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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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.

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.

 

Snow Days & Simple Things

My blogs are generally my writing warm-up. Some writers paint, pray, meditate or cook. I write.

This morning as I pulled open the blinds to let  the blue light of morning into our little home, I was grateful to be inside where it was warm. My writing coach, Willy Nelson, blinked as he stretched awake from the warm folds of his new, fleece blanket, and Dinger, our in-house mad-man sat up from his lolling on the living room rug.

As I dug through the laundry pile to find my favourite slippers, I decided that today, I would share with you some very simple things that bring me great joy. Let me clarify; this will not be a deep, meaningful post. It will truly be about little things, such as Willie Nelson leaving the comfort of his snuggly blanket to keep me company at my desk.

My hope is that my writing warm-up, will warm up your spirit on this dreary, icy, cold and wet winter day. My wish for you is that  you are able to rest in the gratitude of simple things.

10 Simple Things I’m Thankful For Today

  1. My Snoozies skinny slippers (also the skinniest thing about me). Seriously, best, most cozy couture for your tootsies.

snoozie

2. Vanilla flavoured President’s Choice Coffee. De-freaking-licious, especially on a morning when the snow and ice make going to Starbucks seem about as sensible as taking a trip to Mars for a margarita.

frenh-vanilla-coffee

3. My internet connection. Seriously! I can stay in touch with friends, research and feel connected all from the solitude of home without having to if I choose not to. Email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram…

4. Well designed, super-sized coffee and tea mugs. Not the ones with wide brims, that any science amateur knows will cool down before you get to the last drop. By well designed, I mean they actually keep your coffee or tea  hot while you swill down a bucket sized portion.

giant-mug

5. A great story. Too often people gravitate toward the obvious and logical as we age. Stories stir our creativity and open our minds.  I will indulge in one today; The Witches of New York by Ami Mckay.

witches-of-new-york

6. Beautiful lotion to make my skin feel less like a cold-blooded reptile during the dry, winter months. I’ve fallen in love with Lush’s Charity Pot.

charity-pot

7. A view of nature. Laugh if you must, but it’s rare in the city. Even though I have a small space, the green space that is right outside my window is soul-soothing.

lake-aquitaine

8. Little knick-knacks that remind me of special people and places.

snail

9.  Silence. Yes. Silence is so necessary. I promised this wouldn’t be a deep, meaningful post, so I’ll leave it at that.

silence

10. Bookshelves filled with writing from great authors like M. Scott Peck, Maya Angelou, Pema Chodron, Caroline Myss, Charles Bukowski, Leonard Cohen, Atul Gawande, Margaret Atwood, Haruki Murakami, Rupi Kaur, Diana Gabaldon, Simon Sinek, Carl Jung, Thomas Moore…and being able to dream about having a library at home one day.

library-home

Sensuality; The Elixer of Life

stephanie-sarley

This is an image by Stephanie Sarley; Fruit for Feminism.

At this age, we’ve all had lovers. To be considered  a lover, one must be sensual, and as such, must be able to arouse and sate the sensuality in their beloved. Lovers are rare.

This post is about not letting your self-worth and sensuality get lost.  Don’t. Also, don’t confuse sensuality with sexuality. They are two different things, although they have a strong bond.

Enjoying and cultivating our own sensuality is something that I truly believe enhances our overall health; physical, mental, emotional and social.

Waking up alone this morning  I indulged in just-a-few-more-minutes. I spent some time thinking about neuroplasticity, and what I’ve been thinking lately.  I have spent a lot of time wondering whether I’m good enough or not; a good enough mother, a good enough partner, a good enough friend, a good enough professional…

But I always managed to make time to indulge in my own senses. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a long, slow meal at a table with friends with wine and succulent flavours? What about the smell of vanilla candles burning and a bubble bath accompanied by the dulcet tones of your favourite crooner? How about your true love reading Pablo Neruda poems to you while stretched out with your morning coffee? Perhaps it’s just the simple pleasure of being fireside with a good book, wrapped in a blanket with your fur baby curled up beside you.

I am by nature a sensual being. I believe we all are. Even Baptists. I’m not talking sexual here folks, although sensuality sure the hell does raise the bar when it comes to physical intimacy. I enjoy tastes, scents, sounds and tactile pleasure that the world has to offer. By nature I’m a kinesthetic learner.  I’m ‘touchy feely’. In relationship my need for physical contact is great.

I enjoy my wine, my bourbon, and my body. I find comfort in a soft blanket and a cool pillow. I love hugs. Not creepy-old-man-copping-a-feel-hugs, but hugs from my friends, colleagues and my kiddo. I love the strong taste of a good blue cheese, and the sweetness of a candy apple. Yesterday I stepped out the front door of my workplace just after the rain and for a few seconds was overcome by the delicious scent of the earth after an autumn rain.

This morning, I remembered how much I enjoy so many things. How I’ve let lazy lovers fool me into believing something is wrong with me; I’m too fat, I’m too needy, I’m too smart, I’m too fiery, I’m too nice, I’m too harsh, I’m too sexual. I’m not too anything, and neither are you my dear one. Today I vowed to turn my back on these judgments and re-awaken my sensuality; long, slow baths, indulgent fantasies, lingering over wine-rich meals with my friends, music, lingerie and most importantly, allowing myself to want.

 

 

Idle Chatter: The Mundane that Saves Us

coffeetalkI haven’t been myself lately. Burned out and under the weather as it were, I’ve taken to keeping my own company and dreading anything other than sleep or a hot bath. I know I’m not alone when I say that sometimes I feel like I’m at my limit.

 

I’ve been making more of an effort to reach out to my friends. Most of these phone calls and texts look like a casual ‘how are you’, but they are way more than that. I learned long ago that winding conversations often create a safe place to explore what’s going on emotionally . It allows your mind to wrap its limited matter around the vast open parallel universe where our emotions dwell. I have often said that we are nothing, if not the stories we share.

I have long held the belief that you can argue logic, but not emotion; hence the great wars and repeated debates about God-talk and creationism. At some point it comes down to faith, and faith is not logical, faith is emotional. Love is not logical – love is emotional.  Day-to-day functioning is logical. Passion is not logical – passion is emotional, and in my opinion, passion gets things done.

Now don’t get your pants wet. Logic is no greater a reality than emotion. None at all. The goober of it all is that our culture, our world, and everything we base our economy, ethics and livelihoods on assumes that logic has a higher value. It may be so.

It also may be so that our emotions, our subconscious and our intuition are more powerful, more accurate and way more authentic to our spiritual selves than logic. And that, for me at least, holds a hell of a lot of value.

That’s where idle chatter comes in. I’ve been reaching out for conversation, contact and exchange with my friends lately for many reasons; mostly just to try and stay calm and not live in my own head for so long. That shit can make you crazy.

Slow conversation that meanders through a garden of subjects often is the best conversation. It connects us with others, and it reacquaints us with our own thoughts, values and priorities.

If you have friends who can carry a conversation about life, art, faith, politics and relationships, count yourself very lucky. These are the people who buoy us up when it feels like we’re drowning in the tumultuous sea of every-day demands.

Allow space and time for symposiumesque conversations, I believe this helps heal all of us.

 

 

 

2016 Predictions: It’s Your Choice Baby

liveonceToday someone paid me a backhanded compliment. Their ex accused them of being just like me.

To which I say, ‘That’s right douchedrop, she’s just like me. Happy.’

I’ve been accused of being too passionate, too cold, too serious, too silly and just too much of many things.  I am who I am in the moment. I feel deeply and think creatively and give big, warm, squishy hugs. It’s a wonderfully liberating way to be.

A lot of people can’t handle authenticity in the face of their own, long-ago-lost moral compass.

I know heartache greater than losing your true love. I’ve known regret, self-doubt, crippling fear and loss. I’ve known the depths of depression and despair.

Perhaps this is why I readily see beauty in simple things. Perhaps it’s why my definition of crisis is much more intense than the average bear. Perhaps it’s why tonight, with family and friends gathered at my humble table I felt a deep, profound, contentment.

This year I hope you have the courage to be who you really are. For some, you will be ‘too much’.

I hope that you are finally brave enough to take time to sit with your demons in silence, hear them out, let them have their say, and then graciously hold the door while they leave.

Be brave enough to use your heart for great love. Cherish your friends, fall head-over-heels in love, and don’t let the shadow of hurts-past darken the gift of getting to do it all over again.

Choose to be happy. Choose to be quiet. Choose to be alone. Choose to be whatever the hell it is that you need to be. But know it is a choice darlings. You, and only you, can choose.

Don’t whine and be a martyr for your lover, your family or your colleagues. Don’t waste your breath explaining away your shitty choices, or your crazy ones, or the ones that will make you smile a kazillion years from now when all you have left are memories of your misadventures.

My wish for everyone whose life I touch this year, is that I help them be at ease with themselves, in this wild and wonderful world.

 

 

 

 

Fear: Friend or Foe?

fearful-dog-hidingFear is a fickle, fickle bitch lady.  Like that annoying, inappropriate extrovert at the party,fear pushes us into dark, uncomfortable corners, and often brings out  equivalently dark emotions.

Let’s not mince words: Fear is an asshole of the grandest kind.

But you know what Buddhists say about our challenges right? They say they are our opportunity to practice and to become better people: more patient, kind, understanding, and dare I be gauche and say, zen?

Fear comes and goes in my life, kinda like that extra twenty pounds that sneaks up every now and again. During times of bounty and joy, fear can’t be found anywhere. It’s curled up napping in a corner of the basement next to the grungy, old patio lanterns and cobweb blessed bowling shoes.

During these times, we often forget that fear, loneliness, uncertainty, anger, and all of those other not-so-pretty emotions take up equal residence in our psyches.

Not until we stumble, suffer a loss, or come nose to nose with the not-so-nice stuff about ourselves that fear wakes up, takes a leisurely stretch, yawns, and wanders through the parlour of our minds with pubes poking through its ripped and soiled gotchies. Ah yes, FEAR; the ugly, unkempt brother to confidence.

A few years ago I was completely frozen by fear. Self-doubt strung such a heavy curtain across my life that I felt like I was literally paralyzed. I didn’t like a lot of things about my life, and as it turned out, sitting alone, frozen in fear, I didn’t like quite a number of  things about myself.

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being vulnerable, and yet allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the only way to receive true love. Not the roses and horse-drawn-carriage-ride kind of love. No, the kind of love that sees the light at the end of the tunnel for you and drags you to it when you are temporarily blinded and paralyzed…usually by fear.

So, as a fiery woman of strong-female-fiery-Irish descent, my natural reaction to fear is anger. I’m a fighter not a fligher. I’m not sure that’s a good thing, but it’s a thing, and it’s my thing, and I’ve grown to accept and own it. Le sigh….

As a quasi-buddhist-agnostic-lapsed-protestant-catholic-ritual-lover, I know that fear is a grand teacher. I know that breathing, being in the moment, and my practice as a Buddhist have taught me that all things, even that fickle bitch lady, Fear can be kind in the end.

Fear has taught me most of the qualities that make me a good person, but they’ve been hard lessons, and they’ve been painful, dark, depressing and scary as hell.

One day I had a frank conversation with my dear cousin, the Magnificent Mr. M. He encouraged me to really think of what exactly I was afraid of.  As it turns out, my deepest fear was essentially (jobless, homeless, loveless) being vulnerable, dependent on the kindness of others

But then I realized, that being able to be kind and loving to others is what makes me the happiest. Face it, I’m just too lazy to be a miserable twat. What that means is, if being able to be kind is a gift to me, allowing others to care for me also satisfies a deep human need for connection and giving. Giving and receiving love and support is an alchemy of spirit that we should never deny.

Huh??? That’s the double-edged sword of life though isn’t it? It’s so cliche, but it’s so true; Great love requires great risk…

…and what else is there but love my darlings? Really, what else is there?

When Nothing Matters, It Matters Most

Toast 1Despite having a career which could easily see me lost day and night in the good and meaningful work I am blessed to be able to do, the energy I have to do that work comes from making time for rejuvenation, shenanigans, and spending time being nurtured by the people who love me.

Stirring honey into my tea today, I overheard a woman exclaim that she was feeling overwhelmed, and complaining that going away for a holiday just made it harder to come back and get up every day to get back to work.

I slipped my wooden stir-stick into the trash and stole a quick peak at her from under my luscious locks. She was a bit younger than me, and clearly, unbalanced.

That’s not a cynical observation.

She looked to be carrying the weight of the world even though she was sipping a gourmet beverage in an upscale coffee shop with a friend willing to listen. “Why is life so difficult“, her high shoulders seemed to be whimpering. I know shoulder language, because more often than not, my own shoulders are tensed right up to my ear lobes, and the margins in my life are tighter than cycling shorts on a man smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis.

You read that right. Men in cycling shorts should never happen. Ever.

Anyway…

Balance; the-shoulds-of-a capitalistic-society verses the shoulds of, Deep-down-I-am-a-free-thinking-spiritual-lush. Recently I’ve been up to a little ‘make herself happy’  balance plan.

laughingwomenFood, wine and friendship, the great triumvirate of happiness. Combine those three, and I’m a happy woman.

Before I allowed my joy to be stolen by a grand conspiracy of single-parenthood, economic necessity, and surrender, I was the queen of food, wine and friendship, the duchess of do-it-all-and-then-some, the grand-dame-of-damn-that-woman-can-dance. Oh yah, I lived in and for the moment.

That was long ago and far away, but not an impossible attitude to resurrect.

Trying to be a responsible-adult-woman, the final strike was entering into a relationship with a man who ruined all three for me; food, wine AND friendship.  I carried on in the relationship because that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing when in fact, I was supposed to be doing whatever the hell I felt like.

Life as I knew it and dreamed it was over when that relationships ended. It was both heartbreaking (there would be no big, happy family or new babies) and emancipating. Turns out, I’m not sure I was ever convinced, other than the apparent security, that a traditional relationship was best for me after so many years of doing everything on my own.

More than a man who needed to lead, it turns out I need a man who values laughter, discovering new food, wine and ways of making sure moments matter even if it’s just sitting in companionable silence. I thought I had  someone like that making a place in my life this summer, but I was mistaken. Must have been the wine.

On my way home from the office I stopped on a whim and picked up a couple of bottles of wine to hold me over until the vintage release this weekend. I found a much coveted Italian varietal, and another which conjures a warm, no.  Wait. Not warm. It conjures memories of an electrically charged, white-hot  and carefree love-affair, aptly birthed in Sonoma, California and named Folies a Deux.

I will take my charming new find to be uncorked at a French restaurant tomorrow evening to share over a meal and wonderful conversation.

Being excited to try new wine, try new recipes, make time for friends, writing, and maybe a little tryst in a land far-far-away means I’ve got the groove back I thought I had lost.

"We all begin as stringers..."  ~ANDSHELAUGHS~

“We all begin as strangers…”
~ANDSHELAUGHS~

What on earth was I thinking? When you’ve got it, you can never lose it.

Get out there and be fabulous darlings. There is exquisite wine held hostage in bottles just waiting to be emancipated. There is savoury food waiting to dance on your palate, and friendships that need rekindling.

I also have a suspicion that there are delectable men who are worthy of wooing us, just waiting for our school-girl hearts to bow to the sage wisdom of serendipity.

 

 

 

 

Thresholds

The truth can be seen from many doorways.

The truth can be seen from many doorways.

During recent months, I have come to some sort of peace, having I suppose, learned a lesson or two during my prolonged and regular attendance at the famed, School of Hard Knocks.

Go figure. Who knew that it would eventually pay off?

I’m kind of famous for being chatty, friendly, and a little folksy from my country-upbringing. I like to think of it as my own personal brand of charm. What most people fail to observe behind my bubbliness is that I do a lot of observing. Ironic, but true.

Some of the ‘isms’ I spout have been appropriate as of late. It’s almost as if there is a theme running in my life, and I’ve yet to learn the full lesson.

Recurring themes seem to be;

1) Just because I’m kind, does not mean I’m stupid.

2) You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

3) The truth can be seen from many doorways.

Quite often we meet one another at a threshold; our interactions are a constant balancing act of give and take, talk and listen, lover and beloved.

Thresholds happen to be the place where  most conflict is likely to happen. Thresholds are also the most likely place of transformation and personal growth.

Think about it, the last time you had a tiff with a loved one, you were likely at a doorway, or trying your hardest to get there.Thresholds offer the promise of escape and of safety. They can also be scary and crossing over one means you’re stepping into that frightening abyss of the unknown.

thinkingEach day we bring our selves to the world, and meet everyone we interact with at their threshold.

Think about that one for a while. Let it marinate in your lovely heart.

I’ve come to the conclusion that our personalities can be bright lights promising a welcome, comfortable place to interact as human beings, whether it’s the conversation you have at the grocery store checkout, or  part of a meeting with professionals.

We can also offer a threshold that is ever dark, foreboding, and menacing to approach. Of course there’s always the middle way as well, sometimes light and sometimes dark.

In work and in life I have often been criticized because I like to see the potential in everything, but after living with myself for so long, I’ve decided I’m ok with that.

I’m nobody’s fool, and I’d much rather swing wide the door of my compassion to the world, than barricade it with iron.

Decorate your thresholds accordingly my lovelies, you never know who may be seeking shelter.

P.S. Bringing a bottle of wine doesn’t hurt when you’re knocking…