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.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Mind Body Link

When I was trying to quit smoking, I found how strong the mind-body link can be. Quitting was the hardest thing I'd ever done, so I decided if the cravings were too strong to bear, I could let up on myself and try again another day. The mental image was of me going to the convenience store and getting a pack of smokes and being okay with trying again another time.

It worked a bit too well. Almost every time I used that visualization, sure enough, off I'd go to town. 

So I thought if the mind-body link is that strong, maybe I can use it to my advantage. I took my time. I wanted a happy, positive interaction for myself in the same convenience store: I visualized myself entering the store, noticing the rows of cigarette packs, and feeling relief at the thought, "Boy am I happy I am finished with those."

It helped a lot. I suspect it'd work in other areas too. I wonder if it works with latchkey incontinence?

Simple Human Pleasure

This morning, I awakened to the warm-cedar-scented air flowing in my bedroom window and the song of a cardinal as it started its day. Scent, sound and the touch of breeze. Simple human pleasure.

Some of us belittle or deny ourselves this joy. We see our humanity as lesser than our spirituality - flawed, tainted, untrustworthy. Yet, our humanity is not a bit less than our spirituality. It is our spirit made flesh. We can no more separate the two than we can separate water from wet.

So why do we deny ourselves? We have lots of good reasons. Protection from disappointment, a religious background where stress is placed on denial of the body, a personal belief that we do not deserve pleasure, a cultural work ethic where we can only earn pleasure through sacrifice and suffering. Some of us deny ourselves and others pleasure as a way to control life, and others just don't believe that they have time to stop and smell the roses.

I had a friend who told me she never used to stop long enough - she'd be drinking coffee while folding laundry and thinking ahead to the 17 other tasks she had to finish before bed. But she changed. She discovered that taking that short minute to enjoy her coffee refreshed her spirit enough to make the other tasks go more smoothly, often more quickly. She learned how important sensory pleasure can be - she told me there is nothing she liked better than stepping out of the steamy bathroom after her morning shower into the rich smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen.

The iridescent colours of a bird in the sunlight, a sweet cinnamon scent from the kitchen, the shocking delicious taste of a cold beer on a scorching hot day, the melody of church bells carried across the fields. These are all pleasures of the senses, pleasures of our very humanity. And they all give our spirit a lift.

In the movie "Chocolat," one of the main characters takes denial of pleasure to an extreme, until one day, it all catches up to him and he gorges himself in a chocolate feeding frenzy. The priest, in his homily near the end of the movie spoke of the Lord's humanity rather than His divinity. He said, "... we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include."

Our body is not a shell that encases our spirit, it is the living breathing presence of our spirit. And our spirit delights in delight.

Taking a moment to enjoy the sound of traffic on the street or the warmth of clothes fresh from the dryer are important moments in my day. This pleasure in the physical doesn't take me away from the grace and beauty of spirit. It helps me bring body and spirit together.