Tag Archives: meditation

Colours of my meditation

When I walk along the river, I make up names of the colours of the sky and of the river. I often recite the colours aloud to my husband: River city steel-grey blue; Freshly laid cement grey; Cottage on the Lake vintage shutter white; Sparking turquoise gemstone blue; Old driveway past its day, pot-holed grey. Today, my love, is a River city steel-grey blue kind of day, I would announce.

My husband is never very impressed; to date he has not contacted Sherwin-Williams.

What I didn’t confess to him was that I have assigned new colours to things since I was a kid. I can’t help myself.

So you can imagine how I feel (like I have come home) ever since I took up watercolour painting. My morning and evening rituals of watching the dawn skies (and later the sun sets) have me running for the paint palette – all new colours to me. (I swear: If heaven mirrors our thoughts – I am looking forward to skies of alizarin crimsons, cadmium yellows, and ultramarine blues when I die. And note to God: Please throw in a little yellow ochre and raw sienna, for no other reason than…I love those colours!)

Even my meditation and mindfulness practices have deepened – in living technicolour palettes. My mind wanders during meditation: I hear a bird trill and instead of labelling it – sparrow, junco, robin, cardinal – I assign it a colour. The lowly house sparrow is labelled in shades of raw sienna (oh, come on, my favourite colour), a mix of alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue, with just a touch of yellow. Umber, that is. Not too much, or my brown mixture will be the colour of mud.

Once I recognize that I am painting  the bird sounds that are interrupting my meditation, I re-focus on my breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Expansion. Release.

It’s so obvious that I am thinking about paint colours and mixtures again. (Blame the birds. They are a chirpin’.)

Breathe in. Breathe out. Expansion. Release.

Because watercolours give me such pleasure (even pronouncing the colours in my head delights me), I find that instead of chastising myself for the numerous round trips that my mind has taken during my meditations, I find myself smiling. Colours just make me happy. And so does meditation. Meditation allows me to access my inner spirit – and my inner spirit is turning cartwheels (I’m fairly certain of this).

I will chalk up my mind’s wanderings to beginner’s mind – one of curiosity and attention. Thankfully, I think my beginner’s mind (thanks to learning a new art) is the opposite of my usual state. That is, I’ve become acutely aware that my mind’s tendency is to label things: Those bare branches look like tangles and plaques of a mind affected by Alzheimer’s disease; that tree mirrors Quan Yin (the statue of compassion); that person resembles Hercule Poirot (the famous Belgium detective of Agatha Christie books); the dog who lives next door is barking madly again – he must have seen a falling leaf. (Ah, judgment of the dog. He barks at everything.)

Oh, the state of beginner’s mind – an open, curiosity to life’s present moments – hasn’t cured me of the habitual 24/7 narration of attaching colours to everything, nor has it cured me of labelling my perceptions. Rather, beginner’s mind has allowed me acceptance of my thoughts, my narrations, my desire to see life in a technicolour, dream coat palette.

And acceptance, I have learned, is key. It is key to a healthy self-awareness, and a healthy self-awareness helps us navigate this journey.

Beginner’s mind (like a child’s mind) reminds me to pay attention to this moment – attention to the breath during meditation (as a touchstone) and attention to our sensations, feelings, and emotions. We miss the point of meditation or mindfulness if we do not realize its’ greatest gifts: attention, awareness, and acceptance (the three A’s).

And by acceptance, I mean that we embrace our mind’s wanderings, judgments, labelling, and stories. During meditation, we note our mind’s wanderings, and then gently bring our attention back to the breath.

Instead of chastising ourselves and becoming frustrated with the meditation session, attaching blame to the session or becoming frustrated with ourselves, we smile (Thich Nhat Hanh) and return to the breath.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Umbra yellow. Ultramarine blue. If I mix the two colours, will I create a vibrant green? Or turquoise?

Colours again.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

I smile.

 

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Meditation and a viewfinder

viewfinderI cut out a rectangular shaped box in the middle of the piece of cardboard and look through my “viewfinder.” The angles of the table are now easier to sketch. When I look through the small box, I can perceive the smaller picture and the relationships of the table within the small opening. I’m less distracted from the images that the cardboard blots out. Now I can close one eye, and like a monocular, focus on a small part of the bigger whole.

I think meditation works like a viewfinder. They are both tools to enhance our lives. One allows me to draw more accurately, to hone my attention skills while sketching. The other allows me to concentrate and pay attention to the present moment. Both tools render clarity and focus. Both make things simple and transparent. Both eliminate clutter.

Since Christmas I have been lost in a number of nesting projects – clearing out old unfinished stuff that has cluttered up the corners of our bedroom, and projects that have tumbled about in my head. Nesting and resting. It’s one of the reasons that I enjoy the winter months so much, as I get a huge delight in disposing of the yellow sticky-notes (my to-do list) that line my computer screen: Shutterfly album for son, done. Old photos scanned and uploaded, done. Library wall of books dusted, done. New blind for the kitchen window, done. New sketching pen purchased, done. Watercolours purchased, done. How-to watercolour YouTube videos  watched incessantly,  done. Dining room table now a temporary art studio, done.

Writing, not done. EBook about meditation, mindfulness, dementia and me, not done.

Makeshift artist's studio

Makeshift artist’s studio

The irony doesn’t escape me: lost in projects, losing focus. (My viewfinder’s not working.)

Over the holidays I spent a few days writing about dementia and mindfulness, and because I had no plan (no organized thoughts about an eBook), I sat down and began in the middle. But disorganization unsettles me; I feel uneasy when I see disorder. It’s a trait that I have possessed since I was a child and I own it. Order, neatness and cleanliness are a good thing in my book.

Eventually my struggles with writing led me to abandon the eBook. The middle was too weird for me – I kept asking the Universe for a beginning. My intention had become: A plan! A plan (the middle isn’t working for me)!

As humans, we sure complicate things. Instead of perceiving life as it is, accepting the Now, our minds search for something greater. In my case, I went searching for answers – for a plan, one that had a beginning, middle and an end.

So for the past couple of weeks, in spite of meditating and sitting in silence, and instead of accepting the sacred in the present moment, I kept searching.

When we do it right, there is a simplicity in mindfulness: when we see the grace in each moment – in peace or unease – then we are practicing mindfulness, complete acceptance of what is. The simplicity is in the awareness.

But I ignored those moments, I chose to struggle and complicate them:

I would meet people and we would begin a discussion on Alzheimer’s, dementia, and mindfulness, and instead of acknowledging the signs and the synchronicity – the repetition and constancy –  I dismissed them. I would take long, solitary walks and soon my head would fill with memories of my father standing on the counter (how I had to find a ladder to help him down); how my father jumped out of a moving car one morning and I still ignored the signs of his illness; how my father refused to go outside (when it was he who taught us to appreciate a sunrise, while camping); and memories of my mother sobbing over the washroom sink because she couldn’t turn the taps off. All of these memories and more would continue to assault me when I found myself in stillness. Thoughts and narratives inundated me – all about dementia, mindfulness and me.

And yet, I still didn’t see the connections. Instead, I found myself wishing that the thoughts of dementia and memories would move over so that a plan of a new eBook could enter! The plan, the plan…I need a plan!

We complicate things.

The moment’s simplicity eluded me, and I continued on the quest for answers:

Why do these narratives of mindfulness and dementia keep intruding into my thoughts and meditations? Why can’t I organize my thoughts into a plan with a beginning? Why would I want to write another eBook about dementia? Why is meditation not working for me? Why am I so filled with thoughts when my meditation should be about letting go? Why can’t I let go?

Begin at the beginning. Hold the viewfinder up and see.

Immanuel Kant once said,  “We see things not as they are, but as we are.”

When we struggle, life is a struggle. When we embrace life’s flow, life flows.

My meditations had been quite clear all along, transparent even.  The whispers were getting louder and more insistent, but always constant. It’s not monkey mind and clutter. Well, it is. But there’s a message within those thoughts – the thoughts are the message:  Write the thoughts down. That’s the plan.

I let go and finally sat still. And I listened to the silence behind the silence and that’s when I sensed that everything  – my writing, my lack of writing, my projects, my painting, my thoughts about dementia, mindfulness, meditation and me –  was interconnected, including my resistance. And that in spite of my intention to be in the flow – I had been swimming upstream.

My resistance had created diversions and distractions to prevent me from writing.  My resistance had shown up as nesting. Nesting was comfortable and safe. My projects were my attempts to clear out the clutter; or more accurately, to stop the narratives. Because I am afraid of the narratives. I am resistant to writing another eBook about dementia.  The truth is I have already written an eBook about that subject and I do not want to do it again. My resistance is actually fear: My fear of having nothing new or fresh to say; my fear that because there is no order in the book, that the book is not worth writing.

But here’s where the magic lies in recognizing the interconnections: Instead of writing, I have been painting, and as a beginner – learning a new craft – I am learning to let go of the need for perfection.  As a beginner, I have a beginner’s mind. I have become open, curious, and willing to experiment and make mistakes. In a state of beginner’s mind,  I am learning to let go…of a plan. I am content with imperfection.

“Meditation doesn’t solve anything, but it helps everything.”   Ethan Nichtern, Buddhist teacher

I’m humbled when these thoughts arise because they remind me that I had the answers and the wisdom within all along.

The viewfinder has changed my perspective. I need to be aware and recognize when I am nesting, and not lost in avoidance or distractions.

Lastly, in allowing myself more creativity in my life, I allowed myself to return to beginner’s mind – a state that I want to transfer to my writing, and other parts of my life.

Through this process I’ve learned to trust myself. The answers are all within. Everything I need flows to me: Nesting, creativity, wisdom, insights. And, yes, resistance. Our greatest lessons come in the disguise of resistance.

Challenges are here to awaken you and even if you’re awakening, life continually gives you challenges and then the awakening accelerates and deepens.             E. Tolle

It’s time to get back to writing an Ebook, in spite of my fears. My fears are no longer hidden under distractions and diversions; my fears are transparent. I will trust that I am to begin…in the middle, and not at the beginning which would feel more comfortable. I will need to trust the process. And I will need to trust myself.

I want to fall into  beginner’s mind when I write.

But first, I need to go for a walk and see the sky. And I don’t need a viewfinder for that.

 

 

 

 

Naked, November trees are great teachers

The maples and sycamores, and the birches and oaks are almost naked; a cluster of withered, yellow leaves still cling to the hardier specimens.

It’s the season of transition. Impermanence.

Most think November is dreary, dull and dead. I do not. I think the month is one of great beauty.

Bare trees reveal their secrets. The birds have lost their hiding spots; the squirrels run hither and thither, scrambling along the branches and limbs like they are possessed. Their frantic motions are a harbinger of winter – of change.

In spring and summer foliage and flowers can distract us from the woody trunk – the true foundation of the tree. I believe that is where all the magic lies. The trunk is the soul of the tree. Everything else is just lipstick.

Trees have always fascinated me, and I am always under their spell. And even though I appreciate their greenery, it is the trunk and the shape of a tree that I find truly beautiful. The gnarled and twisted intricacies of an old oak or willow, the contorted beech trees, the aged maple that has not one, but multiple trunks that formed perfect perching spots for us when we were small.

And don’t get me started about the tree roots which form another world beneath. I have photographed roots that rise from the earth that look like alien planets. In fact, when I develop those photos, I am confused whether I am looking at the top or the bottom of the tree: I turn the photo this way and that, looking for signs of up or down. I frame them anyways, lean them against the living room wall, and when I go by, I reach out and rotate the pictures – upside down or upright, still an intriguing wonder to me.

When we walk along the river, I want to stop and gaze on each of the deciduous trees – often their limbs contort around another, like the yoga pose, the Twist. I am compelled to brush my hand over the trunks – some smooth, some so rough; some peeling, some filled with hideous burls. Hideous burls are worth sketching, are they not?

Bare tree trunks resemble torsos, their limbs reach out, cupped in prayer. And sometimes the torso has multiple arms like Guan Yin, the Chinese Bodhisattva, Goddess of Compassion, Mercy, and Kindness, that I saw in most temples in last year’s visit to China. We could do with more trees like Guan Yin. Better yet, we could do with more reminders of compassion, mercy, and kindness.

Guan Yin?

When you spend as many hours as I do watching the birds, bare trees are a gift. Just this morning I watched a family of black-headed chickadees flit from limb to limb, then fly to my wall of green (the ivy-covered fence) and then perch on the roof of our shed. Eventually they flew off to another barren yonder. In the summer, I can recognize their sounds “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee, chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” but often only glimpse a snatch of white and black. Today I drank a full cup of coffee while I spied on their movements. (You can hop, but you cannot hide.)

Last week, a Downy woodpecker (Downy-s are dinky; Hairy-s are huge.) was attempting to eat supper in his hidey-hole. I can see you, I call out. He ignores me. Supper is tasty. Last month his familiar rat-a-tat could be heard throughout the neighbourhood, but I spent too many minutes searching the leafy branches for his black and white presence. Eventually I gave up. His song was enough.

In my own backyard I tend to two small trees that are dead. Well, I have been informed by a number of people (some are gardeners, some are not) that the trees are dead. By their definition, I should remove them. They see rot and decay; I see life. Dead trees are apartment dwellings for sparrows, finches and chickadees. Dead trees are ornamental and sculptural when covered in snow or hoar frost. Dead trees are the perfect launching pads for squirrels and birds. And fights between the two species. Sketches of dead trees fill my sketch book. Dead trees house ready-made hooks for bird feeders and wind chimes. Oh, did I mention that during the Christmas season we decorate our dead trees?

P1030198

Remove them? What kind of gardener do you think I am? I haven’t met a dead tree that I didn’t fall in love with, yet.

Bare trees form dark silhouettes against the grey autumn and winter skies that resemble looming shapes of plaques and tangles – like a brain with Alzheimer’s disease. That image is forever imprinted in my brain.

Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia s are tragic reminders of impermanence. Of transition.

We are not what we seem; we are more than we seem. That lesson I learned while caring for parents with Alzheimer’s.

In Neale Donald Walsch’s, Communion with God, Walsch writes about impermanence and change:

Which snowflake is the most magnificent? Is it possible that they are all magnificent – and that, celebrating their magnificence together, they create an awesome display? Then they melt into each other, and into the Oneness. Yet they never go away. They never disappear. They never cease to be. Simply, they change form.

And not just once, but several times: from solid to liquid, from liquid to vapour, from the seen to the unseen, to rise again, and then again to return in new displays of breathtaking beauty and wonder. This is Life, nourishing Life.

When I cared for parents with Alzheimer’s, I was constantly in stress and my body (and spirit) became broken. I lived in a world of grief (for the past) and worry (about the future).

But throughout that challenging time, I learned to go back to two things that I had practised as a young woman and throughout my life. I began to take them more seriously, with attention and awareness. Meditation and yoga (and eventually Tai Chi) saved me.

More accurately, the steady and constant practice of both yoga and meditation on a daily basis transformed me. Slowly I began to heal my spirit. My mind and body followed. Stillness and silence are great healers. (Qualities that we attribute to the majesty of trees.)

Today I believe that mindfulness (staying present in the Moment throughout the day) and recognizing my emotions and feelings and not trying to divert, distract, or dull them, has opened me to a richer life – one filled with acceptance, non-judgment, creativity, and wisdom. Compassion, love and mercy are part of the whole package.

Meditation has taught me that “I am the sky; my thoughts are just clouds – that come and go.” (All the great meditation, mindfulness, and spiritual thinkers subscribe to that thought; most notedly, Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh.) We are impermanent. Every minute 300 million cells die within our body. Our bodies are in constant flux, as are our daily lives. As are our thoughts.

We are reminded in meditation to breathe through the nose – breath in, breath out – and yet if we stay focused on the breath, we will begin to notice that each and every breath is different. Sometimes I breathe in 8 seconds and hold, and sometimes I breathe in 10 seconds, and exhale without holding. Sometimes I feel the coolness along the tips of my nostrils, and in the next breath, I notice an itch. Sometimes my belly expands, and sometimes I notice not as much expansion. Each breath is different.

If a fundamental thing such as breathing is different each time, then we begin to recognize that all things are changing. All the time.

The trees teach me about impermanence. They are a daily reminder. They are my cheat sheets. I need cheat sheets – they keep me grounded. (Pun, not intended.)

When I remind myself that my moods are temporary, that a particular challenging issue has me stumped and filled with worry, that a friend is suffering, I turn to the universal truth of impermanence: All things are transient. This, too, shall pass. Today the trees are nude, tomorrow they will be wearing their green dresses. My dark mood will lift. In time the challenging issue will either resolve itself, or I will gain wisdom to see it differently. My friend who is suffering will find relief.

As humans, we will adapt better to living a full and happy life when we let go of the fear of change. We will breathe easier when we learn that within the changes that take place, lies ephemeral beauty. That a decayed and rotting tree will soon nourish the earth. And another tree will be born.

When we perceive change as not right, not wrong, just is…we will teach ourselves to adjust to change, and eventually, to accept change. Acceptance leads us to a happier life. Happier? No. Wrong word. A balanced life. That’s what I strive for. Happiness is fleeting. I desire balance or equanimity.

Naked, November trees remind me of transition: from a rich and verdant existence to one of bare essentials. Like us. Whether we accept it or not, we are all aging. At this very moment. Yes, all of us. By the time you get to the end of this blog, you and I will have lost a billion cells.

Naked, November trees remind me of essential truths: we are all going to die. Everything is impermanent. Many things are inherently beautiful – even the gnarly roots that surround an old, decaying tree.  Awareness and attention are transformative. We are meant to be whole, not perfect.

As my son’s last text reminded me of the importance of “not right, not wrong; just is,” those powerful words inspire me. Acceptance. Reality. Truth.

Besides, I need not worry. Everything will change. In a few seconds, or a day, or weeks. Or years.

I think my trees are teaching me a lesson: Don’t worry. Be happy. Better yet, be balanced.

 

 

 

 

 

Dying and the heart sutra

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love.

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love.

I can hear snatches of conversations out in the hallway. A man’s voice is asking where are the balls?, a woman’s voice is insisting that she hasn’t paid for lunch while another soothing and calm voice assures her that your pension pays for lunch.

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love. I have been repeating those words over and over since I arrived at the long-term care facility where I have been asked to sit with a resident who is dying.

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love. It is a heart sutra that one can recite while meditating. I feel it is appropriate to meditate on these words while I sit here.

In the hallway life continues. Life has only slowed down in the confines of this room. The door is open and now I hear the medications wagon roll to the room next to the one where I am sitting and I hear the tap, tap, tap as the charge nurse counts the pills, and I recognize the familiar noise of the pills dispensed into a paper cup. Now she pours the water into a Dixie cup. For sanitary reasons, everything is disposable in the long-term care facility.

I recognize the soft padding of footsteps – silent, rubber-soled shoes of residents and staff. For a macabre moment, flashes of the “sidler” from an episode of Seinfeld enters my consciousness.

Thud. Thud. Wheelchairs on rubber wheels are quiet and unobtrusive as residents propel themselves with their feet.

A resident yells. Quick steps. More soothing words. A quiet blankets the hallway for a few minutes.

A resident’s footsteps are hurried; later, he returns, still hurrying. Again, he repeats the trip down the hallway; and again, returns. The repetition of his hallway journey seems never-ending. The resident’s dementia is relentless and won’t let go.

The man who was looking for the balls wanders past my door – he is now carrying a basket of brightly coloured balls. He, too, repeats the trip past my door, over and over.

The resident who I am sitting beside is still. I look around her room so that I can understand her a little – rooms reflect our personalities, our families and our loves; therefore, rooms are autobiographical.

The machines that were stationed beside her bed are gone – they are superfluous now. My resident is on her final journey – one that is solitary, bereft of things and stuff. This is life at its basic core – she is becoming a shell. Soon she will be formless. Spirit.

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love.

The sounds of the hallway. And the silence and quiet in this room. Side by side.

Life and death close by. My mind wanders to my mother’s death. She, too, lived and died her last moments here in this same facility, although in another area of the building.

No one disturbs us. Occasionally the staff check in and linger for a few minutes. Often they whisper words of comfort and love into the sleeping resident’s ear. Their words move me.

I am always humbled when I recognize that words of love come easily when we visit someone who is dying. If only those same words flowed so freely when our loved ones were well and healthy.

Another resident down the hallway is anxious; she is beginning to confront other residents and now they are agitated. But a staff member has intervened and all is well. A few simple words and calmness reigns. Another potential crisis is diverted – peace. Words of comfort heal many sores.

Peace.

The resident who hurriedly travels back and forth, up and down the hallway has been re-directed to “dust” the hall rails. He is completely transfixed on his task and is polishing the rails until they glean. (There are a myriad of rails to dust – he should be occupied for some time.) Happy to be of service, his face is set in determination and purpose.

Harmony.

A personal support worker (P.S.W.) stops to visit our room. I ask her a question about the resident’s life and she captivates my imagination with tales of the resident’s assertiveness and joie de vivre. We laugh together as we honour this remarkable woman’s life story.

Flash cards in my head. I am remembering my mother’s death: as staff and residents filed into her room to say goodbye, they each took time to tell us stories of our mother (humourous anecdotes) that filled us with tears and laughter. Colour loading: two strokes of paint, one colour beside the other colour, side by side. Laughter. Tears. Joy. Sorrow.

Laughter is a lifeline: it tethers us to one another.

Laughter.

A husband pushes his wife’s wheelchair past our room and I recognize him as he and his wife are often at weekly bingo. He is hunched over and moves very slowly. Very slowly. He is like the many other husbands and wives, family members, who care for their loved ones with dementia. Daily visits that last from early hours until bedtime. That is the norm.

When you volunteer at a long-term care facility long enough, you begin to recognize the unsung heroes in the home. Their health is often jeopardized; their health declining at a faster pace than normal.

When I sit and talk with them, they assure me that there is no other place where they want to be. They consider the long-term care facility their home now, too.

A husband in his 80’s once told me that when he takes a respite from the daily commitment to his wife, that he is lost; he finds himself adrift. And so he returns to the care facility, more at peace and comfortable here (living his commitment to his wife) than in the loneliness and quiet of his home.

Love.

This room is filled with love. I see the love in the many family photos that are pinned to the bulletin board, or framed in the cabinet. Cards are filled with heart-felt sentiment; words of family love.

I see my mother in the bed. And I see my father. Now I see my mother-in-law, my aunt and others.

When you look at your loved one, you see that he is also made of stars and carries eternity inside.   Thich Nhat Hanh

Interbeing.

Outside I can hear the birdsong. It’s Sunday so I also can hear the church bells in the distance. Down the hall someone is playing an organ and a few are attempting to sing a hymn and in spite of being off-key and discordant, there is a flow. The sounds are comforting. There is a rhythm in this building that I can sense – a heart beat – and I find it comforting.

Peace. Harmony. Laughter. Love.

May Grace surround my resident as she travels her last journey. May Grace surround us as we honour life and interbeing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga and snow angels

I lay flat on my back and stare up at the ceiling fan. I am in the fish pose in yoga – my body is flat on the floor, my chest is raised off the floor, propped up and supported by my elbows, and my head is pulled under so that the crown of my head is resting on the floor.

I stare up at the ceiling fan which is white and has five blades. My bedroom ceiling is also white. White on white. And now I know the blood is rushing to my head and circulation has increased. I know this because my mind is wandering into weird territory. The white fan looks like a snow angel – the kind that we made in virgin snow falls when I was a kid. The perfect angel outlines demanded pristine snow. As kids, we intuited that trampled snow would screw up our artistic endeavours, similar to attempting to draw on a well-used piece of paper. Blank slate, or go home.

My ceiling is a perfect blank slate. If only it would snow in my bedroom, I think.  Then I could practice my angels. As a kid, I loved making angels – the rhythmic movement to make wings; feeling so free. But it was the expansive white landscape that I was drawn to, much like the attraction of a brand new pad of white foolscap paper – untouched, unspoiled, un-trampled. The possibilities were endless.

But even the benefits of a steady yoga practice will not allow me to make snow angels on my ceiling.

My mind returns to the present.

My neck is arched and is now aching, so I turn my body over and practice the bow.

The bow pose is not my favourite asana; I’d rather practice the sun salutation or savasana. I am particularly fond of savasana – and quite good at it.

When I first was introduced to yoga when I was in my twenties, I thought savasana (we called it the corpse pose or the sponge) was the answer to all my stress. I practiced savasana until I fell asleep. (True, I had twin babies; do I need to say more?)

Today I meditate daily, so I practice savasana less and less. I would rather sit up and meditate than fall asleep.

In my meditation class, our teacher reminds us that only three things can happen when we meditate: our mind is full of thoughts; our mind lets go of the thoughts and just rests; or we fall asleep. If we fall asleep, it is our body telling us that we are tired. Don’t fight it, she reminds us.

The bow pose is not a pretty pose, not like the mountain pose or the tree pose. Those asanas (or postures) are quite elegant, unlike the bow which is rather awkward. My husband walked into our bedroom once when I was practicing the bow – my torso on the floor as my arms and legs stretched out behind me – up and away – into space.

Whoa! I’m outta here, he announced. Like, after forty some years of marriage bliss, he has never noticed that my arms and legs can contort like that.

Snow angels are fundamentally elegant. When we used to lay in the snow (backsides completely soaked), our torsos were still – limbs like wipers, angled the snow away from our bodies. So simple. So beautiful. The trick is to jump up from the ground without spoiling our masterpiece – jump up without moving our feet (and screwing up the lines of the angel) and then taking a huge leap away from the indentation. The best angels were made by those of us who had patience. One had to think it through or all would be lost.

My husband would have made awful snow angels. I instinctively know this to be true. He has no patience. In fact, I bet he was the spoil sport who announced he was going home if the others were going to make snow angels. I can just see him now: If we aren’t going to throw snowballs or play hockey, I’m outta here.

I decide while I practice the twist, that is harsh. Of course, I am also practicing my breathing because yoga is all about the breath, and between holding my breaths (while in the gap) I reflect on forty years of marriage. (Just so you know, one is supposed to let go of all thoughts while in the gap; not reflect on marriage.)

We live in a small house, so we get under each other’s feet sometimes; or under each other’s skin, more accurately.

It didn’t matter where one lived as a kid, whether the back yard or front yard was postage stamp-sized or an acre of land, one could always find a blank slate to make angels. As kids, we were drawn to nature: intuitively, we felt the connection. When we created our snow angels, our bodies were connected to the ground and our gaze was on the sky, the clouds, the horizon. We looked up into the heavens; our beings felt so alive. Expansive.

I wonder if little kids make snow angels today. I wonder if kids even play outside today. I hardly ever see children outside in the snow in our neighbourhood. I should know: I am outside clearing snow nearly every day throughout winter. And I am certainly not aware of any children playing outside.

We are often the only two people on the street clearing snow from the driveway and sidewalks. It’s a quiet and very peaceful time; Zen-like.

One winter when we went to Portugal for a holiday, I had a difficult time hiring a kid on the street to clean our driveway of snow while we were away. When I asked if they would like to make some extra cash, they shrugged their shoulders and said, not really.

While in Portugal I noticed parents and grandparents and children walking together in groups, arm in arm, like Laverne and Shirley. Why don’t we walk arm in arm with our families here in Canada, I used to think? They do in England as I remember my mother and father and our aunts and uncles would sidle up and hook their arms into one another’s whenever we went walking. Which was often. I think it’s obligatory to walk there. Arm in arm. Very enlightened, I used to think. How can anyone hold a grudge or argue with a loved one when they are holding each other up – supporting each other; maintaining each other; sustaining each other?

My yoga practice sustains me. Without it I would be forced into a gym class; worse, an aerobics class. Or step class. Whew, it’s been many, many years since I have taken a step class. I used to like the loud, throbbing music…it motivated me to swing my arms higher and my step wider. Dance class, too. Loved it. Still like to dance in my room when I am all alone.

Now I prefer the solitude of my yoga practice in my home – a class is too distracting for me. For me, yoga is personal; solitary; meditative.

My cobra pose is steady – I am staring up at the white on white again. I breathe three long breaths – that’s about fifteen to twenty seconds for each pose; repeat three more times.

Sixty thousand thoughts a day; that’s how many thoughts we are supposedly filling our minds with. Sixty thousand? I’m not a mathematician, but I think that is almost a thought every second and a half. If I have one long thought (or one long convoluted story that runs through my mind) does that count as multiple thoughts? Or just one long convoluted thought?

When I breathe and count to fifteen or twenty to hold a pose, does counting to twenty count as twenty thoughts?

When I choose to change poses, how many thoughts does that make? One thought or multiple thoughts?

Once again I turn onto my back and begin to lift one leg straight up, and I rotate my foot in small circles; after a minute, I lift my other leg and begin to rotate the other foot. First clockwise and then the other direction, counterclockwise. My ankles say thank you. When you walk more than an hour every day, ankles, feet and legs need to be strong and sturdy. And it doesn’t hurt to throw in a few back exercise poses, too. Thanks to yoga, I am planning on walking every day of the rest of my life.

As I rotate my ankle counterclockwise, I see my mother’s leg outstretched while she lay flat on her bed in the long-term care facility where she once lived. I had walked into her room for a visit one day, and there she was, exercising her ankles in the air. At the time I was so impressed with her ability and determination to stay flexible, even as she wrestled with dementia. Then, her brain was like a locked filing cabinet that she no longer could access.  But somehow she retrieved an old file labelled “yoga” and a thought to keep her ankles strong.

My mother used to practice yoga when I was just a young kid. I often came home from school and would find her flat on the living room floor in front of the television set watching her favourite show, Yoga With Kareen Zebroff.

My mother liked Kareen’s show so much that she ordered her yoga instruction book through the mail. The book “The ABC of Yoga” cost $4.50 retail. How do I know that fact? Because my mother gave me her yoga book when I was a young mother in my late twenties. I have used my mom’s yoga instruction book nearly every day for forty years or so. It’s a coil bound book which lays flat and is perfectly suited for easy reading (even when my body is upside down).

The author’s dedication inside this book reads: To my mother, who started me on the Royal Path of Yoga.

The author of the book thanked her mother in a dedication; I thank my mother who started me on the Royal Path of Yoga, also. And so the circle continues.

My mind needs to rest. Yoga usually is a meditative exercise but today I am filled with so many disparate thoughts – a jumble of them. My blank slate is not so blank; it’s well-trampled.

It’s also very quiet and peaceful in my bedroom, I think. Was I just meditating? Or sleeping? I can’t tell the difference at the moment. I think my head was down, therefore, I must have been dozing. Or dreaming. I do know that my cheeks are wet with tears.

I stare up at the ceiling. Gosh, that fan looks exactly like a snow angel!

Birch trees

There are two birch trees that grace the front lawn of the cottage we rent each summer.

The story is that when the previous owner’s wife died, the trees were planted in her memory.

Birch trees in the front yard

The story and the birches have captured my fascination. I spend mornings contemplating life and the stillness of the hour from my faded pink and white macrame lawn chair on the back porch.

Life teams within the boughs and the branches.

White, peeling bark, trunks marked with black streaks, black notches, black smears – the nuthatch scours the inky crevices for insects. His upside-down trademark gives him a unique vantage point.

The downy woodpecker is another frequent visitor in the early am. I can close my eyes and hear his distinct tap against the trunk of the trees. Sometimes he finds a cache in the hollowed out niches; black holes that are not so empty.

In the tops of the birches where the leafy branches hide all, squirrels and blue jays duke it out. Both of them are loud and squawky, their angry, bullying cries puncture the morning’s silence. Some mornings the blue jay is victor; on others, squirrel reigns. I watch from my macrame chair and just laugh at their antics. I haven’t yet figured out their fight strategies. I suspect finders, keepers might be the rule.

When my husband finally joins me, he has a different routine – he will jump into his white pick-up and drive off down the dirt road, taking care to drive slowly – the sign beside the road warns Drive Slowing, Children at Play.  Fifteen minutes later he returns with his newspaper. Now he will sit beside me in a matching faded pink and white macrame lawn chair, coffee in one hand and paper in the other.

Only the rustling of the pages breaks the silence of the day.

Sometimes there is a rustling in the shrubs that demarcate the property line of the neighbouring cottages. A glimpse of a warbler, a cardinal, or the ubiquitous sparrow.

Occasionally my husband lifts his head when a chick-a-Dee-dee-dee rings aloud.

The birches stand as sentinels in the front yard which is actually (according to the seasoned cottagers) the back yard (even though it is facing the street). The back yard faces the water (the beautiful Lake Huron) so the insiders (the ones in the know) call it the front yard.

Confused? Don’t be. Think: water is beautiful, and therefore, the front! while the street is not so beautiful, therefore, the back! My husband says that is crazy talk, but I notice that he refers to the yards as tourists do (backwards), not as true cottagers do.

Sometimes I’ll sight an unknown visitor – a bird that I cannot identify – in the grass of the yard where I sit; I pull out my bird book, binoculars, and sketch book and make notes. I use the term grass loosely as the soil is too arid and the shade is too deep so the grass grows sparsely in patches only.  Once a week when the neighbour mows the grass for the absentee owner, dirt clouds follow his footsteps. From my comfortable perch on the porch, I would wear goggles, I often think. We like our neighbour (who is kind) and often cheer him on – we hold up hand-made signs that rate his work like Olympic judges: A perfect 10! or Sloppy lines – 6!  Our homemade signs that rate his lawn prowess always make him laugh – he has a nice laugh; it’s infectious.

After lunch we move to the front yard (on the water side) where we will read and drink some wine. Just in time for the afternoon matinée where a cast of cedar waxwings perform in numbers in the trees that grow on the slopes of the cliff. Theatrical costumes of black masks and feathered crowns are worthy of an encore.

If your seat is on the wrong side – back yard (street side) – you will miss the show. Performances last only an hour or two and always take place on the shore side. We always have front-row advantage – perfect viewing. The drinks aren’t bad either.

Our silence attracts more bird life. When our (invited) human guests arrive, the echoes of our voices carry and the birds fly away. So it is our stillness and silence, we have learned, that is rewarded.

I can sit quietly for hours. Once my husband was reading and I was studying the bird life from the porch, when a hummingbird visited the two of us. It hovered in the air within a few inches from my face. I sat still and didn’t alert my husband. Eventually the humming sound broke my husband’s attention and together we froze in awe and reverence. After what seemed minutes the hummingbird zipped away; just in time we caught glimpses of iridescent red and green. I have a flash memory of when I was little and I would stare for hours at our Christmas tree lights. I would squint my eyes to blur the lights – I thought they were prettier when unclear. Indistinct and blurry.

Silence is a source of great strength. Lao Tzu

I looked around the porch – not a plump flower. Flower boxes, one on each side of the steps, lined the railing – worn-out petunias, an ivy or two, dried out. No attraction there. Since hummingbirds like scented colour, I can only assume that my husband’s body scent of cinnamon toothpaste and neem soap  (both scents I highly recommend) lured our vibrating, shimmering guest.

An errant ox-eye daisy or two in the soil that surrounds the porch is the extent of the garden. Absentee owners do not water plants or amend soil. The flowers that were planted in the early spring are now forlorn-looking as neglect has taken its toll. Other than the two of us the only living, vibrant thing on the porch is a pot of basil – a necessity of life that I always tote along with me when I visit the cottage. My basil is alive and green. Perhaps the hummingbird is attracted to its aroma – an aroma that hints at pesto, bruschetta and sauces.

On the front porch is my throne – a faded pink and white macrame lawn chair – where I survey the abundance of the property and contemplate the possibilities of life. I can write and sketch birds from this perch; I can meditate in ease and stillness from this perch. I can dream of planting birch trees in my own garden at home.

Birch trees. Gifts from the Universe.

 

 

 

 

Creativity is about creating oneself

Pearls don’t lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it…Chinese Proverb

We create our lives. Most of us have heard that a million times – so many times that it almost sounds trite.

How can that be? If I have a crap life, is that my own fault? Why would I create a crappy existence? Reasonable questions, I think.

But the answer is pretty simple, if not profound. It is in our awareness, our perception. It is in our energy that we put out. It is in how we see the world.

Creativity has been my 2015 intention, along with explore and expansiveness, and so I’ve been reading about creativity these past few months and I have learned that creativity is so much more that a work of art… creativity has many faces, not the least of which is creation. Creation.

Creation of one’s life. We are all co-creators whether we buy into this, or not.

 

Life is about creating yourself

Life is about creating yourself

Our attitude and our energy makes all the difference. An open, curious mind will more easily accept and not judge events so harshly, and an open, curious mind will explore the more difficult, challenging times – delve into the pain and look for answers and meaning.  An open and curious mind will not accept that one is a victim of circumstances.

Our attitudes and perceptions colour our lives – one can either look at the harshness and starkest of life’s events, or soften the hard edges. Our daily choices of how we encounter life is the part we play as co-creator.

What I am discovering (aha! my intention to explore) is that each and every one of us is creative – it’s in our DNA – and it’s our creativity that defines us and makes us who we are. And the funny thing is that the more we become aware of our own unique creativity within, the more it grows and expands. (Aha! my intention expansiveness.)

Our awareness of our own personal creativity leads to more creativity, more growth, more expansiveness and that attracts more, more, more. We begin to grow into the person that we were always meant to be, and we begin to realize that our potential is unlimited. Or, as Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

But  it begins with awareness.  First, awareness of your own gifts. And then in awareness of others. You begin to see the creativity (and gifts) that are in others. And that can lead to acceptance and non-judgment of others. (And in my book, that’s always a good thing.)

I have been reading a number of books on creativity, written by creative people. Some are artists such as Nick Bantock who wrote The Trickster’s Hat; others are writers: Julie Cameron, The Artist’s Way, The Prosperous Heart, Steven Pressfield, The War of Art, Vinita Hampton Wright, The Soul Tells a Story Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine. I read Twyla Tharp’s, choreographer/dancer’s book, The Creative Habit  – lots of insights from her! And I still have an unfinished, to-read book list. The subject of creativity is prolific!

What I have discovered is that creativity is our own personal portal to our authentic self. But it all begins with recognition or awareness. What are my strengths and weaknesses; my talents and skills; what am I most passionate about; what are my interests and non-interests?  How do I see the world?

l. Mindfulness – pay attention

2. Awareness leads to recognition

3. Discovery: the aha moment

Creativity is your own personal slant or take-away of what you have focused on. (You have turned the spotlight on something…now, what did you notice? What did you discover?) Our personal slant is our self-expression. The act of creation is in the aha! moment – it’s in the discovery. And, it is in that very moment we are truly authentic.

When I see a wild and untended garden, I see nature at her very best. She (nature) has sprawled out because that is what Nature does…she takes back the controlled landscape as if she is proclaiming this is mine and see me grow! When I see the spent blossoms of the cone flowers or rudbeckias, I see seeds (life!) and the return of birds, bees, insects; I see beauty in the untamed chaos. Someone else might only see the neglect and the waste.

I didn’t always see a messy garden as beautiful chaos. I had to spend many hours in my own garden observing the errant anemones growing in odd places or watching the “thugs” of the plant world bully their way into ordered pathways before I became aware that the mistakes in Nature were not mistakes at all. In truth, some of my favourite spots in the garden are now areas where havoc reigns. But, the hummingbirds visit those spots; the bumblebees and the fire flies are frequent visitors; yellow finches and butterflies, too.  I trust these uninvited, but welcome guests! If they favour those unplanned areas in my garden, then I think I’m onto something! I see my garden with a new perspective now and I am enjoying it oh, so much more. I have let go of my need for order and plans. And that is my point…we need to let go of order and control to allow beauty in.

Every author of a how-to-be-more-creative book encourages us to be more open, to clear our cluttered minds, to open and change our old perceptions and misconceptions. An open and uncluttered mind accepts new ideas because it is more spacious.  And new thoughts, new perceptions, and new ideas require space to grow and flourish.  New thoughts, novel ideas, new perceptions…this is creativity!

There is a funny scene in a television series Corner Gas that was very popular here in Canada, in which Brent and Hank are talking. When Brent tells something to Hank, suddenly Hank is seeing an image in his head…the audience sees a truck in a warehouse and it is loaded with filing boxes. The truck begins to reverse. The audience realizes the warehouse is Hank’s brain and the filing boxes are the boxes of stuff (useless knowledge) that is going to the waste. Hank tells Brent that he has no room for any more information.

I love that scene because I think our brains can become like warehouses full of useless stuff and that sometimes we have to let go of the old to make room for the new. (The old stuff in our brains no longer serves us.) I think the metaphor is clever and apt.

We are able to clear out junk in the brains when we practice mindfulness and awareness. Some of us meditate; others sit in stillness. The important thing is to allow ourselves time to do nothing; time to rest our brains.

Jonah Lehrer, Imagine – How Creativity Works, explains it in his book: “Why is a relaxed state of mind so important for creative insights? When our brains are at ease – when those alpha waves are rippling through the brain – we’re more likely to direct the spotlight of attention inward, toward that stream of remote associations emanating from the right hemisphere. When we become quiet or still, we begin to listen to the quiet voices.”

Ed Catmull (Pixar Animation and Disney Animation) in his book Creativity, Inc. uses mindfulness (and meditation) as another tool in helping him manage and encourage creativity in his staff. He reminds us that in mindfulness, we clear our minds and we let go of control and resistance. Control and resistance are the antithesis of creativity!

For me, letting go of resistance and control is in understanding that life has a flow and when I am aligned with that flow, I am happier, more content, at peace and more creative. I am aware that what is, is.

In all its forms, creativity lives within us and each of us in recognizing our gifts – that is our strengths, our passions, our talents – in essence, by paying attention to them – we begin to be grateful for them. That gratitude expands them. When we truly accept (in awareness) our gifts, we begin to enjoy and share them with others – and that is the true purpose of gifts. What we do with our gifts or creativity is what matters. It makes me, “me,” and you, “you.” How we live our lives reflects our creativity because creativity is in the creating…of our own life.