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.

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.

 

Commitment – The Other C Word

going-all-the-wayYears ago I read an article in one of my Buddhist magazines that was about the freedom of commitment. At the time it seemed like a radical idea to me, you know, that freedom and commitment should co-exist. Commitment after all has this connotation of strangling one’s freedom, especially when it comes to romantic relationships.

The gist of the article was that once you have committed to something, you no longer spend energy on the wavering. Your mind is clear, and you can live a better, more enjoyable life.

Yes, yes, yes…to all of the cynics out there who still give reason the blue ribbon and instinct the dreaded, thanks-for-participating-but-you-suck ribbon, we know, anything can happen, nothing is forever, and change is inevitable.

I challenge those freaks of social programming to ride the rapids of change as well as those of us who trust our gut.

This year has taught this little family a lot about commitment. As my kiddo weighs his many options to ‘commit’ to a school and a team, the rest of the family holds their breath as well, because for years he has been the center of our world. Where he goes will change the course of the flow of our lives too. With that commitment comes the peace of mind that our wee little reptilian brains crave; order and predictability.

 

So, that’s one kind of commitment.

The other kind is the get-down-on-one-knee-and-let’s-become-one.  On top of  life changes to my role as mother, I’m also at that mid-life-make-it-or-break-it-stage. I’ve lived the ‘freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose’ my entire life. I’ve been alone. As in alone-in-the-world. I’ve always wanted a sidekick, a partner who is committed to crazy old me, and who is my best friend and lover.

Last night, sitting quietly by the glow of the Christmas tree, I had a chat with my man-pal, and I talked about taking him ring shopping tonight. At which he balked. Not a good feeling, but honest, and I can appreciate that.  So, with my own little tropical-cocktail-all-aglow-buzz, I sat quietly for a while and let my thoughts whisper to my heart, which then translated for my head.

Just like my son committing to a team and a school, one person committing to another is something only they can decide. There will be no ring shopping tonight. There likely never will be for me. I’m not really the type of woman who does that anyway. The best people come into our lives and want to stay because they love us. A man will commit or not, and in the mean time, I will live my best life possible. Every type of healthy, lasting relationship takes commitment and that is something that can’t be manufactured.

If the people and relationships that you want in your life are not committing to you; your employer, your lover or your friends, commit to yourself. Commit to making choices that will ensure you have the freedom to spread your wings in order to find the things that make your heart happy, and are easy to commit to.

The Economics of Time; How We Spend Our Days

coffeeinnature

How did it get so late so soon?          It’s night before it’s afternoon.              December is here before it’s June.       My goodness how the time has flewn! How did it get so late so soon?                ~Dr. Seuss~           

…and we do spend them…

More valuable, and even more volatile than the markets, my awareness of the preciousness of time becomes more acute as I age.

Today I woke feeling less than rested. Actually I felt like I’d been not only hit by a truck, but dragged along a wet, dark gravel road for twenty miles. My body actually ached from relaxing. Relaxing! 

The past month has focussed a spotlight on how I’m actually spending my days, and how much energy goes into caring for and worrying about the comfort of other people. It’s a fine balance when you are a nurturer who needs nurturing.

So this morning, perched in my Adirondack chair on the patio feeling like my body weighed ten thousand pounds, I  made a decision to spend the day creating; writing, learning how to play my new sparkle-purple ukulele and then tending to the few things I must do; an appointment and  groceries for dinner.

Staring up at the sunshine gently streaming through the September evergreens, I gave myself permission to spend the day wisely. The energy I expend today will bring me  joy  in abundance.

How we choose to spend our days is how we choose to give our energy to the universe. In such a fast-paced world, with so many temptations, it’s easy to skim the surface of life keeping busy without time to satiate the gentle yearnings of our spiritual selves; waking up quietly in the fresh air with a cup of steaming coffee, keeping the slow quiet company of loved ones so we can share our thoughts and feelings  without agenda, letting the poetry in our hearts find its way onto the page, and taking pleasure in the mundane tasks like cooking that maintain our homes as safe havens of love and support.

Today I will spend my time wisely, like the precious gift that it is. My wish for you is that you get to do the same.

 

A Place You Belong, A Sense of Purpose & Someone Who Loves You

storytotellYesterday I started reading The Rainbow Comes and Goes. Perhaps drawn by fame and perhaps drawn by the mother-son relationship, I lugged it in to my pedicure appointment and settled in for a bit of escape.

I have to admit, my first literary choice was Change Up, but I’d forgotten that on my way out the door. So, having had  a crap weekend, struggling with grief, belonging, and contemplating my very independent (aka alone) status in the world, I shelled out for a book that had piqued my interest, but likely never would have read had I not been so distracted. Ah yes, we must be thankful for serendipity and the overwhelming feeling that we need to disappear.

It’s interesting to me that the stories people tell themselves; the ones that shape their identity and perspective often go untold. It’s often the ugly-step-sister emotions, like not being good enough, that drive us to be better. They drive us toward what is right and good, because let’s face it, wrong and bad are only fun for so long.

Reading about Anderson Cooper and his famous mommy G.V. reminded me again that we’re all the same inside. Regardless of whether you’re just an average cog in the machine, or someone strapped with a moniker tied to family and wealth, I believe that we all seek the same things; a sense of belonging, purpose, and connection to someone who deeply loves us.

When those things are missing, getting out of bed in the morning can be a bit like taking the first step on the road to hell. Being tired is one thing. Being tired of it all is another. But we do it. We get up when we feel out of place and alone, and we carry on. We all must do it every once in a while, but lately, as in the past few years, it feels a bit relentless.

So, if you’re feeling out of sorts  (like me), you need to have some quiet time to see what’s out of balance, and what, if anything, you can do about it.

Reading a short essay about meditation and practice, I came across an idea that helped me during my last retreat. When we meditate we begin to ask ourselves basic questions. We may seek answers from books or teachers or friends. The reality is that no one has the answers, and just as importantly, no one can tell you which questions you need to ask yourself. But it always comes down to ‘why’.

During a walking meditation along the Ottawa river I came to my ‘why’. I was more than a bit surprised at what I came up with. Which of course led to a more important why, and I’m still working on that one.

As you work toward your ‘why’, may you have peace in your heart. Wishing you and I both a place where we belong, something to do that makes us proud, and someone who loves us deeply.

 

 

Cloud-Watching; Dreaming Back to Life

clouds

We are all music makers and the dreamers of dreams.

A brown painted fence. A gnarled and sprawling crabapple tree. The sky. Blue like the lake that was just a short walk away; always changing, wide open, endless and without possibility. This was the sky that was the object of my meditation as a child. It was second only to the endless landscape of water which met the horizon, always leaving me feeling full of hope, like the world had so much to offer.

In my grandparents side yard, facing a brown-painted fence, with my bum resting on the criss-crossed vinyl weave of lawnchair mesh, my bare feet dangling, not able to touch the ground, I would let my head fall back so I could take in the changing shape of the clouds.

Often my granny would be sitting next to me in deep daydream mode.Through squinted eyese, I could see airplanes  break up the serenity  of the sky, or the confusion of clouds twist and reform over and over again. Old before my time from witnessing so much of the of the broken world of adults, I remember often saying, “Granny, I wish I were on that airplane going somewhere far away.”  And just as often,  she would reach out her hand to mine and matter-of-factly reply, ” Me too. But you know, you always have to come back. No matter where you go, you always come back“.

I was never one hundred percent sure what she meant by that, but it made me just a little bit uncomfortable. I liked to think that one day I could just pack and up leave without coming back for anything, ever.As an adult, I know that she’s right. The things that we want to escape from and the things that keep us up at night, travel with us wherever we go; loss, love, fear and joy. They are silent, uninvited, travel companions.

This morning I had a rare opportunity to wake without an alarm. But I did wake with alarm. A difficult dream, but not horrific enough to drop in the bucket of nightmares. Dreaming now is left to rare moments when I forget my obligations, or when I wake slowly, aware that I’m dreaming, but not yet fully awake.

Quite often when our minds wander, daydreaming, lucid dreaming, or dreaming during our sleep cycles, they either bring great escape and offer wish fulfilment, or they take us back to unresolved elements of our life that dare rap on the door of consciousness for some attention. Such was the case this morning.

We are all still the child who daydreamed at the way the wispiness of the clouds changed shape from seashell to fire breathing dragon. We  all carry universal fears and dreams in our tender hearts.

I have learned that my granny was right though. No matter what I do; degrees attained, professional accolades, adventures sought and conquered, we all have to come back. We come back to our own selves, time and time again; vulnerable, fearful, curious, and always looking for the tiniest spark of hope.

 

 

Nice Luggage, Let Me Burn It For You

burning luggagePart of my spring ( and sometimes fall ) ritual is heading off to a silent, spiritual retreat. Lead by monastics, it’s an opportunity to sit with my own thoughts, emotions and reflection.

For most participants it’s a bit gruelling, myself included. It’s not the silence that we struggle with, it’s the constant clanging of our own thoughts echoing relentlessly in our own minds.

Silent, solitary reflection leaves no room to escape one’s own bullshit, as it were. There are many silent tears, some not so silent weeping, but much joy in having a sangha to practice with.

Trying to be a better person isn’t a one-shot deal. It’s a daily effort, and a life-long journey. I’m better than I used to be, but boy oh boy, do I ever eff it all up sometimes too.

And I’m not alone in the eff-ing it all up. We all do it. Because we’re all human, and we’re all afraid of something.

Today I wanted to go get a puppy, eat Captain Crunch cereal for breakfast, and go out to stomp in the mud without combing my hair. In other words darling, I wanted to be a kid; A carefree, do what I pleased individual, immune from consequences. I wanted to escape.

Escape from what? I lead a rather charmed life, I’ve cultivated an image of  independent-do-as-I-pleaseness, and lots of women are a bit jealous of it. But it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. It’s a hard thing to change, this hard-won, Teflon veneer, (and just as hard on my sweetie), and quite frankly darlings, I’m way overdue for a change.

Alas, this morning I did not do any of those things that would have been escape-like. Instead, I made breakfast, threw a load of laundry in, and stared at my tired eyes in the bathroom mirror before sighing a big sigh and convincing myself to let it go and get on with my day.

In my previous post, Spring Road Tripping, I wrote about the rare sound of the laughter of friends. It seems that as adults, we’ve all over-packed and prepared an arsenal of protective gear  for our futures, based on past wounds. Whether you’re thinking the key to lifelong happiness is building a wall to keep everyone out,  blaming someone else for your own mistakes, or simply burying your head in the sand, rest assured, you’re only buying into your own bullshit. So don’t bring along a wardrobe for it.

Bullshit in a  frock is still bullshit. No one deserves to be judged based on someone else’s behaviour, no matter how you tart it up. Last night I did it, and my sweetie did it, and from the sounds of it, we’re not alone.

Time to let that shit go lovelies. For me, you, and everyone.

Can you enter into each interaction with a sense of generosity?”  That was the quote of the day, and immediately I thought, “Can I enter into each interaction and let all of my fears, baggage and hurt, go?” I figure if we can let that go, there’s really no other intent than generosity. If we can let that go, there’s really no expectation.

It’s the same for a lot of people. Can we enter into each interaction without casting a shadow from the past on something unspoiled, true and good? Can we?

Fear seems to be the beast, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve been letting it get the best of me lately, when really, I should be rejoicing.

Life is good. Love is good. I think that’s all I should carry with me on the next stage of this strange and mysterious journey. That, and a little bit of emergency chocolate. Pass me a match and that bag over there, will you?

OM & A Sharp Tongue

pointy endFor someone who goes on and on about kindness and spirituality, I can be a bit of a bitch. Just a tiny bit. Sometimes…

A ‘bitch’ in the best sense of the word darlings, of course. Only in the most fabulous way. Or not.

It all depends on perspective.

The long and the short of it is that I let frustration get the best of me a few days ago, and well, as the story goes, someone caught hell from the pointy end of my sharp tongue.

Besides feeling a touch of regret for not just turning tail and heading home with my mouth shut and my temper tamed in the simmering pot of my mind, I felt a bit silly for not knowing my own limits.

Being treacherously independent means pushing the envelope of one’s limits, and that my juicy little plums, is my speciality. Too much obligation and nary a shenanigan makes a lady crazy.

There’s nothing better than waking up without the wail of an alarm clock, stretching out in the decadent bliss of a soft, warm bed, and deciding, without obligation to father-time, what to make of the day.

I don’t do enough of that, and that’s precisely what energizes little- old-bourbon-drinking me. This is the attitude that has carried me rather blissfully through many a day when life was scary and lonely, and exciting all at the same time.

So, here’s to being able to keep my mouth shut,my mind open, and my wildness untamed.

Communal Solitude; Listening to Your Mind

steaming-cup-of-teaI woke up this morning in pain from a massage yesterday. No, he wasn’t an amateur and yes, I’m that tense.

Life is a grand adventure, and I gear up for it every day. I whole-heartedly do my work, enter into my relationships as a parent, friend, professional and lover with gusto. I live to live, and I think everything is pretty damn funny.

Except when it comes to keeping my own ship afloat, and it’s been hard crewing a single craft for so long. Stress over time is kind of like dirt. Eventually it gets pretty ground in, and it starts to wear things out.

I’m a solitary soul when it comes to sorting out my own thoughts and emotions. I’ve decided that I need more quiet time than the average super-model. I need to to watch where my mind wanders, and to understand who I am and how I show up in the world every day.

Meditation throughout the years has developed into an instinctual practice. Early mornings are my quiet time to observe my mind, express gratitude, and sort myself out. I haven’t had much of that quiet time lately, so it is with great relief that I prepare to head out on my annual silent retreat. It’s time for a shift in habit and the way that I do things to make room in my life for other wonderful things that perhaps I’ve denied myself too long.

Silence can be a powerful motivator, an advisor, and a bit daunting. But I’ve learned to love what it offers; the tears, the deep joy, and the comfort of being surrounded by people who find value in the same communal solitude.