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.

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.

Work: The Soul-Sucking Reality of Adulthood

giphyDo you remember what it was like to take the first baby steps in your career? How great it felt to take a step toward what you’d worked so hard for in school, and on the bottom rungs of the grunt-work-we-suffered-through-it-so-you-must-suffer-through-it-load-of-sadistic-bullshit-ladder?

Oh sure, for a while in your twenties and thirties you feel like you’re going somewhere, and then after forty – BOOM- it’s like hot-tub-fucking-time-machine.

You’re back in high school.

Nobody likes to wake up to an alarm, battle traffic and then be told what to do all day. That’s why they call it work, and that’s why you get paid to do it. Keeping yourself busy throughout the day is a good thing. Keeping yourself busy all day surrounded by egomaniacs is not.

And that’s what’s wrong with the world.

It’s not a competition folks. It’s life. It’s short, and it’s precious and it’s way better if you’re kind to one another.  Take these words of wisdom that I shared with my son during dinner tonight, and heed them well;

Ask for help if you need it. People are always happy to help, unless they’re douchebags.

…and really, life is too short for egotistical douchebags…

For instance, this morning I received a text from a friend who was down because they had been really mistreated at work. Beginning a new contract, they were not given the courtesy of being told in advance that there would be a later starting date, or that their title had changed.

The only realistic conclusion with regard to this matter is that the boss is an egotistical turd.

We all need to make a living. It doesn’t matter what you do, or who you are, your single goal ought to be kindness.  The true measure of a human being is always how they treat others, how they contribute positively to the environment that they are in. I’m a firm believer in using everyone’s strengths and weaknesses to the advantage of the day, and the purpose of our work.

There is no psychic room in our lives for petty maneuvers that inflate  ego, especially in the work place.

giphy1If you are in an environment of Douchedom at work  where kindness does not reign as Queen, may I suggest a few things?

  1. 1. Find solace in little things that you can focus on without anyone thinking you’re some kind of spiritual numpty.  For instance, a quirky little saying pinned to your board, a small photo of your next dream vacation, a stone from your favourite walking trail.
  2. Meditate on your beverage. Yes. It’s perfectly acceptable to have some sort of sipper at your station or desk, so put it in a container that brings you joy. Not a flask ( as much as a good snort of gin might feel mid-day). A pretty tea cup or a bright bottle. Whatever. Just remind yourself that you are taking care of you, and that a-hole-ego-maniac-ass-hat-of-a-co-worker can just sip on their own negative swamp water, because you are not having any of that poison.
  3. Before you lose your cool, quietly ask yourself, ” Who do you think you’re talking to”?  Take a deep breath, look directly into their eyes, smile, say “I see”, very calmly, and carry on doing exactly what you were before you were interrupted, attempted to be made a fool of, or lorded over. Carry. On.
  4. Use your commute to de-stess. Don’t call your bestie to bitch. Don’t text. Don’t drive in silence. Crank some feel-good music, roll the windows down, and envision all of the bad shit being blown away. Begin the transition to that hot soak in the tub, the novel you have beside the bed, or the long walk you’re going to take. Do not let bad mojo at work steal any more of your energy.
  5. Change before you leave the office. Change your whole outfit, change your shoes…whatever, just change something to symbolically get out of your ‘uniform’.
  6. Freshen up. That’s right. Twice a day go to the loo and fluff your hair, wipe your boob sweat, re-apply lipstick, pull up your socks, put cold water on your face….be creative, but come out refreshed.
  7. Look for a new job. I’m being serious. Even if you don’t really want to leave what you’re doing, it helps to know that there’s always other stuff out there. It was a piece of advice given to me by my mumster and it works. Knowing there’s gainful employment away from a bad environment helps strengthen your resolve to make it work, whether it’s from the desk you’re sitting at, or at  a new one.
  8. Accept that sometimes, no matter how great the calling, we do not find our joy in the workplace.  For instance, I find my joy in writing, reading, attending my kiddo’s sporting events, camping and even running. These are  great joys…small joy at work is a beautiful calendar, a dainty tea-cup, a smooth writing pen, having self control and coming up with witty comebacks in my own mind…If work is your joy, you do not have time to participate in pettiness. You only have time to become better at your craft. Keep your head down, your mouth shut and go for the gusto.
  9. Be nice. Have a candy dish at your desk, ask about somebody’s pet, kids or spouse. Be human and available. Don’t be the raincloud that dulls down the office. At the very least, on bad days, keep to yourself and enjoy your tea.
  10. Laugh. At yourself, at the douchebag who thinks they’re a big-shot, at everything. Just fucking laugh, because that my darling ones, is what life is all about.

Inspiration: As Far As You Can Carry It

Artists know that inspiration comes in waves; sometimes in the gentle, steady rhythm of a lake waking up to the sunrise, and other times overwhelming, crashing into you like the Pacific coast tide.

The thing about inspiration is it’s only as good as how far you can carry it. After all, we can only balance so much. The mundane tasks of everydayness often take up both hands.

In her book, Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talked about inspiration as a living thing, that moved on if it wasn’t nurtured in our care.  What she had to say as a professional writer resonated with me, and made me feel a bit better. Careless with inspiration, but at least not the only one.

As a full-time working, single mom, my second novel kind of bit the dust. But I’m nothing if not resourcesful, and optimistic too. Instead of trying to twist it into some kind of tome, I’m going to use what I have and craft a short story. I’m also hoping that by doing this, the inspiration my be wooed back, and stick around for the long haul required of a novel. I know if that does happen, that the success or failure of the project will depend on me; on my dedication, devotion and prioritizing.

Either way it will be fine. The inspiration will be freed; to move on, or to take up residence in the pages of my creation.

Inspiration comes my darling friends, but how long it stays with us depends entirely upon how long we are able to carry it.

One in a while we have to reassess what’s weighing us down in favour of what lifts us up.

Knowledge is Power – Why Our Children Need to Learn about Their Bodies

kidsKnowledge is power.  When someone tries to deny another knowledge, they are denying them power: Power to make informed decisions, power to question, power to think independently, and power to live a full life.

If you’re not promoting knowledge, you’re promoting ignorance, and boy oh boy, isn’t that easy to take advantage of?

This morning I was reading a thread in a social media post where someone I presume to be a Christian conservative went on a rant about the evils of teaching sexual education to our children.

We live in a world where childhood sexual abuse is a reality. I know what it’s like, and it haunts you for years. Had we had the language and body awareness to speak about it, perhaps it would have stopped. Not only that, perhaps it would have stopped for the next generation as well.

If you are uncomfortable hearing a child talk about their body, perhaps it’s you who has the problem.

We live in a world where (primarily, but not exclusively) girls are raped on a regular basis.

You’re concerned about the words ‘anal intercourse’ being used in public schools? Well, I hate to put a kink in the rays of sunlight your almighty is shining down on you, but these girls are raped up the bum and taught that anal sex is not sex. You know why? It keeps their ‘virginity’ in tact so they can remain virtuous for their husbands. Yah.  Not to mention the health concerns that result from unprotected and non-consensual sex.

And Child-brides, it’s a real thing.

child brideLearning about our bodies gives children the opportunity to protect themselves, and the language to do that.

So don’t start trying to tell the world how damaging learning about the human body and sexuality is. We are humans who thirst, hunger, lust and need rest. Understanding these parts of our humanity only serve to make us better. Like a healthy diet and knowing how to balance our cravings at the dinner table, learning about sexuality helps us learn how to rejoice in our bodies instead of being ashamed.

If you’re reading this and shaking your head, thinking I’m a bra burning feminist who serves the devil, rest assured, I love my bras. They protect my voluptuous and glorious breasts. And seriously, how can you know the divine if you’ve never experienced darkness?

If you get angry hearing that our children are learning how to protect a part of life that can be beautiful and is often violently taken from them, just sit with this question for a while; what are you so afraid of?

 

Saturday Morning Coffee; Child Killers & The People Who Have to Be Nice To Them

saturday morning coffeeLast night I had my sweetheart, his son, and my son together around the table to enjoy a meal together for Easter. With young adult children and their crazy schedules, family time is precious, and to have both families blend together during these holidays is a true joy.

Simple things like having dinner together every day, and making sure you say, “I love you”, before you head out the door are mandatory at my house. Maybe a little too obsessively-compulsively so.

You see, my career is death and dying. The fragile nature of life is not lost on me, and maybe I have some PTSD going on. Ok, I do have some of that going on,  but I think that’s normal under the circumstances.

Easter dinner with the kids was extra meaningful for me in ways that I’m sure people who don’t work around loss and trauma will never know. Nor should they.

This morning I sat down to my little window, with my coffee and kitty mentor, Mr. Willy Nelson. I cruised over to www.thestar.ca and read the article about Ontario’s Chief Pathologist, Dr. Micheal Pollanen.

Basically, the crux of the article was that Dr. Pollanen has been guilty of confirmation bias;

Among them was confirmation bias — reaching a conclusion and working backward to find evidence to support it, and professional credibility bias — being unwilling to change an opinion once stated.

 

Fine. I get it, and god forbid I was on the receiving end of a case where a professional reasoned that I was guilty and then tried to prove it. Basically, you’d be screwed.

But the point of my little blog here isn’t to crucify Dr. Pollanen. I worked with him. I didn’t really like him – let me be clear, that’s my personal opinion. He seemed to be book-smart-brilliant, and socially awkward. But most of the doctors down there fit that description.

At the Office of the Chief Coroner, one finds that ego-with-a-capital-E runs rampant, and the term Doctor warrants a god-like-untouchable-status to anyone who doesn’t have the same credentials. Humility has no place there. There are few exceptions.

The reality however is that those coroners are human too, and I would argue, because of their perceived status as stronger, more intelligent and wiser-than-the-average-bear, they are at higher risk for PTSD, burn-out and the other psychological monsters-that-go-bump-in-the-night. Sure, they have  access to support, but there is no system in place to monitor it. There is no formal support in place to insure that the mental health of  professionals subjected to the most brutal trauma imaginable is cared for.

During my training, a past Chief Coroner ended his lecture to my graduating class by telling us that if we ever felt that we needed counselling or help coping with trauma, that we should suck it up because that was our job. This was hands-down the worst advice I’ve received in my career.

I too have seen the trauma of a child’s lifeless body marked by abuse, accidental injuries or what appears to be a cold-blooded homicide. I’ve looked into the teary eyes of grieving siblings who are too young to have know what grief feels like.  I’ve done it many times, it’s part of my job.  Unless you’ve physically had to take part in the autopsy or preparation of the body, you do not have any idea what it’s like to be a professional in death care, so stop judging and proselytizing.

You don’t know the deeper level of concern that we bear when our child or spouse takes the car, or is running late. Working with trauma brings you face to face with the fickle nature of mortality every. single. moment. of. every. day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not excusing Dr. Pollanen, I’m simply empathizing with him. You might want to try it sometime.

Ask yourself this; In a courtroom full of adults unwilling to admit that they either abused or neglected a child to the point of death, I wonder what the average reader of the morning paper would do? Part of me likes to think that they would rage and deliver a little eye-for-an-eye justice, the other part of me is a passive Buddhist.

So, as I sit here this morning, sipping my flavoured coffee, looking out at children in the courtyard giggling and scurrying during the annual Easter Egg hunt, I ask you to think of Dr. Pollanen as a human being who has dedicated his life to making our society a safer place.

 

 

 

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.