that’s why they call it practice

There are days that my practice happens on a yoga mat. Some days it exists on a meditation cushion. Some days it is simply moments of listening actively to another person who is standing right in front of me.

But every single minute of every single day, my practice is to see what is in front of me without passing declarative judgment. To see, notice, accept then make choices based on the reality of the situation, not on my judgment of what is in front of me.

 

 

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This “resist the urge to judge” practice has been severely put to the test this week. News from many sources this week elicited responses that all reflected some sense that “this is good”, “this is bad” or “this is catastrophic”.

As soon as my judgment has been leveled and I’ve dispatched the labels “good”, “bad” or “catastrophic”, the situation in front of me now rises to the status I have given it.

And then my thoughts and emotions about it rise up alongside my judgment. And, as if from nowhere, it’s as if I’m in a blender with all aspects of the situation. No distance, no perspective and no escape.

My escalated emotional, reactional state lulls me into thinking I’m actually awake. But am I? Am I really awake?

The Taoist Farmer

A man named Sei Weng owned a beautiful mare which was praised far and wide. One day this beautiful horse disappeared. The people of his village offered sympathy to Sei Weng for his great misfortune. Sei Weng said simply, “That’s the way it is.” 

A few days later the lost mare returned, followed by a beautiful wild stallion. The village congratulated Sei Weng for his good fortune. He said, “That’s the way it is.”

Some time later, Sei Weng’s only son, while riding the stallion, fell off and broke his leg. The village people once again expressed their sympathy at Sei Weng’s misfortune. Sei Weng again said, “That’s the way it is.”

Soon thereafter, war broke out and all the young men of the village except Sei Weng’s lame son were drafted and were killed in battle. The village people were amazed as Sei Weng’s good luck. His son was the only young man left alive in the village. But Sei Weng kept his same attitude: despite all the turmoil, gains and losses, he gave the same reply, “That’s the way it is.”

Our times call for a practiced measure of relaxed alertness. Be awake. Be aware. But don’t expect that escalation and reaction is the same as being awake.

If what is happening really is what it is, now what?

 

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Instead of asking what my reaction to injustice will be, I could be asking, what is my response to it going to be?

Without emotional escalation and obsession with the unfairness of it all, what can I do now? On my mat? On my cushion? While listening to others?

Today, right now, can I choose tolerance, peace and resist the urge to judge beyond the usefulness of it?

Honestly? I don’t know. I really don’t know.  I’m kind of attached to my judgment of this mess.  I’m kind of attached to the rage.

But that’s why it’s a practice.

making hills out of hills

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Him:  “No wonder you’re tired. You worked much harder than I did.”

 

Me (thinking): I did? How? We both biked about 30 km on a gorgeous fall day. So how was I working any harder than you?

 

Me (speaking): “What do you mean?”

 

Him: “Your bike is heavier than mine. You had a backpack on adding more weight. And the mental hurdles you have to overcome are just not part of my experience.”

 

Dammit! He was right. I hate when he’s right. Right and insightful.  Even worse.

 

My mental hurdle shows up as soon as I see a hill even from a long distance away.

 

I call the hill names and tell it that it won’t get to me. Then, when my legs are burning about mid-hill, I bully myself the rest of the way. I grit my teeth and take the hill at a faster speed than when the ground is more level thinking that the pain will end quicker if I just get up and over.

 

Have you heard the one where a hill is just a hill?  It’s just another experience. I heard this philosophy when I was in labour. The pain of the contractions is just another experience. You don’t need to avoid it or give into it. It is what it is. Breathe through it. I didn’t fall for this philosophy back then either.

 

So what is it about the hills that gets my goat?  Why do I have to win?  To hurry through the pain?  To get to the other side?

 

What if a hill is just another experience? Nothing to gain victory over. Nothing to beat myself up over. No greener grass on the other side. No reason to over-effort. Just breathe and let what is, be.

 

What if hill is just a hill?

 

fall-bike-ride

 

expect less

Chances are, I would make an awful self-help guru. Tony Robbins and his contemporaries will likely hold a public shunning upon reading my new mantra for this upcoming school year.

My mantra is:

 

        ~ expect less ~

 

Brutal

Where’s the set-the-bar-high pep talk?

Where’s the you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-mind-to encouragement to help others over the 8 months of hump-days?

Where’s the return-on-investment for my employer?

What kind of educator are you?

Step to the back of the queue, Negative Ned’s and Nellie’s!   I have set my mind to ‘expecting less’ and it is my intention to experience more peace this year by doing just that.

Read on, MacDuff!  Just getting to the good part.

 

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Imagine it

What would it look like if I went through my work day of supporting students, collaborating with colleagues, problem-solving with parents and facilitating meditation classes all while ‘expecting less’?

 

I imagine it would look something like this…

 

Less wishful thinking that others can read my mind’s manifesto on how things ‘should’ be done.

More clear, direct requests for what I want.

 

Less personalizing when situations still don’t go my way even with clear, direct requests.

More acceptance of all outcomes whether or not they fall within my way of doing things.

 

Less soul-sucking over-efforting to drive up my number-of-people-pleased stats.

More doing the task in front of me with integrity and authentic presence regardless of who is watching.

 

Less compulsion to efficient task completion as if someone is literally waiting at my door for results.

More doing the task in front of me with integrity and authentic presence regardless of who is waiting.

 

Less obsession with results. And even less obsession with the mythical, perfect results.

More focus on making eye contact, taking a breath before speaking and listening, listening, listening. (Then way more self-care for balance!)

 

Less complaining.

More expecting less!

 

Less frantic, externally-driven movement.

More internally-driven, deep-breathed pacing.

 

Less reaction.

More response.

 

Less performing.

More presence.

 

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By the way, I will also be expecting less from you. Great news for you.

Bring on the busyness of a new year.  My mantra and I are ready for you!

 

 

to think or not to think

After posing questions to the meditation session participants, inviting them to reflect on those questions, and then sharing in a silent group meditation practice, a participant asked,

“You give us lots to think about during the reflection time and then are we      supposed to stop the thinking during meditation?  I’m so confused about  when I should be thinking or not thinking.”

Great observation.

To think or not to think.  Is that the question?

There’s nothing wrong with thinking or not thinking.

The key is to have enough influence over your own mind so that your mind is not compulsively running the show 24/7 and dragging you along helpless for the frenetic ride.

 

Whatever you are doing, do it.

When you’re thinking, think.

When you’re meditating, notice the thoughts, notice the desire to think then train the mind to come back to the breath or the body while letting the thoughts go. 

porch solitude

 

I remember a time when I first started meditating, many moons ago, I was absolutely thrilled for some quiet time to sit and think during meditation. I had created no space in my daily life to think.

Clearly missing the point of meditation. But this view of meditation-as-permission-to-think viewpoint made training my mind to settle even more challenging .  I was filling the stillness and space with thinking.  Intentionally yet unaware...story of my life!  

 

But once I introduced intentional times of non-doing and constructive rest into my life and gave myself permission to indulge in as much relaxed-body and mind thinking time as I could handle.  This allowed the training my merry-go-round mind in my mediation practice easier. Not easy. Just easier.

To think or not to think is not the question.

Being aware of thinking and choosing when to do it and when not to do it is the practice.  It is your practice.  It is my practice.  Still.  Always.

It’s a question of who is ultimately in charge. You?  Or your mind?

 

coffee mates

Who do you have coffee with?

Who are those people you most regularly meet up with to have connecting catch-up conversations?

Those slow chats that are laced with lingering, easy silences and inside jokes.

When you meet up with these chat-buddies, what is the texture of these talks?

Is the talk flat and small?  Mostly about other people and their failings or unfounded fears for the future?  Or is the talk expansive, enlightening conversation about ideas, gratitude and still have room for some expression of vulnerability along with the excited plans for the next adventures in life.

Do the chats open you up to life or make you want to hide away? Do the people you regularly caffeinate with inspire you to be bigger or smaller?

I once heard a saying about how we become like the people we have coffee with.

What would change if you noticed the texture of your talk and chose your coffee mates wisely?

Thoughts to ponder over your next cuppa joe.

 

spring at the beach house

 

the centipede is mocking me and other cognitive distortions

The centipede was clearly mocking me.

It sat there, perched on top of the plug that was inverted over the drain in the kitchen sink. It was just sitting there all leggy. And entitled. Looking like a couple of false eyelashes twitching in anticipation for me to make the next move in our little stand-off.

Seeing those thousands of grimy feet right there where I do dishes and prepare food made me want to sell my house and start over. Still considering it.

 

 

A friend tries to comfort me by telling me that centipedes are naturally shy creatures. Like I care.  Hibernate like the rest of us introverts.  He also says that they help out by eating other bugs.  They are the only bugs I can see in my house so unless they eat themselves, again, I don’t care.

I have a perfectly good system to keep them in the damp basement where they belong and it involves keeping all the plugs in all the drains in the whole house. Might seem crazy to some but works extremely well until I forget to put a plug in or if I leave one inverted with the slots open for easy escapes.

But when I forget to plug, I pay. Then I get mocked.

Pretty twisted, huh?

Funny thing is that it may not even be one of my most distorted thoughts.

  • I pretty commonly catastrophize daily situations.
  • See things as black and white.
  • Blame others to avoid taking responsibility.
  • Use the words ‘should’ and ‘must’ much too often.
  • And I can throw mid-life tantrums with the idea that life is supposed to go the way I want it to.

Yet time to challenge the rapid-firing cognitive distortions is time I just don’t seem to have.

It is possible to challenge them. Not easy but possible.

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It means harnessing the ‘power of the pause’.

  • Intentionally stop
  • Practice mindful breathing
  • Notice when thoughts have become pretzel-like
  • Consider how the thought may not be so beneficial when it’s so twisted

So, after a short pause, maybe, just maybe, the centipede wasn’t actually mocking me.

And maybe I won’t need to move after all.

Just a thought.

 

practice makes practice

I love puzzles.

All kinds.

Jigsaw, crossword, mazes, lateral-thinking brain teasers. Although, I do find the last ones a tad frustrating since I tend to be too much of a linear, sequential thinker to consider the myriad of potential solutions.  Usually end up thinking “how did I not come up with that answer?” when I finally find it out.

I also love to guess whodunit long before the last clue is dropped in the plot of a suspenseful, crime drama.

This fondness for puzzles extends to when I am dealing with someone who is expressing a level of anger, for example, that seems to be beyond what is called for. I look for subtle clues that the person might be giving off about what other, more authentic emotion, may really existing beneath the rage but is resistant to surface.

Oddly enough, this puzzling interest of mine is not helpful for my mindfulness practice.

Whether I am considering my yoga, meditation or daily mindfulness practice, the hyper-vigilant scanning for the “why’s” and “how’s” is a considerable distraction.  A misdirection of sorts that clashes with a mindful moment.  I want to know…

Why practice at all and is it even practical to do so?

How could my practice lead to a greater resilience in the face of challenges?

Why do I feel the need to document and share my views on my practice?

But at the end of this cycle of my present inhale and exhale, it is clear that this distraction and misdirection is taking me away from that which I seek.  Presence.

Practice is not a puzzle to be solved or a means to a better end.

While there may be beneficial side effects from maintaining a regular mindfulness practice, it becomes just another puzzle when there is one eye on the potential of puzzle mastery.

Practice doesn’t make perfect.

Practice makes practice.

In the face of whatever arises.

That is all.

 

 

 

when is a house, just a house?

You are just a house.

258 John St, Ottawa, ON

Just a house made of bricks, cement and wood. You are not as big a deal as you think you are.  In fact, I live in a very similar house in a different town right now.

Get over yourself!

 
Your ego was inflated when we nicknamed you “The Big House”. So it is partially our fault.  Duly noted.

 
Your only claim to fame is that:

• You gave us a roof over our heads when we uprooted ourselves with much trepidation only to be replanted in the Valley

• You allowed us to tear down some of your walls, rip up your awful red, indoor-outdoor carpet and to remake you into a welcoming place we’d gather for over 30 years of Christmases, Race Weekends, birthdays & summers breaks which always included dozens of drop-in friends and friends of friends and so much laughter!

• You were a key witness to family squabbles, blossoming relationships, occasional selfish acts and innumerable outrageous kindnesses

• You gave us the Bunny Room; a tiny nursery with bunny-filled wallpaper that was used when we were blessed with the incredible births of Hillary and Micaela – turning four siblings into six!

• You gave us beds of rest, a full fridge and a safe place to cry, to laugh inappropriately and plan the funeral service during our two-week, rotating-shift vigil at Ed’s hospital bed

• You invited Grandma to live out her last few decades with us and the memories of her sharp tongue and familiar scowl are all over you

• You were the birthplace of not just one family but of many

• You were Ed’s dream

You were more than just a house, you were a home

 

And I will miss you.

But don’t let it go to your head!

 

scattered mind syndrome

When our thoughts, heartstrings and even our body’s cells are tied to balloons of drama, made-up stories, perceived expectations and preferred outcome, we are the mercy of the wind. We are no more grounded than a balloon on a windy day in the hand of a toddler.

In such a state of uncertainty, we react with confusion, anger, tears, indignation or some other storm-filled emotion that swallows our energy.

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Mindfulness is seeing the balloons with their clear labels of “ecstasy”, “fear”, “projection” or “contentment”, “distraction”, “busyness” or “expectation” and accepting that label.
Why do we feel the need to cut the strings to settle a scattered mind?

 
Instead of cutting all ties with discord, can you let go of the death-grip you have on the strings? The strings are the only thing that attach you to your stories.

 
What if you intentionally tied those strings on to the closest tree? What if you sat restfully on the grass and allowed your body and mind to settle. Then allowed your mind to settle on your inhale and your exhale.

 

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Each time you remember a balloon of concern floating above you, notice, don’t judge, realize you are no longer tied to the balloon and go back to watching your breath going in and out.

 
A settled mind is not a mind without distraction. A settled mind notices the distraction then comes back to a settled place.

 
As we enter into a season of restoration, can you practice letting go of the attachment to a scattered mind?

 
Can you practice noticing what you choose to do to keep you scattered and what benefit (even negative) you get from staying scattered, tired and overwhelmed?

 
Can you choose to cultivate stillness?

 

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It takes practice being settled, in mind and body especially when howling winds threaten to uproot you and leave you feeling groundless.

 
Give yourself the gift of a settled mind.   Detach from the ties that bind.

 

 

decaying gracefully

November.

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The birth-month of the colour grey.

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The dim season that reminds us, in cool hushed tones, that all things decay then pass.

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Because our seemingly fool-proof escape plan includes the perfect hibernation scenario, we forget.  Surely we will be one of the ones who succeeds to see yet another spring.  gracefuldecay6It will not happen to us so we sleep even while awake and make plans of the forever kind.gracefuldecay7

Wake up! The gift of the November grey is the necessary reminder that we too will pass and we know not the time or place. We all pass. The gift is in the accepting of it.gracefuldecay9

November is not a morbid month.  Decay and real growth are not mutually exclusive.  gracefuldecay10Let your own colour be the vibrant contrast to the neutrality of this time.  Open your eyes, breathe deeply, see the grey of this very season and choose to decay gracefully.