Good Morning, Good Night

When I was a young lass, my family moved from sunny southern California to the wilds of northern British Columbia, Canada. The first few months were a bit of a culture shock, as it was the dead of winter when we arrived. Each morning my mom would come and wake me up while it was still dark outside. I would get out of bed, run across the cold floor in bare feet and stand over the heat vent.

My nightgown would billow out like a filled balloon as the forced warm air flowed. I would stand there each day, listening to my Mom off in the kitchen humming “Do you Know the Way to San Jose” plaintively. And my thoughts would just kind of fade away. Staring into the zone, I would experience stillness and peace for those few moments.   Looking back I realize that those were my first meditations.

Nowadays I try to meditate twice a day. I have a very busy life and most days I don’t have too many chances to just relax, so those first 20 minutes of stillness, and those last 20 minutes of stillness… they mean the world to me. They are the bookends to my crazy days.

Wrapped in the luxury of my soft robe, I let go of the tensions and anxieties and allow myself to just be. My thoughts don’t always stop completely, but even if I get a few good solid breaths where I am just in the moment, I feel like I have had a great sit.

If you haven’t tried meditating, or think it is hard, please pop over here and read this. I promise you that it is easier than you think. And I promise you that when you commit to taking those moments for yourself, you will reap benefits beyond your imagination.

It is dark midwinter, and yesterday the groundhog promised 6 more weeks of the same. I took the news calmly. I have become accustomed to the four seasons we enjoy in Canada. And it only took me 45 years.

And now if you will excuse me, I have a heat vent I need to go stand over.

Do you know the way to San Jose?

Truth with a Capital T

“When you feel a peaceful joy, that’s when you are near the truth.”  Rumi

A few years back my world turned upside down (you can read more about that here).  As in many cases it took this mayhem to start me earnestly upon the path to spirituality and seeking Truth, with a capital T.

There is a Buddhist proverb that says “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”.  As I was trying to pick up the broken pieces of my life the first teacher to appear for me was the beautiful Louise Hay who became a kind of Spiritual Kindergarten teacher for me.  I had a recording of her Affirmations that I would play over and over and over, her soothing voice repeating the words that began the job of healing my shattered spirit.  “Life loves and supports me.  I am safe and all is well.  Deep in the center of my being there is an infinite well of love.  I now allow this love to flow to the surface.”  Hundreds of affirmations, over and over until, miraculously, my brain began to rewire itself and these thoughts began to spontaneously form on their own.  And I began to heal.  It was a miracle.

Louise was the first of many teachers along my path of self discovery.  I read voraciously, one book after another, learning about different modalities and belief systems, taking them all in and trying them on to see if the fit was right.  Building on the affirmations that served me so well I would begin each foray with my newest teacher by stating “only the Truth (with a capital T) resonates with me.”

Then one day the light went on.  Hey wait a minute.  If my soul recognizes the Truth then maybe I already have all of the answers inside.  This twigged a memory that led me all the way back to my kindergarten days with Louise.  Plugging in her affirmation I listened again for the thousandth time and sure enough there it was.  “Inside of me lie all of the answers to all of the questions I will ever ask.” Inside of me!  Truth with a capital T resounded.

But then the tricky part was how to get access to this great wealth of wisdom that was within.  In my journey all roads lead to meditation, so I set myself down with some groovy binaural beats and asked a question:  “How can I know if something is the Truth?”

Then I sat.  And waited.  And listened.

Nada.

Hmm.  Somehow I imagined this would be easier.  I finished up my meditation with no answer to my question, then picked up the latest book I was reading.  It was a step by step guide to inner peace and tranquility.  I opened to where I had left off and began to read.  Almost immediately Simon the cat jumped onto my lap.  I gave him a scritchy under the chin then kept reading.  Where was I?  Oh yes, there it was.  Something about following the correct path.  I turned the page and Simon lifted his paw and smacked the book.  I laughed and scooted him down off my lap.  He’d never done that before.

I continued reading about the right way and wrong way to enlightenment.  Simon jumped back on my lap and stared at the page.  I laughed again.  What was that crazy cat up to?  He swatted the page once,  then swatted again and this time he left his paw right smack dab in the middle of the page so that I couldn’t see the words.  I moved his paw and tried to read.  Two words in and he swatted the page yet again and this time rolled right on top of the book, completely blocking my view.

Confounded and confused I continued to attempt to read the book and every time I tried Simon would block me.  The cat had gone stark raving bonkers!  He’d never acted like this before.  What was up with him?

And then it hit me.  Ding ding ding!  Bells and whistles!  Here was the answer to my question.  How can I know if something is the Truth?  My cat won’t stop me from reading it.

Of course it hasn’t always been as easy as this particular time, but the Truth has a way of finding me and I have been able to recognize it.  Sometimes it is simply a recognition, as if I knew it all along but just hadn’t come up with it yet.  Sometimes it is a feeling, like anxiety in the pit of my stomach, that lets me know that while this is somebody’s Truth, it is not mine.  Sometimes Truth puts the dance in my step and the song in my heart.  It is all about feeling.  When I feel good, I know that I am feeling God… so to speak.

As many people as there are, there are that many paths to the Truth.  We all have our own to walk, and each path leads up to the mountaintop.  I tend to follow my inner GPS now and sometimes it leads me on a solitary path and sometimes it brings me to my next teacher.  I always learn what I can from the next person, book, lesson or ideology, take what resonates then move forward to whatever or whomever comes next.

What I have learned along the way is that accessing my own inner guru is easiest if I take a few simple steps.  (hold onto your hats, people, here comes another list!)

1.  First I ask the question.  What is it I need to know at that point in time?  Sometimes it is specific, such as “Is this author’s work Truth for me?”  and sometimes I ask a more general question.  “What is the next action step on my spiritual journey?”

2.  Then I get quiet.  This is step two.  I close my eyes, get into position and sink into as deep a meditation as I can manage.  Sometimes I go profoundly still, and sometimes the monkey mind won’t shut down, but either way I intend for the silence to bring me answers and usually it does.

3.  Third step is to listen.  Observe how my body feels and pay attention to any quiet thoughts that may pop in from realms unknown.  Many times I will simply experience a knowing during the meditation, as if I always had the answer.  Other times nothing seems to come and then later in my day or week I will have the answer show up in other ways, signs from the Universe, as it were.  These take the form of things like random bits of conversations or song lyrics that seem to speak directly to me, or I will suddenly start hearing over and over from various sources about a certain person, book, or program and realize that this is something I am supposed to investigate.  And sometimes my cat lets me know.  (okay I’m just kidding.  Simon has only done that the one time.  But how cool would it be to have an oracle cat??)

4.  And the fourth and final step is to trust what comes to you.  Trust the messages.  Trust the visions.  Trust the cat.  Even if it belies your ever present logic, trust it anyways. Your inner guru is the best guide you have.  That piece of you that is connected to the Divine, where all Truth lives.  Trust it.  It will not lead you astray.

I use the information and guidance that the teachers bring to me to guide me along my path.  I beware the self evident truths that others espouse because I understand that as soon as people label something or create rules and regulations around something it becomes more about the people in charge than about the spiritual truths they teach.  Sometimes a frog is just a frog, no matter how they try to spin it.   I take the good, I leave the bad and I forge ahead on this journey of discovery.

Destination unknown.

The Language of God

Photo by:  Walter Babinski, My American Husband
Photo by: Walter Babinski, My American Husband

“Silence is the language of God.  All else is poor translation.”  Rumi

If I could point to one single thing that has been my greatest guide, teacher, healer and solace in the past few years it would be developing a meditation practice.  For quite some time I had read about the benefits of meditation to overall physical and mental health and would think to myself “gosh I should really learn how to do that.”  Somehow it seemed like it must be really difficult.  Shouldn’t I have a guru?  And sitting in that lotus position for more than 3 minutes made me dead from the waist down, legs completely asleep.

But then life happened and things got pretty intense.  I had struggled with minor anxiety for many years, occasionally having bouts of panic attacks, but had always been able to muscle through them without any medical intervention.  When things got real and I found myself in the throws of some pretty major PTSD I decided that I would give meditation a shot.   From what I had read meditation was shown to help cure all manner of ailments, like asthma, cancer, depression, heart disease, high blood pressure, pain, insomnia, and praise the good Lord, anxiety.  Time to give this a try.  What did I have to lose?

I began reading about techniques and was soon adrift in a sea of terms I had never heard before.  Kundalini, chakra, blue pearl, third eye, etc.  It all sounded very foreign and scary to me.  I almost gave up before I started, but the panic attacks had begun to rule my life, so I persevered.  Happily, I found these things called Podcasts on iTunes and there were a whole bunch of free guided meditations to choose from.  I found a few I liked and began what has become a daily necessity for me.  Twice daily that is.

My tips for anyone wanting to start a meditation practice are pretty simple.  I even wrote a list for you.  Here they are.

1.  Start slowly.  5 – 10 minutes every morning listen to a nice guided meditation.  After you get comfortable with that you can increase the time to whatever length best suits you.  I do about 1/2 hour morning and night and that seems perfect for me.

2.  Sit or lay down or walk or do whatever feels best in your body.  I don’t do well sitting cross legged on a cushion because I end up spending the whole time concentrating on how uncomfortable I am.  So in the mornings I sit on my couch with a cushion at my back to keep my spine straight.  My hands rest in my lap.  In the evenings I lay in bed on my back with my hands on my hips.  Both positions allow me to just forget about my body and turn inward.

3.  Once you are getting the hang of things try switching it up from the guided meditation to some binaural beats, or simple meditation music.  I have a couple I like on my iPhone and they are 1/2 hour each, so I don’t have to worry about setting a timer.  Once you are comfortable with the process you may find that you don’t need to use anything anymore.  I now prefer silence for my meditations, but sometimes I will listen to the IAM Wishes Fulfilled Meditation by Dr. Wayne Dyer and James F. Twyman.  The binaural beats are subtle and the music is very soothing.

4.  Follow your breath.  Focusing on your intake and exhale allows you to centre yourself and not be carried along by your thoughts.  Personally, I have never had my thoughts stop completely, but now when I realize I have jumped on a train of thought I just gently move my focus back to my breath and let that train carry on without me on board.

5.  Be kind to yourself.  It is a learning process and there is no right or wrong to it.  Some days I never get past the monkey mind and other days I get a glimpse of that perfect, beautiful stillness that is always there waiting for me in the space between my thoughts.  That is what makes it all worthwhile.

I began to meditate specifically to help heal from a trauma.  I continue to meditate because during the silence and stillness I can finally sense that I am so much more than this human existence.  Where prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening.  I have moments when I feel the oneness of all that is and am filled with a bliss words can’t describe.  Those are the magic moments.  Those are the glimpse of eternity.

Meditation has taken away my panic attacks completely, and the added benefits to my health and physical, emotional and spiritual well being are endless.  I have much less stress.  I very rarely feel ill or get colds, flu, or bugs that are going around.  My immune system feels stellar most of the time.  Plus I sleep like a baby, which is something new for me, too.

If you haven’t tried meditating yet, I highly recommend you do.  You never know… It may just change your whole life like it did for me.

5 Steps to A Life Fully Lived

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Ferris Bueller

A year ago in January I attended a workshop in Maui on Divine Love. It was led by Dr. Wayne Dyer and turned out to be a life changer for me. I am not surprised that this happened, afterall a couple of my life changing moments happened as a direct result of this incredible man.

This time around it was a simple sentence that seemed to resonate in my whole body. A great big A-Ha moment that left me ruminating with it for quite some time, wondering how to begin to live it. The words were a paraphrase of a Herman Melville quote and are at the root of a lot of Dr. Dyer’s teachings, but for some reason these words more than any others did the trick for me. They were:

Beware the half lived life.

Shazam.

I am a linear thinker, for the most part. I love writing lists of things to do then checking them off. Sometimes I even add stuff to the list I’ve already done so that I can have the pleasure of checking them off as “done”. So I thought, what better way to begin to truly live intentionally than to write myself a list? So here goes. My 5 steps to the fully lived life.

1. Stop Numbing

There are certain activities in my day that put me into a zombie-like state. I stare transfixed, and yet completely disengaged. My eyes glaze over. My jaw hangs slack, mouth agape. I am in a coma of soothing non-being. For me this usually happens when I think I am just going to “quickly check Facebook”. I open the site and begin to scroll and when I finally look up again I see that hours and hours have passed and wow, is that drool on my chin? And what valuable life lessons, entertainment or worthy knowledge did I gain in all of that time? Usually nothing. Someone just ate spaghetti for lunch, and someone else has a great recipe for gluten free cardboard bites, and somebody else has a hella-cute grandbaby and that a friend of a friend went to Mexico for vacation. Also there is typically a dump truck load of inspirational memes, most of which are pure unadulterated crap. (I mean really people, if you are going to take the time to go to meme-generator and create some inspirational quote, against a dancing silhouette at sunset on the beach, please, please, please, I’m begging you, check your spelling. If I read one more “Lif begins at the end or your comfort zone” my head just very well may explode).

And so my decision to deactivate Facebook for the month of July seemed the best and most productive step in my journey toward engaging back into life. Some people numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, or binge watching tv series on Netflix. For me, Facebook was my drug of choice and so it is time to pull the plug… at least for July. I’m sure I’ll be fine. It’s been nearly 12 hours and I hardly miss it at all… Twitch. Twitch.

2. Mindfulness

I live in one of the prettiest places on the planet. Surrounded by mountains, forests and glacier fed lakes, and with the most sunshine hours in all of British Columbia (so “they” say). Cranbrook is pretty close to being paradise, and yet I find that my senses have become dulled to it all. My monkey mind has me everywhere but here. I worry about what is coming, I rue what has been, I have fake conversations with people, coming up with all sorts of issues and problems and scenarios that only exist in the madness of my rampant thoughts.

Luckily, because I’ve read Deepak and Eckart I know about the present moment. The elusive NOW. I meditate twice a day, so I have times when I skirt around it pretty nicely and I’ve even had a few spectacular instances where I was really there, in the NOW. When it happened I immediately had the thought arise, “oh wow this is the NOW” and with that realization was of course thrust back into the world of thought.

So my plan to be more mindful brings me to write a sub-list (I get tingly just saying that). To be more mindful I will:

2a. Follow my breath. Whenever I think about mindfulness, just stop, drop, and follow my breath. Here is goes in. Annnnnnd, here it goes out. Ahhh.

2b. Pay attention. Practice using all of my senses to experience where I am and what is happening around me. See the way the light changes as it dapples through the leaves. Listen to the wind and the birds and the lawnmower down the block. Feel the air around my skin. What do my toes feel like, right now? Smell that perfect, summer mix of warm soil, flowers, sunscreen and cut grass. Taste the raspberry white tea. No I mean really taste it. Experience it all, with my senses and try very hard not to judge any of it. Just BE with it.

2c. Meditate. Duh.

2d. Let music take me away. For me a good, loud Billy Joel song, or maybe some old Joni Mitchell making ice cream castles in the air, or even Mozart in a pinch, will set my mind to rest and allow me to just feel. Loud music, played through real speakers is the only thing that works. Forget the tinny shit that comes from the laptop speakers. Just no.

Ahh you blessed sub-list. You complete me.

3. Live on Purpose

How easy it is to slip into the redundant, mediocrity of just moving mindlessly through the days and weeks. It is so easy to fall into the rut of daily living, and years can slip by while we check the tv schedule and plan how to spend time living vicariously through fake people. For this month of July, I intend to wake each morning and write a list (yay!) of my intentions for the day. For instance, number 1 on that list this morning was “I intend to set intentions.” Redundancy at its finest.

Setting intentions, for me is similar to goal-setting, but with a slight, very important difference. Setting a goal is like saying I want to arrive at this destination (the goal) and to get there I need to take this highway, turn left at this juncture and follow the road to the intersection of this and that, then arrive at said goal on this date at this time. Logical, linear, brain thinking action plans.

Setting an intention is figuring out where you want to go, imagining how that will feel, then really feeling it. But here comes the tricky part… that is when you hand it over to the great universal mind to figure out the hows and whens. You still jump into the car and you still head toward the destination, but you trust that the Divine has the wheel and will know the best shortcuts and routes to take to get there. It’s all about letting go of the outcome. Sounds easy in principal, but for one such as I, great lover of lists and plans, it is more challenging that you think.

Who me, control issues? What?

4. Follow Bliss

Have you ever watched a little kid when they are playing outside, all by themselves? They talk and laugh and have conversations with the invisible people who live in their imagination. They find bugs and make shadows and run just to feel their hair move in the wind. They watch clouds. They live life. I have watched my daughter in the throes of delicious that I describe. Heck I even remember way back to the olden days when I was like that, standing on an old stump, singing Black Velvet Band at the top of my lungs, imagining that I was on stage in front of thousands of adoring fans. Guileless.

Life happened and I find myself now trying to separate the “shoulds” from the “coulds”. What makes me happy? And why is that such a difficult question to answer?

In an attempt to regain my own sense of blissful wonder, I look back to the times in my life that I felt the happiest. And I turn to the theatre. I have recently volunteered to shadow Terry, a locally famous director of community theatre. I will run, fetch, sew, glue and do whatever needs doing, and I hope to learn all about the process of directing and producing plays. I remember, even back when I was performing, how cool it seemed to be the director. It is like creating a piece of art with the stage as the canvas and the talented willing people as the paint. How stupendously cool is that?

Also, writing. Time disappears when I write. Worlds are created, people live and die, and I am in control of it all. I laugh and I cry. I look frustration and apathy in the face and sometimes I win. And lots of times Facebook wins. (see number 1). Bye bye Facebook, you soul sucking monster. (oops did I say that out loud?)

And then there is the Book Club. Moving back to Cranbrook offered me lots of surprises, good and not so good, but the greatest so far has been my adoption into the Book Club. We had our meeting last night to talk about Goldfinch (great book, btw). We range in age from fabulous to extraordinary, five intelligent women who love to read, raise families, travel, cook, laugh and commiserate. Bliss achieved.

I have set only one rule for this step. It is simply this: If it feels good, do it.

5. Gratitude

To be thankful for what I have is the secret to my happy life. I figured this one out a few years ago after reading the Secret. I originally read the book because I heard it was a how-to guide on getting free stuff from the Universe. It was my first real introduction to the law of attraction and I went a little bit crazy with it. I manifested a new computer, car and house all within the course of a few months. But then I felt like something was missing in the process. I got all of these things that I was sure would fulfill me then found out that they didn’t fulfill me at all. It was disenchanting. I realized then that the important things in life aren’t things and that was the second best lesson I took away from that book.

The greatest lesson I learned from the Secret was about gratitude. I had put my heart and soul into the gratitude exercises. I would sit and appreciate the heck out of stuff until I would have tears of happiness streaming down my face. It was during one of these sessions that I understood (a-HA) that gratitude is its own reward. Being in a state of pure appreciation means that nothing is missing. And if nothing is missing, then I have everything and that is all anyone could ask for. Just everything.

I kept a gratitude journal for a long time. Every day I listed (don’t you just love lists??) five things that happened that day for which I was truly grateful. The process of journaling the things I appreciated instilled a mindset that I still have today. I look for things to be grateful for. It is a constant process of finding stuff to appreciate. If you haven’t tried this, I highly recommend it. I swear it will change your whole life.

So everyday is thanksgiving day, sans the turkey dinner. And today I am grateful for:

5a. Inspiration, that invisible muse

5b. Meditation and the elusive NOW

5c. Silky, glorious, abundant words

5d. Life in all of its messy glory

5e. Lists

And now that my lists are written, I surrender the intention to the universe to guide me through this beautiful month of July, living on purpose, with intention and fully, completely engaged in my life.

Simply put, I intend to Live Life.