Monday, February 22, 2021

Surrender


If I am to surrender to a higher power: my problems, efforts, self, I have to actually let them go.

I forget where I first heard this analogy, but it has stuck with me. In the analogy a young boy has a broken toy and hands it over to his Dad to fix. But he doesn't want to let it go. 

Like us. 

We may want to micro-manage the repair. We may want to keep hold of it while the higher power works with it. In both cases we are not letting it go. We are not surrendering it.

To really surrender it, we have to be willing to never see our desire for it fulfilled. We have to let it go and trust our higher power to fix or to not fix, to keep or to return. It doesn't belong to us. It belongs to the world. And we have to be perfectly ok with life if it never gets fixed.

I have a thing going on that might be resolved by the time this story goes out to you. Or it might not. I ordered an internet system that is new to our area, and by all accounts a good idea. So I ordered it. One part arrived exactly as scheduled, but the main component is no-where to be found. In the past I would have had a pretty strong emotional investment in this new tech, but today I don't lean in quite so hard. I've been disappointed by promises like these since internet became a thing. So I refused to think about it too much until it was installed and working. I connected with the shipping company, and when I got no-where with them, I contacted the shipper. The shipper sent out a second unit. Then just like the first unit, it, also, is no-where to be found. 

Something greater than me is causing a glitch in the matrix. 

I thought about the child with the toy. He really had to give it up, to let the responsibility for the repair lie in someone else's hands. I had to do the same. So I asked my Internet Angel to take care of this for me. 

Surrender doesn't come easily in a society that emphasizes personal responsibility, and downplays the connections that interweave our lives. We get tangled up in personal responsibility. At what point does this stop being my sole responsibility and start being the world's responsibility?

Depending on our conditioning, it can be hard to find that middle ground. 

By thinking I'm letting Divine Beings handle the details, it's easier for me to give over personal responsibility. They certainly have a bigger view of the situation than I do, and I can assume, as Beings of Light, their plan is beneficial for all. That softens the disappointment.

It is getting easier as I get older, too. A lot of things in life are annoying and stupid and never get resolved. That's just part of life. And as I am less able to carry the responsibilities I carried when younger, it's easier to kick back a bit and let others do more of the heavy lifting. It doesn't mean I give up all personal responsibility though. I'm not going to plunk myself down on a beach and do nothing (although that sounds pretty nice). 

But I still get caught up in my attachments. I can see myself as that little kid, grimly hanging on to my toy - or my belief, or my role, or my ... stupid internet.

All these things belong to life. To the world. They are not mine to hold. So each time I find my mind thinking about those missing packages and wishing I had better internet, I hand the problem over to the Angels again. It may never get resolved, but I figure it has a better shot in my Angel's hands than mine alone.


(photo by Trym Nilsen)

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Gratitude



My yoga teacher offered us all a January challenge. She suggested when we awaken each morning, we think of something we are grateful for before we turn on our phones, or get involved in our day. 

It's a good habit. Especially when life gets stressful. Someone else suggested the same at bedtime, "Be grateful for three things in your day before you shut your eyes."

I'm not going to explain how beneficial gratitude is. We know it is. 

It's the challenge part that is a, well, challenge. Changing habits can be hard. We get locked into our routines and rituals. Especially when life gets stressful. But one small thing a day can be done. If we forget, we can remind ourselves and try again. Then as the habit becomes more set, we don't need to remind ourselves as often.

Recognizing the little blessings is just as powerful as the big things: a warm drink on a cold day, the scent of onions cooking, internet fast enough to stream. But we have to stop for a sec and connect with them. Morning or night can work. As can grace at mealtimes - whatever its form, it's a way to pause and remember all the labours that brought the food to our table: the sun, rain, farmers, transport, market, cooking, everything. 

I've been trying to remember the bedtime one and grace at mealtimes. I forgot at bedtime a few nights ago. But when awake in the night and thoughts of politicians and pandemic started to creep in, I reminded myself "3 things." It wasn't easy. It was a day or two before the inauguration in the US and tensions were high. Who wants to think about something fluffy when we have politicians and pandemics going on? So I did "1 thing" instead of 3. The next thing I knew it was morning.

Sometimes it feels just too hard. But there's a trick to deal with that, too. I can say, "If I could feel grateful right now, what would it be for?" Then even if I don't feel the connection, the door opens.

There's two aspects of gratitude I've noticed. One is deliberate like the examples above, where we take the time to feel that connection. The other is spontaneous. I'll be in the middle of a quiet activity and find myself unexpectedly grateful for something. It seems to rise like a bolt out of the blue. The more I practice the deliberate types, the more often the spontaneous rises.

Gratitude changes us for the better. It makes room for joy to percolate through our cells. So if you don't already have a gratitude practice, maybe you can take this up as your February challenge.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Sanctuary



After all these years I still take comfort in the trees.

It might look a bit bleak in the winter, but I step into the woods and I enter a different world. The pace is slower. I feel surrounded by the warmth of good company, even when no other person is there.

I just disturbed a bunny that was resting beneath a fallen tree. "Sorry bunny." If I sit long enough, and still enough, I may see another, or a porcupine, or a deer. Whatever birds are local in that season will come along to see what I'm up to and gossip the news to their friends.

It's the kind of place I can give myself over to. It's safe enough for a good cry. The peacefulness reaches into my heart, particularly on days when life is turbulent.

Years ago I would come down here and meditate in the crook of one of these trees. It's too cold today but the tree still seems welcoming. In the summer it's particularly welcoming. One step into the forest and the temperature drops 10°. In the spring and fall, I feast on the scents and colours. They don't all vanish in the winter, though. In the cold and wind today I caught the scent of vanilla and I stopped to enjoy it. I noticed it yesterday in the same spot, yet when I retraced my steps today to see if I could still smell it, it was gone.

In the past, when I went for weeks or months without dropping in here to say hello, I'd take one step into the cedars and wonder why it had taken me so long to come back.

Perhaps you have a place like this, maybe one long forgotten. A place where you can recapture your heart, be at ease and remember why it was so special.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Energy and Depletion


I can tell I'm depleted when: 
  • I have a hard time reading more than magazine level stuff.
  • I can't find much interest in starting new projects or updating old ones.
  • Multitasking becomes hard/impossible.
  • The idea of going out to lunch with a friend seems like work.
  • I feel like I can't handle one more responsibility, or even the ones I have.
  • Planning supper is hard even though I have a freezer full of food. 
  • I have no tolerance for others breaching my boundaries or bullying.

Some things provide a false lift. They don't feel like they deplete me when I'm doing them.  Like social media. It may juice me up to wade into battle, but it's mostly just emotional and mental energy that can't sustain itself. A true lift happens without effort from deep within, from the heart and spirit. This kind of lift sustains itself and builds me up.

So when I feel depleted, I dial things back right to the bottom:
  • I spend lots of alone time so I don't have to interact with others. 
  • I spend time in nature: birds, trees, whatever is nearby. They make no demands. 
  • I walk for pleasure. If it's fun, the exercise I get is a happy side effect.
  • I cook when I have the kitchen to myself and can putter at my own pace. I find it nourishing.
  • I listen to music or radio, watch TV or read books that soothe the heart or make me laugh.
  • I take one thing at a time.
  • If anything seems even remotely stressful, I back out if possible. If I can't back out, I ask for help.
  • I connect with people who make no demands of me.
  • I rethink my responsibilities. Responsibility = Response Ability. I say "no" a lot and worry less about what others are doing.
  • I lay off the self-judgement. It just adds stress when I try to maintain the illusion that I should be managing life differently. 

And I let this restorative phase take however many months or years it needs.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

One Less Stress


Our grocery stores open an hour early for seniors (like me). I enjoy the quieter pace and the fewer people around. People are wearing masks now for the most part and learning how to safe distance.

But there is still a heightened sense of tension in the air. 

My cart today had a flat. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, Ka-blump. A substantial Ka-blump, one that made all the metal in the cart rattle at the same time. I looked back at the entrance, but I knew there was no turning back. To keep things flowing safely for us all, they made the store one-way. I sighed and continued on. 

"This is the fancy tile floor," I thought. "Maybe when I get onto the smooth floor the cart will smooth out too." Nope. Ka-blump, Ka-blump, down the produce aisle. And then the next aisle. 

I stopped by the shampoo to see which wheel was the culprit. Maybe a wheel picked up something I could remove. Nope. It had an actual flat - a flat, even concave, spot on one wheel. I sighed and carried on. Ka-blump, Ka-blump. 

You'd think someone like me who's been practicing mindfulness for well, ever, would have stopped early on, taken a refreshing-cleansing breath and then glided blissfully through the rest of the store.

Yeah, no. That's not the way it went.

It took a few aisles more before it dawned on me that I was letting this little thing demand too much of my attention. And, as soon as I recognized it and called it out, it stopped being a problem.

Tensions are already high. Many of us are triggered, and jumpy. We forget how much these changes are sapping our resources. We have to learn new rules for shopping, for getting around, for everything. We are trying to figure out what people are saying and feeling behind their masks. We have no idea how this will play out. This depletes us. 

And then there's the little things on top of that. Like flickering fluorescent lights. They drive me mad. Or the barking dog next door. Or the jackhammers across the street. We often don't know how much stress they add until they stop. My sister texted me, "I think the break in jackhammers is lunch." I could almost feel her relief. 

I may have no power over the pandemic, the fluorescent lights, or the barking dog, but I have some power over my reactions to these things. 

First I have to notice what's sapping the energy. Sometimes, that can be enough itself. It's as though my subconscious has been alerting me to the fluorescent flicker. As soon as I acknowledge the alert, my subconscious can relax as its job is done. Oh right, flickering lights. That's not a problem. Not all are alerts though; some are irritations like the faulty shopping cart. Once I notice, I can make a choice: Do I want to continue to be irritated by it, or not. If not, stop giving it my attention.

The trick is to notice. 

It may have taken me a while, but by the time I reached the checkouts, I barely even heard the Ka-blump any more. Yet to be honest, I was relieved to leave the cart behind after the car was loaded. Like the jackhammers stopping for lunch it was one less stress.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Snobs


We used to call some people snobs, people who think they are better than others. Because they live fairly comfortable lives, many think their status is a product of their merit or virtue or good character. These people, when their comfort or sense of entitlement is threatened, often double down on the belief that they earned their position. So taking it away is not seen as the demotion it is, but seen as theft.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Right Speech



In Buddhism, there is a thing called 'Right Speech.' It's not 'right' as in correct, but 'right' as in skilful. And it's not a commandment but a suggested course of action. Since one of my greatest talents is my ability to put my foot in my mouth, I find it a useful skill to practice.

So here are some guidelines:
Refrain from lying 
Refrain from slandering
Refrain from gross, cruel, vulgar or rude speech
And refrain from speaking just to pass time - idle speech.

There are masses of teachings about this, but they all pretty much boil down to this:
Is it kind?
Is it necessary?
Is it true?
Will it improve on the silence?

I love the last one. It forces us to change perspective from speaker to listener.

Yet, it's a good thing they are guidelines. I still listen to gossip at times, I still speak impatiently, I still use hyperbole when I want to get a point across, I certainly say swear words. I will never be perfect, so I focus on awareness instead. 

When I catch myself speaking in a way that goes against these guidelines, I can work with it. I can see my motivations, mental habits, the emotions I'm trying to avoid. It's useful, and since I'm curious by nature, fun, to unearth new insights. And I can laugh at myself when I put my foot in my mouth again.