Monday, December 4, 2017

An Organized Arrangement of Energies

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While walking across the lawn, I felt my feet landing solidly on the earth. We seemed separate. But we are made of less solid stuff.

We are an organized arrangement of energies that mingle and interact. Seeing the ground like that, and my feet like that make it all feel more like an ongoing story than a single solid event or thing.

The earth supports me, grows me (literally,) nurtures me, even buoys me up. So rather than thump thump thump across the earth, I can relax and know I am a part of something really big and wonderful.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Little Jots

I have little bits of paper everywhere. Reminders, grocery lists, to-do's, phrases from books or magazines. I like things organized, so I'm not living in a sea of them; they're all sitting in tidy piles or clipped to the fridge or pinned to bulletin boards or tucked into wallets.

But they're everywhere.

They are like odd little snapshots of my life from the time I jotted them down. The bit of paper that says, 'dish soap, butter, furnace filters', sits right next to, 'the world is won by letting things take their own course.' I jotted down 'Leeloo perfect' a week or two ago when I watched that sci fi movie - what was it called? the one with Bruce Willis? The Fifth Element? Anyhow I loved the woman who played Leeloo. Her name meant 'Perfection' in the movie. And I wanted to remember the name - might make a good name for a story or for a drawing or for a hamster or for a granddaughter. So 'Leeloo perfect' is in the pile of notes on my desk, at the top of the pile.

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I really enjoy coming across a slip of paper that's been sitting in an old coat pocket. It's better than finding a dollar. Chances are it's just an old grocery list, but sometimes it says, 'childhood slights are painful because your goodness was questioned.' And it touches me again. '...your goodness was questioned....' Feels good to read it again.

Sometimes when they float to the surface, these little jots have meaning again, even if they are a snapshot of something from last week or last winter. Different meaning, maybe. Deeper meaning sometimes, given that I have lived more life since I jotted them down. Even the grocery list reminds me of who I was that day. But not all of them retain their value. Every now and then I have to sweep through them and toss a bunch out.

But when I do, I often come across another gem that I want to keep. Like the quote from Suzuki Roshi, '... when my talk is over your listening is over. There is no need to remember what I say... you have full understanding within yourself. There is no problem.' I laugh when I see this one, jotted down on a little slip of paper to remind me that I don't need to.

First published February 2008 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

A Watched Pot (Never Boils)


My favourite Star Trek episodes are the ones where time gets weird. Causality loops, time paradoxes, alternate timelines - I love them all. Years ago, when I was involved in a minor fender bender in a taxi, I was amazed at how time slowed during the event. I watched broken glass shatter in slow motion and then wash up over the hood like a wave of water, then wash back out towards the other car again. I was amazed at how much detail I picked up in what I knew was just a second or two of time - each individual bit of glass discernible. After a moment, time became normal again.

I suspect most of us have experienced time's inconstancy. When we were kids, the school holidays were endless, yet now, vacations zip by like shooting stars.

Time bends and changes according to our activities - each with its own rhythm and pace - different for each of us. In meditation we can speed up time or slow it down according to our needs. Some athletes use meditative disciplines that ask for intense focus to stretch time out when they are "in the zone" in competition. Other meditations may go by so quickly we wonder that half an hour has passed.

When under stress, time becomes much slower, just as it did for me in that minor accident. In dreams, time takes on dimensions we can't begin to fathom in waking life. I learned to ride a bicycle in a dream. I packed hours of learning into minutes of the dream and awakened to live the full value of what I'd learned.

There are many theories that try to answer the question of why time is so inconstant. Many of them agree that it's the quality of the experience that determines how long it lasts. Children pack new experiences into each hour of the day, laying down new neural pathways in their brains as they do. They are very awake to the world around them. They live with great intensity. Events have more meaning. As we get older, we tend to have less novelty, less intricacy, less intensity - life has less meaning.

So if we want any experience to last the way our school holidays did when we were little, we might act a bit more like kids and a bit less like adults: Take a deeper interest in what's in front of us. Cram new experiences into our days. Learn new stuff. Engage different areas of our brains. Practice meditations that let us shift out of our normal consciousness. Turn off the tv or put down the book and go for a walk instead.

Time may not get as weird as it does on Star Trek, but perhaps the more we play with time, the more time we may have to play.  

First published September 2009 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Link to the Eternal

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For over 35 years I have noticed a stress pattern in my life. Every April and every October, for some reason, I feel more stressed than my daily life could explain. I used to call it 'my six-month-meltdown.' But after a while I realized it happens right when the seasons are changing. Just like squirrels rush to put away as many seeds as they can, just as mice rush to fluff their nests, I feel the urge to put things right, and so do the people around me. We're mammals, too. Yet even when I work with this change of season, some years I get stuck in a bit of a funk.

I found myself looking for something to watch on Netflix the other night. It took a while to choose. I tried something from 'my list' and watched for 5 minutes. Nope. And another. Nope. And another. Nope. You've got to understand that Netflix is fairly new to me. I live out in the sticks where internet has been slow and expensive; when I got Netflix I was like a like a kid stepping into an ice-cream parlour for the very first time. So what was this impatience with everything on offer?

Finally, I tuned to The Time Travellers Wife, an old favourite. I relaxed and let the time travel stuff be fun and interesting, let the love story be sweet. But it wasn't until Alba showed up that I realized she was what I needed the most. Alba was a kind, impossible being who reassured everyone - she was a link to the future, a link to the eternal. That was what I needed to break my funk - an impossible, reassuring voice that reaffirmed my faith and own connection with the Divine.

Who knew watching TV could link me to the eternal?

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

How Things are Phrased


Language is meaningful to me. How things are phrased, subtle nuance can have so much bearing on my emotional patterns as well as thinking patterns, it’s always nice when I suddenly see a new way of thinking about something, a new way of phrasing it, so that the results are kinder to everyone, yet still true.

“He may not care about this,” (or my feelings) may be accurate, but the way it is phrased seems to say more about the caring or not-caring part. It affects my feelings. Instead I can choose “He doesn’t think that way.” This states the facts in such a way that it doesn’t have to lead to emotional conflict or hurt feelings.

A simple change of phrase can change the whole mental, and then emotional landscape.

When an observation becomes personal, it slips into judgement.

Here's another: "I don't eat sugar" is different than "I can't eat sugar." The former implies that I'm on board with the choice. That latter suggests its's something imposed on me from outside against my will. When I consider a choice freely made, I don't fight it as much.

First published October 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Wrong Foot

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It's Autumn. The mornings have been staying darker longer and I often get up before the sun. So recently I've been reading the news - pages I enjoy, news sites I trust and so on before going out to my prayers in the trees. But the last few days when I was reading, I noticed I was getting angry. And this mental activity made it harder for me to settle into prayer/meditation later on.

It struck me that timing may be everything. News sites, magazines, blogs and other interesting stuff on the net are pretty much all about people influencing me from the outside - some lighthearted, some not as much. As long as I am letting it capture my interest, I become a receptacle for it all. It's all a lovely distraction, but as long as I am letting the voices of others' opinions inform my day, I'm starting off on the wrong foot.

To start on the right foot, I realized I'd be better to start my day with prayer or meditation or yoga - something that brings me into the moment and connects me with the eternal. Just stepping outside first thing, even in the dark, and feeling the breeze on my cheeks and the breath in my belly connects me to the flow of life. It gives me the inner resources to meet the day in a more cheerful and optimistic frame of mind. Later in the day when I go to read the news or check in on the sites I enjoy, I'll have a better inner landscape with which to handle the clickbait and ads and opinions that dominate the online world. I wont be quite so caught up in the drama or captured by the allure of shiny things - not so out of step with life.

So this morning, I started on the right foot. I got up before the sun, turned on a light so I could see what I was doing and did my prayers outside on the front deck in the still, quiet air of early morning.

First published October 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Chicken or the Egg?

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For years, a man feared having a heart attack. He worried often about it in his daily life. When he did eventually have one, was he foretelling his future? Or did all the energy he spent on the worry about it lean his life more strongly in that direction?

When a teenage girl got an image of her friend falling down the stairs, she emailed me. She'd had a fight with her friend and was so angry she feared she may have caused her friend to fall. She asked me if she made her friend fall, or if this was her natural intuition showing her an upcoming event?

Anyone who has worked with awareness knows our mental landscape and the beliefs we carry affect how our lives unfold. When we dwell on the negative, it makes our outlook more cloudy. When we take time for the joys in life, our outlook becomes more sunny. In a study with children who had tummy aches, researchers had the kids use imagery and imagination to help them feel better and it worked.

Yet, as we work with awareness, we also discover how life tends to nudge us in the best directions for our well-being. Our ability to be open to life's messages and go with that flow can give us a heads-up when we need it. Our intuition opens up. We see stuff we would have otherwise dismissed.

So, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Did the man's concern about his heart bring about the heart attack, or was it a prediction of events to come? Did the teenager's vision predict her friend's fall or did she cause it?

I don't know.

First published September 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Expectations and Assumptions


(With apologies to Tom)

Expectation kicks us in the backside every time.

If I expect Tom to take out the garbage in time for the truck and he doesn't, my expectation isn't met and I get annoyed and then mind kicks in to try to manipulate the circumstances and find a solution to the "Tom not getting the garbage out on time" problem.

It's what many of us automatically do. If something is wrong in our outer world, we try to fix the problem so that outer world matches our expectations. But the real problem isn't whether or not Tom puts out the garbage on time, it's the fact that I don't want to accept that he may not. The real problem is, "I don't want this."

Seeking a solution to the "taking out the garbage" problem rather than the "I don't want this" problem is easier and more comfortable for me. Seeking by itself is a pleasurable activity. Finding resolution feels good. I can let my mind take up the whole thing and make it into an intellectual exercise, see if I can get all my ducks in a row.

But it doesn't solve the real problem, the "I don't want this" problem. That's real world stuff. Emotions. Discomfort. The stuff that's really going on, not the stuff in my head.

The real world stuff is the fact that I may not be able to rely on Tom to put the garbage out on time – regardless of his good intentions, regardless of my good intentions, regardless of my efforts to make it happen.

In the real world, when I have expectations, they are often not met. Life isn’t perfect. Neither are we, we’re just human.

So, then I have to decide if I am willing to live with that less than perfect garbage thing/Tom thing. It’s a tougher choice because it challenges my worldview. It takes a bit more work.

But life doesn’t go more smoothly because it meets our expectations, it goes more smoothly when we drop those expectations.

For me, choosing to turn “I don’t like this,” into “That’s life,” is a much happier choice.

First published August 2013 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Rhyme Time

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Healing works best when done with a sense of trust, joy and even playfulness. Years ago I had friends watch the healing energy around me when I was doing a session and they gave me feedback about when it was good and when it seemed to collapse. It was at its best when I maintained a playful, joyful and easy state. Worry, thinking too much, or taking it too seriously all brought the energy down. Sometimes with a thump.

This is not to say healing isn't serious, but it is to recognize and acknowledge that the serious intention and compassion can co-exist with trust, joy and playfulness.

Some days when I do my healing sessions, it's easy to fall into that playful, joyful state. Other days it is harder. So I have a few tricks I use. One is rhyme time.

I take a few breaths to put my attention in the moment, in my body, in the place. I go through my usual steps of paying attention to the temperature of the air and the sounds around me. Then I bring in gratitude. I notice what's around me that I am grateful for. Little things are just as important as the big stuff: This is when I use rhyme time if my mental energy is still a bit too active.

Here's an example:

One July morning, while outdoors, I thought, "Thank you for the summer breezes." Hey, I'm a summer girl, what can I say?

Then I asked myself what else do I feel grateful for - something that rhymes with breezes? Trees (sort of.) "Thank you for the treezes," a silly thought that lightened things right up.

Then I wondered what else rhymes? "Thank you for the sneezes." I love that rush/goosebump feeling after a good sneeze.

Then I'm good to go. A little silly goes a long way. It's from that place that I move best into prayers and healing.

First published August 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Being Patient With Myself


I saw a pic the other day that was timely. Two men stood quietly and patiently above an upset toddler in a shop. One is the father of the little girl, and the other the father of the father. The two of them were smiling lovingly at her, waiting her out - supporting her without needing to change anything. The dad said, "My dad always let me feel what I needed to feel, even if it was in public and embarrassing. I don't remember him ever saying "You're embarrassing me!" or "Dont cry!" It wasn't until recently that I realized how paramount that was for my own emotional development. Our children are learning and processing so much information and they don't know what to do with all of these new feelings that come up. I try to remember to make sure my daughter knows it's OK that she feels deeply."

It was timely because I'd just made up a new card for my Joyful Intentions: "Today I will be patient with myself," and it came up that day in my own Sunny Day reading. I stopped when I read it and thought about these two patient men. My efforts to stick with a healthy eating regime had been failing in the week or two before and I was feeling stressed and helpless about it. The card reminded me that despite my best efforts, life tends to cycle. I am more helpless at times than I like. Just like a crying child, I need patient support at times like these - support without a need for anything to be different.

I recall being patient with my own daughter when she was a toddler. It may have seemed easier for me to support her than it is to support myself. After all she was just a kid. I tend to expect more from myself. Yet before I can fully be patient with others, I may have to admit my own humanity. I may have to believe it's okay for me to feel helpless that I can't seem to stick with the program. It's okay to feel embarrassed when I put my foot in my mouth, or when I fail to hear what someone is saying. It's okay for me to feel afraid or overwhelmed or sad or disappointed.

Just like the toddler, I'm just a human being, being human. There are forces greater than me at work. When I can accept this and drop the struggle, I can accept my failures without feeling defeated and my successes without feeling triumphant. Without the added weight of self-impatience, I have more room to to catch my breath, to catch up with the cycles I'm in, and work with rather than against, that flow of energy. Some inner tension uncoils. The pressure eases.

Being patient with myself is a way to support who I am without needing myself or my life to be different.

The timely pic was here.

First published July 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Enjoying the Day


When I'm busy, I get destination-oriented. "I have to finish this newsletter before I can read the book." "I need to weed the garden before I can sit down." It probably arises from childhood. We needed to learn to be responsible. We couldn't play until homework was done, or the dishes were done. Fair enough.

Dad was a good example of responsibility. I used to watch him push the lawn mower long after he was too tired to continue, yet he did anyways because it needed to be done.

What he didn't teach us was that we could be content while doing the dishes, or homework, or shovelling the snow from the driveway. All I saw in him at the time was sweat rolling from his forehead, the tension in his face, and the satisfied plunk into his chair once the lawn mower was put away. He didn't look happy in the doing, but in the finishing. All he saw was the destination.

Enjoying the day is about letting myself be content with the mix of things I have to do, and the time it takes to do them: work or play. While it might feel good to reach the front of the line at the shop, I can enjoy the wait by watching my breath or listening to the voices around me. Even as I approach the deadline to get out a newsletter, I can find elegance in the language and take joy in the sharing. While fixing the kitchen tap may be mandatory, I can enjoy the pleasure of problem solving and working with my hands while I do.

If a necessary activity is difficult or painful, I can find joy by pacing myself. Dad didn't do that much. For him it was all about being able to rest afterwards. I think he was afraid if he didn't do it all at the time, he wouldn't finish it. Lately I've been resisting weeding the garden because of arthritis pain. So rather than let it become stupid, I take a kitchen timer with me. I can do 10 minutes. In fact I can do 10 minutes each morning after my prayers. So that's what I have been doing this week. Knowing that the job is not going to be painful makes it a lot easier to laugh at the black-flies trying to bite. It makes it easier to stop and enjoy the exquisite beauty of a tulip. Or the green scent of a May morning. And it brings enough joy to the doing that I know I'll be up for it again tomorrow morning. Or maybe even this afternoon.

If a necessary activity is frustrating, I can find joy by stopping long enough to get out of my head and back into the present moment or by laughing at how absurd it's become.

Enjoying the day means being where I am wholeheartedly. There is joy to be found all day, not just in those destination moments, whatever life gives me. I can be contented as I struggle to put up a bird feeder, as I unwind in the tub, as I rush to be at the appointment on time, even as I recover from bad news.

I need to remember this though. I'm a lot like Daddy - I tend to push past my limits so that I can bask in the glow of a job well-done. Especially when I'm busy, it helps to settle back into my body and notice what's going on around me. Then I can enjoy the day.

First published June 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What Will I Try?


I forget what started the whole thing. I even forget who it was. I caught myself grinding away mentally at someone while driving to Alliston for groceries. It was probably the local councillor. Sometimes just driving past his house reminds me of the day he stood in my living room and called me a liar. Seeing something juicy to latch onto, my mind kicked in. "How dare he!"

Mind examined the insult from all angles. 'Poor me' to 'I'lll never vote for him' to 'I wonder if this is about unfinished business?' I didn't realize how tense my shoulders were getting until I stopped for the traffic light at Mansfield.

All that analysis may seem like it's productive, but it's not really. It's just a way for mind to perpetuate the mental activity. Mind loves to hear itself think. And it rarely takes the rest of me into consideration. Mind didn't care about my tight shoulders. It didn't care how this thinking led to frustration, helplessness, anger.

I took a breath and relaxed my shoulders as I waited for the light to change. I didn't want to think about this guy. It just riled me up. So how could I put all this mental activity to good use? What will I try?

I could do tonglen. Maybe, but I only go to it when I really feel overwhelmed. This isn't that serious. Maybe a lovingkindness meditation? It's true I wish the guy well. But I still don't want to think about him.

I could feel all that mental energy hanging around nearby, just waiting for me to pay attention to it. I took another deep breath.

Right. The breath.

It helps to have a single simple thing I can do, something I can rely on when things are just a little bit crazy or when things are downright awful. One simple thing I can do any time, anywhere.

For me, it's my breath. No matter where I am, I have my breath. I notice my belly rise and fall with each breath. Even just a couple of breaths can bring me back into the moment.

Oh yeah, that's right. I'm on my way for groceries, driving my dear old Jeep.

Now that I've used my breath to quiet that mental activity and bring me back into the moment, I can turn to a lovingkindness meditation or an empowering breath meditation, or whatever suits me at the time. Today it's a gratitude meditation. The sky is blue. I look at the new fenders on the Jeep and see what a great job the boys did. I think I'll cook supper on the barbeque tonight.

Life is good.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Doing Laps

If I say, "I have only 5 more laps to go," then I am thinking too much about the ease of it being finished.
If I say, "I can't do this many laps," then I am thinking too much about my shortcomings (as compared to some idealized expectation).
If I say, "I hate this," then it will never get easier.
If I say, "I love this," but really hate it, then it will never get easier.
If I say, "How does this feel?" and pay attention to what is actually going on in my physical body, then I can assess constantly and make any changes needed.

Doing laps isn't about buying in to what's going on in my head or emotions, it's about how it is today, or on this specific lap, and taking joy from the doing -- like being a kid and exploring with a sense of curiosity and joy.

First published May 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Drop It

The other day when I was upset about something I caught myself holding my energy up. I got a sense that there was a bunch of heavy pebbles, massed together in my energy a few inches above my left shoulder, towards the front. They weren’t really pebbles, they just seemed that way – a mass composed of the complex stuff of the upset: blame, hurt, anger, resolve, my thoughts about it all. It was complex and heavy and disorganized.

I noticed that I was holding it up through sheer willpower. I seemed to be trying to keep the energy up by my head so I could figure it out or fix it or problem-solve or organize it (mental activities).

And it took a lot of energy to hold it there.

It was an old habit I recognized from when I was a kid. I was raised to be rational in a culture and environment where mentally solving problems was encouraged, and expressing pain or negative emotion was discouraged. It seemed natural for me to hold bad feelings and emotions up around my head where they could be attended to in a rational manner. The school of thought at the time was that life is a mechanical construct. If something seems broken, you fix it. If you feel a knot of mixed emotions, feeling and pain, then you hold it up so it could be attended to.

Yet life is much more fluid and mysterious than that.

It took me a half a lifetime to learn that negative emotions don’t have to be solved or fixed. They only need to be felt, and then they naturally pass out of our experience. By holding them up near my head, I was blocking that natural process, encouraging the type of “This is Awful” thinking that can make it all linger and intensify. By trying to escape the pain, I was making it worse.

So as I noticed this heavy mass of pebbles, I released the effort of holding it all up and watched to see what would happen next. I wondered if it might solidify into the coldness of fear in my belly, or the heat of anger in my shoulders, or the weight of sadness in my chest.

Turns out it didn’t do any of that. It just went away. Poof!

And the phrase “Drop it!” took on a whole new meaning.

First published in December 2009 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Are We Here to Learn?

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I heard some time ago that life will give us what we need to know. As we progress in spiritual understanding, we integrate more and move closer to enlightenment.

I like this map of our lives. It feels right to have some sort of meaning underlying our existence.

Yet to call it "learning" may call up ideas of some sort of graded system. We may be here to learn but not like in school where we learn to pass tests, achieve our goals, finish with the program and then move on to the next level. Learning isn't something we do, but something we experience. We meet what life gives us, live it, experience it, and by that, what we need for spiritual growth is in us.

We're all made differently. Not everyone is interested in spiritual growth, or learning about life, or even the slightest bit curious about why we are here. Yet each of us fits into the world in a beautiful and unique and fulfilling way.

This means I can learn with the sense of curiosity and wonder of a child, rather than seeing life as a puzzle to be solved or mystery to be unraveled. All while resting in the deep assurance that I am being led towards grace.

When a Gift is Given


A friend gave her mother a thoughtful gift for her 80th birthday celebration. She called many of the people her mother knew and asked them what they liked or admired about her mother. Then she complied the answers into a booklet.

When I was asked to contribute, I said that I admired her "kindness" and her "curiosity about life." As I spoke, it occurred to me that what I told her may have said as much about me as her mother. Kindness and curiosity are qualities that are important to me at this time.

I wondered if this was the same for the others who contributed.

Then I wondered if my friend's choice of gift was the same too? She's been hard on herself lately. Perhaps her choice of gift reflects how much she values being loved and respected.

When a gift is given, the energy doesn't just go one way. It's shared.

Monday, February 27, 2017



Judy and I were sitting at her table talking about our differences. Sometimes we're this way, sometimes that, each of us needing to be right where we were at that moment.

As we sat there, I imagined us all as kaleidoscopes, built of ever-changing lights and patterns, some of which we see and some we do not. We shift and change according to the karma life wants us to look at: our thoughts and other perceptions, our beliefs and ideas, our history - past and future, our pains and joys, our actions and intentions, our cells and genetics, our surroundings and environment, and all the intricacies of each.

Complex, ever-changing, fitting into a bigger world that is just as complex and ever-changing, a kaleidoscope within a kaleidoscope. None are ever the same. None are the same as anyone else's.

When we rest and simply experience it, suddenly an interesting pattern comes into view. Maybe that's me. Or maybe a new flower that blooms for a day and then becomes something else.

We get caught up in the pretty pattern over there, or the ugly one over there, and forget that the whole picture is changing even as we look at it. What we focus on reflects our own beliefs, hopes, fears, judgements, assumptions, feelings.

The very fact of looking changes it.

I told Judy how I imagined us all as kaleidoscopes. How nice, we decided, that our kaleidoscopes came together in such a beautiful pattern that day, that we could sit there at the table and enjoy some happy talk with each other.

First published March 2017 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

photo by Rudolf Ammann

Monday, February 20, 2017

Curvy Yoga


In a yoga class many years ago, I used the word "fat" to describe my body when trying to find my way into a pose. The teacher jumped right in and assured me I wasn't fat, that I was well ... I forget what she called me, but it was something more pleasant to the ears. She thought I was denigrating myself, but I wasn't. I was stating the obvious when asking for options. Something about her approach left me feeling worse than before I'd asked for help.

In the book "Curvy Yoga," the author Anna Guest-Jelley explains why. She says, "While I appreciate people trying to give me a compliment, they kind of make my point for me. I'm fat and beautiful. The two are not mutually exclusive, even though our culture certainly tries to convince us that they are."

This book is a gift. It's about yoga, but more than that, it's about accepting ourselves as we are.

The first thing I needed to do when I opened her book was confront my own lingering cultural bias against being overweight. I looked at the photo of the author and all my old fat-shame made me want to judge her as I had judged myself. Confronting my own bias wasn't easy, but it was worth it.

Anna Guest-Jelley is outrageously honest. She's the perfect person to guide us, she knows. Her humour and joy help us find our way back to the curiosity and sense of play that defined us as kids, when we trusted ourselves and trusted our bodies.

We live in a judgemental world; I recommend "Curvy Yoga" to anyone who was ever made to feel ashamed of who they were, yogi or not.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

For the Birds

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Decades ago, I did an exercise in a book about discovering your life’s work. But oddly, the answer to "work that will be most fulfilling" to me was "watching the birds." It didn't seem like work at all.

It started to make more sense when I read an article by a scientist about how looking up at something in the distance above the horizon, can help trigger spiritual awakening when conditions are right. It engages the parts of the brain that are "other" centred rather than "self" centred. Dr. James H. Austin, is taking up bird-watching. He says,

"Any time you can go out and keep all of your visual and auditory senses alive — looking above eye level, hearing behind you as well as in front of you — you’re performing meditation in the natural world. You’re poised for any stimulus coming from anywhere. It’s as down to earth as you can get and still be up in the sky."

Watching the birds. I love this stuff.

Revised from the story first published January 2012 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Flower of the Life Force


A flower that is blooming doesn't look down on the buds on the next plant. The buds don't look up at the full bloom and push themselves to become that. They grow according to their nature and circumstances - pushing, yes, effort, yes, but not to achieve anything, just to be what their life demands of them. There is no better or worse. Just beauty in expression.

Blanche Hartman used Dogen's saying "Realization is effort without desire," as a koan for years. As she watched the progress of daffodils blooming, she realized, "Here was effort without desire right in front of me all the time! Just letting the flower of the life force bloom right here, right now, wholeheartedly and with nothing held back -- giving ourselves completely to whatever arises right in front of us moment after moment."

The flower of the life force. I like that.



Okay so I surrender to that pain in the lower back.
I finally reach the point where I give up and hand it over to a higher power.
There is nothing more I can try or do.
It just is there and I must accept that it may never go away.
That is when I have the best shot at having it go away.

But then when that pain in the shoulder comes up, first I try to see if it's the new bed - it started right around that time.
Then I try the computer desk, the office changed right around that time.
But then there was a whole lot of emotional work going on at the same time with big changes in thinking, emotions and relationships.
Maybe it's about that.
If I could just find the cause of all this, then maybe I'll find the cure.
If I can uncover the karma and release it, then that will end the karmic pattern.
I know better, but this is what I do anyhow.
In the end, we're making new karmic patterns all the time.
Causes are much farther reaching than we may know.
Pain management may be impossible.
A solution may never be found.
Solutions are always as simple as acceptance.
But we do fight that.
Over and over.

We don't really know what all our attachments are until we give them up.
Even then, they may not be revealed.

Being a Wimp

Blowing Snow

Right now even though the sun is shining, there are snow flurries off and on and the winds are high. This isn't usually a problem, but I live in an area where whiteouts are common. Blowing snow is one thing. Being unable to see past the hood of my car is another. There's only two fairly short stretches of road between my place and the highway that get bad. But one of them, the one closest to where I live, blows in a lot. When entering a whiteout there, it may only be half a km long, but the snow might be half a metre deep in drifts. You don't know until you're in the thick of it. If a car ahead is stuck in a drift you won't know it until you're on top of it. There often is.

In my neighbourhood, local culture demands people drive through the whiteouts anyway. When I told a friend who lived nearby how nervous I get about this, she confidently said, "Whiteouts don't bother me." And they didn't until one day when the wind was up and she had to drive that one short stretch of road north of me. She arrived safely, but shaken.

Until then I tended to agree with the local culture. They must be right, I must be a wimp. After that day, I realized I was the sane one. Common sense said, "Anyone who willfully enters a whiteout with zero visibility has a few screws loose."

My choice, then, is sanity. I look at the forecast and if Environment Canada says there'll be snow and winds over 30 km/hour, I pause and do a gut check. If my gut is unhappy, I change my schedule so I don't have to drive.

Call me a wimp if you like. I think I'm the opposite. It takes nerve to stand up against local culture.


Swl1977 1978

Okay, so the other day on the way home, a woman driving in the opposite direction to me on a snowy country road flagged me down. She and her friends told me they were almost out of gas and asked for help. "There's a gas station just back a bit," I told her. "I know," she said, "But the electricity is off."

I quickly assessed the situation. She'd had enough gas to let the car idle while she spoke to the driver ahead of me and then me. So she'd have enough to get back to the main road, where she and her friends could be warm and dry while they solved their problem. I mentally worked out the logistics: distance home and back with gas, someone to assist me, time this would take. This wasn't going to work. Better for her to use what gas she had left and get back to a warm and dry place. This was not an emergency, but a convenience. When I said, "I have no gas and no easy way to get some," she drove off to flag down the next person.

Done. Finis. Shrug shoulders and move on.

But I felt a bit conflicted. My childhood training insisted that if I can help it is my duty to do so - not my responsibility, but my duty. Yet I knew there was a deeper morality. Knotted in the conflict were other subtle factors: sympathy or lack of it, judgement about their wisdom, fear that they could harm themselves further, dislike of being taken advantage of ... the list goes on. It could take me a lifetime to untangle those knots.

In the end, I needed to remember that if the women were in genuine danger, even from their own poor choices, each one of us who came along that snowy road would have jumped in without hesitation, without a thought. We live out here and are aware how very quickly things can get serious.

This day I didn't help. Another day I might have. Yet neither choice can be used as a measurement of my morality. Authentic morality doesn't rise out of rules that I must live up to, it rises out of the deep loving connection I have - that we all have - with the divine and with each other. We are all one. Spiritual practice and reminders like "Love your neighbour" can put us in rhythm with with the truth of that unity. But truth itself - the unity itself - is what guides our actions. Our job is to connect with that truth, trust it to direct us, and let it untangle any inner conflict.

The correct moral action to take on that day was to not be the solution to their problem. It was to bridge the gap between "I should" and "I am."

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Emptiness and Ice Cream


It's been ice cream for me this summer. That's how I've been feeding the emptiness. Sometimes it's chocolate. Sometimes a cup of coffee. I haven't been reaching for ease all the time, but it's often enough.

I'm hoping that by becoming more aware of when I reach and getting more familiar with that sense of emptiness and discomfort that leads me to the kitchen, I'll be stronger in my ability to resist.

This isn't about willpower. We all know if willpower was enough there wouldn't be a person on the planet with a few pounds to lose.

The feeling is familiar. We reach for ease in whatever is handy: a bowl of ice cream, a quick anger at someone else, an argument, a complaint, anything to fill that uneasiness, that feeling of emptiness. It's uncomfortable.

I could try identifying the source of the emptiness, the cause. That's a pretty good distraction. But it won't stop me for long if I'm already reaching for the freezer door. I could distract myself with another pleasure. Take a walk. Chew some gum. But again, it won't stop me for long. The first thing I may think about when I get back from that walk is ice cream. Vanilla Fudge Crackle. I could promise myself the treat in 10 minutes and hope the delay is enough to make the feelings pass. But once I get that idea in my head there will be no way I can resist in 10 minutes. I know myself too well.

What can I do instead?

Maybe I can stop with one hand on the freezer door and pause. Count off a few seconds or a few breaths and just stay empty while I do. Feel the hollow, empty feeling, that feeling I get right before mind kicks in. Just that little empty feeling. When I can stay with it for a moment I may find that it's not that awful. It's just a sensation of emptiness. In that moment I may discover that what I really need instead of that bowl of ice-cream is a good cry. Or the feeling may just need me to be aware of it. It may simply pass. We make these things so big, don't we, when sometimes by staying with it and just letting it be there takes the feeling to its conclusion.

Maybe I can see if I have what it takes that day to stay with the feeling for a bit. Timing plays a critical role. My body chemistry, old patterns, even the way the stars are lined up can make or break my efforts on any given day.

Stopping for just that second to observe can be enough to get me started, though. And even if it ends up with me filling my emptiness with ice cream, it's still a good start.

First published September 2013 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

We're All Intuitive

Sunrise bluerocks2 j

I don’t make a good circus-style fortune teller, with the big hoop earrings and mysterious accessories. It might make for good theatre, but I don’t like to make people think I have some special ‘gift’ that others do not and I don’t like to stand on the people I am reading for to make myself seem more grand or mysterious.

Intuition isn’t mysterious. We see it in action all the time in the natural world. Animals see a lot and know a lot that we don’t seem to. We all know people who have dogs that know when their people are going to be home from work. Animals head for the hills when a tsunami draws near. In time we may be able to see the science behind these things. I just read an article about how scientists have found that bees respond to specific electrical signals of flowers. That could explain their mysterious ability to hone on on what they need. Scientists think that sperm whales may be calling each other by name. This is new to the scientific world but not new to those who have been with whales and studied them. Jane Goodall discovered a lot about chimps when she was in the forest with them that the science of that time couldn’t imagine to be accurate. But she lived with them. She knew.

So what do animals have that we do not? Access to a quiet state. The ability to be still and listen or sense what the world is telling them. I don’t know how much mental chatter and worry dogs or cows have in their minds, but I’d be willing to bet it’s a lot less than we do.

Intuition, gut feelings, psychic ability kicks in when we are at rest – when we aren’t thinking about anything in particular, when we least expect it. In the Spring, we may have an inner urge to tidy our workspace or move house. When waiting at a traffic light, we may have a sudden impulse to turn right instead of left. Before thought kicks in and we start to worry, plan, analyse and interpret, there is a small window where we are in communication with the world around us. It may bring a sudden thought of an old friend just before the phone rings. Guess who’s on the line?

As kids, we are drawn to stories that have talking animals. We may somehow know that there is some truth to this. But then our current societies and cultures ask us to turn away from that sort of thinking. Maybe we long for the type of connectedness that puts all of us – human and animal, plant and earth in this world together. Maybe we know it already is there – we’ve just moved too far away from it to hear.

In the end maybe the whole sphere of psychic stuff will be explained by science. Maybe we’ll be able to track the energy of thoughts into the past or future. Maybe we’ll know what pathways these transmissions take. It’s an exciting thought. It wouldn’t take away my job, though. There are those of us who focus on these things because of our interest in exploring them, just as there are those of us who love to work with numbers, or paint, or heal.

Intuition is not mysterious, but to be good at it, we need to learn to quiet our minds and rest in the stillness of not-knowing so we can hear what the world around us is saying to us.

First published March 2013 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Next Pleasant Thing


While walking back through the cold backyard to the house, I noticed how I was thinking ahead to that warm cup of coffee I would make when I got inside. The next pleasant thing.

Years ago, when I was a heavy smoker, the first thought that came into my head when I woke up each morning was that first cigarette. The next pleasant thing.

I stopped in the backyard to give it some thought.

This was just a bit too much like “I’ll be happy when” thinking. I’ll be happy when I marry Prince Charming. I’ll be happy when I get a raise. I’ll be happy when I have that next smoke. If I put too much interest on “the next pleasant thing”, do I consign my happiness to that future time?

What about now?

I stopped thinking and looked around. It was barely dawn. I could hear Shadow, the golden retriever, barking on the farm next door. The sparrows were at the feeders; I could hear their voices quarrelling in descant harmony. The air felt cold on my cheeks. Snowflakes held their intricate shapes for a while on the sleeves of my fuzzy coat before they melted. In that moment, life was more than merely pleasant. It was a joy.

The anticipated pleasure of coffee still gave me a lift. But it was no longer occupying my attention. My good cheer didn’t depend on it. The pleasure of right now eclipsed the next pleasant thing.

Revised slightly from the story published in February 2010 in my free monthly email newsletter, Starry Night. Sign up here.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Burden of Should and Should-Not

Easter Lily

Today's Sunny Day included:
I see you choosing to move into calmer waters, leaving 'should' and 'should not' behind and listening instead to your wise inner voice. Never doubt your compassion, even when you have to follow your own path.

The visitation for June’s husband Jeff is today in another town. June is an acquaintance. I never met Jeff. I’m not sure about going, even though I care about her pain.

I guess that’s another example of doing what I think is right vs doing what feels right. Events may conspire to tip the 'doing what feels right' one way or the other, whereas the ‘do what I think is right’ part is all about culture and thinking and expectations and likely not related to what is holistically right for me to do on this day.

I'l see how the day plays out and do what works then.

I do a Sunny Day Reading for myself each day.
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Saturday, January 7, 2017



The more we deepen our spiritual practice, the more often we encounter paradox.

A common spiritual paradox is the paradox of surrender. To get what we want we have to be willing to move ahead quite happily without it. Yet how can we want it and not want it at the same time? When I was 9 I realized this principle but couldn't quite wrap my head around it. Here's that story:

Dad had a sweet tooth, so every now and then, he'd buy a family-sized chocolate bar on his way home from work to share with us. We didn't buy extras or snacks when we were kids so this was a real treat. There were 5 of us and the bar could be broken into 6 pieces, so one of the 5 of us got the extra piece. But it never seemed to be my turn. I argued, pleaded, tried whatever I could to sway Dad in my favour. It never worked. So finally, on this one day, I saw the extra piece, wanted it just as much as ever, but made a choice to move on happily without it. I remember wandering out the back door, and standing barefoot on the grass wondering what I'd do next, my 1/5th share melting slowly in my mouth. Not long afterwards, Dad came outside and handed me the 6th piece. This was an important moment. I knew this. I went over it in my mind, trying to make sense of it. "In order to get what you want, you have to stop wanting it." But, my 9 year old mind reasoned, "if you use this trick to get what you want then you haven't stopped wanting it have you?" Even though I knew I didn't fully understand, I promised myself I'd remember. It was important.

Paradox holds two contradicting truths together, and lets them both be true.

Here are other spiritual paradoxes we may encounter:

  • It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
  • We are imperfect creatures, yet we are already perfect.
  • It is in giving that we receive.
  • We must take responsibility for our life, yet ultimately God/Universe is in control.
  • We are each individuals, yet we can not be separated from the Whole.
  • To lead people, walk behind them.

My nine-year-old self didn't mind that she didn't understand the chocolate paradox fully. She knew she was onto something important. When my current self meets up with paradox, I try to do the same. And the more I do, the more fun it becomes. Intellect doesn't like paradox much, but when I let intellectual impossibility rest in a deeper bowl, joy bubbles up.

See also Manifesting 101

At Ease With Myself


Today's Joyful Intention:
Today I'll be at ease with myself. My goodness is not in question.

This morning I was reflecting on a frustrating conversation I had with a friend yesterday. I let the conversation drift into an area that might be a bit of a minefield, and when I needed to back out of the conversation, I did it abruptly, which made my friend feel uncomfortable. I wished I'd handled it better.

Being at ease with myself admits that I make mistakes. Maybe there was a better way to handle the conversation but it wasn't in me yesterday. I'd be better to simply leave it behind. Let it go. Today's another day.

I do a Sunny Day Reading for myself each day. Each includes a Joyful Intention.
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