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. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Dreams and Reality

Life is but a dream.

When we were kids, we had a song that we used to sing in rounds:

    Row, row, row, your boat, 
    Gently down the stream. 
    Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, 
    Life is but a dream.

In some eastern traditions, it is taught that what we perceive during our lives is like a big dream, that the dream of life and regular nightly dreams are not all that different. The main difference between the two states is that our waking state is more deeply linked to attachment. It seems more real, therefore we cling to it more.

Movies like "Inception" and "The Matrix" deal with dreams and reality, and how we create and perceive the constructs of dreams. These ancient themes about realities as constructs appeal to me because they touch upon some deep inner feeling that we are more than the dreaming self, more than the awake self. When I see or hear stories or movies like this, there's something about them that feels true to me. It feels right to accept the idea that both these selves, the dreaming self and the waking self are somehow constructs. Just like the architect in "Inception" creates the dream landscapes for the dreamers in the movie, we are the architects of our lives.

I wonder if that is why these stories appeal to so many of us.

I know that many dreams seem to just be ways for us to process the day's activities and thoughts, but others are meaningful; some of the events and characters I meet in my dreams are just as real as the Janet sitting here and typing this. They may be organized around different themes, like perhaps a procession of Janets experiencing the importance of a trait like honesty, rather than one single Janet exploring a lifetime chronologically with certain people and events being the focus. The dreaming self isn't tied to time and space, or even to a single Janet. It has great flexibility.

Yet so does the waking self. Within the overall framework of chronological time, of place and of people, we have a lot of range for movement and exploration. Things may not be as instantaneous, but we can build trends by deliberately placing our interest on the things we want to include.

I find this all fascinating. Which is real? Or are any of them? Is each deeper level of dream taking us farther away from reality or closer to reality? Or is it just another perception? I don't have any answers, but the questions themselves seem to lead into new areas of creativity and growth.

Perhaps that is what the architect of our lives is looking for.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Changing IDs

For years, I had recurring dreams about losing my purse or wallet. Years. Each dream was a bit different, but the theme was the same. A frantic search, often with the help of others to find it.

I thought it was about security or money.

But no. After ages, a lightbulb went off. It's not about the money, it's the ID! 

These dreams always came up at the same time as the Creator Energy was coming up in my cards (equivalent to King of Wands if you read tarot). This is all about moving into a new identity, a new role, a new approach to things, sometimes even a new address.

That's not so scary.

The next time I had the dream, I remembered while dreaming that I didn't need to be frantic. I reassured all my helpers that they didn't need to search, it's just about the ID and all is ok. The worry vanished and the dream ended. No worry, instead I welcomed the information. I knew my life was changing and figured my subconscious was helping me work it through. Yay.

Last week, I couldn't find my wallet. My sister helped me search. She said, "That's not like you." I know. My daughter said, "That's not like you." I know. 

But oddly, I wasn't too concerned. I didn't notice the loss until I was almost on the train home. I realized it could be in my car (a 1.75 hour train and bus trip away from where I stood at Union Station). If not in the car, it could be on my desk at home (another 30 minutes). So I decided not to plan 10 steps ahead and get myself all riled up. I played endless solitaire on the phone on the transit rides and when nerves started to rise, I breathed, reminded myself I was doing all I could and went back to the game.

My wallet was not in my car. Nor was it on the desk at home. So I spent the next few hours putting in a Lost and Found request with GO Transit and talking to banks and whatnot. Oddly, I still wasn't too concerned, even before the credit card people told me no one had tried to use my card.

It wasn't until the next morning, when I was lined up at the Drivers Licence office waiting for a replacement, that the light dawned again. This was all about losing my ID. Yes, I had cash in the wallet, but it was the ID I cared about. Just like my dreams.

Yes. My life is changing, I'm moving into a new role. 

I guess losing my wallet in real time is just the hard-copy-version of the dreams. 

That's not so scary.

A happy ending: GO Transit 'Lost and Found' called me 4 days later. A kind bus driver found the wallet, (my neighbour got a chance to thank him for me) and my sister picked it up at Union Station. It was intact, including the cash. Too late to stop the changes in ID I had to make, but then they were being made already.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


I hate it when others complain, and I hate it worse when I do. I have struggled to understand and find peace with complaint for as long as I can remember. I've probably written about it here before; it's something that's triggered me since I was a kid. But I came across a way of looking at it that is helping. 

The word "should."

For years, anytime I hear the word "should" cross my mind, I try to stop myself and reassess. It's a tricky word. "Should" indicates there's an inner conflict. It's usually between what my gut says is right for me today and what my mind has already decided is the best thing. This isn't a battle between analysis and intuition. It's farther-reaching than that. My gut is my body's intuitive voice, it's a direct connection to this living moment. This makes it a more trustworthy tool than a mind that has been filled with conditioning, expectations, desires, assumptions, beliefs, emotional habits etc.

So, complaint. 

Complaint is saying to the world (or whoever will listen) that things "should" be different, and then getting stuck in an ongoing cycle of "should." 

I create this ideal in my mind that Life needs to live up to. Each of us has a different view of how it's supposed to be based on our individual conditioning, karma and experience. But regardless of the ideal, Life is what it is. Right here. Right now. Life includes stuff I don't like and stuff I do, stuff that brings pain, sorrow, uncertainty and stuff that brings joy, laughter, peace. I may have a right to gripe; life really is awfully hard at times and it's nice to get understanding and support from others. 

But the real issue isn't the aches, or disappointment or sorrow that keep coming along in spite of my efforts. It's the fact that I am getting stuck in "should." I keep on believing that life isn't supposed to be this way. But, yes it is. It is the way it is, right here in this moment. This is how it should be, because it can't be anything else. 

So I have a plan.

Treat complaint with the same awareness I bring to "should." The next time I hear myself (even just in my head) complaining or wishing things were different, I'll try to mentally stop myself with the word "should" as a reminder. If I can, I may take a calming breath and remind myself, "This is a conflict between how life really is, and how I want it to be." 

The next time a simple conversation with others moves into a gripe-fest, I'll try to remember that whoever is complaining is stuck in "should." Just as stuck as I get. By remembering this, it may not be as triggering. Then, since I have recognized that the conversation is stuck, and I'd rather not be stuck in the conversation's "should," or "complaint" myself, I'll see if I can find a graceful way to exit. 

It'll take practice but I already feel a bit lighter around the issue.