Thursday, October 28, 2021

Biting My Tongue

For much of my adult life, I was a reactive angry sort without realizing I was. I got frustrated and impatient at times, but I wasn't the kind of person who lost her temper or started yelling. 

A death in the family a few years ago unearthed the rage. Boy oh boy. 

Once I started to see how reactive I was, I wanted to do something about it. With perfect timing, an article crossed my desk by Pema Chodron: "The Answer to Anger & Aggression is Patience

Patience? I read the article, and yes, patience. I'd never equated anger and impatience before but it made sense. My loved ones could sense my anger even when it I was fighting it internally. They told me, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." I wanted to change that.

So I practised biting my tongue. Literally. Have you any idea HOW HARD it was to bite my tongue? I don't mean physically. But to stop and do this? I was so reactive. Harder yet because I had to accept the fact that I wasn't as nice a person as I'd thought. But it's a powerful practice. Biting my tongue forces me to stop and wait. It demands patience.

I took a playful approach. I mean can you picture it? How absurd! Some part of my brain snorts in laughter at the picture of my tongue trapped between my teeth. Every. Single. Time. 

And it's been kind of fun to watch my progress. By starting with the easier ones - the normal annoyances and disappointments of everyday life - I built enough competence to go for a few of the big ticket ones. I knew which ones would push my buttons, so I prepped. If I didn't think I'd be able to bite my tongue that day, I'd avoid direct contact. Sometimes I let the patience practice be a listening-without-talking day. That's good practice. And when I would inevitably mess up, I could be more patient with myself. I'm only human. It's a process. 

You'd think biting my tongue would make me feel constrained. It doesn't. Instead, it feels oddly freeing.


You know how it is when you get the 'flu and have no choice but to slow down and go to bed for a few days to recover? To me the pandemic feels like a supersized version of the same thing. It feels like life is asking all of us - the whole world - to slow down. No, life is telling us to slow down. 

For some of us this is not too hard. To me it feels like the world slowed down to Janet-speed. When my calendar suddenly became empty, I felt a little relief. I'd been scaling back some activities anyhow. 

For some it is hard. My neighbour with Long COVID has been eager to get back to work. He thought he'd feel better by now; it's already been 8 months. Now he has to rethink how to live in the slow lane for however much longer it takes to heal. Another friend is a social butterfly. This hit her hard. 

For some it is very hard. Many of us are now doing two jobs instead of one (think parents who have to home-school the kids while still working), and have had to reset personal boundaries, rethink what is necessary, perhaps lower some standards, and let an awful lot go. 

There's a lot of grief in letting go. There's already a lot of grief in the air. Grief is tough. The symptoms of grief itself can force us to slow down: anger, forgetfulness, exhaustion, sadness. 

If life is forcing us to slow down, maybe we do better when we assume it's for the best. We could act as though this is a natural respite, like a three day 'flu - only longer. Rather than scrambling to get back into how our lives used to be, time spent here can give us a better sense of who we are now and what we really need. What feeds our spirit? This is the perfect time to ask ourselves "What activities or places recharge my energy?" or "What brings me joy?" or "Do I really need a new coat or is it just the hunt that I miss about shopping? 

For most of us, it has been a time to rethink our habits, our work, our friendships. Some of us have left soul-sucking jobs. Others have changed the way they work. A friend had a five hour commute every day. When her bosses found she could do just as well from home, they told her she could keep it up. Zooming into the office blurred the lines between home and work. There has been nothing more human than seeing someone's doggo or toddler stepping into a zoom meeting and lifting the atmosphere. What really is more important, our productivity or our humanity?  I hope we can hang onto some of that stuff. 

Maybe when life tells us to slow down, it's because there's something it wants us to see. Maybe something we need to see.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021


I usually walk this forest path from east to west. Yesterday I went the other direction. Until then, I didn't notice how the path sloped a bit to one side. My knees noticed though. It's as though the muscles and tendons and bones had become used to the habitual way. So I decided it would be good for me to change it up more often.

It's not always easy to switch directions, though. On the trail, the usual landmarks become harder to spot. My joints become a little bit crankier. If I'm feeling unwell or tired or stressed - and who doesn't feel that way during a pandemic - I'd much rather take the usual path. But it helps to take a playful approach. 

Energy moves more freely when I am playful. I learned this first hand years ago. Every other Wednesday a group of us would get together and practice our skills in energy work and get feedback from the others in the group. The best results came when I did the energy work playfully and with joy. As soon as I started taking it too seriously the others in the group would let me know that the energy had collapsed. 

In yoga we take a playful approach to movement and breathing and rest. There is no need to achieve. Instead we can respond to what is happening that day. My yoga teacher suggests we do silly walks off and on through the day.  Walking backwards across the kitchen now and then disrupts my usual habits, and reactivates the sleeping muscles and ligaments. It's fun.

When we play, we are more free. We don't care how goofy we look. There are no special rules. Things are uncertain but we are open to surprise. We don't ask ourselves to be anything but what we are in that moment. It's about being curious. It's the willingness to let go and see what might be possible.

Today when I go for my walk through the woods, I plan to change it up again. It could be fun.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Communication Can Be Quirky

Communication can be quirky. 

I spotted a hockey puck that had been lost in the bush and brought it out to the picnic table my neighbour set up nearby. I left it there wondering if anyone had a use for it. The next day when I came by on my walk the puck was still on the picnic table but in another place. So I moved it. The next day it was moved again. 

I have no idea who has been playing this little game with me but I am enjoying the odd friendly communication. It's been going on for weeks. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Change in Perspective

From where I was sitting in my office, I glanced at the iPad on a stand nearby and could see a reflection of the window on another side of the room. I stopped to look. It captured a reflection from the mirror on the wall behind me which in turn reflected the view out the window. A reflection of a reflection.

I love this stuff. It was like a new window had opened up unexpectedly in my office bringing a fresh perspective and a change in the energy in the room.

As a kid I would see something from a different angle and pause to imagine what it would feel like to move through a room that seemed backwards. Or upside down. It made a boring day more interesting.

As an adult, I use mirrors to bounce around the light and energy in the house. I have a small mirror angled just a certain way in one room, so I can sit on the sofa and see House Wrens come and go from the the bird house out the back window. 

In the narrow front room, I placed two large mirrors on their sides opposite the front windows. It makes the size of the room seem to double in width, and it gives everyone at the dining table a view out the front.

I especially love it when I get an unexpected glimpse into a same-but-different reality like the reflection on the iPad. Looking at the world from another angle refreshes me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Help From Unexpected Places

My twin sister and I came to bike riding later than the other kids. I think we were nine years old. We each had a used old bike. Mine was a paper route bike with fat wheels. This was before the time of mountain bikes. Neither of our parents could ride, but they encouraged us to practice in the back yard where the grass would make for a soft landing.

I struggled. I just didn't seem to be getting to that magic moment when I wasn't falling off. I wasn't a natural talent. My sister was progressing much faster than I was. It was harder to manage on the grass than on a smooth surface. But, even though I felt discouraged, I persisted.

Time went on and the practice and struggle continued until one day we got help from an unexpected source. Another set of twins we knew took some time with us after school to help us get the hang of it. Before long, I was off and confident. I could RIDE A BIKE !

The next morning I got out onto my bike and after a little wobble, off I went. When I saw the twins at school later that day, I thanked them for helping us out. But they were confused. They had no memory of this. 

Now I was confused. It had seemed so real. In that moment I realized I had learned to ride a bike in a dream.

Yet in spite of the confusion, I felt elated. I could RIDE A BIKE ! There was no going back now. The practice I got in my dream had translated itself into real life. I was already riding with confidence. 

Help from the twins was unexpected. Help from a dream was even more unexpected. Until then, I'd thought dreams were just dreams. What a happy revelation to discover that dreams were real enough and powerful enough to have my bike skills bleed through into my waking life. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Tolerance is Still Other-ing

When I was a kid I didn't hear much about homosexuality. We had a friend, David, who was clearly different in a way that wasn't his fault. It wasn't until years later we found out he was queer. Then I moved to Toronto, living and studying Nursing in the gay district. Half the staff at our hospital was queer. (The elephant in the room was that our textbooks at the time declared homosexuality a mental illness.) We lived in residence and our caretaker, Rob, was a gay man. 

Life went on. Being gay was just a part of my neighbourhood. I enjoyed the fact that people like David had somewhere to go, where they could live happy lives, as small towns often rejected them. I got to know a bit about the culture.

But one day, something changed in me. I came across our caretaker crying in the 4th floor common room during a quiet hour. I asked what was wrong. He told me that his spouse had been rushed to Emergency late the night before. Sadly, the doctors could not save his partner's life. Rather than face the ride home, Rob came to the quiet familiarity of the common room to settle his emotions first. 

Until that moment I had 'other-ed' the gays around me. I didn't realize that was what I was doing. I liked them. Respected the work and grace and kindness I met all across the board. Nothing against anyone, live and let live. But until that moment, I never really saw them as a part of my human family. Rob's grief changed me.

That's the difference between tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance means we put up with something or someone with different characteristics or values than us. Kindly, perhaps. But there's still a 'me over here and them over there' vibe. That's other-ing. 

It took a moment of honest emotion for me to see I'd been thinking the same way. 

We don't need tolerance. We need inclusion. I remember a former President's wife calling poor people 'Those people,' other-ing them openly. A guy in a meeting last week talked about folks with brown skin in another city, openly racist without believing for a second he was. A potential client other-ed me when she asked what my religious beliefs were; she wanted to be sure she wasn't being sinful by asking me for a reading. 

Whether intentional or not, the very fact of other-ing separates us. When we 'other' people we are saying, 'These people are not like us.' Those on the receiving end naturally feel excluded, unloved and unwelcome.

Tolerance is not something to applaud. We can do better. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Conflict on the Cushion

I went into my first meditation retreat thinking it would be a break from everyday life. I found a comfy place to put my cushion just beside a sliding door which opened to let in fresh air. How pleasant.

Not long after starting the first sitting, a silent sitting, a woman a couple of places ahead of me gestured to me to close the sliding door. I ignored her. The temperature was pleasant, the fresh air inviting, and we were supposed to be silent. But she persisted. She was determined to have me close the door. I kept ignoring her.

When we came back into the room after a break, I discovered that someone had closed the door completely. I glanced at her and she had a self-satisfied smile on her face. She meant war. Never one to back down, I cracked open the door a slit, just enough to affect me but nobody else in the hall. Yet it did affect her. Just knowing that I had done this bothered her. A lot. 

The next day, when I arrived at the morning sitting, the door was wide open, and the fresh air spilled into the hall. I chose to leave it that way. She couldn't. She hissed her demand that I close the door, in spite of the silence.

Well, I had lots of time to reflect on all this. I was on a meditation retreat after all. 

If we are lucky in meditation, an insight might rise up and free us from some struggle. 

I was lucky. In my light bulb moment, I realized that her conflict with me wasn't about whether or not the door was open or closed. It was about her desperation to be in charge of it. My heart opened with compassion for her suffering. In that moment I realized I didn't care about the fight any more. That tension to have things be the way I wanted evaporated. This quiet little moment of insight changed the energy completely. 

After that I didn't notice her at all, except to see her cushion gone a few days later. She had left the retreat early. To my surprise, I found I missed her. I'd hoped she could have a little insight like mine and feel better for it. 

Meditation retreats are not generally pleasant places to have rosy thoughts and get away from life. They can be very pleasant, but they can also be very uncomfortable. I've experienced both, mostly the latter. What they do, though, is make room for us to get to know ourselves better, to have the circumstances to not run away from life too easily. 

I went into the retreat thinking it would be a break from life. Thankfully, it was the opposite. 

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Bird Lessons

Twice one Spring day I learned something from the birds.

In the morning, a young starling, fledged but just beginning to learn to feed him/herself, harassed its parent relentlessly. Its parent kept running away until the youngster persisted so strongly that they raised their voices. The youngling got the message. I've seen this with cats. When my daughter's cat had kittens and they were weaned, the mother would turn away to avoid the kitten that wanted to suckle. If the kitten got too persistent, she give him a swat or a swift kick. No hard feelings. Just clearly set limits.

Later in the day I had an even stronger lesson. I rushed outside when I heard the frantic shrieking of a baby robin, being snatched up by a crow. The parents set up quite a fuss. I was angry. I had a quick fantasy about getting a badminton racket and using one of the crows as the birdie. But then I stopped myself and just observed what was happening. It turns out I was the only one who had an opinion about the proceedings. The birds were fully in the moment. They were roused to action the second that they needed to be. The baby shrieked its terror. And in the aftermath, the parents spoke their distress loudly for several minutes before their voices settled and they could move on.

There's a purity to the responses of the robins in their loss. The loss is keenly felt, but nothing is added to it. There is a purity in the way that the starlings set their limits. None of it was about good parenting or bad parenting. None of it was about "This should not have happened." In their own clean and natural way, the animals and birds know exactly what to do.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

From the Archives

From the Starry Night archives: some old stories I found that, even if a bit outdated, seemed fitting for today's times. Here they are in no special order:

Mind the Gap 

"During the gap time, I feel creative and eager to jump into a new project, but no matter how hard I try, it's just not right. It's as though part of me is embracing the new me, but the old me hasn't quite let go."

It happened again recently. I ordered a few small things from IKEA and while the colander was perfect, the study lamp was too tall. What was I thinking?

Living Each Day

"Living Each Day is about spending time on what I value. And some days, sitting out in the sunshine reading a book is the very best thing I could be doing with my time."

The gap time is a good time for me to revisit my values and find ways to realign with them. 


"The fragrances of the summer day were so strong that they pulled my attention away from the problem and back into the moment. They reminded me that there were more important things to do than mull over problems."

Pandemic news can be so compelling, I need joy for balance.

Simple Pleasures

"I love hanging out the laundry in the nice weather. It's not just an excuse to get some fresh air and sunshine, it's good for me. The simple pleasure I take from it gives me a time out from all the other matters that want my attention and helps integrate me."

Taking care of myself is so important. So are simple pleasures.


"When I step outside each morning and listen to the sounds around me, it helps me reconnect with the whole world. When I light a candle for a friend, it helps me bring the emotions I am feeling into a positive physical form. When I feel overwhelmed, making a cup of tea is a small ritual that can bring me back into myself. While the rituals themselves are not the meaning, they are not superficial. We need them. We love them. We use them all the time."

Sometimes I just need to sit down and have a cup of tea.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Pink Prayers

I know people who pray all day long every day. That was never my style, but I'm changing that. 

Once I realized that my mental landscape was getting too clogged up with stuff that depletes my energy - like worry, greedy politicians, pandemic, climate change - I decided to do something about it. 

I started by whisking away negative thoughts, opinions and judgements. I flicked my hands as though I was brushing lint from my shoulder and exhaled at the same time. 

That was helpful. But I needed it to go farther. I wanted to add some positive energy. The next time I caught another cluttering thought, I exhaled and whisked as usual, but this time I realized, 'This could be a prayer.'

A full blown talking-to-higher-power prayer might add to the mental clutter. I needed something simpler. Then I remembered a quote from an old book 'He prayed as he breathed...' My breath itself could be a prayer. I got an image of my exhale being a pink cloud going out to meet the situation. 

A pink prayer. 

I whisked and exhaled the pink cloud with a desire for things to improve. Simple. As I continued, sometimes it was a blue cloud, sometimes violet.

It's a practice though. The first few tries weren't quite right. When I thought of a particular politician, the pink cloud I blew at him felt more like a pink punch than a pink prayer. I laughed at myself. It was a start. 

It's been fun. I've been applying it to all kinds of things: personal problems, illness, certain politicians, even the part of me that jumps to judgement awfully quickly. The idea is to hold all these things gently. Humanity doesn't need my opinions, it needs kindness. 

Is a pink cloud a prayer? You bet it is.

Monday, February 22, 2021


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


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.