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!

 

 

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.

 

decaying gracefully

November.

gracefuldecay5

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.

 

 

why practice?

In the gray dim of a pre-dawn workday and still groggy from sleep, I was travelling along a main highway with a large number of only what I can assume were regular commuters who try to beat the morning traffic rush by leaving home at the crack of stupid.

 

path through the woods

 

 

With my once-strong eyesight now becoming as temperamental as my body’s thermostat that goes from chilled to tropical moments in a heartbeat, I wasn’t overly concerned when my car headlights appeared slightly dimmer on the asphalt in front me. I chalked it up to my sleepy middle-aged eyes not making the visual transition with the dawn’s light.

But writing this off soon turned to a mild panic when my interior lights began to fade as well right before my headlights faded altogether.

I talked myself off my reactive panic ledge by saying “just calmly put on your blinker to get over to the right shoulder” as everything around me became less visible. That would have been stellar advice if my blinkers were actually working. That meant my four-way flashers were useless, too.  Now can I panic?  This gave a whole new meaning to the term ‘blind spot’.

As cars and large transport trucks whizzed by me, probably cursing the moron with the remarkable bedhead driving in the dark without her lights on, my momentary reaction was “my car is dead and so am I. There is no hope”.  Way to stay calm in a crisis, Danette!

 

wrong way

 

My accelerator did nothing to increase my speed but since I’d been hovering around the speed limit, I decided that I had enough momentum to get over to the side if I waited in the middle lane until the two lanes to my right were completely free of cars coming from behind me. Oh yes, this plan is flawless!

But then an oddly peaceful inner voice became clear. I realized that I could only control a minor portion of this situation.

 

 

“Do what is in front of you and let go of the outcome.”

autumn moment

 

The time pressure to get to my side-of-the-road destination before my car rolled to stop in the middle lane kept trying to incite the inner calm to riot. Those few moments felt like a bottomless pit of slow-motion moments.

With a deep breath, I drew myself back to the inner voice who was saying “Shoulder-check and wait. Mirrors and wait. Shoulder-check, clear now slowly move one lane”. I repeated this for many more moments until I got the far right lane and then I rolled the car onto the shoulder of the road. When I felt I was far enough over to be safe from the passing traffic, I hit the brakes.

Once the ignition was turned off and my shaking hands and voice had called for a tow truck, my short breath and trembling body revealed how much more panicked my body was than my mind had even let on.

There’s nothing like a full mind-body-engaging experience to get the two doing a tag-team wake-up call.  While the body responded to some deep breathing, the brain began tucking away all sorts of wacky thoughts for me to develop into full-fledged manic stories later on.  Even now, I have a short anxious mind-movie that plays in my head whenever I drive past the very spot on the highway where I had this experience.

Beyond the fear factor and the ensuing stories to uncover about how close I came to shuffling off this mortal coil, I do sort of know what an alternator does and have never been more impressed with the important task it performs.  So that’s good.

 

But I also learned that my practices of meditation, yoga, deep breathing and uncovering my old and new stories are now an integral part of my resilient responsive repertoire in the face of crisis and panic.  

old church

Hmmm.  Maybe that’s all I need to know.

breaking good

The calendar, the empty hallways and the locked school doors all tell me its time to rest and to take a much-needed, week-long break from teaching, supporting student learning and administrating all sorts of never-ending administrivia.

Even though I’m not rushing through a regular work week, I’m becoming more aware of how deep rest is not the mere absence of work and imminent deadlines. And how its not that easy to cultivate simply because there is more time for it.

Whether you find yourself catching warm rays on a beach this week, travelling with friends and family or hibernating at home against the devious return of the biting winds of winter, it seems that deep rest and nourishing restoration is a minute-by-minute choice.

nature resting deeply

nature resting deeply

For me, its a choice this week to:

1. Transform my allegiance to the clock as lord and master to instead choosing to listen deeply to the needs of my body

 
2. Wholeheartedly do whatever I’m doing whether its sleeping, eating, sitting, stretching, walking, cooking, reading or writing

 
3. Take intentional, extended breaks from electronics, screens and pseudo-connectors and choose to listen deeply to those around me

 
4. Hydrate often, mindfully nourish my body with goodness and to choose to pause frequently to engage in deep, mindful breathing

 
5. Resist the urge to allow the word “should” into my mind or my mouth

 
6. Be grateful for time to pause and to rest deeply.

 

Here’s to learning how to break ‘good’ this week and for the days to come.

 

 

why i sit

I sit.

Intentionally.

In silence.

(4/365) concentration, meditation, contemplationIt is certainly not because I’m a calm, balanced person who lives devoutly among the pure and the pious. Nor it is because I exude self-discipline. Far from it. Sitting started out simply as my way to overcome the overwhelm, to quell the tsunami of thoughts and lower my oft-rampant heart rate for a sense of overall well-being. It was basically a physical solution to a spiritual problem.  But that has transformed into something more akin to falling down the rabbit hole where the experience has become curiouser and curiouser. While I still get the physical benefits of habitual stillness, my sitting has become a time when I explore previously unknown landscapes and meet the oddest characters who mostly exist inside my own head.

Body-Speak

I sit to notice my body.

Physically, the act of sitting provides an experience of grounding and being firmly rooted to one spot.  From here, there is room to build capacity to get out of my head and notice my bodily sensations. It may be a subtle sensation of discomfort especially if I’m sitting for an extended period of time, or perhaps tightness in one shoulder, a stiffness in a joint or a blunt lack of sensation in one area. During a typical day of non-stop mental information tennis, this quiet time of softens the mind-noise enough to allow me to be keenly aware of my body’s innate wisdom.

Feeling-Talk

I sit to feel the feelings.

The feelings could be connected to my body’s messages or they could be left-over feelings that had never been given permission to be expressed.  Isn’t that the point of feelings? To be felt?  Not all the feelings that come up are easy so I sit with whatever comes up and resist the urge to label the feelings “good” or “bad”. I notice the feelings then give into the fullness of their expression. A gratitude, a sorrow, a desire or even a dark numbness are acknowledged.  The practice is to hold both difficult feelings and the sense of ease and grounded-ness that sitting provides as a balancing act of surrender and release.

Story-Time

I sit to listen to the stories.

I love a good story.  I’m a stubborn idealist with an imaginative flair for dramatic detail so talk about walking the smooth path to self-delusion.  I can rant, rage and rationalize with the best of them.  But I have found that there is absolutely no light at the end of that alliteration tunnel. The mind-stories where I repeatedly have a starring role are fun for a creative outlet but definitely not so useful for living life on purpose and wide awake. Sitting often enough helps me to recognize the stories penned in fear and dread, to unravel the foggy plot-lines from the intricate web of physical sensations, emotions and to recognize the way things actually are.  That is the work. Unremarkable, hard work.

Work that frees.  Releases.  Softens.

And work that begins with sitting.

Just sitting.

Meditation Rock 2

autumn’s solitude

Long days tented under gloomy skies, wet leaves beneath our feet and the cooler temperatures all forecasting an even darker season yet to come can weigh on even the most optimistic person. Hope can turn to apathy as quickly as a burnt red maple leaf can be tossed by the wind to reveal a paler, less vibrant underside.

(My Heart Says) Come On In

This is also the season of preparing to put gardens to sleep and to acknowledge that new emergent growth will not happen for a long, long while. And that some of the richest, most significant growth will surely follow this dusky period of restful slumber.

In harmony with this natural cycle of the earth, why not choose to occasionally hibernate? Intentionally burrow? Use this season to dig the hole of life much deeper? We could choose to prepare our own inner gardens by cultivating surroundings that are warm and nutrient-rich enough to produce fresh and verdant growth come springtime.

It’s seldom easy to abide the kind of solitary silence it takes to nurture future growth. Too much aloneness whispers twisted messages of scarcity, void and hunger. It might even suggest that we’ve somehow been left behind, abandoned to the margins of life with only self-consolation to comfort us.

But nothing could be further from the truth of intentional times of solitude.

How about going gently into your intentional ‘cave’ and radically accept the often aching discomfort of it? Greet yourself with a warm fleece blanket, a hot cup of tea or cider and even consider creating your very own ritual to celebrate, and even welcome, autumnal solitude.

 

chai love

 

Autumn Light Ritual

Create a place of comfort specifically for you. Surround yourself with your favourite music, books, soft lighting, comfort foods and drinks that warm you. Have a large package of tea lights and matches available. On a table or other flat surface, place one tea light.

Sit comfortably and breathe deeply. As you feel your body relax and your mind soften, bring to mind any person in your life, past or present, who has supported you, helped you, nurtured you, moved you, said a kind word to you or even smiled at you. Don’t rush. Pause. Breathe. Recall.

For each person who comes to mind, light one tea light.

A friend, a lover, a parent, a grandparent no longer with you, a neighbour, a pet, a cheerful cashier at the grocery store, the author of a book or article that resonated with you, the child who was on that school bus in front of your car on the way to work and who made faces at you or waved just to get a response, the artist who sang or played a song so elegantly that it moved you, the person who held the door for you when your arms were full, a teacher who guided you, or even the person who supported you a dozen or more years ago when you needed it the most.

Remember them. Name them. Thank them. And, as you do, light a candle for each one.

 

Candle on the water

Then in the darkness of your previously dimly lit, comfort-cave, notice how many ‘lights’ you have now or have had in your life. Notice how much light and warmth they have provided and will continue to provide for you.  Be mindful of the fact that new ‘lights’ can be lit daily.  All the warmth you need for the imminent season of hibernation is right in front of you.  Always with you.  Glowing.

See? You could not truly be alone, even if you tried.