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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Saying Good-Bye to Christmas: A Beautiful Mess

peaceIn the quiet stillness of the-day-after, I sit alone looking at the lights on the Christmas tree.

The house is finally empty and I have my first few minutes alone.

Putting together the holiday for everyone feels like nothing short of a miracle some years, but this year was different. I was happier and more relaxed. Exhausted still, at this point, I am spent.

The evidence is all around; an errant ribbon on the table, a Shriner’s fruitcake card atop a red velvet jewellers box, gift tags that got left behind, a bottle of wine reflecting the lights on the tree. There is one gift bag left unopened, intended for someone who didn’t make it over in time for the festivities, and a piece of art behind the tree that the kiddo forgot to tuck away.

All of this beautiful mess here and there makes me happy. It is proof that family and friends were here, cozy, happy and fed well. Hopefully everyone felt connected and loved.

It’s over for another year, and perhaps, the beginning of some new traditions for everyone.

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.

 

Well Hello There Anger, You Curious Beast

rozSubtlety has never been one of my shining qualities, nor do I wish it to be. It makes for hearty discussions that can be uncomfortable yet rich. Being with people who can admit that they are afraid of the dark,  yet have the courage to explore it are the best kind of people.

I’m a fiery gal. There are no if’s, and’s or but’s about it. I am not for the faint of heart or the timid.

But I’m also soft-hearted to a fault, and love nothing more than to take people in, feed them, make sure they’re safe, and take care of them.

For many years, like many women, anger was not my friend. It’s ugly, and doesn’t accessorize well. It chewed me up from the inside out, and boy oh boy, did I suffer for ignoring it. Once my practice matured, I was able to let it in, give it room to breathe it’s fire, and finally burn off the dangerous edges.

This post was inspired by my incorrect perception. Some might even say, I was wrong. But let’s not get carried away now my sweet little peaches. Being wrong is such a bitch and entirely not sexy.

The human smorgasbord of emotion is fascinating, with a little of this and a dash of that sprinkled through the entire menu. What I’ve discovered, and I believe to be true, is that the  plethora of negative emotions are all rooted in the muck of fear. To be fearless about exploring those negative emotions, well, that my darlings, is interesting stuff.

I will be the first to admit that relationships scare the hell out of me. Commitment is a word I actually had an issue saying ( it made me stutter).  Yet, I’m a devoted, loyal, stick-with-you-to-the-end friend and colleague. What gives?

Well, after years of learning and practicing, I came to understand just how healthy it is not to deny myself all of the ugly-step-sister emotions; anger, jealousy, shame. They are all rooted in fear, and we, as human beings all experience fear and the offshoots of fear every day.

After a thoughtful discussion with my sweetie last night about anger, communication, and perception, I came back to an article by Jules Shuzen Harris, Sensei; Uprooting the Seeds of Anger, (Tricycle, Summer 2012 p44-47);

We’re going to keep getting angry. It’s going to come up. It has come up in our lives before, and it will come up again. This practice is about becoming more mindful, becoming aware of how we are getting stuck. With care and work, we find ways to get unstuck. But we also know that the moment we get unstuck, we’re going to get stuck again. That’s why it is called a practice – we never arrive. So when you find yourself upset or angry, use the moment as apart of your practice, as an opportunity to notice and uproot the seeds of anger and move into the heart of genuine compassion.

This passage speaks to me of impermanence, the Five Skandhas, and the importance of self-compassion as we practice mindful living/self-awareness.

When I first sought out meditation practice and the wisdom of the monastic teachings at a local monastery, what I really was doing, was running away from fear. I thought that I was doing something wrong, and that being happy all of the time was what being a spiritual being was all about. But, surprise, surprise, the Goddess-of-Everything-Delightful was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ick.

Denying oneself the full-spectrum of emotion is like plastering concealer over a nasty pimple. Eventually it wears off, and it just makes the problem worse.

Our daily practice consists in running away…We are afraid of the suffering that is inside us, afraid of war and conflits…But we do not want this fear to manifest, because it hurts, and so we repress it.  We try to repress our suffering and we invite other energies into our ‘lving room’ to fill it up so that the negative energies will not be able to make their appearance there…We should not adopt this boycott policy. On the contrary we should open our door so that our suffering can come out.  (Thich Nhat Hanh, True Love)

I have committed to my practice, and I feel it slip when fear enters uninvited, tracking mud through my heart. But I won’t pretend it’s not there. I will not kick it out, or wash away the dirty footprints without taking a good look at how it got in, and what I might do lovingly acknowledge it.

 

 

 

Empaths; Diluted Spiritual Practice

pink tulipsWhen I’m sad I buy flowers.

Today I bought a bouquet of pink tulips.

I wasn’t sad for myself, or suffering any great loss. But I have been the strong shoulder on which to lean for a few of my friends lately, and it got me to thinking.

There’s been a lot of talk about ’empaths’ lately. It’s the hip catch-word for empathy, and kind of an annoying one at that. Heaven forbid we feel empathy for one another any more. It’s so fucking depressing and inconvenient after all.

Who needs that?! Aren’t we all supposed to be hap-hap-fucking-happy all of the time? Isn’t it best to dilute our suffering so we can ignore it a little easier and be productive? Maybe a new purse would help? Oooh! And the matching shoes!

Empathy has long been trickling out of our culture like a slow leak in a milk bag. The only thing  that it leaves behind is a disgusting sour mess.

Self-awareness has somehow eclipsed the sacred and ancient practice of being present. Fully present. As in, being as fully aware of your own actions and reactions in relation to the rest of the world.

I was sad today because I woke up to two phone calls from people  who are suffering. I also woke up to a text message from someone rather new in my life. I knew it was thoughtfully composed, and I knew why, and that made me sad too.  The collective ‘we’  complicate things unnecessarily, and all it really does is hurt.

“I’m an empath,” someone recently confided to me at a party. “I see,” I replied. It’s my standard response when someone’s utter oblivion catches me off-guard.

What I really wanted to say was, “We’re all empaths honey”.

We’re all human and we all feel a full spectrum of emotion. Remember that the next time you hold back. Whether you’re trying to play it cool in a romantic relationship, not break boundaries as a friend or colleague, or wondering whether you should defend someone in their absence.

Remember that we all feel deeply, this wild and wonderful bittersweet life.

Empath, schmempath! Enough pop-psychology drivel. Practice being fully present, and I promise, your heart will thank you for it.

 

Pray for Yourself; A Meditation on the Reaction to the Paris Attack

peace with the worldIn the wake of the Paris attack, social media is packed with poo-pooing and  finger-pointing at what we should or should not be indignant about.

Shut up. All of you. Shut up and listen. Rather, talk, then shut up, in order that you may listen.

We need to have the one-sided, anger-fuelled comments to ignite conversation. Every word, post, or hashtag is proof that freedom (of expression) is still alive and well. Be thankful for it. Do you think that we maintain freedom of speech as a priority by staying silent? No.

Share your visceral, emotional reactions, and listen when someone else shares theirs. Pretty soon you figure out that we’re all human, and we all want a healthy life for our loved ones and the world.

Be willing to engage in conversation that stretches your perspective and opens your mind enough to think of alternatives; both you the rose-coloured-glasses-wearing-hippies, and the gun-toting-war-mongers.

Black and white rarely exist when it comes to human ethics. We live in a vast, grey universe, and it can be beautiful if you let go of fear and dive in.

Please, do pray for Paris. It stands as a symbol of vibrancy, art, and creativity. Pray for Lebanon and Syria….the list goes on and on and on.

Mostly pray for yourself; that you take that peace you preach about, out into the world every day. Pray that you have the courage to set an example in the face of adversity and the popular kids. Pray for that, and the rest will fall into place.

Monday Meditation: Mastering the Art Of

romantic_couple_vintage_french_postcard-r792d7aa37d8c48428098e51999afbeb3_vgbaq_8byvr_512I love watching someone who has mastered whatever particular thing it is that they’re doing. It’s reassuring when you must depend on them, and it can be sexy as hell.

It’s like watching  Mark Knopfler sing. It’s like the music and meaning move effortlessly through his voice and the way her connects with the guitar.

When we master who we are, when it doesn’t have to be a conscious thought, it just flows, I believe we touch paradise, Shangri-La if you will. A little bit of nirvana right here on earth;

During a lunch date with an old flame (who still manages to keep my girlie bits warm and excitable), we talked about how easy it is to be together.

We talked as only old lovers can, with ease, candor, humour, and intimacy. It’s the kind of conversation that reminds us that we are sensual beings. A conversation with a  touch of  alchemical magic which inspires a healthy hunger for living.

It doesn’t hurt that man knows how to kiss me in a way that still makes my knees go just weak enough to remind me that I am a desirable woman. God bless him.

As artists, parents, and professionals in our respective fields, we’ve come to a comfortable stage of life. We’ve had time and experience to get to know ourselves. With the same grace and ease that Mr. Knopfler sings, we manage to carry ourselves through our work-a-day lives. At least we do a heck of a better job than we used to. Most of the time anyway.

He’s a perfectionist. I have come to embody his ‘dudeness’, and come to the world every day, giving my best, and feeling that it is, indeed, good enough. As he criticized his inability to be perfect, I boldly pointed out that life doesn’t have to be such hard work.

He countered with, “But you’ve found it. You’re one of the lucky ones who gets to go to work and live a life of purpose every day. You don’t feel like you’re just out there making a buck for someone else.”

He was bang on. But all good men are…

I’m skilled at my work and I love it. It’s part of who I am. No longer do I have to put on a mask or an act. My wants, needs, and purpose are integrated.

I’ve mastered the art of being me, of living, of balancing my sense of self with that of the material world around me. I’ve mastered the Art Of…

We create or keep ourselves from creating our own Shangri-La, happiness, and security in our sense of ever-changing self.

I’m one of the lucky ones, and I have every intention of enjoying every, single,  moment.

Tonight your beauty burns
Into my memory
The wheel of heaven turns
Above us endlessly

This is all the heaven we’ve got
Right here where we are
In our Shangri-La, oh

Sunday Meditation: Every Day Ritual

takecomfortI wake up this morning of my own accord. There is no alarm clock, just time to be me.

But there is ritual in this nothingness, this casual waking and being.

I pad to the kitchen, stumble over my own feet, turn the patio blinds, come back to the enveloping embrace of my still-warm, duvet mountain of a bed and send up a prayer that I’ve come to realize I’ve been saying, in my own way, at my own speed, for many years. It is a prayer of gratitude.

And then my mind turns to wonder…this morning it’s about a lunch date with a an old flame, the pros and cons of moving, how much I’m looking forward to sprucing up my little corner of the world….

Wonder, the butler to her majesty; Curiosity.

Eventually I pour  coffee, a lot of coffee,  into one of my  oversized mugs that was gifted from friends, open the window over my writing desk, and sit down at the keyboard. My feline mentor scrambles onto the desk,past the plant that I barely manage to keep alive, and paws at the lace curtain until I lift it up, and place it over his head like a wedding veil. We both look out to the painting mother nature has created over night and breathe in the cool, fresh, morning air. .

This is my ritual. Every writer has one, and this is mine.

This morning, as I clock-watch and know that my time in front of the keyboard at my little window is short, I am grateful for my simple ritual. It grounds me just enough for inspiration to take root.

It grounds me just enough to turn anxiety into excitement, fear into courage, and sadness into a fading memory.

Sunday Morning Meditation: Book Love is Nothing Unless You Give it Away

booklove

The Little Engine that Could, Frog and Toad, Anne of Green Gables….

Sunday morning. Yah, I’m not a morning person. Not at all.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown to appreciate the quiet of morning. It allows me to sip my coffee at my little writing desk or on the patio when the weather is warm, take in the sunshine, and contemplate what is.

Sunday I try to read the paper, do some writing, and if I’m really lucky, I can quiet my mind enough to read a book. If I’m not working.

When I’m on a roll, I devour books like Fred Flintstone devours Whateverosaurus ribs.

I love sharing that passion for reading with little ones, especially those who are so tiny that they sound out each word letter by letter.

When they finally make sense of an entire word or an entire sentence, their faces light up like they’ve unlocked the secret door to a new kingdom. And they have.

I remember the joy in reading Shel Silverstein’s, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and the bittersweetness of life captured so poignantly in the The Giving Tree, in such a simple way that even a small child could relate to. I rediscovered Silverstein’s work as an adult in such giggly classics as My Uncle Oswald. If you need a laugh, you need this book.

“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

~Shel Silverstein~

My favourite books as a child were; The Little Engine that Could (which as turned into a mantra of mine), Frog and Toad, and Anne of Green Gables. What were yours?

Years ago, I struggled to read. I was not the first kid in the room to raise their hand at circle time to give it a go. No, I suffered from shyness, and was sent for remedial help. Today I have a bachelor’s degree in English literature. We all come to reading, knowledge, and the wonder of the world around us in our own time.

Wishing you the joy of reading, and the magic of sharing that joy with a young person. Happy Sunday…

PS; For the adults out there, some favourite books that I would suggest are:

Anatomy of the Spirit by Caroline Myss, The Dark Night of the Soul by Gerald G. May, Bring Me the Rhinoseros by John Tarrant, and The Heart of the World by Ian Baker, Mordecai Richler’s Barney’s Version, Moon over Marekesh by Nazneen Sheikh and A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (because we all need to be reminded that there is magic in life).

Wishing you the joy of reading, and of sharing that with some of the younger people in your life.

Wednesday Meditation: Misery Loves Company But Doesn’t Deserve It

steaming-cup-of-teaA lesson I’ve learned this week is that misery loves company. Misery loves company like I love wine, intellectual conversation and a man who knows how to laugh.

If you are unhappy or stressed, or wondering why in the heck life has to be so darn difficult, I implore you to look deep down into your wee little capitalistic heart. That’s it darling, dig down, way down, and call up your common sense.

If you can take a step back for a moment and look at things objectively, you’ll be surprised. Just being in the moment helps. Realizing that our little worlds are not the centre of the known universe also helps keeps things in perspective whether it’s work, friendship, family or a relationship.

Just keep it simple.

Stay away from people who thrive on creating and sustaining their own misery. This is something no one can help them change but themselves. Misery loves company, but until it can lighten up and laugh, it doesn’t really deserve it.