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Travelling Light: Decluttering

travel lightAfter learning that my friend died a week ago, I wondered what I had to remember her by. Keepsakes are precious and the one I have from her is a tiny tile she brought back from Delft in her Dutch homeland.

Along with my grandmother’s nurses cap, my son’s framed art, and my one photo album, that tile is among  the things that will likely stay with me forever.

You read that correctly by the way. I only have one photo album.

Trust me. After twenty some years working in the funeral business you really can’t take it with you, and those who try to, make it really damn hard on their family.

The burden of leaving a huge pile of stuff for your loved ones to sort through after your death equals a crap load of emotional guilt when they realize that they too, can’t possibly save your precious memories.

Like I said, I have one photo album. When I moved into my current home, I realized just how much I had stashed away during the eight year stay we had at our previous home. I didn’t want to burden my child with having to sift through over 30 albums of meaningless photos should anything happen to me (and it will).  Photos were paired down to one album for myself, and five for the kid.

I kept at least one photo of each of my favourite people. When I open that album, which is rarely, my memories come flooding back. I remember how far I’ve come, who I loved and who loved me back. I don’t need a multi-volume album collection to remember the most meaningful moments in my life.

What I cherish from the days at that old apartment are the memories. The feeling that I get, no matter how foggy the details, thinking of the time  I spent parenting my favourite person in the world.  Nothing can bring those times back.

I’m ready to go. As far as my stuff goes anyway.  What I mean is, there’s not a hell of a lot I’m attached to. Almost everything of sentimental value fits inside a small trunk that I use for a coffee table.  The rest I hold in my heart.

Despite priding myself on my eclectic home, which is filled with framed art created by my friends, and special momentos, I really have very little stuff that I’m attached to.

More important than decluttering is the realization that the things that are special to me are connected to memories that are unique to me. Very few things hold meaning for anyone else, so why should I burden anybody  with sorting through meaningless stuff?

Pass down your stories, not your stuff.

Offer your sentimental items to someone who may also have an emotional appreciation for them. Donate anything that someone else would be grateful to have and use.  If you must, photograph the things that break your heart to part with but didn’t make the final cut, and load them in an album to look at when you need to reminisce.

Let your lightness lift you to new places and spaces.

 

 

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Setting Yourself on Cruise Control

If you happen to be an adult woman with a vacant stare and princess-entitlement mentality, this post won’t make sense to you. If you are an adult man who unconsciously stands two inches closer to someone when speaking to try and elevate your power, you’re outta luck. If you think the world owes you something because you’re experiencing some slight hardship, please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop whining, raising your voice and acting like a toddler to get your way. You’re just being an asshole and making life miserable for the people around you. We won’t be treated with disrespect because you have no respect for yourself. 

zen-quotes-when-you-realize-nothing-is-lacking-the-whole-world-belongs-to-you-lao-tzu-wisdom-quotes

I think it finally happened. I think I’ve finally snapped.

And it happened in a way that I could never imagined. It was a gentle uncoiling, a beautiful unravelling, and a metaphorical metamorphosis. It was a gentle cracking and falling away of a chrysalis of habit, and spiritual spreading of my wings.

It was the ultimate in letting go. The not-giving-a-shit without having to cuss. In essence, it was a new levelling-up of realizing my own power. It felt like I had put my own heart-rate and reactions on cruise control, floating above the  mad demands that were crushing me from the outside.

With people asking me every time I turned around if I was, ‘ok’, I could actually answer with a smile and shifu-like chuckle, that yes, indeed, I was just fine. Wonderful actually. Free.

After years of buddhist training from monastics, working in crisis and trauma situations, and general life experience, I still have found myself letting the actions of selfish, spoiled, and general fuck-wits ruin my day. Or at least distract me from all of the beauty of my day.

I’d carry their nastiness with me, and mull it over, my mind would jump back to conversations and situations without me realizing how much energy I was taking away from my very happy self.

This was all until I snapped, and something came over me. It really felt like I had the peddle to the floor, let off it for a bit, hit cruise, and just checked in to a mode of complete zen. It was flipping amazing.

After being sworn at, yelled at, sitting through difficult situations, and working in a high volume, high-demand atmosphere for days, I realized that I really don’t have to deal with it. Seriously. I’m not independently wealthy. I don’t have the resources to walk through my place of work with my middle finger raised or pass by jerks and regale them with a full moon of my fat white ass, but I do have enough self respect to simply and calmly walk away from abusive people. And in Canada, they can’t fire you for that.

So I hereby cling (because I’m human after all) to my cruise control mode of being. Calmly floating above the bullshit of other people’s creation, and enjoying all of the positive things in my life. J

Just try to put it on cruise, and float above it my darling. Life really is that simple.

 

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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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The Zen of Joy & Suffering

first to reachI’m failing miserably  as a Buddhist.

Instead of planning a blow-out for the twelfth anniversary of my 28th birthday, I should just bite the proverbial bullet and book the silent meditation retreat that falls on the big day.

But I’m having so much fun, and fun has been hard to come by the past couple of years.

When you drag your tired butt home on Friday night carrying a brand new bottle of ibuprophen and a pregnancy test to recuperate from your personal life, and your work week ended at 11pm following a ten course meal seated at the VIP table with the likes of Canadian Senators, a gal has to think to herself, “What d’ya know? Life ain’t over yet by a long shot.”

Not only have I indulged in the carnal knowing of a lovely man-pudding, but I have rooted for a pal to get her happy-on, even if it means some tough love in her marriage. I’ve  over-slept, drank more than a moderate amount of  delicious wine, and totally flubbed my fitness routine.

It all sounds a bit indulgent doesn’t it ladies? It all sounds like I’ve tipped the balance in favour of lustful gluttony of all sorts, right?

Not really.

As I sip  my 2010-smooth-as-satin-deliciously-rich-and-reminiscent-of-melted-chocolate-BV-Cabernet, I know that the pendulum always swings back from whence it came.

So I will enjoy the joy that is upon me in this moment. It will not last forever, nor its memory fade. Life is nothing if not a winding road hiding splendor and sadness around corners which we cannot yet see.

Am I really a terrible Buddhist?

No, not really. Just one who enjoys the joy as much as the suffering.

 

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Booty-Call of the Human Spirit

"Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realizationof what you already have." ~Unkown~
“Contentment is not the fulfillment of what you want, but the realization of what you already have.”
~Unkown~

This past Friday, I was prepared, as much as one can be after a 60 hour work week, for a deliciously naughty date.

Decidedly, at this age, the term booty call, (A late night summons to arrange clandestine sexual liaisons on an ad hoc basis), is gauche.

We still have booties as it were, but they are older, more tired booties, and should not be spoken of without the greatest respect.

Regardless of the linguistic box into which you try to neatly categorize whatever you want to call it, I was so looking forward to whatever was going to happen Friday night.

What happened was not what I expected. No, he did not arrive naked with leather ties and stainless steel attached to his tender bits. Nor did he appear tuxedo clad with a bouquet of my favourite daffodils.

He arrived beautifully simple (and late) at my door, and gave me a warm, genuine, hug. You know, the kind you give someone whom you’ve known for years. And we have known each other for years.

I had managed to slip out of my suit and into the bathtub before he arrived (late), having had to circle ’round the city to retrace his steps due to a forgotten briefcase.

I mention the word ‘late’ here, because in the past I would have been seething mad at someone having had the nerve to be late for, well, whatever it is you want to call this.

But with age comes a lot of things other than tired skin and squishy mid-bits. Patience, wisdom, even kindness.

The usual anxious anticipation was gone, and I settled into a deep joy knowing I could spend some time with my not-a-booty-call-guy (even though I have always thought he was totally gorgeous and amazing).

Because of the time mix up, I was not worried about my make-up, my hair, or what to wear.

In the past booty-calls have been scheduled to coincide nicely with a hot bath and my third glass of bubbly in the tubbly. I simply pull the plug, towel off, and answer the door naked. After all, I’m nothing if not practical. Why bother ruining an outfit for someone you wouldn’t tolerate over a three course dinner and a show?

I had settled in with a white wine spritzer, light on the wine (I was on day 20 in a row at work). He settled in with a diet soda, and we stretched out on the couch and got lost in a conversation that was full, rich, and, considering the relationship we’ve had in the past (when we were both in our late 20’s, and full of ego, insecurity and fear), a significant depth.

We met at time when nothing was important and everything was crisis;

 

Before we knew it, our little visit had taken us to a place on the clock that demanded he make the drive home, and I tuck in for another early morning at the office.

I stole a quick kiss, and a hug, and that was it.

Now, anyone who knows me, knows that after a good round of hide-and-go-seek-in-the-sheets, I glow. I smile non-stop, and I generally exude a radiant, freshly frisked aura.

Saturday morning was not really that different. I woke, felt the warm fuzzies inside from having had such a nice evening with someone I’ve known a long time. Someone whom has always held his emotions close to the vest, but felt comfortable enough to share some of those same emotions with me.

Aged emotion steeped in spirituality is a wonderful thing, even better than cellared wine. Time can be a bold thief, and I’m learning that it can also be a benevolent giver.

So, for a booty-call that wasn’t, it was pretty damn good. Love has many faces, and they can be seen from different doorways. Friday night I saw a new face on an old lover, and I liked what I saw. It may be a week, it may be a year, it may be never, when I see him again, but as always, with this man, he will have a special place in my heart.

Ode To a Watch in the Night

by Pablo Neruda

In the night, in your hand

my watch glowed

like a firefly.

I heard

its ticking:

like a dry whisper

it arose

from your invisible hand.

Then your hand

returned to my dark breast

to gather my sleep and its pulse….

 

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The Lazy Buddhist

"You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you're too busy; then you should sit for an hour." ~ Old Zen Saying~
“You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.”
~ Old Zen Saying~

I’m a lazy Buddhist.

Some days I’m more of a lazy Protestant, Hindu, Jew, Taoist, Muslim or Catholic. It just depends on how I’m feeling. I like to go with the spiritual flow, if you know what I mean.

How can I be all of those things? Well, it’s kinda like this;  I really struggle to wear the uniform of any single religion. I’m spiritual, and have found a home in my Buddhist practice. It  brought me to a much deeper understanding of my Protestant roots, and my academic study of religion.

But I’m lazy about it.

Today I put off a full day of meditation because I woke up with the same headache and sniffly nose that I went to bed with last night.

Mind you, I could have taken a seat in the meditation hall full of decongestants with a side of tissues, but it was so very much easier to stay in bed and cuddle with my 1500 count, aubergine-coloured sheets.

Granted the other folks attending today’s retreat are thankful that I didn’t come and clutter up their atmosphere with sniffles, bacteria, and a high level of shifting on my organic buckwheat hull-filled cushion, I could have gone.

Instead, I got up, had a glass of water and went back to bed, where, my body and mind rested for 5 more hours.

As usual, I made my way to my preferred coffee shop, sat back, and read the news. The piece that caught my ever-distracted eye was in the Focus section of the Globe and Mail. Crushed, by Erin Anderssen was a bell back to some thought about my own practice, and how, when I need it the most, I abandon it like a kitten distracted by an ant.

I have been worrying a lot lately. A lot. Worry is something that used to drive me toward my goals and accomplishments. Now it just drives me to bourbon, quick fixes and eventually, back to my breath.

Friendships wax and wane. Everyone has their own problems, and let’s face it, even though you may ask for someone to share their perspective, decisions have to be made with your very own unique concoction of rational thought and intuition. I tend to go heavy on the rational thought, and overboard on the intuition.

In the past, decisions that I’ve made from a place of fear or worry have been quick fixes that offered only temporary satisfaction.

For a week I’ve been stewing over something pretty hard. A simple ten minute session on my cushion mid-week, just before bedtime,  offered some release, and the most solid night of sleep I’ve had in months. I woke up with a new perspective.

So today I missed a great opportunity to share sacred, even holy, space with other people who know the power of practice within the safe space of a sangha. Instead, I chose to rest my own body and mind.

I felt guilty about not going, but then I decided to be at peace with peace. Both at letting myself get some solid rest, and for making a decision that wavered contrary to popular opinion. Just to be sure, I did some math, and realized that both my intuition and rational thought process were right on the money.

This week I had expressed my fears, hopes and thoughts to my friends, soliciting their perspectives and advice. They offered support  when I had come to a conclusion, and confided that with regard to this matter that was on my mind, I had made a poor decision before. I had to agree, and then, after calming my mind, I had to disagree.

This is life. Lived uniquely on our own, despite being surrounded by people; some caring, some sent teachers, and some we will never know.

Am I a lazy Buddhist, or am I just one who, working intensely with human loss each and every day, needed some space?

Breathing room and solitude are often mistaken for sloth. Don’t let anyone else’s ideas fool you.

When in doubt, hit the floor and give yourself ten for  zen. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

 

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When Everyone Else is a Jackass

OK, let me drive...
OK, let me drive… (Photo credit: F H Mira)

“You can discover a lot about your practice while you’re driving.” That’s one of the greatest pieces of advice that I received studying the Dharma at my local temple.

One of my English Dharma teachers, a tall, strapping man, added this wisdom to one of our discussions on the meditation hall floor, and then smiled in his gentle way giving a little chuckle.

Every time I mutter, “You jackass,” under my breath while I’m behind the wheel, I think of what he told me, and am reminded that practice is never-ending. Opportunity exists in every moment. I am reminded that I need to keep being present, aware, and, during those days when practice is outweighed by frustration, out of reach of a firearm.

Jackasses! “I found myself muttering to myself on my way to the office this morning. Ah yes, there it is, my practice failing. I can see the vapours of it twisting and turning and disappearing into thin air with the breath from my angry,less than sublime rush-hour, mumbling.

I have come to realize that the more ‘jackasses’ there are on the road, the more I need to sit and breathe and meditate . Perhaps even take a mini-holiday with a gin and tonic on the rocks.

But I’ve always been a believer in the idea that you can’t really practice if you aren’t really living, and living means interacting with other people on the planet who have their own ideas, agendas and values. That really sucks doesn’t it?

That means that I can’t sit in the peace of my little green space, wrapped in a wispy slip of thin cotton, sipping tea all day and rambling around in my own mind with my own ideas thinking that I’m doing wonderfully well, and nearly achieving sainthood.

Crap, it always looks so darn easy on the pamphlet!!!

So, although my nature is to withdraw when I’m tired, and rest is highly undervalued in our society, I do know that there is a priceless alchemy between friends. It is that magical exchange that can rejuvenate faster than any tonic, ten-day retreat, or gin on the rocks with a juicy wedge of lime.

Today I had the good fortune of sharing the company of a friend I haven’t seen in over a year. Despite a year passing, it feels like I just saw him yesterday. Our friendship holds no obligation.

We discussed personal leadership, professional impotence, service, poetry, writing and being responsible for our own success or failure. It was a breath of intellectual and friendly fresh air that I am deeply grateful for.

Believe it or not, there wasn’t a single jackass on the road during my drive home. Hmm?

When everyone else is a jackass, perhaps it’s because I have my jackass sighting eyes turned on. Perhaps it just takes someone you trust enough to help you choose another view, through different eyes, so you witness the world with gratitude again;the gift of presence, the value of creating, and power of choice.