Sunday, March 29, 2020

Unfamiliar Terrain

I took a long walk through the trees in the middle of the night last night. My headlamp lit up the drizzly mist but I could only see three or four steps ahead. A part of me wanted to cast a wider awareness to get a better idea of where I needed to go, but I couldn't. And underfoot, now that the snow has melted, the terrain has become unfamiliar. 

Unfamiliar terrain. Unable to see where the path leads. Sound familiar? 

Maybe my best bet is just to watch where I'm putting my feet, backtrack without blame or shame when I discover I've gone the wrong way, and then move on ahead as best I can.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Pandemic Patience

What do you write about during a pandemic? 

With everyone piling on the internet, there's not much left to say about self-care, routines, being careful on Zoom, getting fresh air, or helping your neighbour. 

I have no specific advice. Except maybe trust your instincts and intuitions. 

If the day feels a bit "wonky" maybe it's not the right time to hit the grocery store. Try another day when it feels smoother. This thing is so big and so different and so scary it can be easy to let logic over-ride intuition. Last Tuesday was the sensible day to go for groceries. But it was mayhem. Yesterday went smoothly and safely. We let logic over-ride intuition when we strive for some kind of grip, or control. 

For me lately, all my daily readings have emphasized loosening my grip and having faith that all is as it should be. It's a hard sell. I'm wired to plan and look for patterns, yet it's only by loosening my grip that I can get access to enough calm to be open to intuition. 

So my intentions over the next while:
  • Keep my routine of walking in the woods and meditating.
  • Double down on my patience practice. I've always been a bit too quick to react. I don't need to add to the drama when everyone is stressed out.
  • Find other resources online that build joy. Symphonies are streaming free. The Archbishop of Canterbury streamed a Mothering service last Sunday. Beautiful. And the Barred Owls are nesting again in Indiana. (This is where I would normally complain about my slow and expensive rural internet, but I'm trying to double down on my patience.)
  • Stay home unless I need to make another supply run. And when I do, trust my instincts and intuitions.
May we be safe,
May we be well,
May we be at peace,
May we be happy.

Thursday, February 27, 2020


I had a great chat with a local Pastor the other day. His church is very different from the one I am familiar with - the hymns, the liturgy, and even the way of faith. Yet he is a terrific person, eager to share his faith with more in the community.

I was mulling over my conversation with him when I came across an old article I bookmarked years ago written by a former priest turned atheist and then agnostic. About his change to agnosticism, Mark Vernon says, "How else to deal with something that lies at the heart of the human condition: uncertainty. Thus, a corresponding 'lust for certainty' characterises many of the debates currently doing the rounds." 

We humans turn to opinion and belief because we want the sense that we have things in control. In our hearts, we know we don't but we are scared, so we look for answers in science, in medicine, in cosmology, and in spirituality.

The author's agnosticism was not the "I don't know and I don't care" agnostic approach to spiritual life. He was still a spiritual person. Faith for him is about letting it be ok not to have all the answers.

I feel the same. I would rather lean into this energy of uncertainty than grasp a belief or opinion that may not feel authentic. Faith for Saint Augustine of Hippo was about "deepening the capacity to enter this cloud of unknowing, rather than opting for the shallow certainties that religion can deliver." Albert Einstein said, "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science." 

Life is uncertain. The more I live my life with that in mind, the more relaxed, patient, and accepting I become. I don't call myself agnostic; my spiritual life includes different things. Yet the author has a point when he suggests that without a worldview that accepts uncertainty, "religion will become more extreme; science will become more triumphalist; and our politics increasingly based on fear."

The article is archived here.

If you read the article, have a look at some of the comments. This was written in 2006; there's nothing as horrible in the the comments as we'd see in 2020. I found it fascinating, though, to see how many used the comment section as a platform for their own opinions - the very thing he was addressing in the article. 

We really do "lust for certainty."

Monday, February 24, 2020

5 Tips for Making Ourselves Happier

These tips that have all worked for me. They aren't hard, and we can usually manage at least one each day.

• Connect each morning with the natural world. This can be done on the way to the car or to the bus or on the way to work. Quiet your mind just a little and let yourself notice that tree in the next yard, or the lake as you drive by it on the way into town. Let yourself feel a sense of wonder that we live in a world that includes such amazing things. This is easily done with delicious food, too. A moment to marvel that we live in a world that includes chocolate, well...

• Surround yourself with happy people. When we surround ourselves with complainers and worriers, we learn how to complain and worry. When we surround ourselves with happy people we learn how to be happy. Watch what they do, how they live and what they say. 

• Do a Metta (Lovingkindness) meditation every day. If you have trouble finding time, do a short version in the shower. Offering a genuine wish for all beings to be happy raises the "happy" factor in your own life. You'll find an example here.

• Practice saying something kind to somebody every day. Keep track that you do this every day. Do it especially with people you don't like. Just be sure it's authentic. It gets easier, and gives amazing results. 

• Say a Gratitude meditation at bedtime every night when you say your prayers. To fall asleep with a positive thought makes for sweet dreams and a happier awakening. You can find one on this page.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Quiet Time

When I was a little kid, I liked to sit under a willow tree in the back yard, the leaves surrounding me like the walls of a green, sunlit cave. I also liked draping blankets over the furniture in a corner of the house to make a quiet hidey-hole. I wasn't a loner, but I always needed to carve out time and space just for me. 

In the green willow world or the quiet hidey-hole world it was just me in the universe. Me in the context of something other than all the stuff of the world. To dream. To reflect. To read. To get perspective. To get a rest from myself. To be myself. 

As a young mother I found it harder to find time for myself but even just a couple of minutes in the shower was important. 

In times of big change, I need it even more. I don't isolate myself, but I spend less time with others, even dropping activities I usually enjoy with others so that I can nourish myself more deeply. 

This quiet time isn't about accomplishing anything, bettering myself, learning something. It is more about 'being' than 'doing'.

In her book, "The Hermit of Eyton Forest," Ellis Peters said it much better than I can. In this story, Cadfael, a monk from mediaeval times, was lingering in church after a service.

"The office had its beauty and its consolation, but the solitude afterwards was also salutary in its silence, after the echoes of the music had all died away, and to be here alone in this evening hour had a special beneficence, whether because of the soft, dove-coloured light or the sense of enlargement that seemed to swell the soul to inhabit and fill the vast arches of the vault, as a single drop of water becomes the ocean into which it falls. There was no better time for profound prayer."

I love that "... a single drop of water becomes the ocean into which it falls." 

When I look around and see how terribly busy people have become and how many more demands are being made on their time, it seems especially important to make time for ourselves. 

To do this, we have to quiet the inner voice that says taking this time is a selfish action. We have to learn to say 'no' to those who want us to do more for them and stand firm when we must do less. We have to give ourselves that bit of space to take a breath and see what the Universe wants of us right now, not the person in the next room. When in our own version of the green willow world, we need to remember this isn't about 'doing,' it's about 'being.' 

John Daido Loori, in 'The Still Point' says, "Every other creature on the face of the earth knows how to be quiet and still. A butterfly on a leaf, a cat in front of a fireplace; even a hummingbird comes to rest sometime. But humans are constantly on the go. We seem to have lost the ability to just be quiet, to simply be present in the stillness that is the foundation of our lives. Yet if we never get in touch with that stillness, we never fully experience our lives."

Friday, December 13, 2019

News or Blues?

I quit watching the news a while back. I got too wound up about issues I couldn't influence and found it was impacting my peace of mind. 

WARNING: Old Person Rant
Before the 24 hour news cycle we could see the news weather and sports at 6 pm and 11 pm. The rest of the day was ours. Today, they play news constantly even in hospital waiting rooms. How stressful! 
(Rant finished)

So I stayed away from it for several months. I spent my attention on other things I found more nourishing, like walking, meditation, listening to talks and music that inspire me and video that is fun, joyful or relaxing. 

It wasn't like a made a Big Decision or anything. I had already started leaving behind media that was not beneficial to me: Facebook and its kind. I hadn't quit Twitter but my first step there was to cultivate an account that nourished me. No more politics. Block certain words or names. Use platforms and apps that let me control what I can see. I kept paring things down until I was left with stuff that was gentle, humorous and kind. I look at photos and art that inspire me, follow museums, science, astronauts, Buddhist teachers, and that sort of thing. It would have been harder to give up the news if I had been a news junkie, but it felt more like an experiment than a plan. 

And it's done me the world of good.

A couple of weeks ago, I dipped back in. Just my big toe. I chose a good quality (as in not full of lies) newspaper every day and watched what happened with my mental state. 

The result: Nope. Not yet. 

Even with good quality news, I found myself being drawn back in. Quickly. Almost immediately. Tempted to look during idle moments through the day. It may not be addictive, but it can be pretty compelling. 

But then, so can a good movie. I watched The Blues Brothers again the other day for the first time in years and years. What a pleasure. I'd forgotten what a joyful movie it was. 

Monday, November 25, 2019

The Chocolate Bar Story

Did I ever tell you the chocolate bar story? It was a pivotal moment in my life.

I was 9 years old, one of 3 kids. We had all we needed as a family, but luxuries were saved for special. Dad had a sweet tooth and sometimes brought home a family sized chocolate bar to share. 5 people. 6 pieces of chocolate in the bar. Someone always got a second piece. 

It never seemed to be me. 

In the past, I'd waited patiently and hoped, I'd asked politely, I begged, I cried because I believed it was my turn, and still came up empty. 

This time, I looked at the chocolate, and realized there was no point in asking for the extra piece since it would just leave me feeling disappointed. It was a warm summer evening, not my turn to wash dishes, so I wandered out into the back yard with my single piece of chocolate melting in my mouth, wondering what I was going to do next.

Dad came out the back door a minute later, and gave me the 6th piece of chocolate.

Even my young 9 year old brain knew this was an Important Life Moment. So I tried to wrap my mind around it while the second piece of chocolate melted in my mouth.

I realized that in order to get what your heart desires, you have to let it go. A tough concept at any age. It meant I had to stop wanting it. But I did want it. It was chocolate. I just actively stopped wanting it, I realized. I stopped spending energy trying to make something happen that wasn't going to happen. 

It was a life changing moment. 

But then, my young brain wondered, "If I use this technique for getting what I want, doesn't this mean I still want it? That the technique itself is another attempt to manipulate the circumstances to get what I want?" 

No, because I really was fine about not getting that extra piece of chocolate. I would have been happy even if it had gone to my brother.

What a great gift to see this so young.