anything else, reach out and help. If you don’t feel the same way because I am white ( thanks for assuming), perhaps your place is not at an inclusive March?

You’re preaching to the converted. We’re there because we support equality, and we’re not afraid to learn more.

Bring your signs. Show the world what you stand for; is it gender equality, racial equality, equal pay…??? Bring it and come in droves. But don’t hate the next person for being different, appreciate them because they are there, standing side by side with you, supporting you even though they carry a different message. What matters is the message of unity against evil.

I will stand happily with my white friends, my black friends, my Muslim and Buddhist friends; male, female, trans and anyone else who simply wants to make the world a more loving place to live. I don’t care how you identify, as long as it’s from a place of inclusiveness and love.

This is what the Women’s March means to me.