Monday, August 29, 2022

Bigger Bowl



I don't remember where I read the concept of putting things in a bigger bowl, but I have found it helpful over the years. 

So say you have an apple here and an orange over there. They are different things. But put them together in a bigger bowl and they are both fruit. The differences are still there but the view is more expansive.

I was awake in the night with a restless and busy mind. Tossing and turning. Thoughts about politicians, about family. You know the stuff that makes us toss and turn. I tried deflecting by thinking about puppies and kittens. That didn't help for long. I tried pink prayers. They were helpful to change the flavour but didn't do much to stop the tossing and turning. I tried recalling the movie I saw earlier that day. It didn't last long. I tried watching my breathing. I tried noticing body sensation. Finally it dawned on me that this was just a lot of turbulent thinking energy. 

Thinking energy can take on a lot of different patterns: turbulent, smooth, some thoughts rush up and grab us with an emotional hit, some hover in the background, some are cluttered or fragmented, some crowd in on our energy putting pressure on us, some are comfortable. During the night the pattern was turbulence, like rough waves in a lake or gusty weather above. 

The thoughts themselves were oranges and apples. Noticing the pattern as turbulence was the bigger bowl.

This helped. It removed the effort I was making to change the thoughts themselves. Imagining the turbulence as gusty weather helped too, because like clouds in the sky, I knew the thinking pattern would change and disburse eventually. 

Once I rested in the awareness of a bigger pattern, my body rested too and I was able to get back to sleep. 

If you've never seen thinking activity as energy patterns before, you can make it into a small awareness exercise. Ask yourself at any time, 'What does the thinking energy seem like right now?' Then, stop and see if you can get a feel for it. It's a fresh new place to put your attention and keep it occupied for a bit. 

It puts things in a bigger bowl.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Trusting Life


When a bird flies closely in front of my car as I drive, I tend to slow down. It can happen often out here in the country. What I discovered over time was that there is often a good reason for me to ease off the gas for a slow-to-get-out-of-my-way crow. Like a cop running radar up ahead, or farm equipment that needs more than one lane of road. Not always, but it's happened often enough for me take it as a warning sign. 

Other patterns like this have shown up. If I set off to buy a sofa, and things don't fall into place, I take it as a sign that it's the wrong sofa or the wrong time. I bail out earlier rather than later. When I ignore that little pain in my back while digging in the garden, my body may well just say, "OK that's enough!" and put me into bed for 5 days to recover. (When I was young it was 3 days).

We hate having our flow disrupted, though. When a bird flies too close it disturbs the flow and speed of the drive. It knocks us out of the groove. It's a nuisance when the sofa purchase doesn't fall into place. I had a rhythm while digging in the garden and wanted to have it done that day. A little twinge in the back is just a twinge. Surely I can power through.

This even works with assumptions or opinions. Forming an opinion uses less cognitive energy than changing it later on. It's easier to ignore something we don't want to hear than give it any of our energy. Until we must. This can be serious business in a world where social media and propaganda are buzzing around our already tired selves; we are fresh meat for their tactics. 

We don't want to let life get in the way of our plans. But I have learned not to fight it. Yes, it could mean I am late for the appointment, or that I'll have to find a sofa elsewhere. It could mean that I don't finish the garden until later. 

But I'd rather slow down for a bird than meet that cop around the next corner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Finding Things

 


I started writing this when we'd been chasing down a set of car keys that had vanished into thin air. It had been dogging me for a day.

Years ago, when a wedding ring vanished during a family celebration, my Catholic friend taught me how she asked St. Anthony to find lost objects. Her technique (if I remember right): Quiet yourself. Get a mental image of what you want to find. Ask St. Anthony to help you find it. Wander through the house or area with a sense of loose concentration, mind and body easy. See if there’s a place you keep being drawn to, even though you may KNOW FOR SURE it couldn’t be there, because you can take that to mean you are being guided. Where you keep feeling that pull is likely where it is or is a hint to where it is. She had great successes with this. That particular day she kept getting drawn to the discarded wrapping paper. She must have gone back to it 4 times. And sure enough there was the wedding ring, found before it went out with the trash.

My technique is almost the same. I start logically. First I retrace steps. I ask another set of eyes to look. I go through things systematically.

When that all fails I go the intuitive route. This is when it gets fun. It's a great way to pull into the less logical and feel the energies of attraction and repulsion. It's also a great way to get the universe involved, recognizing that there are forces greater than us. 

I quiet myself. I get a mental image of what I want to find. I may even imagine the lost thing wants to find me, too. I ask the Universe/God/Life/Angels to help me find it. Or I ask St. Anthony - he's a friendly Saint. I wander through the house or area with a sense of loose concentration, mind and body easy. Sometimes I use a technique like the radar thingy. Like my friend, I don't discount places I feel drawn to even when logic tells me it couldn't be there. I don't rush; time pressure adds a level of cloudiness. I try to relax about the outcome; lost things sometimes need to stay lost. If I get stressed out while on the wander, I stop and relax again. The relaxed mind and body gives me access to something larger than logic, something rich and fluid.

The car keys? Well, we looked for them everywhere we thought they might have been, and places we thought they might not. We tossed cushions, took apart the recliner chair, checked all the wrong pockets. Called the dentist office. The garage got tidier. We cleaned out a few pockets. After two days, no keys.

But.

The third day, a letter from the government reminded me to renew license and health cards. That led me to the glove box of the Jeep which I rarely open. Without the letter, it could have been weeks or even months before I needed to use the glove box. And there they  were. It ended up being an "Oh I remember now" moment. He'd dropped them in my glove box for convenience after a visit to the dentist (poor guy had teeth pulled) while I was getting him some prescriptions from the drug store.

By giving up the need for the keys to be found, when they did show up, it was a delightful surprise. It felt like a blessing.


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Body Sensations




Every now and then I set an intention every day to shine a light on a certain area of my spiritual life. Lately my mantra has been, 'What does this feel like in my body?'

Every single thing we experience, no matter how subtle, every thought, no matter how fleeting, will show itself as a body sensation. I'm talking about actual sensations here - not our emotions (like 'joyful') or our evaluations (like 'yukky') or our moral judgements (like 'she shouldn't have done this') - but actual physical sensations. 

For example, when I am feeling anger, I often feel a heat rising up my back and neck, sometimes up the front. When I have a thought or feeling of sadness, it feels like a beanbag has been dropped on my lungs. Even pain can be recognized as body sensation. Broken down, it can be seen as a heat here, a pulling sensation there, or a heaviness over there. 

As a culture we spend a lot of time in our heads. We forget the natural animal nature of our bodies. We forget that our bodies store our unresolved histories, which my yoga teacher calls 'issues in the tissues.' To feel well, these unresolved issues need to be processed and released. Our bodies know how and when to do the job. 

Lately I've been noticing a build-up of pressure under my shoulders. Pressure from within rises and builds to the point where it feels like something's gonna blow if I don't find a release valve. Lately, my release valve has been a trip to the fridge. Yeah, I know. While pasta is a comfort, the release doesn't last, and the consequences can weigh a lot. If I really want to heal this, I have to feel what I am feeling.

It can take courage, but when the karma is ripe, or the time is right, or the stars have lined up the right way to investigate deeper, I might be able to bypass the fridge and find a quiet corner instead.

So I sit with it. I watch the body sensation. It's almost like making friends with it. I don't want the discomfort, but the reality is that it is there whether I like it or not, so I may as well see it as an ally and not an enemy. As I relax and soften and pay attention to just the sensations, I may discover that a lot of the difficulty around it was not the sensation itself but my reactivity to it. Other things may rise. An old memory may surface. I may ugly cry. It could take half an hour to dissipate, or 5 minutes, but in the end it does. I don't have to do anything. I don't have to fix anything or figure anything out. I can just pay attention and let the body do what needs to be done. 

This kind of meditation is helpful when life hits us hard, when we feel helpless or vulnerable or resentful. The soft animal nature of our bodies takes in everything we experience. It's supposed to. The discomfort we feel is a part of nature, a natural phenomenon that comes and goes. When we meet it with curiosity and allow it to be what it is, we are allowing nature to look after itself. 

The end result is often a fresher, emptier feeling. Letting go of negative experiences this way leaves a bit more room for the joy and vitality and shimmer of our natural being to be experienced. What we feel afterwards, is better.

If paying attention to body sensation is new to you, you can start here:

Sit quietly, relax imagine something that makes you feel joyful, like holding a puppy or kitten in your arms. Pay close attention to the sensations in your body. Have there been any changes since you 'picked up' the puppy? Where does 'it' feel so good? What does it feel like? For me the puppy exercise feels like a warmth in my chest, and a sense of something loosening in my mid-back. It could be different for you. Stay with it for a while till you really have it, and can remember the sensation. Once you're familiar with the sensation, you may notice it when it comes up in the future.

Here's another. Sit. Let the body relax. Then think or imagine something that makes you angry. What changed in the body at the angry thoughts and emotions? What does this feel like? A tightening across the shoulder blades? A sense of holding up a bag of rocks above the shoulders? Heat? Stay relaxed so you can notice the sensations without getting caught up in the drama. You want the energy to move freely, not get locked up like before. Some long-time meditators do this one deliberately to get to know what triggers them. 

Even fear can be felt in the body. For me it's a buzzy sensation just above the skin and a shaky sensation at the back of my neck. It can really be intense and awful. But when I remember that it will pass if it don't fight it, it gets easier. 

Noticing body sensation is a powerful tool to work with energy. I have a friend in the effort, though. My wise animal body is that friend.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Wonder



From the dictionary: 
"WONDER: a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable: he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child."

I can't count the number of times I have used the word "wonderful" without taking time to really notice what the word means. It has become an easy way to describe something good or pleasant or great. Even the word itself has lost its meaning - has lost its wonder.

Wonderful. Wonder - full. Full of wonder. 

Little kids are the best for showing us wonder. Look at the expressions of a baby discovering her hands for the first time, then experimenting to see what happens when she does something with them. She is absorbed in the experience, curious to see what is next. Her awareness is expanding.

Many of us lose that as we get older. For much of my childhood I was waiting to grow up. I couldn't drive until I was 16. I couldn't vote until 18. It often felt that childhood was for learning and adulthood was for doing. As I grew, wonder took a back seat. Yet, in my 17-year-old race to sober adulthood, the auto mechanic I worked with advised me not to lose the child in me. He made me promise to remember it. Jimmy knew the value of wonder.

As adults it can be even easier to lose that sense of wonder. When life is moving fast and we are on the edge of stress, there seems little time to stop and notice the detail and richness of ordinary experiences. We're more interested in getting answers or getting things done than exploration or discovery.

Yet, strangely, when we take that bit of extra time, wonder refreshes us. 

Rachel Carson called wonder "an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantment of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength."

I'm glad Jimmy made me promise not to lose the child in me. This morning I stepped outside in the dark and watched the ISS cross the sky above my home for a wonder-ful 6 minutes. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Religion and Spirituality



When I started taking an interest in my spiritual life, I was drawn to the idea that spirituality without religion might be possible. It seems to me that all religion is based in the deep, nameless, mysterious divine force or presence that informs all of our lives. We might call it the Creator, the Universe, God, or we may refuse to call it anything at all. All are attempts to express something that can not really be named or defined.

Someone raised in the forest may find spirit in the trees. Someone who prays with hundreds of others may find spirit in the company of friends. A wonderful, wise energy may be perceived by someone as an angel and by someone else as a being from a far away galaxy. Each of us responds to patterns, images and perceptions that resonate with our emotional and mental landscapes. Whether a prayer or meditation was given to us by a friend or by a long ago saint, if it leads to inner peace, it's worthwhile.

I moved away from religion when I first started exploring my spiritual nature. I didn't see how the church of my childhood could lead me where I wanted to go. Everyone seemed to have a different opinion or seemed to stress certain rules. It felt superficial, even dishonest at times. I especially disliked the hypocrisy; one of the most pious of us sitting in a saintly way in the front pew, snarled at us the second she got outside after the service. While the ritual felt soothing and the music harmonious, it seemed rare to really touch upon any deeper mystery. 

There was one exception though. When the priest ended the service, he started a sentence with "May the peace that passes all understanding ..." That was a deeper mystery. The peace that passes all understanding. That phrase rang true deep in my heart as a child and stayed with me ever since.

Now, I find I am drawn back into an appreciation for religion in all its ritual and custom and richness. I love the feeling of sharing faith with others. I love the presence of spirit that fills the walls of a building of worship with an almost tangible grace. I enjoy being in an environment where I can surrender my cares and concerns to a force greater than me. Every religion I have encountered has a bit of space for people like me. 

We can explore spirit inside a religion or outside one. All it takes is the longing to connect with that deep, nameless, mysterious divine force or presence that informs all of our lives.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Centring Myself



Each morning before my prayers and energy sessions, I take a few minutes to centre* myself. All those loose bits of thoughts, fragments of data, opinions and whatnot need to settle down a bit. Some days it is easier than other days. I give myself as much time as I need; time pressure clouds up the energy. Sometimes I step outside to let the fresh air and trees do good things to my energy. Sometimes I just stay at the computer.

My technique isn't unique. I start with the breath. I breathe and let the oxygen suffuse the body. Let the rhythm of breathing stabilize the energy. At this moment, nothing else needs my attention. I'm just relaxing where I am and paying attention to the air on my cheeks and breath in my body. I'm not 'trying' to centre myself. The energy of 'trying' takes us to a different place.

If I need an image to help, I imagine I'm like an old person sitting in the sun watching children at play with an attitude of nothing left to do.

When do I know I'm well centred? Sometimes, I feel a tickle at the top of my head, as though my hair there is standing on end. Not everyone gets sensations like this; for all I know it could be pathological. But when it appears, it shows me I'm about as centred as I can be at that time.

From that space I can let my energy spread out to wherever it needs to go. Centring relaxes the mind. And a relaxed mind gives us access to something larger, something rich and fluid. 

Still, it isn't about accomplishing anything, it's about revealing the quiet state of mind that already exists under the shiny things that tend to capture our attention. Then letting that quiet state become the star of the show.

I don't do this just in the mornings. It's a handy tool when I am busy or stressed out or just want to change mental or emotional gears. I stop often when walking the trails. I take a breath, adjust my (usually poor) posture and then carry on once I feel refreshed. Whether for morning prayers, for jumbled thinking, for a fresh perspective any time of day, centering gives me pause.

If you are new to centring yourself and want to practice this, start small. Decide what times you could practice. There are a million change points during a day. Like maybe just before entering your home after you've been out. Pause and centre yourself. Or when you settle onto the seat in the subway or bus. Or after a rest room break, before venturing out into the world again. Or to prepare for a meeting. Or first thing when you step outside in the morning. 

Just stop and take a breath or two and let the suffusion and rhythm unwind some of the clutter. 

This meditation is a good one to try. (It's in this month's newsletter.)




* A note to my American friends about the spelling of 'centre'. I apologize. I'm Canadian so that's the way I spell it. I cling to this spelling stubbornly, as does my spell-check. I also cling to the Canadian way of numbering dates like April the 8th. I use 2022-04-08 rather than the American 04-08-2022. Mostly because I can never tell if you mean April 8th or August 4th. 

Monday, February 21, 2022

Little Brown Bird Story


The world can surprise us when we give it room. 

Our connection with the natural world isn't just a connection. It's what we are. We are expressions of nature just as a thunderstorm is. Our culture may ask us to think of ourselves as separate from nature, yet that's not reality. Reality is that we humans are sensitive creatures in a world that never sits still. 

When the world gets scary, it can be useful to remember that we are supported in ways we might otherwise have ignored. This may be a good time to reconnect. To get outside. Take a breath. Notice the world. 

I created the Talking With Nature course 20 or so years ago to give us a chance to connect in a meaningful way. Then about 6 years ago I put the material up on my blog for free for anyone to enjoy. It starts here: https://janetdane.blogspot.com/2016/08/talking-with-nature-course-in-mysticism.html

In Day 10 of the course I told my Little Brown Bird Story.

When I was on a retreat a while back, I needed to get down from a long walk I had taken up a ridge in the forest to the meditation hall for the next sitting. I had 10 minutes and didn't know if I could make it so I relaxed and decided just to go and hope for the best. As I started down the steep hill, a small bird lit on a branch on my left. A little brown bird. I said hello to it, delighted to have the company. As I went down, it flew from branch to branch, landing always on a branch just ahead of me and to my left - that was until I got to a spot where I thought I needed to veer right in order to get the shortest way to the bottom. The little brown bird hopped to a branch a short distance away in another direction. Should I follow the bird, or head the way I thought I should? I followed the bird. And in the end, it led me the shortest way possible to the hall.

Was this a coincidence? Maybe. But the end result was my arrival at the hall on time against all odds. Even better, was the feeling that life was supporting me, rather than working against me. I was fighting the tyranny of time, and the organic process of nature supported me. The world can surprise us when we give it room. 

This may be a good time to reconnect. To get outside. Take a breath. Notice the world. We are part of this. 



Thursday, January 20, 2022

Blessings



I told a friend that I had a happy memory of the Municipal Works Yard near his place. Really? A works yard? There's not usually much to see there but big barns with salt and sand, big trucks to take care of the roads and other heavy machinery. Not a place that sounds much fun.

But as we drove home from my sister's place on a cold clear winter night, I caught a glimpse of the Northern Lights out the rear-view mirror. I pulled off the rural road and parked in the works yard so we could watch for a while. We lingered until the cold chased us back into the car. It was splendid. It felt like a moment out of time. I've seen the aurora before and since, but that night was special - a blessing dropped into an ordinary evening.

We feel nourished in these moments when we can just relax and take joy our world - get a sense of something much larger than us, that we can feel our part in. Moments like these remind us that we are nature. 

Another blessing came on the drive up another rural road towards my daughter's hometown. I caught a glimpse in the dark of small lights moving over a farmer's field. Fireflies! Thousands of them in the warm summer night! I pulled over and we stepped out of the car to take it in. What a sight. Like the aurora, I have seen fireflies like this before and since. But that night was special, too. Other curious drivers slowed to see what was interesting and they pulled over behind us to share the blessing.

Funny how these blessings stuck with me after over twenty-five years. I could easily have rushed home without stopping. I'm glad I didn't.