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.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Love Your Enemy

I had earwigs invade my house every summer for 17 years - years in which I tried every tactic I could find to make them go away.

I looked for gaps, I sprayed, I threatened, I pleaded. But I knew in my heart I'd have to make peace with them. So I tried year after year to find something about them to love. That was hard. Earwigs creep me out. Still do. But I got a bit better at being ok with their existence, and even a little better at accepting the fact that they may never go away.

Then one day another crawled by my foot as I worked at the computer. As I leaned down to pick it up with a kleenex to take it outside, I actually felt a sort of fondness or affection towards it.

That was the moment things changed. 

I don't know what made me do it, but I checked that window with the gap in it yet again. I had gone over that gap every year and it wasn't until that day that I realized the gap was not just a seam in the wood but an actual space that could let, well, earwigs in. I caulked the gap and - no more earwig problem.

I know life is easier when we learn to love what life brings, or at the least make peace with it. With grace, patience and luck along with my effort, I may be rewarded. 

Yet, in the end I wonder if it isn't simply the passage of time that helps me outlive the problem.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Memento Mori

I had a bit of an epiphany when I was walking in the woods the other day. I'm 66 as I write this, my husband is 76. I know that what we are looking at ahead is the inevitability of decline and death.

Sounds terrible doesn't it? 

It's not really. We run away from this our whole lives. But then I remember seeing my grandmother when she was in her 80s, happy and eager to see what was up for lunch. How could Gma do that? (That's her in the pic with me gnawing on her hand in 1953)

OK, intellectually I know this is inevitable. One favourite quote that lights it up is this one: "Things rise and fall. We gain. We lose. Someday, all of us, if we're not hit by a bus, will get a diagnosis. At that time, the question will be what is valuable about life, what do we love."  -- John Tarrant

But the adjustment is not smooth when our usual lives start unravelling. We have to accept the 100 small fails that when younger wouldn't have slowed us down for a second. They add up. And the big ticket ones - well, we have to accept them too.

I can't know what is going to happen, but I can know for sure that it will include death, and likely include discomfort, vulnerability and disease, whether it has my permission or not. 

So, I started to think about what 'inevitable' really means. The word itself. This was my thought process:

That means it is going to happen for sure.
That means it is already written in the stars.
However the future unfolds, it's already written. A done deal.
Not in terms of fate or destiny, but just the simple fact of it.
That means it has already happened.

Now I am starting to get an idea of why people who are old, ill, disabled, and vulnerable are grateful for each day. It's not because they are running away from death, but because they are taking care to notice the 100 little joys in a day.

As I adjust to all this, as I give up any idea that I will survive this, and give up any idea it won't be painful at times, I'd be wise to do the same - stop often through the day and take joy in my life. 

I wish I Gma was here so I could ask her how she coped. She was alway a cheerful soul, even though she had a tough life.

Friday, February 22, 2019

The House Turkey

We had a turkey living in our yard for 6 years. Some of you may know the story. She was a wild turkey raised domestically that escaped and came here, where hunting laws prohibit shooting her. So she stayed.

Her presence was felt all through the neighbourhood. 

Now this wasn't a sweet little songbird like a goldfinch that flitted at the feeders and sang from the trees. She was big. She emptied my bird feeders until I cut costs by buying scratch grain for her from the local feed mill. She flew to our rooftop and bounded from one end to the other barking. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And then back again. Thump, thump, thump, thump. Bark, bark, bark, bark. And her appearance - she was not the most attractive of birds. She frustrated the neighbours' pets. When dogs chased her, she simply outran them, then lifted off to roost in the pines. When cats stalked, she stayed put on the deck railing and watched them. Every single cat backed down.

Some neighbours grumbled, but most of us enjoyed having her around. Before long, we got used to her warty, mottled face and neck, and appreciated the iridescent sheen of her feathers in the sunlight. Her spotted eggs turned up in the oddest places in the neighbourhood - beside Eva's front step, under Penny's cedar trees. I often found a few in the garden shed. 

Still wild, for a few weeks each summer she flew away. She returned each afternoon for a hasty sand bath in the garden and a belly full of grain. Then off she went again. We never knew where. 

It all ended one snowy midnight. I'd heard the Great Horned Owl for several nights before it struck. In the wild, turkeys like her live for about 3 years. In our yard, she lived for 6. Was there more we could have done – should have done? I don't know.

What I do know is that whenever I hear the distant call of a wild turkey in the hills, I feel a warm, sweet affection at the sound.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Me Time

In my Sunny Days, one of the "Joyful Intentions" that comes up says, "Today I'll make some time for myself." Lately, it's taken on a whole new meaning. Family matters occupied a lot of my attention last year, forcing me to adjust the time I was willing to give to other people and projects.

And boy did people push back.

When I was unable to follow the course in class and my requests to find a way through it went unheard, I was accused of "wanting things my own way."

When I refused to volunteer for an admin positition in a local charity, the woman who called pressed. "It's just one time only." "No," * I answered. "We really need your help." "No." Before hanging up, she mildly accused me of letting them down.

When a new neighbour asked why I hadn't come to her get-together, I told her that I hadn't been up for it. When she suggested I come to the next one, I refused to commit. "If I'm up for it," I told her. But then when she said, "You really should," I had to repeat, "I will if I'm up for it." Even then she continued to push. "It'll do you good to come, even if it takes you out of your comfort zone."

That got my back up.

They all did - a sure sign that my resources were already depleted.

I could understand the push-back. Many are used to me saying "Yes." Some are low-energy too and rely on my compliance to make their own day go more smoothly. A few try to manipulate others to meet their own needs, these ones can be just plain toxic. I wish them all the best. But this is about what I need.

I need to give my time back to myself. Not give others my time, but give it to me.

This doesn't come easily to me, so I asked my husband how I might get better at it. He said, "You're over 65. You don't have to answer to anyone any more." I hadn't thought of it that way. And when I put that to the test, he supported me. He knew of my plans to go to another town for an appointment and hoped I'd want him to drive, so he could pick up a few things on his own while there. But when I said, "Not this time," he was a little disappointed but he was fine with it.

Taking back my time means choosing who I spend my time with. It means taking on activities that energize rather than deplete me, even taking on fewer projects than I think I can handle until I have more reserves. ** Taking back my time can mean puttering in the kitchen at my own pace, answering to nobody but myself. Until I hopped on the train one day without telling anyone I was coming to the city, I had no idea how much the urgency of meeting the schedules and expectations of others had been depleting me. It was a great day.

My time. My schedule.

Do I want things my own way? Sure. But I'm not a princess. Do I want to help the charity? Sure. But I'm not about to take on more responsibility. Do I want to meet new people? Sure. But not right now. People push back for their own reasons. I stand my ground for reasons of my own. It’s better to deal with their lack of grace than undermine my own needs.

Today I'll make some time for myself. It is a joyful intention. Time for me to maybe walk in the woods, or maybe cook a delicious soup, or maybe read a happy book. I can figure it out as I go along. It's up to me. After all, me time is my time.


* See also: Janet's 5 Rules of "NO"
** This reminds me of the cook's rule: "Use a bigger bowl than you think you'll need."

Friday, January 25, 2019

Pure Gratitude

I stopped here because I could barely help myself. It was too cold to linger really, but the beauty of the place, the sounds, the light, the energy captured my attention and then gratitude stopped me in my tracks. I didn't make gratitude up out of the moment, it was more like it made me.

Perhaps that's what Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, meant when he said, "it is our full appreciation of something altogether undeserved, utterly gratuitous – life, existence, ultimate belonging – and this is the literal meaning of grate-full-ness. In a moment of gratefulness, you do not discriminate. You fully accept the whole of this given universe, as you are fully one with the whole."