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.

 

 

be where you are

I wish I was home already”.

This was a vague, shadow of a thought I had while walking home from yoga class one day this summer. I was not having an off-day nor did I have anything pressing at home that needed my attention. In fact, I was the right in the middle of an absolutely splendid summer of rest and rejuvenation.

At that moment, I simply wanted to be further along the path than I was.

A few weeks later, the path led me down a busy city street of colourful sights and sounds in Santiago, Chile.

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This time, the thought was a little louder and much clearer than before.

I wish I had a change of clothes”.

This, after the implementation of quickly-laid travel plans, sitting and sleeping through a smooth flight and enjoying a certain underlying thrill of an unexpected, first-time trip to South America.  I was surrounded by abundance.  But clearly abundance wasn’t enough for me.  I wanted to be on this adventurous path wearing different clothes than the ones I’d had on for three days.

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In each case, I was distracted from where I was and what I was doing by the thought of where I could be and what I could be doing.

Wishful thinking.

Putting the present moment on hold.

Dissatisfaction guaranteed.

The present moment is literally as close as my next inhale and exhale.  So why would I want to be anywhere else than where I am?

Even when the path underfoot is pebbled with the grayness of boredom or obstacles to step over, why choose to wish time away?

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Right here, right now is closer than you think.

And is not found in wishes.

And it is good.

 

effort and ease

 

“A” for Effort

For almost two decades, I believed that I could outsmart the differences and disintegration. But when my crumbling marriage finally lay in heaps all around me, I heard a common sentiment from my tribe.

“No one could ever blame you for not trying”.

In the devastating aftermath, I already had plenty of guilt, shame and fear of the future to juggle so there was some small comfort in being told that I could let go of some of the blame due to the fact that I had been “trying” so hard.

But now, after almost a decade after the dust has settled, I see the game I had been and still am playing. It’s a sleight of hand trick. To intentionally draw attention to one thing to keep them from seeing another.  Hey, look at me trying.

It’s like the fiction authors who insert themselves into the plot ensuring that the reader thinks of the author often and is not able to get lost in the story. Or the actors who don’t let you forget they are acting thereby not allowing you to suspend belief for the length of the movie by believing they are who they are portraying.

Or it’s like me in yoga class when I make my effort clear to the teacher so that they don’t expect the same perfection in the pose that I am expecting because they see how hard I am trying.

But that is exhausting.  Trying hard to outrun criticism or suggestions for improvement  is a dead end run.

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Do or not do. There is no try.

How can I move from “try” to “do”?

In yoga class, instead of trying to get my heels to the floor in Downward Dog, what if I simply do the Downward Dog that is accessible in the evolution of my personal practice, and extend my heels towards the floor and call it a day?

And what if I considered that I might have an unhealthy attachment to trying?  Ouch. That’s uncomfortable.

This came up recently in yoga class when the instructor asked us to gauge our level of effort in a challenging pose. She encouraged us to give about 70% effort.  I have given that same instruction in classes but always resist it when the instruction is given to me.  The alternative to actually exerting less effort is to try to look like you’re not trying so hard. That’s something I would totally do and you’d be justified in putting me in a padded room for it.  That is just crazy-making!!!   Easier just to give a little less, non?  

Then another instructor asked us to go deeper, to look beyond the bold noticeable effort we were exerting and consider what “subtle efforts” we were still engaging in. Where were still trying hard to rescue ourselves from this challenge in hidden ways, down deep beneath where they couldn’t be seen?   Yikes, this will take some work!

Outside of yoga class, what if I gave less than 100%? What would that look like?

What if, in my relationships, I didn’t try to play a role in that relationship and just be in it?  What if I didn’t keep inserting myself into the universal story line?  What would look different? What would look the same but feel different?

 

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Ease = Effortless Effort

Ease. Not a place where I tend to hang out. Trying hard seems to have been permanently etched on my moral compass. Trying hard has seemed to be tied to authenticity to me. Even in failure and loss, if you tried harder then there was some consolation. Ah, my old friend, consolation. You are never far.

Ease. Would actual authenticity be easier? What would the ease of authenticity look like?

Ease.  I’m putting a pin in the map at that location and seeing if I can let go of trying so hard and can meander into a clearing of effortless effort.  All the chronic over-achieving, perfectionist, try-ers are welcome to join me.  Bring your own hammocks!

 

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medication / meditation

 

Medication?

The casual statement over dinner was not tossed into the centre of the table as a controversial conversation starter. To the one saying the words, it was a matter of fact and as practical as leftovers.

“There’s no way we are meant make it through this life without self-medicating.”

Resistance bubbled up from somewhere deep inside of me.

Wait! That can’t be right. Can it?

And what does she mean by ‘self-medicating”? Does she think, like me, that self-medicating refers to anything that significantly distracts or numbs us to the way things really are? To take the edge off? To help us avoid dealing with the hard emotions and thoughts?

But should we not be able to make it through a day without having to numb ourselves to reality? I pondered this question as I filled my wine glass yet again. Yup.

How do I personally avoid feeling the discomfort of stressful challenges?

I over-plan. It borders on an addiction. Stress can’t get to me if I map out each day with detours around all the potential potholes. Seems reasonable to me except for the hangover-type reactions I have to predicting a smooth route during construction season.

 

Meditation?

But then, another day and another conversation with someone else resulted in my companion responding to the knowledge that I regularly facilitate “Meditation for Resilient Living” sessions with his own unique take on things.

“So you teach people how to sleep, then!”

Meditation as self-medication?

While sleeping is a common form of self-medication, what an interesting suggestion that a regular practice of sitting meditation could actually be a way to avoid feeling the discomfort of the bumps in the road.

Meditating in a seated position where the bones can be stacked on top of each other and your spine can be long helps with the desire to doze off during a sit but the real work is with sitting with whatever comes up.

 

Anything and Everything

Instead of avoiding the not-so-fun stuff, sitting is a chance to notice it, feel it, even get royally ticked off that you have to feel something uncomfortable but not have to do anything about it or to fix it.

So done with intention, clear instructions and lots and lots of practice, meditation is the opposite of self-medicating. There is no need for numbing, distracting or avoiding. It is all acceptable.

 

Now what?

Now what about my attachment to over-planning?  Self-medication?  Probably a proactive kind.  A preemptive attack on stress!

I think that some people are born planners. We are the same people who have not-so-hidden addictions to office supplies especially the ones that assist in keeping us organized. I’m thinking of starting a support group.

As a work in progress, I’ve decided to continue planning because, it reduces my overall stress levels and supports me tremendously in my life’s work.

But, the real work will be in letting go of my aversion to potholes and bumps in the road. I’m going to attempt to be aware of when I reach for my favourite self-medicating organizational tools and ask myself:

What am I avoiding feeling?

If I allowed myself to feel it, what would happen?

porch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step one is good for now.  I’ll keep you posted on the support group, though.

 

teacher, student, teacher

 

A four-leaf clover.  In my front yard.20150701_163357

On this day.  A day of no work.  A day of rest. The start of a sabbatical, of sorts.

A day of sitting longer at the table after lunch and talking about everything and nothing.

Laughing.

Listening to the midday downpour through the screen door.

A day made for a nap.

A day of walking.

A day of yoga. And red wine. But not at the same time!

I have no need for luck, though.

Gratitude about how much I have is as close as my next breath.

Funny thing about this ‘find’ is that even on a blissful day such as this, I didn’t even notice the clover and even resisted being ‘dragged’ outside (I may be exaggerating but it’s my post and my prerogative) to be shown it.

So, on day #1 of Danette’s Summer of Being a Student Again, I’ve already learned that everything and everyone can be a teacher for me.

It may be a yoga teacher, a four-leaf clover, rest from work or my own resistance to small miracles.

Here’s to the teacher in all of us.

Happy summer!

Be open.  Be ready.  Be a student.

this too

During episodes of confusion, overwhelm or distress, you have likely been consoled with the phrase “this too shall pass” by a sincere friend sporting a sympathetic head tilt and concerned eyebrows. But what your friend may have failed to tell you is that it all passes. No matter how you label your experience, what positive, negative or neutral descriptors you use, it will all pass.

ecstasy
disbelief
numbness
bliss
isolation
clarity
confusion
anticipation
disgust
grief
wonder
intoxication
malaise
hope

 

All will pass.

serenity

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the risk of sounding uber-positive (gasp) or mindlessly optimistic, there is nothing that will happen today that you cannot handle even if your feelings tell you a tall tale of woe.

 

Feelings are not fixed or infallible.

Feelings exist to be felt but can also be based primarily on distorted thought processes. Distorted thoughts take us down a long and winding road that is littered with brightly coloured signage of what is good and bad, right and wrong, positive or negative. Why do we develop amazing stories around some experiences that we deem to be so utterly exasperating or unmanageable?  We learn from all of them.

 

Thoughts are like teenagers.

What they say to us needs to be trusted but also verified. For details on how distorted thought patterns clutter our path with distracting signs, see my previous post on “Distorted Thoughts”

What if you opened your door, whether your house is in order or disarray, and accepted all guests, invited or otherwise?  Once you let interesting characters inside, perhaps they won’t seem so uninvited-a-la-Alanis-Morissette as you first feared.

Listen to the ramblings of your assorted guests without judgement and learn from them. But for heaven’s sake, don’t feed them until you know you want them around for good.

 

 

look then look away

Frankie’s Fixation

My sister’s dog is a Dorkie. A Dorkie is a cross between the Dachshund and the Yorkshire Terrier not a dog who is slow-witted or socially inept although this dog does have some interesting quirks.

Frankie the Dorkie

During our recent family gathering, Frankie the Dorkie would sit beside the refrigerator with his glance fixed firmly on a bright green frog-like fridge magnet. Despite the constant, buzzing activity and social antics of the dozen or so adults, children and four other dogs all around him, Frankie’s gaze remained steady.

But then looking was no longer enough for him. He would then begin to whimper with only the occasional glance away from his beloved magnet to see if anyone would come and lower the magnet on the fridge so he could get a closer look.  When the whimpering didn’t work, he tried barking.

For some reason, we were all quite amused at this fixation and would lower the magnet to see what would happen next. Frankie would get visibly excited as the magnet made its way down to where he could reach it. He would sniff it and then he’d take it gently in his mouth and run away.

Laughing, we’d retrieve the magnet and put it back on the fridge to only start the sitting, staring and whimpering process all over again.

The humour wore off much sooner than Frankie’s steely resolve and we finally hid the magnet on top of the fridge. Frankie was not to be deterred and he just kept staring at the top of the fridge where he thought the magnet was.

Days later now, an email from my mother, who is babysitting Frankie for the week, explained that he is still obsessed with the magnet even though it is no longer even on top of the fridge. To prove that to Frankie, she put him on top of the fridge to show him that there was nothing up there.

It was no use. He is a dog obsessed. Holding on to something that is not his and never will be. Waiting impatiently and expectantly for something even with clear evidence that it may not even exist anymore.

It may be easy to write off Frankie as a canine oddity but those of us who walk on two feet instead of four still struggle with fixations and obsessions.

 

“It has to happen exactly this way or it’s not right”

“I need more…. time, money, friends, support, hope… then everything will be fine”

“He hurt me and I will never be able to forgive him. Ever.”

 

Resolve, Resolutions and Acceptance
In this season of goal setting, can we all find space to accept all of it?

All aspects of ourselves and our lives. Get up on top of the fridge and see that we may be fixated on an empty space and then accept that. The fixation and the empty space.

Then look away and accept that, too.

To what do you cling?  Can you accept the clinging?  Can you accept the letting go?

Be well, be happy and be at peace this coming year.

Compassion starts at home.