Tuesday, July 26, 2011

How Noticing Changes Things

I am practicing being present with myself and the world. I am moving a little slower than usual, noticing what is happening within and around me: eating without listening to the radio or watching anything on the computer; walking with awareness of the movement of my body, the shifting of weight, the feel of the sidewalk or floor beneath me; pausing in my apartment or on the street when I feel myself moving away from the moment and all it holds, waiting until I am present before I resume the task I am doing.

And one of the things I notice is where, without conscious choice, I move away from awareness. I spend the day consciously with my breath and being as I meditate and pray and do my yoga, as I prepare my food and wash my dishes, as I write. But then, moving to update my financial books, I feel myself shift gears, disconnect from my own moment-by-moment experience, pull up some energy from deep within me for the task in front of me.

And I wonder: what is it about this task, about writing numbers in columns and adding figures that I unconsciously assume requires that I move away from awareness? I want to turn the radio on and listen to the news or find a podcast that will entertain me while I do the books. Why? Because I don’t particularly like this task. I do it because it has to be done. But I don’t really dislike doing it either, although I anticipate possible problems and small irritations- forgotten receipts, missed entries that must be tracked to make the totals come out right. So what? So, . . . . it seems I want to get it done but do not want to be present for the doing.

No big deal really, and there’s nothing wrong with listening to a podcast while I do the books. But I’m curious to see what happens if I choose to be present with even this task. If I cannot practice being present for something as mildly challenging as a less-than-exciting task, what hope do I have of bringing my full sustained attention to situations that are truly painful- a searing headache, the grief of a friend, news of violence in the world, the challenges of caring for two parents with Alzheimer’s?

The trouble with being absent from even this moment, is that it too quickly becomes a habit, something I hardly notice, something that easily begins to feel “normal,” difficult to drop and an impediment to remembering to bring myself back to mindfulness. A structured daily practice helps me remember, brings me back to the moment, my breath and what is, but the point of such a practice is not to offer an hour of presence before I go back to preoccupation and a lack of awareness. The point, the intent, is to increase my ability to be present with it all- inner and outer conditions that are ever changing and the still center that remains constant.

So, I’m grateful to have noticed the kind of task- mundane, repetitive, and not particularly creative or entertaining- where I move away from being present. And I find that when I catch myself and stay here fully, the task is. . . just a task.

And then it becomes something more. I find myself grateful for having the means to purchase what is needed, (thus the receipts that need to be recorded,) some income that can be taxed for the collective caretaking of my community, the ability to do my own books and take care of this small aspect of keeping life and limb together.

Where there was a flicker of irritation, a desire for distraction, there is the gift of gratitude- not reached for, but found simply by being present.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


To wait when waiting feels unbearable
When action seems imperative
But there is nothing to be done.

To trust that what is needed will be provided
When human resources are limited and needs are great
And distrust is more available, but divisive and destructive.

To accept
What is unacceptable
Because to fight with what is adds suffering to pain.

To be attentive
When the mind is clouded with exhaustion
So that opportunities to hold with tenderness are not missed.

To be with the anxiety that arises in muscle and bone
Not letting it drive action or paralyze
Allowing breath to create mercy around the anguish.

To take a break
When the fear-driven mind screams for constant vigilance
So the mind and heart and body can find respite and rejuvenation.

To receive the help offered
From others and from the Great Heart that holds us all
Letting gratitude temper grief,
fullness counter fear,
and compassion carry us all.


(For those of you who don’t know, both of my parents have dementia- my father advanced Alzheimer’s, my mother, early stages. My father was moved to a psychiatric facility -100 miles away from his home- last week because his aggression escalated to the point of choking a caregiver (despite months of great care and strategies to calm.) He is in a ward for those who are violent because of mental illness- not really where he belongs but there simply is no bed available in the psycho-geriatric ward better suited to his needs. My mother of course is deeply distressed.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Walking Asleep- Dancing Awake!

Last week I began working on the two books that keep coming to me in dreams, working in earnest, taking myself to one of the university libraries daily (where I am not connected to the ever-seductive internet.) I’ve covered the walls of my tiny apartment with flipchart paper where I make notes with (literally) a hundred different coloured markers, beginning to feel out the armatures of the books, to sense and see where vivid threads fit into slowly revealed tapestries.

I work for hours and then return to the apartment to make notes and reread what has been written that day. And there in the privacy of my two small rooms I find myself both spontaneously dancing (again, literally) with the ecstasy of returning to the center of who I am and, at unexpected moments, coming to my knees in both gratitude and sorrow- gratitude for the reunion with myself, and sorrow at the full realization of how far from home I had wandered.

The writing I love is open-ended (as in, I don’t necessarily know exactly where it is going,) a discovering that takes me deeper into my own life, my own heart and the world. And I have not had a sustained period of following this fire that lights my way for many years. This, this writing, this following of the creative fire, this welcoming of Spirit in the form of words and image, story and colour- is how I touch the Mystery, the essence of who I am.

And I abandoned this to be married.

No doubt, in time, I will write more about how this happened. And no, it was not my ex-husband’s fault, although our neuroses and blind-spots dovetailed nicely as so often happens in intimate relationships. I can say that now, returning to the joy this writing brings, I find it hard to believe that I would have bargained this away for any promise or dream. And yet, having worked with groups and individuals for more than thirty years I wonder why I am surprised. I have often seen people abandon their deepest soul desires to do what they have been taught they “should” in the hopes of earning love. Of course, we don't earn love.

It's both humbling and frightening to know that even after all I have learned, I am still capable of abandoning myself, still willing to risk life itself when I am walking asleep. And the commitment to being fully with myself, to following the fire that lets me offer something to the world cannot be made once-and-for-all but must be lived one step, one breath, one moment at a time.

So, here I am- simultaneously humbled, ecstatic, sorrowful and filled with joy but most importantly: grateful and writing!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Leaning into Mercy

I am working with forgiveness. Forgiveness is one of those slippery words- a term bandied about so often by spiritually focused folks that it can become almost meaningless. Who would argue that forgiveness isn’t a good thing, a desirable thing? We all know that forgiving someone else releases us from resentment and other less-than-fun-or-enlightened states of mind and heart.

But reaching for forgiveness because we think we should, won’t work. Saying we have “forgiven and moved on” doesn’t make it so. In fact, pushing for or adamantly claiming to have accomplished “moving on” is probably a clue that we have not so much dissolved or left behind old resentments as we are trying to outrun or bury them, afraid of the pain that lies beneath an armour of anger and glimpses of grief.

How do we forgive another or ourselves when real pain and deep suffering have been caused?

It seems to me that forgiveness is less an action than an outcome, less of a goal than a naturally occurring state of grace that comes when we learn to meet hardness with softness, judgement with mercy.

So, I am working with mercy, learning to breathe into the hard places in my body- the armoured belly, the tightened jaw, the lifted shoulders- with a soft inhale. Mercy is the quality of heart-mind I seek to cultivate- kindness toward myself and others in our human frailty; tenderness toward what is feared and toward fear itself; gentleness with aspects of self that feel brittle, stretched too far and weary.

I am leaning into a mercy that is larger than myself, asking to be shown how to have loving-kindness toward all that is unresolved in my life and my heart and the world. I am following the scent of mercy offered to me by the Heart that holds us all, hoping to find my way in each moment into being merciful with myself, others and the world.

In November 2009 I started writing this weekly blog poste. I committed to posting every Wednesday for a year. Now, eight-three postings later, I am heading into a couple of months of retreat to focus on writing a new book. I’m tempted to simply say I’ll be back in September and not post any new blogs for July and August but. . . .I want to leave it more open-ended than that. So, for now, I’ll see what comes. Posts will probably be shorter-snippets of where I am internally or geographically- and I can’t promise they will appear every week- but, let’s see what happens.