About Danette

I’m a coach who provides practical help for those who are chronically overwhelmed. I believe that by implementing body-calming, mind-settling, manic-managing strategies, experiences of being overwhelmed can be overcome and we can lead lives of more passion, vibrant health, robust relationships, clarity of choices and goals, all with much less panic. With a decade of experience as a high school teacher and guidance counsellor, and more recently in my training in body and breathwork as a yoga/ meditation teacher, I provide others with the valuable tools they need to manage their own mania!

practice as real life

 

On the mat.

 

On the cushion.

 

In the kitchen.

 

In relationships.

 

Everything is a path.

 

These paths are an education in how to be:

 

  • responsive instead of being reactive
  • open to what’s really happening
  • less fearful of how things might turn out
  • less clingy to how you wish things were
  • more skillful in communicating
  • more compassionate to self and others

 

Diligence in one area impacts the others like ripples on a pond.   From downward dog to doing the dishes, each path is a route that can lead to deep awakening with awareness and intention.

 

 

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ideal conditions

 

It was an unseasonably warm February.

 

A clear sky gently sheltered a light dusting of snow on a path in a secluded wooded area. Under these ideal conditions, a fellow introvert and I dressed lightly and put on our cross-country skis to enjoy the solitude, together.

 

It seemed as if nothing could make the experience any better. Gratitude was abundant. Relating to each other was easy and the mood was light and carefree.

 

 

Two weeks later on a different ski trail, in a distant place, the conditions were much less than ideal. The groomed, high-traffic path was icy as a result of several days of warm temperatures that then plummeted to below freezing overnight,  This meant that the track was smoothed down by the multitude of skiers.

 

With the ice as smooth as a newly-Zambonied skating rink beneath our skis, there was next to no control. Our slip-sliding, wobbly, shuffle skiing brought to mind the adage ‘three steps forward, two steps back’.

 

There was nothing carefree about this experience and the edge in our voices was almost as sharp as the ones on our skis.  Patience was left back in the parking lot at the beginning of the trail.

 

What a difference a little grounding makes!

 

In ideal conditions, it was quite simple to be a calm. To recognize so many reasons for gratitude. To be present and not overthink.

 

When the conditions were characterized by a lack of solid grounding, there was a noticeable increase in thought loops that circled around how bad things were.  I focused on what was not working to the point that the surroundings were all but invisible to me.

 

It’s easy to be mindful when conditions are ideal.  

  • When people are behaving as we think they should behave
  • When situations are going exactly as we planned
  • When we get exactly what we wish for
  • When there are no unpleasant surprises or tragic events

 

 

 

Instead of giving into the wobbly, slip-sliding lack of balance, perhaps we could see these conditions as a chance dig deep to find our gratitude, courageously negotiate the aggravating groundlessness, keep our eyes open and

 

    practice accepting the fact that conditions are, most often, less than ideal.

 

So at least we know there’ll always be opportunities to grow in resilience!

 

 

 

withholding judgment revisited

Today I had an amazing opportunity to practice “withholding judgment”.  

 

In a small exam room, I was overseeing a group of students who, due to any number of physical or cognitive challenges, were being assessed in a smaller, quieter space away from the large auditorium of exam writers.

 

Some of the student behaviour I witnessed was completely expected and predictable for this demographic of students.  Forgetting pencils, rulers and calculators. Despite reminders, forgetting to turn off their phones, or not taking hats and jackets off. Forgetting that they were not to view their exam before formal instructions were given to do so.

 

All of these instances occurred even though this exam would have been their 10th or 11th exam written with precisely the same expectations and the same instructions given each and every single time.

 

When Judgment Comes

 

When one student began to spend a lot of time looking down at her hands in her lap, my mind jumped right to she’s “trying to get away with something” and I have an ethical obligation to stop her and then silently (or not so silently) judge her for her lack of a moral compass.

 

On the heels of an intense, two-day Threat & Risk Assessment Training Session, I learned more about the power of non-emotional, non-judgmental data collection so I put “withholding judgment” into practice in a concrete way that a detective might do.

 

But, also as a fan of the rule-of-thumb to “trust but verify”, I first asked the student to keep her hands and eyes on her desk and then, on a piece of paper in front me, I wrote down the following three words:

 

Curiosity
Context
Compassion

 

 

Curiosity

 

I watched, noticed and asked questions about each student in the room.

 

One student looked as white as a ghost and bleary-eyed. I wonder if he got any sleep at all last night?

 

Why, with so many questions to answer, is this other student writing on her shoe then looking blankly off into the distance for long periods of time?

How could this student come to an exam without a pencil, a ruler and without a calculator despite being instructed to arrive with those very items for two years in a row?

 

Context

 

A diagnosis is not prescriptive but can be helpful for educators to organize information about how a student learns and then implement appropriate support. And anxiety exacerbates symptoms.  Students with any challenges (learning, physical, behavioural or mental) will almost always see a rise in their symptoms when anxiety is added to the mix.  The behaviour of a student who is struggling with the learning expectations is, again, completely expected and predictable.

 

Compassion

 

With curiosity and context, compassion just naturally follows.
If a student’s list of strengths (academic or personal) is shorter that his or her list of lagging skills (academic or personal), then they will struggle. No question. And no surprise.

 

The student with a long list of lagging skills needs compassion, not discipline. They need understanding and side-by-side guidance, not condemnation.  Lagging skills is not a moral issues.  It’s a skills issues.

 

With these three simple steps in only a matter of minutes, I had travelled a long way down the road from seeing the students as “trying to get away with something” to students doing the best they have with the skills that they have already developed and despite the many that they have not yet developed.

 

Judgment was withheld for only a few short minutes while I collected data, most of which was already in the filing cabinets in my brain stored under the
heading of “You Know This Already!”.

 

The most significant difference I noticed was how the shift felt in my body.  I felt physically lighter.   Letting go of quick judgment and criticism, I felt an ease in my breathing and a release in overall tension.  I could let go of the moralizing and support their effort with more compassion.

 

One small step only, I know.  But this is how practice works.

 

I also know that the real challenge will be to translate this into my more intimate relationships because those people know where I’ve tied my goat.

 

But still, it is one small step in the direction of freedom from the tyranny of judgment.

 

And towards a practice of curiosity, context and compassion.

 

 

withholding judgment

This is, by far, the most challenging part of my practice, currently. And my life.  Since forever.

My reaction is often swift, heavy-handed and, in my own distorted mind, is completely justified because it is based solely on principle. The principle according to me.

 

 

My yoga/ meditation practice shines a glaring light on this ingrained, reactionary habit. When I sit, the judgments come. When I don’t sit, they also come. When I label my thoughts, the judgments come. When I watch my breath…well, you get it.

Then when I enter the world outside my practice space and interact with other humans, the judgments are there just as swiftly and cause discord and conflict in my relationships. And this is true whether or not the judgments are even spoken aloud. The mere thoughts of judgment can create waves of reaction that spread.

My ability to quickly evaluate people and situations is actually quite helpful in my work. Reading a student’s expressions or evaluating a possible motive for errant behaviour is beneficial to the method of problem-solving I choose to implement with a student.

But, as soon as I create a story based on a judgment, then comes my undeniable attachment to that story. And the defensiveness when the story is challenged.

I genuinely wish to nurture a non-judgmental mind because the majority of my moments and my relationships are NOT about solving problems. At all.  Nor are they about fixing what I see as the errant behaviour of others.

 

Oh to be soft and receptive enough to accept all beings I encounter with a touch of grace and humour.  To see their quirks and oddities with curiosity and compassion, not instant judgment.  To free myself from the tyranny of reaction.

 

Frustration, irritation and even some good old-fashioned anger are signs that I’m holding on to a story created by my judgement of how I think things are. This area needs sustained attention. Even if the judgment is based on principle. Even if I am right. Did I mention that I most often think I’m right?

I’m grateful for my practice.  It encourages me (with all my oddities) to pause, take a breath, withhold judgement and befriend myself as a work in progress again and again and again.  The “again and again and again” part IS the practice.

So today, I begin.  Again.  And again.

 

 

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.

 

 

2fall2016

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?

 

fallgarden1

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

leaf

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.

 

autumngarden2

 

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.

 

autumngarden1
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.

sunset skiDisplaying 20151017_144152.jpg

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.