Monthly Archives: March 2016

Kale and in the Now

IMG_20151128_081451305While washing and drying two large kale plants that were as big as mini-umbrellas, I found myself hurrying through the task. This is going to take forever. What was I thinking when I asked my husband to pick up a couple of kale plants at the local market this morning?

That’s when it hit me. In my haste to finish this job I was not in the moment. I was wishing for this to be over so that I could go for my morning walk.

I have been practicing staying in the Now or mindfulness for some time now…and I also encourage my friends to practice, and I blog about acceptance…well, to the extreme! (My husband’s eyes hurt from all the rolling! Ha!)

But it was in this moment that I realized that in my rushing to finish my task, I was clearly not accepting my Now. I was not accepting the kale!

So I became still and allowed my mind to let go of the thoughts and I began to pay attention to what my body and my emotions were doing. I was tense; my back ached from standing in front of the kitchen sink; my neck and shoulders were tight; and I could feel that my forehead and brow were creased. I’m tense over kale? Really?

I was feeling… what was I feeling? Anxious?  Not really. But I could tell that I did not feel relaxed and content. I was hurrying and that always makes me feel stressed.

So I began to accept that I did not really want to be in the kitchen and that I had a deep wish to just throw out the kale and run for my coat and shoes. I just accepted that I did not accept my task.

That thought made me laugh. My poor kale. All those farmers who grow our produce and sell it at the local market – how fortunate are we here in Canada? The kale deserves better.

I could feel all my tension leave my body and I began to pay attention to the task at hand. I began to focus on the green, curly leaves of the kale; the thick stalks; its’ health benefits; the vitamins that it adds to our morning smoothies; the clear water in the stainless steel bowl; how easily the water flows from the tap; how little my husband paid for the kale ($2.00 a bunch) in spite of the amount of work that the farmer invested to grow this produce.

And I began to feel gratitude for kale, and for my health, and for my life.

As I placed the bags filled with kale into the freezer, I was grateful that I remembered to be in the Now. And that I had accepted the kale.

I have learned over the past few years that when I pay attention to the moment, I am more balanced and content. Mindfulness opens me up and allows me to see love and beauty in all that surrounds me; mindfulness opens me up and in my self-awareness, I see the love and beauty within me.

When we become still and recognize the changes in our body – changes that have arisen in our body because of emotions – we can begin to accept ourselves, no matter what we are feeling. But this practice always begins with the intent or the awareness.

When we need mindfulness the most, that is, when we are hurting or suffering, we usually cut off our feelings. Instead, we allow our thoughts of suffering and pain to take over. If we could just become still or pause just for a few moments, we would allow ourselves to consciously become aware of what is happening within our bodies. Many call this the sacred pause.

This practice enables us to firstly, become aware of our bodies and our emotions; secondly, to accept these emotions. When we accept our emotions – all of them – we allow a space within to feel compassion.

Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not “yours,” not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you… Eckhart Tolle

Of course, this takes practice. But the more I practice mindfulness (and paying attention to my emotions and how my body is reacting to those emotions), the more I am releasing old thoughts. And I am finding that I am slowly learning how to let go of judgment of myself (and others).

Eckhart Tolle in The New Earth  writes that we can live mindfully when we treat each moment as if this moment …was our purpose in life.

I love that thought. Think about it. When we stop and embrace each moment as if the person we were with was our true purpose in life; well, just think how much our attention on them grows. We have the capacity in that moment to really connect with that person – to ensure we treat her with kindness, thoughtfulness, and generosity. We would deeply listen to her words and give her our full attention. We would look her in the eyes and allow understanding to enter into our moment. And compassion would follow. I have learned that compassion always enters the encounter when I listen deeply.

If we treated each moment as if it was our true purpose in life, we would give our full attention (and energy) to our career, our volunteer work, our families, our friends, our health; well, to everything, each day. Our daily walks, talking to our children, having a coffee with friends, walking into the bosses’ office…each moment could be transformed from the mundane to the profound.

At the very least, our co-workers or family members might raise an eyebrow and wonder aloud, “What the heck is she on? Whatever it is…I want some of it, too!”

Mother Teresa said it more eloquently than I…

God does not ask that we do great things. But that we can do small things with great love.

I confess that I have been trying this suggestion of Tolle’s for some time now, and I am convinced that it increases my mindfulness and awareness. And, yes, it increases my connections and relationships, too. But the practice also has dramatically decreased…my desire to hurry through this moment so that I can be in another moment that is better. And that’s a huge awareness for me, my friends! So you might say that I have slowed down.

Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last…Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics from Feelin’ Groovy

So, when I find myself wishing that I wasn’t washing kale, that instead, I was outside walking, I pause.

I remind myself (as Tolle suggested) that in this very moment washing the kale is my purpose in life. And that gives me great insight. And joy.

Another gift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sighting of the tundra swans and mindfulness

 

Tundra swans

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I go to Nature to be soothed and healed. And to have my senses put in tune once more.   John Burroughs

On Friday I awoke with a sharp pain in my shoulder blade. I must have slept in some awkward position; either that, or hunched up like a whale – beached and not moving, I slept in one position all through the night.

Later that day we drove to the Thedford Bog, an hour’s drive, to behold the annual return of the migratory tundra swans. In past years we have witnessed thousands of these stunning white birds (their white bodies accented by black bills and short, black legs) – some arriving with their co-pilots in flight, while others have already landed in the marshy, wet farm fields. Their annual road trip takes place bi-annually and is nearly 6,000 km, round trip; in spring, their destination is the Canadian Arctic. They will take the longer, scenic route and fly over the western provinces, first.

The majestic swans land in our territory for rest and fuel – Thedford Bog is just one of their many pit stops on their route. Like the swans, my family (many years ago) took to the highways and drove east to the American coast, in summer (not fall), often refueling at coffee shops or cheap, discount restaurants. Instead of coffee, eggs and bacon, the discerning swans dine on corn stubble left-overs from last year’s crops.

The flooded farmer’s fields (which many years ago were wetlands and marshes) is now arable land, but water-logged in spring – an enticement for the tundras.

But as soon as we turned off the highway onto the narrow, country road, a short distance from the landing area, we knew something was missing. In past years one can hear the sounds of the swans, in perfect harmony, the hoo-hoo-hoo that is so loud, even when car windows are rolled up.

As the car approached the fields (on both sides of the road) there were no parked vehicles – a sure sign there were no swans. And as we surveyed the wet land, we could only discern some white dots in the far off distance. Even with our binoculars, we could not clearly see them.

My friend in Toronto had texted me a few days earlier that as he walked his grandchild to school, a flock of tundras flew over his head; he counted 29 of them.

Now, I turn to my sister and husband and announce that the same 29 tundras have arrived. A far cry from thousands.

Later, I check out the website and learn that thousands had arrived earlier in the week, but by Friday they had flown the coop…er…bog.

Disappointed, we drove home.

But on the way home, we took the back country roads and my sister yelled out, “There they are.”

Yes, the tundras had landed in a different farmer’s field – land still water-logged and marshy this early spring. We were so thrilled to finally sight them, as my husband avoided a ditch when he pulled the car over. It was a skinny shoulder, to say the least; no room to get out of the car.  (I tried to remember if sudden movements topple cars over into ditches.)

I grabbed my binoculars and hung half way out of the window, contorting my body and suffering more pain from my shoulder blades and back. To hell with the pain, this sight only comes once a year, so I was determined to view it.

There was a national bird conference – tundras, seagulls, mallards, red heads and Canadian geese – all swimming in the newly made ponds; corn stalks and stubble spoiling the glassy effect.

There were a number of birds that we couldn’t identify: some with green heads and colourful bodies; perhaps, wood ducks or northern shovelers? We were not certain since we do not normally see them in our neck of the woods, er… bogs. (Although they can be seen in the summer months, I am told.)

My sister and I were frantically holding our binoculars and juggling our bird books, flipping through the waders and dabblers sections of the books – shouting out “no, no, it can’t be a wood duck.” These are the few times that I wished that I was not a loner. If I had been with an actual bird group – the seasoned pros would have identified the ducks. Instead, I’m a newbie, and my sister wasn’t much better at ID-ing the mystery birds, either. So I had to rely on Google and bird apps that were too slow. (And I was hanging out a window, remember?)

Finally my husband (who is not a birder) wryly observed, “You might want to just watch the birds, instead of wasting time trying to label them.” (I so dislike it when he is so right!)

A sigh. Recognition. Awareness.

Sometimes I need that reminder that in my quest to capture the moment (or label it) I forget to pause and appreciate it in its fullness.

My husband reminded me of something that I deeply know – that it is in the silence and in the stillness of Nature, that the sacred is felt. The sacred, that feeling of Oneness with the Universe, will only grace us when we are being, not doing.

It is why we stop and look above us when we hear the hoo-hoo-hoo-ing of the tundra swans or the honking chorus of the Canadian geese or the melodious sounds of the ubiquitous sparrows.

Because when we pause, we feel the Sacred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Euonymus: an abundance of gifts

Snow drops7There’s a blotch of red that is moving within the euonymus creeper that covers the back yard fence, and although I’m busy shovelling the recent downfall of snow from the patio, I catch glimpses of our recent visitor.

I lean on the shovel and focus on the greenery; the cardinal is scrounging for any yummy morsel. It’s the male, so he is not in disguise; his black mask is a dead give-away.

The euonymus is an evergreen shrub that can climb; I have a number of them against the wooden fence that are at least five or six feet in height. Thirty years ago I planted some sarcoxie (green leaves) and some fortunei (variegated yellow leaves) and now some of the sarcoxie are turning variegated yellow. The gardening centre guy told me to cut out the yellow leaves so that the two shrubs won’t mix their colours. I prefer the mixture, so I have ignored his advice.

Earlier, when I closed my back door, a host of sparrows flew out of the shrubs that line the fences. (They’ll be back. They are boomerangs – they always return.) The boxwoods that are too tall (because I am lazy and don’t prune them back in the fall) are safe harbours for the sparrows, juncos, finches, and cardinals. Oh, and squirrels.

The viburnum that the garden centre assured me was a miniature species and would only grow 3 to 5 feet is another safe haven for my feathered friends. It should be – it’s over ten feet tall now. And although it is only five years old, I have pruned that viburnum multiple times. I have to prune it – every summer my neighbour hints that it is consuming her garden. She has a valid point. But the scent of the flowers when I walk out into my back yard is heavenly, and I delay pruning as much as I can. Besides, when I prune the shrub-turned-tree, it looks so prim and proper for a few weeks. I much prefer her wild and expansive state – her branches span the garden fence and I often think how lucky the neighbour is to see her spreading arms each day.

Trees fascinate me. As a beginning gardener, I searched high and low for the latest trends in perennials – I wanted flowers. Thirty years later, (my garden which is very small) is filled with trees and shrubs – or – shrubs that are trees.

On my wish list is a weeping cypress because it reminds me of Gandalf. I call them wizard trees. My front yard is just screaming for a Gandalf – then, the garden truly would be magical.

The snow is the slushy wet stuff that is back-breaking heavy and although I’ve been slogging away for an hour, the white stuff seems never-ending. But I rest often. Rest. Shovel. Rest. Shovel. I’m in a rhythm.

Many Canadians avoid the harsh winters and flee to sunnier climes; we do not. We brag that we embrace winter and all the differing weathers that it throws at us: ice, sleet, slush, rain. We’ve had the whole slurp-y goulash this winter – one moment I’m admiring the snowdrops that peek out of the ground (you are too early, I tell them; pull your heads back in – save yourselves) and shopping in 16 degree weather (last week), and the next, I am chipping away at the ice in our driveway with a pick axe. “It’s crazy weather,” is my new mantra.

Today’s snow is perfect for snowballs, if you don’t care that your gloves will be soaked through. Years ago, my kids would play for hours outside in the snow, building snow forts and walls – castles and fortifications. Throughout the neighbourhood snowmen marched up and down the street, as bags of carrots disappeared from my fridge. Their creations would slouch around for a couple of months back then (in the dark ages), until they turned to lumps – no longer white (half yellow), stained with dog pee. Or something worse. Back then, no pooper-scooper city by-laws. The snowmen lingered because “climate change” and “crazy weather” were phrases not yet spoken.

I take many rests. The man down the road began his driveway after I came out, but he has finished and gone in. I suspect that he didn’t observe the sky, nor the red cardinals’ daily meeting in the trees that line our street. I’m still shovelling. I push the snow (or shove it) a couple of feet but it’s water-logged so I am slow. And I pause again.

The trees are so black against the grey sky – the wiry branches always remind me of tangles and plaques of a brain scan of a person with Alzheimer’s. I used to try to push that image out of my head, but I no longer resist the thought. Too many years of resistance and a misguided attempt to understand the disease.

The sky is completely grey; the artist has covered the canvas with a wash of white, and then smudged the whole thing in grey. Then, she has wiped away the grey. The colour that remains is grey-white. It’s beautiful. But far off, just above the rooftops and tree tops there is a single streak of blue, peeking out. The artist has taken her knife and scratched out a streak of blue in the sky. It’s beautiful, too.

When I decide I’ve shovelled enough, I go in. I had cleared a pathway to the shed for my husband, and I cleared our neighbour’s driveway, too, along with our own. I make myself a cup of green tea, and just as I settle into my comfy armchair to read, I glance out the window. It’s snowing heavily again.

I sigh.

I’ll finish my tea and a couple of chapters of Ian Rankin’s latest Rebus novel, and then I will take an aspirin for my back and look for some dry gloves. I have more work to do.

But first, a quick prayer: Please, God, there is a house for sale down the street, please send a young family with strong, young people. Or, a snowplow.