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

Sunrise bluerocks1 j

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.